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Press review: Sanctions put US diplomats on subway and jailed pilot calls on UK daily

August 02, 2017, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, August 2

1 pages in this article
© Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: American embassy cutbacks may push US diplomats out of cars and into subway, ex-envoy says

American envoys continue to analyze the aftermath of the Kremlin’s decision to cut US diplomatic staff in Russia. In their desire to issue a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s December expulsion of 35 diplomats from the US, Moscow apparently planned to make daily operations for the US diplomatic mission as difficult as possible, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Presumably, that plan has turned out to be a success, since the Americans are going to fully reorganize the functions of their embassy in the Russian capital and three consulates general within a month’s time.

Former US Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow confirmed in an interview with the paper that staff reductions will primarily affect Russian employees. The Americans will have to dismiss the bulk of their Russian staff. He stressed that, since many drivers are also Russians, the embassy staff is likely to use taxis or the subway to travel to business meetings.

Simultaneously, some administrative and financial functions will have to be transferred to US diplomatic missions in neighboring countries, such as Latvia and Finland, which have Russian-speaking staff. That means that Finns or Latvians will get the jobs lost by Russians, Vershbow noted.

Diplomat Jack Matlock who served as US Ambassador to the USSR in 1987-1991 noted talking to Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the American diplomatic mission in Moscow had a fairly large staff during the Soviet era. He emphasized the number of staff members is proportionate to contacts between the two countries. According to Matlock, diplomats are necessary if there is cooperation in trade, business, law enforcement activities, student and cultural exchanges.

Moreover, the former ambassador did not rule out that this diplomatic spat could prompt the Trump administration to slap restrictions on Russian diplomatic staff at the UN. He recalled that during the Cold War the Soviet delegation at the UN was a big headache for the US, since it was accused of spying, adding that that there is no relevant organization in Russia where American diplomats, who could be expelled, work.


Izvestia: Jailed Russian pilot invites British reporters to visit him in prison

Imprisoned Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who is serving out his sentence in the US, has invited journalists working for The Guardian to interview him in the Federal Correctional Institution, Fort Dix, Izvestia writes. He hoped that this will allow the newspaper to conduct a full-fledged investigation and lay out all the details surrounding his abduction. In his 17-page letter to the editorial office (obtained by Izvestia), Yaroshenko writes that this idea struck him after The Guardian published an article on him without presenting his side of the story.

The piece was published in March 2015, but Yaroshenko was able to read it just recently, two years later. Its author describes the work of US undercover agents in Liberia, which made it possible to disclose a large network of drug traffickers.

"For some reason, they brushed aside any chances of contacting me, my defense attorneys, the Russian authorities, law enforcement agencies and my family to find out and write who Konstantin Yaroshenko is, what happened to him, what the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Liberian National Security Agency (NSA) did with him and what the US authorities continue to do with him," Yaroshenko wrote.

In his letter, the Russian citizen offered journalists the chance to come to the Fort Dix correctional facility and hear his version of these events in compliance with all journalistic standards.

"I would be glad if you or any other journalist working for The Guardian visited me in prison so that I could tell you everything in detail, or if you visited my family in Rostov, since my daughter speaks English, and interviewed my family, my defense attorneys in Russia, representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office and the Russian Foreign Ministry," he elaborated.

Yaroshenko’s daughter Yekaterina told the paper that she sent her father’s letter personally. Although the author of the article has not replied to the letter yet, the newspaper’s office responded on July 21 confirming that the letter had been received.


Kommersant: Russia’s natural gas producer mulls over LNG terminal in Kamchatka

Russia’s independent natural gas producer NOVATEK is considering the construction of a large transshipment liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on the Kamchatka Peninsula with a capacity of up to 20 mln tonnes per year, Lev Feodosiev, Deputy Chairman of the company’s Board, informed Kommersant. The project’s essence is to transship LNG from ice-class tankers capable of passing through the Northern Sea Route to ordinary ones, whose affreightment cost is lower and whose speed much faster.

“The organization of transshipment on the Pacific coast along ice-free waters could reduce the number of expensive Arctic-class tankers and would make it possible to use cheaper vessels,” Feodosiev explained.

NOVATEK is currently building the Yamal LNG plant with a capacity of 16 mln tonnes per year in collaboration with France’s Total (20% in the project), China’s CNPC (20%) and SRF (9.9%). The first line is to be commissioned before the end of this year.

Currently, the company is mulling over a similar project in Eastern Russia. The capacity of the Kamchatka terminal may reach up to 20 mln tonnes per year, considering that after reaching full production at NOVATEK’s second LNG project, Arctic LNG (scheduled for 2025), the total LNG production in Yamal can reach about 35 mln tonnes per year, Feodosiev added.

He noted that deliveries from Yamal to Japan take 16 days, which is twice as fast as through the Suez Canal and 1.5 times faster than shipments from the US via the Panama Canal.

"The terminal can play an important role in hammering out a competitive price for Russian LNG and ensure the flexibility of supplies to the Asia-Pacific region," Feodosiev stressed.

The cost-effectiveness of the Kamchatka terminal depends on the market. It will be minimal for Japan and significant for South China or Southeast Asia, says Alexander Sobko from the energy center of the Skolkovo Business School. "The cost of an Arc7 tanker is roughly double that of a conventional one, that is, about $400 mln compared to $200 mln. Icebreaker tankers also have higher fuel costs," he noted. A traditional gas tanker can be affreighted on the spot market where prices are now half that of long-term contracts."


Izvestia: Russia working to keep Internet content ‘clean’ for kids

Russia will roll out its National Internet Traffic Filtering System by 2020 to protect minors from negative and dangerous content, Izvestia writes. Denis Davydov, Head of the Safe Internet League, told the paper that underage Internet users will only be able to visit trusted websites added to its so-called "white list."

The creation of the National Internet Traffic Filtering System is specified by the Digital Economy, a government-run program that was endorsed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on July 31.

The Safe Internet League has its own "white list" of websites, which includes more than one million resources, plus two filtering systems. The league has already tested that system in some regions of Russia.

According to Davydov, the "white lists" will not be effective, if Internet hosting services do not independently pinpoint and block content that is banned in Russia. He explained that without such responsibility adult Runet users will be able to turn off filtering, and children will not be protected from dangerous content.

Igor Ashmanov, head of Ashmanov and Partners, described the "white lists" idea as not viable. In his view, what is needed is the “smart” filtering systems instantly blocking any content banned in Russia, which “moves” from blocked websites to other online resources.

Konstantin Ankilov, CEO of TMT Consulting, likewise believes that the initiative to introduce the so-called "white lists" for all Internet users is flawed. "This initiative violates the presumption of innocence and is a mild version of the North Korean pattern," he pointed out.

On the other hand, MegaFon Spokesperson Yulia Dorokhina noted that restricting children’s access to undesirable content is a step in the right direction.

“We support the idea of curtailing children’s access to undesirable content and we have been working on this track for a long time,” she said.


Vedomosti: Turkey still attracting Russian tourists in droves

A total of 2 million of Russians flew to Antalya in February-July 2017, Vedomosti writes citing data provided by the airport. July’s tourist flow turned out to be a four-year high, with over 684,000 people travelling to Antalya’s resorts that month.

Antalya is the only airport in that region. The most popular resorts there are in Kemer because of a great number of hotels and the prestigious Belek, Larisa Akhanova of TezTour noted. Many tourists buying inexpensive family tours to Alanya fly through Antalya airport as well.

When Turkey was closed to Russian tourists from November 2015 to September 2016, people looked for other options, but now they have returned to the hotels they are accustomed to, Level.Travel Director General Dmitry Malyutin noted. Besides, Turkish hotels are cutting prices in a bid to attract more Russian tourists amid decreasing European tourist flow, Akhanova stressed.

The demand for vacations to Turkey will continue to grow, Malyutin emphasized. By the end of 2017, the number of Russian tourists in Turkey may exceed the figure announced by Turkish officials (3.5 mln people), Akhanova noted. That will be comparable to the 2015 numbers, when sanctions against Turkey were imposed. The growth of tourism can only be held back by an unstable geopolitical situation and security threats in the resort areas. If Egypt opens up for Russians, some tourists will go there, Malyutin added.


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

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