- Press review: Murder charges against Russian governor and Iran as a future Chinese colony
- US Department of State invites Russia for new round of Strategic Security Dialogue
- Press review: Will the second wave hit Russia and what led to space agency aide’s arrest
- Press review: Russia’s latest treason case and South China Sea showdown on the horizon
Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, December 17, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Democrats gearing up for crucial vote on Trump’s impeachment
The United States House Judiciary Committee has agreed with the charges against President Donald Trump, and the lower house of the US Congress controlled by the Democrats is expected to vote on whether to impeach the White House occupant as early as this week.
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of the impeachment inquiry on September 24, she assured that Trump had exerted pressure on Ukraine’s President Vladimir Zelensky. Although the Ukrainian leader said more than once that there had been no pressure at all, the Democrats, nevertheless, arrived at the conclusion that the US president was guilty. It looks like that they did so long before September 24, turning the process itself into a mere formality and an instrument of the election campaign.
Anders Aslund, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, told the paper that Trump’s opponents did not want the impeachment inquiry to interfere with the presidential campaign, which is scheduled to kick off in Iowa on February 3. On the other hand, Edward Lozansky, President of the American University in Moscow, recalled that New Hampshire would hold its first primaries on February 11. The impeachment process running in the midst of the election campaign will make people think that political slogans are more important for Democrats than citizens’ vital interests, the expert stressed.
Besides, it is crucial for the Democratic Party to complete the process before the official start of the presidential race. Otherwise, those Democratic senators vying for the presidency will have to take part in the Senate impeachment proceedings instead of the election campaign, he explained. Lozansky stressed that the Republicans who controlled the Senate would be running the show there summoning the ‘right’ witnesses.
According to the political commentator, American society is beginning to feel tired of the whole story and its political intrigues, so the pressure from the Democratic Party even plays into Donald Trump’s hands now. Moreover, they provide the president with an opportunity to accuse his opponents in broad daylight of wasting precious time and money on satisfying their ambitions rather than on the needs of the country, he added.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Beijing seeks to avoid bloodshed in Hong Kong
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam has met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Le Keqiang in Beijing. During the visit, the parties focused on handling the protest uproar in the region. China’s leaders urged the Hong Kong administration to put an end to chaos. That means that Beijing decided to refrain from using force and wait for the protests to subside, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
China has shown amazing patience, Alexander Lukin, Department Head at the Higher School of Economics’ Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, told the paper. "Evidently, a decision was made to let the local administration cope with the unrest on its own. However, that will be difficult. I believe that China will only use force, if the situation deteriorates dramatically, for example, if the demonstrators start storming the government," he explained.
Hong Kong has tough laws, and the demonstrators can get prison terms, when the protests begin to abate, the expert went on to say. "China is not stepping in, apparently believing that interference will have a more negative impact than a positive one. Reverberations throughout the world would be negative. The economy would be affected as well. It used to seem that a limit to Beijing’s patience had been foregone. It turns out that this is not the case," Lukin said.
The political crisis in the former British colony in Asia has persisted for over six months now. Shortly before Lam’s visit to Beijing, clashes between demonstrators and police had resumed. Law enforcement had to use tear gas to quell the protesters.
Xi Jinping stressed in a recent interview that Beijing was determined to protect China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.
Izvestia: Russia, Belarus to hold integration negotiations on December 20
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko will meet on the sidelines of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) summit on December 20. However, breakthroughs should not be expected at the talks, because the two leaders will simply not have enough time to tackle the most controversial issues, Izvestia writes. The key objective of the negotiations is to resolve disagreements related to the tax maneuver in Russia’s oil industry.
At a time when both governments are unable to come to terms, everything depends on contacts between the heads of state, Chairman of the Russian State Duma’s (lower house) Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Leonid Kalashnikov told the paper.
"If they find common ground, we will move ahead. If not, we will live in the Union State that exists today. We will be friends and cooperate all the same," he said.
Kalashnikov noted that the energy issue was closely related to the development of the EAEU. "Minsk’s complaints about oil and gas prices would have been substantiated, if the issue at hand was just the Union State. However, a new integration association has sprung up since then, specifically, the EAEU, where agreements, which sometimes contravene the Union State’s wishes, emerged," the politician noted.
What is really important is not the mere fact of inking agreements but their further implementation, Vyacheslav Sutyrin, Editor-in-Chief of Eurasia.Expert, stressed to Izvestia. "Solutions can be found, but one should not expect Russia to agree with a unilateral compromise. The parties need to reach such agreements, which would contain clear criteria and control mechanisms. It is essential to make sure that these roadmaps are not a collection of good wishes but a real workable agreement," the expert stressed.
Vedomosti: Zelensky advocates equal rights for all Ukrainian regions
The amendments to Ukraine’s Constitution aimed at decentralizing power do not provide for the granting of a special status to Donbass as required by the Minsk agreements, Vedomosti writes. The bill submitted by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, which has been posted on the Verkhovna Rada’s website, makes no mention of the Donbass areas that are not controlled by Kiev.
In order to amend the Constitution, two-thirds (at least 300) of the lawmakers are required for it to be passed. The Servant of the People party controls just 248 seats in the legislature, but it hopes to secure the support of the European Solidarity party of ex-President Pyotr Poroshenko.
Zelensky needs to portray a flurry of activity to promote the Minsk accords, the paper quotes Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, as saying. In his view, Kiev wants to show that it is not just willing to amend the Minsk agreements, that it is ready to amend the Constitution to resolve the situation inside the country.
"Kiev cannot implement the Minsk accords as they are. Whether Zelensky wants that or not, there are some stumbling blocks, which are impossible to overcome. That means that stopgaps have to be found, and this is what is going on now," Lukyanov explained.
The new amendments are not fully consistent with the Minsk agreements, at least according to Kiev’s Normandy Four partners, Ukrainian political commentator Vadim Karasev noted. "However, I would react calmly to that, realizing that the Ukrainian president’s team is just trying to maneuver," he explained.
"Until Zelensky’s team solves the protest problem on the street, it will have to resort to all kinds of tricks and ploys, because any straightforward steps to implement the Minsk agreements would be risky given the domestic political situation in Ukraine," Karasev stressed.
Kommersant: Gazprom leaving Siberia
The Gazprom Energy Holding and the Siberian Coal Energy Company (SUEK) controlled by Andrei Melnichenko have reached an agreement on the terms of the sale of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Power Plant (GRES 2). According to the information obtained by Kommersant, the transaction’s price tag will be 10 bln rubles ($159.3 mln). The Gazprom Energy Holding will be able to receive the first tranche of 5 bln rubles ($79.6 mln) in January 2020. The transaction itself will be completed by the end of 2019.
The Krasnoyark Power Plant is the Gazprom Energy Holding’s only asset in the second pricing zone (Siberia). It accounts for up to 2.14% of the electrical power generated in Siberia’s Unified Energy System and 2.54% in terms of capacity.
According to Vladimir Sklyar of VTB Capital, the annual EBITDA of GRES 2 ranges between 1.6 bln and 2 bln rubles ($31.8 bln), so the price of 10 bln rubles looks impressive.
The analyst noted that the sale of the Krasnoyarsk power station would allow the Gazprom Energy Holding to reduce its debt load by one-quarter, while its EBITDA would decline by a mere 5%. The Siberian Coal Energy Company will continue to collect coal assets in Russia, creating a vertically integrated holding company and having the option of substantially raising the profitability of its acquired assets through a program of modernizing old heat and power plants.