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Press review: Did a North Korean missile ground US flights and why Russia’s market plunged

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, January 14th

Media: Russia sees talks with West as failure

Moscow regards its security guarantees talks with the United States and NATO as a failure, according to the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry. Experts interviewed by Izvestia said that such an outcome was not surprising. However, neither Russia nor NATO intend to wrap up dialogue at this point. Things will become clear next week when Washington and NATO are expected to furnish a written response to Moscow.

"The talks have produced no result," Professor Yevgeny Buzhinsky of the Higher School of Economics pointed out. "There certainly are some provisions on which it’s quite possible to agree, including military drills and missile deployment. But all other Russian demands have been rejected. Now, everything will depend on Ukraine. If it opts to escalate tensions, Russia will have to interfere," he said.

"The parties had diametrically opposed approaches and demands from the very beginning, so it’s no surprise that their positions remained unchanged following the first meeting," Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for International Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Andrey Baklitsky noted. "It appears that now Moscow is waiting for a written response from the US, on which further work will be based. However, on the whole, the situation remains very tense as warnings are being made about military measures. It means that if it becomes clear that the process is going nowhere, some countermeasures will be taken. Nevertheless, the process continues," the expert noted.

The ultimate failure of the talks will lead to another rise in tensions because in such a case, Russia vowed to take retaliatory measures that haven’t been clarified yet, Russian International Affairs Council expert Maxim Suchkov told Vedomosti. At the same time, in his words, some positive trends did emerge during the recent negotiations. The parties found out that there were areas where they could hold discussions albeit on technical issues, he added.

Washington is still unwilling to discuss Russia’s agenda and consider Moscow as an equal partner. The US is only prepared to hold talks on those issues that are of interest to it, namely the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies at Moscow State University Yury Rogulev emphasized.


Kommersant: Kazakhstan mission to define future of Russia-led bloc’s peacekeeping forces

The peacekeeping forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) are leaving Kazakhstan after completing their mission. Experts in CSTO member states, interviewed by Kommersant, point out that the first use of the alliance’s forces in a genuine crisis should be assessed and changes in the method of operation should be made if necessary.

According to Kazakh political analyst Eduard Poletayev, the peacekeeping mission helped the CSTO get rid of the labels that it used to carry, one of them being that it’s "a Russian occupation tool." "In fact, the organization has proven its adequacy for the first time in the 30 years since its creation," the expert noted. "A precedent has been set and if something like this happens again, no one will talk about occupation," he added.

Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan, in turn, warned against making hasty conclusions. "First, we understand perfectly well that Russia is the CSTO’s driving force and it was Russia that carried out the operation in Kazakhstan," the expert emphasized. "Second, it wasn’t a military operation. Symbols and political meanings were important here," he noted.

Kubatbek Rakhimov, who used to serve as an advisor to several Kyrgyz prime ministers, is confident that the experience gained during the recent mission needed to be "institutionalized." "In Kazakhstan, the CSTO forces protected strategic facilities. This is what could be included in the organization’s rules for how to act if instability arises or a border conflict breaks out. The CSTO should not be a tool that an autocrat would turn to in order to remain in power, which is what many are concerned about. However, if a mechanism is developed that in case of a crisis, allied forces will take control of infrastructure facilities, it will cool down many hotheads," the expert stressed.


Vedomosti: North Korean missile may be culprit behind FAA’s grounding of US civilian aircraft on West Coast

The Drive, an American news publication, has published an investigative article that links the US Federal Aviation Administration’s January 10 order to suspend all flights over the country’s western states with the test launch of a new North Korean missile. An instruction of this sort was issued for the first time since September 11, 2001, Vedomosti notes.

Test launches themselves cannot create the risk of a nuclear strike on North Korea unless tensions rise to the highest level, which is not currently the case, Russian International Affairs Council expert Alexander Yermakov emphasized. According to him, missile tests may establish conditions for such an attack if all the involved parties already are on the verge of a conflict.

This time, the early warning radar system in the US or Japan seems to have sorted things out quite promptly, Dmitry Stefanovich, an expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, pointed out. The expert did not rule out that the measures the aviation authorities took probably stemmed from the possible use of US air defenses and were aimed at reducing obstacles. That said, even if the US took any action, it would be for defensive purposes.

"If tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula, as well as after the US deploys intermediate and short-range missiles to the region, a pre-emptive strike on North Korean launchers (not necessarily a nuclear one) would be possible, if their deployment is viewed as preparations for an attack," Stefanovich said. However, Pyongyang is showing no intention of conducting a first strike and the direction where the North Korean nuclear forces are going rather points to the creation of a means to ensure a retaliatory strike. However, Stefanovich emphasizes that the North Korean missile industry has indeed made outstanding achievements, particularly given the absence of foreign assistance.


Kommersant: Russian stock market dives following Moscow’s talks with West

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s ‘hawkish’ statements after the Russia-NATO talks sent Russia’s stock market into a massive plunge. The dollar rose to 76.3 rubles and stock indices lost four to six percent. Given that this week’s negotiations between Russia and NATO took place for the first time in the past two and a half years, it looked like a positive step on behalf of the parties, but the harsh remarks that officials made disappointed market players, Kommersant writes.

"Global investors were alarmed by the ‘hawkish’ statements from Russia’s deputy foreign minister, which is why they began to actively reduce positions across the entire stock market," Investment Director at April Capital Dmitry Skvortsov explained.

According to Head of the Analysis Unit at Zenit Bank Vladimir Yevstifeyev, apart from geopolitics, Russia’s inflation statistics are also negatively affecting the debt market. Inflation rates have risen to 8.6% in annual terms (compared to 8.4% last year). "This leaves no doubt that the Central Bank will raise the key interest rate to nine percent or even higher in February. The yield curve of federal loan bonds continues to grow in accordance with these expectations," the analyst added.

In Skvortsov’s view, the situation will remain in limbo at least for a week, until Russia receives an official response from the United States and NATO.

Market participants believe that the odds are very low that the US will pass a new bill on sanctions against Russia. Still, according to Asset Manager at Ingosstrakh-Investment Alexander Dorozhkin, in the short term, "the geopolitical factor will probably continue to influence the market, creating increased volatility in the highly liquid assets sector."


Izvestia: Top medical experts warn Russia could see hundreds of thousands of new cases daily due to Omicron

Russia is on the verge of the most powerful coronavirus wave since the onset of the pandemic, infectious disease experts warn. The Omicron strain is the reason, which is now rapidly spreading across the country. According to some specialists, daily cases may rise to 500,000, Izvestia notes.

"Omicron’s incubation period is much shorter than that of the Delta strain. Besides, it is spreading much faster. This is why the fifth coronavirus wave in Russia may reach an enormous scale and the daily number of cases may hit half a million. It will definitely pass 100,000, reaching an all-time high," head of Novosibirsk State University’s Laboratory of Bionanotechnology, Microbiology, and Virology Sergei Netesov pointed out.

"The only way to protect oneself is to get vaccinated immediately, wear face masks, changing them every three to four hours in accordance with the guidelines, and stay away from crowded places," the infectious disease expert said.

"The fifth coronavirus wave is inevitable. In my view, it will be a major one and will highly likely lead to a record-high number of cases because the Omicron variant is highly contagious," Senior Researcher at the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology Anatoly Alshtein emphasized.

According to him, there is still hope that Russia won’t set new records for coronavirus fatalities because the new strain’s mortality level is not that high. "But in any case, the health system will face tremendous pressure. It’s crucial to abide by restrictions that limit contacts between people, including mask wearing, social distancing, self-isolation, and, most importantly, vaccination," the expert stressed.

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