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Press review: What's Russia’s view of new Afghan government and Iran seeks SCO membership

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, September 9th

Vedomosti: Russia in no hurry to assess Afghanistan’s new government

China is ready for dialogue with Afghanistan’s new government formed by the members of the Taliban (outlawed in Russia). According to Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin, Beijing hopes that the new government will take into account people’s interests and act in accordance with the expectations of the international community. With that in mind, the Chinese diplomat said that Beijing wouldn’t participate in the September 8-scheduled meeting of G7 foreign ministers on Afghanistan, where Russia and China were invited, calling it "a meeting for the sake of a meeting". Earlier, Russia also declined participation. Additionally, China announced it was going to provide an emergency humanitarian aid package to Afghanistan to the tune of $30.9 mln. On September 8, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry also welcomed the creation of the Taliban government hoping that it will ensure a steady peace. Tajikistan has so far remained mum on the new government in Afghanistan.

Russia has not officially announced its evaluation of the Taliban government. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that the contacts are being conducted through the embassy "in order to ensure the safety of our diplomats, and on other technical issues" while no other talks are planned and Russia plans to closely monitor the actions of the new government.

Chief Researcher at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and professor with the Higher School of Economics Andrei Kazantsev thinks that China’s more active friendly stance with regards to the Taliban is quite explainable. China is a long-time ally of Pakistan that actively supports the Taliban. Additionally, China wants to resolve the issue of Uyghur terrorists hiding in Afghanistan as well as to preserve its economic interests in the region, given that Afghanistan is taking part in the Belt and Road initiative, and has lithium and copper deposits. According to the expert, it is too early to speak about Russia’s position on the new government but the issue will be resolved at the highest level, while the West won’t interact with the Taliban.

Andrei Serenko, an expert at the Center for Contemporary Afghan Studies, thinks that the Taliban government is not capable of coping with the looming humanitarian catastrophe since it has neither the funding nor the management skills, what’s more, humanitarian aid from China and Arab countries won’t last. "Moscow sees that the new Taliban government was created against its recommendations on inclusivity. Without the Taliban taking into account these recommendations, Russia won’t recognize their government," the expert concluded.


Kommersant: SCO ready to include Iran

During the upcoming summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Tajikistan, it will be revealed that Iran is launching the procedure on joining the organization. Earlier, the process was hindered by international sanctions and later - by the objections of one of the members.

Currently the organization numbers eight countries, with India and Pakistan joining Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in 2017. The process of Iran joining the SCO may take some time, but the fact that it will be officially launched is already a breakthrough. That being said, Iran has spent more than ten years in the "waiting room". Tehran received observer status in 2005, and then applied for full-fledged membership in 2008. Yet, due to the array of international sanctions against it and until they were lifted in 2015, it couldn’t join. Also, Iran’s application was blocked by Tajikistan who accused Tehran of supporting the outlawed Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and being indirectly involved in organizing terrorist attacks. However, some experts think that the conflict was caused by financial and geopolitical factors. Nevertheless, the conflict has been settled and Iran’s new president Ebrahim Raisi will personally come to Dushanbe which will become his first foreign trip since assuming office this June.

Russia fully supports Iran joining the SCO, and believes that this will add to the organization’s authority on the global arena. "The SCO is a venue where regional problems are discussed. Iran is also a country of the region for which it is important to discuss these problems and seek solutions together. Much like for the other countries in the region it is to sit at the same table with Iran without calling it a guest from the outside," analyst Adlan Margoyev from the Institute of International Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations told the newspaper. "Both for Iran and for SCO members today, it is particularly pressing to discuss the security issues in and around Afghanistan on an equal footing. Tehran’s full-fledged membership in the organization will emphasize that Iran is an important participant of the discussion on regional security and the SCO is the main venue for this discussion. Reputation-and organization-wise, everyone will win from this expansion," he explained.

In addition to Iran, the SCO has three more observer countries - Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia - and six dialogue partners - Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka. Another 12 countries are applying for observer or partner status - Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Israel, the Maldives, Ukraine, Iraq, Vietnam, Bahrain, the UAE, and Qatar. "The SCO is a structure that naturally should unite all the countries interested in interaction. So, we treat the issue of expansion very seriously," Russian Special Presidential Envoy for SCO Affairs Bakhtiyer Khakimov said earlier.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: UK pins blame on Gazprom for looming winter energy shortages

The British media warns of heat problems this winter due to gas shortages. The causes of this deficit are UK gas storage facilities being closed, the lack of liquefied natural gas, soaring gas prices and a unique combination of natural phenomena. However, the British and the Europeans pin the blame for the looming problems on Russia, Gazprom and President Vladimir Putin. Yet, in reality, it’s quite the contrary, Russia has been fulfilling its contractual obligations on gas supplies, but this has failed to convince them.

The UK’s Telegraph writes that Moscow is deliberately creating an energy supply crisis in Europe limiting the seasonal flows of gas and the Europeans and the British cannot refill the severely depleted inventories before the onset of winter. "The UK is not the target of this geostrategic squeeze but is dangerously exposed after having slashed its gas storage capacity to wafer-thin levels in order to save costs," the newspaper notes. It asserts that Russia took advantage of the confusion on the global energy market to limit the usual volumes of gas supplies via Ukraine and Poland in order to bolster its political influence and make the European Commission certify Nord Stream 2 on its terms. At the same time, it is noted that Gazprom does deliver exactly as much gas as indicated in the contracts yet holds back additional volumes necessary to replenish the storage facilities.

Deputy Director of the Russtrat Institute (The Institute of International Political and Economic Strategies) Yury Baranchik thinks that Europe’s policy with regards to the diversification of supplies and suppliers has failed. "Now the EU has enough terminals for natural liquefied gas (this resource was viewed as an alternative to Russian gas) but they are half-empty. This is caused by the US, Qatar and other countries preferring to direct their volumes to Asia instead of Europe, since the prices there are even higher than in the EU," he pointed out. Climate factors are also another problem. "A cold winter followed by a very hot summer together with the active regeneration of the economy led to a sharp jump in the demand for energy supplies," the expert says.

According to Oleg Cherednichenko, an associate professor at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, the economies of the UK and a number of European countries were simply not ready for the current gas prices, yet preferred to accuse Russia of attempting to manipulate Europe’s energy security. In his opinion, accusations against Russia look strange since Europe itself realized the economic necessity of Nord Stream 2 since it will stabilize the market prices. Head of Analytics Department at AMarkets Artem Deev reiterates that gas supplies from Russia to Europe have long become a political issue noting that the article in the Telegraph was published just when Russia and Germany began talks on Ukrainian transit. In his opinion, new restrictions on launching Nord Stream 2 not only will negatively impact the economy of Gazprom and Russia but will also result in empty storage facilities in Europe before the winter season. Director of the Center for Economic Expert Analysis at the Higher School of Economics Marcel Salikhov noted: "The European market is the main one for Gazprom so there is a mutual dependency. The current extremely high level of gas prices causes concern among consumers and obviously sways political sentiment in Europe. In this sense, Gazprom is a convenient target for attacks."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Why China needs the Caribbean Sea

The US is alarmed over the "sea expansion" of China in the Caribbean. According to a number of American experts, China has established control over a majority of Caribbean ports via its companies specializing in seaport management and building seaport infrastructure. Essentially, it already controls Kingston, Jamaica, the largest port in the Antilles zone and even Freeport in the Bahamas, a port of US’ main ally in the region located only 160 kilometers away from America’s coast.

US Navy Admiral Craig Faller, Commander of US Southern Command is among those who is actively urging Washington to undertake immediate measures against Beijing. He said that China had infiltrated the region that Washington considered its backyard and its efforts on modernizing the infrastructure in the ports it controls in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are a direct strategic threat to the United States. Experts in US military circles think that China is capable of using the Caribbean ports - if it is not doing so already - for financial and technical support of its naval vessels in the region.

Director of the Center for Global Affairs and Strategic Studies of the University of Navarra (Spain) Emili Blasco shares this concern. According to him, last April, China’s Merchants Port Holdings became a majority stakeholder in one of Jamaica’s ports which is the closest to the Panama Canal, which makes it a very convenient hub for the Chinese with the most intensive cargo traffic in the Caribbean. However, Jamaica has been holding out on letting Beijing control the port of Goat Island. At the same time, the expert notes that Jamaica became the largest beneficiary of Chinese loans in the Antilles. From 2005 up to now, the total sum of Chinese loans to Jamaica has amounted to $2.1 bln and China is expressing interest in other ports in the region. The Dominican Republic so far has been resisting giving into the Chinese, not wanting to damage good relations with the US, yet it is possible that China will have its way sooner or later.

It is possible that the US will soon increase pressure on these Caribbean countries in order to prevent the "sea expansion" of China in the region. It is quite possible that the refusal of Jamaica and the Dominican Republic to let the Chinese into new ports is the result of Washington’s first efforts in this direction.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: World hits plateau on coronavirus cases

For a month already, worldwide coronavirus incidences have been on the decline. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the globe entered a plateau on the disease’s incidence yet there are no clear forecasts on the end of the pandemic. Many countries, including Russia, are not going to relax and are increasing the volumes of vaccination.

WHO expert Maria van Kerkhove who made the announcement about entering the plateau immediately noted that the level of incidence remains high with 4.4-4.5 mln daily infections and about 72,000-78,000 deaths registered. At the same time, the virus behaves differently in different countries and does not subside even in the countries with a high level of immunization.

In Russia, the incidence has been on the decrease since mid-July but the situation varies from region to region. Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko reiterated that it is important to get a jab which protects against the severe case of the disease. Reaching a plateau in the coronavirus incidence does not mean that the pandemic is already over, so the most direct and rapid way to stop the process of the infections is to get inoculated, the health minister concluded.

"The WHO’s announcement that global data on new COVID-19 cases worldwide hit a plateau needs to be evaluated correctly," leading science editor at Mikhail Kagan told the newspaper. "This doesn’t mean that the pandemic is drawing to an end because the situation in different regions is very uneven. We are observing the same thing in Russia - in Moscow the incidence is decreasing while it continues to grow in a number of regions. It is necessary to carefully and cautiously evaluate the specific epidemic situation in each region and compare it with the levels of vaccination coverage."

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