- 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 Wednesday, December 18, prepared by TASS
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: EU’s new leadership offers opportunity for resetting ties with Russia, Lavrov says
Moscow views the European Union as one of the centers of a multipolar world and seeks to cultivate relations with Brussels as part of establishing the Greater Eurasian Partnership, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in his article "Neighbors in Europe. Russia-EU: 30 Years of Relations" published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta on Wednesday. According to Lavrov, an economic basis for engaging EU member-states in this partnership could be cooperation between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union. "Fusing the potentials of two major regional markets, and harmonizing their trade and investment mechanisms will contribute to boosting the positions of all participants in global trade. And what is also important, this will help us avoid situations in the future when our "common neighbors" again artificially face a primitive choice: either the EU or Russia," he noted.
Regarding EU-Russia relations, Lavrov raised alarm over the launch of the Eastern Partnership program, which is aimed at driving a wedge between Moscow and its closest neighbors. This showed that the EU was not ready for building relations with Russia on an equal basis, he stressed.
The change in EU leadership after the election provides an opportunity for resetting ties with Russia, Lavrov hopes. "I expect that those who are responsible for making decisions in the EU will be guided by a strategic vision and act in the framework of the legacy of great European politicians such as Charles de Gaulle and Helmut Kohl, who promoted the Common European Home concept," he added. "Artificial restrictions for cooperation for the sake of someone’s geopolitical interests won’t solve any problems but only create new ones and weaken Europe’s economic positions." Russia and the EU remain major trade partners and neighbors, who are capable of bearing responsibility for security and stability in Eurasia, Lavrov stressed.
Izvestia: OPCW faces dilemma over new mechanism to assign blame for chemical attacks
Moscow is not going to cooperate with a new body of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which will investigate incidents and assign blame for chemical attacks, Russian Envoy to the OPCW and Ambassador to the Netherlands Alexander Shulgin told Izvestia. Russia categorically objects to expanding the OPCW’s functions and vows to "do its utmost to prove the destructive role of the attributive mechanism," he said.
"The world 'reform' is inappropriate in this case because usually it has a positive meaning. The OPCW’s attribution mechanism is a mandate imposed by the US and its allies, which has nothing to do with international law and the Chemical Weapons Convention’s provisions," the diplomat emphasized. "Any steps in this direction are nothing more than meddling in the UN Security Council’s exclusive domain. We cannot accept this flagrant violation of international law and this means that we won’t take part in this mockery."
According to the diplomat, China, Pakistan and many other members of the organization see eye to eye here. A Russian diplomatic source told the paper that Moscow would not bankroll this mechanism and was not going to "factor it out."
The OPCW’s mandate was expanded at the United Kingdom’s initiative with the support of the United States and France. A British diplomatic source told Izvestia that this initiative was put forward because Russia had previously vetoed UN resolutions on chemical attacks in Syria. In order to break the deadlock, another international platform was introduced, the source explained.
Given that some countries, including Russia, do not recognize the new mechanism, the organization will inevitably face a rift among its members and mounting trouble, experts told the paper. "This crisis is evident now and it is causing a lot of hoopla in the OPCW, which should be unbiased and be beyond the conflict of political interests," professor at the Lomonosov Moscow State University and PhD in political science Andrei Manoilo said. "But some Western states have been making huge efforts over the past years to turn this organization into a political tool that would quickly rubber-stamp conclusions in order to slap accusations against other countries."
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian-Israeli ties tense ahead of Putin’s upcoming visit
As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Israel is approaching, contradictions between Moscow and Tel Aviv have been rising. The Israel Defense Forces complain that their planes are facing problems when entering Syria’s airspace to presumably deliver strikes on Iranian targets.
Relations between Russia and Israel have faced a serious decline amid the IDF’s strikes on November 20, which destroyed Russian missile systems deployed to the south of Damascus, according to Syrian media reports, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. However, observers admit that the Syrian military could be to blame for this incident as previously they were accused of negligence when dealing with the Russian equipment.
The intensity of the IDF’s strikes in Syria depends on the domestic agenda in Israel, analyst with the Russian International Affairs Council Anton Mardasov told the newspaper. Amid the deadlock in establishing a government and the need to hold another election, the country’s foreign policy activity took a back seat, he explained.
Meanwhile, Russia, which seeks to attract investment in Syria from the Persian Gulf states, is trying to reduce the intensity of the IDF’s strikes, the expert noted. However, he voiced doubt over reports that Russian fighter jets could hinder Israeli strikes on facilities in Syria given the terrain features. Russian jets won’t be able to quickly respond to Israeli strikes while being on duty at the airfield and should rather be deployed on permanent air patrol missions in a designated area, he explained.
In its turn, Israel is concerned over the issue of border control. Earlier this week, The Times of Israel reported a delegation of eight Israeli businessmen was detained at a Moscow airport over failure to comply with rules. Given that earlier Israeli entrepreneurs had never faced any problems when coming to Moscow on business trips, the Israeli media suggested that this incident could be politically motivated.
At their talks in January, Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are likely to discuss all these issues and the talks are expected to be challenging, the paper writes.
Izvestia: Belarus clinches $500-mln loan deal from China amid growing rift with Russia
Belarus has reached an agreement with China on obtaining a $500-mln loan. This is good news for Minsk amid its ongoing disputes with Moscow. Belarus earlier sought a loan from Moscow, but started looking for other options amid growing problems with its neighbor. However, Minsk will have to spend the Chinese money on paying off its debt to Russia, which has hit $7.6 bln, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
China and Belarus have stepped up cooperation over the past years. Belarusian agricultural exports to China grew 54% in the first nine months of 2019 to $80 mln. The two countries are also fostering cooperation in machinery manufacturing and the automotive industry. These ties with China are important for Minsk, which seeks to become less dependent on Moscow economically as well as on the foreign policy track, the paper says.
An expert at the International Center for Political Analysis and Information Security, Dmitry Bolkunets, told Izvestia that the Chinese loan is vital for Belarus ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Beijing’s gesture is aimed at showing that China supports Alexander Lukashenko. "This is important for Minsk amid its mounting contradictions with Moscow," the expert said.
Meanwhile, relations with Russia are still crucial for Minsk, said Belarusian economist Yaroslav Romanchuk, who has described cooperation with Beijing as a "smokescreen" for Lukashenko’s team. "The Chinese loan won’t influence the economy. Our budget deficit is $2.5 bln and the entire economy is worth $60 bln. Everything depends on relations with Russia, and they are challenging now," he stressed.
"If Moscow stands its ground and Belarus fails to get its energy grant as usual, a recession and a [Belarusian] currency devaluation are bound to be on the horizon," he warned. Against this background, the presidential election will become an ordeal for Lukashenko’s team and a litmus test for the Belarusian political system.
Vedomosti: Gazprom seeks to build huge gas chemical facility in Siberia’s Yamal
Russia’s energy giant Gazprom is gearing up to build a major natural gas chemical facility in Western Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula. The Russian company seeks to produce polymers at the Bovanenkovo gas fields, several sources familiar with the plans told Vedomosti. The plant’s annual capacity will be nearly three mln tonnes of polyethylene and polypropylene, two sources said.
Gazprom has discussed plans of attracting foreign companies to the consortium project led by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). Saudi Arabia’s SABIC and Azerbaijan’s SOCAR could join the project, one of the sources said.
The Bovanenkovo cluster includes three fields, which form the basis of the new center of gas production in Yamal, in which Gazprom has been investing over the past 10 years. The construction costs are expected to reach some $13 bln-$15 bln, Head of Rupec Center Andrei Kostin told Vedomosti.
"Despite rather high capital costs, Saudi interest in Gazprom’s project is most likely explained by the expectations of very low operating expenses. Very cheap gas and zero spending on transportation could give the project a good competitive edge," the expert noted.
Global demand for polymers will grow 5-6% per year, Director of Gas & Chemicals Department at Vygon Consulting Dmitry Akishin said. However, this megaproject in addition to the Amur gas chemical facility and another plant in Ust Luga, which are expected to be launched in the coming three or five years, could increase pressure on prices, he noted.