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The US State Department has announced that America’s top diplomat Rex Tillerson is due to visit Russia in April. Experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta do not expect a breakthrough on any issues topping the bilateral agenda, while remaining mum on Moscow’s return to the group of the world’s major economies (G8).
Director of the Institute for US and Canadian Studies Valery Garbuzov told the paper that during Tillerson’s visit to Moscow the sides should primarily discuss the war on terror in Syria and arms control - the two issues outlined before Donald Trump’s inauguration.
"I think Russia will raise the sanctions issue, this will be made indirectly, not in an explicit manner," Garbuzov stated. "And Tillerson, like Trump, will also speak his mind on Crimea, Donbass and the Minsk agreements. Ukraine will become a key obstacle for advancing discussion on all issues."
The expert does not expect any positive changes in Russian-US relations. "Both sides will stick to their guns," he said. "Things will be looking up, if after this visit dialogue at least begins."
Commenting on recent statements by Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano that the G7 summit in Sicily in late May should become a new start for relations between Europe and Russia, the expert said: "I doubt if Russia’s return to G8 will take place. Judging by the current political climate in the US, any moves towards Russia will be seen as a blow to Trump. Any comment on Russia viewed as more or less favorable, or even neutral will be met with hostility. Tillerson fully understands this and will hardly raise the issue of Russia’s return to the elite global club."
Head of the European security section at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe Dmitry Danilov said: "Given the current climate, no one in the West will place bets on the Russia card. The US won’t force events in relations with Russia. In Europe no one will agree to let Russia back into the 7+1 group."
This will translate to a total political flop for the politicians since the entire European strategy is now focused on countering the supposed Russian threat, he emphasized.
Despite the fact that at the first public hearing in the House on Russia's alleged interference in US elections the intelligence chiefs provided no evidence to back their claims, Congressmen plan to make this a long and drawn-out issue, Kommersant writes. The investigation against the president, suspected of supposedly colluding with an unfriendly state, has shed some light on a possible shadow government operating in Washington, which is commonly dubbed ‘the deep state.’ This could cast doubt on the prospects of normalizing ties with Russia, the paper says.
The strategy by Trump’s opponents is to make the issue a thorn in the president’s side, forcing him to defend himself and to limit his capabilities to fulfill his election promises, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov explained. This policy may be successful as Americans, who don’t care much about foreign policy, are sensitive to real or potential threats to their democracy, he noted.
The congressional hearing will become another factor complicating US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow, Kortunov said.
American University History Professor Anton Fedyashin told the paper: "The hearing demonstrated that Russian-US relations are being held hostage to internal political squabbling during Trump’s term. Moreover, the investigation will be used against the Republicans during the midterm elections in 2018 forcing the Republican candidates to distance themselves from the administration," he predicted.
Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Association of Russian Diplomats, Andrei Baklanov, has not ruled out that Trump’s presidency will result in "the new lost years for Russian-US relations."
The US Department of Defense is cooperating with Russia’s Defense Ministry on a limited range of issues linked to ensuring security for the forces deployed to Syria. The agreement on preventing incidents in the skies over Syria is one example of this cooperation, Izvestia writes. Moscow and Washington have a high-level closed communication channel to guarantee air security in the region, US Defense Department Spokesperson Michelle Baldanza told the paper.
Franz Klintsevich, First Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house) Defense Committee, told Izvestia that the cooperation between Russia and the US to prevent incidents in the skies over Syria is increasing. "This is not full-fledged cooperation. These are consultations aimed at preventing accidents. During the previous US administration, the military did not have any contacts at all and the threat of encounters always remained. Now this cooperation is increasing," he said, stressing that the military is making every effort to prevent escalation.
Military expert Valery Evseyev told the paper that judging by the events in Syria, joint efforts between Russian and US military should reach a new level. US President Donald Trump made it clear to the US military that steps in this direction are necessary.
"Without cooperating with Russia’s Aerospace Forces, it is difficult for the US military in Syria to act, that’s why it will step up contacts with Moscow one way or another. Under Barack Obama, it was stated that there couldn’t be any military cooperation in principle. Now we see that the situation is changing," he noted.
Lawmakers from some EU countries and also from the former Soviet states have announced their intention of heading off to the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine in order to get the lowdown on what is really happening in the region, Izvestia writes.
Politicians from the Czech Republic, Serbia, the United Kingdom and Kyrgyzstan, who had earlier visited Crimea, told the paper that they would like to visit Donetsk and Lugansk to help settle the ongoing conflict. Some of them said Kiev’s permission is needed for that and the Donbass authorities should provide security guarantees.
The leadership of the unrecognized republics told the paper that they can ensure security for the foreign MPs provided that they do not approach the contact line. Vladislav Deinego, Deputy Chairman of the People’s Council in the Lugansk Republic, said this trip may help de-escalate the conflict. "It would be useful for them and for us. I’m ready to assist the European politicians here," he stated.
Director of the Kiev-based Center for Political Studies and Conflict Management Mikhail Pogrebinsky told the paper that the visit could have a positive influence on a peaceful settlement, but it is highly unlikely that Kiev will give a green light to the foreign lawmakers.
More politicians in Europe are coming to the conclusion that before making a judgement on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, there is the need to get the whole picture of what is really going on, the paper says. The problem is that it is not easy to put together a delegation as everything depends on Kiev’s position. It is unclear now when the visit will take place and who will be part of it.
As Moscow and Tokyo are enhancing ties, a project in the works to build a gas pipeline from Russia to Japan, Kommersant business daily writes. According to the Japanese side’s conclusions, obtained by the paper, a $6 bln pipeline with the capacity of 25 bln cubic meters of gas per year may be launched as early as 2022.
Japan is currently the world’s largest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The country hopes to provide itself with natural gas, which costs almost half as much as liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The Japan Pipeline Development, the Operation (JPDO) and the Japan Russian Natural Gas (JRNG) companies have outlined a plan to construct the Sakhalin-Hokkaido gas pipeline to deliver Russian gas to Japan. The talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in December 2016 gave a significant impetus to the project. Russia’s energy giant Gazprom is expected to give its assessments to the Russian Energy Ministry in April. On Tuesday, Gazprom said that it was considering "different options for monetizing gas produced in Sakhalin."
JPDO sees the pipeline as beneficial for both sides. Russia has been less enthusiastic about the plan. In late 2016, Russian Deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Yanovsky said there were slim chances to implement the project. But market participants say that taking into consideration the progress in Russian-Japanese relations, the project may serve to seal bilateral cooperation. Sources told Kommersant that this issue may be discussed during Abe’s visit to Russia in April.
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