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An agreement on pooling efforts in fighting the Islamic State terrorist group was the key result of the first telephone conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump on Saturday, Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament) International Affairs Committee, told Izvestia.
"That’s something sober-minded people throughout the world expect from the Russian-US cooperation, if I may say without sounding too smug. That’s considerable progress compared to the policies of the previous US administration, which, in fact, covered up terrorist groups in Syria to secure its own interests in the region," he said.
According to Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Expert Group think tank in Moscow, the first step towards improving bilateral relations has already been made. "For Trump now it is important to search for partners in tackling the key, in his view, issue - international terrorism. And the common grounds here are indisputable," he noted.
On the other hand, Fyodor Voitolovsky, Deputy Director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, assessed the outcomes of the conversation with cautious optimism in an interview with Kommersant. "It is advantageous for each new US president to turn around their stance in international affairs in the area that became a stumbling block for the previous administration. However, both the Republicans’ and Democrats’ stances in US Congress still significantly restrict Trump’s room for maneuver," he explained. According to the expert, the question today is whether "pragmatic businessman Donald Trump will have enough desire and resources to continue to invest his political capital in the normalization of relations with Russia."
There is no progress so far in the issue of Belarusian debt for Russia’s natural gas, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes on Monday. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Akrady Dvorkovich said during talks on Saturday that Russia insists the debt should be paid in full. According to Russian government estimates, the shortage of payment for Russian gas has amounted to $550 mln.
The experts interviewed by the paper warned once again that, in all likelihood, Moscow and Minsk will have to meet each other halfway. "The policy of mutual blackmail has become an integral part of the Russian-Belarusian relations. The two sides have always been able to find a way of out of the situation. They will be able to do so now as well. However, this time the negotiations can be somewhat delayed, as there is a third party involved - the IMF," said Nikita Isayev, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Economies. He did not rule out partial Belarusian debt relief by Moscow by providing another loan from either Russia or the Eurasian Development Bank.
The gas issue has long been taken to a political dimension, according to Amarkets leading analyst, Artem Deyev. "A lot depends on the position of the Kremlin, because $550 mln is a significant burden for Belarus," the expert pointed out.
Meanwhile, Kirill Yakovenko, an analyst at Alor Broker, believes that the gas dispute will last one or two more years, "because that implies a number of benefits for the Belarusian side." "Lobbyists will be particularly active in the run-up to 2018, when Russia will hold the presidential election, and some of them may come up with an idea of offering Belarus to partially write off its debt in exchange for political support," he said.
Prague will host a meeting between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, and Georgia’s Special Envoy for Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, in early February, Izvestia writes. The two sides earlier said they are determined to push ahead with efforts aimed at mending relations, while Russian President Vladimir Putin did not rule out visa-free travel for Georgian citizens.
Although the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries is not being discussed at the moment, dialogue on trade, humanitarian, cultural and transport issues is in full swing. If Moscow and Tbilisi continue to move at the same pace, they can expand cooperation significantly in 2017.
Abashidze told Izvestia that during the next meeting with Karasin the two diplomats will discuss, above all, trade and economic ties, transport communications and "some humanitarian problems." "In other words, we are discussing very specific problems. More complicated issues concerning mainly the conflict regions, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia - are discussed during the Geneva International Discussions."
When it comes to visas, the Georgian diplomat made it clear that the ball is in Russia’s court, adding that simplified entry to Russia for Georgian nationals would be a step in the right direction. "As for Georgia, we abolished visa requirements for Russian citizens in 2011, and they can stay in Georgia for as long as one year," he said.
For his part, Karasin hailed his Georgian counterpart’s willingness to discuss restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. "We all know that it was not Russia that broke off diplomatic relations in September 2008, and there are no obstacles whatsoever on our part for restoring them. Therefore, positive changes in this regard depend entirely on Tbilisi," he told Izvestia.
The Voronezh Mechanical Plant, which produces engines for Soyuz and Proton carrier rockets, will be placed under the management of the Energomash scientific production association, Kommersant writes. The Roscosmos State Corporation and government officials believe that this will help steer the company, which delayed the Proton launch program, out of the crisis.
Several top managers at space industry enterprises told the paper that improving the quality and reliability of products manufactured by the Voronezh Mechanical Plant were the key issue at a recent meeting chaired by Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin. To remedy the present critical situation, it was decided to place the plant under the management of Energomash.
"As part of forming an integrated engine-building enterprise and implementing the Roscosmos quality improvement strategy, a decision was adopted to transfer the Voronezh Mechanical Plant under our management," Energomash CEO, Igor Arbuzov, confirmed in an interview with the paper, adding that the roadmap of the proposed reform has already been developed.
The recent contacts between the Moldovan president and senior officials of Moldova’s self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria approved by Moscow have triggered counteraction from the government, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
The Moldovan Foreign Ministry’s protest against the opening of the representative office of the unrecognized republic can be seen as a response to President Igor Dodon’s promises to make his country a federation. Transnistria’s Envoy to Russia, Alexander Karaman, informed the paper that, under the 1997 memorandum signed by Moldova’s president, Tiraspol is entitled to independent economic activities and its own office.
The current situation stems from the fact that Moldova’s parliament and government, despite negotiations with Moscow, Brussels and the US on resolving the Transnistrian crisis, are not interested in a merger with the breakaway area, Transnistria, the paper notes.
According to Moldovan political scientist and lawmaker, Bogdan Tsyrdja, in a united country, Transnistria will be represented in Modova’s parliament, while its representatives will take part in national elections. And the Transnistrian parties’ participation in the elections will "lead to the fact that the majority of the electorate will vote for them," the paper writes citing the expert
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