One of the most notable events in Russia’s precious metals market calendar is the annual “Russian Bullion Market” conference. Formerly known as the Russian Bullion Awards, this conference, now in its 10th year, took place this year on Friday 24 November in Moscow. Among the speakers lined up, the most notable inclusion was probably Sergey Shvetsov, First Deputy Chairman of Russia’s central bank, the Bank of Russia.
In his speech, Shvetsov provided an update on an important development involving the Russian central bank in the worldwide gold market, and gave further insight into the continued importance of physical gold to the long term economic and strategic interests of the Russian Federation.
Firstly, in his speech Shvetsov confirmed that the BRICS group of countries are now in discussions to establish their own gold trading system. As a reminder, the 5 BRICS countries comprise the Russian Federation, China, India, South Africa and Brazil.
Four of these nations are among the world’s major gold producers, namely, China, Russia, South Africa and Brazil. Furthermore, two of these nations are the world’s two largest importers and consumers of physical gold, namely, China and Russia. So what these economies have in common is that they all major players in the global physical gold market.
Shvetsov envisages the new gold trading system evolving via bilateral connections between the BRICS member countries, and as a first step Shvetsov reaffirmed that the Bank of Russia has now signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China (see below) on developing a joint trading system for gold, and that the first implementation steps in this project will begin in 2018.
Interestingly, the Bank of Russia first deputy chairman also discounted the traditional dominance of London and Switzerland in the gold market, saying that London and the Swiss trading operations are becoming less relevant in today’s world. He also alluded to new gold pricing benchmarks arising out of this BRICS gold trading cooperation.
BRICS cooperation in the gold market, especially between Russia and China, is not exactly a surprise, because it was first announced in April 2016 by Shvetsov himself when he was on a visit to China.
“We (the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and the People’s Bank of China) discussed gold trading. The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are major economies with large reserves of gold and an impressive volume of production and consumption of the precious metal. In China, gold is traded in Shanghai, and in Russia in Moscow. Our idea is to create a link between these cities so as to intensify gold trading between our markets.”
Also as a reminder, earlier this year in March, the Bank of Russia opened its first foreign representative office, choosing the location as Beijing in China. At the time, the Bank of Russia portrayed the move as a step towards greater cooperation between Russia and China on all manner of financial issues, as well as being a strategic partnership between the Bank of Russia and the People’s bank of China.
The Memorandum of Understanding on gold trading between the Bank of Russia and the People’s Bank of China that Shvetsov referred to was actually signed in September of this year when deputy governors of the two central banks jointly chaired an inter-country meeting on financial cooperation in the Russian city of Sochi, location of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Contrary to the South Korean government’s initial analysis, the missile launched by North Korea into the waters west of Japan yesterday could represent an important advancement in the country’s missile technology that would allow it to carry multiple warheads.
According to a report in Japanese business newspaper Nikkei, photos of the Hwasong-15 published by local North Korean media showcase a newly developed launch system and casing.
Rodong Sinmun, a mouthpiece for the North's ruling Workers' Party of Korea, published photos of the Hwasong-15, the country's latest intercontinental ballistic missile, at liftoff and mounted on what appears to be a newly developed mobile launch system. The missile seems to involve a completely new rocket, judging by its size and shape, South Korea's Ministry of National Defense said Thursday. The ministry's initial analysis Wednesday claimed the Hwasong-15 was merely a retooled version of the Hwasong-14 ICBMs launched in July.
The shape of the rocket’s nose cone suggests that it was designed with an eye toward carrying multiple warheads, which could make it easier for the North to outfit the rocket with a nuclear payload. Also, by possessing the capability to strike multiple sites with one missile, it would make it more difficult for anti-missile defense systems to intercept it.
The latest missile's nose cone is more rounded than that of its predecessor. This could indicate it was designed with an eye toward a multiple-warhead system, Chang Young-keun of the Korea Aerospace University said in response to questions from South Korea's Yonhap News Agency. It was generally agreed that inserting multiple warheads into the Hwasong-14's pointed nose cone would be difficult.
A missile capable of striking multiple sites at once would be more difficult for ship- and land-based defense systems to fully neutralize than a single-warhead missile. North Korea, long thought to be seeking this technology, would pose a much greater threat as a result.
To be sure, the rounded nose cone may have been designed solely to protect the missile as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere. Atmospheric re-entry has long been a major obstacle for the North’s missile program.
The missile's shape may also be related to technology intended to protect its payload from the stress of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, said Kim Jung-bong, a professor at Hanzhong University. Heavy use of high-performance material such as carbon fiber could account for the rounded form, Kim said.
Re-entry technology is considered a major hurdle blocking North Korea from deploying a functional ICBM. A warhead must survive the intense heat and pressure of re-entry to be useful as a weapon. The North is thought to have obtained high-performance materials, using them in its quest to clear that barrier.
Finally, the rounded nose might be necessary to allow North Korea to load its rudimentary nuclear warheads on the rocket. US and Japanese officials now believe the North is less than two years away from being able to successfully strike the continental US with nuclear weapon.
A rounder nose cone also allows for a larger payload, perhaps intended to let Pyongyang mount a nuclear warhead on the rocket, a source at Japan's Ministry of Defense said. The North's technology is "certainly advancing," Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces' Joint Staff, told reporters Thursday. Japan will operate under the assumption that "the threat has grown," he said.
Furthermore, the missile’s added girth suggests that it has been outfitted with two engines for the first two stages of flight instead of one.
The Hwasong-15 is 30 centimeters wider than its predecessor at around 2 meters, one expert said. This suggests the missile contains two engines in the first of its two stages, up from one in the Hwasong-14, said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. The increased thrust could put the entire U.S. mainland within the missile's range without any reduction in the weight of the payload, the professor said.
A Rodong Sinmun editorial posted online Thursday called the launch of the Hwasong-15 a watershed moment for the North. Many think locking down multiple-warhead technology will take some time. But Pyongyang's progress toward a functional ICBM is undeniable.
While there’s still no guarantee the North could pull off a nuclear strike with a high degree of accuracy, a nuclear weapon detonated several hundred miles above the center of the country could destroy the US by causing a giant electromagnetic pulse. Such an attack could kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people by wiping out access to electricity across the entire continent.