Vedomosti: US ready to agree not to deploy missiles in Ukraine
A Russian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov arrived on January 9 in Geneva to conduct Russian-US talks on security. Moscow submitted its demands on the security guarantees on December 15. Among others, Washington should provide legal guarantees that NATO won’t expand eastward and won’t admit Ukraine and Georgia into its ranks. The Russian side also demands that nuclear armaments not be deployed beyond the boundaries of Russia and the US. The Kremlin, which unilaterally observes a moratorium on the deployment of medium-and short-range missiles in Europe, wants to ban their deployment to places where Russia and the United States could strike each other’s territories. Moscow is offering to consider all these conditions as a package deal.
Neither country expects a breakthrough from the upcoming talks. As Ryabkov told Interfax, "it probably would be naive to assume any progress, moreover, a rapid one." US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated on January 9 that he wasn’t expecting any serious improvement in the situation either. Ryabkov didn’t exclude that the first meeting if the Russian proposals are not accepted, may turn out to be the last.
Alexander Yermakov, an expert with the Valdai Discussion Club, thinks that actually, Moscow’s position will be much more flexible. According to him, Russia presents a rigid stance for the public, with this list of strict demands simply serving to create a starting point for the talks.
The White House thinks that some concessions to Russia are still possible. As Reuters reported on January 8, citing a high-ranking US official, Washington is ready to discuss the restriction of military drills and the non-deployment of its missiles in Ukraine.
At the same time, the US is threatening Russia with serious sanctions should it decide to invade Ukraine. According to The New York Times, in the event of military aggression, Moscow will find itself under similar restrictions imposed on Iran and North Korea, with Russia’s major financial institutions disconnected from global transactions and technological restrictions directed at the aerospace and weapons sectors as well as a ban on the export of US electronics, including smartphones.
According to Director of Programs at the Russian International Affairs Council Ivan Timofeev, such sanctions would significantly harm the Russian economy and impact ordinary citizens.
Moreover, limitations on the purchases of Russian oil that the US would impose on its allies are also possible. However, it is necessary to understand that this would only happen if Russia invades Ukraine, the expert stressed.
Izvestia: How the CSTO is protecting Kazakhstan
On January 9, the CSTO collective peacekeeping forces from Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan began guarding strategic objects in Kazakhstan with a separate plan of action developed for the protection of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Kazakh authorities have already highlighted that the situation in the country is stabilizing. CSTO servicemen are on duty at new checkpoints together with Kazakh law enforcement assisting them in checking documents. However, the peacekeepers are not involved in the counter-terrorism operation itself.
Protest in Kazakhstan erupted on January 2. Initially, the demonstrators demanded lower fuel prices. Despite the fact that their demands were satisfied and the government resigned, soon the protests turned violent and escalated into disturbances and looting, most actively in the southern part of the country.
For the CSTO this is the first peacekeeping operation. According to military expert Viktor Murakhovsky, the drills that were carried out over the years at the testing grounds, unfortunately, turned out to be handy in Kazakhstan. The expert noted that the peacekeepers will be protecting fuel, nuclear energy, military, and airspace facilities. "Their other task is to prevent the formation of a terrorist pseudo-state mirroring the IS (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - outlawed in Russia) in Kazakhstan. There are quite a few radical Muslim terrorists in Kazakhstan who gained experience in Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan," the expert noted.
Head of Department of Management and Social Technologies at the Northwestern Institute of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) Inna Vetrenko noted that the CSTO reacted incredibly efficiently when coming to Kazakhstan’s aid. "This assistance was necessary not only for Kazakhstan but for Russia as well. Our country has an extensive border with this republic, and the destabilization of the situation poses a potential threat to the entire south of Russia," the expert noted, expressing confidence in the operation’s success and noting the improvement of the situation.
"Without the CSTO’s swift reaction the consequences would have been much grimmer," military expert Vladislav Shurygin told the newspaper, noting that international terrorist groups know how to exploit protest attitudes using sleeper cells and extremist religious propaganda among the youth and poorer segments of the population. According to the expert, the police and military in Syria and Iraq failed to timely react in the early stages of these conflicts, which lead to the rapid consolidation of well-armed gangs of terrorists and extremists. He stressed that it was precisely this scenario that was avoided in the neighboring Central Asian country.
Izvestia: Unusually warm weather preventing gas collapse in Europe
Due to record-high winter temperatures in the UK, France, Italy, and Spain, gas futures at the beginning of the year tested the $800 per 1,000 cubic meters mark and in the first week of January settled at $1,000. In addition to anomalous weather, gas prices backtracked following news that LNG tankers that were heading for Asia were redirected to Europe.
"It is not excluded that Europe will pass through the current heating season without significant shocks that were forecasted earlier and it won’t need additional gas volumes," Associate Professor at the Russian Government’s Financial University Valery Andrianov said, pointing out that new capacities on liquefying gas will be launched in the US and the Norwegian plant in Hammerfest will resume its operation which will lead to additional volumes.
Deputy Director General of the Institute of National Energy Alexander Frolov noted that if Nord Stream 2 is launched in the near future, gas prices would drop significantly. Managing partner of the analytical agency WMT Consult Ekaterina Kosareva noted that when the pipeline is launched, the cost of gas may return to the levels seen in the first half of 2021. However, Stanislav Mitrakhovich, a senior expert at Russia’s National Energy Security Fund, says in the future a lot will depend on the weather and should a cold spell set in then prices would go up again. Deputy Director of the National Energy Security Fund General Alexey Grivach concurs, noting that a lengthy cold spell in the second half of the heating season would create risks of a real gas deficit, especially if Nord Stream 2 is not launched and the import contracts from Russia are not expanded.
Andrianov noted that the hype related to the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus strain is dying down since it seems that it is less dangerous than its predecessors and the pandemic might soon be over. Therefore, the European economy may begin to recover at a higher rate than forecasted earlier and it will need additional gas volumes which will lead to a new price hike, the expert concluded.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow bolsters its positions in Central Asia
Ankara initiated an online meeting among the foreign ministers of the Organization of Turkic States dedicated to the events in Kazakhstan. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after a conversation with his Kazakh counterpart Mukhtar Tleuberdi reported that the event would be held on January 11. He also stated that Ankara was ready to provide assistance to Nur-Sultan. Turkey is worried that Russia knocked Kazakhstan, its most important link, out of the chain of the "Turkic world."
The unrest that rocked Kazakhstan from January 2-7 raised concerns in Ankara. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar reiterated the offer to provide aid and reiterated Turkey’s success in fighting terrorism in Idlib as well as Turkey’s role in the Karabakh conflict thus signaling that Turkey may be more useful to Kazakhstan than Russia. His statements are explainable since some Turkish experts think that the deployment of CSTO troops in Kazakhstan signals the collapse of the idea of building "a Turkic world" and the colossal material, organizational and ideological resources that Turkey had poured into Kazakhstan over the years were in vain. Currently, it is difficult to imagine that Turkey will continue to strengthen its positions in Central Asia.
Stanislav Pritchin, an expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations thinks that Turkey could not have done much anyway since there is nothing about the involvement of its armed forces under the charter of the Organization of Turkic States. According to Director of the Agency for Ethno-National Strategies Alexander Kobrinsky, Turkey was waiting for the right moment in order not to get involved in the armed phase of the conflict and assist in economic projects later. According to the expert, now both Kazakhs and Russians need to learn their lessons from the events. "Considering the negative examples related to Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova, Moscow needs to try not to repeat its mistakes," the expert noted. He thinks that if Moscow plays its cards right, a new phase of Russian presence in the region will begin.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Experts warn of potential Omicron surge
The Omicron strain continues to spread in Russia. On December 30, Russia’s chief sanitary doctor Anna Popova reported 103 infections with this variant, stressing that those infected returned from abroad or have been in contact with them. However, a week later, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that domestic cases had also been documented. This means that Russia should expect the same situation that is currently unfolding in Europe, the US, and other regions and brace for another hike in cases.
Epidemiologists and biologists also forecast a surge in infections since after the holidays, people are going to return to work and children will go back to classes thus increasing the number of contacts. That being said, an increase in infections is inevitable, virologist Anatoly Altshtein thinks. Professor of the School of Systems Biology of George Mason University (Virginia, USA) Ancha Baranova concurs, noting on her YouTube channel that there were at least two domestic outbreaks of the Omicron strain in Russia which means that it is already spreading and will only increase its presence.
According to Baranova, the form of the disease caused by Omicron is relatively mild, however, its high transmissibility still increases the load on healthcare. The expert thinks that it is possible to hope that the wave caused by Omicron, while potent, will reach its peak relatively fast and won’t last long. She recommended Russians limit their social activity for a while and avoid contacts, noting, however, that it is not always possible.
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