The recent visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Tehran was considered a "good sign of building" relations between Russia and Iran by the country’s President Hassan Rouhani. According to Izvestia, the visit took place amid increased American pressure on the Islamic Republic. Experts, interviewed by the newspaper noted that US President Donald Trump’s "Iran strategy" only brought Moscow and Tehran closer - with the latest Astana-hosted Syria peace talks demonstrating this.
The main topic of the multilateral negotiations was cooperation in the field of energy. However, according to the newspaper, it is obvious that one of the main goals of the Russian leader's visit was to discuss the situation around Iran, especially in the light of the new US sanctions. Under the current conditions, since both countries are "subject to incessant pressure", contacts and interaction on all issues become increasingly important, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on the eve of the visit.
The expert community recognizes that now the positions of Russia and Iran practically coincide, especially on Syria, the newspaper wrote. "This is happening against the backdrop of increased tensions in Russian-American and Iranian-American relations. Russia's share in the Syrian oil business, which the Kurds have now taken over, plays a certain role here. In addition, the US administration states that it will introduce new sanctions against Iran and seek a review of the nuclear deal," Head of the Center for Islamic Studies of the Institute of Innovative Development Kirill Semenov told Izvestia.
The meeting of the guarantor countries at the Astana Syrian peace talks, which preceded Putin's visit to Tehran, also demonstrated Moscow's readiness to support Tehran's interests in Syria, the expert noted. "Against the backdrop of tensions with the United States, it is quite possible that the positions of Russia and Iran on Syria will grow closer. Although this, of course, can also be temporary. It is possible that this will affect the level of escalation in the Syrian conflict in some regions, which in one way or another is not connected with external players," Semenov added.
The main goal of the Russian leader's visit is to show support for the Iranian leadership, Stefan Meister, Head of the Robert Bosch Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), told the newspaper. According to him, Putin might want to present himself as a person who supports international law and opposes the US, which can garner the support of EU leaders for the Russian President.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Iran can be considered a success from an economic point of view, according to Vedomosti. Rosneft signed a roadmap on investments in local oil and gas fields, and Gazprom is ready to join in on building a gas pipeline to India. The companies compiled roadmaps and coordinated memorandums, and although the agreements promise them high profits, they could also present political risks.
Interest by Russian companies in Iranian projects first became known at the beginning of the year. According to Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, in March, Iranian colleagues came to Russia presenting 11 projects for joint development. Now, according to the energy chief, Russia and Iran are ready to sign a memorandum of understanding, according to which Gazprom might build a part of the gas pipeline from Iran to India. Rosneft and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) have drawn up a roadmap for projects in Iran. The parties might soon ink several binding joint venture deals worth $30 bln.
According to the newspaper, success in economic relations between the two countries comes on the heels of an unstable political situation around Iran. In mid-October, US President Donald Trump said that Washington would be ready to quit the Iranian nuclear deal that was concluded two years ago, unless it was changed to meet the new demands of the White House. Furthermore, Trump threatened to reimpose sanctions.
"Russia has nothing to choose from, our country is being forced out into regions with high political or economic risks," Sberbank CIB analyst Valery Nesterov told the newspaper. According to him, last Tuesday, the US Treasury expanded sectoral sanctions by including new restrictions against Russians. Now, it is forbidden for US companies and citizens to cooperate on shelf oil projects with not only Russia, but any other country working with Russian oil companies with shares surpassing 33%. "Thus, Russians have to work in high-risk markets, such as Venezuela and Iran," the expert said, adding that however in case of success, the win would be big.
Facebook, Twitter and Google came under scrutiny from the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, as representatives for the social media majors appeared at the hearings on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Colin Stretch, the general counsel for Facebook, said at the hearings that Russian organizations allegedly used the social network to influence the US democratic process as “an insidious attempt to drive people apart.” Experts, interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta believe that US officials could use the hearings as an excuse to clamp down on social media.
Twitter was also accused of providing a platform for Russian-paid political ads. According to the social media network, around 2,752 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a company allegedly tied to the Kremlin, were identified. At the same time, Google said it had found 18 YouTube channels "likely associated" with Russian agents that posted political videos on YouTube.
Experts believe that government control of social media might be the real underlying issue here. "Trump's campaign showed that there is a deep information zone that the state does not yet control. That zone contains alternative news that the authorities do not control and do not censor," Viktoriya Zhuravleva, researcher for the Center for North American Studies at IMEMO RAS, told the newspaper.
The "Russian meddling" narrative plays into the hands of the state, which wants to clamp down on social networks, Zhuravleva said. "The Russian card to some extent justifies the authorities' desire to regulate social networks," the expert added.
According to the newspaper, Google, Facebook and Twitter have a de facto monopoly position on the market, which in the absence of competitors provides customers with very cheap advertising space, and their advertising reach covers a wide audience.
The Russian Analytical Credit Rating Agency (ACRA) will enter into a partnership with one of China’s largest rating agencies - Golden Credit Rating. Practical activities on assigning ratings will not yet become the main focus of the partnership, because at the first stage, the parties will begin to exchange financial data, joint analytical work and staff training. Experts interviewed by Kommersant evaluate the decision positively, yet remain skeptical about its outcome.
According to ACRA CEO Yekaterina Trofimova, the agreement will result in the world’s largest rating partnership in terms of various indicators. However, it will not be a joint venture, but rather an equal partnership. The initial stage will include sharing experience and financial information, Trofimova said.
Experts do not expect to see any real results of the agreement in the near future. General Director of the Far East Development Fund Alexey Chekunkov told Kommersant that he believes that mutual risk assessment systems for Russia and China are necessary. "There is a certain factor of international tension, with sanctions against Russia on the one hand, and restricted market access and international trade disputes against China on the other. Given our expanding relations with China, a transparent, effective risk assessment system is needed, which is recognized both in Russia and in China," he noted.
At the same time, the prospect of becoming a base for creating a single rating agency for BRICS members remains the most important aspect of such a partnership, according to Eurasian Development Bank Chief Economist Yaroslav Lissovolik. "The key to success could be engaging regional partners from developing countries - EAEU states for Russia and ASEAN for China - which would significantly increase the agency’s reach," he said. According to Trofimova, ACRA is looking at the current project from this angle, since it feels that building a BRICS agency from scratch would be an impossible task.
The Golden Credit Rating, established in 2005, is one of China’s five largest players in the rating market. China Orient Asset Management is the main shareholder of the agency with the authorized capital of 125 mln yuan ($18.93 bln).
The Italian region of Liguria, following Veneto and Lombardy, might hold a referendum on autonomy, a regional political party known as Lega Nord (or the Northern League) told Izvestia. The regions of Italy, most affected by the EU’s anti-Russian sanctions, in addition to a virtually unregulated refugee influx from the Middle East and North Africa, want more powers on matters of foreign policy and the economy. Italian experts in believe this might just be the start of several other such campaigns.
Despite the fact that the referendum on granting autonomy in Veneto and Lombardy had no legal force, the very idea of greater independence of the regions finds considerable support among the population of Italy’s northern regions. Lega Nord Party Press Secretary Gianluca Savoini told Izvestia that Liguria, a rich region, which has suffered from anti-Russian sanctions, also wants more autonomy in terms of economic and foreign policies.
“The process of finding opportunities to hold a referendum in Liguria has become more active. The population of the region supports giving more powers to local authorities, and the voting in Veneto and Lombardy showed that this is the correct course. I believe that in the near future a public referendum will take place in Liguria," he told the newspaper.
According to him, the chief goals of the new referendum is to gain autonomy and demonstrate the northern regions’ extreme disagreement with much of Rome's policy.
According to Italian experts, the popular vote in Veneto and Lombardy and the forthcoming public referendum in Liguria are far from the last events here. The "referendum craze" is just gaining momentum.
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