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Press review: Pentagon plays blame game over Afghan flop and Kosovo-Serbia tensions eased

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, October 1st
US Department of Defense gokturk_06/Shutterstock/FOTODOM
US Department of Defense
© gokturk_06/Shutterstock/FOTODOM

Izvestia: Russia, US agree to create two strategic stability task forces

Moscow and Washington have agreed to establish two strategic stability task forces, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters following the second round of bilateral consultations in Geneva. Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that it is an important step but the current priority is to determine the subject of negotiations, while there still are a lot of disagreements between the parties on what kind of weapons need to be restricted.

"The two countries have different priorities," Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations Dmitry Stefanovich pointed out. "However, there also are possible solutions: for instance, they could expand the nuclear warheads aspect, focusing on the deployed warheads, and find common ground in terms of intermediate and shorter-range missiles in Europe," he added.

According to experts, Russia and the United States will not fit such a wide range of aspects into one document but will make a set of agreements. "There used to be two tracks - the nuclear and non-nuclear ones - which were loosely connected with each other. However, high-precision long-range weapons have now been created, which can be used for purposes similar to those of nuclear weapons," Senior Researcher at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Nikolai Sokov explained.

Progress in talks depends not so much on how often meetings take place but on the political will of both parties, Stefanovich emphasized. If the task forces are successfully set up, the Russian and US delegations will be able to meet as results are achieved. And if at some point conditions are created for full-fledged talks, the pace will change, the expert noted. However, failure is also possible. It could be driven both by external causes, including deteriorating relations, escalating regional conflicts and incidents during military drills, and domestic ones, namely attempts to link consultations to issues not related to them, as well as the parties' lack of flexibility, the analyst stressed. However, there is no reason to talk about a failure at the moment as according to Ryabkov, Moscow seeks to avoid ramping up tensions around disagreements, and instead "focusing on where and how we can move together."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US military blames Department of State for Afghan failure

Closed US Senate hearings on the situation in Afghanistan, which involved Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, resulted in a scandal. The top brass blamed the US Department of State for the failed evacuation of US and Afghan nationals from Kabul. According to Milley, the Department of State waited too long before initiating the operation. Experts say that the situation indicates a lack of coordination between US state agencies and partisan controversy, too, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The Department of State is indeed responsible for launching noncombatant evacuation operations but it is the military that usually has to carry them out. According to the Pentagon chief, the US Central Command started preparations for a possible mission just weeks after US President Joe Biden's April announcement of plans to end the Afghan campaign. The Department of State delayed the decision until the very last minute.

According to Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies Pavel Koshkin, accusations against the Department of State are an essential part of a long-term standoff between the diplomatic agency and the Pentagon. "It is normal for US politics," the analyst explained. "In particular, tensions flared up between the Pentagon and the Department of State after the 2001 terrorist attacks and ahead of the US military operation in Iraq. Diplomats warned [then President] George W. Bush against hasty steps but at the time, the victory went to warmongers led by then Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld," he noted.

"The Pentagon is largely controlled by Republicans who won't miss a chance to retaliate against Democrats for past grievances, and it's the Democratic Party that Biden and his administration represent," Koshkin emphasized. "In fact, it is a conflict between the US military and diplomats," he elaborated. "In 2002-2003, the military had the upper hand because it enjoyed the active support of the White House. Today, the situation is different as the White House and the Department of State are in this together against the Pentagon," Koshkin said.


Izvestia: Serbia and Kosovo move to reconcile tensions

The Brussels talks on the situation in the Balkans have lead to a conditional success. Serbia and the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo agreed to withdraw troops from the border. Pristina's special forces will be replaced by members of NATO's KFOR mission and Serbian barricades near checkpoints will be dismantled. Within a special commission formed by the European Union, Belgrade and Pristina will address the license plate issue, the cause of the current crisis. Experts interviewed by Izvestia say that the most acute phase of the crisis is over and both Belgrade and Pristina are satisfied with the new agreement.

Leading Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for Slavic Studies Elena Guskova explained that the accord will ease tensions on the border as the Serbs are dismantling barricades, the Kosovo police are leaving and NATO forces will patrol the area for two weeks. "Tensions have been eased, a promising plan for the Brussels negotiating process has been built but we'll see how long the talks will last. I think that the negotiations will take much time because it's not just about license plates but also about the Serbian community in Kosovo," the expert pointed out.

The agreement between Belgrade and Pristina marks the end of the license plate incident but the crisis itself was largely a show set up for the domestic and foreign audiences, Leading Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe Pavel Kandel said. "The conflict could have been used for electoral purposes. (Serbian President) Vucic is facing an election early next year, as well as (Kosovo Prime Minister) Kurti. They have similar goals and motives to try to influence their domestic audiences," the expert explained. Besides, the current crisis was a way to attract Brussels' attention. And it worked, the analyst noted, both European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar visited Belgrade and Pristina. The agreement on de-escalation is largely the result of their efforts, Kandel stressed.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Turkey becomes Ukraine's main defense ally

Kiev seeks to use Ankara's military support to launch a new stage of efforts to organize military activities in southeastern Ukraine. The commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has issued a special order to lift restrictions on the use of weapons in the Donbass conflict zone, handing down instructions to employ the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles in combat situations. On Wednesday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin was holding talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, a Ukrainian-Turkish memorandum on the creation of a joint training center for the use and upgrading of these drones was signed in Kiev, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

The Turkish media reported, citing the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, that the two countries would launch drone production at the next stage of defense cooperation.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky recently held a meeting with Erdogan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, "and the two leaders made rather harsh remarks about Russia, accusing Moscow of occupying Crimea," military expert retired Colonel Nikolai Shulgin noted, adding that "apart from boosting defense cooperation, Ankara and Kiev are also building a common foreign policy platform."

"Erdogan is not just providing assistance to Ukraine, it's more like joint economic activities, which include defense cooperation," military expert retired Colonel Vladimir Popov pointed out. Some joint projects have already been launched, the expert said. "For instance, the Bayraktar Akinci unmanned aerial vehicle, which has been recently adopted by the Turkish army, is equipped with the Ukrainian-made AI-450C turboprop engine. I don't rule out that such drones will soon be provided to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It is a powerful offensive weapon. So the situation is dangerous, given Ukraine's aggressive plans to end 'the occupation' of Crimea and Donbass," the expert emphasized.


Vedomosti: Experts expect Russian exports to reach record levels

Russia's exports will exceed $500 bln this year for the first time since 2013, Vedomosti writes, citing a Citi analysis. Exports are already near the highest levels in years and the prices of basic commodities continue to grow, experts pointed out in a review note.

The Citi analysts attribute the spike in Russian exports to a rise in prices on commodity markets, primarily, the oil and gas one. Brent crude price hit the $78 per barrel mark on September 30, a level last seen in October 2018. Gas prices continue to break records. Besides, Russia's Federal State Statistics Service reported earlier that the country's export of metals and metal products had increased in July before the introduction of export duties. According to the Federal Customs Service, aluminium exports skyrocketed to $7.4 bln in July, which is 16 times as much as in the same period last year.

Exports will continue to grow this year as the global economic recovers and energy prices rise, said Director of the Higher School of Economics' Trade Policy Institute Alexander Daniltsev. However, in his words, the pace will slow down at the end of the year because if the winter is not unusually cold, fuel prices will likely face pressure.

In any case, if the global economy does not enter another period of stagnation, Russian exports will keep growing in 2022, though at a lower rate, Daniltsev added.

Experts expect Russian exports to increase further in 2022, as analysts are optimistic about the prospects of commodity goods, said Chief Citi Economist in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan Ivan Chakarov.

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