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Press review: Donbass blockade backfires and challenges to Syrian peace talks in Geneva

February 14, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, February 14

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© AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Izvestia: Opposition driving Geneva talks towards deadlock

The Syrian opposition refused to enter the united delegation at the Geneva talks, whose structure was proposed by the ‘Riyadh group’ backed by Turkey and a number of Persian Gulf monarchies, as they expect UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura to put together the delegation, Izvestia writes. Leader of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation and representative of the Syrian Opposition’s Moscow group, Qadri Jamil, rejected the proposal of the Supreme Committee for Negotiations to create a united delegation for the Geneva talks. "We had no consultations regarding the issue with anyone, and we will never accept (a situation) that implies more representatives of the ‘Riyadh group’ than of any other formations since experience has shown that the former often halt the talks," he told Izvestia.

As reported earlier, representatives of the High Negotiations Committee offered a 24-member delegation for the talks in Geneva scheduled for February 20. The head of the Hmeymim group delegation to the Geneva talks, Ilian Masaad, told the newspaper an attempt is being made "to put other opposition formations on the back burner." "It is necessary for each group to be represented in the delegation by one or two people," he said, adding that he thinks Staffan de Mistura should set up the delegation and coordinate the issue with global and regional players.

Boris Dolgov, senior research fellow at the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, remains skeptical, saying that even if the delegation is ready, it is unlikely to spur progress in the negotiations. "De Mistura can do this, but in the current situation the political process is unlikely to proceed due to a great deal of controversy," he said.

 

Kommersant: Donbass blockade backfires as Ukraine descends into rolling blackouts

For the first time in two years, Ukraine is facing rolling blackouts due to the blockade of coal supplies from Donetsk, which is causing deficiencies in fuel supplies for thermal power stations. Still Kiev has no plans to buy gas or electricity from Russia, and can only step up coal imports, which heightens rotating outage risks, but still hopes the blockade will be lifted soon, Kommersant writes.

Russia still remains Ukraine’s biggest coal supplier, with last year’s exports coming to $906 mln, which is more than 55.5% of the total amount of Ukraine’s coal imports. According to head of Infoline-Analytics Mikhail Burmistrov, Russia’s coal supplies to Ukraine via rail transportation surged 36.2% to 954,400 tonnes in January 2017. Meanwhile, as of February 11, the country’s underground gas storage facilities had 9.04 bln cubic meters left, with daily withdrawal standing at 85-90 mln cubic meters.

A source in Ukraine’s Energy Ministry told Kommersant that the high withdrawal is related to the cold spell, but Kiev still wants to avoid gas purchases from Gazprom during this heating season. The source added that the ministry expects the blockage of coal supplies from Donbass to be lifted soon, and has not yet considered the option of restricting gas supplies to the industry, though "it is possible in theory." Kommersant’s source in Gazprom and the Russian Energy Ministry said there has been no progress in gas talks with Ukraine so far.

 

Kommersant: Rogozin calls off visit to Iran

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has cancelled his visit to Tehran where he intended to meet the country’s top officials, Kommersant writes citing sources. The plan was to discuss potential bilateral cooperation, primarily in the aviation sector. The issue of purchases of Russia-made passenger jets by Iran was on the agenda. However, sources say the reason for the visit’s cancellation was that the Iranian side leaked information about the visit, while Moscow wanted to keep a lid on it.

According to a source in the Russian government, both parties planned to discuss "sensitive issues" beyond the meeting of the committee on science and technologies headed by Rogozin. Particularly, "a complex conversation was in the offing about the reasons behind the Iranian partners’ plans to purchase aircraft from western countries," the source said, adding that Moscow "is providing huge support to Tehran, while they’re buying equipment from the ones who humiliate them with sanctions."

In early December 2016, Iran Air signed a contract with Boeing to get 80 jets. The agreement stipulates the delivery of 50 Boeing-737s and 30 Boeing-777s to the country over the next 10 years. There is also a contract with Airbus, stipulating the supply of 100 planes to Iran. That being said, the total cost of those two contracts is close to $30 bln, Kommersant writes. On the other hand, aircraft deals with Moscow are much more modest: in 2016, Russia and Iran signed an unbinding document on the supplies of the regional Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft. Russian experts estimate the Iranian market at around 100 jets of this type, though the prospect of signing a firm contract depends not only on talks between the companies, but on the US Department of the Treasury, since SSJ-100 have US-made components, the newspaper adds.

 

Izvestia: Envoy says Kuril Islands issue requires ‘patience as a virtue’

Moscow has a huge interest in pursuing mutually beneficial and friendly relations "with a country that is the third-biggest economy in the world, famous for its scientific and technological breakthroughs and lays claim to expanding its political role in global affairs," Russian Ambassador to Japan, Yevgeny Afanasyev, said in an interview with Izvestia. According to the diplomat, the relationship between the two neighbors has intensified over the recent year and a half "following the period of a certain slowdown due to Japan’s decision to join in the anti-Russia sanctions initiated by several western countries." However, last year four top-level meetings took place, not to mention regular meetings by the countries’ foreign ministers, heads of other ministries and departments, he added.

Consultations behind closed doors on a peace treaty between Russia and Japan, and cooperation on the South Kuril Islands are presently underway. "This is a required measure for experts from both countries to work hard and calmly to find ways out of delicate issues," Afanasyev said. "For my part, I would recommend not delving into speculations, or getting carried away with pipe dreams, but to strengthen one's patience," he told Izvestia. When asked whether the parties obtained what they wanted during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan in end-2016, the ambassador said: "Yes and no." "I mean the sides managed to reach what was possible, but on the whole the results of the visit may be described as breakthrough as they triggered the development of bilateral relations and created the background for bringing them to a game-changing level," he said. "Meanwhile, regarding the economic arena there is still a number of negative trends, including a drop in trade turnover, mainly due to falling energy prices. In order to cope with those problems, the agreements reached by the leaders need to be implemented, and we are ready to do this," Afanasyev stated.

 

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia moves toward technological independence in agriculture

With agriculture becoming a promising business and even a flagship of the Russian national economy over the past 15 years, the country has demonstrated its ability to tackle the issues of food safety and has seriously boosted export potential. However, its purchases of foreign agriculture technology still exceeds $1.8 bln per year. Elena Skrynnik, Russia’s ex-Minister of Agriculture (2009 - 2012) and now head of the International Independent Institute for Agricultural Policy, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta that the dependence on foreign technologies is still open for Russia, despite large-scale import substitution and export expansion.

According to Skrynnik, systematic state aid and efficient management in the sector, as well as searching for new growth spurts, such as new market channels and technological independence, are crucial factors for maintaining and increasing growth rates in local agriculture." Also, she said, an aggressive external policy on acquiring shares and even whole companies that are the agro-technical leaders in the global market, will speed up the formation of a national technological base in this area.

When asked about global examples of efficiently using technologies, Skrynnik mentioned "Japanese centers of excellence and a Brazilian corporation in agricultural research." "They’ve successfully accumulated human and investment resources for carrying out research in cutting-edge areas and spurred the transfer of brand new technologies to the real sector," she explained.

 

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press reviews

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