Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, February 14, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: New START negotiations remain stalled
According to US President Donald Trump's National Security Advisor Robert C. O'Brien, Washington and Moscow will soon start meaningful talks on disarmament issues. The United States demands that Russia put pressure on China to make it join the negotiations though Washington has not yet presented even a blueprint of a future trilateral agreement. Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that Beijing’s participation in New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) seems impossible at the moment because China has much less strategic weapons than Russia and the US, while talks need to be launched on more or less equal terms.
"Beijing has taken a position of principle; it will not join the treaty unless Russia and the US reduce their arsenals to a level close to that of China," Leading Researcher with the Institute of International Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Viktor Mizin explained.
According to Andrey Zagorsky, who heads the Department of Disarmament and Conflict Resolution Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, in order to encourage more countries to cut their arsenals, the disarmament process needs to be made more transparent. However, there are not enough discussions on this score. If another next round of arms reductions ever takes place, it will involve only Russia and the US, the expert pointed out.
"New START is one of the most important and, unfortunately, one of the last agreements that not only regulate the amount of weapons but also provides for certain stability in Russia-US relations," former Russian Ambassador to Washington Sergei Kislyak told the newspaper. "This is why we are ready to extend it. The US, however, doesn’t have a clear view on the matter. It has been maneuvering, speaking about the need to engage China, though Beijing has already refused to do it," he added.
Attempts to bring other countries into the fold would not mean that the existing document must be ditched, Zagorsky noted. It is important to extend the current New START because it has a lot of crucial elements, including a system of mutual verification, the expert emphasized.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Erdogan testing Russia’s patience
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has stated that Ankara is sending additional troops to Syria’s Idlib. The province has become a scene of clashes between Turkish troops and Assad’s army. Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that Ankara is ready to brush aside the Sochi agreements, which provide for the establishment of a demilitarized zone in Idlib, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.
Erdogan earlier accused "the Syrian regime, supported by Russian forces and pro-Iranian militants" of killing civilians in Idlib. In fact, he put forward an ultimatum: Syrian troops must leave the Idlib de-escalation zone or the Turks will drive them out regardless of the Sochi agreements. On February 12, Erdogan held a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but since the Turks have decided to send troops to Idlib, Moscow apparently failed to talk Ankara out of taking action.
The Turkish leader must be encouraged by Washington. US Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS James Jeffrey visited Turkey earlier in the week. He was confident that the parties would manage to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict but at the same time, the US envoy pointed out that Washington was ready to provide Ankara with intelligence and supply military equipment. NATO has also expressed support for Erdogan.
Senior Lecturer at the Higher School of Economics' School of Oriental Studies Andrei Chuprygin stated that Ankara does not expect Moscow to take a tough anti-Turkish stance in Idlib.
"In my view, Turkey’s activities in Idlib are akin to a nervous reaction to Erdogan’s failures in other areas, particularly in Libya and efforts to resolve the Syrian refugee dilemma in Turkey. He promised the moon to his voters but fulfilled few of them. Erdogan said that he would resettle refugees in Syria’s safety zones but it was clear from the start that it was impossible. So now he is looking for someone to blame," the expert pointed out.
Media: Putin calls for making Russian Constitution consistent with today’s challenges
A nationwide vote on amendments to the Russian Constitution will take place on a weekday that will be declared a day off. President Vladimir Putin has supported the idea at a meeting with members of his working group responsible for drawing up constitutional amendments. Many interesting initiatives were put forward at the meeting, Izvestia wrote.
One of the most striking proposals came from Senator Alexei Pushkov, who suggested that Russia’s status as a victor of WWII be enshrined in the Constitution’s Preamble.
"This is the Basic Law of the Russian Federation. It is not a priority for us to be concerned about how others will view it," Pushkov told the newspaper. "Enshrining the status of a victorious power will in no way harm the interests of other countries. It will just reflect a generally accepted fact," he noted. By enshrining its status in the Constitution, Russia will pay tribute to the memory of 27 mln people who gave their lives for this victory, the senator pointed out. "Besides, we will thwart attempts to rewrite history and blame us for starting the war," Pushkov stressed.
Not all initiatives will find their way into the Constitution, Izvestia quoted State Duma member Irina Rodnina as saying. According to her, work still continues and it is too early to draw any final conclusions.
The meeting focused on social and ideological amendments, while matters concerning the balance of power and government competences received little attention, Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research Director Dmitry Badovsky told Vedomosti. "Accordingly, one can assume that the work on amendments regarding the organization of government is largely completed and what the State Duma’s committee has prepared will be included in the projected bill," he said.
As for other amendments, the social ones have the best chances to be accepted, those that concern cost-of-living adjustments in wages, family and youth policy, the role of science and culture, environmental agenda and the volunteer movement, the expert said. "All these amendments may encourage people of various social groups to participate in the nationwide vote and support this constitutional reform," Badovsky emphasized.
Izvestia: Russian physicians evaluate new method to diagnose novel coronavirus
The use of a new method to diagnose COVID-19, which raised the amount of people infected in China by one-third on the morning of February 13, will reduce the accuracy of diagnoses, Russian scientists say. China’s National Health Commission attributed the surge in coronavirus cases to the new diagnostic method, Izvestia notes.
According to the National Health Commission, from now on, COVID-19 cases will include patients diagnosed through clinical methods - by health symptoms, the clinical picture and a computed tomography of the lungs. It means that diagnoses will be made before conducting laboratory tests based on the polymerase chain reaction. Chinese medics are confident that it will make it possible to start treating patients in the earliest stages of the disease.
Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University Vladimir Nikiforov believes that when doctors deal with the coronavirus, they must not limit themselves to using only computed tomography because it is impossible to identify the coronavirus this way. Accordingly, the number of patients will now soar in China and many incorrect diagnoses will be made. "For instance, H1N1 (the swine flu virus) can be mistaken for the coronavirus, as well as a number of other respiratory infections," Nikiforov pointed out.
Director General of the Medical Information Solutions company Konstantin Khomanov was also doubtful that lung specialists, TB doctors and general practitioners would be able to determine from the results of radiological diagnostic tests that their patients had the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, according to a poll carried out by the Spravochnik Vracha (or Doctor’s Guide) mobile app, Russian medics don’t see clearly how to deal with the new virus. As many as 75% of the surveyed infection disease specialists and virologists said they did not have the necessary diagnostic equipment to identify COVID-19. At the same time, half of them believe that Russia is facing a threat from the coronavirus epidemic.
Kommersant: Gazprom eyes renewed gas contracts with Europe
Gazprom is looking forward to renewing a number of long-term contracts with European consumers, which will expire in 2021-2024. The company’s contracts with the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Serbia, Italy, Turkey and Hungary will expire during this period. Experts say, though, that talks on gas prices and the conditions of renewed contracts will be tough given rising LNG sales, Kommersant notes.
Gazprom’s biggest European contract - the one with the WIEH gas-trading company - expires in 2023. Germany’s Wintershall used to own half of the company, while Gazprom owned the other half, but now the Russian gas company is the sole owner of the trade intermediary, so there is no doubt that the contract will be renewed. However, it remains unclear if Gazprom’s contract with Poland’s PGNiG will be extended after 2022. The Polish authorities have stated that they did not plan to continue purchasing Russian gas. Warsaw intends to replace it with Norwegian gas supplied through the Baltic Pipe gas pipeline and US liquefied natural gas. Meanwhile, Gazprom has already extended its biggest European contracts with Italy’s Eni and Germany’s Uniper to 2035-2036.
Gazprom plans not only to renew old contracts but also to ensure additional gas supplies to Europe. The company expects gas supplies to non-post Soviet countries to grow by 34% compared to 2019, reaching 199.8 bln cubic meters.
Sergei Kapitonov, a gas analyst at the Energy Center of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo points out that for the past several years, Gazprom has been taking advantage of Europe’s need for additional gas supplies, raising its exports by nearly 50 bln cubic meters in five years. The increase came from the existing contracts, while agreements for additional gas supplies were made in rare cases. However, gas prices have dropped in the past years, while European countries have increased LNG exports, so their negotiations with Gazprom on new contracts will be tough, the expert said.