Media: Russia-US relationship gets second chance
A small window of opportunity has opened after the results of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation were announced, but Washington has to take certain steps to improve relations with Russia, Izvestia writes. According to Mueller’s report, there was no collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia but nevertheless, the report claims that there was Russian interference that did not involve Trump, TASS reported.
Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev told the paper that shifts in Russia-US relations "are possible if Trump has the political courage to use the current situation to the advantage of both Washington and Moscow." The problem is that major accusations against Russia are still there. Moreover, the alleged interference, confirmed by Mueller, "even pours cement on the situation."
There is no thaw on the horizon for Russia-US relations because it is not the investigation’s outcome but the general political atmosphere in the US that matters, Director of the Franklin Roosevelt US Policy Studies Center at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev told Izvestia. In his view, the Republicans will now work harder just to prove that they "have no good intentions" towards Moscow.
Meanwhile, Trump is rather likely to once again announce plans to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he will seek to do his utmost to take advantage of the trump card that the Mueller investigation has dealt him, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov told RBC. However, in general, there will be no changes in relations, he said. "There is no agenda for talks. In the past, the parties could discuss strategic stability issues and Syria but given the United States’ move to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, there is little left to discuss," the expert pointed out.
"Some accusations against Trump have been dropped, but those against Russia remain in place and any progress in relations between the two countries will be thoroughly scrutinized," Valdai Club Program Director and Director of the Institute of International Studies at MGIMO University Andrei Sushentsov told RBC. The difficulty is that the US administration in unable to independently resolve issues important for Moscow - such as sanctions - while as far as other issues are concerned - strategic stability included - the administration is focused on unilateral actions rather than on dialogue.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Venezuela becomes bargaining chip in US-China standoff
US President Donald Trump has been tweeting about how well US-Chinese trade talks are progressing but in fact, there are signs of an escalating standoff between Beijing and Washington, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Ricardo Hausmann, who has the support of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, was supposed to represent the country at a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank scheduled to take place in China on March 28-31. The media pointed out that it would mean that the development bank was the first international organization to recognize a representative of the Venezuelan opposition. However, Beijing refused to issue a visa to Hausmann. In response, the US vowed to disrupt the meeting. Eventually, the bank decided to cancel the China event.
However, some experts believe that the disrupted meeting will not affect the prospects for a possible trade agreement between the United States and China. "This is a purely foreign policy issue, since regular political disagreements between the US and China have never impacted trade cooperation. For instance, within the United Nations Security Council, the US and China frequently take totally different stances on issues regarding Russia, Israel, the Middle East, and North Korea. But it has never affected the two countries’ economic ‘friendship’," Senior Analyst at the Alpari Center Vadim Iosub pointed out.
There is far more at stake in China-US trade ties than there is in Venezuela, said Sergei Khestanov, an associate professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. "In other words, a trade agreement is so much more important that it is possible to sacrifice all of Venezuela. These disagreements are incomparable," he noted.
According to Department Chair at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics Elena Ustyuzhanina, an agreement won’t be signed in the near future and talks will continue. "Given the mounting sanctions that everyone has been imposing on others and the restoration of policies aimed at strengthening customs barriers, we can say that a new era of economic wars is dawning," the expert emphasized.
Media: Russians see some prospects for online elections
Russians’ interest in online voting has been growing. According to the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center, nearly half of those surveyed are ready to use the Internet to cast their ballots, Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote. The number of Russians saying that those who wish to vote online should be given an opportunity to do so has increased to 47% compared to 34% in 2018. However, 50% of the respondents are still reluctant to put their trust into online voting. In this regard, 75% cited fears about tampering.
According to All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center Director General Valery Fyodorov, the figures show that the number of Internet users has been growing in Russia. At the same time, he noted that "a lack of confidence in the fairness and safety of voting procedures is still there, no matter if votes are cast in person or online." "However, a large number of those surveyed - about one-quarter of them, or more than 27 mln people - are ready to test this option. Predictably, the youth stand at the forefront in this regard, for the Internet is part of their everyday life - an area where they prefer to carry out not only their daily activities but political ones as well," he added.
Meanwhile, some experts believe that since confidence in the authorities and the election system is on the decline, it is important for Russia to raise voter turnout. It seems the government is in a hurry to test the remote voting system in several pilot regions in 2019-2020 in order to widely introduce it ahead of the 2021 parliamentary election, member of the Golos movement’s Council Akrady Lyubarev said. In Moscow, the experiment is likely to turn out clean but in other regions, pressure on voters and vote-count tampering cannot be ruled out. The government seeks to simulate attempts to resolve key issues that the Russian election system faces, including local election commissions’ dependence on regional authorities, political scientist Alexander Kynev pointed out.
Kommersant: LNG prospects for Europe
Gas prices continue to decline in the wake of a warm winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the launch of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities. For the first time in the past three and a half years, LNG spot prices in Asia are lower than those in Europe. This means that large amounts of LNG may come to Europe not only from the US, but also from Qatar, challenging Russian gas, Kommersant notes.
Competing with LNG may hold back Gazprom from once again hitting last year’s record gas supply figures. According to Vygon Consulting’s Yekaterina Kolbikova, Europe imported 6.3 mln tonnes of LNG in February, compared to 3.3 mln tonnes last year. However, in the expert’s view, Qatar won’t be able to significantly increase gas supplies to Europe because of routine maintenance at its gas facilities.
Meanwhile, large new facilities are expected to be launched in the United States and Australia later in the year, which will take LNG production up by 46 bln cubic meters. Given the current princes, the supply of US LNG to any market is unprofitable, yet companies still benefit from supplying gas to Europe, because this way, they face less losses than if they stop using their plants’ capacities.
However, Kolbikova pointed out that the recent decline in gas prices "is likely to be seasonal." She pointed out that in March 2018, the gas price differential between Europe and Asia had dropped to almost zero but actual prices were higher.
In the meantime, the European Union is skeptical about the prospects for growing US LNG imports. According to the European Commission, US LNG supplies to Europe will more than double by 2023, reaching eight bln cubic meters, which amounts to just 1.6% of the EU’s consumption compared to Gazprom’s 37%. That said, the Europeans expect Russian gas to occupy the EU market niche of 30 bln to 40 bln cubic meters, which will emerge in the wake of declining gas production in Europe. So putting up more LNG terminals in Europe does not run counter to this concept because another Russian gas producer, Novatek, has been actively using them to supply gas to the EU.
Izvestia: Russia’s luxury limo struggling to get access to European markets
The future of Aurus, Russia’s first luxury car manufacturer, on global markets is uncertain. Izvestia have found out that Toyota, Lamborghini and Michelin have filed protests with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) against the Russian brand’s patent application, claiming that the brand’s name is similar to the names of their already existing brands. Toyota produces the Auris hatchback, Lamborghini makes the Urus luxury SUV and the tire giant Michelin has a sub-brand called Taurus. There is a risk that the Aurus will have to be renamed to get access to the European Union’s market, experts said.
"In January 2019, the Aurus brand was registered by the Benelux patent agency, and in March 2019, it was registered in Latvia and Lithuania. These procedures include the possibility of challenging the registration of trademarks. It is a global practice in the intellectual property area," the press service of Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade told the newspaper.
"There may be some distinctions: for instance, the Aurus will be for sale in Switzerland but not in Spain. Though rebranding is the most obvious option," a source close to the Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engines Institute, the Aurus vehicles’ developer, told Izvestia.
"What plays against the Aurus is a total lack of brand reputation. They are not yet associated with a company manufacturing certain luxury cars," said Dmitry Markanov, a trademark attorney at Patentus.
However, experts agree that there is still a possibility to register the Aurus brand in the European Union. Russian lawyers will put forward the argument that the Auris, Urus and Taurus brands had normally coexisted on the EU market before the new brand emerged.
But even if the Aurus will not be brought to the European Union’s market in the near future, nothing fatal will happen, independent motor industry expert Sergei Burgazliyev noted. According to his estimates, in the coming two to three years, only a few Aurus cars will be sold on foreign markets. Among the major obstacles holding back demand for the Aurus from rising are a lack of brand history, a maintenance and dealership network, as well as of a specific range of spare parts.