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- Press review: Lukashenko wins sixth presidential vote and what do Beirut protesters want
- Press review: Will Minsk cross red line with Moscow and Russia, NATO face off over Arctic
Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, October 31, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Denmark gives green light to Nord Stream 2 project
Russian energy giant Gazprom has ironed out the last obstacle for swiftly completing the construction of its Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which is expected to decrease Russia’s dependence on gas transit through Ukraine. Denmark, which had been the only country delaying the pipeline’s construction, has finally issued permission for completing the project after a two-year discussion. However, Gazprom won’t be able to launch the pipeline by January 1, and in the best case scenario this will happen in the first months of 2020. But even the delayed launch of Nord Stream 2 will strengthen Russia’s positions at talks with Ukraine on gas transit, Kommersant business daily writes.
The problem with obtaining Denmark’s permission was the last that the project faced in terms of completing construction, according to the paper. In theory, Washington could still slap sanctions on the pipeline or the companies involved in its construction. However, on October 30, John Sullivan, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Russia, admitted that the US could not affect the Nord Stream 2 project’s construction.
The launch of Nord Stream 2 by early 2020 will significantly diminish Gazprom’s demand in using Ukraine’s gas transportation system. However, the fact that Gazprom has ironed out the problem with completing the project’s construction does not mean that it could do without a deal with Ukraine on transit, said Tatyana Mitrova, Director of the Energy Center at the Skolkovo Business School, explaining that a lot will depend on the weather. Besides, political risks are not excluded, she said. According to the expert, sanctions could be slapped on the project, and Gazprom could also face problems on other transit routes, namely through Poland. The transit contract with Warsaw expires in autumn 2020, and talks on extending it have not started.
Media: US move to recognize Armenian genocide bound to inflame tensions with Turkey
Aserious blow has been dealt to US ties with Turkey. The US House of Representatives has voted to recognize the mass killings of Armenians a century ago as genocide and has also endorsed a resolution demanding sanctions against Ankara over its military operation in Syria and the purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile systems. The new restrictions could personally target Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. By passing two anti-Turkish resolutions, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives again challenged President Donald Trump, who had earlier ordered to lift sanctions against Ankara for its operation in Syria. One possible consequence could be the cancellation of Erdogan’s visit to the US scheduled for November 13, Kommersant writes.
"The rift in US-Turkish relations is only deepening, but Ankara’s response has been only limited to hawkish statements," independent Turkish expert Murat Yetkin told the paper. "Presidents Erdogan and Trump still have a scheduled meeting on November 13. And now the Turkish leader has not decided whether he should fly to Washington or not, so uncertainty will be in the air." Yetkin noted that Turkey has become one of the issues in the US domestic political struggle, along with Ukraine. "Trump’s opponents are playing the Turkish card against him."
"The US could hardly bite Turkey any more painfully than now," Head of the Political Research at the Center for Modern Turkish Studies Yuri Mavashev told the paper. "By raising the Armenian genocide issue, American Congressmen drew a parallel between the Armenians and the Kurds. Ant it’s not important anymore whether the Senate and Trump will back the passed resolutions or not. The effect has been achieved: even after many years, the Turks will remember these measures against them."
Meanwhile, Izvestia writes that it’s hard to predict now whether Ankara could take any further steps to chip away at relations with Washington, which are tense given the Turkish operation in Syria and the deal on buying Russia’s S-400s. Guney Yildiz, a senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute, believes that bilateral relations are unlikely to significantly deteriorate since they are at their lowest point now and the genocide recognition will just slow down their normalization.
Senior research fellow of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Security at MGIMO Yulia Kudryashova believes that Ankara could retaliate by temporarily freezing cooperation with Washington on Syria, but it cannot fully halt this effort.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Trump’s pick for Russian envoy described as honest and straightforward
Most members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have backed John Sullivan, President Trump's nominee to be the next ambassador to Russia. Sullivan’s approval came after a large-scale campaign in his support. Among those campaigning for him through US media was former Ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering, who led the diplomatic mission in Moscow from 1993-1996, and even those who were sacked by the current White House occupant, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Sullivan has been described as "the right person at the right time," as well as an honest and straightforward man, who will give hope to Russians opposing the authorities’ policies. The post of the US envoy to Russia has been vacant since early October when Jon Huntsman officially resigned. He was the second head of the US diplomatic mission over the past decade who returned home after less than three years of work in Moscow.
Unlike Huntsman, Sullivan, who has been Deputy Secretary of State since 2017, is directly engaged in relations with Russia, overseeing Russian-US cooperation in the sphere of security. According to The Wall Street Journal, Sullivan had a crucial role in expelling Russian diplomats from the United States after the 2018 poisoning of former GRU (Russian General Staff's Main Intelligence Department) agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the United Kingdom.
However, experts do not think that the new ambassador will be in favor of confrontation in Russia-US relations. "Sullivan is a non-professional Russia expert and he is a professional bureaucrat. He’ll occupy the position to where he is sent and he will do what he is told to do. It’s very unlikely that a person with this sort of biography could bring something new to Russian-US relations," Professor at the Higher School of Economics Dmitry Yevstafyev told the paper.
According to him, there should be no high hopes about the head of US diplomatic mission in the current environment. "Let’s say, the situation in Russian-US relations is so that the ambassador’s figure is becoming ceremonial. Bilateral relations are defined by contacts at a level higher than that of an ambassador. The time of outstanding personalities heading the diplomatic missions in Moscow and Washington is gone," the expert noted.
Kommersant: Asian hackers target Russian state structures
This year, a Calypso hacker group of Asian origin attacked Russia’s state structures, Positive Technologies, a global computer security company, has found out. According to its information, traces of malicious software have been identified in at least two Russian organizations. Most these attacks were reported in India, Brazil and Kazakhstan, where sensitive data has been compromised. Calypso had been active since September 2016 and Russian executive bodies were targeted by its attacks this year, Positive Technologies told Kommersant.
Russia accounts for 12% of the detected attacks by Calypso, which also targeted 34% of state bodies in India, 18% in Brazil and Kazakhstan, 12% in Thailand and 6% in Turkey. According to Positive Technologies, the offenders broke into a network perimeter of organizations and installed a special program in order to get access to internal networks.
Calypso’s Chinese origin has been confirmed by its usage of the PlugX program, which is a traditional tool for many Chinese groups. Besides, during some attacks, the hackers mistakenly revealed the real IP addresses of its Chinese providers. "The malefactors got the best possible privileges in companies’ infrastructure and this means that the whole volume of data could have been compromised," said Denis Kuvshinov, a leading expert in cyber threat research at Positive Technologies, though he provided no details about the possible damage.
According to Anastasia Tikhonova, an expert at Group-IB, hackers attack Russia for espionage purposes rather than for financial gains.
Vedomosti: Internet pirates see first major losses in Russia over past five years
By the end of 2019, Russia’s Internet piracy market will drop 27% to $63.5 mln, experts at Group-IB, which specializes in preventing cyber attacks, predict. Over the past five years, revenues of illegal video services have been on the rise, Vedomosti writes. The peak was recorded in 2016 when bootleggers doubled their profits to $62 mln, according to Group-IB’s evaluation. Last year, the growth slowed to just 2.3% and the entire video piracy market was estimated at $87 mln.
Experts at Group-IB believe that one of key reasons behind the decreasing revenues of bootleg video services is an anti-piracy memorandum, which was signed last November by major Russian media and Internet companies. The deal stipulates deleting illegal copies of movies and TV series from search engines without a court’s ruling upon the request of copyright holders. Since the memorandum came into effect, copyright holders have included 600,000 links to the registry.
The heads of major Russian movie-streaming services, interviewed by Vedomosti, share the conclusions by Group-IB’s experts, saying that the struggle against piracy is one of the factors contributing to the rising profits earned by legal video services. "It’s become more difficult to find movies through pirate services and it’s dangerous to be a bootlegger. They have started detecting and neutralizing them," Director General of Megogo Russia Viktor Chekanov said.