The seventh round of peace talks on the Syrian crisis, held since January 2017 with the mediation of Russia, Turkey and Iran, has come to an end in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana. This latest conference concentrated on broadening the earlier reached agreements on four de-escalation zones in Syria, and the consultations focused on Moscow’s proposal to hold an intra-Syrian dialogue in Sochi on November 18.
Kommersant writes that the negotiations had demonstrated that it won’t be an easy task to swiftly convene a representative congress of national dialogue in Sochi. Some Syrian opposition members immediately rejected the idea, viewing this as an attempt to substitute the peace talks under UN auspices in Geneva.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, representatives from 33 parties and movements were invited to take part in the conference. Vasily Kuznetsov, director of the Center for Arab Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, said given the large number of participants, it is unclear what particular results may be expected. "Perhaps, the delegates will be offered to issue a joint communique, or the mere fact of holding this event will be important," he told the paper.
Director of the Institute of Religion and Policy Alexander Ignatenko is convinced that "despite evident hurdles in its implementation, Moscow’s initiative has a chance for success based on at least two reasons." "First, the Syrian Kurds, who started playing a growing role in the Syrian settlement, are involved in the peace process for the first time," he said. "Second, the Russian proposal envisages inviting delegates from numerous ethnic and religious groups to the talks, who aren’t represented in any sort of negotiations now, neither in Geneva nor in Astana."
The drop in oil prices may come to a halt by next year and in 2020 Russia’s key source of revenues may again rise to $100 per barrel, Izvestia writes, citing research by the National Rating Agency. According to its forecast, by this year Russia’s federal budget revenues from the oil and gas sector may return to the 2015 level or even exceed it. On the one hand, the surge in prices for Russia’s major export source is positive for the budget and the country, but on the other hand, this is a temptation to return to the raw materials model, experts say.
Over the past three years, global oil companies have sharply cut their investment programs in geological exploration and have frozen their projects amid low energy prices. This may trigger a supply crisis on the raw materials market worldwide in 2018, analysts from one of Russia’s leading independent ratings agencies warned.
More than half of global oil reserves have reached their extraction peak and new oil field launches plunged to a record low in 2016, as companies continued cutting their spending while growth in production at the new oil projects was the lowest over the past 70 years, experts note. "Falling investment in prospecting and developing new deposits has a delayed effect," said Kirill Kukushkin, who heads the corporate ratings department at the National Rating Agency. "Gradually, an expanding deficit in supply will start affecting the price, which is bound to increase."
Expert at the Analytical Credit Rating Agency (ACRA), Vasily Tanurkov, said oil prices would largely depend on US shale oil companies’ reaction. Over the past years, these companies have had difficulties in acquiring financing, leading to steady decreases in extraction and as a result, higher oil prices, the analyst said. "So, next year a further hike in oil prices may be expected, but only until this boosts shale oil extraction in the US."
Relations between the United States and North Korea now are "on the brink of a nuclear war," Director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS) Anton Khlopkov said in an interview with Izvestia. Washington’s position on key issues relating to nuclear non-proliferation and arms control often depends on "election cycles" in the country and this sparks serious concerns within the international community, the expert said, calling on the US and North Korea to decrease tensions.
A military scenario with North Korea is not topping Washington priorities now, the expert noted. However, he pointed out that expectations that Pyongyang would stop developing its nuclear program are leading to a deadlock. "We should have realistic goals. First, lowering tensions and then moving ahead."
A conflict between these two countries would also result in serious consequences for Russia, Khlopkov warned.
"Russia has a border with North Korea and any instability close to our borders poses an additional threat," he said. The growing instability around North Korea has also led to a US military buildup in the region. "Past experience shows that if US military infrastructure has been set in place, it won’t be quickly dismantled. So, if there is a further potential escalation of tensions in Russian-US ties, it may be used against Russia. Any reason will be found: Moscow’s alleged meddling in US elections and so on, there will be a pretext to allow Washington to activate all this," the expert said.
If the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula sparked an armed conflict, the odds are high that nuclear weapons would be used, he said.
The expert recalled that during the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration found a political solution. "At some moment, Obama decided that he was ready to risk his political capital and start dialogue with Tehran. Today it is evident, that there is no such decision on North Korea."
Russia’s Southern Kuril Islands have seen an unprecedented surge in international economic activity. Business missions from Japan have visited the region twice this year, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Sakhalin regional authorities hope that joint projects will start to be activated by 2019.
Head of the Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) business association, Alexey Repik, who leads the Russian-Japanese Business Council, said Moscow and Tokyo have bolstered ties, since the Japanese economy needs cooperation with Russia to revive growth.
However, despite mutual business trips, Tokyo and Moscow have different stances on how to implement the economic projects on the islands. Russia believes this needs to be done within the framework of its legislation, while Tokyo suggests creating a "special system" for these territories, the paper writes.
"If the parties manage to find a compromise to this issue, this will be a very serious achievement for Tokyo," President of the Russian-Asian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Vitaly Monkevich said. "At the same time, this solution won’t be a diplomatic defeat for Russia. Keeping control over the islands, even under a changed jurisdiction, would be a resolution worthy of the Wise King Solomon, which on the one hand allows mending relations with an important economic partner, while on the other hand "freezing" the vulnerable issue indefinitely."
"The Japanese authorities won’t give up their claims soon, while they understand very well that Russia won’t make concessions," Kirikov Group Managing Partner Daniil Kirikov explained. "Now, economic benefits come to the forefront. It may ease the impasse and it is more important for both countries to improve cooperation rather than to exacerbate mutual discontent."
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s remark that someone is collecting biomaterial from various ethnic groups and regions in Russia for unknown reasons has sparked a public outcry. Vedomosti writes that this is a bright example when information is distorted and that society is prone to conspiracy theories amid the lack of information.
The Russian leader’s remark during Monday’s meeting of the Human Rights Council was apparently spontaneous, the paper says. The story became even more dramatic after Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov gave his comments to reporters saying that "some emissaries - representatives of NGOs and other entities - are carrying out this sort of activity" and the Russian special services told the president about this.
The paper writes that Russia has been actively participating in international genome projects. In 2015, a project dubbed “Russian Genomes” and backed by Putin was launched. There are plans to create an open database for 3,000 men and women who are indigenous citizens of different Russian regions. US geneticist Stephen O’Brien is coordinating this project and there is no information that Russian security services have anything against this project, Vedomosti writes. A commercial conflict is also not ruled out, it says. In particular, two research centers in Moscow and St. Petersburg are collecting biological samples of different Russian ethnic groups to send them to their colleagues in the United States to conduct research. However, this work can be also carried out in Russia.
Amid the absence of this information, Putin’s remark sound ominous as insufficient cognizance breeds feelings of fear and danger, according to the paper. This may trigger conspiracy theories about a biogenetic weapon (or ethnic bioweapon) and an alleged upcoming biological conflict that threatens to kill off Russians. However, according to biologist Mikhail Gelfand, even in theory an ethnic bioweapon may be created only against a particular ethnic group, which has been living in isolation for 1,000 years, and this in no way refers to Russians.
This is not the first case when the president has been informed about bogus threats, the paper writes. In 2007, Russia’s Federal Security Service Chief Nikolay Patrushev told Putin that the West receives bio samples from Russia, included in a program on developing genetic and bio weapons against Russians capable of harming their health. As a result, Russia’s customs services banned the export of all bio samples, putting the lives of thousands of Russians at risk who needed bone marrow donations in German clinics. After public protests, the ban was lifted, but the idea still stuck.
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