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Press review: Syrian opposition skips Astana and Gazprom yields to EU antitrust demands

March 14, 2017, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, March 14

1 pages in this article
Syrian peace in Astana, Kazakhstan, Jan. 23, 2017

Syrian peace in Astana, Kazakhstan, Jan. 23, 2017

© AP Photo/Sergei Grits


Izvestia: Russia and Turkey to coordinate positions in Syria’s Manbij

Moscow and Ankara will soon set up a joint group for monitoring the movement of forces in Syria. The deal was hammered out during the latest round of talks between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow last week, a military and diplomatic source told Izvestia on Tuesday.

The group’s major goal is to prevent any unwelcome incidents between the Russian and Turkish militaries and also clashes between their allies. Experts told the paper that this technique is in high demand now as there is an extremely "explosive situation" in northern Syria.

Vladimir Avatkov, Director of the Center of the Oriental Studies, told Izvestia: "We may hope that the presence of our military in the area of Manbij will cool down Ankara, but under the current circumstances this is not a guarantee." "The Turks understand that their actions whip up the discontent of Russia and the United States, but domestic political circumstances and the leadership’s ambitions force Ankara to take the risk," he explained.

The expert also said the incidents involving the military are not ruled out as it is too early to believe that disputes between Russia and Turkey have been resolved. "The meeting by the two presidents in Moscow did not ease tensions," Avatkov said. "The Turks continue to stick to their guns, both on the economy and foreign policy. Russia is trying to create a new security architecture in the region based on the balance of interests as it supports everyone who is fighting against the Islamic State (terrorist group, outlawed in Russia), including the Kurds."


Izvestia: Syrian opposition to skip next round of Astana peace talks

Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana will be hosting the third round of Syrian peace talks scheduled for Tuesday, but the armed opposition has refused to take part in the dialogue, blaming the Syrian army for repeatedly violating the truce, Izvestia writes.

Franz Klintsevich, First Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house) Defense Committee, told the paper that the opposition’s refusal to attend the talks jeopardizes the ceasefire but won’t put the Astana format of talks on the back burner.

"The platform will also work without the armed opposition. The absence of the opposition’s delegation does not mean that it won’t attend the next rounds (of talks). We are ready to speak to and work with these people. The boycott of the negotiations does not measure up to the tasks on the Syrian settlement and ending the confrontation," the senator told Izvestia.

Syrian military expert, retired Major General Muhammed Abbas, said the talks in Astana are important but the situation in Syria does not directly depend on them.

"We continually hold dialogue with constructive forces, which are indeed interested in the ceasefire and we have succeeded in this area," he said, adding that the opposition’s refusal to come to Astana may signal that it is not seeking to stop the bloodshed in Syria. The opposition is not withdrawing from the Astana talks and is only boycotting the third round. "The format itself is stalled, but it has not ceased to exist," the retired general stressed.

Meanwhile, Russia, Turkey, Iran, the official Damascus delegation along with UN representatives and some other organizations and countries have not called off the meeting. Commenting on this, the expert said, "Many external actors and the Syrian authorities have a real interest in ending the fighting. They are ready to agree on this, with or without the opposition."


Kommersant: Experts revisit Tu-154 tragedy, show pilot sought to land on water

Experts have determined that the pilot of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Tu-154 aircraft which crashed into the Black Sea during its flight from Sochi to Syria, had attempted to land the aircraft on the water, according to Kommersant. Sources told the paper on Tuesday that the probe's technical stage into the late December 2016 crash has been completed.

Experts have come to the conclusion that the plane did not fall into the sea as had earlier been presumed. Sources told Kommersant that after take-off, the Tu-154 jet gained an altitude of around 250 meters and a speed of 360-370 kilometers per hour. After that commander Roman Volkov switched the plane into landing mode for an unexplained reason. During the next ten seconds, the aircraft descended under the pilot’s control and then hit the water, breaking apart.

According to one of the theories, the reason for the pilot’s "strange behavior" could have been "disorientation in space." Volkov apparently ignored the cockpit indications and relied on his physical feelings. Experts are now studying Volkov’s medical history and the results of his psychological tests, Kommersant says. They are questioning the instructors and want to know if the crew had had enough rest before the flight.


Vedomosti: Gazprom concedes to EU’s antitrust demands

The European Commission is satisfied with Gazprom’s proposals sent in mid-February to change its market policy in Europe, Vedomosti writes, citing the regulator. The Russian gas giant agreed to lift all restrictions on its clients to resell gas to other EU countries and will also provide its infrastructure for reselling gas from Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to the Baltic states. Market participants will have seven weeks to assess and agree on the Russian energy major’s offer. If Gazprom breaks its commitments, the European Commission may impose a fine of up to 10% of the company’s turnover.

Analyst at Raiffeisenbank, Andrei Polyschuk, welcomes Gazprom’s decision explaining that the gas market is seriously changing towards free market pricing and abusing its privileged position could worsen relations with buyers and reduce revenues in the long term. New participants are entering the market and a more flexible approach will allow Gazprom to retain the market, he elaborated.

Alexey Kokin, an analyst at Uralsib, expects that Gazprom’s revenues from sales to Eastern Europe will drop slightly, but this won’t be critical. Gazprom understands that it cannot influence the flows of gas inside the European market. "Earlier, when oil and gas prices were higher, the difference between the price in Germany and Poland was more significant, but once energy prices fell this scale was leveled out," Kokin said.


Kommersant: Lithuanian bank to open its doors in Moscow

Lithuania’s Medicinos Bankas, owned by one of the country’s richest businessmen Saulius Karosas, could soon enter the Russian market, Kommersant writes, citing sources familiar with the organization’s plans. The bank may start developing business in Russia by opening several offices in major cities, including in Moscow.

Experts interviewed by the paper say this is the first time since the financial meltdown of 2008-2009, when a European bank has entered the Russian market. Over the past years, subsidiaries of Western banks have been selling or cutting back their Russian operations.

Medicinos Bankas’ decision to come to Russia could be influenced by the situation on the domestic market, where foreign banks have a major share. Experts also say that the Lithuanian newcomer will find it difficult to develop business during the "sluggish banking crisis in Russia."

Bain and Company partner, Yegor Grigorenko, said there are only two ways for a small foreign bank to successfully operate on the Russian market in the foreseeable future. "The first is if the bank has rich Russian clients and opening a branch in Moscow will enable it to be closer to them and service them more quickly," he said. "The second is if there is the need to service Lithuanian companies working in Russia."

Managing Director of Russia’s National Rating Agency Pavel Samiyev sees no factors, which could become drivers for developing the Lithuanian bank’s client base in Russia. "There is no interest in Lithuania," he stated.


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

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