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Press review: Putin-Biden summit focuses on Ukraine and UK eyes AUKUS-like axis for Arctic

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, December 8th
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden Adam Schultz/The White House via AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden
© Adam Schultz/The White House via AP

Media: Tensions around Ukraine may ease after Putin-Biden summit

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Joe Biden of the United States have held a video conference call. Tensions around Ukraine, which started rising about a month ago, may ease in the summit’s wake, Vedomosti writes, citing a diplomatic source.

Attempts to promote the Ukraine issue ahead of the summit stemmed from an unfavorable domestic situation in the US, Russian International Affairs Council expert Maxim Suchkov pointed out. Biden will try to depict the summit’s outcome as a diplomatic victory, alleging that he had threatened Putin with serious measures and made him understand what he shouldn’t do, Suchkov explained. As for Moscow, it has no interest in raising tensions, but seeks to make its red lines clear. According to the expert, the Kremlin is concerned that Kiev may try to push for its NATO accession as the conflict exacerbates.

Washington deliberately sought to flare up tensions in the media through constant leaks about Russia’s alleged preparations for invading Ukraine in order to strengthen its own position and let Moscow see what it should expect if the situation deteriorates, Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev emphasized. Russia, in turn, was not escalating the situation, only showing its ability to respond to US allegations.

German political scientist Alexander Rahr told Rossiyskaya Gazeta that "the virtual summit was very useful." "Both parties have yet to make more specific statements on its results but I hope that it will really facilitate de-escalation," the expert noted. Rahr was confident that Putin and Biden "also discussed disarmament and the situation around Iran’s nuclear program," which is a good sign, "along with the fact that the conversation lasted about two hours." "It means that it was not only about threats. If one of them started to threaten the other, their conversation would not have lasted this long. Let’s hope that Moscow and Washington have a constructive agenda," the analyst concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: UK seeks to create AUKUS-style axis in Arctic

The British government has announced talks on an international agreement to expand Arctic cooperation between Western countries. US and EU officials have also highlighted the need for international control over the Northern Sea Route. And now, London is stepping in, taking advantage of the Ukraine factor and expressing its readiness to make allies with Canada and other northern countries, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

InfoBrics columnist Lucas Leiroz believes that the UK and Canada are actually declaring an Arctic war against Russia. He cited the British defense secretary, who had explicitly expressed London’s determination to establish a new alliance along the lines of the recently established AUKUS. The AUKUS axis that the United States, Australia and the UK set up in September is set against China. London plays a minor role in it, but as for creating an AUKUS-like alliance against Russia in the north, the United Kingdom is bent on calling the shots.

Chairman of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Trade Union of Military Servicemen Captain 1st Rank Oleg Shvedkov, who served in Russia’s Northern Fleet, points out that for now, the UK and its NATO allies - namely the US and Canada - cannot effectively confront Russia in the Arctic. "First, in order to flex their military muscle, they need to send warship units there but these countries have neither this kind of experience, nor enough icebreakers capable of effective action in northern seas," the expert explained.

"Second, they are limited in their use of submarines under the ice. Operating submarines under such conditions requires special skills that take years to acquire and only the Russian fleet boasts such capabilities at the moment. Third, the flights of US and NATO strategic aircraft near Russia’s borders is the only real threat that concerns Moscow but given advanced air defenses, it’s not a defining factor," the analyst emphasized.


Kommersant: Washington plans to arrange global campaign against authoritarianism

US President Joe Biden will open the Summit for Democracy on Thursday, which will be his crucial geopolitical project aimed at reviving the idea of US leadership driven by democratic values. The list of 110 participant countries in fact makes up a map of Washington’s current and potential allies. However, the project is actually an attempt to slow down the decline in US influence, Kommersant notes.

The upcoming summit has revealed two opposite approaches to the idea of a global democratic league headed by the United States. Some countries took it as a possibility to improve their geopolitical standing by taking advantage of the recognition from Washington, while others saw it as an attempt to draw new dividing lines in the world.

"The idea of liberal democracy that the US actively promoted globally for the past 30 years, has actually discredited itself within the United States and the demand for it is declining outside the country. The situation is dramatic for Washington particularly because although the liberal democratic project has petered out, the Americans have nothing to replace it with," Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies Vladimir Vasilyev pointed out.

"The Summit for Democracy provides the US with a unique opportunity to divide the world into us and them. However, making the new ideological model viable will require creating a new military and political mechanism to protect it. Such a mechanism will inevitably have to be broader than NATO. However, it is unclear if the US will be able to establish a model that would include new alliances such as QUAD and AUKUS," Fund for Political Research Director Andrei Fedorov noted.


Vedomosti: Market experts view potential ban on ruble-to-dollar conversion as unlikely

The implementation of a scenario where Western countries ban Russia from converting rubles into their currencies and exclude the country from the SWIFT global payment network would be like shooting oneself in the foot, said analysts interviewed by Vedomosti.

One day before a conversation between Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Joe Biden of the United States, CNN reported that the US was working on new measures to take if Russia moved "to attack" Ukraine, which would involve sanctions against Russia’s sovereign debt and the exclusion of Russia from the SWIFT network.

The possibility of Russia’s cutoff from SWIFT and a ban on currency conversion is rather low, Head of Investment Products at Tinkoff Investment Evgeny Dorofeev noted. Russia’s close economic ties with the European Union and Asian countries will largely complicate the implementation of such sanctions, if not make them impossible, the expert said. Russia has been under sanctions since 2014 and has developed resistance to news like this, Chief of Personal Brokerage Service at BCS Premier Sergei Kuchin emphasized. Market players understand that it is hardly possible to isolate Russia like Iran and North Korea, the expert explained. The West definitely wonders how it would affect oil and gas prices.

Russia exports a lot of goods, which involves payments in foreign currencies, Associate Professor with the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Yuri Tverdokhleb pointed out. According to him, "imposing restrictions on currency transactions would be like shooting oneself in the foot." The talk about cutting Russia off from SWIFT has been going on for years, but Russia’s Central Bank has its own equivalent of the network, called the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, which was created for such an occasion in 2014. The number of transactions through this system doubled in 2020, reaching the 20.6% share of Russia’s SWIFT traffic. Certainly, if sanctions are imposed, they will complicate international financial relations but it won’t be critical for Russia, Tverdokhleb stressed.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Omicron coronavirus strain may replace Delta worldwide

The new Omicron coronavirus variant continues to rapidly spread around the globe. Experts are trying to figure out how it will change the course of the pandemic. Their forecasts range from "all this will end by the summer" to "there will be a fifth wave," Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

"Whether Omicron will affect the course of the pandemic depends on its main features, including contagiousness, ability to avoid immunity and virulence," Leading Scientific Editor at the medical education service Mikhail Kagan explained.

"If Omicron incorporates the worst features, it will significantly raise tensions and the need to take even more serious measures to prevent the virus from spreading," Kagan said. However, a more optimistic scenario is also possible, provided that the new variant will turn out to be highly contagious but causing just a light form of the disease. "It will be a positive sign as it will free us from the Delta variant and make it more difficult for new and potentially more dangerous strains to spread," the expert noted.

It is too early to draw conclusions about what tomorrow will bring, Director General of the DNKOM Center for Molecular Genetic Studies Andrei Isayev emphasized. "If we look at South African cases, we will see that Omicron is aggressive towards Delta, which is being replaced by Omicron everywhere," the expert said.

Since Omicron cases have already been identified in Russia, the country may have to face a fifth coronavirus wave in the near future, experts warn. It's no wonder that many nations are trying to get more people to receive booster vaccine shots.

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