Izvestia: How and why the situation around Ukraine is being ramped up
Rumors about Russia’s upcoming “attack” on Ukraine are being whipped up by the US in order to elevate its own international prestige, experts told Izvestia. When nothing happens during “the dates of attack” designated by the foreign media, Washington, according to expert opinion, will declare that it protected the world from “Russian aggression.” However, they do not rule out that Kiev may prepare provocations that may lead to serious consequences. The situation is heated indeed, the sides moved from words to actions. More than 30 countries recommended their citizens to leave Ukraine, several Western states are evacuating their diplomats. Moscow followed suit, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, “wary of possible provocations by the Kiev regime or third countries.”
“Now the ‘Russian threat’ is being ramped up by the US,” said Vasily Kashin, Head of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics. “Possibly, in the future, Washington is planning to take credit when nothing happens. So, at first, they made up a theory of imminent war and then they’d say that thanks to their firm stance – sanctions and all, – they prevented it,” he explained, reiterating that Russia demonstrated that it was not interested in a military conflict when it proposed to discuss security guarantees.
According to Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Andrey Kortunov, the evacuation of embassies is a sign of a jittery environment which has formed, not so much in Kiev, but in a number of Western capitals. In his opinion, some foreign politicians convinced themselves that a war is almost unavoidable.
Amid the general hysteria, there is a risk that Kiev may take advantage of the situation and set up a military provocation, according to a member of the RIAC, Valdai Club expert Dmitry Suslov. The situation may get out of hand and lead to serious consequences, above all, for Kiev, since Russia repeatedly stressed that it won’t permit a military resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. However, the expert himself called this scenario unlikely.
Izvestia: Russian warships from the Caspian to be dispatched to the Black and Mediterranean Seas
Russia’s Defense Ministry decided to form rapid response groups of warships of the Caspian Fleet for actions in the Black and Mediterranean Seas, sources in the military agency told Izvestia. Soon, these formations will be sent to Crimea and Syria’s Tartus in order to bolster the contingent of the Russian Navy in these regions. The core of these groups will be formed by the ships armed with modern missiles – Kalibr cruise missiles and hypersonic Oniks missiles. Their arrival in the Mediterranean and Black Seas will strengthen the Russian fleet in the southern strategic direction and will become an additional containment factor for potential adversaries, experts think.
The eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea region are important geopolitical areas, according to Head of the Department of Management and Social Technologies at the Northwestern Institute of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) Inna Vetrenko. “We should be present there, allocating the necessary military forces for this,” the expert thinks. “Currently, Ukraine is the most explosive spot. We don’t want a war and are not supporting the escalation, but we need to ensure our security in the current situation,” she said, adding that additional warships will serve as a containing factor in the Black Sea region while beefing up forces in the Mediterranean will impact the situation in southern Europe, the Middle East and Syria and help push NATO warship formations away from Russia’s borders.
“The eastern Mediterranean has always been important for Russia,” former Navy Chief-of-Staff Admiral Valentin Selivanov told Izvestia. “We need to counteract threats from there. This is why our forces will be stationed in Tartus in order to counteract warships that will operate from the eastern Mediterranean,” the former naval official explained, adding that small missile ships may be particularly useful there, since, despite their small size, they are armed with missiles that can target both sea and land.
Kommersant: Ukrainian air carriers encounter problems with insurers
Ukraine may encounter a disruption in air service due to moves by international insurance companies that are urgently recalling the coverage of military risks for a significant part of planes used in the country. This is caused by the rumors of a possible armed conflict with Russia. So far, only SkyUp airlines stopped selling tickets, while KLM Royal Dutch Airlines canceled flights to Ukraine. However, according to the newspaper, other market players are facing similar problems. Experts think that the situation is unprecedented, considering the fact that EU aviation authorities did not ban flights to Ukraine.
Alexander Lanetsky, general director of the Friendly Avia Support consulting company, emphasizes that up until now, according to international practice, the aviation authorities had a final say in the event of a security threat and lessors and insurers were following their decision. “This is how it was when flights were suspended over Syria, and over Afghanistan after US troops pulled out from there. I don’t recall lessors ever taking on such a decisive role,” he pointed out.
The situation is highly politicized, says Executive Director of the AviaPort agency Oleg Panteleev, noting that so far the blocking of Ukraine’s air space is not likely. In his opinion, soon information will emerge on what additional payments the airlines will need to cover military risks which may involve “more than tens of thousands of dollars per flight.”
Vedomosti: Turkmenistan’s president commences the transfer of power to his son
On February 11, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov who has been in office for 15 years announced his decision to “give way to the young.” The country’s leader explained that he will only stay on as head of the upper chamber of the parliament, according to the TDH state news agency. On February 12, Bezirgen Karayev, a representative of Turkmenistan’s Central Election Committee, announced that an extraordinary presidential election was scheduled for March 12 (it was supposed to take place in 2024). The president has a son, 40-year-old Serdar Berdimuhamedov who was designated as a deputy prime minister, a position created just for him, by his father in February 2021. However, Berdimuhamedov Sr. has not yet said whether his son is his definite successor.
The Turkmen president cannot but take into account the Kazakh experience, according to Senior Researcher at the IMEMO Center for Post-Soviet Studies Stanislav Pritchin. In January 2022, social protests in Kazakhstan escalated into violent chaos with the nation’s first president, 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev, losing all levers of real power, while Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who has formally served as president since 2019, completed the transfer of power taking the reins of full authority into his hands. According to the expert, Nazarbayev’s experience with holding on to power for as long as possible serves as a warning for the Turkmen leader. Another factor is Berdimuhamedov’s health. Rumor has it that he had the coronavirus infection with subsequent complications. The expert thinks that Berdimuhamedov will remain as the head of the parliament, thus preserving the key levers of power and designate his son as president. In his opinion, it is unlikely that his son will introduce deep reforms since he will be contained by his father.
Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, does not quite concur about the impact of the Kazakh events. He thinks that the process of the transit of power was launched several years ago, it was initially planned, yet the events in Kazakhstan have demonstrated to Ashgabat that the transfer of power should take place while the older leader can still control the process. According to Director of the Center for Eurasian Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Ivan Safranchuk, this is not really a power transfer but a creation of a “dynasty,” similar to that existing on the opposite coast of the Caspian, in Azerbaijan. The expert notes that the transit of power means passing it down while retaining influence, yet Berdimuhamedov has a rather different idea – keeping the power in the family.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia’s Central Bank raises key rate for eighth straight time, yet prices still rising
The Bank of Russia has raised the key rate for the eighth time in a row: it has been increased by one percentage point at once and now amounts to 9.5% annually. The Central Bank has been doing this for almost a year amid high inflation, yet it has not been abated. According to the Bank of Russia, high inflation may indicate a disbalance in the economy, a situation which will most likely demand new increases of the key rate.
Inflation is growing rapidly because the key rate hike is not having any immediate effect on the decrease in the growth rates of credit portfolios, according to CEO of the ACRA rating agency Mikhail Sukhov. “It is necessary to contain inflation even under the conditions of a significant impact of external factors in order to exclude the emergence of the ‘inflationary spiral’,” he says, noting that additional measures to stabilize prices may be undertaken this spring limiting banks’ lending activity.
Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights Boris Titov thinks that economic demand should not be slowed down artificially, adding that there was a proposal to increase state spending through the “smart borrowing” system. According to him, this may result in an annual sum of 10-15% in budget revenues which can then be channeled towards social needs, medical and educational certificates while simultaneously subsidizing percentage rates and expanding lending.
According to Expert RA Chief Economist Anton Tabakh, the Central Bank is acting in accordance with its capabilities in fighting inflation. “The Bank of Russia was among the first to begin fighting inflation and now world central banks are taking it on. Yet this does not mean that inflation should be fought at any cost. If in order to decrease inflation to 4%, it will be necessary to cut budget spending, then the blow to the economy will be stronger than from an additional price increase,” he thinks, adding that it is unlikely that it will be possible to curtail the consequences of the deficit of industrial components, raw materials or lack of workforce by monetary means.
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