Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, November 18, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Moscow calls for giving substance to Normandy Four summit
Russian warships and helicopters will accompany Ukraine’s Nikopol and Berdyansk small armored vessels and the Yany Kapu tugboat until they leave Russia’s territorial waters, Izvestia’s sources in the Russian Defense Ministry said. The vessels’ handover comes amid preparations for a Normandy Quartet summit.
Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (parliament) member representing the Opposition Platform - For Life party Alexander Ponomaryov believes that Russia’s move to return the Ukrainian ships can only be viewed as a positive development. "A wall of mistrust can be taken down brick by brick. It is impossible to overcome everything that has happened over the past years in one move. All parties need to show goodwill to do it," the lawmaker told Izvestia.
Meanwhile, preparations continue for a summit of the Normandy Four. France, Ukraine and Germany announced on November 15 that the event would take place on December 9. However, Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev noted that such meetings should not depend on a specific date.
"Understanding what the summit may lead to is the most important thing… In other words, giving substance to the Normandy summit and making sure that it has specific results is the key task," the senator told the paper.
The Paris meeting is unlikely to produce any breakthrough decisions but it is still possible to break the deadlock in the Donbass talks, said Ukrainian politician Vladimir Fesenko, the head of the Penta Center for Applied Political Studies. In his view, compromises could be made on a number of issues, first and foremost, on establishing zones for further disengagement of forces and resuming efforts to develop a roadmap to implement the Minsk Agreements.
Kommersant: Israel, US fail to consider their position carefully, says Russian envoy
On November 18, a United Nations conference on establishing a Middle East zone free of WMDs will kick off in New York on November 18. States that are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty agreed to create such a zone back in 1995, with Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom moving to act as guarantors. However, the US will not participate in the conference. Russia’s Permanent Envoy to the Vienna-based international organizations Mikhail Ulyanov, who heads the country’s delegation, explained in an interview with Kommersant why Moscow had decided to take part in the event.
According to him, "if efforts to reduce tensions around plans to create a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction prove to be successful, it will ease the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s operation." Ulyanov believes that Israel and the US, who plan to boycott the conference, have failed to "consider their position carefully." "Had Israel participated in the process, it would have been able to actually control and ban disagreeable issues. But since the Israelis won’t be there, others will decide what to include in an agreement. I doubt that it is in line with Israel’s interests," the Russian diplomat pointed out. However, he did not rule out that the Israelis would change their position later as the process of making an agreement would take a long time.
When speaking about the conference’s importance for Russia, Ulyanov emphasized that "the creation of such a zone would contribute much to strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation system, which is consistent with Russia’s national interests." "Our honest and open position on the establishment of a zone like this enhances Russia’s credibility in the Middle East. At the same time, we are not at odds with Israel. We aren’t in any tense discussion on the matter with the Israelis. They understand that we do what we do because we are the guarantors of the 1995 decision and we care about nuclear non-proliferation," the Russian envoy noted.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia won’t see losses from Bolivia’s unrest
At least 23 people have died and 715 suffered injuries since Bolivia descended into political turmoil, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said. Former President Evo Morales said he was ready to return to the country if the parliament failed to approve his resignation. Meanwhile, experts believe that Russia won’t lose anything from a change in Bolivia’s government, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.
According to Head of the Center for Political Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Latin American Studies Zbignev Ivanovsky, holding elections would be the only way out of the Bolivian political crisis, but it is not an easy task given "the need to check voter lists, change the Central Election Commission’s members, register candidates, and put an end to the violence."
Chief of the Institute’s Center for Economic Research Lyudmila Simonova, in turn, pointed out that "Russia won’t lose anything from the power shift in Bolivia." "Bolivia’s authorities — no matter who ends up in charge of the country — are interested in foreign investment and cooperation with us because we are active there not for political, but for economic reasons, and we are quite competitive in the spheres where we work," she explained. First of all, this concerns lithium production, since Bolivia has the world's richest lithium resources. Russia has some prospects in this regard. "All of our major rivals are already active on the country’s market. In particular, France, Italy, Germany and China have created joint ventures to produce lithium and manufacture components for lithium batteries," Simonova said. According to her, as for new players, only the United States may enter Bolivia.
Moscow is also participating in creating a nuclear research and technology center in the Latin American country. Cooperation in the gas industry is underway. However, overall trade between our countries is small and the prospects there depend on how fast the political situation in Bolivia is returned to normal, the expert emphasized.
Izvestia: Russia, Cuba seek to trade in national currencies
Moscow plans to shift to national currencies in trade with Cuba. Both countries’ intergovernmental commissions and central banks are actively discussing these plans, sources familiar with the situation told Izvestia. According to them, the Russian ruble will be the main currency, while the Russian Central Bank’s System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) will become a platform for payments that could be processed by Sberbank. The lack of rubles in Cuba is the primary hurdle but it could be overcome by providing the country with ruble loans for purchasing Russian goods.
It is hard to trade with Cuba given the sanctions on the country because Havana cannot use the US dollar. At the same time, both Russia and Cuba are interested in boosting trade, a business community source told the newspaper.
Cuba’s economy largely depends on Russian exports so it will be fair to start using the ruble in some export payments, National Payment Council Board Chairperson Alma Obayeva pointed out. The Cuban peso is extremely unlikely to attract Russian banks because the currency is irrelevant on the global market.
In order to boost the efficiency of payments, it would be reasonable to use a more universal solution, that is, some clearing and payment unit that would be tied to a basket of currencies or gold, said Director of the Center for Financial Policy and Markets at the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Andrei Lisitsyn. Such a mechanism would make it possible for both parties to reduce risks from the volatility of their national currencies, the expert added.
Vedomosti: Poland declines to extend contract with Gazprom
Poland’s state-run oil and gas company PGNiG has informed Russia’s Gazprom about its intention to end Russian gas purchases once the existing contract expires in 2022. Poland is the seventh largest consumer of Russian gas in addition to being the largest one in Central Europe, with Gazprom fulfilling over 60% of the country’s gas import needs (9.9 bln cubic meters). However, PGNiG has repeatedly expressed its desire to reduce its dependency on Russian gas supplies, citing energy security issues, Vedomosti notes.
At first glance, it is clear that after the contract with Gazprom expires, Poland will be able to meet its needs by using LNG and Norwegian natural gas, since PGNiG has shares in gas deposits on Norway’s continental shelf, said Sergei Kapitonov, a gas analyst at the Energy Center of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo. However, PGNiG plans to develop an LNG trade section so there are no guarantees that all the LNG will be placed on the domestic market.
There is huge potential for a surge in gas demand in Poland, Kapitonov points out, adding that according to a forecast by Poland’s Gaz-System, the country’s gas consumption may reach 27 bln cubic meters by 2023. PGNiG can potentially produce 2.5 bln cubic meters of gas on Norway’s continental shelf every year after 2022, when the construction of the Baltic Pipe maritime gas pipeline is planned to be completed, the expert noted. According to estimates, the Baltic Pipe project will annually provide up to ten bln cubic meters of Norwegian gas to Poland starting in 2022-2023, but the amount of gas PGNiG will produce won’t be enough to fill the pipeline.
Kapitonov believes that it is too early to shut the door on Gazprom’s cooperation with Poland. "The history of their cooperation and conflicts is one of the longest in Europe. Apart from gas supplies, it also concerns Russian gas transit, which will go on even if Gazprom stops providing gas to Poland. Poland has made it clear that the ball is in Gazprom’s court and it will have to win the market once again but this time, on buyer’s terms," the expert said.