Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN) and presidential candidate from France’s national-conservative political party has every chance to become the new head of the Fifth Republic. This worries many member states of the European Union, as Le Pen promises to hold a referendum on France leaving the EU, which could have an unprecedented impact on the political and economic future of the EU and the world at large. In an interview with Izvestia, Le Pen talked about her political future, lifting anti-Russian sanctions, and establishing a constructive dialogue with Russia.
Le Pen promised to officially recognize Crimea as part of Russia if she wins the presidential election. "Yes, after the referendum that showed the people’s consent to join Russia, I also recognize Crimea as part of the Russian Federation," said told the newspaper. According to her, the time when Crimea belonged to Ukraine was only "a matter of the Soviet administrative period, the peninsula was never Ukrainian." The politician also regretted the fact that the referendum, which was organized to demonstrate the will of the people of the peninsula, was not accepted by the international community and the United Nations.
The French presidential candidate announced plans to better ties between Paris and Moscow. "I'm going to make France independent from the United States and NATO and I will establish normal relations between France and Russia, in particular by removing unfair and ineffective sanctions," she stated.
The politician also noted that she intends to return "a place and a voice in the world" to France. According to her, over the decades, the French authorities have pursued the idea of ··Europeanism over their own interests. "Unlike other presidential candidates, I refuse to swear allegiance to any other country, and I will not seek the approval of my plan in Berlin, unlike Fran·ois Fillon, Manuel Valls and Emmanuel Macron," she told Izvestia.
According to the latest opinion polls, Le Pen is one of the frontrunners in the presidential race and will reach the second round at the very least. France’s presidential elections will be held in two rounds on April 23 and May 7.
In 2016, Gazprom showcased record supply figures to European countries, selling 153 bln cubic meters (excluding Turkey and the Baltic states), surpassing Kommersant’s estimations based on the data of gas transmission operators. Thus, the company has provided two-thirds of the upsurge in gas imports to the EU in 2016, while the supply of liquefied natural gas, the main competitor to Russian gas dropped. However, according to analysts interviewed by the newspaper, it is too early to celebrate for Gazprom, since new volumes of LNG will show up on the market anyway.
Although there is no exact data on LNG supplies to Europe yet, according to market analysts, the figures decreased against 2015 by around 56 bln cubic meters. This unexpected result was largely due to LNG supplies being redirected to Asia in the Q4 due to rising prices.
According to experts interviewed by the newspaper, a massive rollout of new LNG projects has been whittled down primarily due to delays and technical problems. For example, the second line of Australian project APLNG (4.5 mln tonnes) opened late in the year - in October - that is six months later than planned. The ninth line of the Malaysian LNG plant (3.6 mln tonnes) began production in September, after a 6-month delay. As for US projects, the third line of Sabine Pass (4.5 mln tonnes) will become operational in 2017. That said, the Cameron LNG project was put off for six months to Q2 2018.
According to Kommersant, these two factors indicate that despite growth in demand throughout Europe and the price competitiveness of Russian gas, Gazprom’s comfortable market position in 2016 was achieved largely thanks to one-off factors, according to Kommersant. After the new projects iron out their technical difficulties and begin stable supply to Chinese customers, LNG from Qatar that went to Asia, may well return to the European market in 2017.
Transnistria and Russian peacekeeping forces serving in the region will top the agenda of today’s meeting between President of Moldova Igor Dodon and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta sources. The talks could produce a new plan that promotes the creation of a federal Moldova, with Transnistria having a right of veto and involves maintaining Russian military presence in the region.
Unlike his predecessors, Igor Dodon did not travel to Brussels for his first official visit, but to Moscow. This, according to political scientists in Chisinau, demonstrates a shift in Moldova’s geopolitical course.
Head of the Chisinau Center for Strategic Research and Policy Consulting, Anatol Taranu, told the newspaper, he believes that the current visit of the new Moldovan President to Moscow, actually opens the parliamentary election campaign. According to Taranu, in Moscow, Dodon once again will reiterate that he is ready to begin the country’s federal restructuring with the aim of reintegration. That is, returning control over Transnistria to Chisinau, that has been living independently for more than 25 years, but under the protection of Russian peacekeeping forces and with financial support from Moscow.
According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Dodon has proposed to end the negotiation process by offering Transnistria the status of a federated member of the united country. Research Director of the German-Russian Forum, Alexander Rahr, told the newspaper. He recalled that in 2003, Moscow proposed this option to Chisinau. This time, unlike in 2003, the European Union is unlikely to intervene in the situation. "Today, the geopolitical situation has changed. The European Union is busy with internal issues and Trump so it is not paying attention to Moldova, Thus, the plan may well be accepted in Chisinau," Rahr noted.
However, Kiev is not satisfied with this state of affairs, as Transnistria borders Ukraine. At the same time, according to Taranu, Chisinau negatively responded to "federal ideas" - not all citizens of Moldova support the new president’s pro-Russian policy.
The participation of a state bank in Rosneft’s privatization was a vital factor. On December 15, 2016, VTB issued a loan of 692 bln rubles (10.2 bln euro) to Singaporean QHG Shares Limited for the security of Rosneft shares, according to the documents of the package’s owner - an equal joint venture by Glencore and Qatar’s investment fund (QIA). The exact package was not specified in the document, according to Vedomosti. However, 19.5% of Rosneft shares for sale by Rosneftegaz were estimated at 692 bln rubles (10.2 bln euro), which was the exact sum (plus a premium of 18 bln rubles - 283.3 mln euro) transferred to the Russian budget after the deal was completed.
The conditions and the terms of the VTB loan remain ambiguous. According to Vedomosti, the document only said that the interest income of Rosneftegaz amounted to 25.4 mln euro. "It turns out that VTB and Rosneftegaz were bridge lenders to Glencore and QIA. Although initially it was announced that the major part of the deal would be financed by the Italian bank, Intesa Sanpaolo," the newspaper said.
VTB’s press office declined to comment. At the same time, a Rosneft representative told Vedomosti, that all the objectives set out in this transaction’s framework have been fully implemented. A federal official told the newspaper, that VTB's participation does not contradict the president's request not to involve state banks in the deal - as "after all, the money obtained under the loan agreement would become the property of the borrower - a Singaporean company."
A federal official who participated in the deal told Vedomosti, "It is normal practice." According to the source VTB simply provided temporary liquidity for the execution of the transaction before the end of the year, and all the requirements were fulfilled.
According to the official, VTB served as a go-between as it was decided that deficiency payment could only be funded with the money coming from Rosneft privatization in 2016, and the matter was urgent. Technically, Rosneft is not a state-owned company, and neither is the Federal Property Management Agency, but Rosneftegaz was involved in the privatization, which means ordinary rules cannot be applied to the company, he added.
US accusations of Russia’s alleged hacker attacks are gradually morphing into a trend in Europe. The issue of Russia supposedly interfering in the internal affairs of states has become especially relevant ahead of various elections scheduled to be held in 2017 in several European countries, Izvestia wrote. Meanwhile, experts in Russia believe that it would possible to confront unsubstantiated allegations by forming international organizations, which ultimately could prevent conflicts in cyberspace.
Member of the European Parliament from Latvia, Andrejs Mamikins, told Izvestia, despite the loud rhetoric, next week the EU will be primarily engaged in the election of a new chairman to the European Parliament and, therefore, there will be no specific measures against the so-called "Russian hacker threat". "The meeting on this issue is possible in a week - after the elections. I would not rule out the European Commission creating a department based on the task force principle - where 9, and on other information, 11 people would be engaged in the fight against "Russian cyber activities," he said.
"The problem is that the EU does not want to cooperate on this issue with Russia. But sooner or later, Moscow and Brussels will take initial steps towards each other," Mamikins added.
Russian presidential adviser on the Internet and Chairman of the Council of the Internet Development Institute Herman Klimenko told Izvestia that negotiations on establishing some kind on joint force on combatting cyberthreats with the EU are in progress, but the Western partners are not yet ready for it.
"We need to hammer out the rules of communication, in order to prevent incidents in cyberspace, but our colleagues abroad are not ready for this. They are the major market players, owning all the infrastructure and they are not inclined to share. The fact is that there is no mutual access to someone else's infrastructure, which gives no meaning to all the charges," he said.
However, according to Klimenko, "it is very difficult to protect ourselves from such a charge", because "it is very difficult to resist the incompetence." Thus this way, unless law enforcement agencies agree on cooperation at the international level and begin to work together efficiently, "we should continue to expect a slew of accusations."
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