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Press review: Merkel’s farewell summit with Zelensky and US pick for ambassador to China

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, August 23rd
German Chancellor Angela Merkel Sergey Dolzhenko/Pool Photo via AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
© Sergey Dolzhenko/Pool Photo via AP

Kommersant: Merkel has nothing to offer Ukraine but the Minsk Agreements

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her farewell visit to Ukraine, which proved rather uneasy for her in light of Kiev’s actual refusal to implement the Minsk Agreements and its active opposition to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. According to experts, in such a situation, Merkel had to warn Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky that his game aimed at raising tensions with Moscow was fraught with more problems, in addition to the fact that there is no alternative to the Normandy Four talks. However, the German chief executive did not express the idea publicly.

Before visiting Kiev, Merkel held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, which were focused on ways to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and making a new agreement with Kiev on preserving Russian gas transit beyond 2024. That said, the main question was how the results of the Russian-German summit would impact the Kiev talks.

The statements that Merkel and Zelensky made after the negotiations make it clear that neither Russia’s persistent efforts to appeal to the German chancellor’s authority nor sanctions against the Ukrainian leadership made Kiev reconsider the situation regarding the negotiation process on Donbass.

"Angela Merkel somewhat failed to adequately assess the issues that the Normandy Four group is facing, praising Kiev for its refusal to hold direct talks with the unrecognized Donbass republics. It clearly runs counter to the Minsk Agreements. Moreover, Berlin did not make such statements before," Director of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology Mikhail Pogrebinsky pointed out. "Merkel could have as well warned Kiev during the one-on-one talks that it might have to face more problems because of its game of raising tensions with Moscow, urging Ukraine not to bet against Germany and Nord Stream 2. That said, it will only be possible to draw final conclusions about the future of efforts to resolve the situation in eastern Ukraine and Kiev’s attitude towards Nord Stream 2 after Zelensky’s upcoming talks with US President Joe Biden in Washington," Pogrebinsky emphasized.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Washington’s pick for ambassador to China shows US seeks stable ties with Beijing

US President Joe Biden plans to nominate veteran diplomat Nicholas Burns as the new US ambassador to China. It means a shift in Washington’s approach to selecting candidates for such a key position. Over the past ten years, it has been politicians and not career diplomats who served as US envoys to Beijing. According to experts, most members of Congress are calling for a tougher policy towards China but the White House hasn’t made up its mind yet. Hence, the decision to pick a person not involved in the domestic political struggle but closely linked to the Democratic Party, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

Meanwhile, there are increasing doubts in the United States and among its allies about the Biden administration’s ability to focus its strategy on the Indo-Pacific region and confront China after the Taliban’s (outlawed in Russia) takeover of Afghanistan. Faith in US power has particularly weakened in Asia. Regional experts say that developments in Afghanistan have disappointed many, giving rise to fears that the US will once again pull out, leaving the region to its own devices.

According to Alexander Lukin, who heads the International Affairs Department at the Higher School of Economics, "the Biden administration’s plan is to work with China in a professional manner, with no relation to domestic policy." "It is a reasonable approach. If they were to choose a member of the political establishment to serve as ambassador - say, someone from the Senate - there is no one who is at least somewhat positive about China. This is why nominating a career diplomat is not a bad move. He will follow the president’s orders," the analyst stressed.

When commenting on remarks by Hong Kong experts, who expect that Burns will fail to achieve much, Lukin emphasized that "ambassadors don’t have to achieve anything." "It is the political authorities that achieve goals. An ambassador is half a postman and half a waiter who transmits information and helps analyze it," the expert explained.


Vedomosti: Washington’s Afghan war costs seven times more than Soviet Union’s campaign

The US-led war in Afghanistan cost Washington seven times more than a similar campaign did for the Soviet Union, Vedomosti writes based on a comparison of American government data and the evaluation of the Soviet Afghan campaign’s costs that the CIA made in the past. Soviet rubles were converted to US dollars in accordance with the mid-1980s rate and the figure was multiplied by the dollar deflator to show the cost of the Soviet campaign in 2021 dollar terms.

Brown University’s Watson Institute estimates the direct costs of the US military operation in Afghanistan at $933 bln. As for the CIA estimates of how much the Soviet Union spent before the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the total cost comes to $55 bln at the 1984 exchange rate, or $136 bln at the 2021 exchange rate.

The US could easily have spent much more than the Soviet Union because it had to deliver more supplies by air and rely on air forces during military activities, which is more expensive, while the Soviet Army gambled on artillery power, said Chief Editor of the Arsenal Otechestva (or Arsenal of the Fatherland) magazine Viktor Murakhovsky. According to Russian International Affairs Council expert Andrei Frolov, the Soviet campaign was overall less technology-based and thus cheaper.

Chief Researcher at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Andrei Kazantsev attributes the difference in the US and Soviet war expenses to the fact that the Soviet Union’s economy was not market-oriented and Moscow had fewer financial resources. Besides, Soviet troops consisted of conscripts, while Washington had to pay its soldiers.

Kazantsev believes that there are several reasons for Washington’s enormous expenditures on its presence in Afghanistan. First, Afghanistan was one of the main fronts of the US war against international terrorism, which was declared as one of its foreign policy priorities. Second, the US sought to build a democratic state in Afghanistan and was reluctant to leave the country for reasons of prestige. "Once they got there, it was impossible to pull out and show their weakness," Kazantsev emphasized.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Public’s attitude to globalization underwent shift during pandemic

People’s attitude to free trade and globalization has changed a lot since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Support for barrier-free trade has considerably declined. Russia is one of the global leaders in terms of people’s negative view of globalization, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes, citing a poll conducted by the Ipsos company and the World Economic Forum. Only 48% of those surveyed in 25 countries agree that globalization is good for their countries. In Russia, one in three people stated that they reject the notion that globalization facilitates an effective economic policy.

Experts are not surprised by the declining interest in globalization. "People in large economic powers can see their daily expenses increase. Consumer prices used to be more stable before globalization began and free-trade zones were created," economist Andrei Loboda said, pointing out that the change of sentiment had been sparked by rising inflation affecting economies worldwide.

Globalization has reached its limits and stopped boosting economic growth, BCS Chief Investment Strategist Maxim Shein pointed out. "The population’s income is falling, hence the decline in support [for globalization idea]," he said.

"A high level of consumption, easy access to any goods at relatively low prices, good wages, high pensions and access for businesses to foreign markets - all this used to be associated with globalization. However, in the late 20th and early 21st century, the global economy started to face crises, rising unemployment, a decline in the middle class and increasing income inequality. All these issues are also directly related to globalization," Associate Professor with Department of Enterprise and Logistics at Plekhanov Russian University of Economics Igor Stroganov emphasized. Besides, large transnational companies and retail chains enter foreign markets, destroying small and medium-sized businesses and local agriculture. "In addition, labor migration increases competition on the labor market. People in many countries feel that way," the economist stressed.


Vedomosti: Russian government mulls fines for violations of climate rules

The Russian Ministry of Economic Development has put together a system of fines for major greenhouse gas emitters, Vedomosti writes. The ministry plans to penalize businesses for failing to provide reports on greenhouse gas emissions, violating the rules for the provision of such data and providing false information.

According to the relevant document, officials will be fined 50,000 to 100,000 rubles ($676-1,352) for the first violation, individual entrepreneurs will have to pay fines of 100,000 to 250,000 rubles ($1,352-3,380) and legal entities will face fines of 100,000 to 500,000 ($1,352-6,760). The fines are supposed to double in case of repeated violations.

A ministry official confirmed to the newspaper that the ministry had drawn up such a bill and planned to present it for public discussion. "Administrative penalties should make businesses adopt a more responsible attitude to complying with the law. Since it will be applied first and foremost to large economic entities, the fines need to be noticeable for them," the official explained.

As for climate regulations, there is nothing unusual about the government’s plans to create a system of punitive measures, Russian Academy of Sciences member Boris Porfiryev said. At the same time, in his words, companies should not be left alone with the new demands so there is a need to make sure that industrial facilities are equipped with the necessary devices to monitor emissions.

Requirements concerning emission reports primarily apply to large companies, Director of the Financial University’s Center of Sectoral Research and Consulting Irina Zolotova emphasized. Such enterprises are interested in building a green reputation. "It wouldn’t be desirable for them to be fined because it may result not only in reputational but also in economic losses," Zolotova said.

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