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Covid-19 Pandemic In Russia More Dangerous Than Reported; Moscow Must Act Fast: OpEd

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OpEd// The world is changing ­­­– the coronavirus has affected not only the everyday lives of every citizen but also political and economic processes. In addition, political processes are directly and indirectly affected by the economy.

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It’s hard to predict whether a winner nation will emerge from the global fight against COVID-19, but at the moment it is becoming evident that there will be some big losers, and Russia could be one of them.

Up until now, Russian President Vladimir Putin did as he pleased, and because of this, he has found himself in a perilous situation – a situation that won’t be solved even by the constitutional amendments.

Let’s start with the fact that Russia ignored the COVID-19 threat. At least it did so publicly. It’s true that the Kremlin did everything in its power to convince the Russian public that the new coronavirus has been made up by some external forces.

However, there are Russians who since the Soviet era have learned to read and listen between the lines and keep their eyes open. So, it is no wonder that they stormed their shops as well. But let’s switch to the global situation.

Economic development has been – to put it mildly – slowed by COVID-19. Each and every country has been forced to review their budgets in order to come to the aid of both entrepreneurs and citizens. That is why the financial aspect of the crisis is important.

An unexpectedly sharp blow for the Kremlin and Putin came in the form of decreased Brent oil price, which slumped below 25 dollars per barrel. This will markedly affect the course of the ruble and the budget of Russia as a whole.

Accordingly, it was no surprise that on 26 March during the G20 extraordinary summit Putin urged to ease the sanctions imposed against Moscow for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Russian president did not specify, which countries should lift the sanctions, but he did stress that it is a matter of life and death.

You don’t have to be a clairvoyant to determine which country is most affected by sanctions, because it is exactly Russia. I think it’s time for the international community to say loudly and clearly – sure, we will cancel the sanctions, but only if you fix the reason they were imposed in the first place.

And then, Putin will have to choose between the lesser of two evils, i.e. he can finally admit to the Russian population and the international community that Crimea was, in fact, occupied and should be returned to Ukraine. This would lift the sanctions and see the economy of Russia improve, but in the eyes of Russians…Let’s just say Putin would stop being so great.

The second option is to maintain his fierce dedication to communism and say nothing – this way, the sanctions would remain in place, while Russian citizens would be thrown in a rather unpleasant situation. And neither would this bode well for Putin’s popularity.

Putin is forced to choose between a rock and a hard place. He could also remain idle for some time, waiting and hoping that oil prices will return to their former state. To this, I would say that right now no one, except Russia, is willing to wait.

I know that some will say that Russia did show its goodwill by helping other countries to fight the new coronavirus, mentioning Russia’s aid to Italy which was widely covered by the media, and now the US as well. In the first glance, this would seem true, but there are a couple of facts that suggest not everything is as it seems – at least when it comes to the case of Italy.

To outline a brief history: on 21 March, Putin had a telephone conversation with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Later, Russia sent nine Il-76 aircraft with humanitarian aid along with roughly 100 military epidemiologists, mobile disinfection systems and laboratories. This event gained wide attention in media outlets, particularly those in Russia.

Naturally, this move was perceived by Italians positively. But not long after it was realized that approximately 80% of the aid sent by Russia “has absolutely no use, or its use is insignificant,” as reported by an anonymous source to the Italian newspaper La Stampa. The newspaper noted the fact that all of the specialists sent by Russia were soldiers with high military ranks, not medical personnel.

“In other words, the aid was an excuse,” the source said. The sent items contained, for instance, bacterial disinfection equipment and field sterilization laboratories, not breathing aids or protective equipment, i.e. things that Italy at the moment so direly needs. That’s not all – these specialists were sent by the Russian Ministry of Defense, not the Ministry of Health. Many of these people are officers in the Russian Armed Forces’ medical wing, not actual doctors that are able to provide help in such a crisis, La Stampa reported.

The Russian officers are located in the Bergamo region of Italy, where they, according to the Russian ambassador, will disinfect the overfilled retirement homes. Located a two-hour drive away is a large US military base in Vicenza, and now the Russian officers are on “NATO roads”.

Of course, all of this didn’t take place without scandals. On 23 March, Russian senator Alexey Pushkov tweeted that Warsaw refusing to allow Russian humanitarian aid through its airspace is “baseness on the governmental level” because Poland and Italy are both NATO allies. He added that from now on Russia “must not cooperate with Poland on any issue”.

The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that Russia had not asked Warsaw for permission to cross the airspace of Poland in order to deliver humanitarian aid to Italy, therefore Poland couldn’t even refuse, because no requests were made. Pushkov later deleted his tweet, but that was the only thing he did.

So, what is the “harsh” conclusion of this aid? All that happened was loud announcements made, the help turned out to be 80% useless and Russia got closer to a US military base, which wouldn’t be so easy in any other situation. The rest we can conclude ourselves.

What concerns aid sent to the US – can you really imagine that Russian aid to the US would have any real impact in the fight against COVID-19? The aid from Russia to the US was sent by an An-124-100 airplane, which can carry 120 tons.

To compare, Russia sent nine Il-76 to Italy, and each aircraft is able to transport 50 tons. Russia sends an airplane with 120 tons of aid to the US, while Italy receives nine airplanes containing 450 tons of aid.

These 120 tons will not help the US in any way, but Russia will not hesitate to use this move for its propaganda and to argue that the sanctions imposed against it should now be lifted.
I have already written about Russia’s attempts to further its political capital using a wide array of means, including dubious ones, now let’s look at how the current economic situation will affect Russia in certain aspects.

The price of Russian Ural oil dropped to 10.54 dollars per barrel, which is at the level of 1999, when the price was at its lowest point. During the period from January to March, Russia exported 77% less oil to Belarus when compared to 2019.

We should mention that in Russia this is seen as a critical situation. It is forecast that Russia’s GDP will drop by 10-12%, and this was expressed even by Russian officials and as we know they like to somewhat “polish” any negative information.

To conclude, it seems that Putin’s grip on power is becoming threatened because it is exactly during this crisis that people will see that Russia is unable to take care of its citizens. As we all know, Russia profits mostly from exporting energy resources. The situation is made even worse by the fact that Russia has made energy exports a geopolitical weapon. If in peacetime this yielded results, then now it is creating losses for Russia.

We shouldn’t forget that the sanctions imposed against Russia can be detrimental to its ability to handle the crisis, therefore it is understandable that one of Russia’s main priorities is to lessen or lift the sanctions. As harsh as it sounds, maintaining these sanctions could play a crucial role if we want to shake up Putin’s influence in Russia.

OpEd By Independent journalist Zintis Znotiņš. Views Personel. Does Not Represent the Views of the EurAsian Times

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India-China Border Clash: Russia ‘Worried’ About Standoff Between Two Great Allies

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After the US, Russia has expressed anxiety over the border clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and urged India and China to address the issue through established bilateral dialogue mechanisms.

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“Of course we are worried with the current situation at LAC, reported the Economic Times.

However, as we know, there are specified mechanisms developed by both the nations including hotlines, special representatives dialogue, and informal summits. We are positive that India and China would be able to to find a solution. We would encourage every attempt in this regard,” Russian Deputy Ambassador to India Roman Babushkin told ET.

This is the first statement by Russia since the border clash first broke out between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh region along the LAC.

Earlier, both India and China also pledged to use the bilateral mechanism to solve the raging border conflict. Referring to SCO-RIC mechanism Babushkin said – We think it is vital to improve Russia-India-China (RIC) dialogue as well as SCO-based coordination as essential for regional security and boosting mutual trust.” Russia presently holds the SCO chairmanship.

Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, US president Doland Trump had reiterated his offer to mediate between India and China over the border dispute between the two nuclear-armed nations.

Trump has said that he talked with Indian PM about the “big conflict” and asserted that the PM Modi s not in a “good mood” over the latest flare-ups.

Speaking with the reporters in the White House on Thursday, President Trump said a “big conflict” was going on between India and China. “I like your prime minister a lot. He is a great gentleman,” the president said.

“Have a big conflict …India and China. Two countries with 1.4 billion people (each). Two countries with very powerful armies. India is not happy and probably China is not happy,” he said when asked if he was worried about the border situation between India and China.

Trump had earlier offered to mediate between India and China to resolve the border conflict and had tweeted – “ready, willing and able to mediate” between the two countries. Responding to a question on his tweet, Trump repeated his proposal, saying if called for help, “I would do that (mediate). If they thought it would help” about “mediate or arbitrate, I would do that,” he said.

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EurAsian Region

Russia Could Annex More Parts Of Ukraine Over ‘Crimean Dispute’: US Reports

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The lack of water in Crimea may lead to a new military aggression by Russia against Ukraine. Analysts he Jamestown Foundation believes that the water situation in Crimea has reached a critical level, which might prompt Moscow to seize more Ukrainian territories. 

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Goble writes – the Crimea has long endured water shortages now intensified by frequent winters with little-to-no rain or snow. According to officials in Moscow, Crimea has seen its reserves of freshwater slump by 60% and there could be no water by this August in the peninsula.

The situation poses a grave health crisis in Crimea and this could prompt Russia to seize more Ukrainian territories to gain access to freshwater supplies as Kiev has bluntly rejected selling water to Russia.

Until the Russian annexation of Crimea, 85% of the drinking water for the Crimean residents was supplied via the North Crimean Canal, from the Dnieper River. However, Ukraine abruptly terminated the supplies, forcing Moscow to rely on groundwater and reservoirs.

Ukrainian experts state that the water deficiency in Crimea is a direct result of the Russian invasion. If it ends (the Russian occupation) the water crisis will end too, which is also the official position of Ukraine,”

The groundwater levels in much of Crimea have decreased dramatically as the region faces the prospect of water shortages for both agriculture as well as the resident population.

Not only is Crimea running out of water, but experts claim that Russia has often played up this issue in order to pressurize Ukraine via Europe. Indeed, the expert notes, what Moscow says about water for Crimea has matched the Russin attempts to extend its control into other parts of Ukraine.

When Russia overran Ukrainian territory in 2014, they had planned to capture a much larger portion of the nation than they were able to, including the places from which Crimea had historically obtained its water. Will the current “hysteria” in Crimea about water shortage prompt the Russians to move against Ukraine?

Ukraine is unlikely to change its position on Crimea and Russian occupation. That is because there is a looming water shortage in Ukraine itself, and supplying water to the Russian occupation would only increase the matter, besides Kiev looks determined to stand its ground firm.

That raises the probability that Russia may use the military option and drive northward into Ukraine to seize full control of water for Crimea before a humanitarian disaster hits the region this summer.

he Jamestown Foundation

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EurAsian Region

From Syria To Libya, Turkish Drones Outsmarting Russian Air Defence Systems?

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Turkey and Russia have been at opposite ends in both Syria and Libya. Just like Syria where Turkish drones excelled against the Russian air defence systems, the situation in Libya looks almost similar. 

Turkish drones have yet again battered Russian air-defence systems. According to TRT World, the introduction of drones in Libya by Turkey has caused the tide of the war to swing in its favour.

To understand the Libyan war is not easy as different countries support different leaders and this has caused widespread chaos in the region. Much like Syria, Russia and Turkey are supporting different groups in Libya.

Moscow backs and supports Khalil Haftar of the Libyan National Army (LNA) based in Benghazi. Haftar also has allies in France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The LNA recruits from all over Africa and its aim are to wrest control of the capital, Tripoli, from the Government of National Accord (GNA) and rule over the African country.

The GNA is the internationally recognised government in Libya and the defence of the government lies in the hands of Turkey, Qatar and Italy and its army. The LNA, under Haftar, launched a military campaign in April 2019 to take control of Tripoli even though the UN Secretary-General had requested him not to do so.

A year on, Haftar’s self-styled LNA is on verge of defeat as Turkey’s drones have wreaked havoc on LNA controlled territories.

Turkish Drones – Changing the Tide

According to reports, Turkish drones started arriving in late 2019 and the Turkish Army assisted the GNA to familiarize Libyans with the new weapons.

Prior to the arrival of the drones, Haftar’s own air force, supported by the UAE, Egyptians and Russians had devastated the GNA forces resulting in heavy casualties.

However, the drones have proved to be the game-changer yet again. Using their experience from Idlib in Syria, Ankara mastered the use of sophisticated unmanned aerial warfare, hitting targets at distance and assisting ground troops.

Now using the same technology and experience, Turkish drones have been vital in assisting GNA claim nearly all of western Libya from Haftar’s forces. Since April, the GNA has captured numerous cities between Tripoli and the Tunisian border.

The latest feather in the GNA’s cap is the seizure of the Al-Vatiya, HQ of the LNA’s western operations, and the largest airbase across Western Libya. The Turks reported the destruction of two Russian anti-aircraft missile-cannon systems (ZRPK) “Pantsir-C1”.

This is the first time that the GNA has announced hitting the Russian air defence system since the start of the assault on Tripoli forces in April 2019.

Russia Wounded Yet Again?

For the Russian forces, the latest advance in Libya is a flashback of Syria. As reported by EurAsian Times in March, drones from Turkey had destroyed several Russian-made, Syrian-operated air defence vehicles. The Russian Ministry of Defence later confirmed that two Pantsir air-defence systems were destroyed in the Turkish onslaught.

In Libya, the air defence system has met the same fate and has now raised questions over its efficacy. The aerial offensive from Ankara has put Moscow on the backfoot. But like always, analysts agree that the Russian will not go out without a fight.

In an effort to counter GNA and its allies, Moscow has sent 6 MiG-29 fighter jets and 2 Su-24 attack planes to the LNA-controlled al Jufra airbase. The Russians did get some positive news as the LNA was able to destroy 4 Turkish drones last week. Haftar’s only hope to stem the GNA’s advance is to regain air superiority.

The Libyan war has been going on since 2011 and while the tide has now swung in the GNA’s favour, it does not mean the war will end anytime soon. Experts speaking to EurAsian Times believe that there is no military solution to Libya and Haftar must be removed from the scene in Tripoli.

Written by – Armaan Srivastava

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