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Contrary to expectations and forecasts, the privatization of Russia’s Rosneft oil company will take place, Kommersant writes. Glencore, an international trading and mining company, and Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund are to take the 19.5% stake in the company.
According to experts, the surprise €10.5 bln deal announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting with the company’s CEO, Igor Sechin, on Wednesday was made at the last moment. The deal’s advantages for the investors who bought the Rosneft stake are still unknown. For Glencore that could mean incentives for oil purchases, and for Qatar - Russia’s participation in OPEC’s reduction of oil production. Sechin noted during his meeting with Putin that the deal would be financed by the investors’ own resources and through a financial package from "one of Europe’s largest banks."
Perhaps, negotiations on the deal had been in progress for a long time, but the decision was likely to have been made within the past few days, said Alexei Kokin, an oil and gas analyst at the Uralsib financial corporation. Sechin earlier mentioned talks with some investors declining to disclose any details. According to information obtained by Kommersant, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriyev, met in Dubai in late November with the senior officials of the largest local fund, but whether or not Rosneft’s privatization was discussed at that meeting remains a mystery.
Another source interviewed by the paper noted that President Putin could have been personally involved in arranging the deal, and the fact that he announced it proves that.
The militants, held down in eastern Aleppo, continue to lose territory as they steadily retreat in the face of the Syrian army’s ongoing offensive, Vedomosti writes on Thursday.
The terrorists are pulling back into areas that have recently been the strongholds of the Jabhat al-Nusra terror group, according to a source close to the Russian Defense Ministry. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on Tuesday that the gunmen refusing to leave Aleppo will be eliminated.
Their resistance is likely to stop soon, because they are no longer able to replenish their supplies, says Ivan Konovalov, head of the military policy and economy sector at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. In addition to that, the Syrian army "smells victory" and is determined to wipe out the enemy, which is also of key significance during the hostilities in the region, the expert went to say.
Once the Syrian army clinches a final victory in Aleppo, it will have sufficient forces and an array of opportunities for further action, according to Konovalov. Syrian state troops may launch an offensive on Idlib, turn up the heat on the remaining areas held by militants or move eastward towards the positions of the Islamic State (terrorist group, banned in Russia). According to the expert, any potential decision may be influenced by outside factors, such as the Russian-Turkish agreements, potential deals between Russia and the administration of US President-elect, Donald Trump, and relations between Washington and Ankara.
Two special forces’ battalions, the Vostok (East) and Zapad (West), of the Russian Defense Ministry currently deployed to Russia’s Chechen Republic will be sent to guard Syria’s Hmeymim airbase, Izvestia writes. Formed in 2003, these military units were staffed for a long time with mostly ethnic Chechens and were later dubbed "the Chechen special task force." Several sources in the Russian Defense Ministry informed the paper that the two military units will start guarding Russian military facilities in Syria by the end of December.
Leonid Isayev, an orientalist scholar and senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics, explained in an interview with Izvestia that the Chechens are Sunni Muslims, that is, they are the same faith as most of the Syrian population, which should make their interaction with the local population easier.
"The Chechens have an image of being harsh and fearless warriors, which has been reinforced during the war in Syria. A volunteer battalion of ethnic Chechens is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s forces," he said.
Anton Lavrov who co-authored several books on the issue, told the paper that, although these military units are known as the "Chechen battalions," they have been staffed with servicemen from practically all Russian regions. "These battalions have rich combat experience in offensive operations in urban areas and in the mountains, and that’s precisely what is needed to ensure the safety of Russian military facilities in Syria. The Hmeymim airbase is located in the Latakia province with the complex mountainous terrain, while the Tartus base is located in an urban area," he explained.
On December 9, Richard McLaren, an independent expert at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), is scheduled to present the second part of his report on doping abuse issues in Russia, Kommersant writes. Its first part released in July nearly led to the banning of the entire Russian national squad from the 2016 Rio Olympics. The content of the second part has not been disclosed. It is expected though to focus on alleged violations during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Some sources interviewed by the paper noted that "the most radical goal" of this report could be to ban Russia’s team from competing at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
Elena Vyalbe, President of Russia’s Cross Country Ski Federation, told Kommersant commenting on her expectations, that she "is not awaiting it at all." "That’s because we never used any doping, before, during or after the Olympic Games. I believe our athletes’ results speak for themselves. Hopes were that we would win four gold medals, but we won only one," she noted.
Meanwhile, Alexander Kravtsov, President of the Russian Biathlon Union, said in an interview with the paper that he wants an impartial and fair inquiry. "Any investigation should involve both parties and should not be one-sided. After all opinions are heard, the judge makes a decision," he said.
Ukraine will assume chairmanship in the UN Security Council on February, Izvestia writes. So, Kiev will have enough time to cook up a number of anti-Russian initiatives. However, Russia as a permanent Security Council member, may use its right to veto them. If February is indeed marked by a discussion of anti-Russian resolutions, that would significantly impede the Security Council’s work.
Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house of parliament) International Affairs Committee, told the paper that Kiev could indeed use this opportunity to push its own agenda, adding that that would run counter to both the letter and spirit of the UN Charter. "The work at the UN Security Council presupposes that the chairmanship should not be used in the interests of an individual country. In an ideal scenario, all initiatives should be in line with the collective interests rather than those of the country that takes over chairmanship," he said. Kosachev added that, if Ukraine starts to take advantage of the situation, "I am sure in that case it will give rise to misunderstanding and rejection on the part of other Security Council members."
Denis Denisov, a political scientist and Director of the Ukrainian branch of the CIS Institute, said that one could expect Ukrainian diplomats to step up their activity during Kiev’s chairmanship to promote certain anti-Russian draft resolutions, primarily on Crimea and the Donbass region. "The chairmanship status does not allow for making decisions single-handedly, and Kiev will inevitably have to submit to this. However, all this is part of Ukraine’s information war," he said.
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