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Press review: German top diplomat’s Russia tour and Nazarbayev’s surprise address

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, January 19th
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock
© Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS

Izvestia: What Germany and Russia managed to agree on

The first official visit of German Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock to Russia can be called quite successful considering rather radical positions held by some members of the new government in Berlin, according to experts interviewed by Izvestia. In their opinion, despite the "thick folder of disagreements" the German minister brought along to Moscow, diplomats managed to outline the visions of their respective countries and even map out paths of cooperation, including a discussion on the need to renew the Normandy Four, joint work in the sphere of green energy and the lack of alternatives to a stable dialogue between Russia and Germany. Meanwhile, Russia’s proposals on security guarantees did not play a major part during the meeting since the main round of these talks will be held with Washington.

German political scientist Alexander Rahr explained to the newspaper that Berlin does not have a mandate to hold talks on Ukraine’s potential entry to NATO, though this is the main issue that interests Moscow now. He noted that Baerbock demonstrated her ability to think rationally and offered a civilized dialogue to Russia. According to the expert, instead of meeting immediately with the so-called Russian dissidents, unlike the previous German foreign minister, she found it more important to hold constructive dialogue on the importance of partnering with Russian business and cooperation on green energy.

According to Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Europe Vladislav Belov, it is important that each side clearly indicated its position which is the main achievement of these talks. "Both Russia and Germany expressed readiness to renew the Normandy format, however, when these sessions are going to transpire remains a mystery. It is only clear that the US won’t take part in them," the expert stated.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Nazarbayev acknowledges Tokayev’s triumph

On January 18, Kazakhstan’s first president Nursultan Nazarbayev interrupted his prolonged silence and recorded an address to the nation in which he assessed the recent upheaval in Kazakhstan and, more importantly, attempted to refute rumors that it was caused by a split and disagreements in the country’s political elite. He reiterated that President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has full authority, is the head of the Security Council and will soon be elected chairman of the Nur Otan ruling party. "So, there’s no conflict or standoff among the elite. The rumors on this subject are absolutely groundless," Kazakhstan’s first president insisted.

Alexander Knyazev, an expert on Central Asia, thinks that Nazarbayev did not sound convincing and his address raised even more questions about the causes for the events. In any case, he thinks the unrest was caused by internal issues and any external factors, including international terrorism, are secondary. "Yet the fact that Nazarbayev made an appearance means that the intra-elite conflict that had been going on, perhaps is not over, and an interim or a final compromise had been reached," the expert thinks. Nonetheless, according to him, Nazarbayev‘s political era has ended, and international terrorism will prevail in the assessments of an attempted insurrection from now on. "So international terrorism will be named as the cause of the tragic events although it is absolutely clear that some external forces only took advantage of the moment, though unsuccessfully - thanks to Russia’s interference," he stated, stressing that the main cause of the failed insurrection lies in the internal contradictions of Kazakhstan itself.

Political scientist Talgat Kaliyev also thinks that Nazarbayev’s address is a sign that a critical phase of the crisis in the country is over and a compromise was reached between the opposing groups whoever they are. According to him, President Tokayev managed to emerge victorious and gain full authority and complete freedom in his decision-making. That said, he thinks that the tension will continue to mount until the 2024 presidential election and the parliamentary election that follows.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian economy to be tested by Omicron

The Russian government is introducing nationwide quarantine measures yet so far as recommendations only. The officials hope that the bolstering of the primary chain of healthcare will ensure that the majority of those infected will be treated without hospitalization. Over the past 24 hours, Russia has officially recorded more than 31,000 new cases of COVID-19 which is 14% more than the day before while the number of undetected new infections is very likely higher. At the same time, the authorities are not planning to introduce a country-wide lockdown.

Members of the business community and experts also doubt that a nationwide lockdown is possible. For instance, head of the Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) public organization Alexey Repik noted that he didn’t expect significant restrictions for Russian business in case the Omicron strain spreads. However, he didn’t exclude that lockdowns would be introduced in some regions depending on the "degree of preparation of healthcare systems and the level of hospitalizations."

Former Advisor to the Minister of Economic Development Evgeny Nadroshin thinks that with mounting infections, additional resources will be directed to the healthcare system. "And this, in turn, means the general slowing of economic growth rates. Particularly, considering that at the current phase, the Central Bank will adhere to a restrained approach, directed at folding support measures and not at stimulation," he thinks.

Alfa Capital analyst Denis Badyanov thinks that the main problem is a decrease in business activity when businesses begin to quickly reduce spending on personnel, storage, logistics and decrease the share of new orders for supplies. According to him, if the Omicron strain causes the authorities to introduce tighter quarantine measures, up to 10-15% of service industry staff may lose their jobs while about 20% of enterprises will be forced to shut down. Anna Bodrova, senior analyst at IAC Alpari, concurs, saying that many enterprises in the service industry won’t weather another lockdown. "This means that workers will be left without permanent employment which will increase pressure on the labor market," she concluded.

Teletrade Chief Analyst Pyotr Pushkarev, however, does not see any reasons to worry about the economic consequences of the Omicron spread. He doubts that the new wave of infections will catch the healthcare system and the country’s budget by surprise since sufficient preparations were made in advance and enough funds were earmarked. That said, he thinks that Omicron will become a main cause of the economy slowing down. "Weak internal demand will also become a stumbling point since the income of the majority of residents cannot keep up with inflation. And this natural limitation will contain the types of business oriented on internal demand much more than the current social anti-epidemic measures," he asserts.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Nord Stream 2 remaining idle may lead to gas price hike in Russia

Nord Stream 2 remaining idle may be a symbol of Europe’s gas crisis and extremely expensive energy resources. Russia is not suffering any financial losses over this since high gas prices compensated all investments into this project. Yet if the situation does not change during this year, this may lead to losses in revenues to the budget and more expensive domestic gas.

The freezing of Nord Stream 2 will make the accelerated expansion of LNG production and the development of gas conversion the only ways to implement Russia’s export potential. The uncertainty in terms of the certification timeframe and launch of Nord Stream 2 against the background of Europe’s critical need for gas indirectly, through its contribution to shaping market prices, impacts the development dynamics of Russia’s LNG industry, Ivan Timonin from Vygon Consulting thinks.

According to Deputy Director General of Russia’s National Energy Security Fund Alexey Grivach, the decrease in export revenue from pipeline gas may make it more difficult to subsidize lower domestic gas prices, finance gas infrastructure development and could result in reduced income for the country’s budget.


Izvestia: Why unscheduled military exercises in Belarus are needed

On February 10-20, Russia and Belarus will perform an out-of-schedule large-scale defense training operation which will involve the entire military potential of both countries, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said on Tuesday, January 18. The drills dubbed Union Resolve 2022 will involve land troops being transferred to Belarus along with several all-arms units, artillery and rocket subdivisions and a squadron of Su-35S multirole fighter jets. The long-range air defense forces on Belarusian territory will also be bolstered.

"Currently, the situation in Ukraine is very complex. Poroshenko returned, Zelensky is in a difficult situation. Chances are high that [Zelensky] will try to use the DPR and LPR factor in order to resolve his issues," Dmitry Abzalov, Director of the Center for Strategic Communications thinks. "In order to avoid risks, Russia has to preserve concentration. So the upcoming drills may serve as a ‘safety switch’ of sorts against the escalation in Donbass," he explained. The expert added that the maneuvers may serve as an argument in Russia-NATO talks. As a response to the increased military potential near Russia’s borders, Moscow may increase its presence in those countries that border NATO countries or are located close to the US.

Military expert Vladislav Shurygin told the newspaper that transferring troops from other regions is needed to practice rapidly concentrating forces and equipment in the necessary direction. "We, unlike the Soviet Union, cannot have a group of troops in every direction. Today our goal is to conduct a quick transfer of troops and equipment and create strong units that will follow a single plan." The expert explained that the large-scale drills would involve practicing active defense technique in the scenario of deflecting external aggression.

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