Contacts between Russian officials and the European Union have become more frequent recently. Three high-ranking EU officials visited Moscow over the past two weeks alone, while two Russian senior diplomats have travelled to Brussels. This, however, cannot be seen as a sign that full-fledged relations between Moscow and the EU have been restored, EU Ambassador to Russia Markus Ederer told Kommersant.
It’s absolutely clear that no one wants the Cold War to return, the ambassador stressed. He noted that he is critical about all the talk about a new Cold War. In his view, such speculations elicit erroneous associations and can bring about incorrect political action.
The ambassador drew attention to the fact that some very important arms control agreements had been inked during the Cold War era, such as the Treaty on Open Skies, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Today the parties are unable to strike new agreements. Moreover, they jeopardize the existing ones. If we do not try to minimize the threats posed by the present situation, the current period can become more dangerous than the Cold War, he warned.
Referring to Russia-EU relations, the ambassador said there are no permanent top-level political contacts today. Dialogue has been basically maintained at an expert level. There were a few exceptions though, he added. EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini held talks with Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov in Moscow last April, with the two parties agreeing that it is necessary to continue cooperation on international issues.
In general, the EU is guided by five key principles of policies with regard to Russia, the ambassador pointed out. The fourth of them indicates the need for selective interaction, and that’s precisely what is going on now. We communicate on those issues where our interests coincide, he added.
Given that this year has been declared the Year of Japan in Russia, Japan will reciprocally mark the Year of Russia. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to attend the opening ceremony at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
The organizers of a round table held by the Japanese diplomatic mission in Moscow explained that the mutual Year of Japan in Russia and the Year of Russia in Japan would inspire gatherings and debates on cultural ties, along with political and economic issues. On the political front, the key issue in bilateral relations is the southern Kuril Islands dispute. Prime Minister Abe said on numerous occasions that Tokyo’s ultimate goal is to reclaim these islands, which were incorporated into the Soviet Union after WWII, under Japanese jurisdiction.
Japanese Ambassador to Russia Toyohisa Kozuki said answering a question from Nezavisimaya Gazeta that "signing a peace treaty is an important part of the prime minister’s political agenda." "The aim of our government is to resolve the territorial issue and conclude a peace treaty, while the primary goal of the mutual years [of Japan in Russia and of Russia in Japan] is to deepen mutual understanding between our peoples."
The ambassador also elaborated on the issue of Japanese investment in Russia’s Far East. It is often argued that Japanese investment comes to the tune of a mere 2% of overall foreign investment. That figure does not include investment in the Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 projects. Japanese companies’ share in Sakhalin 2 is 45.5% and in Sakhalin-1 the figure is about the same.
"I did not say, however, that there is enough investment in Russia. More is required. Russian Cabinet members met with Japanese investors last year. The potential for increased capital investment is huge," the ambassador stressed.
Russia plans to stop production at the largest gas field in the Crimean shelf zone, Odesskoye, due to a legal battle with Ukraine in the International Court of Arbitration initiated by Kiev in September 2016, RBC writes citing three federal officials.
Ukraine’s claims cover a wide range of issues related to Russia’s activities in the Black Sea after Crimea’s incorporation. The proceedings are confidential, but, according to RBC’s source, Kiev’s argument is that Russia’s economic activities in the area are unauthorized. The cessation of production is a tactical move - a formal way of removing the claim, the source said, adding that returning the gas field under Ukraine’s control is out the question.
According to two federal officials interviewed by the paper, the Russian Foreign Ministry, whose legal department is litigating the dispute on Moscow’s behalf, recommended halting production in Odesskoye. “The Foreign Ministry decided that, if we have no activities there [at the Odesskoye field], there will be no issue to contest. There is no dispute about [the field’s] ownership. It’s a feud over economic activities in Ukraine’s maritime borders," one of the sources explained.
Russia’s position in court on the Odesskoye field is legally weaker, says Ilia Rachkov, a Partner at Nektorov, Saveliev & Partners law firm. "The court of arbitration is unlikely to agree that the incorporation of Crimea and, consequently, the maritime space around its shores into Russia is consistent with international law," he said.
If the court proceeded from the assumption that Russia has "an undemarcated exclusive economic zone" in the Black Sea bordering Ukraine, it could use the median line method, Rachkov noted.
Supporters of ex-Georgian President and former Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa Region Mikhail Saakashvili have warned authorities in Kiev that they will respond to his deportation from the country with intensified mass protests in the Ukrainian capital, Verkhovna Rada (the nation’s parliament) MP and Saakashvili’s close associate Yuri Derevyanko told Izvestia. He promised that supporters of the now stateless politician would do everything they can to get their leader back and make sure that his Ukrainian citizenship would be restored.
"Activists and Ukrainians, seeing the true face of the Poroshenko regime, will stage peaceful protests even more actively fighting against challenges to their future," he pledged. Saakashvili himself also vowed that he would undoubtedly return to Ukraine as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the stateless politician visited the Netherlands, Germany and France. He said that he had called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to help him in his fight against the authorities in Kiev.
Mikhail Pogrebinsky, Director of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology, told the paper that the Saakashvili-inspired anti-government protests would hardly gain momentum without him. In his view, there are no such charismatic politicians among members of his Movement of New Forces who could lead it instead of him.
"Of course, he will be a troublemaker for Ukrainian leaders, even from the Netherlands or some other European country. I believe our opposition members like Yuliya Timoshenko are satisfied now that this space has been freed up and (they) will be gearing up for spring protests without Saakashvili’s participation," the Ukrainian political scientist said.
Novatek, Russia’s largest independent natural gas producer, is negotiating a partnership with Saudi Aramco oil and gas company. The issue at hand is Saudi Aramco’s involvement in the project rather than just the purchase of liquefied natural gas, Vedomosti writes citing some sources familiar with negotiations.
The structure of Novatek’s new company can be similar to that of Yamal LNG (Novatek - 50.1%, French Total - 20%, Chinese CNPC - 20% and SRF - 9.9%). The only difference is that the Saudi company will take part in it instead of Chinese partners, one of the sources said.
Novatek’s new strategy envisages the construction of a whole cluster of LNG plants in Russia’s Arctic region. Plans are in store to build liquefaction capacities up to 55 mln tonnes of gas per year on the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas by 2030.
Saudi Aramco is de facto in charge of Saudi Arabia’s energy supply, so direct access to LNG supplies (especially considering the tense relationship with neighboring Qatar, one of the world’s leading LNG suppliers) could become an important contribution to ensuring the country’s energy security in the future and meet the demand for gas, says Tatyana Mitrova, Director of the Energy Center at the Skolkovo Business School. Apparently, for Novatek it is important to both attract investment to the Arctic LNG 2 project and shape a new market. Therefore, this partnership (in addition to understandable political signals, which are important due to the extension of the OPEC+ oil cut deal) could also be quite pragmatic and mutually beneficial, the expert stressed.
Saudi Aramco’s participation in the project will clearly add confidence and send an additional positive signal to other investors, which is, of course, important amid the current sanctions, Mitrova concluded.
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