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Press review: SPIEF-2018 kicks off and Russia, France seek to fix geopolitical deadlock

May 24, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press review on Thursday

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© Sergei Bobylev/TASS

Izvestia: SPIEF-2018 to become platform for dialogue between Russian, foreign businesses

The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an international platform where representatives of business and government may discuss key economic issues and goals facing Russia, other developing countries and the entire world, kicks off on Thursday. This year’s event will focus on creating an economy of trust, Izvestia writes.

Alexander Shokhin, President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said this year’s forum is characterized by the new Russian government’s debut. "Both Russian businesses and foreign participants would like to hear how the cabinet of ministers plans to fulfill those ambitious plans, which were recently outlined by the president in his new May decree. Given that the first meeting of the new cabinet did not discuss any radical changes, the St. Petersburg forum is the first public presentation of the government’s plans for major areas," he said.

The fact that the forum will be attended by French President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will add a geopolitical meaning to the discussion and will be an attempt to depoliticize investment, business and trade and economic cooperation.

Alexander Kalinin, President of the Opora Rossii, an organization which brings together roughly 450,000 Russian entrepreneurs, said: "This year’s SPIEF is unique. The country’s president has been just elected and the government has just been put together. It’s been a long time since we had honorary guests from Europe and Asia. I talked to German and French representatives of public business organizations. Everyone says that it’s time to abandon mutual mistrust. European businesses have suffered huge losses due to the series of sanctions and countersanctions. If the world is pushed towards new restrictions, and for example, US politicians are calling for this, what will be the result? We are destroying a very fragile structure of trust, which has been created by millions of Russian and European entrepreneurs." The business [community] does not want this confrontation to continue. This is the demand for governments of all countries now - to stop putting up mutual sanctions and restore trust and dialogue, he said.

Alexander Ivlev, managing partner at Ernst & Young in Russia, told the paper: "This year’s forum takes place amid the changing global economic agenda. Russia’s economy has stabilized and has begun gradually growing. It should be also noted that Russian businesses have learnt to act very efficiently in the current environment, and foreign investors continue working on the Russian market despite the challenging geopolitical situation."

According to research, foreign companies representing small and mid-size businesses are seeking to enter the Russian market and politicians are also showing interest in Russia. "All this confirms that there is an interest in the forum and Russia is part of global economy."

Izvestia writes that major Russian state companies and state corporations will pay 1.14 billion rubles ($18.6 mln) to participate in this year’s SPIEF, that’s twice as much as last year. This includes forum participation, advertising services and the production of stands. The biggest spenders are Sberbank, VTB and the Russian Export Center: their expenses at SPIEF this year reached 445 million rubles ($7.2 mln).

 

Media: Russia, France look for way out of geopolitical deadlock

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron are due to hold a meeting in St. Petersburg. Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that the leaders will discuss the Iran nuclear deal, the Syrian peace process and the Ukrainian crisis as well as bilateral economic cooperation where Russia and France have achieved impressing results over the past years.

Experts are skeptical about the prospects for a swift de-escalation of geopolitical tensions. "Russia and France have principal differences on the Syrian and Ukrainian dossiers, and they won’t be able to overcome them in the short run," said Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean, director of the Center of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

Commenting on the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the expert said this will open a new window for joint efforts by the EU and Russia, but a very narrow one. "President Macron is unlikely to decide to openly oppose the US right now," she noted. "Moreover, it is absolutely unclear what Trump wants in place of the treaty, and Macron is ready to revise it, while Russia is calling for full compliance with the document signed in the summer of 2015."

On Friday, Macron will attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and take part in a roundtable of French and Russian business associations and also SPIEF’s plenary meeting. The economic dimension of Russian-French relations is the area where bilateral partnership has been successful, the expert said. "Over the past three years France has been the first foreign investor in Russia, without taking into account offshore zones and is also the first foreign employer." However, Western sanctions create obstacles for fulfilling the potential of economic cooperation between Russia and France, she said.

Kommersant writes that at the forum Macron is expected to launch the so-called Trianon Dialogue. The French leader suggested setting up a new channel of communication between representatives of both countries’ civil societies at the meeting with Putin at the Grand Trianon palace in May 2017. In February 2018, the foreign ministers signed statements on launching the bilateral forum. The project will be officially inaugurated at the meeting between the Russian and French presidents at SPIEF with the coordinating committee of the Trianon Dialogue. Although Moscow and Paris stress that this is a civil initiative, it will be overseen by diplomats, the paper says. A similar civil forum was established between Russia and Germany in 2001.

 

RBC: Chinese food conglomerate plans to buy port terminals in southern Russia

China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO) has launched talks on buying a transshipment terminal for grain, oil and soybeans with a capacity of up to 10 mln tonnes per year, Director General of the Russia-China Investment Fund for Regional Development Rustam Temirgaliyev told RBC. The Chinese state corporation is considering three options - terminals in the ports of either Taman, Temryuk or in Novorossiysk.

COFCO, established in 1949, ranks among the world’s 500 major enterprises. The Russia-China Investment Fund for Regional Development will be a general partner in the deal with COFCO. The fund’s creation was announced on July 4, 2017 during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow.

According to a source familiar with the talks, the deal to buy a Russian terminal may hold a price tag of $400 mln. "We plan to achieve supplies of 1.5 mln tonnes of grain, soybeans and oil to China next year but we are striving to reach 10 mln tonnes. This will be a major agro-industrial project," Temirgaliyev said.

According to Temirgaliyev, China started pursuing ways of diversifying its sources of supplies of grain and other agricultural goods due to the deteriorating relationship with the US. China is among the top 20 importers of Russian grain, the paper says.

Director of the Sovecon analytical center Andrei Sizov notes that COFCO is a tough negotiator and the talks on food supplies to China may drag on for years. Moreover, this concerns the supplies from the southern ports, meanwhile, the Chinese regulator has issued permission to import Russian grain from Siberia and Russia’s eastern regions, he said.

 

Kommersant: Russian geological holding enters Iran’s market despite US sanctions

Despite the US decision to revive sanctions against Tehran, Russia’s Rosgeologiya holding is planning to sign agreements with Iran at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on seismic exploration on the Caspian Sea’s shelf, Kommersant writes. The project will be implemented over a period of several years and experts estimate that the investments in prospecting may exceed $60 mln.

The Russian holding comprising state geological exploration enterprises signed a memorandum on cooperation in the Caspian Sea with Iran’s geological service in March. According to a source, the program of geophysical exploration includes 2D seismic works on more than 3,000 linear kilometers, and the overall area of the research will reach up to 100,000 square kilometers.

The parties will also sign an agreement of intent on carrying out aerogeophysical research, the sources said, giving no details on the volume of investments.

Russian companies announced their readiness to return to the Iranian market after international sanctions against Tehran were lifted in 2016, the paper says. Major Russian oil companies have shown interest in cooperation, but the talks faced a number of hurdles. So far, only Zarubezhneft, a Russian state oil company, has signed a contract on developing deposits in Iran (Aban and Western Paydar). However, since May the future of Russian contracts in Iran has been in limbo over the US move to renew its sanctions.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China boosting ties with Russia amid Trump’s unpredicted moves

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan will take part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that his trip to Russia and Belarus is of special importance in light of the tensions in Chinese-US relations. According to experts, China is enhancing its strategic partnership with Russia to shield itself from the risks of a trade war with Washington. At the same time, Beijing is leaving the door open for a deal with the United States.

Wang’s visit will take place ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s summit in Qingdao in June, with Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled to be attending the event, the paper says. The Chinese politician is expected to discuss trade and economic issues with the Russian leadership as well as international politics on SPIEF’s sidelines.

Pang Zhongying, an international affairs expert based in Beijing, said: "The fact that Wang will pay his first foreign visit since assuming his new post to Russia is no coincidence. Xi Jinping also chose Russia for his first foreign trip after coming to power in 2013." This move shows that Wang has a prominent role in China’s foreign policy and that the leadership in Beijing attaches great importance to Russian-Chinese relations. "Wang will be using this visit to establish an approach to North Korea, the Iran nuclear deal and relations with the US, which will be close to Putin."

Meanwhile, Chinese analysts stress that Beijing should be careful about enhancing ties with Moscow. "China should be aware that very intense rapprochement will alarm many Western countries."

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press review

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