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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has wrapped up his first tour of Asia visiting Japan, South Korea and China. The trip took place against the backdrop of impeachment proceedings against the South Korean President, North Korea’s new missile test and growing tensions between Washington’s Asian allies and China. However, the primary outcome was the confirmation of the White House’s willingness to abandon its previous anti-Chinese rhetoric and to hold meetings between the two leaders in the near future, Kommersant writes, adding that Washington’s dialogue with Beijing could begin far more rapidly than the process of ironing out of relations with Russia.
During his two-day visit to Beijing and a meeting with Chinese President, Xi Jinping, the US secretary of state did his utmost to avoid making tough statements, mentioning briefly the human rights issue and religious freedoms in China. Moreover, in the run-up to Tillerson’s visit to Beijing, Acting State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said that one of the objectives of the US top diplomat would be preparing for Xi Jinping’s visit to the US. The dates of his visit have not been disclosed yet, but, according to some US media reports, the summit may be held as early as April.
Meanwhile, the experts interviewed by Kommersant pointed to the fact that the Trump administration is rapidly moving away from its former anti-Chinese rhetoric. According to independent Hong Kong-based expert Brian Young, Tillerson’s visit to Beijing showed that Washington made a U-turn focusing on cooperation, realizing that, from an economic point of view, China is too big to ignore.
A similar view has been put forward by Alexander Lomanov, Chief Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies. "Trump’s Asian policy is increasingly becoming similar to the one pursued by his predecessor. The policy’s components consist of previous approaches to the Korean crisis assuming pressure on Pyongyang, cooperation with China with the absence of visible signs of an early normalization of relations with Russia. In light of this, Trump could meet with the Chinese leader earlier with the Russian head of state," he explained in an interview with the paper.
European politicians who arrived in Crimea for a three-day visit on March 19 are bracing to take on Ukrainian sanctions, Izvestia writes.
Czech MP from the Freedom and Direct Democracy political party, Jaroslav Golik, emphasized in his interview with the paper that he expected such a reaction from Kiev and is ready to become persona-non-grata.
Milovan Bojic, a lawmaker from the Serbian Radical Party, also said that he is ready to stand up to the sanctions. He added that he is proud of the fact that the Ukrainian authorities could put him on the blacklist. Bojic stressed that he had no plans to visit Kiev anyway.
The delegation also includes parliamentarians from Kyrgyzstan, an activist from Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement in Eastern Europe and Asia and the director of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro.
Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Alexander Turchinov, earlier said that the Ukrainian Security Service is going to slap sanctions on officials from the European Parliament and politicians from the European Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Latin America, who arrived in Crimea. According to Turchinov, criminal proceedings should be initiated against these individuals, as, in his view, Crimea has been allegedly "annexed."
In whatever form they may be, the anti-Russian sanctions will remain a political sore point for a long time, Sergey Katyrin, President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Rossiyska Gazeta.
"I think no one should expect an early return to ‘the good old days’ when there were no such sanctions. I do believe, however, that something will change. The West will begin to slowly and selectively remove some of its sanctions, while hoping that we will cancel our retaliatory measures, which turned out to have a quite a ‘bite," he noted.
According to Katyrin, for Russian businesses the hardest thing they had to brave was restricted access to external lending market and advanced technologies. However, he did note that the Russian businesses, even banks, managed to adapt to the new realities and establish new ties.
As for European producers, their niche in Russia is gone forever, as it will be next to impossible to oust their competitors who have arrived to replace them in the Russian market, he stressed. "Under the best of circumstances, they will have to be satisfied with a smaller market share. That’s why far-sighted companies that had come to Russia from the countries that imposed sanctions have never left the country. And that’s the right move: they are thinking about the future," he emphasized.
Katyrin added that the main damage is not material losses, but the atmosphere of mutual trust that has been considerably undermined. "The West and Russia created it for decades. We learned to trust each other and appreciated that. And then, all of a sudden, we had to face unpredictability, restrictions and uncertainty. That’s a very bad lesson for the future, that’s the most unpleasant thing about the sanctions. I do not rule out that we will have this aftertaste for a very, very long time," he said.
The Islamic State has declared martial law in Raqqa, a city claimed by the terrorists as their capital, Izvestia writes. Militants have to prepare to defend the city, with the Kurdish armed groups closing in on it.
Representative of Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party, whose combat units will take part in the storming of Raqqa, Abd Salam Ali, said in an interview with the paper that the IS jihadists will not be able to defend the city anyway. "The militants are well aware that they will have to abandon Raqqa. They are now preparing to put up resistance, but we have been fighting against them for a long time. We know their tactics and all the techniques they use on the battlefield. Besides, the city is fully blocked. The offensive is set to begin within the next few weeks," he said.
According to Araik Stepanyan, member of the Presidium of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, the Kurdish units’ efforts in the coming weeks will be aimed at wearing down the IS militants. The expert also warned that the upcoming assault on Raqqa could have disastrous consequences for civilians.
"The Kurds are exceptional fighters, but they lack professionalism during offensive actions, enabling them to properly protect civilians. Thus, the situation in Mosul where civilians are killed in large numbers can be repeated," he stressed.
Gas production in Russia can reach 640.5 bln cubic meters in 2017, which is 0.5 cubic meters more than last year, the Russian Energy Ministry said in its recent presentation. The ministry noted that the country’s gas production will accelerate in the coming years reaching 648.3 bln cubic meters in 2018 and 656 bln in 2019.
Production by Russia’s top gas producer, Gazprom, will depend entirely on demand for gas in the next couple of years, as the company’s significant capacities remain underutilized, Vedomosti quotes Tatiana Mitrova, Director of the Skolkovo Business School Energy Center, as saying. The expert noted that last year the energy giant maintained production at the same level (about 419 bln cubic meters), which means, considering an increase in exports, that Gazprom’s share in the domestic market dropped. At the same time, domestic growth in gas demand is limited, while abroad it is unlikely due to its high cost and additional LNG volumes, she noted.
Under these circumstances, the bulk of the increase in gas production will come from independent producers, such as Rosneft and Novatek. In 2016, Rosneft became Russia’s largest independent gas producer, increasing gas production by 7% to 67.1 bln cubic meters. Novatek cut output 2.7% to 66.1 bln cubic meters last year, the company reported. However, it will increase gas production for the Yamal LNG plant in the coming years, Mitrova explained. The first line, which will require about 8 bln cubic meters of gas, is to be commissioned in 2017, while the second will come on line in 2018.
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