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Press review: Biden’s political career looks doomed and S. Africa wagers on Russia, China

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, January 23rd
US President Joe Biden AP Photo/Susan Walsh
US President Joe Biden
© AP Photo/Susan Walsh

MOSCOW, January 23. /TASS/. A new price ceiling on Russian petroleum products threatens stability, Biden’s political career looks doomed and Ankara postpones its decision on Sweden’s NATO membership. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: New price cap on Russian fuel threatens stability

US officials are concerned over the consequences of a price cap on petroleum products from Russia. The US Department of Treasury says that everything may not go as planned. The West’s main goal is to keep supplies from Russia but with nearly zero profits for it, yet the main concern is the threat of the decreased production of raw materials in Russia and reduced fuel deliveries to global markets.

Experts think that above all, Washington is worried that it won’t be able to repeat its success with the oil price ceiling when the sanctions resulted in an asymmetric effect: Russian exports suffered while the West managed to avoid a reciprocal embargo. "The US and its European allies would like to surgically strike Russia’s export of petroleum products so that Russia would continue to export the petroleum products but at lower prices. So low that it receives a minimal profit, balancing on the edge of profitability," says Stock Market Expert at BCS World of Investment Valery Yemelyanov.

"That is, from the Europeans’ point of view, a danger would exist that it will become unprofitable for Russian companies to supply below the cap, thus, they will be forced to stop operations, then oil production will fold and subsequently the entire industry branch will collapse. This will be inevitably followed by soaring global oil prices. The US and Europe do not want this scenario. They do not want to be personally affected by these sanctions, nor do they want to trigger a global deficit, only harm Russia," the analyst explained. As a result, some countries may even encounter a lack of fuel. "Russia may stop delivering petroleum products either for political reasons, even at its own disadvantage, or for objective reasons if the price drops below the profitability of operations. Oil refineries won’t sell at a loss, it’s cheaper for them to suspend operations for a while," the expert explained.

In his opinion, the West doesn’t want to reject Russian oil and petroleum products but wants Russia to make almost nothing on them without stopping deliveries.

"Interfering in the regulation of market mechanisms won’t lead the US or Europe to anything good. The Americans continue to introduce restrictions very carefully and conditionally against the background of dwindling strategic oil supplies. Their goal is the maximum reduction of economic links between the EU and Russia," says BitRiver Financial Analyst Vladislav Antonov.

 

Vedomosti: FBI search of Biden’s home may end his political career

During the first ever search of a private home of incumbent US President Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware, FBI agents uncovered another "six items consisting of documents with classification markings and surrounding material," as NBC News reported. The search took place on January 20 and lasted almost 13 hours with its results announced on January 21.

The unprecedented hours-long search of the incumbent president’s belongings and the factor of a possible departure of a close ally [White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain] indicate that Biden’s political career may already be doomed, says Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies Vladimir Vasilyev. According to him, even people from the president’s closest circle may be interested in his position being sharply weakened.

Now, Biden’s approval rating which was on the up following the midterms is bound to plummet. Such internal political crises in US history have frequently led to the White House attempting to shift society’s attention to the international stage even resorting to escalating conflicts, he reiterated.

"Undoubtedly, this search will negatively impact Biden’s reputation who was trying to prove that he was the adult in the room and, as opposed to Trump, knows how a statesman and a disciplined politician should behave," says an expert with the Russian International Affairs Council Alexey Naumov.

That said, the analyst doubts that Biden had malicious intent in handling the documents. He added that against the background of this search, Biden’s approval ratings are bound to plunge because he cannot use it to his advantage the way Trump did when the 45th president was up against a similar situation, portraying it as the revenge of the "Washington swamp." That said, Biden’s team is trying to minimize the fallout of the scandal by cooperating with the investigation.

However, the Republicans, who won the majority in the House of Representatives, now have the ability to issue subpoenas and hold public hearings, and they will inevitably use this opportunity, the expert concluded.

 

Vedomosti: Ankara accuses Stockholm of violating obligations for NATO membership

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has accused Sweden of non-compliance with its June 2022 obligations on the process of joining NATO. A statement published on the diplomatic agency’s website sharply criticized the Swedes for allowing anti-Turkish rallies, and such recent actions by Scandinavian far-right extremists and Kurdish organizations. On January 21, Danish politician Rasmus Paludan who leads the anti-Islamic Stram Kurs party burned the Quran in front of the Turkish embassy while Swedish authorities issued a permit to hold a Kurdish rally.

Due to these provocations, which have not gained any support by the international community, the issue of lifting Turkey’s veto on Sweden’s NATO membership bid is being postponed, says Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations Viktor Nadein-Rayevsky. Paludan’s actions triggered a highly negative reaction both from the government and from Turkish society, so the prospects of developing relations between Ankara and Stockholm have evidently worsened. The expert added that in order to normalize the situation, the Swedish authorities will have to exert a major effort. As for the Kurdish issue, overall, Swedish legislation prevents PKK members from being handed over to Turkey but it is incorrect to say that Stockholm resolutely supports the party, he said.

Erdogan will fan the flames of this scandal for his political gain, thinks Russian International Affairs Council Director General Andrey Kortunov. Erdogan has been focusing attention on the values standoff between Turkey and the Western world, and additionally, the incident gives Ankara another excuse to present conditions for Sweden’s NATO membership bid. Thus, Erdogan can gain ground with voters on the eve of the looming election. According to the expert, the issue of Sweden’s NATO membership will be resolved in the end. Yet the situation will be settled not through the contacts between Ankara and Stockholm, but through political bargaining between Biden and Erdogan who will demand concessions from the US in exchange for lifting the veto, the analyst concluded.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: South African Navy wagers on China, Russia

In February, the navies of South Africa, Russia and China will hold joint sea drills near the port of Durban where major trade routes pass. As Beijing says, this exercise will serve as publicity support for Moscow amid the West’s assertions that Russia’s might has been exhausted while for Pretoria they will be used in a game with the US to attain more financial aid. China has eagerly joined the drills since they will bolster its political and military influence in Africa.

In a conversation with the newspaper, Boris Pilyatskin, an expert on Africa, noted: "Lavrov declared Russia’s aspiration to boost ties with Eastern and African countries. So the naval drills should be viewed as one of the steps in this direction. That said, South Africa is positioning itself as the leading country in the African Union which includes 55 countries. It has a course on the comprehensive development of ties with Russia which responds to the interests of our country. Especially because this year, it is planned to hold the second Russia-Africa summit. Such a forum may gain an even bigger significance in the wide international sense. I mean, BRICS. This group may expand and become a weightier alternative to the collective West. As South Africa’s Ambassador to Moscow Mzuvukile Maqetuka said, 13 countries were interested in joining BRICS."

Are the upcoming trilateral drills a political gesture or do they have an importance for these countries’ navies? TASS’ military expert, retired colonel Viktor Litovkin told the newspaper that "the drills serve as training in understanding each other - in observing shared signals, orders, so that everyone works along a single plan."

However, experts in Beijing think that South Africa will use China and Russia as its trump cards in relations with the US. Ni Lexiong at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law thinks that the US did not manage to attain South Africa’s support on Ukraine, so the naval exercise is a "political show" in the confrontation between Russia and China on one side, and the US on the other. Liang Guoliang, a military expert from Hong Kong, insists that the drills will serve as a moral support to Moscow and will morally harm the Ukrainian army.

 

Kommersant: Moldova’s president does not rule out joining NATO

Moldova may jettison its neutral status enshrined in its constitution and join the US-led military bloc, said the country’s president Maia Sandu. Her statement sparked a scandal even though the president said that the issue, if it comes to that, would be resolved democratically, through a referendum. While changing its neutral status is so difficult that it is hardly possible, the issue of Chisinau joining NATO has already been raised and can both add points to Sandu and complicate her party’s fight to stay in power. Experts think that the Ukrainian conflict has seriously impacted the perception of security issues in Moldova.

Head of Chisinau’s WatchDog NGO Valeriu Pasha told the newspaper that it is necessary to bolster the nation’s defensive ability. In his opinion, Moldova’s neutral status does not mean that it cannot receive security guarantees from other countries, "meaning if somebody attacks us, they will protect us. I don’t think that this contradicts the neutrality status. There should be a discussion."

Political analyst, former Moldova’s permanent representative to the UN Alexei Tulbure said that the Ukrainian conflict has made security issues much more pertinent and raised questions about the effectiveness of Moldova’s neutrality. According to him, there is an impression that the number of those supporting another solution for Moldova is growing.

Sandu’s statement was met with sharp criticism by her predecessor Igor Dodon who is still one of the most popular politicians in the country and stands for Chisinau’s dialogue with Russia. "Maia Sandu continues to drag Moldova into NATO, despite [the nation’s] neutrality enshrined in the constitution and the will of Moldovan people who are resolutely against joining this military structure," he wrote on social media. According to Dodon, such statements by Sandu prove yet again that she is acting on the orders of her overseas sponsors and against the country’s and people’s interests, as well as against Moldova’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

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