Press review: Prisoner swap with US being weighed and Czech-Russian spat explodes / News / News agency Inforos
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Press review: Prisoner swap with US being weighed and Czech-Russian spat explodes

Press review: Prisoner swap with US being weighed and Czech-Russian spat explodes

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, June 16, prepared by TASS

Vedomosti: American Paul Whelan sentenced for espionage, may be swapped for Russians jailed in US

On June 15, the Moscow City Court sentenced US national Paul Whelan to 16 years behind bars for spying against Russia. Whelan was found guilty under article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code (Espionage). His attorney Vladimir Zherebenkov said earlier that the US citizen would not be opposed to a pardon. He also disclosed that after the verdict enters into force, Whelan’s exchange for Russian nationals Konstantin Yaroshenko or Viktor Bout currently jailed in the US may be discussed.

Vedomosti asked a source close to Russian intelligence whether such an exchange is possible in the near future. The source admitted that such a prisoner swap may be in the works, however, this is a sensitive issue, and the parties may take a long time to reach an agreement.

Russia and the US may be discussing a swap for Bout and Yaroshenko, as the issue of their early release or extradition has been raised many times by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the source added, stressing however that it is still too early to say whether the matter has been settled.

The potential offer to swap Bout and Yaroshenko for Whelan is explained by the poor medical treatment that those citizens, especially Yaroshenko, have received in US prisons, the source continued. The criminal cases are also quite similar, the source told Vedomosti, as Bout and Yaroshenko were jailed as a result of provocations by US special services. The only difference is that Bout and Yaroshenko were detained outside US territory, while Whelan had come to Moscow to get "a USB drive about his trips to Russia," the newspaper’s source concluded.

Izvestia: Diplomatic rift erupts between Russia and the Czech Republic

A diplomatic brouhaha broke out between Moscow and Prague in the wake of the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from the Czech Republic and Russia’s tit-for-tat measures announced shortly thereafter. The relations between both states soured in late April, when Prague officials took down a monument to Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev. Following that, Respekt, a Czech magazine, published a story accusing Russia of sending a spy carrying poison to Prague in an alleged attempt on the life of several Czech officials. The Russian embassy dismissed the article as a provocation.

Izvestia asked Russian M. P. Anton Morozov, member of the Russian State Duma (lower house) Committee on International Affairs, whether the diplomatic scandal between Moscow and Prague would affect the relations between both states. The lawmaker noted that Russian-Czech relations had been friendly since the Soviet era. "We had been very close with Czechoslovakia. However, it is clear that those who are stage-managing the geopolitical scene in Eastern Europe are trying to drive a wedge between Russia and all our neighbors in the region," the MP told Izvestia. He added that until recently, the Czech Republic had maintained a neutral stance regarding Russia.

"However, this does not suit Prague’s Western handlers. So they are trying to drive a wedge between our states through machinations, fake news and deliberately false information in the media and through the intelligence services," the legislator said, urging Russia and the Czech Republic to take measures to maintain friendly relations despite foreign interference.

Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrei Kortunov noted that the Czech ruling elite does not have a unified stance on how to build relations with Russia: Czech President Milos Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babis have different views on the matter. "Some are interested in cooperation with Moscow, but, some rail against Russia. The incident with the Marshal Konev monument that attracted a lot of attention had worsened the situation: in a way, it was used to whip up anti-Russian sentiment," the expert told Izvestia.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia eyes beefing up oil and gas export to India

Russia may be looking to expand its oil and gas export to India, Rossiyskaya Gazeta notes, adding that the volume of Russian oil and gas export to India has been rather low so far, despite India having the third largest energy market in the world and the second largest in the Asia-Pacific Region. The main issue is that many other states are successfully importing oil and gas to India, which leads to Russia entering a very competitive market, the newspaper suggests.

However, Moscow can offer the South Asian giant lower prices for oil and gas, which is one of India’s biggest priorities, as its energy industry is developing rapidly while the country is moving away from coal to gas.

"Traditionally, India has been fulfilling its demand for oil and gas through exports from the Middle East," Albert Koroev, a stock market expert with BCS Broker told Rossiyskaya Gazeta. He explained that this is more profitable and accessible than exporting it by sea from Russia. Two-thirds of India’s imported oil and half of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) go through the Strait of Hormuz.

However, India is looking to diversify its import, and it has participated in Russian projects. In early 2020, Rosneft and IndianOil signed a contract for the export of up to 2 mln tonnes of oil to India through the port of Novorossiysk.

Another factor is related to the type of Russian oil, the newspaper notes. Until recently, Russia has only exported ESPO oil to the Asian-Pacific Region. Ekaterina Grushevenko, senior oil and gas analyst of the Energy Center at the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta that Indian oil refineries have a higher demand for heavy and sour crude, while ESPO is lighter and more expensive, which is why it is harder for Russia to compete on the Indian oil market.

However, this year, Russia supplied a record amount of Urals sour crude, which used to be imported solely to European states, to the Asia Pacific market.

As for the export of gas, India is forced to use LNG due to its faraway location from all major gas pipelines, the newspaper pointed out, adding that Russia began to export LNG to India back in 2018, but, its share on the market is quite small. Last year, out of 24 mln tonnes of LNG supplied to India, Russia has provided only 210,000 tonnes. However, Russia can use the current crisis on the gas market to its benefit, claiming some of the Australian or US portion of India's market.

Kommersant: US to review its obligations under another non-proliferation agreement

On June 16, the U. S. National Security Council is set to approve an offer by several US government bodies on reviewing the country’s obligations under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Kommersant writes. Washington wants to exclude heavy attack and reconnaissance drones from the agreement, which would allow US companies to supply them to "unstable" countries, the newspaper reports. Russia has warned that such a step would undermine the non-proliferation regime, however, it is unlikely that the decision by the US administration is subject to change, since Washington wants to squeeze out its competitors from the rapidly expanding, multi-billion-dollar global arms market.

In 2021−2022, Russia is set to chair the MTCR. "It is unlikely that Moscow will stand idly by and look on at this unilateral approach to changing the implementation, if not the meaning, of another multilateral regime, and perhaps, Russia will find some European allies on this issue," Russian Council on International Affairs expert Dmitry Stefanovich told Kommersant.

However, the commentator noted that the supply of heavy attack and reconnaissance drones is already taking place. "We cannot say that this radically changes armed confrontation, however, in general, obtaining such systems can expand the possibilities of contactless war, reducing the cost of escalation. This applies both to striking selected targets without manned aviation and to the consequences of losing such systems," Stefanovich explained.

The expert did not rule out, however, that US actions would allow for a "controlled" discussion of the MTCR guidelines based on a consensus, which could potentially establish the conditions for the export of Russian cruise missiles with a range of over 300 km.

Kommersant: Russia sees rise in demand for low-priced goods

The share of low-priced goods on the daily commodities and food market in Russia has risen to 17.7% in May compared to the average annual figure of 16.9%. Experts see this as a consequence of the reduced income of Russians due to the coronavirus recession, the Kommersant daily reported on Tuesday, citing the data provided by the Nielsen market research company.

The share of the premium price segment has gone down to 34.4% in May compared to the annual average of 35.8%. The newspaper notes that this trend has affected the prices for meat, tea, water, pasta and juice. On average, the annual market share of low-priced pasta products comes to 18.7%, whereas from April 27 to May 24, the share of such products had risen to 22.8%. The same applies to mayonnaise (the share of low-price segment has gone up to 9.5% compared to the average of 7.3%) and chocolates (15.7% compared to 14%). The share of higher-priced pasta products has gone down from 37.1% to 33.7%, while the share of higher-price sweets has dropped from 30.8% to 27.7%.

Konstantin Loktev, retailer director at Nielsen Russia, told Kommersant that nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) mention the novel coronavirus pandemic as the driving factor behind the decreased income of the Russian population. He added that 66% of consumers had noticed that the prices had gone up, while 30% began to look for discount goods more often.

Meanwhile, chief analyst of Aton investment company Victor Dima told Kommersant that the share of discount goods is unlikely to grow, as in the first quarter, supermarket chains had shown a good dynamic of comparable sales, and according to company statements, the second quarter is set to be a success for them as well. He added that the chains are now focused on individual loyalty programs to maintain clients.

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