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Press review: North Korea tests new missile and Iran agrees to revive nuke talks

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, September 14th

Media: North Korea conducts another surprise rocket launch

The week began with news of North Korea’s long-range missile launch. Judging by a statement from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the launch came as a response to the drills that the US and South Korea had held off North Korea’s coast. Experts admit that the new missile dramatically improves Pyongyang’s ability to carry out strikes in the region but at the same time, analysts refuse to view the event as a political signal to the world and North Korea’s neighbors, Izvestia writes.

"North Korea’s move to test a new cruise missile marks an important stage in the development of the country’s military capabilities. This technology can tilt the balance of power on the Korean Peninsula in Pyongyang’s favor and create additional risks for the non-proliferation of missile technologies," Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics Vasily Kashin explained to Kommersant. According to him, the new cruise missile is in fact a subsonic jet drone consisting of a small-size turbojet engine and a navigation system.

However, Konstantin Asmolov, an expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told Izvestia that the timing of the rocket launch is more likely to have been chosen for technical rather than political reasons as military experts decided that it was the right time to conduct a launch in order to maintain the schedule. "I don’t think that it has anything to do with the current political situation, otherwise Kim Jong-un would have been present there. Had North Korea sought to send a signal to the world, the missile would have been presented at the recent military parade," the expert insists.

Pyongyang indeed has a tradition of showcasing its military novelties to the world during military parades. However, the recent one, dedicated to the 73rd anniversary of the founding of North Korea, highlighted epidemic protection troops instead of missiles and other military equipment.


Kommersant: Iran agrees to resume nuclear deal talks

The world managed to escape an escalation of tensions around Iran’s nuclear program just in the nick of time. The new Iranian authorities announced their willingness to hold talks and cooperate with international partners right before the start of a session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, where the United States and its European Allies planned to push for a tough resolution against Tehran. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi’s unexpected visit to Iran helped ease tensions. According to Kommersant, Russia played a crucial role in organizing the trip.

Six rounds of indirect talks held in the Austrian capital of Vienna allowed the parties to achieve much progress. However, the process stalled after Iran’s presidential election, so the IAEA director general’s visit to Tehran on Sunday saved the situation. During the visit, the parties agreed that an IAEA technical group would travel to Iran.

The parties interested in preserving the nuclear deal, namely Russia, China and the European Union, welcomed the outcome of Grossi’s visit to Tehran. "The IAEA director general has repeatedly joined in the process based on his technical mandate when tensions mounted and helped ease them. He succeeded in doing that once again during his Sunday trip to Tehran," Russia’s Permanent Envoy to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov told the newspaper. "It is a very positive development, which means that there will be no artificial obstacles hindering efforts to resume the talks on the JCPOA, while there was a serious risk that such obstacles would arise," he added. Ulyanov was hopeful that talks on restoring the Iran nuclear deal would resume in Vienna within the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, according to Kommersant, it was Russia that acted as a mediator and played the most important role in reaching an agreement on Grossi’s visit to Tehran. Russian Foreign Ministry officials aren’t saying anything about Moscow’s role but several independent sources, including those close to the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the IAEA Secretariat, confirmed the fact to the paper.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Getting Nord Stream 2 up and running may take a while

The launch of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline may take months and Russia and Europe won’t instantly see tangible economic benefits. The September 10 completion of construction work is an important landmark but not the last one, Rossiyskaya Gazeta notes.

Russia expects revenues from gas exports to grow once Nord Stream 2 is launched, while Europe hopes that the pipeline will help reduce the ongoing record high gas prices, which have increased several times since the beginning of the year, hitting the $760 per 1,000 cubic meters mark. However, the project will first have to overcome some obstacles. Nord Stream 2 needs to go through certification procedures. According to Germany’s Federal Network Agency, a decision will be made by January 8, 2022. After that, it will take the European Commission two to four months to assess the project and the German regulator may need another two months to make a final decision. That said, it could take up to ten months to consider the bid.

Deputy Director of the National Energy Security Fund Alexei Grivach believes that technically, all the necessary decisions on putting the gas pipeline into operation can be made very quickly but it’s hard to predict what the regulators will do because there aren’t any clear rules that would apply to this particular case. The expert pointed out that September’s elections in Germany could have a strong impact on the process. If the Greens get key positions in the country’s new government, it could create additional red tape for the project.

According to Grivach, gas demand will continue to grow in the next decade. And it’s Russia that is capable of meeting most of the demand, particularly through Nord Stream 2. The expert also emphasized that the gas pipeline project had already had a significant impact on the Russian economy. A new gas processing plant, which will be the largest in Europe, is under construction in Ust-Luga, as well as a chemical complex and LNG production facilities. Investors are pouring money into gas production on the Yamal Peninsula with Nord Stream 2 in mind. Besides, new compressor stations have been built, which are largely equipped with Russian-made devices. In the meantime, efforts will continue to ensure gas supplies to regional consumers. All of this is direct and indirect investment in the Russian economy, Grivach noted.


Vedomosti: Most Russians support Moscow’s possession of nuclear weapons

Most Russians (83%) believe that the country needs nuclear weapons, Vedomosti writes, citing a poll conducted by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center. Only 11% of those surveyed don’t see nukes as a necessity.

The poll’s results look quite convincing and even fair, Dmitry Stefanovich of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations pointed out. Russians tend to view the country’s nuclear shield positively because the memories of devastating enemy invasions are still fresh in people’s minds, and nuclear weapons protect the country from this sort of disastrous developments.

This seems to be one of the issues on which society and the government fully agree. Russia’s status as a full-fledged nuclear power and one of the two most advanced nuclear states certainly has a role in that. However, the survey’s outcome in no way means that the Russian people don’t realize the threats that come from nuclear weapons, this is why many support initiatives related to a nuclear test ban and nuclear non-proliferation, Stefanovich added.

Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov, in turn, finds the poll’s results rather logical. According to him, efforts "to rehabilitate nuclear weapons as a universal containment tool and a factor preventing a major nuclear conflict" have been underway in Russia for years. The public considers nuclear arms to be a tool that helps the country narrow the gap from the collective West in terms of other weapons, Kortunov stressed. Meanwhile, there is a clear divide between older and younger generations. According to Kortunov, for some youngsters, nuclear weapons, as well as any military standoff, is "a relic of the past century."

The interest that Russians take in the authorities’ foreign policy statements might be another reason why nuclear weapons are popular among the country’s population, the expert added.


Izvestia: OPEC keeps oil demand growth forecast unchanged

OPEC countries don’t expect oil demand to grow rapidly because of the unstable global situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, experts interviewed by Izvestia said, commenting on the organization’s decision to keep its oil demand forecast largely unchanged.

OPEC doesn’t expect oil demand to increase dramatically and is keeping its forecasts unchanged at an average level because the fight against the pandemic may turn out to be not so effective as it seems now, Alpari Analyst Anna Bodrova explained.

Oil demand will depend on the rate of the global economic recovery and the coronavirus situation around the world, Finam Analyst Anna Zaitseva pointed out. Despite coronavirus outbreaks in some countries, the overall positive trends in global oil demand are still there, the expert noted. As for oil supply, it will continue to grow in the coming months thanks to easing production quotas within the OPEC+ group and rising production in countries outside the organization, the analyst said.

According to Executive Director of the Capital Market Department at Univer Capital Artem Tuzov, OPEC+ countries will try to keep oil output a little below demand in order to make sure that oil prices slowly grow, which, as a result, may reach the $80 per barrel mark by the end of the year. That will meet the needs of OPEC+ nations and at the same time it won’t be a disaster for customers, the expert explained.

Tuzov believes that there is little risk that another coronavirus wave will slow down global economic growth. And as winter approaches, developing countries will need more energy, which will push prices up, the analyst concluded.

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