It is important to restore Russian-US ties in order to prevent military incidents, resolve regional conflicts and stabilize the global situation, experts interviewed by Izvestia said, commenting on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Russia, during which he met with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Moscow suggested creating a joint non-governmental expert group and a business council, as well as resuming dialogue on cyberspace. According to political scientists, Pompeo’s visit shows that Washington has come to realize the need to intensify contacts with Moscow.
While the Americans were keeping relations with Russia on hold, a lot of global issues had accumulated that are difficult or even impossible to resolve without Moscow, said Deputy Head of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Andrei Klimov. "Russia is a global player and it is not in the US' interest to avoid conversation with our country. This recent visit is important because the issues Washington is ready to discuss need to be determined," the senator told Izvestia.
To reach specific agreements, the parties need to start building equal dialogue without using the language of ultimatums, Professor of the Faculty of Law at the Higher School of Economics Alexander Domrin noted. "It is possible to find common ground for Russia and the US, for instance, as far as the Korean Peninsula's denuclearization goes. In fact, neither Russia nor the United States wants to see nuclear capabilities mount," the expert pointed out. "The same goes for the joint fight against international terrorism that poses a threat to all countries," he added.
Pompeo’s meeting with the Russian leadership took place within a new atmosphere that emerged following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on Russia's alleged interference in the US presidential election. "The Mueller report will in no way influence the atmosphere of talks because Pompeo and [US National Security Adviser John] Bolton represent Trump’s position," Chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "And his position has been that it is an issue made up out of thin air that the Democrats inflated to mess things up for him," the expert noted. In his view, "until the document was released, the administration had no chance to do anything. And now the opportunity has opened up. However, while there is a chance, there is no substance. Russia has little importance in Trump’s system of priorities," Lukyanov emphasized.
According to sources in Washington, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s visit to Sochi was particularly aimed at driving a wedge between Moscow and Beijing. At present, Chinese companies and banks are wary of investing in Russia for fear of US sanctions but rising tensions with the Americans may prompt Chinese businessmen to expand investment in Russia, said experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The Kremlin clarified its position at meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with Chinese top diplomat Wang Yi in Sochi: cooperation between Moscow and Beijing has reached unprecedented highs and will not be subject to foreign influence. However, Russia and China are deeply integrated into the global economy and their relations cannot be free from outside influence.
The paper noted, citing Chinese media, that China had become Russia’s main trade partner but more than three-quarters of Russia’s exports are commodity goods, which concerns the Kremlin. Meanwhile, the trade war between China and the US may turn out to be a blessing for Russia because Moscow is going to become an irreplaceable partner for Beijing and a "certificate of insurance" as its export goods don’t have to be transported by sea.
Chief Research Fellow at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Lomanov told the newspaper that "the Americans had gone to great lengths to make China purchase Alaskan LNG." "Accordingly, as long as the dispute continues, US gas won’t have access to the Chinese market. In addition, Russia can expect that the export of its meat, soya, grain - and gas, of course - will increase. The main thing is that China is forced to change its mindset of the past 40 years because the reforms and openness that China had announced coincided with the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US," the expert added.
According to him, Chinese experts said the reforms’ success had exceeded all expectations, while its relationship with the US had bloomed unexpectedly since 1978. But now, this arrangement is coming apart and may even destroy the foundation of reforms and the policy of openness, which is what Beijing needs to think about. "If Trump disconnects the US from China, Chinese businessmen will have less fear of the US punishing them. As a result, China’s investment policy towards Russia will become more independent," Lomanov concluded.
US senators have come up with a bill imposing restrictions on individuals and companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. However, potential sanctions against Switzerland’s Allseas and Italy’s Saipem - the companies constructing the Russian offshore gas pipelines - will not affect the project, analysts say. Moreover, a US financial source told Izvestia that the bill is unlikely to make it to the Congressional vote.
The Nord Stream 2 operator told the paper that the gas pipeline’s construction was well underway with more than 1,200 kilometers of pipes having already been laid. "As of now, the project’s capital investment budget of eight bln euro has been invested, which created thousands of jobs and boosted economic growth in Europe. More than 670 companies from 25 countries are involved in the project," the operator noted.
"While construction work goes on, there is little chance that its progress will be significantly affected. To achieve that goal, these sanctions had to have been imposed much earlier. It means that now, if restrictions are announced, these companies will keep on laying pipes," said Analytical Credit Rating Agency expert Vasily Tanurkov.
Laws can have retrospective application only in exceptional cases, so imposing sanctions on companies constructing Russian pipelines under agreements made before the restrictions came on the scene looks like a difficult task, said Director of the Law and Mediation Fund for the Fuel and Energy Complex Alexander Pakhomov. An exceptional case took place, for instance, when France’s Total abandoned its obligations under a contract with Iran’s NIOC concerning the development of the South Pars gas field after facing the threat of US sanctions. However, to push a bill penalizing a company as big as Allseas would be difficult particularly because it is a European company working on a project that is in line with the European Union’s interests, Pakhomov emphasized. "Unlike NIOC, Nord Stream 2 has many high-level defenders, including the leaders of EU member states," the expert pointed out.
The Russian Constitutional Court’s moratorium on the death penalty will remain in effect even if Moscow withdraws from the Council of Europe, Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin said, wrapping up an international conference on the correlation between constitutional identity and universal values, Vedomosti writes.
Zorkin pointed out that in May, a decision would be made on whether Russia would stay in the Council of Europe. "I can see tensions staring to rise. They say, ‘if you leave the Council of Europe, the death penalty will be restored’," he said, noting that the ban on capital punishment was based on two decisions the Constitutional Court had made in spite of public opinion and the parliament’s position, while a presidential bill removing the ban had been shelved by the State Duma for 20 years.
The feud erupted in 2014, when the rights of Russia’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) were limited over the issue of Crimea. Moscow said it was impossible to work under such conditions, and stopped participating in PACE’s meetings. In addition, it suspended paying its contribution to the Council of Europe in late June 2017 until the delegation’s rights would be fully restored. According to the Council’s Charter, if a country fails to pay its fee for two years, the Committee of Ministers may look into expelling that member. For Russia, the deadline is in late June 2019.
A source in the Council of Europe told the newspaper that a major turning point in the protracted standoff might come in the next few days as the foreign ministers of the Council of Europe’s member states are expected to meet in Helsinki later in the week.
However, Chief Editor of the Bulletin of the European Court of Human Rights magazine Yuri Berestnev is confident that no serious decisions on Russia can be expected in the near future. According to him, the most the Council of Europe can do is launch a debate. This week, France will take over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers and Paris will never initiate the organization’s breakdown. France will delay things until November to pass on the burden to Georgia. "As for Russia, we have said what we had to say: PACE’s regulations must be changed. We won’t rush things now, we can wait," the expert said.
Maria Butina - a Russian national convicted of conspiracy to act as foreign agent in the US - has been taken to an assessment center in Oklahoma and is expected to be transferred to a federal penitentiary within two weeks, her father Valery Butin told Izvestia, adding it was not clear which correctional facility it would be.
"Maria’s defense is trying to make sure she is sent to a facility with softer inmate rules and closer to Washington," he said.
According to Butina’s father, the atmosphere at the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Virginia, from where Maria has been transferred, was more democratic than the detention center in Alexandria, Virginia. While at Northern Neck, Maria was provided with limited Internet access and could go for walks on Thursdays.
Valery Butin pointed out that his daughter might get out of prison on November 5 but there was no guarantee that it would happen. He noted that in the United States, there were rules that made it possible to reduce prison terms for inmates with good behavior. Maria managed to reduce her sentence by several dozens of days as she received no reprimands, did cleaning and dishwashing work.
"Since she was arrested, Maria has always behaved well and in fact, there have been no grievances against her. Moreover, she has been working hard while in jail," her father noted.
When asked about his daughter’s health, Butin said that Maria was well despite her loss of weight.
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