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Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, December 30, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Kiev, Donbass to continue prisoner swap dialogue in 2020
Ukraine and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics (DPR, LPR) have fully complied with their obligations and secured the long-awaited prisoner return. The repatriation process will continue next year, LPR Human Rights Commissioner Olga Kobtseva told Izvestia.
She stressed that during the December 29 prisoner exchange, Kiev had honored its commitments as promised by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. A total of 199 people returned home prior to the New Year, with 76 heading back to Ukraine and 123 to Donetsk and Lugansk.
"Ukraine fully complied with its obligations. Lugansk and Kiev carried out the 'all established for all established' procedure, the way it was agreed on at the Normandy Four summit in Paris," Kobtseva said, adding that the talks will resume after the New Year holidays.
It would be wrong to believe that prisoner swaps have had a substantial effect on the overall settlement process in Donbass, with many issues remaining unresolved, First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s (upper house) Foreign Affairs Committee Vladimir Dzhabarov explained to Izvestia. "So far, this is a humanitarian act. People return to their families, this happens shortly before the New Year, and this is great. Besides, President Zelensky, at least in this matter, is ready to follow the spirit of the ‘Normandy format’ and the Minsk accords. Donetsk and Lugansk likewise honored their commitments. If the parties continue to take steps to move ahead, a glimmer of hope may appear at some point that the conflict will eventually end," he said.
According to Mikhail Pogrebinsky, Director of the Kiev-based Institute for Political Studies and Conflictology, no breakthrough should be expected after the prisoner swap, because the impasse in the talks persists. "Theoretically, this humanitarian act helps boost confidence. However, all that is negated by statements made by Zelensky and his entourage regarding the special status of Donbass and other political aspects of the Minsk agreements," he told the paper.
Kommersant: Gazprom runs the risk of major delays in completing Nord Stream 2
Gazprom has not yet requested the Danish regulator to allow the completion of laying pipes for the Nord Stream 2 project by the Fortuna vessel owned by Russia’s MRTS company, the Danish Energy Agency (DEA) informed Kommersant. It confirmed that it was guided by the premise that vessels with dynamic positioning systems would be used in the construction of the gas pipeline, and Fortuna is not a such a vessel.
That said, the top contender for the completion of the pipeline construction is currently the Akademik Cherskiy vessel owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom. Just like Fortuna, this vessel has a fairly low pipe laying speed. Taking into account the permit procedure, re-equipment and the arrival in the pipe-laying area, the completion of the gas pipeline can take at least six months. This scenario puts Gazprom at risk of the Third Energy Package being extended to Nord Stream 2.
Gazprom has to build the last 160-kilometer section of the pipeline in Denmark’s exclusive economic zone. However, Switzerland-based Allseas, pipe-laying company for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, reported that it was suspending its activities in the project because of Washington’s sanctions.
Now, given the unknown amount of time to retrofit the Akademik Cherskiy vessel, Gazprom is running the risk of not having enough time to commission the project by May 24, 2020. In that case, the company will have to look for new ways of achieving the pipeline’s full utilization. That could be, for example, the creation of an independent operator for its section in Germany’s territorial waters (the regulations of the Third Energy Package are applicable to it).
Izvestia: Russia plans to create airline for Far East
Russia is exploring the possibility of creating an air carrier to serve its Far East. Plans are also in store to upgrade or create a new center for maintenance and retraining aviation personnel in the Far East, Izvestia writes citing a letter from Deputy Transport Minister Alexander Yurchik to member of the Russian Federation Council Economic Policy Committee Ivan Abramov.
According to the paper, Yurchik’s letter was actually a response to Abramov’s request to Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov to take into account the transport accessibility dilemma in Russia’s Far Eastern region, which became even more complex after the Transaero air carrier left the market in 2015. In 2017, VIM Airlines, which carried out a sizeable part of flights to Russia’s East, ceased its operations. As a result, air ticket prices have surged.
The discussion will continue next year, and the Federation Council will oversee issues related to Far Eastern air transport services.
"There is hope that the project will be carried out. We now have a surplus in the federal budget. Oil prices are not falling, the government has money, so all the preconditions are there for considering this issue next year," Abramov explained to Izvestia.
Creating a new airline to tackle the transport accessibility issue is impractical, Oleg Panteleev, Executive Director of the Aviaport Agency, told the paper.
"A program for subsidizing flights to the Far East has existed for a long time, in accordance with a government decree. It won’t be too difficult to increase the amount of that financial assistance without establishing a new company and extending it to wider population groups. There are all possible mechanisms. Any Russian air carrier can apply for taking part in the flight subsidy program," he stressed.
Kommersant: Moscow sees Washington’s hand in wave of protests that gripped Latin America
The outgoing year has become unexpectedly turbulent for Latin America and Russian diplomats focusing on that region, Kommersant writes. Protests, often spiraling into violent clashes, swept several countries almost simultaneously. Moscow interpreted some of them as coup attempts backed by outside forces.
At the beginning of the year, protests erupted in Venezuela. However, thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets were unable to prevent President Nicolas Maduro’s inauguration. The opposition, which did not recognize the outcome of the presidential election, went over to decisive actions. On January 23, National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaido declared himself interim president vowing to put an end to "tyranny and the usurpation of power."
In addition to Venezuela’s crisis, Russian diplomats also referred to developments in Bolivia, stressing that they were reminiscent of a staged coup. Fourteen years of President Evo Morales’ rule ended after the October 20 presidential election. Even the police began to join the protests, which gripped the country. As a result, on November 10, Commander-in-Chief of Bolivia’s Armed Forces, Gen. Williams Kaliman, asked Morales to step down in order to "help restore peace and stability," and the president heeded the request.
From a geopolitical standpoint, Russia suffered a severe loss, at any rate. Evo Morales was one of Moscow’s key allies in Latin America. Bolivia was one of the few countries to vote against condemning Crimea’s reunification with Russia at the UN General Assembly in 2014.
Venezuela has so far remained one of Russia’s closest friends, but it is unclear how long that will last. Juan Guaido continues to appear on social networks and at rallies portraying himself as the head of state, but, in actual fact, Nicolas Maduro has retained power. Nevertheless, the situation in the Bolivarian Republic is similar to life on a volcano, which can erupt any time. If that is the case, the future of friendship with Russia will be in jeopardy.
This past spring, one of Guaido’s close associates Tomas Guanipa assured Kommersant that his supporters were committed to maintaining trade and economic relations with all countries, including Russia, to the extent that these countries respect democracy and freedom in his country.
Izvestia: Russia reports surge in mobile Internet traffic in 2019
Russian mobile subscribers downloaded and sent more data over the first nine months of 2019 than in 2018, Izvestia writes citing data provided by the Russian Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media. Internet traffic in Russia reached almost 10.9 bln gigabytes from January to September 2019 compared to 10.2 bln last year.
The development of LTE networks, which make it possible to download more data, interest in "heavy" video content and low cost of services, despite growing tariffs, are the reasons for traffic growth, analysts say.
So far, there is less mobile traffic in Russia than fixed Internet traffic. It is growing slower than cellular traffic, with the data amount growing 18.5% over the past year.
According to TelecomDaily Director General Denis Kuskov, the data provided by the Ministry of Communications is conservative, and there is every likelihood that mobile traffic growth rate was even higher. According to his estimates, Russian mobile users used 10-11 GB of traffic every month by the end of this year compared to 6-7 GB a year ago. One of the primary reasons for that is an increase in coverage and bandwidth of 4G networks both in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as in other regions.
"A user can download much more data per unit of time than in 3G, and subscribers take advantage of that, increasing traffic consumption and their payments to operators," the expert stressed.