Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, April 19th, prepared by TASS
Vedomosti: Diplomatic tensions between Russia, West keep intensifying
After the United States had imposed a new package of anti-Russian sanctions on April 15, including the expulsion of 10 diplomats accused of being part of intelligence services, Russia announced retaliatory measures. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that 10 American diplomats would be booted in response. The activities of NGOs and foundations under the US State Department may also be banned, but Russia will refrain from economic measures, Vedomosti writes. Additional political escalation may come from Poland and the Czech Republic, where Russian diplomats were expelled in response to Moscow’s alleged intelligence activity.
In sync with the United States, on April 15, the Polish Foreign Ministry declared three employees of the Russian Embassy in Warsaw persona non grata and declared solidarity with Washington’s actions. In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced the expulsion of five Polish diplomats. A much larger number of Russian diplomats - 18 individuals - will be sent packing from the Czech Republic. On April 17, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said that they had been identified by Czech federal agencies as officers of Russia’s foreign intelligence services, and the expulsion itself was a response to possible involvement by Russian intelligence in a blast at an ammunition depot in October 2014. Moreover, according to Czech media, the incident could have involved people allegedly linked to the Skripal poisoning.
According to Program Director of the Russian International Affairs Council Ivan Timofeev, these events, which are also taking place in a militarized atmosphere, can trigger a dangerous chain reaction. The measures taken by Warsaw and Prague can significantly aggravate the crisis between Russia and the West. At the same time, it is likely that the incident with the explosion at the weapons depot will not go beyond the framework of Russian-Czech relations. "So far, we are talking about diplomatic stories, about the expulsion of diplomats. There are already economic sanctions (from the European Union), but they have little effect on macroeconomics," Timofeev noted. However, it cannot be ruled out that the EU, which has already supported the US sanctions, will introduce new economic restrictions. Therefore, relations between Russia and the European Union still have ways to worsen," the expert told Vedomosti.
Izvestia: US to beef up forces in Germany instead of withdrawing troops
The United States will increase its military presence in Germany by 500 troops. Prior to that, the Germans were sure that Washington, on the contrary, would withdraw a third of its military from its territory. The move might jeopardize the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Izvestia writes. However, according to experts interviewed by the newspaper, the project’s future largely depends on Russian-Ukrainian relations, while Washington’s move may prove to be symbolic.
Washington strongly opposes Nord Stream 2, fearing that it will cut them off from the lucrative European energy market and also make EU countries dependent on Moscow, Izvestia reports. According to the newspaper, this decision only confirms that Biden's policy on the pipeline does not differ from Trump's course.
Biden is now actively trying to improve the state of US-German relations and Berlin is even more interested in restoring its partnership with the United States than Washington, Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics Dmitry Suslov told the newspaper. "Germany may freeze the pipeline project in the event of a large-scale escalation in Ukraine," the political scientist believes.
Senior Researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Kislitsyn believes that Washington's decision to boost the contingent by 500 people is nothing more than an attractive gesture. "The Biden administration is trying to tell its allies that the United States has returned," he said.
Kommersant: Russia, Belarus to continue rapprochement amid US-backed assassination conspiracy
A alleged plot to assassinate President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, which was disclosed earlier by the intelligence services of Russia and Belarus, created a favorable context for Lukashenko before his visit to Moscow, Kommersant writes. Though Washington shrugged off the assassination conspiracy as ‘false’, this hardly hindered Lukashenko from talking about a united anti-Western front. Given that the two presidents plan to hash over the ongoing rapprochement between both countries, the position of an ally could help Lukashenko in the bargaining.
The national intelligence services of Russia and Belarus reported on a joint special operation, which resulted in the arrest of political scientist Alexander Feduta and lawyer Yuri Zenkovich in Moscow. According to the intelligence services, they, together with other Belarusian opposition forces, were plotting a coup. Meanwhile, Lukashenko laid the blame for the alleged plot on the United States.
The scandal set off a huge fuss and created a specific background for the leaders of Russia and Belarus to meet on April 22. Political analyst Artyom Shraibman told the newspaper, "The confrontation with the West is pushing the two countries towards rapprochement. However, Lukashenko has not yet made any irrevocable steps in terms of integration with Russia."
A source in Russian state structures responsible for interaction with Belarus told Kommersant that Putin and Lukashenko are indeed expected to discuss integration. According to the source, signing papers affecting the Union State of Russia and Belarus should not be expected, but work on the coordination of the so-called roadmaps for the integration of the two countries in various fields continues.
Sources also told Kommersant, the talks boil down to the issue of unifying tax systems. The sources did not rule out that if it comes to harmonizing the tax legislation of Russia and Belarus, the Russian system will be used as a basis.
Kommersant: Novatek wants to buy major gas field from Gazprom
Novatek CEO Leonid Mikhelson has made a new attempt to buy the giant Tambey group of fields with reserves of 7.3 trillion cubic meters of gas from Gazprom, Kommersant writes. According to the newspaper’s sources, Mikhelson was able to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that it would be strategically correct to direct the cluster's reserves for the production of liquefied natural gas. He also asked the president to consider selling these assets to Novatek with payment in cash and shares. The dispute keeps the overall strategy for the development and processing of Yamal gas in limbo, Kommersant writes.
According to the newspaper’s sources, this time Mikhelson managed to convince Putin that it is strategically more profitable to send gas from the Tambeyskoye field to liquefaction than to a pipe. After that, on April 15, Mikhelson went to St. Petersburg to discuss the deal with Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller. The meeting was reported by Gazprom’s press service without disclosing the topic of the conversation. However, according to Kommersant’s information, Gazprom still does not intend to sell the Tambey group.
The fate of the giant Tambey cluster is a key issue in the development of not only gas production, but also gas processing in Yamal, since the deeply located deposits of the field are believed to have gas with a high ethane content.
The Tambeyskoye field is adjacent to Novatek’s Yuzhno-Tambeyskoye field, the resource base for Yamal LNG, Dmitry Marinchenko from Fitch told Kommersant. In his opinion, it would be logical to monetize this asset precisely through the production of liquefied gas. At the same time, Novatek has a low debt burden, due to the fact that the company was able to finance a significant part of its investments in the Arctic LNG-2 project at the expense of co-investors, the analyst explained. Thus, purchasing the field is unlikely to negatively affect the company's business solvency.
Izvestia: Opening air service between Russia, Turkey unlikely amid rising coronavirus cases
Around 40,000 organized and 50,000 independent and transit tourists from Russia are stuck in Turkey, market participants told Izvestia. That being said, 10,000 people have already returned home. According to experts interviewed by the newspaper, Turkey’s opening tourist season starting June 1 for Russian tourists now looks uncertain. The daily coronavirus cases in the country over the past four days has gone beyond the threshold of 60,000 people and is not decreasing. Meanwhile, Turkey has not stopped accepting tourists from other countries.
Executive Director of the Alliance of Russian Travel Agencies Natalia Osipova confirmed to Izvestia the information about the number of Russian tourists "stuck" in Turkey. The authorities have created an operational headquarters for bringing home Russians from Turkey and the airlines have confirmed plans to take out passengers on pre-planned dates.
In recent days, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Turkey has exceeded 60,000 people per day. On April 18, 62,600 cases were detected in the country. In terms of the daily increase in the number of cases, the country has already moved into fourth place in the world after India, the United States, and Brazil. The majority of experts interviewed by Izvestia agreed that opening flights with Turkey from June 1 so far looks unrealistic.
"From experience, we see that the incidence needs fall several times, but it is not falling that fast," First Vice President of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia Vladimir Kantorovich told the newspaper.
If tourists from other countries continue to come to Turkey, then the country is unlikely to be able to reduce the incidence rate in a short time, Natalia Osipova said. In her opinion, the country has a choice: either limit the flow of tourists until summer, or lose the entire summer season.