Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, November 7, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Russia, US doing business from scratch
Russia and the United States have endorsed the officials who will be responsible for setting up a high-level business group, Kommersant writes. That’s what Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to his US counterpart Donald Trump during their summit in Helsinki in July 2018. This work will be overseen by President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Shokhin and CEO of the US-Russia Business Council Daniel Russell. According to the information obtained by the paper, they were tasked with organizing the group’s first meeting on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2020.
According to Kommersant’s sources speaking on condition of anonymity, Russia was ready to start implementing Putin’s initiative without delay, but there were no clear signals from the Americans for a long time.
For their part, officials in Washington said that top entrepreneurs were skeptical about the idea, referring to the existing specialized bilateral organizations and stressing that American businesspeople did not want to attract attention to their work with Russian partners.
The parties were also exploring the possibility of holding the group’s first preparatory meeting on October 21 on the sidelines of the 33rd session of the Foreign Investment Advisory Council (FIAC) in Russia. However, a separate Russian-US meeting did not take place at the time.
However, even if the group meets next June as planned, one should expect no breakthrough decisions from its work.
Igor Yurgens, member of the Management Board of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, explained to Kommersant that "currently, there are no grounds for permanent methodological and fruitful work with the Americans." He stressed that sanctions, informal bans and small-scale bilateral trade turnover had an adverse effect on the situation. "I don’t think there will be some specific plans regarding the new group before the US election. Perhaps, there will be more clarity by the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, when there is an answer to the question whether or not impeachment moves [against Donald Trump] will be successful. Preparatory work on a high-level group can be in progress, but it is too early to talk about specific plans," he said.
Izvestia: Russia raises alarm about IS penetration into Central Asia
Moscow believes that penetration by Islamic State (IS, terror group, outlawed in Russia) militants into neighboring countries poses an enormous danger. Moreover, these terrorists are being transported to Central Asia, Russian Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov told Izvestia. According to the senior diplomat, Russia and other countries, specifically, Iran, have repeatedly warned about such a threat coming from Middle Eastern countries and militants in Afghanistan.
His remarks came in the wake of reports that about twenty IS militants crossed the border with Tajikistan and attacked an outpost on the Tajik-Uzbek border some 60 kilometers west of Dushanbe. Their mission was to carry out terror attacks in order to destabilize the situation in Tajikistan.
"Unfortunately, this incident shows that it is essential to fight this evil and danger, taking preventive measures. We cannot wait until greater numbers of terrorists will penetrate into Central Asian allied countries. That’s a major threat to Russia. However, this is also a threat to our Central Asian partners, first and foremost," Kabulov stressed.
He noted that Russia was providing assistance to its allies in the region, mainly within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
"I have no doubt whatsoever about their combat capability. This doesn’t mean, however, that these republics that are friendly towards Russia should remain calm. That’s a serious warning for all of them," he added.
The ramped-up activity by militants near Tajikistan’s borders is by no means something new. In different years, about 1,000 of the country’s citizens travelled abroad to fight alongside the Islamic State, and, after that terror group was ousted from Syria and Iraq, they ended up in neighboring Afghanistan.
Such incidents on the Afghan-Tajik border occur more than twenty times every year, Nikita Mendkovich, an expert at the Center for Modern Afghanistan Studies, told Izvestia. "The latest border raid can be viewed as a dangerous symptom. This sort of offensive reconnaissance has intensified, and there will be more border raids and attempts to infiltrate by terrorists from the IS and other terror groups into Tajikistan in the future," he warned.
Kommersant: Russia, US shoulder special responsibility for NPT’s future
March 5, 2020, will mark 50 years since the Soviet Union and the United States, putting aside differences, simultaneously ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Vladimir Orlov, an expert in international security and founder of the Russian Center for Policy Research (PIR Center), wrote in his article published by Kommersant.
"At that time, our countries set an example worthy of emulation. On the 50th anniversary of that event, our two leaders should adopt a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to the NPT principles, as well as their rejection of nuclear war, where there will be no winners. Moreover, on that day they should validate that statement with specific steps, extending the current strategic offensive arms treaty for a five-year period. The world is looking forward to that," he stressed.
The expert recalled that the two countries combined possessed more than 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons, adding that Washington and Moscow "shoulder special responsibility" for ensuring the sustainability of the nuclear non-proliferation accord.
According to Orlov, one of the possible scenarios is that strategic dialogue between Russia and the US will be impossible at some point in the future. That's why China’s involvement in this dialogue will be required. "While in Washington, I noticed that the Americans tend to favor that very scenario. However, China has so far shown no willingness to join the process. On the other hand, the involvement of China, France and the UK would meet Russia’s interests," he wrote, stressing that work to translate this scenario into reality could take about ten years. In the meantime, there are urgent issues, which should be addressed by the Russia-US duo, he added.
Another potential scenario is the continuation of the "blame game," and that’s precisely what is going on now. "The US doesn’t want to coordinate its stance with Russia. It withdrew from the INF Treaty, calling into question the few ‘surviving’ arms control deals. This scenario can become a reality before long," he warned.
"Having worked on issues related to the NPT for the past 25 years, I do know that ‘perfect scenarios’ rarely work. However, if we do not set the bar high today, casting selfishness aside, very soon the scenarios will be written regardless of Moscow’s and Washington’s will," the expert concluded.
Izvestia: Stepped-up US submarine activity off Norway’s coast
NATO submarines have doubled the number of calls at Norwegian ports over the past ten years, the Russian Embassy in Oslo informed Izvestia.
"In general, there is nothing sensational about the appearance of submarines in international waters, this is a routine practice," the diplomatic mission noted, adding that US subs likewise boosted their activity in the region.
The Norwegian Defense Ministry confirmed this information, stressing that military cooperation with partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was an integral part of the country’s policy.
However, the Russian experts interviewed by the paper explained that these maneuvers posed no fundamental threat to Russia, since Moscow and Oslo are keeping a close eye on each other’s actions in Arctic waters, and it’s too early to talk about any militarization of the region.
Norway is the alliance’s main northern outpost in the Arctic region, so the growing number of submarines calling at Norwegian ports is quite natural, Valery Zhuravel, Head of the Center for the Arctic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, told Izvestia.
It’s noteworthy that NATO plans to hold the largest military exercise over the past 25 years in the spring of 2020. About 37,000 troops from 19 countries are expected to take part in it.
Experts agree that Moscow will be closely following these developments. However, Norway seeks to maintain balance in the region, the paper quotes Konstantin Voronov, Head of the Regional Issues and Conflicts Department at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), as saying.
"Given that the prospects for its Arctic cooperation depend on Moscow, such a small country as Norway will act with discretion, despite the Euro-Atlantic solidarity and combat training plans in joint exercises with NATO forces," the expert noted.
He recalled that Russia and Norway had bilateral achievements that somewhat negate any potential exacerbation of relations. The issue at hand, in particular, is the Treaty Concerning Maritime Delimitation and Cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean signed in 2010.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ukraine unlikely to get $22 bln from Gazprom
Georg Graf Waldersee, who was recently appointed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the German Government’s Commissioner for Gas Transit Across Ukraine, has held talks with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller.
Some analysts believe that he will oversee the transfer of some part of Russian gas not to be included in the Nord Stream and TurkStream projects from Russia to Europe, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. There is every likelihood, however, that his mission will be to assist the European Union, which has been unable to nudge Kiev and Moscow towards a compromise.
At a working meeting in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, Miller briefed the German commissioner on Gazprom’s stance regarding a new transit contract (the old one will expire at the end of this year). Miller noted that it was necessary to resolve legal disputes between Gazprom and Ukraine, which means abandoning mutual claims and terminating litigation between the parties on contracts for the supply and transit of Russian gas.
Head of Ukraine’s Naftogaz Andrei Kobolev earlier wrote on his Facebook page that Kiev’s claims to Gazprom had swelled to almost $22 bln. That includes a new lawsuit for $11.8 bln.
On Wednesday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that the litigation is still underway. He noted that Ukraine’s second $11.8-billion lawsuit had not been considered yet, so it’s too early to say that someone owes something to someone else.
Meanwhile, experts believe that gas-filled storage facilities put off serious problems until the next heating season. However, they do not rule out though that Russian gas supplies through Ukrainian pipelines will be discontinued at the beginning of next year.
"The probability of gas transit being stopped does exist, but the chances are slim," Stanislav Mitrakhovich, an expert at the National Energy Security Fund, told the paper. "Ukraine is unlikely to block gas transit, it has no right to do so under the association agreement with the EU. If Kiev eventually decides to do that citing the absence of a contract, it will run the risk of fraying relations with the EU substantially."