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Press review: Global South eager to board BRICS train and Russia seeing red in Blue Danube

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, August 2nd
Protesters display the flags of Niger and Russia during a protest in Niamey EPA-EFE/ISSIFOU DJIBO
Protesters display the flags of Niger and Russia during a protest in Niamey

MOSCOW, August 2. /TASS/. BRICS may merge with Global South as candidate countries line up ahead of Johannesburg summit; Kiev preparing to target Russian ships from mouth of Danube River; and Niger coup likely to stymie potential EU sanctions on Russian nuclear power sector. These stories topped Wednesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: BRICS may merge with Global South as diverse candidates line up

With three weeks to go before the Johannesburg summit of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), a South African official announced that 22 Asian, African and Latin American countries had formally applied for membership. Potential BRICS expansion is expected to be the focus of debate at the summit, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

According to the South African official, those wishing to join BRICS include seven Arab countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Tunisia. A number of African nations - the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Nigeria, Senegal, the Union of the Comoros, and Ethiopia - have also officially announced their intention to become BRICS members. Bangladesh, Indonesia and Kazakhstan also hope to join the group. The applications of Iran and Argentina have been under consideration since last year. On Monday, the presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela also expressed their nations’ interest in BRICS membership.

Nailya Yakovleva, lead researcher with the Center for Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Latin American Studies, points out that countries such as Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela are motivated to join BRICS as a means of boosting their international prestige and, most importantly, expanding opportunities to attract foreign investment in infrastructure projects and access all manner of loans. The BRICS New Development Bank, the chairmanship of which recently went to former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, could be an ideal source of the funding these countries need.

However, it is not a certainty that all candidate countries will be granted full BRICS membership at the upcoming summit. Such decisions require the approval of all five current member states, which currently account for over 42% of the world’s population, 23% of global GDP and 18% of global trade.

According to Gustavo de Carvalho, researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, many candidate countries are in the same situation. They play an important regional role and have rapidly developing economies and huge populations, he emphasized. One of the reasons driving their efforts to join the five-member group is their interest in using alternative currencies, particularly in bilateral trade. Candidate countries would like to be more independent from the US dollar, the expert maintained.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev preparing to target Russian ships from mouth of Danube River

Kiev has increased the number of drone attacks on Central Russia and Russian ships in the Black Sea. On the night of August 1, drones reached Moscow for the second time in three days. In the Black Sea, for the first time since the start of the special military operation, Ukrainian unmanned cutters attempted to attack Russian civilian cargo vessels heading to the Bosporus Strait, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

According to social media and legacy media reports, on July 31 three foreign ships (from Israel, Turkey and Greece) crossed the Black Sea and reached the mouth of the Danube River. "The goals of these ships are unclear," said Lieutenant General (Ret.) Yury Netkachev, a military expert. "Black Sea Fleet ships certainly won’t destroy them. However, their passage to Ukraine’s Danube ports will create a precedent, showing that cargo and container ships from other countries can freely cross the northwestern part of the Black Sea and participate in the grain deal with no regard for Russia’s position," he noted. The general expects that tensions off the coast of Ukraine’s Odessa Region will only heat up.

Tensions spring from the bustling activity of Ukraine’s centers for producing and operating drones - both seaborne and aerial. Referring to the August 1 drone attack on the Moscow City financial district, Netkachev noted that attacks on the Russian capital involved Bober-type attack drones, which can cover distances of up to 1,000 kilometers. "Kiev has resources for the mass production of such unmanned [aerial] vehicles," the retired general noted.

According to Ukrainian Digital Transformation Minister Mikhail Fyodorov, 10,000 drone operators have completed the first phase of training in the country and another 10,000 operators will undergo training in the near future. "A total of 20,000 trained drone operators represents a massive force," Netkachev pointed out. "It is an entire army that will attempt to compensate for the shortage of warplanes and helicopters that the Ukrainian armed forces are facing on the battlefield. In order to win, Russia needs to have two to three times more experts, equipment, air defense and electronic warfare systems that will counter such threats," the general said.


Izvestia: Niger coup may hamstring EU in imposing new anti-Russian sanctions

The military coup in Niger and the West African country’s new authorities’ decision to suspend uranium exports to France call into question the European Union’s ability to impose sanctions on Russia’s nuclear energy sector, one of the few areas where Brussels has yet to introduce restrictions, Izvestia writes.

The situation in Niger, where members of the presidential guard ousted President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, declaring General Abdourahamane Tchiani the nation’s new leader, remains unstable, creating inconveniences for European countries. As part of its escalating anti-French rhetoric, Niger announced the suspension of uranium exports to France. Niger is the world’s seventh-largest uranium producer. According to the French media, the West African nation accounts for 15% to 17% of the uranium that France’s nuclear power industry consumes for electricity generation purposes.

French Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Thierry Mariani told Izvestia that France had diversified its sources of uranium supplies. Niger is a traditional uranium supplier for Paris, but France’s uranium imports also come from Kazakhstan, Australia and other countries, the MEP noted.

As for uranium supplies from Kazakhstan, quite large volumes are actually produced by subsidiary entities of Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, and so, in any case, European countries will have to deal with Moscow, Igor Yushkov, an expert at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation and the National Energy Security Fund, emphasized.

According to the expert, the future problem is that fuel shortages always drive prices up. Such a situation is prompting Western analysts and politicians to debate the feasibility of sanctioning Russia’s nuclear energy sector. It has been repeatedly pointed out within the EU that Brussels has very little wiggle room for maneuvering in terms of imposing new restrictions on Moscow, and Russia’s nuclear energy sector has long been held in reserve as a potential sanctions target and a sort of ace up Brussels’ sleeve. However, the situation in Niger now raises the question of whether it would even be feasible to play such an ace in the future. "If a major supplier disappears, a voluntary move to impose sanctions on another major exporter would certainly raise shortage risks. It’s a problem for the Europeans because they have in fact already sanctioned everything else," Yushkov said.


Izvestia: Russian delegation to UN General Assembly may face US visa roadblocks

Moscow thus far has no reason to expect that the US authorities will forsake the opportunity to create difficulties in issuing visas for the Russian delegation to United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) events in September, Russian First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyansky told Izvestia. The General Debate during the UNGA High-Level week will begin on September 19, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to deliver an address on September 23.

In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for Russian delegation members to obtain US visas due to the rapidly deteriorating relations between Moscow and Washington and the tightening of sanctions against Russia over its special military operation in Ukraine. Thus, Russian delegates can expect to face difficulties in entering the United States this time around too, the Russian UN mission stressed. According to Polyansky, the UN Secretariat has consistently assured Russia that it is continuing to work with the US authorities on resolving the visa bottleneck. However, the practical outcome of the UN’s efforts has been "unclear," he noted.

According to Russian International Affairs Council Program Manager Konstantin Sukhoverkhov, the practice of recent years makes it clear that US officials often delay the issuance of visas for certain events, particularly the traditional September session of the UN General Assembly in New York. "This is a means for them, first of all, to keep Russia on its toes, and, second, to impede the effectiveness of the Russian delegation’s work. However, practice shows that delegation members are eventually granted entry to the US and have the opportunity to clarify Moscow’s position," the expert explained.

Legally, the UN headquarters is international territory that representatives of various countries can visit, but, in order to do so, they must transit through US territory. This is where problems arise, Sukhoverkhov said. However, "despite US failures to issue visas and visa delays, delegations can still carry out their work," he added. Thus, regardless of the recurring visa problems, the US is generally fulfilling its responsibilities as the UN host country, the expert noted. If Washington went too far, however, the international community could seriously raise the question of relocating the UN headquarters away from US soil.


Media: Price of Russian Urals oil blend rises above West’s $60 per barrel sanctions cap

The Russian oil price cap imposed by the West failed to work in July as the price of Russia’s benchmark Urals blend exceeded the $60 per barrel ceiling for the first time since the restrictions were introduced. It still remains unclear if the United States and European Union nations have any more effective methods for upholding the price ceiling, Kommersant writes.

The EU, the US and their allies imposed the $60 per barrel price cap on oil sold on a free on board (FOB) basis at Russian ports in response to Moscow’s launch of military activities in Ukraine. Right after the introduction of the ceiling, the Urals price nosedived, while the discount to global crude oil benchmark Brent rose to $40 per barrel. However, it gradually declined, dropping to $15 per barrel in July.

The Urals FOB price has sailed past $60 per barrel primarily because of falling freight rates, rising oil prices and declining Urals supplies stemming from Russia’s announced reduction of exports, Viktor Katona of Kpler explained.

The G7 and the European Union have found themselves in a situation where they have banned the seaborne transportation of Russian oil, while other suppliers have proved unable to replace it. In fact, Europe and the US created a shortage risk on the global market but they could not abandon their previous bans for political reasons. Offsetting the shortage risk was why the price cap was introduced. Now that it has become clear that the ceiling is not working, its initiators should act as carefully as possible, Deputy Director General of the National Energy Institute Alexander Frolov told Izvestia.

However, according to the expert, those who trade, transport and purchase Russian oil will continue to face pressure. The idea is not to stop them from buying Russian crude, but to do so at the lowest price possible, causing Russia’s oil revenues to shrink. Frolov does not rule out that "scathing rebukes" will soon be forthcoming against "the undesirables" who persist in purchasing Russian oil.

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