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Press review: Dushanbe against Taliban-only gov’t and Russia, Israel talk Iran in Moscow

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, September 10th
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
© Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS

Izvestia: How economic consolidation between Moscow and Minsk is working out

After three years Russia and Belarus managed to coordinate all programs on the development of integration within the framework of the Union State. This was announced following the September 9 talks of Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow. The sides reached agreements even on such sensitive issues as energy supplies, for example, the price of Russian natural gas for Minsk for 2022 will remain at this year’s level and by December 2023 a document will be signed on a unified gas market for the Union State. A harmonization of tax and customs regulations, labor legislation, public employment, social insurance and pensions is planned. Though so far this involves mainly economic rapprochement, the leaders did not exclude that political integration is also possible on this basis. According to experts, the implementation of 28 programs will be a major boost for the socio-economic development of both countries, particularly in the conditions of the Western sanctions pressure.

This has been Lukashenko’s fifth visit to Russia this year. The two presidents maintain constant contact via the phone and in addition to face-to-face meetings constantly participate together in various international forums and summits. Russia and Belarus have been actively working on deepening the integration for three years at various levels and the result of their effort was the development of 28 union programs. At a press conference following the three-hour talks, Putin confirmed that all the programs were coordinated at the meeting. On September 10, the Council of Ministers of the Union State will convene to approve the programs after which they will be submitted for final approval by the Supreme State Council of the Union State which may take place in October.

In addition to the harmonization of tax and customs legislation, the programs lay out common goals in forming a single monetary and credit policy, currency exchange regulation, the integration of national payment systems and the creation of a single payment space within the framework of the Union State which should guarantee fair competition and activity on the financial market as well as effective response to money laundering and financing of criminal activity, including terrorism. The parties also reached agreements on issues sensitive for Minsk, such as prices for energy products and the united marker for oil and electric power. Additionally, the two countries will develop common approaches to a number of labor and social issues.

Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian integration and Relations with Compatriots Viktor Vodolatsky thinks that the coordination of these programs is an important step in the development of the Union State and the economies of both countries, particularly under conditions of heavy external pressure on Russia and Belarus. He thinks it will positively influence the labor market and small-and mid-sized business. "These 28 roadmaps will boost the development of socio-economic results of the Union State," he noted.

Both countries will also become closer in the military-political sphere and the leaders discussed the relations with Western countries, sanctions and the situation in Afghanistan. Additionally, Putin did not exclude the creation of the union parliament of Russia and Belarus, however, economic integration should come first, the Russian leader stressed. Director of the Institute for Peacekeeping Initiatives and Conflictology Denis Denisov noted that complex relations with the collective West is only one of the aspects of intensified Russian-Belarusian cooperation. Moscow and Minsk are alarmed by NATO’s eastward expansion and the expert thinks that the development of unified approaches in the defense policy of the two countries is important given the circumstances. "I would say that Russia and Belarus are on the same wavelength," Belarusian political scientist Alexei Dzermant said, noting that the two countries constantly support each other and seem to be satisfied with the current state of relations.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Dushanbe becoming center of struggle against Taliban

The Rubezh-2021 (Frontier-2021) drills held in Kyrgyzstan jointly with the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces were completed on Thursday and proceeded without Tajikistan’s previously-announced participation. The sources in the CSTO, however, reported, that an operative group of Tajikistan’s General Staff officers was present at the drills. The expert community thinks that this is unrelated to the April border conflict between the two countries but is rather caused by the tense situation on the border with Afghanistan.

Tajikistan is the only country bordering Afghanistan that assumed an irreconcilable stance regarding the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) regime. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon thinks that in order to resolve Afghanistan’s political problems "it is necessary to create an inclusive government with the participation of all national minorities." Tajiks make up about 40% of Afghanistan’s population which is the largest national group in the country after the Pashtuns, however, only Pashtuns, with one exception, are represented in the Taliban government. National minorities held mass protest rallies against the new cabinet of ministers, while the Tajiks in the Panjshir Province under the auspices of Afghanistan’s National Resistance Front are fighting the Taliban militants.

There are no reports as to whether Tajikistan is providing military support to the resistance. On September 8, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin said that the Taliban use aviation from "third countries" in its attacks on Panjshir. Earlier, Indian media outlets said those were Pakistani combat helicopters and drones which Pakistan denied. At the same time, social media noted that "some planes attacked the positions of Taliban militants" and an alleged high activity of Russian military aircraft in southern Tajikistan was noted. "It is interesting whether Pakistani delegates will come to the SCO summit in Dushanbe in mid-September," military expert, retired Colonel Shamil Gareev told the newspaper. "Islamabad profits from the Pashtuns controlling all of Afghanistan. Turkey has the same position," he noted. The expert also said that Moscow supports its CSTO partners, including Tajikistan, yet he doubted that Moscow would go for an unofficial military cooperation with the resistance in Afghanistan. "It will all become clear at the CSTO and SCO summits that will be held in Dushanbe in a week’s time," he said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Will Russia’s Central Bank raise the key rate

Russia’s five-year high inflation figures disappointed analysts who were expecting a seasonal pause in rising prices. According to expert forecasts, the Central Bank will continue to raise the key rate, approaching 7% annually. It is questionable whether this measure will be effective given accelerated inflation on external markets and a weakened economy. Experts warn that this policy may slow Russia’s economic growth in 2022 and note that the Finance Ministry could help fight inflation if it changes its approach to buying currency on the domestic market.

According to Dmitry Belousov of the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting, the inflation numbers of the past six weeks are deeply disappointing since instead of a seasonal decrease in prices, they are still on the rise. The Federal Statistics Service reported that August’s inflation figure came to 6.7% after 6.5% in July. According to the expert, this practically guarantees another hike in the key rate by the Bank of Russia. It is very likely that on Friday, Elvira Nabiullina, who heads Russia's Central Bank, will announce this imminent key rate increase.

The experts differ in evaluating the effect from the expected key rate increase. "Despite the fact that the inflation in Russia today is mainly generated by growing prices on imported products, parts and materials, the Central Bank is fighting our Russian inflation, and not the global one," Natalya Milchakova of Alpari thinks. Head of Analytics Department at AMarkets Artem Deev thinks that the increased key rate will lead a new round of decreased consumer demand, decreased business turnover and lowered economic growth. In his opinion, it is unrealistic to fight global inflation when Russia is solidly involved in global chains. Finam’s Olga Belenkaya thinks that the Central Bank doesn’t have that many instruments to lower inflation. However, she specified that "the Finance Ministry purchasing currency on the domestic market in current volumes artificially bring down the ruble rate while its strengthening could have aided in decreasing inflation."


Izvestia: Russian, Israeli top diplomats focus on Iran in Moscow

Moscow is hoping for a meeting among the mediators of the Middle East Quartet on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process soon, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the newspaper commenting on the September 9 talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid. "I think that this "quartet" format is the only effective one, recognized and noted in international documents. Yet the question of time, unfortunately, depends not only on us. We do not see a swift positive reaction on the part of [our] American partners. It is possible to meet both before, during, or after the UN General Assembly. We have been talking about this for a while," the Russian senior diplomat emphasized.

The Palestinians are ready for direct dialogue with Israel under the quartet’s auspices, Palestinian Ambassador to Russia Abdel Hafiz Nofal told the newspaper.

The foreign ministers also discussed Iran’s nuclear potential. According to the Russian diplomat, Moscow supports all participants of the deal returning to the original agreement enshrined in the resolution of the UN Security Council.

Israeli political scientist Zeev Hanin pointed out that the Iranian issue is extremely pressing for Israel since currently Tehran is much closer to obtaining nuclear weapons than six years ago when the deal was made. "This was the reason for the visit, they needed to understand the position of the Russian Federation, whether Moscow is ready for Israel undertaking its own steps against Iran if it is not possible to return to the nuclear deal," the expert noted.

It is notable that a day earlier, the Iranian issue was discussed in Moscow by US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley as well.


Kommersant: Experts forecast the State Duma election results

The Expert Institute of Social Studies conducted a roundtable discussion on Thursday where sociologists and political scientists laid out their forecasts for the State Duma elections. In general, their opinions coincided: all four parliamentary parties should pass the 5% threshold with United Russia receiving from 41% to 44% votes, while the Communist Party is expected to garner about 20%. Additionally, the experts think that the New People party has a chance of getting into the lower house, though the Party of Pensioners has a slim chance of that.

Mikhail Mamonov of the Russian Public Opinion Research Center presented results of a recent poll where 29.4% of all polled and 35.3% of electorally active respondents were ready to vote for United Russia which gave him the forecast of 42% of votes and a forecasting range of 41% до 44%. The figures for the Communist Party, respectively, were 16.5%, 20.5%, 19% and 18-22%, for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) — 10%, 8.5%, 11% and 10-13%, Just Russia - For Truth — 5.5%, 6.9%, 8% and 7-9%, New People — 5.5%, 4.6%, 5% and 4-6%.

Director for political analysis at INSOMAR company, sociologist Dmitry Poturemsky gave a similar forecast according to the study conducted by his company.

According to Public Opinion Foundation Leading Analyst Grigory Kertman, the Party of Pensioners also has "ephemeral" chances of passing the 5% mark since it is currently being supported by 3.6% of electorally active voters.

Ekaterina Kurbangaleeva of the Osoboe Mnenie research center thinks that United Russia’s ranking went up because of a "strong motivational signal" on the part of the government, the measures of social support and an improvement in social well-being. However, she notes that the Communist Party continues to gain support. The expert urged not to jump to conclusions regarding smaller political parties since they have almost no reserves left.

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