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Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with one of his most consistent and like-minded allies, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, on Thursday, Kommersant writes. His one-day visit to Budapest designed to demonstrate the inviolability of the Russian-Hungarian political alliance, is symbolic to a large extent. The two leaders’ talks are expected to focus on such pragmatic issues as the development of bilateral trade amid persisting sanctions, Russian gas supplies to Hungary and the construction of new power units at the Paks nuclear power plant.
Historian Zoltan Biro told Kommersant that Orban attaches symbolic importance to contacts with the Russian president, as this close friendship gives him importance in his own eyes.
"The economic aspect of the talks is more relevant for Viktor Orban, Hungary is too dependent on Russian energy supplies," Alexander Stykalin, leading research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Slavic Studies, told the paper. "On the other hand, this meeting is also useful for the Hungarian premier politically. It is important for him to maintain his image of a politician who is independent from Brussels."
The Russian president is pursuing other goals, the expert said. "Vladimir Putin is looking for politicians in the EU who would express solidarity with Russia’s foreign policy. In this sense, Orban is a significant figure. Think of his approach towards such issues as protecting the country’s national interests and preserving its identity within a united Europe," Stykalin emphasized.
While some Syrian opposition groups have agreed to form a single delegation at the Geneva talks with representatives of the government in Damascus, the process is still being hindered by the stance assumed by the Riyadh group, which refuses to maintain contacts with other members of the opposition, Izvestia writes. The next round of the Geneva consultations scheduled for February 20 may again fail, if it is held at all.
Forming a unified opposition delegation at the talks turned out to be impossible because of the stance by the Riyadh Group, which is also called the external opposition, head of the Hmeymim group, Ilian Masaad, told the paper. "They say they are the only ones who express the Syrian people’s interests and refuse to establish coordination with other opposition groups," he said, adding that other groups’ leaders reached an agreement on a unified delegation.
Boris Dolgov, senior research fellow at the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, described the external opposition’s stance as far from constructive in an interview with Izvestia. "The Riyadh group considers itself the only party that can represent Syria’s opposition at the talks. This is the manifestation of certain arrogance, because the group’s representatives feel that they are supported by Saudi Arabia, which backs them financially. However, this stance does not correspond to the existing realities," he stated.
Kiev has no intention of terminating its military operation in eastern Ukraine and imposing martial law because of the situation in Avdeyevka, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Ukraine, which took over UN Security Council presidency on February 1, is convening an open meeting on the situation in the region on Thursday. During a closed-door meeting in late January that focused on Avdeyevka, Ukraine’s delegation again tried to persuade Security Council members that the issue at hand is "the Russian military aggression." However, Kiev refused to convene an extraordinary session of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament).
Political analyst Taras Chornovil noted in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Kiev is taking actions in the circumstances that do not depend on it. "There is the Minsk format for the talks, the Normandy format, there is nothing else. Although the parties have so far failed to tackle the issue within them, they at least make it possible to prevent the situation from escalating," he noted.
The expert explained that the main task for Ukraine today is to convey its position to the Trump administration, adding that the future format of the talks on Donbass will depend on it. According to Chornovil, there is no unanimity among Verkhovna Rada members. "Some of them want a concrete wall separating Donbass from Ukraine to be built, which will allow them to forget about that part of Ukraine, others favor launching an offensive (but whether they will send their children to fight there is a big question). Still others have nothing against accepting Russia’s terms and acknowledging the existence of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics," he emphasized.
Meanwhile, lawmaker from the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, Yuri Lutsenko wrote in a blog post that "the problem with the war is in Kiev," and that "the counter-terrorism operation should be conducted here."
Russian energy giant Gazprom has reduced natural gas transportation via the OPAL pipeline in the wake of cancellation of the February auctions by the decision of the European Court, a Gazprom representative told Vedomosti. Supplies via other gas transportation corridors have remained unchanged, he said.
Record export volumes could only have been preserved by increasing transit through Ukraine, the paper notes.
There is no increase presently in the Ukrainian transit, said Alexei Grivach, Deputy Director General of the National Energy Security Fund. About 150 mln cubic meters per day are currently supplied to Slovakia, just as in January, he went on to say.
Therefore, temporary restrictions on the use of the Nord Stream will lead to a reduction of access to Russian gas supplies for Europeans, the expert concluded.
According to Maria Belova, senior analyst at Vygon Consulting, Gazprom has enough flexibility in the choice of gas export routes. "In recent months, gas flow volumes were growing in all directions, both via the Nord Stream and the Yamal-Europe pipeline," the paper quotes her as saying. "The ban on OPAL’s maximum utilization will, of course, adversely affect the Nord Stream capacity. It will only be possible to preserve record volume of exports to Europe by increasing supplies via Ukraine."
Russian producers occupy five percent of the instant coffee market in Germany, outselling suppliers from Brazil, India and Switzerland, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes. According to Russian Export Center experts, Russia began to supply instant coffee to Germany last August immediately joining the list of ten top suppliers and selling 542 tonnes of the "Russian" drink to that country in 2016. In late 2015, Russia entered Israel’s market becoming one of the top five instant coffee suppliers.
There is nothing strange about this and the secret of success is simple, Ramaz Chanturia, head of the Russian Association of Tea and Coffee Producers, said in an interview with the paper. At the beginning of the 2000s, the Russian government began to pursue the policy aimed at stimulating investment in the coffee processing industry by setting a zero import tax on green unroasted coffee beans, while keeping a 7.5-8% tax on instant and roasted coffee. "That helped to attract both Russian and foreign capital in the industry," he said. "Over the past few years, over 600 million euros have been invested in Russia, ultramodern and powerful processing plants have been built." Today, the Russian coffee industry provides about 70-80% of domestic consumption and is the industrial base for the entire Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
In addition to that, Russia exports tea, even to China, one of the world’s key tea exporters. "For example, the Chinese purchase our tea with pleasure (up to 30 tonnes per year), which is made of the Kenyan and Krasnodar tea leaves, as green tea is plentiful there. The same applies to Vietnam," the association’s representatives said.
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