All news

Press review: Iranian leader Moscow bound for talks with Putin and Bolivia aims for BRICS

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, December 6th

MOSCOW, December 6. /TASS/. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi plans to visit Moscow on December 7 for discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and developments in the South Caucasus; Bolivia announced plans to apply for BRICS membership; and Lukoil is considering selling its Bulgarian business, including the Burgas refinery, due to Sofia’s restrictions on Russian crude oil imports. These stories topped Wednesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Iranian president visits Moscow for urgent discussions on Gaza, South Caucasus

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will visit Moscow on December 7 to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced on December 5. According to Iran’s Mehr news agency, expanding bilateral economic cooperation will be among the key topics to be discussed by the two presidents. Putin and Raisi are also expected to focus on regional and international issues, such as the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Vedomosti writes.

According to Kirill Semenov, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, the parties are likely to discuss issues pertaining to a future agreement on strategic partnership in the military-technical and military-political spheres. According to him, despite some commonalities, the direction of Russian-Iranian cooperation in the Middle East is hampered by differences in the two sides’ understanding of Israel’s role: Tehran primarily defends the interests of the Palestinians (it does not recognize the Jewish state), while Moscow tries to take into account Tel Aviv’s position. "But the parties have a common position on reaching a ceasefire in Gaza as soon as possible," he said.

In addition, the parties will examine the political situation in the South Caucasus, in particular the expansion of defense cooperation between Armenia and France, according to Semenov. Iran is not pleased with Armenia's pro-Western orientation, which may lead Tehran to balance its foreign policy in the South Caucasus and continue improving its relations with Azerbaijan, the expert added.

According to Iran expert Nikita Smagin, another topic of discussion between the two presidents will be the implementation of the North-South transport corridor, which would connect Iran with Russia via Azerbaijani territory.


Izvestia: Bolivia eyes joining BRICS as path to shedding dollar dependence

Bolivia will seek full membership in BRICS, the Andean country's embassy in Russia told Izvestia. Moreover, La Paz is ready to give the country’s partners access to its natural resources, particularly lithium. Bolivia is far from the only developing country with an interest in joining the BRICS group. However, analysts believe that it is too early for the bloc to seriously consider adding a large number of new members, Izvestia writes.

"The Bolivian Foreign Ministry will continue to work for full BRICS membership in order to use new mechanisms of international relations, which will reduce the dependence on the dollar in commercial transactions. A possible future inclusion of Bolivia in BRICS will depend on the organization's members, who are currently discussing the procedures for the accession of new members and partners," Bolivia's Ambassador to Moscow Maria Luisa Ramos Urzagaste told the newspaper. According to her, Bolivia maintains close contacts with all members of the organization because it supports the BRICS agenda.

Global South countries are attracted to the organization because they do not want to be subject to US pressure due to the dominance of the dollar in global trade, political analyst Igor Pshenichnikov told Izvestia. But whether Bolivia will be able to join BRICS is an important question, and much will depend on how the situation in South America as a whole and in the country itself develops. The final word, of course, belongs to the current member countries of the association, especially Brazil, which is a founding BRICS member and has long represented the interests of South America overall within the group.

According to Mikhail Mironyuk, first deputy dean of the Social Sciences Faculty at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), the potential for economic cooperation with Bolivia is not limited to lithium. Bolivia can also provide the BRICS countries with access to its gas and oil deposits.

However, experts are skeptical that the economic potential of small countries like Bolivia can help the BRICS. In other words, such smaller countries are likely to benefit far more from having strong allies among the large BRICS nations than the larger countries themselves stand to gain from such smaller partners. "There are convincing grounds to argue that [BRICS] expansion, especially at the expense of 'big' countries in some respects, serves to strengthen BRICS, while there are just as sound arguments that, on the contrary, BRICS would be weakened by pursuing expansion without first developing its own organizational structures and institutions," Mironyuk noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Hamas may seek to 'expand' into Hezbollah homeland Lebanon

Palestinian radical movement Hamas announced the formation of a fighting unit in Lebanon under its banner, calling on local youth to join the Al-Aqsa Flood Vanguard, named in reference to the events of October 7. According to local media, the militants are building escape routes from the embattled Gaza Strip to Lebanon after the expected total destruction of Gaza's infrastructure by Israeli forces. Experts, however, emphasized the considerable tensions between ostensible allies Hamas, based in Gaza, and Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Until recently, armed conflict between Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had been restricted to exchanges of powerful but limited strikes. According to Lebanese newspaper Al Modon, however, the formation of a new group of fighters would allow for mass recruitment, turning Lebanon into a large training ground for Hamas.

Palestinian activity in Lebanon is nothing new, said independent analyst Anton Mardasov. "But it is worth recognizing that in recent years the so-called Hamas office has deliberately created operational units in Lebanon, relying on personnel who could not only independently carry out reconnaissance, combat training and, of course, combat operations, but also produce weapons: missiles and air-and sea-based drones. The independence of Hamas in this matter is purely nominal, since it is known that the group's activities in Lebanon are supervised by the Palestinian branch of the Quds Force within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (a branch of the Iranian armed forces - TASS)," he told the newspaper.

At the same time, the expert believes that relations between Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon are far from ideal. "There are still differences within the 'united resistance front.' The point is not only that Hamas launched attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon, which Hezbollah was often forced to join reluctantly, but also that it often failed to warn Hezbollah about the organization of training and recruitment camps on its territory," he said, adding that, "it is impossible to discuss the repercussions of this decision because the timing of the end of the conflict and the prospects for Hamas <…> remain unknown."


Vedomosti: Lukoil considers selling its business in Bulgaria, including Burgas refinery

Due to a "significant change in the operating conditions" of its subsidiaries, Russian oil major Lukoil has begun to revisit its strategy for its assets in Bulgaria, including the Burgas refinery. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, even if Lukoil does not sell the refinery, the company would need to find a new oil supplier, so selling the asset could be the best option.

The company resolved to re-assess its strategy because of the Bulgarian government's restrictions on refineries. "Various options are being analyzed with the involvement of international consultants, including the sale of the company," Lukoil said in a statement. The "political storm" created by the Sofia authorities around the Burgas refinery is harming Lukoil's business and the investment climate in Bulgaria, negatively affecting the country's budget revenues and damaging the country's image, Lukoil said.

According to Sergei Kaufman, an analyst at Finam Financial Group, if Lukoil does not sell the Burgas refinery, the company will have to find a new oil supplier because of the authorities' plans to limit imports of raw materials from Russia. According to him, this will deprive the company of the synergy effect and reduce processing margins.

According to Igor Yushkov, a senior analyst at the National Energy Security Fund, Lukoil has no other viable option but to sell the refinery. He believes that asset swaps with foreign companies are unlikely and that there is no precedent on the market for long-term leasing.

Potential bidders for such a refinery include European oil majors (Equinor, Shell, BP, TotalEnergies and others), which have reduced their debt burden and are now open to M&A transactions, as well as oil traders (Vitol, Trafigura), according to Kaufman. According to Yushkov, the most natural alternative would be Azerbaijan's state-owned SOCAR, which could deliver its oil with a little logistical leverage and create the synergy that Lukoil currently has by owning a refinery.


Izvestia: Share of ruble in settlements with Europe reaches new record

The share of the ruble in payments for Russian exports to Europe has reached a new high, Izvestia writes. According to the Central Bank of Russia, the national currency accounted for 54% of payments in September 2023. The situation could be attributable to the cumulative effect of many events at the same time: requirements for the sale of gas in rubles, sanctions against Russian banks and their disconnection from SWIFT, and the establishment of new trade contacts, including with Turkey.

According to Antonina Levashenko, head of the Russian Center for Competence and Analysis of OECD Standards at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), the law requiring unfriendly countries to pay for gas in rubles has given the ruble a prominent position in payments for Russian exports to Europe. Tamara Safonova, associate professor in the Marketing and International Cooperation Department at the Institute of Management and Regional Development, noted that the sale of energy resources is one of the most important areas for foreign trade transactions.

In addition, currency transfers to and from Russia have become more difficult over the past six months due to the freezing of Russian bank accounts and their disconnection from the SWIFT system, Finam analyst Alexander Potavin told the newspaper. According to him, the falling value of the Russian currency makes it more attractive as a vehicle for executing payments. However, he warned that it also has a negative impact on the exchange rate.

Despite the clear shift in the geography of Russia’s international economic activity toward Asian markets, Russia has not rejected cooperation with European countries, Elena Voronkova, associate professor at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, told the newspaper. According to her, Russia will continue to develop the trend of internationalization of the ruble, including with Europe. "Thus, a new structure of export trade in Russian agricultural products with payments in rubles is being implemented. It's obvious that its share within the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union - TASS) and BRICS will continue to grow," the expert added.

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in these press reviews