MOSCOW, September 7. /TASS/. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Kiev unannounced; Armenia is planning to hold joint military exercises with the US; and French forces may leave Niger. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.
The visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Kiev is connected to Ukraine's futile counteroffensive. According to US experts, the parties may be discussing the delivery of F-16 fighter jets against the background of Ukrainian battlefield failures. Washington did indeed announce a fresh military aid package for Ukraine on September 6, which is to include depleted uranium rounds for Abrams tanks. Analysts interviewed by Izvestia, however, do not rule out the possibility that the US may be trying to nudge Kiev toward taking a more conciliatory position on the question of potential negotiations with Russia.
According to Saeed Khan, professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, the Secretary of State's visit is related to the fact that on September 6, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s unicameral parliament) confirmed the appointment of Rustem Umerov as Ukrainian Minister of Defense to replace Alexey Reznikov, who resigned. The expert also believes that Blinken's agenda in his unannounced visit to Kiev may also have included pushing Ukrainian officials in the direction of resuming talks with Russia. Such appeals, of course, would not be made publicly.
However, thus far, official US government rhetoric is sticking steadfastly to the opposite position, and there is no evidence that the Biden administration may be looking for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, according to Peter Kuznik, history professor at American University in Washington. Thus, right on the heels of Blinken’s visit, the Biden administration unveiled a new $175 mln military aid package on September 6 that includes depleted uranium rounds for Abrams tanks. "The position of the United States is still that they will support Ukraine for as long as it takes, and that Russia must suffer a military defeat," Kuznik noted.
The upcoming joint US-Armenian military drills are causing concern in Russia, especially in light of further military escalation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The Armenian Defense Ministry announced that the drills will be held in Armenia on September 11-20 as part of "preparation for participation in international peacekeeping missions." In turn, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that Moscow will analyze this development and monitor the situation, Vedomosti writes.
During the Eagle Partner 2023 exercise, personnel from both militaries will conduct operations "to stabilize relations between the conflicting parties in the performance of peacekeeping tasks." Heavy equipment will be used during the drills, and 175 Armenian and 85 American soldiers and officers are expected to participate, Reuters wrote, citing Pentagon officials.
According to Alexander Iskandaryan, director of the Caucasus Institute, Armenia has been interacting with NATO in various formats for several years, including through a program of joint exercises in preparation for peacekeeping operations. According to the expert, Armenian troops have frequently participated in post-conflict operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "In this case, it is a routine event, which will not impede interaction between Russia and Armenia," the analyst believes.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is dissatisfied with Russia's continued neutrality in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, Stanislav Pritchin, senior researcher at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), told Vedomosti. On the other hand, according to the expert, the Armenian leadership would like to avoid accepting any responsibility for the dire situation around Nagorno-Karabakh and shift the blame to Russia. At the same time, Russia remains the undisputed guarantor of Armenia's security, as neither France, the United States nor NATO as a whole can fulfill this role due to geographical and political constraints, the expert believes.
The military rebels who took power in Niger have proposed that France set a deadline for evacuating its military contingent from the country. According to French media, Paris is not opposed to withdrawing its troops from the landlocked West African country. There are no longer any legal grounds for the French military presence in Niger, but the West would not lose its military presence here with the withdrawal of French troops as the US military has a large presence in Niger and will remain there for the time being, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
In an interview with Le Monde, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said that Paris still recognizes only the deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, and his government as the legitimate authority in Niger. This does not mean, however, that French troops will remain to restore his authority. The contingent is likely to move to neighboring Chad, to which about 1,000 French soldiers have already decamped and where they plan to stay.
Rebel-appointed Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine said that talks with France have begun on the imminent withdrawal of its troops. He also said the new authorities would not try to cut ties with Paris and were ready to work with France.
Negotiations over the withdrawal of the French contingent could indicate that the West is gradually warming up to the Nigerien rebels, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Despite claiming that it was ready to support troops from regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) seeking to oust the rebels, France would not take part in the intervention itself. It was believed that troops from ECOWAS member states would enter Niger. However, no intervention has taken place yet, and if a compromise is reached with the rebels, it is unlikely to happen at all.
Indian President Droupadi Murmu sent out invitations to the G20 summit, which New Delhi is hosting, that present her as "President of Bharat" instead of India. The ruling nationalist government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has replaced certain words of colonial origin in the past to "rid the country of a servile mentality." According to the opposition, however, the name change would be a political ploy engineered by the authorities to hang the rejected "India" label, and its colonialist associations, on the anti-BJP coalition, thus casting the shadow of the British Raj’s colonial legacy on them, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
At the same time, according to Western media, the Indian government is using the G20 to promote the idea that the country has achieved its current global influence under Modi.
"The whole narrative of the ruling party is as follows: there is the colonial name 'India' and there is the Islamicized [name of] 'Hindustan,'" Alexey Kupriyanov, head of the South Asia group at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Both must now be jettisoned and the name 'Akhand Bharat' - that is, 'Greater India' - which existed before the Islamic conquest, should be restored," the expert explained.
"As the chair of the G20, India wants to show that it is both a responsible great power and an ancient great civilization. Meanwhile, there is a split between the BJP and the opposition. The Indian National Congress party is accusing the BJP of trying to change the constitution, which established a secular government under the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru," the expert added.
The domestic economy has outperformed its potential indicative forecast levels, the Central Bank of Russia said in its latest report. According to the banking regulator, the previously observed general decline in GDP, associated with geopolitical shocks, was reversed in August. In some enterprises, increased demand was driven by budgetary expansion, while in others production capacity was exceeded due to logistical constraints, Izvestia writes. At the same time, economists say that inflation is approaching the upper limit of the forecast figure.
Valery Mironov, deputy director of the Development Center Institute at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), identified those relatively prosperous sectors of the economy where both production and capital investments have increased, including metallurgy, oil refining, computer manufacturing, optics and electronics manufacturing, the food industry, and certain agribusiness segments. "I would classify as problematic those industries in which the volumes of both production and investment have decreased: the pharmaceutical industry, production of building materials, paper, wood processing, waste processing, and even the timber industry," he told the newspaper.
According to Ekaterina Kosareva, managing partner of analytics firm VMT Consult, consumer demand has increased significantly in 2023. "This is mainly due to wage increases in most industries. The workforce spent their salaries and put a lot of money back into the market," she said.
Artem Shakhurin, expert at IVA Partners, believes that the economy is still mainly recovering from the stress caused by the unprecedented sanctions imposed by Western countries last year. "In many respects, the expansion is due to the fact that Russian companies have found alternative business partners in friendly countries, both as buyers of our products and as suppliers of components, equipment and consumables," he told the newspaper.
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