The Islamic State terrorist group (outlawed in Russia) could be behind the brutal assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, Pyotr Stegniy who served as Russia’s envoy to Ankara between 2003 and 2007, told Izvestia. "According to the available information, one may draw a conclusion that the attack was organized by some radical groups. The purpose of this violent terror attack was to thwart the strengthening of political and diplomatic ties between Russia and Turkey on the situation in Syria and the Middle East. There are groups in the region and beyond that do not like cooperation between Moscow and Ankara, including on Aleppo’s liberation," the diplomat explained.
Meanwhile, Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, described the Russian ambassador’s murder as a provocation in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
"Russia and Turkey are at the forefront in the war on terror. There are disagreements between our two countries, and now this monstrous crime has occurred. However, we need to do everything to continue the joint struggle against international terrorism. We will seek an investigation into this tragedy," he said.
On the other hand, Alexander Vasilyev, co-author of the book titled "The Turkish war machine: strength and weakness" noted talking to Vedomosti that the Russian ambassador’s murder is likely to affect the Russian-Turkish relations outside the context of the Syrian conflict, because it showed that Turkey is not a safe country. The intention of the attack could have been to deal a blow to both Russia and Turkey. The expert added that the assassination was likely to have been pulled off by the Islamists who are beyond Turkey’s control because of the situation in Aleppo.
The shares of the Russian energy giant, Gazprom, and Gazprombank in Akfel Holding, the largest private importer of Russian gas to Turkey, have been de facto nationalized, some sources familiar with the situation informed Kommersant. In early December, the Turkish authorities seized control of Akfel Holding on suspicion of being linked to fugitive opposition cleric, Fethullah Gulen. According to the information obtained by the paper, the Russian company’s attempts to establish dialogue with the Turkish officials have so far been futile.
Gazprom’s CEO, Alexei Miller, raised the issue at a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim who visited Moscow on December 6, however, the Turkish premier provided no substantial explanations. "We have been deprived of the most effective and profitable seller of Russian gas in Turkey," a source close to Gazprom told Kommersant. It is unclear at the moment what the Russian energy giant’s stance will be, since it needs good working relations with Ankara to implement the Turkish Stream project, which is politically important.
All that gives rise to an imminent gas dispute between Moscow and Ankara, as discounts on gas for private importers clinched in April will no longer be valid as of 2017. Negotiations on next year’s gas prices between Turkish companies and Gazprom Export have been practically terminated, the sources interviewed by the paper noted. Besides, Gazprom and Turkey’s state-run Botas gas company are currently haggling over gas prices at the Stockholm-based Arbitration Institute.
Tehran and Ankara seem to be consistently bringing their stances on Syria closer, and Russia is actively involved in this process, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Tuesday’s talks between the top diplomats of Russia, Iran and Turkey will focus on Syria and the implementation of the UN Security Council decisions on the issue. The three countries’ defense chiefs are to meet in Moscow on Tuesday as well to discuss Syria’s military and humanitarian situation.
"Technically, this is a new meeting for such a troika," Anton Mardasov, head of the Research Department of Middle East Conflicts at the Institute for Innovative Development, told the paper. "We all know that before the beginning of (Turkey’s) operation in Syria to create a buffer zone, such meetings were indirect. For example, the Russian delegation held talks with Turkey, while the Iranian delegation travelled to Ankara for negotiations." According to the expert, refugees and efforts to coordinate further actions continue to be in the spotlight.
According to Viktor Nadein-Raevsky, a senior researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Tehran’s and Ankara’s involvement in tackling the Syrian issue became possible thanks to the restoration of Russian-Turkish contacts. "Taking into account the fact that Turkey is able to really influence the situation in Syria, especially in its northern areas, we stopped paying attention to talks with our US partners, which are absolutely unnecessary," he explained.
On the other hand, it is impossible to resolve the Syrian problem without Iran’s involvement, he said, adding that Tehran has always been an important party to this conflict, hence the trilateral format.
Cuts in Russia’s oil production should not substantially affect the operation of national energy companies, Russian Energy Minister, Alexander Novak, told Vedomosti.
According to the minister, the upcoming cut in oil production by 300,000 barrels per day is "about 2.5-2.7% of the current Russian oil production." "I do not think this can have a substantial effect on the companies’ operation program," Novak explained.
"Our companies estimated what is better for them - either a 2.5% increase in production at a price of $30-40, or a 2.5% reduction in production at a price of $50-55. Obviously, the second option is preferable," he noted.
Novak explained that "$50-60 per barrel is a good price for balancing the current market with rapidly developing technologies and reductions in the cost of production, where there is competition, including from US shale oil." If the prices are higher, the risks of overproduction may occur, he added.
The Lebanese Shiite movement, Hezbollah, who are allies of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, will not launch an offensive against Idlib, the last stronghold of the "moderate" opposition in Syria, Izvestia writes. There have been reports in the regional media and social networks that Hezbollah fighters are beginning to return to Lebanon. However, part of the Lebanese Shiite group’s forces will remain in Aleppo if the opposition attempts to recapture the city.
During the five years of hostilities in Syria, Hezbollah units and other allied Shiite groups (actively sponsored by Iran) have become the main striking force of the Syrian government troops. The paper notes that they were instrumental in retaking Aleppo from militants, along with support from Russian aircraft.
Leonid Isayev, an orientalist scholar from the Higher School of Economics, told Izvestia that it became clear for Assad’s allies that efforts to capture new territories are counterproductive, while the focus should be on defending the existing ones. "The capture of Palmyra demonstrated that the Syrian army can barely hold the available territories,’ the expert said. "Whether or not it will be able to hold on to Aleppo and repel attacks against Homs and Hama, where the Islamic State militants were threatening to attack remains a big question."
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