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Press review: Putin gets tough on NATO and Congress dismayed with Biden’s Syria policy

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, December 24th

Vedomosti: Russia currently has no plans for talks with Ukraine

Russia’s foreign policy was one of the focuses of President Vladimir Putin’s annual end-of-the-year press conference. In particular, the president emphasized that Russia’s actions towards Ukraine depended on the need to ensure national security. According to Putin, the problem is that NATO continues its eastward expansion despite its promises, Vedomosti writes.

Issues related to Ukraine will clearly be one of the main topics of the upcoming Russian-US talks in Geneva, along with the deployment of intermediate-range missiles to Europe, Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Ruslan Pukhov pointed out, adding that so far, it was not about talks with Ukraine itself.

"There will be a conversation with the Americans and depending on how it goes and what instructions Washington hands down to Kiev, a channel for a conversation with Ukraine may be unblocked, though it will hardly be initiated at the level of the presidents," Moscow Carnegie Center Director Dmitry Trenin noted.

The fact that the date and location for a meeting between Russian and US negotiators have been agreed on is a positive sign, the expert said. In other respects, Putin reiterated Moscow’s well-known position. According to the Russian leader’s logic, at this time, the Americans are ready to engage in talks only under the threat of a conflict, Trenin added.

So far, Putin has been playing the military and military-technical cards, but the latter is now taking a back seat because Washington is more impressed by the threat of a full-scale conventional war in Eastern Europe than by Russia’s capabilities to conduct nuclear missile attacks, Trenin explained. According to him, the conclusion is that Putin’s rhetoric and actions are a clear demonstration of force, but it is linked to the desire to stabilize the deteriorating military and political situation in Europe.


Kommersant: Washington, NATO allies ready to discuss security issues with Russia, US envoy says

The United States and its NATO allies are ready to discuss the security issues that Russia has raised, US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan said in an interview with Kommersant. On December 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a draft agreement on security guarantees with the US and a draft agreement on ensuring the security of Russia and NATO member states.

Sullivan pointed out that Washington’s willingness to interact with Moscow was a continuation of the first meeting between Presidents Joe Biden of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia, which had been held in June. According to the envoy, Washington seeks stable and predictable relations but has no intention of giving up its principles and values.

As for talks on security guarantees with Moscow, the United States will not compromise on its relations with NATO allies, Sullivan noted. According to the US ambassador, there are preconditions for diplomacy that the US and NATO allies are seeking. At the same time, the US hears the concerns that Russia has voiced and is ready to engage in discussions. However, the envoy was hopeful that it would be a dialogue rather than a situation where one of the parties demanded guarantees. The United States and its allies are prepared for dialogue and are looking forward to this conversation, the envoy emphasized.

Washington does not rule out that talks with Moscow will lead to progress in discussions of Russia’s concerns, Sullivan added. In his words, the US and NATO will raise their own concerns and worries in dialogue with Russia, so Washington cannot sign the draft agreements proposed by Moscow right off the bat. Sullivan pointed out that Russia was dealing with partners who had their own security interests that needed to be taken into consideration.


Izvestia: US lawmakers dismayed with Biden’s Syria policy

Members of Congress seek to control President Joe Biden’s Syria policy. Many legislators are convinced that the US president is ready to make diplomatic compromises with the Bashar Assad regime. According to media reports, the draft 2022 National Defense Authorization Act contains a number of demands for the US administration, aimed at preventing relations between Arab nations and the Assad government from improving and Russia from achieving its diplomatic goals, Izvestia writes.

Syria has never been a foreign policy priority for the US, Alexey Khlebnikov, an expert on the Middle East and Russia’s foreign policy pointed out.

"The new [US] administration does not view the Syrian conflict as a separate important issue, but considers it to be a secondary matter linked to more important goals, including interaction with Iran and efforts to resolve the nuclear deal, relations with Russia and Turkey and the need to ensure the security of US allies in the region," the political analyst emphasized.

Orientalist scholar Andrey Ontikov shares the same position. "Biden and his administration can feel at ease given that the United States maintains a military presence in Syria. Technically, the Americans are not giving up the idea of removing Bashar Assad from power but the Syrian conflict is something more to them than just a fight against Damasus," the expert explained. According to him, the current status quo is likely to suit the US. "The Americans are comfortable in Syria and the big question is how to get them out of there. It can become a serious headache for Russia," Ontikov noted.


Kommersant: Oil market developing immunity to pandemic challenges

European oil prices have risen again after a considerable drop on December 20, actually returning to this month’s highs. The new coronavirus variant is no longer having a significant impact on investor behavior, said experts interviewed by Kommersant.

Head of the Economic and Sectoral Analysis at Promsvyazbank Yevgeny Loktyukhov points out that prices are steadily recovering "along with the global markets, based on the news that are easing concerns about the Omicron variant and new lockdowns."

According to head of the Analysis Unit at Zenit Bank Vladimir Yevstifeyev, prices are rebounding quickly because "the moderately positive prospects for the global economy are still there." The expert noted that the US Federal Reserve’s toughened rhetoric went hand in hand with the improved forecasts for economic growth, which was creating conditions for a continued rise in oil demand.

Asset Manager at BCS World of Investment Vitaly Gromadin emphasized that "the world is now more prepared for the threat of the virus."

Loktyukhov believes that in the current situation, there are no significant obstacles to prevent a scenario where prices will rise at the end of the year or early next year.

According to Yevstifeyev’s estimates, oil prices will remain at the $70-80 per barrel level in the coming months. Gromadin noted, however, that the persisting energy crisis in Europe might become a factor for price hikes on the oil market as well.


Vedomosti: Pandemic boosts Russians' interests in medicine

The Russian public’s interest in science has reached a peak not seen since 2018. In 2021, a total of 64% of respondents nationwide said that they took an interest in the achievements of modern science, which is seven percent higher than last year, Vedomosti writes, citing a poll conducted by the Nauka (or Science) TV channel and the Modern Media Research Institute.

As for scientific fields that fascinate Russians, medicine and biology top the list. A total of 38% of those surveyed said they were interested in those areas. "Medicine and biology are the two most popular sciences because the world has been living in a pandemic for two years," Professor Nikolay Skvortsov from St. Petersburg State University’s Department of Comparative Sociology pointed out. "We have been endlessly hearing about healthcare issues, we think about it non-stop, fearing things related to medicine," he added.

"For instance, when humans first went to space, everyone started taking an interest in space," Skvrotsov noted. According to him, if the pandemic eventually ends, this interest may fade.

"After a period of actual destruction, science is now going through a revival, which directly encourages parents who wish to see their children become researchers and also boosts people’s trust in science as an industry," Director of Higher School of Economics’ Institute for Applied Political Studies Valeria Kasamara said. She noted that the fight against the coronavirus pandemic required scientific solutions, "which is the reason why medicine and biology are the two sciences that interest Russians the most."

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