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Press review: Moscow may pull test-ban treaty ratification and intervention risk for Niger

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, August 4th
Thousands of anti-sanctions protestors gather in support of the putschist soldiers in the capital Niamey, Niger REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou
Thousands of anti-sanctions protestors gather in support of the putschist soldiers in the capital Niamey, Niger
© REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou

MOSCOW, August 4. /TASS/. Russia may withdraw its ratification of Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; Niger facing risk of foreign intervention following military coup; and Ukrainian forces shifting tactics to increase attacks inside Russia. These stories topped Friday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Kommersant: Russia may withdraw ratification of Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Russia has called upon the US to finally ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). According to Kommersant, Russian government officials have already suggested withdrawing Moscow’s ratification of the treaty to ensure that Russia is on par with Washington. Experts see a distinct possibility of Moscow deciding to take this step.

On August 5, 1953, the Soviet Union, the United States and the United Kingdom signed the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, which remains in effect to this day. On September 24, 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty was opened for signature. Since then, 186 countries have signed the document and 178 have ratified it, but the treaty has not entered into force yet because this requires ratification by 44 countries that either possess nuclear weapons or are capable of creating them. Out of the 44, 36 nations, including Russia, have ratified the treaty. Of the remaining eight nations, India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed the document, while the US, China, Egypt, Israel and Iran have signed but not ratified it.

Meanwhile, in recent months, Russian government officials have floated the idea that it may be advisable for Moscow to withdraw its CTBT ratification. The underlying rationale is that Moscow is seeking full parity with Washington in all areas and, although the treaty has not taken effect yet, it is not in Russia’s interests to preserve its ratification in a situation where the US is taking no steps to follow suit.

"Hypothetically, Russia’s withdrawal of CTBT ratification and the subsequent resumption of nuclear tests may be viewed as rungs up the ladder of escalation in the Ukrainian conflict and also as elements of deterrence of the main adversary, designed to convince it of the need to end its involvement in the war as soon as possible," said Dmitry Trenin, lead researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

"Russia’s actions could trigger a chain reaction. Other countries may follow Moscow’s lead by pulling out of the treaty and commencing nuclear testing. Should this happen, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons would also collapse because the nuclear test ban is one of the crucial pillars of non-proliferation, Alexey Arbatov, head of the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, pointed out. He predicted that, in such a case, the number of nuclear powers in the world would rise far higher than the current nine (five countries officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons and four with nuclear weapons but not recognized as such). "If the situation takes such a turn, no one would be able to guarantee that these weapons won’t eventually fall into terrorist hands and the world would not descend into nuclear chaos," the analyst warned.


Media: Post-coup Niger under sanctions, facing risk of foreign intervention

The international community continues to put economic pressure on the military officers who carried out a coup in Niger and have now begun establishing a government in the landlocked West African country. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has threatened a military response unless the ousted Nigerien President, Mohamed Bazoum, is reinstated in office, Izvestia writes.

However, Russian experts doubt that ECOWAS will act upon its threats and actually move to unleash a military conflict. "Such statements may largely be viewed as saber-rattling," said Nikita Panin, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for African Studies and program director at the Russian International Affairs Council. He pointed out that events unfolding in this way would require a decision by the United Nations Security Council.

Andrey Maslov, director of the Center for African Studies at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), told Rossiyskaya Gazeta that, "a decision on the organization’s further actions would largely depend on Nigeria’s position," as Abuja carries the greatest weight and plays the most prominent role in ECOWAS and has multiple ties with Niger. Nigeria is hardly interested in escalating tensions and increasing the French military presence in Niger, as well as in getting involved in a conflict on the side of France, which is highly unpopular in the region, the expert said.

According to him, the United States and France are keeping a close eye on the situation, making it clear that the Niger coup does not threaten their interests. Washington and Paris have rarely acted in concert in the region. Meanwhile, the military officers that have seized power in Niger are seeking to avoid escalation with the French, let alone with the Americans. Even the coup government’s ban on uranium exports is not as categorical as it may seem because it has not been officially confirmed, the analyst noted.

In the meantime, the rebels are facing enormous external pressure. Apart from sanctions introduced by ECOWAS member states, the US, France and the European Union have also suspended financial assistance to the West African nation. The sanctions may have quite a devastating impact on Niger’s economy, which is already far from being at the top of the league tables in virtually all categories, Africa expert Alexander Danevish told Izvestia.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ukrainian military changing tactics to increase attacks inside Russia

The Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff is shifting tactics after failing to break through Russian defenses in the Sea of Azov region. In order to wear down defending Russian troops, the Ukrainian military has increased strikes with long-range artillery and rockets, and started to use small infantry groups not supported by heavy equipment along the line of contact, Western media outlets have reported, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Kiev is also increasing the number of drone attacks against targets inside Russia. Additionally, more raids in border regions by sabotage and reconnaissance groups should be expected, the newspaper writes.

Complicating potential future raids by such saboteurs, territorial defense units stationed in Russian regions bordering northern Ukraine have been provided with firearms, anti-drone guns and SUVs made by Russian automaker UAZ.

Captain First Rank (Ret.) Oleg Shvedkov, chairman of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Professional Union of Servicemen, points out that sabotage and reconnaissance groups mostly use light armored vehicles to break through the border, so territorial defense units must have anti-tank weapons. "The border itself needs to be strengthened with detection devices, minefields and artificial barriers. Drones should be used for constant surveillance in areas where incursions are possible, and mobile armored groups and specially allocated helicopters need to be actively used to eliminate sabotage groups," the expert noted.

"Regional governors with their own armies are something new for Russia; it marks a certain decentralization of the country’s national security system," said Lieutenant General (Ret.) Yury Netkachev, a military expert. He emphasized the need to establish a mechanism for effective control over such activities to ensure that weapons are not used for illegal purposes.


Media: Turkmenistan to host preliminary summit of three Central Asian nations

On August 4, Turkmenistan’s capital of Ashgabat will host the first Central Asia summit involving Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The respective heads of state are expected to discuss pressing issues on the regional agenda, Vedomosti writes.

The trilateral meeting in Ashgabat is part of preparations for a broader summit of all five Central Asian nations scheduled to be held in Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe on September 14-15, said Farkhod Tolipov, an Uzbekistan-based political scientist. Stanislav Pritchin, senior researcher at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, believes that the heads of state will discuss in particular the issue of the Amu Darya River. The expert pointed out that the Afghan government in Kabul under the Taliban (outlawed in Russia - TASS) has started building a major irrigation canal in northern Afghanistan without having held any prior consultations with neighboring countries in the region. "After construction [of the canal] is completed, it will be Afghanistan's three neighboring countries that will suffer the most, and addressing this threat requires sub-regional efforts," he said.

Bakhtiyor Ergashev, director of the Ma’no Center of Research Initiatives, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the upcoming summit should be viewed in the context of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s recent visit to Tajikistan and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s trip to Iran. "Turkmenistan, which shares a border with Iran, is crucial for creating a trans-Iranian corridor from Uzbekistan to Iran. Given that there is still a long way to go before peace is fully established in Afghanistan and it’s not feasible to build a railway line connecting Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Khaf toward Iran for security reasons, the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran route is currently under consideration," Ergashev said. "Tajikistan is also interested in this project," Pritchin added.

Experts highlighted the fact that, by convening the trilateral summit, Turkmenistan is actually signaling an image makeover, shedding its previous reputation as a closed country and difficult partner and becoming more predictable in its foreign relations, particularly as regards the effective use of the country’s transport and transit capacities. "Turkmenistan realizes that transit means money. It has a good position in terms of transport and transit routes, so it is beginning to move in this direction," Ergashev stressed, adding that Turkmenistan had been and would remain a key player among Central Asian nations.


Izvestia: Experts upbeat about prospects for Russian currency

The US dollar and the euro have hit forex trading levels of 94 and 103, respectively, on the Moscow Exchange (MOEX). The budget deficit and trade imbalance are said to be the main drivers behind the weakening of the ruble, but changes in global energy markets may help turn things around, Izvesita writes.

All such rate spikes result from factors that are temporary rather than permanent, said Yury Tverdokhleb, associate professor in the Department of Finance and Banking at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). According to him, the ruble’s decline against the euro and the dollar, which has taken place since the beginning of the year, is a positive thing in terms of Russia’s budget revenues from exports. "However, I am sure that the Central Bank [of Russia] will not allow the foreign currencies to reach sky-high levels," the expert stressed. "It has effective tools to stop the ruble from falling, which were used in 2022. The Central Bank can conduct currency interventions and impose restrictions on certain currency transactions," the analyst explained. Tverdokhleb expects the dollar to eventually return to the level of 82-83 rubles to one greenback.

The ruble’s exchange rate is influenced by various factors, both domestic and external, said Ksenia Bondarenko, senior lecturer in the Department of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University). According to her, the ruble’s weakening in August can usually be explained by seasonal factors, such as the vacation season and dividend payments. Liquidity restrictions are another important factor determining the ruble’s exchange rate against the currencies of unfriendly countries.

The weakening cycle may end in the fall amid restored export levels, particularly if energy demand grows and high demand for imported goods declines slightly, the export noted.

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