Kommersant: Moscow gets entangled in Ukraine’s presidential race
In the run-up to Ukraine’s presidential election on March 31, Moscow for the first time has laid out its stance on the race, making a surprise move, Kommersant business daily writes. Two leading opposition politicians - Yuri Boyko, who is running for president, and Head of the Political Council of the Opposition Platform - For Life party Viktor Medvedchuk - held talks in Moscow with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller. The visit of two politicians, whom Kiev labels as pro-Russian, fueled tensions: incumbent Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko blasted the trip as treason, while the Ukrainian Security Service vowed to carry out an investigation, TASS reported.
Meanwhile, this visit was the Russian leadership’s message to Ukrainian voters that normal ties with Moscow are beneficial for Ukraine and Russia seeks to normalize them but is ready to hold dialogue only with pragmatic leaders. And Poroshenko, who is running for the second term, is not among them. Moscow signaled that it is ready to communicate with Boyko and Medvedchuk and in general, the situation in relations with Kiev is not a dead-end, and it depends on who will rule Ukraine, the paper says. This was confirmed by talks, which the two politicians held with Medvedev and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller.
This year, Ukraine’s gas contract with Russia is expiring and the Kiev regime is not taking any steps to extend it. The contract means more than 50,000 jobs in Ukraine and over $3 bln in revenues for the state budget, Boyko said, stressing, "We cannot allow this contract to be halted." In his turn, Miller said he was ready for talks on this issue.
Boyko, who is mainly backed by Ukraine’s southeast and is ranked fourth among the presidential candidates, views the election as a rehearsal before the country’s parliamentary polls set for this autumn. "By showing its willingness for constructive dialogue with any new Ukrainian president who is prepared to disengage from Poroshenko’s course, Moscow is hinting that at this moment that Yuri Boyko is the best candidate for this role," according to Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). Meanwhile, the decision to support Boyko is a courageous but risky step, which may produce a reverse effect, given that he has been accused of being a traitor for his trip to Moscow.
Izvestia: Failed Trump summit prompts North Korean leader for hurried Moscow visit
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to pay a visit to Russia soon, experts questioned by Izvestia said, noting that his failed summit with US President Donald Trump could be an encouraging factor. In the wake of Kim’s unsuccessful dialogue with Washington, Pyongyang seeks to demonstrate good relations with another power, and also discuss extending trade and economic cooperation against the background of sanctions against North Korea.
Sources told Izvestia that Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia is a logic continuation of the political dialogue that Moscow and Pyongyang have maintained throughout the years. Experts believe that the North Korean leader is likely to visit in late May. Russian diplomatic sources admit that Kim Jong-un’s visit has never been taken off from the agenda, but avoid naming any dates.
Kim Jong-un received an official invitation to visit Russia in late May 2018, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Pyongyang. Moscow expected that the visit would be held by the end of last year before or shortly after the second summit between the North Korean leader and President Trump. Later, active preparations for the visit were halted, with diplomatic sources linking the problem to consolidating both leaders’ schedules.
However, now there have been certain signs that Kim’s visit to Russia may take place in the near future, the paper writes. "The impending visit is highly likely. Given that there has been a ‘traffic jam’ on the US-North Korean track, Russia’s role in establishing dialogue is growing," said Georgy Toloraya, director of the East Asia center at the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
South Korea is also banking on Moscow after Pyongyang’s surprise decision to suspend its liaison office contacts with Seoul on March 22. A high-ranking diplomat in Moscow told Izvestia that after the failed Hanoi summit, Seoul doubts that its neighbors are set to continue constructive dialogue. "South Korea is requesting our political and diplomatic support here and we are providing it," he noted. Another impetus for an early visit to Russia is the understanding that only a summit may accelerate economic cooperation and Pyongyang is very interested in this given that the sanctions against North Korea have not been loosened up.
RBC: Trump’s recognition of Golan Heights may strengthen Netanyahu’s position
US President Donald Trump announced plans to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in the run-up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington scheduled for March 25-26. This decision by the US leader fits into the logic of his Middle East policy, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov told RBC. Another example of this course is Trump’s decision in December 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. The move was criticized by the EU and Arab states, but this did not stop the US president. Trump needs another friendly step to gain extra points inside the US and the recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory will strengthen his positions among local evangelicals, Lukyanov noted. According to the expert, there are many evangelicals in the US and they strongly support Israel as the Holy Land. Furthermore, Trump’s move also coincided with the parliamentary campaign in Israel, since early elections are scheduled for April 9.
"Trump’s decision was an additional backing of Netanyahu’s image as a politician, who has good business relations with Vladimir Putin and awesome ties with Donald Trump, and this is certainly playing into the Israeli premier’s hands," Lukyanov noted.
Corruption scandals have plagued Netanyahu and Trump’s support can strengthen his positions, independent expert on the Middle East Dmitry Frolovsky told the paper.
If Trump recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights this will show that state borders may be changed unilaterally, Lukyanov said. In this sense, the situation with the Golan Heights may be compared with Crimea’s reunification with Russia. However, Moscow is unlikely to appeal to the precedent using the Golan Heights’ recognition while defending its position, he noted.
Izvestia: Germany seeks to restore maritime traffic with Crimea
The German parliament plans to review a law on prohibiting vessels from calling at Crimean ports, members of the Bundestag from the Alternative for Germany party told Izvestia. Upon Ukraine’s request, the European Union slapped a ban on its ships from visiting the peninsula in 2014. Violators face large fines and tough measures, even as serious as a vessel being arrested.
Waldemar Herdt (Alternative for Germany), a Bundestag foreign affairs committee member told the paper that such bans seriously harm German-Russian trade. "This restriction has affected both Russia and Germany, and it stonewalls prosperity on both sides. This is very counterproductive," the politician stressed.
Five years ago, all European vessels left seven Crimean ports, including the two largest, Sevastopol and Kerch. Turkey was the only major country that did not rush to follow suit and maintained ferry service until 2017. However, under the sanctions pressure, Ankara introduced a similar ban on receiving vessels from Crimean ports. There were plans to resume ferry traffic, but the talks came to a deadlock after Kiev’s provocation in the Kerch Strait. By February this year it became known that cement supplies from the Turkish port of Bartin would be launched. Apparently, common sense and pragmatism finally prevailed among the Turkish establishment, the paper says.
According to an MP from Berlin’s regional parliament Gunnar Lindemann, (Alternative for Germany) his party seeks to ask the European parliament in Brussels after the May elections to abolish the restrictions on European vessels calling at Crimean ports. The politician said he would attend the Yalta Economic Forum this April with his colleagues from the Bundestag to draft a roadmap for restoring maritime traffic between Germany and Crimea. He hopes common sense will prevail and German tourists will again start visiting the Russian peninsula.
Putin’s Permanent Representative of Crimea Georgy Muradov slammed the ban on calling at the peninsula’s ports as a violation of all principles of freedom of navigation.
RBC: Russia’s largest steel pipes producer sells its US branch
Russia’s TMK, the largest manufacturer of steel pipes for the oil and gas industry, owned by Dmitry Pumpyansky, has agreed on selling its US branch IPSCO Tubulars Inc. for $1.2 bln to Italy’s Tenaris, RBC said, citing the companies’ press service. The sum does not include IPSCO’s funds and the debt, which the parties have refused to reveal. The deal fits the company’s strategy that indicates monetizing international assets as one of its priorities. Now, TMK is not planning on selling any other international assets, the company’s representative told RBC.
The funds raised from the sale amount to 38% of TMK’s overall debt, Maxim Khudalov, Director of the ACRA Corporate Ratings Group, said. For finalizing the deal, there is the need to comply with certain preliminary conditions, including receiving any necessary permissions. The sides have not announced the date of finalizing the deal.
Headquartered in Houston, IPSCO owns 11 enterprises in the United States and Canada, including service centers and trading houses. The company accounts for 15% of the US market of seamless oil and gas pipelines and is among three major suppliers.
The Russian company had planned to hold an IPO of its branch in February 2018, but postponed it a week after the US Treasury Department published its "Kremlin report" that blacklisted 210 Russian government officials and entrepreneurs on the Forbes list and CEOs of major state corporations, including Pumpyansky.
TMK is not the first Russian metals company that is selling its assets in the United States. Several years ago, Alexei Mordashov’s Severstal sold all of its US-based plants, the latest ones in 2014 after Crimea joined Russia and the first US sanctions were introduced.