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Press review: Russia to station nukes in Belarus and Moscow, Beijing's tech aspirations

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, March 27th

MOSCOW, March 27. /TASS/. Russia plans to deploy nuclear arms in Belarus, the future of scientific and technological cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, and sanctions against Rosatom are unlikely. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Russia poised to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus

On March 25, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the Rossiya-1 TV channel that a depot to store tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus would be completed by July of this year. He noted that Moscow was not handing over nuclear arms to Belarus but was doing what the US has been involved in for many years - deploying tactical nuclear weapons on allied territories and training their pilots to use them.

Dmitry Stefanovich, a research fellow at the International Security Center for the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, thinks that a new stage of escalation over the agreement between Russia and Belarus should not be anticipated. This decision is not significant militarily and is mostly symbolic, showing that Russia, much like the US, can deploy its nuclear weapons in third countries, the expert says. In the past, however, Moscow has repeatedly criticized such an approach, so explanations are due for this development or Russia needs to change its stance on the deployment of nuclear arms in third countries in general, he notes. The analyst points out that it is possible that after preparations, the actual deployment of nuclear weapons outside of Russia will not happen. In theory, the US’ nuclear arms may appear east of Germany as a response but so far the expert does not see Washington as willing to make such drastic moves.

The deployment of Russia’s nuclear weapons in Belarus is above all a political gesture demonstrating that Russia thinks that it can do the same as the US, says Director of the Russian Nuclear Forces Project, Senior Researcher at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva Pavel Podvig. Additionally, he thinks that by doing this the leaders of Russia and Belarus are showing their readiness for close military interaction. He does not think that this move will noticeably escalate tensions, but it can hardly be viewed as a positive development. It is necessary to keep in mind that so far, the deployment remains a hypothetical possibility and in any case, the nuclear weapons will be fully controlled by Russia, he stresses, explaining that the Belarusian depot may be used only as a temporary storage location when troops are being brought on high alert. It is also possible that the weapons will be kept there on a permanent basis, but creating a depot that complies with all safety regulations may take quite a long time, the expert notes. He does not expect NATO and the US to take any retaliatory steps in response to Moscow and Minsk’s decision.


Kommersant: Experts weigh in on Russia-China cooperation in science, technology

In March, Chinese authorities announced large-scale measures to develop the R&D sphere, including restructuring regulations, enhancing small-scale private business and focusing on talent development. Experts note a certain degree of similarity between Moscow and Beijing’s plans in the sphere of scientific and technical policy, the aim of which is to achieve technological sovereignty. Russia and China are now unified by a common agenda of counteracting the West which at this stage may become the foundation for cooperation in both the scientific and technological spheres. According to the experts, China is more interested in Russia’s fundamental science while China’s experience in the commercialization of its scientific developments is important for Russia.

These coinciding plans in scientific and technical policy may become a springboard for bolstering ties between the two countries, thinks Director of the Center for Science, Technology, Innovation and Information Policy of the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) Mikhail Gershman.

"China is always ready for an open economy and cooperation, so for them this is an opportunity to gain experience," says leading researcher of the Institute of China and Contemporary Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences Rosalia Varfalovskaya. At the ISSEK, they note that while China is heading toward technological self-sufficiency, the country needs integration in the global scientific and technological space as well as international cooperation in this sphere. Russia and China currently have a shared agenda of counteracting the West so they view each other less as a threat and more as partners at this particular moment in history, says Mikhail Korostikov, an expert on China.

Although China has become a global leader in the key indicators of scientific and technological development, other countries are ahead of them in many spheres of fundamental research, so Beijing intends to bolster its expertise by expanding scientific cooperation with Russia, Gershman notes. Above all, this involves nuclear physics and implementing "mega-science" projects in addition to other promising spheres including digital technologies, particularly AI, where the race with the US is tight, new materials, energy, transportation, biotechnologies, medicine, the expert says.

Korostikov points out that technological sovereignty means different things for Russia and China. Apparently, China intends to produce the entire range of key products and possess all key technologies so as to make it the world leader in this sphere. For Russia, this is about having a minimal set of technologies allowing it to compete with the West without "falling behind" in development. However, the expert notes that Russia is also interesting to China in terms of a number of its technologies, such as civilian aircraft manufacturing.


Izvestia: Sanctions against Rosatom unlikely, says Russian envoy

The possibility of the EU introducing sanctions against the Rosatom state corporation is doubtful because the restrictions may hurt the European Union itself, Russian Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov said in an interview with Izvestia published on Monday.

Commenting on media reports that the EU is weighing introducing sanctions against Rosatom and how such a move may impact the nuclear security of the corporation’s facilities, the diplomat said: "I think it is premature to discuss this subject. It is necessary to know for sure which sanctions against Rosatom this is about and only then assess their consequences," he added. "Overall, the possibility of such sanctions appears rather dubious because they would rather sensitively impact several EU member states, primarily Hungary, Bulgaria and France," the envoy explained.

He added that currently there were no preconditions for restoring dialogue on strategic stability between Moscow and Washington. Speaking of the Strategic Arms Reduction (New START) Treaty, Ulyanov noted that in order to restore dialogue on the treaty, Washington must abandon its hostile policy toward Russia. "With the US directly challenging the collective West to ‘strategically defeat’ our country, ‘business as usual’ in matters of strategic importance is absolutely impossible," he added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Using frozen assets to aid Kiev to cost EU dearly

Currently, the European Union is refusing to use the seized assets of the Russian Central Bank. Instead of confiscating them, the EU is planning to actively invest the Russian reserves in order to receive super-profit. It is quite possible to do so, because Russian reserves were initially placed with a zero or negative interest. However, any possible losses while investing the Russian assets will have to come out of the pockets of EU taxpayers.

"The possibility of the EU receiving additional profit over a relatively short period (between two and three years) by investing Russia’s Central Bank’s frozen assets under the current conditions is rather dubious," says Associate Professor at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics Vadim Kovrigin. The securities of developing countries as well as company stocks may ensure high profitability for the EU, but such investments inevitably increase risks. "The volatility and volume of trade on securities have gone up markedly in recent months. This is an indicator of increasing unpredictability. Such an increase in the volatility and volume of trade was seen, for example, before the 2008 and 2014 crises," he noted.

"In the basic scenario of the development of the global economy which so far does not presume the spread of a banking crisis in the EU and the US, some very profitable investments in some bond issuances are possible as well as in some segments of the sinking bond market," thinks Deputy Director of the HSE Development Center Institute Valery Mironov.

According to The New York Times, the confiscation of Russian assets in the West threatens the global economy. The newspaper cites US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who thinks that the confiscation of the assets will create a precedent for violating the foundations of Western law. Additionally, the confiscation of Russia’s assets may undermine trust in the dollar. However, there have already been cases of confiscating the assets of private individuals sanctioned by the West. Nevertheless, G7 countries have asserted that they intend to keep the Russian assets frozen until the Ukrainian conflict is settled.


Kommersant: Republika Srpska turns away from West

The leadership of Republika Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina has openly decided to escalate its relations with the West. Despite criticism from the EU and the US, last week, the republic launched the process of approving a law on foreign agents and on criminal liability for slander. The republic’s government announced that it was breaking ties with the UK and US embassies while President Milorad Dodik threatened to secede from Bosnia. The West warned Republika Srpska of looming isolation while politicians and experts said it was turning into a "Bosnian Belarus." According to Kommersant’s diplomatic sources, Dodik is aiming to align himself with Russia amid the global confrontation around Ukraine.

"We are already isolated," says the republic’s former Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak, noting that Germany has already blocked several of Republika Srpska’s multimillion dollar projects and new sanctions are looming following Dodik’s actions. Balkan political scientist Velizar Antic is confident that the republic won’t survive even a couple of months without Western loans, while Srdjan Blagovcanin, one of the leaders of Transparency International - BiH asserts that Dodic is turning Republika Srpska into a mini-Belarus in Bosnia.

This idea is shared by the newspaper’s European diplomatic sources in the Balkans who see a geopolitical aspect in the republic’s authorities’ confrontation with the West. "Consciously playing toward an exacerbation, Milorad Dodik is aspiring to confirm an orientation toward Moscow under the conditions of a global standoff over Ukraine. This is also a claim for the readiness to create a new hotspot of tension in the Balkans, and therefore, new opportunities to activate Russia in the region if the US and the EU manage to induce Serbia to normalize relations with Kosovo in the near future." However, the sources do not rule out that "Milorad Dodik may backtrack at any moment, not going beyond loud statements and half-measures as has been the case many times in the past."

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