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Press review: UNSC shakeup on US radar and Russia, China crystallize into 'big two'

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, Spetember 19th

MOSCOW, September 19. /TASS/. US administration seeks to shake up UNSC; Russia, China form 'big two;' and US plans to expand cooperation with Central Asian nations. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: US administration seeking to shake up UNSC

The US administration intends to initiate a reform of the United Nations Security Council. US President Joe Biden will announce plans to expand the Council in an address to the 78th session of the UN General Assembly on September 19. Since its founding in 1945, the UN Security Council has always included five permanent members - the United States, China, the Soviet Union (Russia since 1992), the United Kingdom and France - who all have veto power, Vedomosti notes.

Under Articles 108 and 109 of the UN Charter, it’s not easy to make amendments to the document, said Sergey Glandin, an expert in international law. Amendments require ratification by two-thirds of the 193 UN member states to take effect. That is why the US sought to work with each of them last summer, but the authors of the initiative are unlikely to secure enough votes, Glandin stressed.

Biden would like to seize the initiative in terms of democratizing the UN Security Council and show support for the countries of the Global South, primarily Brazil and India, Russian International Affairs Council Director General Andrey Kortunov pointed out. According to him, admitting new members will create a number of problems related to veto rights, as well as complicating the consensus-based decision-making process and the permanent members’ right to refuse membership to certain countries. For example, Russia and China are unlikely to agree to the inclusion of Germany and Japan. "At least four more UNSC members, including Russia and China, need to approve the [expansion] proposals but this is not as easy as it seems owing to the current geopolitical situation," Kortunov noted.

Choosing an African candidate is one of the main priorities surrounding the expansion of the UN Security Council, says Natalya Piskunova, associate professor at Moscow State University's Department of World Politics. According to her, since 2015, Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria have come to the forefront here.

The economic growth of India and Japan has made it possible to talk about providing them with permanent membership in the UN Security Council but New Delhi will not suit Beijing, as the two are key rivals, the expert went on to say. Granting membership to Germany and Japan also has its problems as the Council was initially established as a tool to prevent the resurgence of German and Japanese militarism. "This remains important for two UNSC permanent members, Russia and China," Piskunova concluded.


Media: Russia, China form 'big two'

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has arrived on a four-day visit to Moscow. Russia and China are stepping up their search for joint responses to security challenges and the rising cost of relations with the West amid increasing pressure from the United States and its allies, Kommersant writes.

The top Chinese diplomat visited Malta where he held talks with White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan before traveling to Moscow. Despite efforts to make its rivalry with China more amicable, Washington keeps putting pressure on Beijing in a bid to weaken strategic ties between Russia and China. For Moscow, the crisis in Ukraine remains the key source of strife with the West, while for Beijing, attempts by the US and allies to create alliances and mechanisms to contain China in the Indo-Pacific region pose an increasing challenge.

"As pressure from the US and its allies continues to mount, Moscow and Beijing are boosting joint efforts to neutralize as many threats to their security as possible and reduce the growing cost of their relations with the West," Alexander Lomanov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, emphasized. "The West’s behavior is becoming more and more confrontational and tough, making a strategic rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing more and more relevant," he noted. In the expert’s view, "before our very eyes, Russia and China are in fact creating an informal 'Group of 2,' which will have its own say, along with the G7 and the G20."

Clearly, Wang Yi is engaged in preparations for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s potential visit to China and may meet with him during his Russia trip, Vasily Kashin, director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), told Vedomosti. However, he is not much inclined to believe that Chinese President Xi Jinping is ready to travel to the United States at this point as he has been avoiding even a phone call with US President Joe Biden and must have decided not to attend the recent G20 summit in India to sidestep a personal meeting. However, Wang and Sullivan may well have discussed other possibilities for direct contact between the two countries' leaders, the expert concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US plans to expand cooperation with Central Asian nations

The heads of Central Asian countries have arrived in New York for the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly and the C5+1 talks with US President Joe Biden. The summit is expected to discuss ways to expand cooperation between the US and the countries of the region. According to the Wall Street Journal, Washington views Kazakhstan as the key country through which to extend its influence to the entire region, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Bakhtiyor Ergashev, director of the Ma’no Center of Research Initiatives, says that the countries of the region are beyond the zone of vital US interests. "The 2019 US National Security Strategy notes that Central Asia is one of the core regions where US presence is necessary. However, this is more about geopolitics than the economy because US economic activity has been limited to small-scale humanitarian projects," the expert explained.

Igor Shestakov, director of the Oy Ordo Center for Expert Initiatives, pointed out that the key topics of the upcoming summit had been outlined during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kazakhstan, where he met with the country’s leadership and held a C5+1 ministerial meeting. Blinken promised that the countries of the region would be compensated for their losses stemming from joining sanctions on Russia. The issue of sanctions will be further touched upon at the summit, Shestakov noted, adding, however, that the Central Asian nations were making a lot of money from the restrictions and were unlikely to be impressed by small compensations.

The US needs a new agenda amid the changing global political situation, experts say. According to Shestakov, Washington is trying to reduce the influence of Beijing and Moscow by boosting dialogue with political and business elites and using soft power mechanisms. The US will certainly promote the idea of bringing its military bases back to the region in one form or another. However, the authorities of the countries of the region are unlikely to accept this, Ergashev said. "After the Americans left Afghanistan in August 2021, it’s hard for me to believe that any of the five Central Asian nations will agree to host US military bases again. No matter how much they clash with Russia and loathe China’s influence, allowing the US to establish its bases in the region would mean immediate problems with Russia and China, as well as with Iran, which has been increasing its presence in the region," Ergashev stressed.


Izvestia: Georgian intel agency exposes planned coup

Georgia’s State Security Service (SSS) has announced that a group of conspirators plans to organize mass riots between October and December in order to overthrow the government. According to the intel agency’s report, protesters will set up tents in downtown Tbilisi and erect barricades to act out "the Ukrainian scenario." The SSS stressed that foreign countries were coordinating and funding the coup attempt, Izvestia writes.

Ukraine and the West have long been irritated by the leadership in Georgia as Tbilisi is reluctant to send weapons to Kiev, impose sanctions on Russia and open "a second front" against Moscow. Ukraine has no levers of pressure on Georgia but Western countries have various tools at their disposal. The US for the first time introduced sanctions on a number of Georgian nationals in the spring. Tbilisi has also become a destination for Western delegations seeking to persuade the Georgian authorities to halt contact with Moscow. The European integration issue has proved to be the most effective tool of pressure. Earlier, Brussels granted EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova while Georgia was denied it. A report on the country’s progress will be released in October and a decision is going to be announced in December. Georgian opposition members say that if the country fails, the authorities will be responsible for "a historic missed opportunity."

The country faced a wave of protests in March, when the opposition stood up against a foreign agent law initiated by the ruling party. Back then, protesters gathered in central Tbilisi and tried to storm the parliament building. Observers described the demonstrations as a warm-up for "a color revolution." Petre Mamradze, a political scientist and a former Georgian parliament member, says that the authorities are bracing for potential riots. "I think that the SSS statement is the first step. Evidence of coup preparations will now be made public, including recorded conversations and testimonies of the people involved, among many other things. Ardent opposition supporters will not be impacted but common citizens will start thinking about what they are doing," the expert noted.

Vladimir Novikov, head of the Caucasus Department at the Institute of CIS Countries, points out that Georgia is expected to hold its presidential and parliamentary elections next year. "The ruling party has already gone into election campaign mode and is doing everything it can to smear the opposition. In particular, the ruling party began impeachment proceedings against President Salome Zourabichvili in early September. The recent SSS statement marks the second phase of this process," the expert emphasized.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Europe may be left without diesel fuel

The world is experiencing shortages of diesel fuel as existing oil refineries don’t have the capacity to produce the needed amount, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes, citing the International Energy Agency. Europe is at high risk because after refusing to purchase Russian oil and oil products, it turned out to be unable to meet its diesel fuel needs and is now fully dependent on imports.

Russia will not face shortages as it produces twice the amount of diesel fuel the domestic market needs, but Europe’s rising diesel prices are pushing fuel rates in Russia up. Together with the increasing tax burden on oil companies, this is driving fuel prices up, while gasoline and diesel exports are becoming more attractive for producers compared to supplies to the domestic market.

Diesel reserves in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries have dropped to their lowest level in 50 years, Freedom Finance Global analyst Vladimir Chernov points out, the reason being declining oil exports and output in Russia and Saudi Arabia. Besides, a lack of investment in recent years has also played a role, leading to a decline in refining capacity, said Finam analyst Sergey Kaufman.

However, leading analyst at Otkritie Investment Andrey Kochetkov believes that it’s too early to talk about a full-scale crisis. Certain regions are experiencing shortages due to the availability of specific fuels and seasonal consumption.

Chernov notes that as global diesel prices grow, it’s becoming more profitable to export diesel fuel from Russia than to provide wholesale supplies to the domestic market. This is particularly risky amid a weakening ruble, says Valery Andrianov, an expert at the Infotek think tank. In ruble terms, retail prices in Europe are four times as high as in Russia. Such a price gap is steering commodity flows to exports. The Russian government is already discussing export restrictions and raising export duties to potentially solve the problem, Kaufman added.

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