Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, July 4, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Rouhani warns Tehran could ditch more nuke commitments in days
Iran has issued an ultimatum to the European Union and the United States, saying that it should be able to export oil, have investment guarantees, freedom of navigation and air traffic. Otherwise, it will reboot the Arak reactor to levels, where plutonium production would be possible, Kommersant writes. Brussels and Washington will have to respond by July 7.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stressed that Tehran’s decision to suspend part of its commitments was just a response to Washington’s withdrawal from the accord and the EU’s failure to keep its promises.
"Iran’s statements do not mean that it is going to start making a nuclear bomb right now, if at all. However, considering the global community’s concerns regarding Tehran’s ambitions and its technical capabilities, Rouhani’s threats are quite serious," Yulia Sveshnikova, Research Fellow at the Higher School of Economics, told the paper.
Tehran stressed that it is the US, not Iran, that is playing with fire. However, the Iranians understand that it is pointless to urge Washington to sit down at the negotiating table. Therefore, their statements are addressed primarily to the European Union, which is still trying to prevent Tehran from quitting the deal. Last Friday, the EU announced the launch of its INSTEX financial mechanism for trade with Iran. At the same time, it announced plans to invite operators from third countries, including Russia, to join it. However, Moscow has received no formal invitation so far.
Most likely, the Europeans did not expect Iran to begin acting so quickly, Nikolai Kozhanov, Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, explained to Kommersant. "In practice, it is very difficult to make INSTEX work the way the Iranians and their partners want," he stressed.
According to the expert, there are few people who are willing to run the risk of being sanctioned by the US. "It is unclear whether European companies will be ready to work under that scheme. Anyway, expanding the list of INSTEX participants is one of the few measures that could make that mechanism work. Those Europeans who did not want to work for Russia fearing political repercussions have no other options now," he added.
Vedomosti: Putin to meet with Pope Francis for the third time
Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Italy and Vatican City on July 4 where he will meet with Pope Francis, the Kremlin said. The two met in 2013 and 2015, Vedomosti recalls. Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov noted that after the historic 2016 meeting between the Roman Catholic pontiff and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, relations between the two churches had reached a new level.
However, when asked whether the president would extend an invitation to the Pope to visit Russia, he answered in the negative.
The Russian Orthodox Church is not discussing any potential visit to Russia by the Pope under any status, the paper quotes the Russian patriarch’s spokesman Alexander Volkov as saying. "Our stance is that the Pope’s visit seems to be impossible now from the standpoint of the Russian Orthodox Church. A visit to Russia means a visit to the Russian Orthodox Church’s canonical space, and we see no sufficient conditions for it."
In general, the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, as well Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis, maintain a good working relationship on a number of issues, and the possibility or the impossibility of a visit does not affect the nature of these relations, he added.
The Russian Orthodox Church does not consent to the pontiff’s visit due to the fact that there are quite a few very conservative people there who do not want that, says political scientist Alexei Makarkin. If it were not for that, Patriarch Kirill would have probably invited the pontiff to Russia, he noted.
There are essential reasons, which make such a visit impossible now, the paper quotes Roman Lunkin, a scholar on religion, as saying. Irreconcilable differences between the two churches, primarily on the Uniates in Ukraine, persist, he pointed out.
"Secondly, there is even a more powerful factor, the inter-church political one. If a potential visit was announced, the conservative forces within the Russian Orthodox Church would accuse it of ecumenism, modernism and the desire to forge an alliance with the Catholic Church," the expert explained.
"The president will meet with Pope Francis as a Christian traditionalist leader. Russia's diplomatic stances and the Vatican's coincide on many issues. These include the condemnation of outside interference in Venezuela, support for the Minsk accords and on the situation in Syria," said Lunkin.
Izvestia: INF can become history in early August, says senior Russian diplomat
NATO is not taking the INF issue off the agenda, asserting that it is up to Moscow to take certain steps to rescue the accord, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Izvestia. "This is nothing more than a PR stunt, a ruse aimed at pinning the responsibility for the collapse of the deal on us. After the US launches the procedure to pull out of the accord, which will end on August 2, I see no prospects whatsoever to turn the clock back," he emphasized.
"If a miracle happens, and the Americans are ready for a substantive dialogue about our complaints regarding their failure to duly comply with the treaty and discuss once again, in detail and professionally, the situation involving the 9M729 missiles, then some changes will be possible. However, we see no signs of that in the stance of the US and its NATO allies. The INF treaty is likely to become a thing of the past in early August," he pointed out.
He noted that the domestic situation in the US showed no signs of improvement, as far as relations with Moscow are concerned. "Anti-Russian Congressional members continue to generate various initiatives and demand various kinds of steps from the executive branch, which would make it even more difficult to improve the atmosphere between Moscow and Washington.
Moreover, the US has embarked on the election campaign, and the fact that the so-called Russian interference in the previous elections is mentioned all the time suggests that these efforts will persist. We have been working with the Americans in such an environment for several years, and we are ready for any twists and turns," Ryabkov explained.
He stressed, however, that the Russian-US summit in Osaka was quite positive. "The two leaders actually discussed the entire agenda during their direct contact. As for the areas, in which progress is possible, I would single out strategic stability and arms control. We are gearing up for launching substantive work in the near future," the diplomat explained.
Referring to bilateral ties, he noted that the trade turnover between the two countries did not exceed $25 bln last year, and Washington seems to realize that this is abnormal. "US businesspeople know from their own experience that there are opportunities for productive work in Russia.
European and Asian firms, which have been present here for a long time, have a considerable interest in expanding cooperation with Russian companies and increasing investment in Russia’s economy. The Americans need to make up for lost time in order to keep up with their competitors. I believe the governments’ role is to help or, at least, not to make this process less complicated," he concluded.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Expert slams new EU top job picks as ‘German-French collusion’
After several days of intense talks in Brussels, the EU heads of state and government have been able to agree on candidates for the top positions in the European Union. The fact that the politicians mostly known in their country were nominated for these top jobs, came as a shock to Europeans, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
"The people who went to the polling stations in all European countries were promised that this time the decision would be democratic, not bureaucratic. However, in reality, there was no democratic decision," German political scientist and Research Director of the German-Russian Forum Alexander Rahr told the paper. Everything indicates that the EU is not becoming more democratic, and the heads of national governments rather than European institutions lead the parade, the expert stressed.
"This is German-French collusion - to nominate suitable people for the top positions, whom no one expected to see holding these posts," he noted. According to Rahr, the new top officials will obey the will of countries’ leaders during their tenure. "There will be no movement towards a democratically new political alliance in the form of the United States of Europe. The EU is deeply divided, so it will be more difficult to make decisions than before, he warned.
In his view, Berlin and Paris, which actually divided power between themselves, are trying to retain control over the European processes. However, this is not easy for them, since a very strong and open opposition consisting of Poland, Hungary and Italy is being created.
Speaking about what Moscow should expect from the EU top job nominations, the expert explained that Ursula von der Leyen who will become the European Commission president, and Christine Lagarde who will head the European Central Bank are strongly committed to Transatlantic views.
"Von der Leyen is one of those politicians in the German Cabinet who is known for her critical stance on Russia. Of course, she will not be the only one to determine the course towards Moscow. She may change her stance, the way many politicians do. However, for the time being, I think it’s not worth hoping that something will improve under the new composition of the EU leadership. One cannot expect anything good in terms of either developing the idea of creating a single economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok or lifting sanctions," he explained.
Kommersant: Russia’s Gazprom returns to Turkmenistan
Russia’s Gazprom energy giant, which promised to export at least 200 bln cubic meters of gas per year to Europe, has signed a contract to purchase Turkmen gas in the amount of 5.5 bln cubic meters annually. A source in Gazprom explained to Kommersant that this gas would become part of the company’s overall portfolio.
Prior to that, Gazprom did not buy gas from Turkmenistan, terminating a 25-year contract in early 2016 due to price disputes.
At that time, Russia purchased about 10 bln cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan. However, due to falling prices in Europe and the availability of its own production capacity, Turkmen gas was no longer needed in such volumes.
Gazprom will be able to export gas volumes purchased in Turkmenistan duty free, the paper quotes Maria Belova of Vygon Consulting as saying. She noted that Gazprom could need these volumes to optimize gas supplies in Russia’s regions. Besides, taking into account the fact that under the previous "contract of the century" between Russia and Turkmenistan, the volumes of gas purchased by Gazprom were expected to reach 70-80 bln cubic meters, it would be possible to develop cooperation for the supply of that gas to third countries, the expert said.