Martial law imposed in ten regions of Ukraine in the wake of the November Kerch Strait standoff is expiring on Wednesday, December 26. Its extension would make it possible for President Pyotr Poroshenko to raise the issue of putting off the presidential election scheduled to be held on March 31 and improve his rating. However, the timely disclosure of Kiev’s plans to carry out new provocations in the Donbass region and near Russia’s state border in Crimea may force Kiev to refrain from provocations, at least for some time, member of the Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) from Crimea, Sergei Tsekov, told Izvestia.
"Such steps are made without prior notification. One can hope that these are just words, which will not be followed by deeds. However, the Ukrainian presidential election is still three months away, so anything can happen," the politician warned.
Poroshenko’s low rating forces him to look for a way out of the situation, and the option of postponing the election is quite feasible, he added.
"From that standpoint, provocations are more than likely. However, we, Crimeans, feel calm after 2014, now that Russia is behind us. The Russian Armed Forces’ capabilities in Crimea are aimed to protecting the peninsula and our country’s southern frontiers, so we are ready for any provocations," he stressed.
According to Eduard Basurin, Deputy Military Commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), the provocations, which are likely to occur in late December, can be prevented. However, the risk of the Ukrainian army’s offensive persists, he told the paper. "The media's revelation of these plans threw some cold water on our opponents in Ukraine’s military-political leadership," he pointed out.
The key problem is all statements made by officials in Kiev stems from their desire to remain in power, says Tatiana Bakhteyeva, a Ukrainian MP from the Opposition Bloc.
"Sometimes, politicians try to improve their ratings by all possible means, but that benefits neither the state nor the people. One cannot do that for the sake of one’s own interests. There are no grounds for extending martial law," the lawmaker stressed.
US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out troops from Syria is sort of a gift to Russia’s oil and gas businesses. If Washington’s allies from the US-led international coalition or the Islamic State (IS, terror group, outlawed in Russia) do not interfere, it is highly plausible that Syria’s entire hydrocarbon complex will come under the control of Moscow and Damascus, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. And, of course, Russian specialists will come to the Conoco refinery, which fighters from the Wagner private military company tried to capture to no avail at the beginning of this year. If that happens, the Assad regime assisted by Russia will do away with any possibility of smuggling hydrocarbons into Turkey and Iraq, which was done by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Due to the imminent withdrawal of US forces and Ankara’s upcoming military operation, the SDF leadership seems to have agreed to cooperate with Damascus seen by it as one of its reliable defenders. However, in addition to cooperating with the Assad regime, they also began intense contacts with the international coalition, who have been pushed into a corner by Trump's speedy withdrawal.
Stanislav Ivanov, a Research Associate at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, did not rule out that Russia and some international coalition members could have a similar stance on the issue. According to the expert, "with the Americans’ departure, Erdogan, Assad and Iran’s Ayatollahs will have the incentive to take control of Syria’s northeastern regions and defeat the Kurdish national movement in that country." He admitted that the US would be opposed to such plans, at the same time fighting against Iran, its chief adversary in the Middle East after the Islamic State. "The withdrawal of US forces from Syria can be extended for a longer period of time. New US missile and bomb strikes against Assad’s facilities an its Shia allies in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf area cannot be ruled out either," he said.
World oil prices have continued declining. On Friday, Brent sank 1% to $53.82. Simultaneously with falling all prices, Russia’s national currency has continued to depreciate against the US dollar, Vedomosti writes. The reason for that is the growth of oil reserves in world markets and lower expectations for growth in demand in 2019 due to the instability of the global economy.
The bearish outlook worldwide for next year is mounting, says Dmitry Marinchenko at Fitch Ratings. Many fear a slowdown in the growth of emerging economies and, as a result, a slowdown in oil consumption growth, the expert said. The OPEC+ verbal interventions and rising geopolitical tensions could prevent prices from falling further, he added.
"We believe the prices will return to $60-70 per barrel next year, when the market sees that the OPEC+ countries are abiding by the agreement that has been reached in earnest," Marinchenko said.
"The markets are currently gripped by panic, but I don’t think oil prices will fall lower than $50 per barrel. Traders will resist that. Future price dynamics will depend on production and statistics in the US and compliance with the terms of the OPEC+ deal," the paper quotes BCS analyst Kirill Tachennikov as saying.
The US has been stepping up oil production since mid-2016. It grew 36% to reach 11.6 mln barrels per day by the beginning of autumn 2018. An increase in oil production in the US is still possible, according to AKRA analyst Vasily Tanurkov. Production growth in the US is limited by the transport infrastructure from oil shale deposits to its western ports. The transportation problem could be solved by the second half of 2019.
What’s happening to oil prices now is more related to the overall situation in the global economy and financial markets, Tanurkov added. "The question is whether we are entering a global recession. In that case, oil prices can eventually drop to the 2016 minimum ($27 per barrel)," he said.
Russian national Viktor Bout who is serving out his sentence in a US prison regularly receivers letters of support from his fellow countrymen. In an interview with Izvestia, the entrepreneur who was sentenced to 25 years behind bars in the US, said he saw no point in complaining about his prison conditions, even though he has been behind bars for over ten years now.
"When you realize how the entire system works you just have to adapt yourself to it. Why should I write letters complaining of things and ask for help? The Russian government and embassy know what should be done. I have no doubt whatsoever that they will take all necessary steps as soon as an opportunity presents itself," Bout said.
He pointed to support from his family and friends, adding that it helped him a lot. "Besides, quite a few people I am not familiar with send me letters of support. Many thanks to them for that. That’s a great help. I receive letters from all corners of Russia - from Kaliningrad, Khabarovsk and many other places. I try to answer them all whenever possible."
When asked whether he felt any discrimination in the US prison, the Russian national said he was generally treated well by the personnel. "What’s more, Russia’s authority has grown considerably, and I have noticed interest in our country. Many Americans ask me questions about my country. They are interested in the real situation and ask how to move to our country or visit it. Even those who have been brainwashed realize that ‘something went wrong.’ The key motto in the media currently runs as follows: ‘Russia is an enemy, and we need to fight it.’ We read in local newspapers every day that our country had done something bad again," he went on to say.
"Over these years, I have got the impression that ordinary Americans are more in favor of good relations with Russia. I believe there are more things that unite us than separate. As for politicians in Washington who make international relations even more complicated, all that is temporary," he assured.
Crimea’s Sevastopol Belbek airport is ready to receive civilian aircraft. Sukhoi Su-30M2 fighter jets and a Tupolev Tu-134A passenger aircraft were the first to land on to the new runway, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes. The warplanes flew from Krymsk where they were redeployed after Belbelk’s reconstruction began. In order to check the readiness of the airfield’s technical services, and communication navigation systems, the pilots performed pair landings.
"The runway is excellent," the paper quotes Fourth Army Commander Lieutenant-General Viktor Sevostyanov, who personally tested it at the helm of an aircraft. "We checked the condition of the runway and the technical norms concerning the pairs landing."
The first stage of the reconstruction began this past spring and is practically over now. The runway, which previously had not been able to receive large aircraft, was fully dismantled and rebuilt from monolithic reinforced concrete slabs. Its length grew by 500 meters to reach 3.45 kilometers.
According to Savostyanov, both warplanes and civilian aircraft will use the new runway. "The airfield is ready to receive all types of aircraft," the paper quotes him as saying. A civilian plane, a Tupolev Tu134A, has already landed there. According to the crew’s commander everything went smoothly."
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