Senior diplomats from all Normandy Four states – Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine – are about to meet in Berlin for talks on the Ukrainian crisis. The participants will try to hash out the agenda for future talks between the leaders of the four states, though the event is hardly going to become a breakthrough for settling the Donbass crisis, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The thing is that all sides are still sticking to their previous positions, which makes it impossible to draft a ‘road map’ for carrying out the Minsk accords that all will be satisfied with, the newspaper says, adding that Kiev assumes the situation will remain unchanged at least until the G20 summit scheduled for July 7-8.
Vladimir Gorbach, political analyst at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, does not expect Germany and France to step up any pressure on Pyotr Poroshenko this time, neither does he expect Russia’s role in the negotiations to be revised. “Western policies towards Russia have not seriously changed. The previous course implying requests without escalation persists. The United States is only going to resume the bilateral negotiation format with Russia,” he said. According to Gorbach, the west is still unprepared to solve the key issue that would facilitate a settlement for Donbass, namely to hammer out a plan for an international peacekeeping mission. “Russia has a veto right in the organizations that could potentially solve the problem, but no one is willing to revise Russia’s role and label it an aggressor not entitled to use the veto right,” he told the newspaper.
Meanwhile, Russia is ready for talks with Washington over the Ukrainian issue, but expects the US to intensify discourse with Kiev, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with Izvestia. “We are not against a more active dialogue with the new US administration on the settlement of the situation in southeastern Ukraine. Moreover, the Russian side has repeatedly stressed recently that as soon as Washington assigns a supervisor for the issue we’ll be ready to discuss all the problems in detail. But what is crucial is that this dialogue cannot replace the discourse between Washington and Kiev,” deputy minister said. Ryabkov thinks the problem with the implementation of the Minsk accords relates to the fact the Kiev “is definitely heading towards their defeat and revision.” “Our American colleagues have to hold a dialogue with Kiev if they really want a progress,” he added.
Russia’s top gas producer, Gazprom, plans to sign an agreement with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) to build an LNG plant in Iran, Izvestia writes citing two sources familiar with the matter and Russia’s trade representative in the country, Andrey Lugansky. "The document on cooperation with NIOC may be signed at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum," one of the sources said. The plan is to produce gas using the resources of the South Pars gas condensate field located in the Persian Gulf, about 100 kilometers off the coast, and deliver it from Iran to India and then on to Laos and Cambodia, the newspaper says.
Gazprom is an experienced player on the Iranian gas market. The energy giant joined the development of the South Pars gas field (phases 2 and 3) as a member of an international consortium in 1997. However, the Iranian venture was put on hold due to economic sanctions over its nuclear program imposed against the country in 2006. It is now more than a year since those sanctions have been removed, and Gazprom has been eyeing new joint projects in Iran. In March, the company signed a memorandum of understanding to look for collaborative opportunities in the areas of exploration and production of hydrocarbons there. This deal is going to become yet another step towards joint ventures and specify what the parties will particularly do, a source in Russia’s energy industry told Izvestia.
Experts interviewed by the newspaper said Gazprom and NIOC may set up a joint venture with shared ownership if the plan to construct an LNG plant is carried out. Also, experts said, the construction of a pipeline to deliver gas to India, Laos and Cambodia would be an unprecedented project. "Supplies to Laos and Cambodia will create some sort of an ‘energy circle’ from the Middle East to Asia," a source in the industry said. "Theoretically, there is nothing impossible in this scenario, though the total length of this pipeline will be unprecedented," Finam’s Alexey Kalachev concurred. Concerning security, he warned that the rough terrain and criminal gangs still bouncing around a number of border areas near Pakistan and India may pose certain risks and safety issues during the project’s construction.
Tackling terrorism dominated the talks held by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with Egyptian officials in Cairo on Monday. Lavrov discussed the issue with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry and Secretary General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. When asked by Kommersant for his views on the talks with Russia’s top diplomat, the Secretary General praised it as "perfect." Replying to a question on whether the League welcomes the plan to create four de-escalation zones in Syria proposed by Moscow, he answered that he had "no problem" with it. "The main thing is that this should not fragment Syria down the line," he noted. In another reply as to whether the Arab League can take any measures to defend Cristian minorities in the Middle East, Aboul Gheit said that the league "does not interfere in the domestic affairs of its member states." "This (the protection of Christians) is under the authority of the respective governments, which are doing all they can to fight off terrorists," he told Kommersant.
The Russian and Egyptian foreign ministers also confirmed they both seek to resume air service between the countries as soon as possible. Moscow suspended air service with Egypt in November 2015 after a terrorist attack on board an A321 jet from Russia’s air carrier Kogalymavia that was en route from Sharm el-Sheikh to Russia’s St. Petersburg, killing 224 people. Negotiations on resuming flights have been underway since late 2015. Russia has requested significant upgrades in security measures in all Egyptian airports as a condition for restoring flights. Another request by Moscow was to allow Russian experts to be present in the country’s airports has been opposed by Cairo. The Egyptian side is not ready to approve the presence of Russian experts in local airports to control the aviation safety system, assuming that a constant presence of foreign security services violates the country’s sovereignty, the newspaper writes.
Russia’s railroad giant, Russian Railways has its eye on expanding the container freight market since TransContainer, the cargo monopoly owned by the Russian Railways, generates extra revenues, CEO Oleg Belozerov said in an interview with Kommersant. "As of today TransContainer’s share of the market exceeds 50%. A monopolist should be part of Russian Railways, not of any other company, since the state can restrict the rates," he said. When asked how the situation may change following the planned privatization of the container freight operator, Belozerov noted that positive dynamics may subside following the privatization deal.
"The bulk of TransContainer’s revenues are used to pay for infrastructure. We’ve created a business which generates additional revenues for us. Are we ready to give it away? We would like the container market to develop and become stable," the company executive said, adding though that there are no intentions to tap "50-80% of the market." "Let this share decline, and more players will come. I assume given today’s tendencies new players will be able to emerge and stabilize the market situation," he said.
According to Belozerov, Russian Railways expects this year’s financials to improve. "The planned net profit for 2017 comes to 3 bln rubles ($53 mln), with EBITDA at 351.8 bln rubles ($6.2 bln), a 11.4% surge year-on-year. Revenue is expected to total 1.6 trillion rubles ($28.2 bln), a 3% increase year-on-year. Taking into account a hike in the volume of transportation we expect high growth rates of loading and supply turnover in general for the year, which will be reflected in the company’s financial and economic condition," he told the newspaper.
Russia’s Federal Micro-Biological Agency (FMBA) has found a substitute for meldonium, which was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Izvestia says. Russia’s ingenuity is based on L-Carnitin permitted for use among sportsmen. FMBA Head Vladimir Uiba told the newspaper that L-Carnitin has similar effects on cardiac muscle cells and vessels. "The chemistry of L-Carnitin is similar to that of meldonium. But combining it in certain proportions with antioxidants, adaptogens and other permissible medications, we can reach a more stable and qualitative result," he stated, adding that meldonium is no longer relevant for Russia’s sports medicine after numerous international doping scandals.
Meanwhile, some professional athletes doubt L-Carnitin can fully replace meldonium, Izvestia writes, since the latter is a synthetic substance, while the former is made in a human body. Following thorough studies in western countries, L-Carnitin has taken a firm hold in sports medicine, but not more than vitamins, the newspaper says.
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