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Press review: Moscow works to cool off US-North Korea spat and Japan eyes peace treaty

August 21, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, August 21

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© AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Izvestia: Russian diplomats work to stave off conflict between US and North Korea

Moscow continues its attempts to persuade Pyongyang and Washington to sit down at the negotiating table for direct talks, sources in Russian diplomatic circles told Izvestia. According to them, North Korea believes that easing the tension should begin with dialogue between the two countries without any mediators. However, Washington refuses to talk one-on-one, "hiding behind the lack of democracy and human rights in North Korea."

The newspaper’s source in US political circles told Izvestia that theoretically direct negotiations are possible only after North Korea freezes its nuclear program.  Russian diplomats noted that every day there is less and less hope to convince the parties to come to the negotiating table. The sources told Izvestia they are concerned that the US might decide on using force to resolve the conflict.

“Just like the other participants of the six-party talks, we have been trying to organize direct negotiations between the US and North Korea for a long time now. Pyongyang insists on having a dialogue without intermediaries. Nevertheless, North Korea is presently continuing its nuclear tests, while the US is obsessing over "lack of democracy and human rights," a high-ranking source in Russian diplomatic circles told Izvestia.

American political scientist, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute Richard Weitz recalled that during the campaign, the current US president, Donald Trump, "thought about meeting with the leader of North Korea." Yet, the new administration has continued its containment policy, refusing to deal directly with Pyongyang until North Korea stops testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the expert added.

Member of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security Alexey Pushkov told Izvestia he believes that the chances of organizing negotiations between the US and the North Korea are still high. In one way or another, in many respects, preserving peace on the Korean peninsula depends on the efforts of Moscow and the global community, since the two main parties to the conflict have so far preferred mutual threats, he added.

 

Kommersant: Japanese diplomat notes reaching peace treaty "is our common goal"

Tokyo’s Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba visited Moscow last week to participate in Russian-Japanese consultations on strategic stability issues. Kommersant talked to the diplomat about the possibilities for effective economic cooperation on the Kuril Islands, solving political issues and relations with Pyongyang.

According to the Deputy Foreign Minister, talks with his Russian counterpart Igor Morgulov touched upon joint economic activities on the four Kuril Islands and humanitarian activities for the islands’ former residents. "The consultations were very productive," Akiba told the newspaper, adding that the spheres of interest on the islands include fishing, tourism, medicine, and the environment. "These talks are proof that Japan and Russia are moving forward in establishing bilateral relations. Based on this approach, we want to reach to a common goal - to conclude a peace treaty," he highlighted.

"With this approach, we will demonstrate to our people that relations are becoming more and more trustworthy. Thus, I am sure we will be able to clinch a peace treaty. Perhaps we will face legal difficulties on our way, but given the current positive Japanese-Russian relations, we are confident that we will overcome these obstacles," the diplomat told the newspaper.

Speaking about regional issues, Akiba touched upon North Korea. "We believe settling the problem by diplomatic means is crucial. On the other hand, maintaining dialogue for the sake of dialogue itself is simply pointless. Thus, while we must exert pressure on North Korea so it agrees to start serious dialogue," he said, adding "Russia's role as a permanent member on the UN Security Council and a participant in the six-party talks is extremely important.

"Maybe this cannot be called prerequisite conditions, but our position is that first North Korea should show that it is serious in its intentions and take concrete steps towards denuclearization," the diplomat added.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US sanctions to bite $8.48 bln out of Russia’s annual GDP

Expanded US sanctions might take a bite out of Russia’s economic growth by 0.4 percentage points per year, according to specialists from Oxford Economics. Based on the estimates from experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the volume of annual losses would reach at least 500 bln rubles ($8.48 bln). Some analysts believe that without the most recent sanctions, the Russian economy would have had easier time reaching global growth rates.

According to the newspaper, analysts from Oxford Economics believe that the effect of sanctions might be long term. The company maintains its forecast for Russia’s economic growth in 2017 and 2018 at 1.4% per year. In addition, the researchers noted that the US sanctions create additional uncertainty for investors in terms of the scope of sanctions.

Experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta believe that government officials will not be able to brush off the impact of new US sanctions.

"According to our estimates, the sanctions will last for more than five years, so we have to evaluate their impact on the Russian economy during that time," Bogdan Zvarich, senior analyst at Freedom Finance investment company, told the newspaper.

"0.4 percentage points of GDP comes to around 500 bln rubles ($8.48 bln) of losses annually," Valery Mironov, Deputy Director of the Center for Development Institute of the Higher School of Economics, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “New sanctions are optional; their introduction can be expected within three to six months. When the Economic Development Ministry approved its plan in April, nobody knew about the additional sanctions, but now, obviously, their influence will be taken into account in GDP growth forecasts," he added.

According to the expert, in order for GDP to grow, it is necessary to continue restructuring the banking system and attract more investors from China, Japan and other Asian countries. "Formally, they did not join the sanctions, but they do not really invest actively at the moment," Mironov pointed out.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Belarus not ready to switch over to Russian ports

Moscow's political pressure might force Belarusian oil companies to switch to Russian ports to deliver the products from local refineries, even if it is cheaper for Belarus to use the Baltic countries’ ports, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

According to the statistics, Belarus supplies around 65% of all exported petroleum products via seaports. Lithuanian and Latvian ports are direct competitors to Russia, since Belarus chooses the Baltics exclusively for economic reasons - it is closer and cheaper, the newspaper writes.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the topic of re-routing Belarusian petroleum products was first brought up this spring, when the Russian Railways increased the discount for Belarusian companies carrying their cargoes to Russian ports to 50%. However, representatives from Belarusian oil refineries soon after the decision was made public, argued that a 50% discount was not enough. Then, Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a meeting on the development of the transport infrastructure of Russia’s North-West, said that Belarusian refineries should supply their oil products through Russian ports, given that they produce them using Russian oil. "Generally it means that the volumes of Russian oil supplied to Belarusian refineries will directly depend on the ports used by the country to sell the manufactured oil products," the newspaper said.

According to Head of Fabeas Logistics, Andrey Poddubsky, "Belarusian refineries lost a lot last year when Russia reduced their oil supplies, so now they have to count every penny. Thus, switching to Russian ports does not make sense."

On the other hand, Belarusian experts interviewed by the newspaper, assess the situation taking into account the history of Russian-Belarusian relations, "where economic expediency is not always the most important thing," Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. According to energy market expert Tatiana Manenok, "There can be no doubt that Minsk will provide its ally with convincing arguments not in favor of Russian logistics, as well as estimates of additional costs, which could make the logistics corridor towards Russian ports advantageous for supplies of Belarusian oil products."

 

Vedomosti: Millions of Ukrainians still use Russian Internet services despite sanctions

The largest Russian Internet services remain very popular in Ukraine even after they were officially banned in the country in May, Vedomosti writes. According to Factrum Group Ukraine statistics, in July, the VKontakte social network was used at least once a month by 35% of Internet users from Ukraine, Yandex - by 33%, Mail.ru - 30%, and Odnoklassniki by 22 %.

Vedomosti notes that Kiev residents continue to freely use other Russian Internet services, such as Yandex.Taxi, Mail.ru and others. Access to these services is not always limited by public WiFi networks in restaurants and cafes.
According to reports by Factrum Group Ukraine and SimilarWeb, since May, blocked Russian Internet services lost 50-60% of the audience but now this decline has practically ended.

For example, the audience for the Ukrainian version of Yandex (yandex.ua) is growing again. In July, according to SimilarWeb, the website had 128.6 mln visits, or 3.6% more than in June.

Employees of Russian Internet companies agree that the decrease in traffic from Ukraine was much lower than expected. "However, we absolutely do not want to attract attention to this, because in response the Ukraine’s intelligence service will start to turn up the heat," a source in the sphere told Vedomosti.

Two technical experts interviewed by Vedomosti have confirmed that Ukrainian providers might really experience difficulties trying to obstruct Russian net services. Internet companies can regularly change IP-addresses, "hide" the addresses of their pages with the help of special services, etc. "This is a constant game of cat and mouse - and a very expensive one for the provider," an expert told the newspaper.

According to another expert, unlike Ukraine the blocking system in Russia has been in development for years and most often providers dealt with blocking individual pages rather than large sites. "And even this caused difficulties, requiring the purchase of special equipment," the expert said.

 

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

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