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Press review: Reality TV host to challenge Putin and Iran helps Iraq to retake Kirkuk

October 19, 2017, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press

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Ksenia Sobchak

Ksenia Sobchak

© Sergei Konkov/TASS

RBC: TV socialite tosses hat into ring for 2018 presidential race

Ksenia Sobchak, Russian socialite and daughter of Putin’s political mentor, has decided to throw her hat into the ring for the 2018 Russian presidential race. Her candidacy will attract the pro-opposition electorate and lure liberal voters to come out to the polls, said political scientists interviewed by RBC. They noted though that her chances of winning are slim.

Sobchak’s presidential bid "imitates competition and at a very low level at that, I am afraid," said Andrey Kolesnikov, Chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"I believe the number of votes she will be able to garner will be very low. There will be some short-lived suspense, but that’s not intrigue for the entire country, that’s the problem," he explained.

Sobchak is a perfect rival for the Kremlin, because she is disliked by many in Russia "as a symbol of the world of glamor and luxury, which irritates the overwhelming majority of Russians," political scientist Abbas Gallyamov told the paper. Her criticism is not dangerous for Putin, he noted. "Sobchak will say the right liberal things and will eventually convince the country that liberals are such eccentric wealthy cosmopolitan theoreticians who during breaks between politics sip champagne that costs several thousand euros a bottle," the expert stressed.

Ksenia Sobchak announced her plans to run for president when the Kremlin once again repeated that opposition figure Alexey Navalny would not be able to take part in the election, said Nikolay Mironov, Director of the Center for Economic and Political Reforms. Apparently, she would like to secure the votes of those who back Navalny, he stressed. "The Kremlin wants Navalny’s potential supporters not to ignore the election and voters in Moscow and St. Petersburg to come to the polls, the way it was during the last election with Mikhail Prokhorov, a liberal candidate," Mironov noted.

Meanwhile, political consultant Dmitry Fetisov described Sobchak as "a good PR manager." He stressed though that this is a bad move to fill the niche of a female candidate during the election. "Sobchak is seen primarily as a show business star rather than a symbol of motherhood and family," he said. "Besides, the political situation and the presence of both the top candidate and other politicians in the presidential campaign will hardly make it possible for Sobchak to count on more than 1-3% of the vote," he concluded.


Kommersant: Iran aids Baghdad in regaining control over Kirkuk

The Iraqi army, which acted in collaboration with Shiite units, said it had completed an operation to recapture the strategically important Kirkuk Province controlled by Iraqi Kurdistan. The loss of Kirkuk, which undermined the advocates of an independent Kurdish state, occurred with the covert participation of Iran, Kommersant writes. A key factor in pushing the Kurds out of Kirkuk was the fact that Qassem Suleimani, a senior officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was in charge of the operation.

According to Wagdi Suleiman representing the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament, the loss of Kirkuk was the result of an enormous conspiracy involving regional powers, representatives of the Iraqi government, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the commander of the Quds Force within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Suleimani who arrived in Iraq last week.

After that, Peshmerga fighters who are members of the Patriotic Union, obeyed the order issued by the party’s leadership and retreated from their positions leaving them to the Iraqi forces. Tehran was quick to refute the Iranian connection version. Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to the Supreme Leader of Iran, said Tehran did not take part in the operation in Kirkuk.

This rapid recapture of Kirkuk by Iraqi forces would have been impossible without Iran’s active role, Grigory Kosach, Professor of the Department of History, Political Science and Law at the Russian State University for the Humanities, told the paper. "The operation in the north of the neighboring country conducted with its direct participation makes it possible for Tehran to kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, by taking an advantage of disagreements between the Iraqi Kurds, it makes the position of their leaders who support the US-led international coalition weaker. Secondly, it consolidates ties with Baghdad, which is also considered Washington’s ally. Thirdly, Tehran creates a strategic foothold in Iraq gearing up for new standoff with Washington, which is stepping up pressure on Iran and is trying to revise the 2015 nuclear agreement," the expert explained.


Izvestia: New Danish law seeks to impede Nord Stream-2 project

The Danish parliament intends to pass a law on November 30, which will empower the government to ban projects in the country’s territorial waters by branding them a national security threat rather than an environmental problem, some Danish lawmakers informed Izvestia.

Copenhagen is not hiding the fact that the new bill essentially targets Russia’s key energy project in Europe, specifically, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is set to pass through Denmark’s territorial waters. Its investors are the Russian energy giant Gazprom, France’s Engie, Austria’s OMV, Germany’s Uniper and the Royal Dutch Shell British-Dutch company.

Nick Haekkerup, Deputy Chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Danish parliament from the Social Democratic Party, told Izvestia that the overwhelming majority of lawmakers support the initiative, and there is every likelihood that the bill will be passed.

The only Danish political party that does not fundamentally oppose the construction of the gas pipeline is the right-wing People’s Party, which forms part of the ruling coalition. Nevertheless, this political force likewise plans to support the bill, the party’s member Marie Krarup said in an interview with the paper. She noted the parliament is likely to block the construction of the pipeline in Danish territorial waters, but stressed that Denmark cannot stop Nord Stream-2 altogether. It could just force its management to change the route, the lawmaker added.

Meanwhile, Nord Stream 2 Spokesman Jens Mueller admitted talking to Izvestia that the company is closely following the developments in Denmark and eyeing possible alternatives.

Moscow has not yet announced any potential tit-for-tat moves, if this blatant anti-Russian law is passed. Gazprom’s export unit has an agreement with Denmark on gas deliveries until 2027, and it will not be possible to change the price for that country unilaterally, a source close to Gazprom told the paper.

"The price of natural gas is based on a special formula stipulated by the contract. For example, it depends on the cost of gas in European gas hubs and the volume of supply," he noted.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia-Ukraine trade turnover on the rise

Mutual trade turnover between Russia and Ukraine will grow by a third in the near future, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes citing statistics provided by Russian and Ukrainian government agencies.

The two countries sold each other goods worth $7.7 bln from January to August 2017, with the growth amounting to 24.7% over the past year, Russia’s Federal Customs Service reported. This trend has been confirmed by Ukraine’s State Statistics Service, which said that Russia supplied goods worth $4.2 bln to Ukraine during the first eight months of this year. Russia currently tops the ranking in Ukraine’s external trade providing 13.7% of all imports to Ukraine (followed by Germany and China) and 9.5% of total exports.

"The observed growth in mutual trade is a recovery from an excessive decline, which could not go on until zero. The increase in trade volumes is linked to the appreciation of the ruble and the end of recession in the Ukrainian economy," the paper quotes Alexander Knobel, Head of the International Trade Department at the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, as saying. "If we do not take gas, dual-use goods and some foodstuffs, which Ukraine refused to purchase from Russia, in other respects, then practically all goods play a part in mutual trade," the expert said.

Although Ukraine is ready to buy European goods, they are hardly affordable for the local population, according to Yuri Baranchik, Senior Research Associate at the Institute of CIS Countries.

"European goods supplied to Ukraine are pretty expensive for the population whose living standards are dwindling every year. As a result, our neighbors had to resort to shady schemes to deliver Russian goods," he pointed out.


Izvestia: New Kyrgyz president to visit Russia

Kyrgyzstan’s President-elect, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, plans to pay his first official visit to Russia. The visit is set to take place immediately after the inauguration, in the second half of December, the press service of the president’s Executive Office informed Izvestia.

"Sooronbay Jeenbekov has repeatedly stressed that Russia and other EAEU member-countries are a priority for Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy. The election was held just recently, the Central Election Commission has not announced the final results yet. The term of incumbent President Almazbek Atambayev expires on December 1. After that, the inauguration will take place and visits by the country’s leader will be formally announced," the press service said.

According to Izvestia’s diplomatic sources in Bishkek, the agenda for the upcoming visit will include several issues, such as quotas for labor migrants. The two sides will also discuss prospects for bilateral economic cooperation, considering that Moscow is Bishkek’s chief trading partner. Other issues on the agenda will be joint exercises as part of the post-Soviet security bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the war on international terrorism and extremism in Central Asia.

Andrey Grozin, Head of the Central Asia Department at the Institute of CIS Countries, noted in an interview with Izvestia that the new Kyrgyz leader will focus mainly on domestic issues.

"Today, the Kyrgyz elite is strongly divided. The election campaign overflowed with mutual accusations, compromising materials and mud-slinging. A lot will depend on whether the new president will be able to consolidate the ruling political and business circles. On the other hand, the current authorities have been able to stabilize the situation. I should point out that the country saw numerous coups, and in 2010 Kyrgyzstan was on the verge of breaking up. In light of this, the country has taken a step forward," the expert concluded.


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

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