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Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, February 17, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Russia, Turkey fail to strike deal on Syria’s Idlib
Moscow and Ankara have not yet reached an agreement on Syria’s Idlib and are working towards a deal, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Izvestia on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. Ankara hopes that the document on the Idlib zone will be finalized after the Turkish delegation’s visit to Moscow on Monday.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that Moscow had great expectations over the second round of negotiations. "Russia will hold thorough, meaningful talks. And we certainly hope that they will bear fruit," the diplomat stressed.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said the exact date and venue of the next Astana summit had not yet been agreed on and this would be discussed during Monday’s meeting. Earlier, Erdogan said the summit could take place this March.
The previous round of talks between Russia and Turkey, which was held in Ankara last week, failed to yield any significant results. Cavusoglu said Turkey was actively cooperating with Russia and the outcome of this endeavor would be known on Monday after the two delegations meet. "We should not let the Syrian issue debase our cooperation and affect our relations. That’s why we are continuing the talks," he noted.
This statement came amid Saturday’s threats by the Turkish leader against Damascus. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that unless Assad withdrew his forces from the border defined in the Sochi agreement, Turkey would do the job before the end of February.
The top Turkish diplomat noted that Monday’s meeting in Moscow would show whether the two presidents should hold the next meeting.
Media: Libya’s rival leaders likely to meet soon
Moscow believes that Libyan National Army (LNA) Commander Khalifa Haftar and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj could meet in the near future. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Izvestia that it was important to pursue three settlement tracks: a ceasefire, political dialogue and solving economic issues. Moscow believes these are all interconnected and therefore it is important to make progress on these issues simultaneously. Besides, all parties need to understand Libya’s future that Libyans themselves should build their future with the support of the world community.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told Izvestia that the Libyan issue would be discussed on February 18 in Rome at his meeting with Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov. According to a Russian diplomatic source, Rome has taken the most proactive stance on resolving the Libyan crisis, especially given that Libyans are fleeing the war-torn country, seeking asylum in nearby Italy.
Meanwhile, Erdogan has accused Russia’s top brass of managing mercenaries from the Wagner private military company in Libya. Later, Bogdanov rejected this statement, saying it had nothing to do with reality in the country, Vedomosti writes.
A high-ranking diplomatic source told the paper that Erdogan’s talks with US President Donald Trump on Saturday, covering Libya and Syria, "stirred the pot." Trump usually fuels tensions around acute issues at the suggestion of special forces. This is not the first time such accusations have been hurled against Russia. According to a source close to a Russian security agency, there is a small number of Russian special services in Libya, and this is in line with widespread international practice. Their goal is to ensure the security of Russian negotiators who hold contacts with Haftar and his key rival Sarraj. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s statement leans towards a more serious goal of distracting attention from Syria so as to deploy a large-scale Turkish contingent to the Idlib de-escalation zone, the source noted.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US to earmark $1 bln to fight Gazprom
Washington plans to transfer nearly $1 bln to 12 states in Central and Eastern Europe that are part of the Three Seas Initiative. Washington wants to increase the region’s energy independence, by pulling them away from Russian gas. The United States hopes that this measure would encourage private investors to develop these countries’ energy sector in order to reduce their dependence on Moscow.
Some member-states of the Three Seas Initiative have met the news with enthusiasm. It is evident that the rising energy independence of some European countries harms chiefly Gazprom’s interests in Europe, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Besides, Washington’s offer comes amid growing confrontation with Russia over the Nord Stream 2 gas project. The US opposes the gas pipeline’s construction.
Experts from the Alpri think-tank note that Russia has missed some opportunities. "New EU members that broke away from Russia’s orbit 30 years ago, are actually controlled by the US and often clash with Brussels. Washington delivers a double blow here by weakening Germany’s influence and consistently shackling Russia’s energy capability in the EU," the analysts said. While the US is helping these countries launch new power structures and foster values of market freedom and energy security, Russia has been idle for decades, "relying on Germany in energy dialogue, but reality is different now."
Izvestia: Russia’s environmental damage from oil contamination quintuples
Environmental damage from oil contamination grew to 5.1 bln rubles ($80.5 mln) in 2018 from one bln ($15.8 mln) in 2017, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources said in its latest report cited by Izvestia.
Russia’s environmental watchdog, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, told the paper that the reason behind the rising number of violations is due to the dilapidated state of pipelines and equipment that produce, ship and store oil products. Besides, companies often violate rules and illegally tap into oil pipelines. The lion’s share of environmental legislation violations are reported in the Southern, Siberian and Urals federal districts. The companies working in central and southern Russia are among the worst in terms of environmental damage. State spending on environmental protection in 2018 reached 34.3 bln rubles ($541 mln), the ministry reported. However, the cost of adverse environmental effects hit 13.1 bln ($206.7 mln).
Experts interviewed by Izvestia also blame climate change for the growing volume of polluting emissions. They believe that the government should step up environmental activism.
Director of the Higher School of Economics’ Center for Economy of Environment and Natural Resources Georgy Safonov explains that the past eight years have been the warmest across the world and in Russia. Last year was especially warm in the Arctic region, where major Russian oil production and transportation is based. The entire oil and gas infrastructure built there some 40-50 years ago was affected by this warm weather. Its destruction leads to various abuses, including oil spills, he noted.
Vedomosti: Congress not going for Trump’s Moon plan, but focusing on Mars
Recently, the US House of Representatives outlined its stance on the nation’s space policy, suggesting a radical change to the priorities of America’s manned program, while shifting focus from the Moon to Mars. Traditionally, US space policy is closely associated with presidents, who adopt their doctrines, while often ditching previous plans, Alexander Yermakov, an expert from the Russian International Affairs Council wrote in his article for Vedomosti.
Donald Trump, who sought to deep-six all the initiatives of his predecessor Barack Obama, in December 2017 declared a return to the Moon. This May, Vice President Mike Pence announced plans to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program. If earlier Congress backed this program, last year the president’s opponents came together and introduced a bill on NASA’s budget on January 24 (H.R. 5666) that snubs Artemis. The legislators seek to move the lunar landing to 2028 and send astronauts to Mars by 2033.
Although the bill was introduced by both parties, Trump could regard it as an attempt to "take the Moon back from him" and the project could face certain obstacles in the Senate, which is loyal to the president. However, if it is clear that the Artemis program’s implementation is delayed and the lunar landing cannot be carried out by 2024, Trump could be quite satisfied to be the president, who would be behind America’s first steps to Mars, the expert points out.
For Russia, the US legislators’ plan is fraught with both challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, the delayed flight to the Moon means greater international cooperation and more chances to join it. The guarantee of the International Space Station’s operation for another decade is the cornerstone of Russia’s space sector, the expert notes.
However, even for participating in international flights to outer space, Russia will still have to make serious efforts and introduce unique know-how in certain areas. In particular, the creation of the next-generation Orel spacecraft would guarantee Russia’s spot in spaceflights in the future.