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Press review: Russia, US begin diplomatic marathon and CSTO members seek to bolster bloc

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, January 11th

Izvestia: Russia-US talks kick off diplomatic marathon on security guarantees

Russia's demands for NATO to return to its 1997 positions and not to deploy weapons near its borders is crucial for Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who heads the Russian delegation, said following the talks between Russia and the United States in Geneva on January 10. He stressed that future work on guarantees will depend on the NATO-Russia Council set to be held on January 12, although the dialogue held on January 10 shows that the United States has taken the Russian security proposals very seriously. According to experts interviewed by Izvestia, the first meeting sets the tone for contacts at all other venues.

The meeting in Geneva was the first in a series of talks on guarantees at different venues. The Russia-NATO Council is scheduled for January 12, and dialogue with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on January 13.

"The very fact of these meetings is a victory for Russia, and it is very sad that a crisis is needed to hold them, which, if continued, really threatens to escalate into a military conflict," Senior Fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP) Nikolay Sokov told Izvestia.

Over the past six months, two rounds of strategic stability consultations have already taken place. Although the current meeting and talks have much in common, Moscow emphasizes that these are two separate tracks. And on the contrary, according to Ryabkov, "[our] US partners would like to make the topic of security guarantees an element of the dialogue on strategic stability."

The expert community believes that the Russian-US dialogue is the most important part of the overall security negotiations. "The Russia-NATO Council is likely to fail, with a possible resumption after a long break. If there is a breakthrough in bilateral relations, then after difficult discussions with NATO, something may start to take shape," Sokov told Izvestia.

As for the OSCE, according to the expert, the launch of the consultations will be difficult. Thus, there is a good probability of success in the traditional negotiation formats, but very low in the NATO format, the expert summed up.


Vedomosti: CSTO members plan to bolster organization following Kazakhstan crisis

The upheaval in Kazakhstan became a turning point in the development of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (the CSTO which includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan). It demonstrated the bloc’s effectiveness in protecting an ally from "external terrorist aggression", experts told Vedomosti.

Leaders of the organization’s member states discussed the situation at a videoconference summit held on January 10. In their opinion, the capacity, mechanisms, and speed of decision-making in the bloc should be strengthened.

Joint steps to assist the people of Kazakhstan were agreed upon as quickly as possible, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted. Meanwhile, according to Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the CSTO proved itself to be a strong international institution in the fight against shared threats. Tokayev said that the failed insurrection had been in the works for a long time and was aimed at undermining the constitutional order and seizing power by "international terrorists", with which Putin agreed.

After the operation in Kazakhstan, the CSTO proved itself for the first time, Director of the Fund for Assistance to 21st Century Technologies Ivan Konovalov told Vedomosti. According to the commentator, this favorably sets the organization apart from NATO, which sometimes takes months to respond to a problem. Changes in the CSTO’s structure and management should not be expected, the expert believes, since they have proven themselves. In addition, the success in Kazakhstan will show the Western states that the post-Soviet space is protected not only by Russia but also by the rest of the region.

According to President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, at present, a terrorist threat is hovering over Uzbekistan, which left the CSTO in 2012. Konovalov said that it would be pragmatic for Uzbekistan to return to the CSTO. However, a Vedomosti diplomatic source in Moscow says it is too early to talk about Tashkent’s return to the organization.


Izvestia: Kazakhstan's upheaval, Libya events impact oil prices

Oil prices surpassed $82 per barrel on January 10 amid concerns about supplies from Kazakhstan and Libya. Brent oil prices in the coming month may exceed $84 per barrel, according to experts interviewed by Izvestia. Prices have already jumped 5% last week following the failed insurrection in Kazakhstan. After the situation in the Central Asian nation stabilizes, the global coronavirus crisis will resurface, analysts added.

In the coming days, the price for the black gold may reach $84 per barrel, analyst at Finam Andrey Maslov told Izvestia. "The rise in oil prices will most likely continue, but its further rise could cause a negative reaction from the largest importing countries, which could lead to a coordinated release of oil reserves to reduce pressure on prices, which already happened in the fall of 2021," the expert noted.

Oil prices were influenced not only by the situation in Kazakhstan but also in Libya. The operations of the largest pipeline were previously suspended there, which led to a decrease in oil exports by 500,000 barrels per day.

Other factors include the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Deputy Director of Analytical Department at Alpari Natalia Milchakova told Izvestia. "Oil prices are still recovering after a drawdown triggered by panic sales amid the emergence of information about the Omicron variant and speculations on how it could affect economic activity and transportation," Univer Capital CEO Askhat Sagdiev agreed.

Easing concerns about the impact of Omicron and the growing demand for oil will contribute to the continued growth of oil prices in the short term, Milchakova added. At the same time, by the end of January, oil prices should be expected to reach $77-83 per barrel, she concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iran acts as negotiation site between Taliban and opposition forces

A delegation from the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) made its first visit to Iran since the group seized power in Kabul. The trip is important not only from the point of view of politics, security, and trade but also from the point of view of settling the civil conflict in Afghanistan, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Head of the delegation, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the interim government Amir Khan Muttaqi said that in Iran he managed to hold a meeting with the leader of the National Resistance Front Ahmad Massoud Jr., the main force opposing the Taliban. According to Muttaqi, the Afghan delegation and Iranian officials discussed issues focusing on politics, security, and trade. The Taliban stressed that the movement is extremely interested in establishing constructive relations with all countries in the region.

The Iranian side, in turn, supported the need to lift international sanctions against Afghanistan’s state reserves and to boost humanitarian aid to the country. However, Iranian diplomats noted it is too early to consider officially recognizing the Taliban.

Nikita Smagin, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, told the newspaper that Iran’s main fear regarding Afghanistan today remains the deterioration of the economic and social situation because it could lead to an increase in the influx of refugees. According to the expert, some security problems were resolved after the Taliban came to power, but Afghanistan still has other local difficulties. "The country is in isolation," Smagin noted.

The expert added that Tehran insists on lifting the sanctions against the neighboring country because it can also "serve the interests of Iran, since, given that during the period of the US presence there, Afghanistan was one of the avenues used by the Iranians to bypass the sanctions".


Vedomosti: Moscow may face fifth wave of coronavirus by February

Since the end of last week, the incidence rate of coronavirus in the Russian capital has been growing. Moscow reported 2,357 detected cases on January 6, and 2,778 cases by January 10, so far, the highest figures in 2022. A serious rise in cases will occur later for various reasons, including due to the spread of a new Omicron coronavirus strain, experts told Vedomosti.

The same epidemiological processes are taking place in Russia, especially in its capital, just like in Europe, where the number of cases is growing, epidemiologist Vasily Vlasov told the newspaper. "It is likely that the rise in the incidence rate in Moscow will reflect a new wave of incidence, which should be called ‘big’. In all countries where it has already been recorded, it is 3-5 times higher than previous waves. Russia should be expecting roughly the same," the expert said.

At the same time, associate professor of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the RUDN University Sergey Voznesensky does not yet see notable dynamics in Moscow, but he does not rule out that the incidence rate will continue to rise.

Meanwhile, Russian regions should expect a new wave in March-April, depending on the local measures, the newspaper writes.

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