Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, May 16, prepared by TASS
Vedomosti: Chances for new Putin-Trump meeting on the rise
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that he was ready for a new meeting with his US counterpart Donald Trump. "As far as I understand, my nearest chance to meet with the US president will be at the G20 summit in Japan," Putin told reporters, Vedomosti writes.
On Tuesday, Putin received US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who informed him of Trump’s willingness to meet with the Russian president, Kremlin Aide Yuri Ushakov said. According to him, Moscow "picked up" Trump’s signal. "We said we were ready for contacts, we can hold either a brief or a more substantive conversation. Everything depends on our American partners’ attitude," Ushakov noted.
The Russian leader and the US Secretary of State discussed the situations on the Korean Peninsula, in Afghanistan, Venezuela, Iran and Syria among other things. Pompeo’s visit led to no breakthrough in the relationship between Russia and the United States, but "Washington’s business-like approach became clear" and the parties confirmed their readiness to "start building relations," Ushakov pointed out. There was no news about any specific agreements though. Putin once again emphasized the need to launch talks on extending New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) and Pompeo was positive about the chance to prolong the document. However, Under Secretary of State Andrea Thompson specified later that the US administration was only considering the possibility of prolonging the deal.
An agreement on the New START treaty could be the only real result of a meeting between Putin and Trump if such a meeting takes place, said Program Director at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Ivan Timofeyev.
According to him, it is also possible that at such a meeting, the two presidents will just announce an intention to extend the treaty, while reaching an agreement on the document’s settings following its 2021 expiration that will require a large amount of preparatory work. At the same time, both the Trump administration and Congress are willing to discuss the New START’s extension, Timofeyev pointed out. He noted that two bills calling for the prolongation of the treaty had been put forward in the past two months. However, a meeting between Putin and Trump would most likely turn out to be a conversation on the sidelines of an event rather than a full-fledged summit, the expert said.
Izvestia: Russia and Austria boost trade despite sanctions
Increasing Russian-Austrian cooperation can play a key role in improving relations between Moscow and Brussels. It is important not only for Europe’s economic development but also for efforts to strengthen global security and political stability, Russian and Austrian politicians told Izvestia, commenting on the Sochi talks between Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Alexander Van der Bellen of Austria.
The parties discussed progress in economic cooperation, the Iran nuclear deal and the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project. Putin pointed out that bilateral trade had grown by more than 40% in 2018, reaching nearly $6 bln. The two countries actively cooperate in the energy sector. Moscow appreciates Vienna’s consistent stance on Nord Stream 2, which hasn’t been affected by Washington’s pressure and attempts to stall the project. Sanctions were also touched upon at the talks: EU member states have lost "tens of billions of euro" in the wake of the restrictions, while Russia is facing less damage, Putin emphasized. Van der Bellen agreed that the sanctions had a negative effect on all parties.
Regular dialogue between Vienna and Moscow is very important, particularly in today’s unstable global environment, said Austrian MP Hans-Jorg Jenewein. "There is years-long friendship between our countries. If Austria proves capable of taking specific steps to improve relations between Europe and Russia, then it will be a great success because increasing economic cooperation between EU countries and Russia will benefit everyone," he told Izvestia.
Indeed, Austria can become a bridge between Russia and the European Union, Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee Alexei Chepa noted.
"Vienna’s position is quite balanced, it doesn’t share the overtly Russophobic policy pursued by some countries. Cooperation with the EU is necessary for the region’s development, as well as for efforts to strengthen global security and political stability," the Russian lawmaker told the newspaper. "Brussels must understand that the policy of sanctions leads nowhere," he pointed out.
Kommersant: SCO members deem terrorism as major threat
The activities of radical groups pose a security threat to the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and terrorists see them as breeding grounds "to recruit new members and spread their ideas," Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said at a meeting with his counterparts form SCO member states, held in Kyrgyzstan, Kommersant writes.
The Russian delegation’s head and other speakers focused on the issue of terrorism. Patrushev pointed to the threat emanating from foreign militants who return from combat zones to their home countries or move to third countries. The meeting’s participants adopted a final statement highlighting the importance of creating a united global front against terrorism, the illegitimacy of meddling in the domestic affairs of countries using counter-terrorism as an excuse, the unacceptability of using terrorist, extremist and radical groups for one’s own purposes and the need to combat the spread of terrorist ideas online.
"The fight against terrorism is the SCO’s priority at the moment," Director of the Asian Security Project at the PIR Center Vadim Kozyulin told the paper. "There also is the potential for resolving the Afghan crisis. The SCO is the most appropriate platform for such efforts because Afghanistan is surrounded by SCO member states and all of them are interested in finding a solution," the expert pointed out. The idea that the SCO should play a key role in resolving the Afghan issue "hasn’t been clarified yet" but sooner or later it will come under consideration, Kozyulin added.
The SCO’s June summit will make it clear what the odds are to unlock this potential. Kyrgyz political scientist Igor Shestakov told the paper that it was very important for President Sooronbay Jeenbekov to make sure the upcoming summit was as fruitful as possible. "This is why Kyrgyzstan will put forward projects concerning two main areas of the SCO’s activities: the economy - which will particularly concern the construction of a railway line connecting China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan - and regional security," the expert said. "The fighting in Afghanistan has approached the borders of Central Asian countries, 15,000 to 20,000 militants have amassed in the area. Perhaps, Bishkek will also suggest discussing a roadmap for resolving the border conflicts between India and Pakistan," Shestakov added.
Kommersant: US-Iran animosity rattles oil market
A sharp rise in tensions between Iran and the United States may lead to a new conflict in the Middle East. That said, uncertainty is increasing on the oil market, Kommersant notes.
The US administration is beefing up its military presence in the region and has urged Americans in Middle East countries to stay alert. According to the media, the US suspects that Iran was behind Sunday’s sabotage attacks on tankers in the United Arab Emirates’ exclusive economic zone that spiked oil prices. At the same time, the Iranian leadership is determined to pursue a rigorous policy based on efforts to skirt sanctions, strengthen the armed forces and promote Tehran’s interests in the region.
Washington’s sanctions against Iranian oil importers add to the market’s uncertainty. On May 15, the International Energy Agency predicted that in the wake of the US’ sanctions, Iran’s oil production would drop to record lows on par with the period following the Iran-Iraq War. Being unable to increase its oil exports, Tehran would like to see oil prices jump as high as possible.
"I don’t think Iran could go for a sabotage attack on the tankers to make prices rise because Tehran itself can come under attack," Professor Vladimir Sazhin, a Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told the paper. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility that some forces in Iran might opt for escalating tensions as the US was playing into their hands.
The expert pointed out that in April, Tehran had labelled the US Central Command a terrorist organization in response to a similar decision by Washington concerning Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
"In fact, the Iranians have legitimized the fight against the US military that they now consider to be a terrorist force. It was Washington that provoked a spike in tensions in the region. It all began a year ago, when the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The situation has only worsened since then," Sazhin said. "There will be no big war between the US and Iran but that doesn’t mean that an incident won’t escalate the conflict," the expert emphasized.
Izvestia: Russian MP says no need for reciprocal response to Kiev’s new sanctions
After taking the reins of power, the incoming presidential administration in Kiev needs to remove all sanctions against Russia since they chiefly hurt the Ukrainian people, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Viktor Vodolatsky told Izvestia. On May 15, news emerged that Kiev was imposing new sanctions on Russia, including a ban on the supply of certain goods and special tariffs on Russian imports.
"Clearly, by making such decisions, the outgoing Ukrainian cabinet seeks to benefit from companies that will enter the country’s market to replace Russian companies, though their goods will be much more expensive than Russia’s. However, I am sure that after the inauguration [of the new president] takes place and a new government is formed, all these decisions will be overturned for the sake of the Ukrainian people. We should refrain from taking retaliatory measures now," the lawmaker pointed out.
Although Ukraine’s wish to launch the production of domestic goods in areas where Russian companies are facing restrictions is commendable, Kiev lacks the ability to do it.
"Ukraine has almost no resources to set up new plants and upgrade its existing ones. On the one hand, from a political standpoint, this decision is understandable but like most ideas of this kind, it will affect the country’s economy," said Institute for Peace-Building and Conflict Research Director Denis Denisov.
Despite a rise in tensions between the two countries, Russia still has an important role in Ukraine’s economy. According to Russia’s Federal Customs Service, the country’s exports to Ukraine reached $9.5 bln in 2018. In the first two months of 2019, exports stood at $1.3 bln. As many as 49% of Russia’s export goods are mineral commodities, including oil and petroleum products.