- Press review: EU backs down on sanctions and Israel to normalize ties with Sudan
- Press review: US pursues Iran’s isolation and Romania gets Patriot missiles
- Press review: Moscow to hit back on EU sanctions and Poland blames Russia for 2010 crash
- Press review: EU plots own bloc-wide Magnitsky Act and Moscow, Minsk bolster defense ties
Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, December 19, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Kiev and Donbass still have a shot at striking a deal
Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass still have a chance to reach an agreement before the end of the year, sources in the contact group told Izvestia. According to them, at the last meeting this year in Minsk, the parties were unable to agree on the process of exchanging prisoners, as well as outlining three new disengagement sites on the contact line. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that some specifics will be hammered out during additional negotiations in an upcoming videoconference.
The December 18 meeting of the working subgroups of the tripartite contact group that lasted for more than 8 hours ended with very meager results. In spite of the agreement to support the ceasefire, other crucial decisions were never made, a source told Izvestia. In addition, two sources from the side of the republics told Izvestia, the new separation sites were not identified due to the fact that Kiev proposed to establish them, not taking into account the humanitarian issue. "The Ukrainian side suggests choosing three sites practically in an open field. That is, formally fulfilling the decisions of the Normandy Four, without improving the lives of ordinary citizens on the contact line," one of them told Izvestia.
Meanwhile, according to the newspaper’s sources, the approval of the prisoner swap process "went painfully." "The odds that the exchange will be successful before the New Year are 10%," a source told the newspaper. According to the source, the only chance to come to an agreement is additional negotiations in the format of a videoconference, since the next meeting of the contact group will be held only on January 16, 2020.
Human Rights Ombudsman in the Donetsk People's Republic Daria Morozova told Izvestia, "the position of the Ukrainian side is to sabotage all the recommendations" spelled out in the official report of the Normandy Four. According to Director of the Institute of Peacekeeping Initiatives and Conflictology Denis Denisov, the meeting showed that the situation was not under control of the new leader of Ukraine.
Kommersant: Economics still weak spot in bilateral relations, says Iranian ambassador to Russia
Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Russia Mehdi Sanaei is leaving his post after six years in Moscow. In his final interview before leaving, he revealed to Kommersant the reasons for better bilateral relations between Moscow and Tehran, and why Iran now considers itself Russia's main partner in the Middle East.
According to the ambassador, in general it is impossible not to notice significant changes in the relations between the two countries since he assumed his post in 2013. They have deepened and intensified in all areas positively. Inter-parliamentary ties strengthened, a dialogue has been established at the level of security councils, as well as with the intergovernmental commission, while scientific and cultural ties have increased, he noted. Important shifts have occurred in the economy and in the field of military-technical cooperation, in particular, the S-300s were delivered.
The envoy sees a couple of key reasons for the improved relationship. First, the will of the two heads of state who decided that it was time to move from declarations to genuine actions. Second, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the Iranian nuclear deal — that facilitated Iran’s interaction with other countries. However, the deterioration of relations between Russia and the West could also have played a part in establishing dialogue between Tehran and Moscow, he added.
Neither the terrorists nor the West were able to implement their plans in the Middle East, which is also the outcome of Iranian-Russian cooperation and the trilateral Astana format involving Turkey, the diplomat told Kommersant.
Sanaei added that the countries’ different opinions on some issues are normal, as each country has its own national interests. But both countries are ready to cooperate and seek compromises, because they have common approaches. They stand against double standards and a unipolar world, he added.
Kommersant: Novatek wants to build additional gas carriers abroad
Novatek asked President Vladimir Putin to allow ten gas carriers to be ordered at foreign shipyards with the delivery timeframe in 2023-2024. The company wants to build these vessels in addition to 15 gas carriers at the Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex for the Arctic LNG 2 project. The company explains the need to turn to foreign shipyards by the fact that in 2023, it plans to introduce Obsky LNG with a capacity of 5 mln tonnes per year, and Zvezda does not have enough time to build these gas carriers. According to Kommersant, President Putin has not yet given any conclusive consent, although experts believe that the request will not infringe on the interests of Zvezda.
Currently, there are no legal restrictions for ordering ships abroad for Novatek. Nevertheless, taking into account plans for the development of large-capacity shipbuilding in Russia and the fact that Putin is personally overseeing the Zvezda project, the company needs to coordinate this issue, Kommersant’s sources familiar with the situation said.
They believe that Novatek is likely to get the green light, given that Zvezda does not have the capacity to build additional vessels in such a short time. However, such a precedent may arouse Rosneft’s extreme discontent, which, according to Kommersant sources, hoped that Zvezda would have all orders for Arctic gas carriers. In addition, an order abroad may demonstrate Novatek’s intention to create a fallback in case Zvezda delays the delivery of gas carriers for the Arctic LNG 2.
According to Kommersant, the company has not yet chosen a foreign shipyard, but four sites are bidding on the order: China’s Hudong, Korea’s DSME, Samsung, and Hyundai. The price tag for the ships may be about $3 bln.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Saudi oil giant may come to Syria’s rescue
Saudi Aramco has begun exploring oil fields in Syria’s northeastern province of Deir ez-Zor, and the company’s official delegates have just visited the areas formally located in the zone of responsibility of the United States. Experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta believe that potential presence of Saudi business in Syria’s northeastern region can serve as a positive factor. Riyadh has repeatedly provided active assistance there.
Currently, the oil wells in that part of Syria need specialized upgrading and maintenance. Many were damaged either as a result of hostilities, or intentionally during the retreat of IS and its cohorts.
"Saudi presence in the form of material assistance, which includes the military component, is a reality for the Deir ez-Zor region and the entire east of Syria," Professor of the Department of Modern East, Department of History, Political Science and Law in RSUH Grigory Kosach told the newspaper. "In this regard, an additional factor related to the activities of Saudi Aramco in this territory, of course, will be perceived positively at the local level, because earlier this assistance has become a significant help to the population’s survival. I must say that this aid was not limited to the Arab tribes who live there, the Kurds were also included," he added.
The expert believes that the alleged arrival of the company will create jobs in the northeastern regions of Syria, where there is enormous unemployment. "So I believe that this (possible investment from the Saudi company) will be perceived quite positively by the local population," said Kosach. "Aramco, before starting its activity anywhere, always conducts a preliminary study of the place where it is going to work. If the reports by Aramco's interest are true, then relevant studies have already been carried out, and bridges with the local population have been established. I think in this case we are not talking about an operation associated with a huge share of risk, but, on the contrary, about a well-thought-out operation," he added.
Izvestia: Russian winemaking given the green light
The Russian State Duma at its last meeting for 2019 overwhelmingly approved the law on viticulture and winemaking in the second and third, final reading. It is designed to revive the industry, as well as protect consumers from low-quality products, Izvestia wrote. The document will enter into force in the summer, six months after the official publication. However, from the beginning of 2020, winemakers will begin to receive new subsidies and tax deductions. Gradually, production will completely switch to the use of proven domestic raw materials. State support for the industry aims to expand Russia’s vineyard area from 95,000 to 200,000 hectares and saturate the market with top-quality Russian wines.
Part of provisions of the law will enter into force in 2023. Thus, a ban on imported raw materials in manufacturing domestic wine will be introduced, Chairman of the Union of Russian Winegrowers and Winemakers Dmitry Kiselyov told Izvestia. He believes that manufacturers who used imported products to make wine will have time to adapt to the new rules.
"On the one hand, if we prohibit low-quality and cheap wines, then, probably, at first there could be price hikes on wine. However, if we grow our grapes, expand vineyards, and organize our production reasonably, then this, of course, will lead to fiercer market competition. Therefore, prices will go down,” he said.
The State Duma noted that it is important not to get bogged down in debate, but to pass the law before the New Year, which would make it possible to begin restructuring the industry. In addition, from January 1, 2020, amendments to the Budget and Tax Codes go into effect, giving winemakers the right to receive new subsidies.