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Press review: Political fallout from Raisi's death and Zelensky's term officially over

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, May 21st

MOSCOW, May 21. /TASS/. Will Iran's relations with Russia change following President Ebrahim Raisi's death in helicopter crash; Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky's term has officially expired; and Taiwan prioritizing defense at home, leaving Ukraine out of the loop. These stories topped Tuesday's newspaper headlines across Russia.


RBC: How Iranian president’s death will affect Tehran’s relations with Russia, other countries

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was a major shock to the country and the entire world. On the political front, however, it is unlikely to lead to any serious changes, said experts interviewed by RBC.

Vladimir Sazhin, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, points out that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the highest authority in Iran. Yelena Suponina, an expert with the Russian International Affairs Council, in turn, notes that Iranian reformists, who call for democratization, may try to take advantage of the situation to nominate their candidates. However, the position of conservatives is extremely strong and will only get stronger following Raisi’s death.

Analysts agree that President Raisi’s death will in no way affect Iran-Russia relations. "The people who have temporarily taken over the positions of the deceased officials support the same policy of close ties with Russia and China," Suponina explained. According to Alexander Maryasov, an expert with the Valdai International Discussion Club and Russia’s former ambassador to Tehran, cooperation between the two countries will grow, in line with the goal set by Iran’s supreme leader. Moscow and Tehran are "in the same boat" due to sanctions pressure and isolation attempts from the US and other Western countries. "In this kind of situation, there’s nothing better than to join forces and step up cooperation," he said.

Maryasov believes that Raisi’s death is unlikely to result in an escalation of Iran’s relations with the US and Israel. The diplomat warned against expecting significant changes in the activities of Iran’s proxies in the region, primarily the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which, in his words, will continue to shell Israel’s border areas. "All policy areas - be it foreign, domestic or economic policy - are determined by the Iranian supreme leader and his close circle. So there won’t be any foreign policy changes," Sazhin emphasized.

However, Suponina views another round of tensions in the Middle East as inevitable. She predicts that Raisi’s death will not trigger any outbreaks of violence in the near future but will play a role in destabilizing the situation in the region long term.


Vedomosti: Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s term officially expires

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s five-year term officially expired on May 20 with no election on the horizon in the country. Besides the legal aspect, there’s also a political dimension to the issue of Zelensky’s legitimacy, Vedomosti notes.

The Ukrainian constitution limits Zelensly’s presidential term to five years. However, it also states that the person holding the position continues to exercise the relevant powers until the inauguration of a new president. There is also martial law legislation, under which it is impossible to hold presidential and parliamentary elections as long as martial law is in effect. Martial law does not extend Zelensky’s powers but does cancel any elections, a matter that falls under the authority of the constitutional court, which also determines Zelensky’s domestic legitimacy, said Denis Denisov, an expert at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation.

With the presidential election canceled, Zelensky now has limited legitimacy, Ivan Skorikov, head of the Ukraine Department at the Institute of CIS Studies, pointed out. Opinion polls show that Zelensky’s approval ratings have been steadily declining. With this in mind, he needs to do everything possible to prove that he is a competent leader, and the upcoming conference on Ukraine in Switzerland will be a good opportunity to change the narrative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently said that it is up to the Ukrainian legal system to decide on Zelensky’s legitimacy. Given that the statement was made during Putin’s visit to China, Russia’s closest partner, it can be interpreted as a hint for the nations of the Global South not to take Zelensky seriously, Skorikov said.

However, Russia and Belarus are the only two countries that could deny Zelensky’s legitimacy. Even pro-Russia countries such as China and Iran are unlikely to make such a move. The West also recognizes Zelensky, so he can be expected to hold on to at least some semblance of legitimacy on the international stage. Still, as regards Zelensky making any agreements, Denisov believes that the framework of future negotiations should be outlined in Russia’s talks with the US, not with Kiev.


Izvestia: Taiwans defense strategy leaves little room for aid to Ukraine

Taiwan has sent over $110 mln in support to Kiev in the two years of the Ukrainian conflict, an official from the island’s Foreign Ministry told Izvestia, with most of the aid being humanitarian assistance. The Taiwanese Defense Ministry reiterated that no military support had been provided to Ukraine even though Taiwan had the right to hand decommissioned military equipment over to allies.

"Given the risk of a possible conflict with China, Taiwan is currently boosting its defense capabilities and has no weapons to spare. I would assume that Taiwan will not send weapons to Ukraine because much of what Kiev is using is crucial for Taiwan’s own defense strategy," Vasily Kashin, director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, noted.

According to the expert, this first and foremost concerns air defenses and advanced artillery. Besides, Washington’s military assistance to Taipei is declining as the White House is involved in several conflicts at once, including Ukraine and the Middle East, in a bid to preserve its foreign policy dominance. However, if Taiwan decides to send weapons to Kiev, it could be done through intermediaries.

"The Ukrainian conflict has increased the shadow turnover of weapons, as well as the number of intermediaries, so such deliveries can be carried out through a lot of countries. This activity now lacks transparency not only in areas where it has always been low, such as Middle East and Latin America, to say nothing of Africa," said Marianna Yevtodyeva, head of a research group studying the globalization of military and economic processes at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

The expert points out that shadow weapons supplies used to be processed through the above-mentioned regions and they did not fall under any arms transfer control mechanisms. "Now, transparency has decreased even in European and NATO countries. The weapons supplies to Ukraine that they officially report don’t reflect the actual volumes. This is particularly true in Eastern European nations such as Bulgaria and Poland," Yevtodyeva concluded.


Kommersant: Iranian president’s death pushes precious metal prices up

Global gold prices have exceeded the $2,450 per troy ounce mark for the first time in history, growing by 3.6% in a week, spurred by the rise in geopolitical risks following Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s death. Analysts don’t rule out that gold prices may soar to $2,500-2,600 per troy ounce in the second half of the year. Other precious metals are also rising in price, Kommersant writes.

"When news broke about the Iranian president’s death, it sparked concerns of an increase in geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and across the world," Anna Pilgunova, senior analyst at SberCIB Investment Research, said.

Even before the Iranian president’s helicopter crashed, a number of other recent events had added to growing geopolitical instability. On May 7, reports came out about an assassination attempt on the Saudi crown prince. Just eight days later, on May 15, an attempt on the life of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico took place. "Largely destructive processes are underway, which are pushing up demand for a safe haven," Finam analyst Nikolay Dudchenko noted.

Expectations of a key interest rate cut by the US Federal Reserve are another factor pushing prices up. "A potential move by the Fed to bring down the rate would reduce treasury bond yields, increasing the attractiveness of gold as a low-risk asset," said Dmitry Smolin, senior analyst at Sinara investment bank.

Further fluctuations in the price of gold will primarily depend on how the geopolitical situation unfolds and, to a lesser extent, on the statements that the US financial authorities make. In Dudchenko’s view, gold prices will remain at the $2,400-2,450 per troy ounce level in the second quarter, but they may rise to $2,500-2,600 per troy ounce later in the year. The upcoming US presidential election will also have investors on edge as its outcome will determine the country’s foreign policy for the next four years.


Izvestia: China dumps US government bonds

China has sharply reduced its holdings of US government debt, purging a record amount of government bonds in the first quarter of 2024. The sell-off came amid an escalation of the trade confrontation between Washington and Beijing and China’s desire to diversify its reserve assets, Izvestia writes.

Analysts attribute China’s activity on the US debt market to the current geopolitical situation. "It seems this has to do with the United States’ intention to seize Russia’s sovereign assets," Alexey Kovalyov, head of debt market analysis at Finam, pointed out. "China is trying to hedge risk in this regard. Notably, this is similar to what the Russian financial authorities were doing after 2014, when they sought to radically reduce the country’s US treasury portfolio," he added.

According to financial expert Alexey Krichevsky, this trend has been going on for several years. "It is now rising for two reasons. First, tensions between the US and China are growing, particularly because of the Taiwan issue, where the Americans have a vested interest. Tensions won’t subside even if Donald Trump is elected president at the end of the year. On the contrary, they may even grow, specifically with regard to the trade war. The second reason is that China has stepped up gold purchases. Gold is being bought with money from the sale of US government bonds as the precious metal is viewed as more promising than treasuries," the expert explained.

However, the sell-off is not big enough to have a major impact on the market, Krichevsky pointed out. Besides, in his words, China has long ceased to be the key player on the US debt market, replaced by Japan. "Still, if China suddenly moves to sell all the bonds it holds at once, the only effect will be that the debt market will simply fall, resulting in a total collapse of the financial system and very tough consequences for the dollar," the expert emphasized.

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