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Press review: EAEU heads talk bloc roadblocks and Minsk to go under Moscow’s nuke umbrella

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, May 26th

MOSCOW, May 26. /TASS/. Leaders of the EAEU countries discuss their ideas for the economic union’s current challenges and future prospects; Russia begins transferring non-strategic nuclear weapons to Belarus; and Russia and Finland work on mutual unfreezing of their respective diplomatic missions’ bank accounts. These stories topped Friday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: EAEU leaders map out vision for trade bloc’s present and future challenges

The Supreme Eurasian Economic Council of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) convened in the Kremlin. The meeting was initially limited to a small group, with only Russian President Vladimir Putin, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in attendance. The national leaders focused on an agenda totaling 17 items in a closed discussion. Experts told Vedomosti that the EAEU member states are prioritizing resolving current trade and economic cooperation issues, rather than determining where the trade bloc may be headed.

Putin emphasized the importance of promoting industrial cooperation and creating joint production capacities under the "Made in the EAEU" trademark. In turn, Pashinyan stated that an informed approach to energy security issues will help ensure that the economic potential of EAEU member states is strengthened. Tokayev emphasized that the free movement of goods, via a barrier-free market and transit to third countries, is the most significant area for development efforts. Finally, Japarov proposed reducing control measures for goods in transit.

Unlike Moscow, the other EAEU member states are more interested in resolving current trade and economic cooperation issues than in determining a long-term program of objectives for the organization, Andrey Grozin, head of the department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan at the Institute of CIS Countries, told Vedomosti. At the same time, however, Grozin believes that all members of the economic union have an interest in seeing it expand and grow. "On the one hand, the EAEU allows Russia to mitigate the effects of Western sanctions on its economy, while, on the other hand, sanctions allow the other participants to earn a lot of money," the expert explains.

There are different approaches to developing joint projects within the EAEU, Vasily Kashin, director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, told Vedomosti. "Russia primarily uses the union's structures as a way of increasing its industrial exports. Our export structure is rather primitive in general, and the EAEU allows our industrialists to promote their high-tech products to neighboring countries," he noted.


Izvestia: Belarus prepares to host Russian nukes, get under Moscow’s ‘nuclear umbrella’

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on May 25 that the transfer of Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons to Belarus has already begun. Earlier, the two countries' defense ministers signed the required documents. According to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, a de facto undeclared war is being waged against Moscow and Minsk, and the West is doing everything possible to prolong and exacerbate the situation in Ukraine. Experts told Izvestia they believe that an attack on Belarus would now be considered an attack on Russia's nuclear weapons, with all of the risks that entails.

Shoigu emphasized that Russia is deploying non-strategic nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil, but is not completely transferring them, as Moscow will retain control over them and will make any decisions on their use.

Belarus will not control these nuclear weapons, and they will not belong to it; therefore, the responsibility for the country’s nuclear security will rest entirely upon Russia and the Russian Ministry of Defense, military analyst Alexey Leonkov told Izvestia.

"This way, we are indicating in an opaque way that Belarus is under the protection of a ‘nuclear umbrella,’" he said. "As a result, we are sending a clear signal to Belarus' western neighbor, Poland, which has recently been rattling sabers rather loudly by placing weapons on its borders with our [Russia-Belarus] Union State and the Kaliningrad Region: [thus,] any aggression against Belarus would be viewed as a threat to our nuclear arsenal," the expert added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Beijing seeks to enlist Moscow's support for Ukraine settlement plan

Beijing's Special Representative for Eurasia Li Hui will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on May 26. During a news conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that China's peace proposal corresponded to Russia's views. At the same time, however, European diplomats, both in Poland and in "Old Europe," expressed skepticism about China’s initiative, but have not dismissed it altogether. Experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta the initiative is not designed to achieve quick results, but rather is intended to boost China’s international prestige in the future.

Although Beijing's attitude toward the parties to the conflict is not entirely evenhanded, its proximity to Moscow may be a factor that favors both parties. Xi Jinping has more influence with Putin than any other national leader on the global stage, according to American political scientist Ian Bremmer. China is the only party that could bring Moscow to the negotiating table and assist in bringing an end to the crisis.

"An immediate effect from [special envoy] Li's trips should clearly not be expected. China is accustomed to planning for years, if not decades, in advance. Some items from China's 12-point plan cannot be implemented even within this decade. For example, the clause about moving the entire world away from Cold War thinking," Alexander Lomanov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), told the newspaper. He believes that, even if the Ukrainian situation is addressed, many sanctions will remain in effect for decades.

"However, if Li Hui's trip is viewed as a presentation of China's foreign policy outlook to foreign partners, everything falls into place. The concept's only flaw is that China has unrealistic expectations of Europe's strategic autonomy, of its ability to make constructive judgments based on its own security interests," the expert added.


Izvestia: Russia, Finland working on mutual unfreezing of diplomatic missions’ accounts

Moscow and Helsinki are working to resolve the issue of their respective diplomatic missions' bank accounts being frozen at the foreign ministerial level, the Russian and Finnish embassies confirmed to Izvestia. At the same time, the Russian diplomatic mission acknowledged that it was too early to discuss timelines and potential solutions to reach an agreement acceptable to all parties. Since the outbreak of the Ukrainian conflict, ties between the neighboring nations have deteriorated, resulting in Finland's accession to NATO and restrictions on Russian tourists.

"Attempts are currently being made to fix the current situation; both countries' foreign ministries are working on the matter. It is still too early to discuss a specific timeline and possible means for obtaining a conclusion acceptable to all parties," the Russian diplomatic mission told the newspaper.

"Russian-Finnish relations in general are going through one of their worst periods in decades. The Finnish side has effectively halted bilateral talks," the Russian embassy in Helsinki said. At the same time, the mission emphasized that the Russian side is ready to hold a conversation and expects the same from Helsinki. In addition, the Finnish embassy acknowledged that the country's foreign ministry is continuing to work on this issue with the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Nikita Lipunov, analyst at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations’ (MGIMO University) Institute for International Studies, believes that the future dynamics of the bilateral relationship will be shaped by the intensity and depth of Finland’s ties with NATO. However, Helsinki does not seem prepared for further escalation at the moment, so the Finnish authorities will proceed with caution, he added.


Vedomosti: Around 30 Russian banks join Chinese CIPS bank transfer system

Approximately 30 Russian banks have already joined, as indirect participants, China’s national bank transfer system CIPS (Cross-Border Interbank Payment System), which facilitates transfers in yuan, Roman Chernov, executive director of the Russian National Association of Financial Communications Participants (formerly the Russian National SWIFT Association), told Vedomosti.

Launched in 2015, CIPS specializes in cross-border clearing and settlement in yuan. The system was developed with the aim of expanding the global use of the Chinese currency. Eligibility to be a direct participant is reserved exclusively for Chinese residents and their subsidiaries. According to Vedomosti's source at a top ten bank, the only bank directly connected to the Chinese system is the Russian subsidiary of China's largest bank, ICBC.

According to Maxim Markov, associate professor in the Department of World Financial Markets and Fintech at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, the number of credit institutions that have joined the system is expanding. Given the current active growth in trade turnover and settlements with China, many banks are attempting to connect to this system, he added.

At the same time, the potential of secondary sanctions placed on Chinese financial institutions for cooperating with Russian banks must also be taken into account, Chernov stressed. However, mutual business interests between Russia and China are undeniably strong, he clarified.

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