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Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, December 26, prepared by TASS
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Trump seeks to turn fragile truce with China into personal victory
US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will attend a ceremony to sign a document on the ‘phase one’ trade deal between the two powers, the White House has announced. Beijing has not confirmed that the meeting was being arranged, noting only that officials were in close contact. According to experts, Beijing has agreed to buy more agricultural goods and protect US companies’ intellectual property, in turn, Washington is not going to impose new tariffs. However, fundamental differences over hi-tech remain in place, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Deputy Director at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations Alexander Lomanov said the ‘phase one’ deal won’t iron out problems on US-Chinese technological rivalry. The sides have just reached a compromise, he noted.
Earlier, China insisted that a precondition for signing the deal was a full cancellation of all tariffs imposed by Trump. Washington said it needed one big deal to solve the problem of China’s state support for the innovative sector. The Americans wanted China to stop state subsidies and other forms of support for the industry, especially in hi-tech.
According to the expert, China has agreed that most US tariffs introduced at the first stage of the so-called trade war will remain in place. China will purchase US agricultural goods. The Americans will get more solid assurances on protecting intellectual property and access to the market, but without the stiff guarantees that they had demanded earlier. As for the hi-tech sector, the issue of 5G networks and Huawei’s access to US and Western markets should be the subject of the ‘phase two’ deal. However, the expert said it was unknown whether it would be signed in the near future.
Trump had intended that Xi Jinping would come to the US and ink the deal. This would signal the White House’s victory in the eyes of America’s voters, Lomanov noted, while expressing doubt that the plan would be fulfilled. "Why would the Chinese leader come to the US to sign a deal, which is not pivotal? It is all about finding areas where it is possible to come to terms. And the ‘phase two’ deal is about those issues where there can be no agreement, and the signing of this document has been delayed indefinitely," he noted.
Media: Russia, Turkey search for compromise on Syria and Libya
The Turkish state delegation has extended its visit to Moscow for an unprecedented three days to discuss crucial issues linked to the events unfolding in Syria and Libya, a Russian source close to the talks told Vedomosti. The Turkish delegation is being led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal and it consists of members of the Turkish military and the National Intelligence Organization. Russia is represented by Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and officials from the Defense Ministry and intelligence services. The Russian-Turkish talks are underway amid mounting tensions in Syria and Libya, the paper says.
At the negotiations, Turkey discussed ending the Syrian army’s offensive in Idlib, a high-ranking diplomatic source said. Ankara insists that due to these combat actions, tens of thousands of people are fleeing the province and heading to the Turkish border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed that Ankara could not provide assistance to this massive amount of people. In fact, the Turks fear potential provocations on the border because terrorists could be among those refugees, according to the source.
Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Security at MGIMO Yulia Kudryashova told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Turkey could join the fighting in Libya only on a limited scale. "Ankara is unlikely to launch a full-scale operation on its own without allies. Libya is far away from Turkey and the conditions there differ from Syria and Iraq where the Turkish forces have gotten used to serving. If Erdogan meddles in the Libyan civil war, his forces will be constrained and he will do it just in order to show his presence in the country rather than to destroy the rivals of [Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez] al-Sarraj," she told the paper.
Izvestia: As new Austrian cabinet forms, concerns over ties with Moscow arise
Once the Green Party joins the new Austrian government, the country’s rhetoric could become less favorable towards Russia but the new cabinet won’t significantly affect ties between Vienna and Moscow, experts interviewed by Izvestia said. The coalition headed by leader of the Austrian People's Party Sebastian Kurz is expected to be officially approved in early January.
Kurz, Austria’s ex-Chancellor, has had a rather pragmatic and favorable stance on Russia, while the Greens have been consistently critical of Moscow and its foreign policy. In view of the Greens’ joining the new Austrian cabinet, the question is how the new partner will influence Vienna’s foreign policy towards Moscow, the paper writes.
According to senior lecturer at the Russian State University for the Humanities Vadim Trukhachev, the Greens’ presence in the ruling coalition will scrub Austria from the list of countries with a favorable stance on Russia, but still, it won’t join the clique of states pursuing an anti-Russian policy.
"The Austrian People's Party will call the shots at the foreign ministry while the Greens will get less important posts," the expert told the paper. "Although the Greens will oppose the construction of Nord Stream 2, a compromise will be found. Austria will toughen its general line on Russia, but the gas pipeline will be built."
Head of Department for Social and Political Studies at the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Schveitser believes that bilateral ties will remain unchanged because foreign policy is shaped by the entire government rather than by just one party. "We have rather good relations with Austria. Even as far as sanctions are concerned, Vienna backs them only because it is part of the European Union, and this has nothing to do with the Greens," the expert told the paper.
RBC: Novatek’s LNG won’t rival Gazprom in Europe, vows energy minister
Novatek’s LNG supplies to Europe pose no danger to Gazprom’s pipeline gas because the producer is not dumping and its activity is not aimed at harming pipeline gas deliveries, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in an interview with RBC published on Thursday.
"We are not against LNG coming to Europe. This market is growing and we should take part in it or others will fill this gap. However, it is important that prices should be economically viable, without dumping or vying with Gazprom. Novatek comprehends this, so it is conducting its policy in order not to harm exports of Russian pipeline gas. On markets alongside Gazprom, Novatek’s LNG is competing with other countries — Australia, Qatar and the United States," the minister noted.
Over the past years, Russia has outperformed the US in terms of LNG supplies to Europe, Novak said earlier in his interview with RBC TV channel. According to the nation’s energy chief, LNG consumption is growing in countries where Russia is not supplying pipeline gas, for example in Spain and France.
Speaking about the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Novak vowed that it would be built despite any sanctions although Russia still had no understanding whether Swiss contractor Allseas would be able to complete the project. "It is early to say now that Allseas won’t be able to build Nord Stream 2. They have suspended the works in order to eliminate sanctions risks," he said. "Regardless of the sanctions the pipeline will be built, just less than 160 km of the pipeline needs to be laid." According to the minister, Allseas has demanded clarification from the US Treasury Department to understand whether it will be able to continue the work or not.
Commenting on the economic effect of the OPEC+ deal, Novak said Russian budget revenues from it have reached 6.2 trillion rubles ($100 bln) over three years. Novak has not ruled out that in the future, Russia could step up production in the framework of the deal should demand on the market rise. Russian companies, namely Rosneft and Gazprom Neft, have growth potential here, he noted.
Kommersant: Russian company launches grain supplies to Iran
Russia’s grain trading company, United Grain Company, has signed its first contract to supply this commodity to Iran. By the end of January 2020, some 130,000 tonnes of grain will be delivered and talks on further exports are in progress, Kommersant writes. The company (50% plus one stake belongs to the state, VTB owns the rest) is gearing up to send the first 60,000 tonnes of Russian grain from Novorossiysk, a market source told the paper. A foreign company that is allowed to trade with Iran is serving as a mediator, another source said. Earlier Iran bought only Russian corn and barley.
Director General of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies Dmitry Rylko believes that fixed-price contracts on exporting 300,000 tonnes of grain to Iran have been signed. The Moscow-based SovEcon think tank estimates that Russian wheat with 12.5% of protein is worth $217 per tonne. According to SovEcon’s chief Andrei Sizov, Iran had not purchased wheat for several years but could buy up to 3 mln tonnes by the end of March 2020.
Russia could become a major supplier due to tested payment schemes and cheap freight charges, analysts say. However, SovEcon warns that Iranian import could be overestimated and it’s difficult to calculate the exact volume based on customs data.
Managing Partner at Law and Business firm Alexander Pakhomov said no secondary sanctions would be imposed on food trade with Iran and most Russian goods were supplied to the country along an oil-for-goods strategy.