Press review: US to ban Russian uranium and Georgia pushes ahead with controversial bill

MOSCOW:  US President Joe Biden plans to sign a bill banning the import of uranium from Russia, with one caveat; Georgia grapples with inter...


MOSCOW:  US President Joe Biden plans to sign a bill banning the import of uranium from Russia, with one caveat; Georgia grapples with internal strife over foreign agent bill; and Armenia and Azerbaijan to sit down for peace talks in Kazakhstan. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.

Izvestia: US to enact ban on Russian uranium imports, but with a catch

US President Joe Biden will soon sign a bill banning Russian uranium imports into law. On April 30, the Senate unanimously passed the act which was approved by the House of Representatives back in December.

The ban will go into effect 90 days after it is enacted and last through 2040. However, the bill comes with the caveat that the US can ignore it until 2028 for the sake of national interests. In addition, the legislation will unlock $2.7 bln in funding for the domestic uranium industry.

According to the US Department of Energy, Russia is the United States’ top foreign supplier of uranium as it accounts for around a quarter of all US imports, followed by Germany (12%), Great Britain (11%) and the Netherlands (9%). Low-enriched uranium (LEU) exports generate $1 bln annually for Russia, data from the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources shows.

Bloomberg does not expect the enactment of the bill to affect US nuclear power plants in the near term as reactors are usually refueled every 18 to 24 months. And nuclear fuel purchases negotiated earlier remain in force, which will keep utilities running for at least the next few years, the news agency said.

Setting aside enforcement to 2028 actually strips the bill of any practical value, Boris Martsinkevich, an expert in energy, said. "If there is no fuel on the market, the United States can continue buying uranium from Russia, and, to be sure, there won’t be enough volumes of the fuel for the United States on the market. At this point, there is nothing to compensate for the loss of Russian fuel with," the expert maintained, adding that building a uranium enrichment plant would take seven to eight years.

What National Energy Security Fund lead analyst Igor Yushkov calls a politicized decision will not cause any economic damage to Russia as the country has quite a range of alternative export markets. In particular, Yushkov says, nuclear power plants are currently being built in China, Japan, South Korea and India.

Delaying the bill's real implementation until 2028 means this is purely a political decision, Vladimir Vasilyev, senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies, agrees. "2028 is another election year, so the uranium decision will be passed on to the next administration," the expert said.

Vedomosti: Georgia advances controversial foreign agent bill amid protests

Despite mass protests in Tbilisi, the Georgian parliament passed the second reading of a controversial foreign agent bill on Wednesday, with 83 pro-government lawmakers supporting the legislation. The opposition criticizes the document for being identical to Russia’s law on foreign agents. Still, a third and final reading will take place in two weeks, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze promised.

As many as 63 people were detained during an opposition protest in Tbilisi on the night of April 30 when hundreds rallied against the bill in front of the parliament building. Anti-government protests have been cropping up sporadically in the Georgian capital since April 17, when the first reading of the bill on the Transparency of Foreign Influence was passed. Protesters fear that the draft law will give the government too much control over the media and undermine the country’s efforts to join the European Union.

Political analyst Andrey Areshev, who specializes in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, recounted that other former Soviet republics had approved similar laws that were also opposed by the United States and the EU. According to him, the opposition is using the foreign agent bill as a pretext to destabilize the political situation in the country as the legislation gives them the perfect opportunity to score additional political points ahead of the parliamentary election scheduled for next fall. Western governments, who are dissatisfied with the policy being pursued by the current Georgian authorities and the level of interaction between Tbilisi and Moscow, are trying to use the situation to their advantage as well, the expert believes.

Areshev sees a high likelihood that the parliament will approve the final reading of the bill anyway. "I do not rule out that the enactment of the bill may send the opposition a signal to get more radical or try to use force and occupy parliament. That being said, the Georgian government has the wherewithal to stabilize the situation," the expert concluded.

Kommersant: Armenia seeking security guarantees amid ongoing threats

On May 1, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced that the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia had agreed to hold peace negotiations in Almaty. While Baku and Yerevan have long been working toward a peace agreement, the two neighbors appear to have a long way to go to sign one. On Friday, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said it had received more proposals regarding the wording from its Azerbaijani counterparts. And the two sides have repeatedly exchanged proposals before.

"So far, all negotiations on the delimitation of the border as well as peace negotiations have been held in this [bilateral] format. No [third] party plays a part in this as Armenia and Azerbaijan meet in third countries behind closed doors, with no public information regarding this issue being available," Tigran Grigoryan, president of the Yerevan-based Regional Center for Democracy and Security (RCDS), told Kommersant in an interview.

And the next round of negotiations in Almaty will be bilateral, too. True, no date for a meeting between Armenia’s top diplomat Ararat Mirzoyan and his Azerbaijanian counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov, has been announced yet, but setting the date is a purely technical issue. To Baku, what is most important is the fact that neither Russia nor the West is taking part in the process, since it is negotiating from a position of power after winning the war against Armenia.

While the political relationship matters, economic and security ties, especially with a stronger neighbor who is not being friendly enough, are key. Yerevan, which has reduced its political relations with Moscow as much as possible in favor of actively developing them with the EU and the US, still relies heavily on Russia and its presence in the EAEU space in economic terms. With all that in mind, only Armenia itself has the ability to ensure its security today.

Azerbaijan is in a different position as it maintains smooth and even warm relations with Russia, and it enjoys an allied relationship, tested during the 2020 war, with Turkey. While facing Baku tete-a-tete, at the insistence of Azerbaijan, Armenia is willing to make concessions, including on border delimitation, so as to avoid new bouts of tensions.

Izvestia: Iran, Russia working to launch settlements in digital currencies

Tehran and Moscow are working on innovative solutions in bilateral settlements, Iranian Trade Attache to Russia Rahimi Mohsen told Izvestia. According to him, the two countries are weighing using digital financial assets (DFA) or central bank tokens. This may imply the use of the digital ruble or the crypto-rial.

These scenarios could facilitate bilateral trade and mitigate the impact of sanctions, Mohsen explained. However, difficulties remain, he added, as it is necessary to establish necessary infrastructure and regulation for new payment methods. And Iran is ready to work with Russia in order to implement these decisions, Mohsen assured the newspaper. According to him, Tehran maintains an effective trade partnership with Moscow.

Being subject to Western sanctions gives the two economies incentive to cooperate, said Maxim Chereshnev, chairman of the board of the Council for the Development of Foreign Trade and International Economic Relations. Besides, any partnership with Iran is strategically important, he added, as it will enable Russia to bolster its positions in the Middle East and Central Asia.

As Russia and Iran are currently unable to use the dollar or the euro in bilateral payments, the two countries have embraced national currencies, Chereshnev explains. However, difficulties with conversion arise, and the discrepancy between the market exchange rate and the official rial rate complicates things, too. Launching settlements with the use of DFA or central bank tokens may facilitate bilateral trade and make transactions more transparent and safer, he argues.

Nikolay Dudchenko, an analyst at Finam, says that the use of new methods of payment may pave the way for similar settlements with Russia’s other trade partners. And this, he said, would bring developing economies closer together.

Kommersant: Fed unlikely to lower key rate before November

At a meeting on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve decided to leave the federal funds rate at 5.25% to 5.5%, while noticeably changing the tone of its statement. The regulator signaled fresh concerns about inflation in the US in the wake of a consumer price rise in March. While the Fed described the US economy as strong, lead indicators showed somewhat lower consumer activity and a weaker labor market in April.

The Fed acknowledging a lack of progress toward the 2% inflation goal in the past few months was a key change in its statement. And that pushed market expectations regarding monetary policy easing to November. Before the Fed announced its decision, the majority of analysts, albeit by a very small margin, said the central bank could lower rates in September.

Capital Economics noted that expectations for the trajectory of interest rates have shifted in the past month as it expects the Fed to show caution and not react too fast to the latest macro data.

Natalya Milchakova, lead analyst at Freedom Finance Global, told Kommersant that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) had sent a very clear and unambiguous signal that it’s too early to lower the target range for its benchmark rate until inflation starts moving toward the 2% target.


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Local Glob: Press review: US to ban Russian uranium and Georgia pushes ahead with controversial bill
Press review: US to ban Russian uranium and Georgia pushes ahead with controversial bill
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