Moscow’s response to Washington’s decision on closing the Russian consulate general in Seattle will be shutting down the US consulate general in St. Petersburg, a high-ranking diplomatic source told Izvestia on Thursday. The Russian Foreign Ministry is expected to put forward this initiative but Russian President Vladimir Putin will make the final decision. Two other diplomatic sources confirmed the plan.
Moscow is expected to respond to the expulsion of Russian diplomats by cutting the same number of staff members of foreign diplomatic missions. In the US’ instance, the key intrigue will be one of three consulates in Russia - in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg or Vladivostok - will be closed, the paper writes.
"The right decision would be to close the consulate in St. Petersburg. Certainly, the options of Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok are considered, but from a status perspective, the St. Petersburg consulate is more important for Americans," the high-ranking diplomatic source said. The number of staff members with diplomatic passports working for the US consulate general in St. Petersburg has not been disclosed.
Washington is likely to hit back in any case, Spokesperson at the US Embassy in Moscow Maria Olson said.
A former staff member of the US Embassy in Moscow told the paper that Russia’s response to the closure of the consulate in Seattle should be shutting down the US consulate in Vladivostok. However, the initiative on closing the St. Petersburg consulate demonstrates that Moscow’s retaliatory measures would not be just symbolic.
The US decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats came as a surprise for Moscow. "This is too much. The plan of a response is now being considered and possibly, it will be even harsher," another high-ranking Russian diplomat told the paper.
The current climate in Russian-US relations is absolutely unprecedented. Even during the Cold War no one targeted the diplomatic missions, former Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union and ex-ambassador of the Soviet Union and Russia to the US Alexander Bessmertnykh said.
Russia and Turkey are gearing up for another meeting of the high-level Cooperation Council due to be held in Ankara in early April. The upcoming event was discussed during a recent phone conversation between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Meanwhile, bilateral ties are facing some bumps in the road. The United States is actively trying to use its sway over the contacts of its NATO partner.
The sweeping expulsion of Russian diplomats by a host of countries amid the Skripal saga in Salisbury, England, was a test for Russian-Turkish relations, the paper writes. NATO announced a decision to expel seven staff members of the Russian permanent mission to the alliance in Brussels. The accreditation request by three other Russian diplomats was rejected. Ankara refused to veto the move although Turkish experts say it could have done so since all decisions in the alliance are made by a consensus.
Recently, tensions have mounted in Ankara’s relations with its Western partners so Turkey chose not to distance itself even more, Turkish political scientist Kerim Has told the paper. However, as a sovereign state, Turkey showed its position by refusing to kick out Russian diplomats and will stick to this stance in the future, he noted.
Turkey has come under great pressure from the United States of late, the paper says. Washington has threatened to stonewall the deal on selling F-35 multirole stealth fighters to Ankara over the Turkish leadership’s plans to buy Russia’s S-400 missile systems. However, Turkey doubts that the S-400 deal will affect the purchase of the F-35s from the US.
Early this week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un paid an unofficial visit to Beijing. Most experts told Kommersant that Pyongyang agreed to return to Beijing’s orbit, which it abandoned in 2011-2013, in exchange for protection from the United States.
Essentially, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on Kim Jong-un to restore normal bilateral relations, launch domestic reforms and stop stirring up trouble with Washington, according to the paper. Russian, Chinese and Korean experts questioned by Kommersant say that a war between the US and North Korea would be a disaster. An inevitable influx of refugees into China would be an outcome of using nuclear weapons, which Pyongyang claims to possess.
The North Korean leader’s visit to Beijing had three goals, Andrei Lankov, a respected North Korean scholar at South Korea’s Kookmin University, told the paper. "First, to drive a wedge between the US and China, because in spite of the many differences on all issues, they have shown solidarity on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea over the past years," he noted.
The second goal is to ease economic sanctions, which China introduced in mid-2017 along with other countries. Kim Jong-un’s third task is to convince Xi Jinping to make every effort to talk the US out of attacking North Korea since a war on the Korean Peninsula would not be beneficial for China.
The North Korean leader apparently views his visit to Beijing as the first step towards ending the country’s diplomatic isolation, the paper says. However, given Pyongyang’s political tradition, the visit to Beijing may be a ploy for buying time once again.
The United Kingdom is considering new measures against Russia, which it accuses of poisoning former Russian military intelligence officer-turned-British mole Sergei Skripal, Kommersant writes. On Wednesday, the British parliament hashed over corruption in Russia. Its participants called for freezing assets purchased by Russians using money of dubious origin. Theresa May’s administration has decided to launch background checks into its investment visa program, which gave residence permits in exchange for foreign investors pouring their money and assets into the UK’s economy. The initiative may target some 700 wealthy Russians, who obtained Tier 1 visas in 2008-2015. Later, the visa requirements were tightened, demanding an initial investment of at least 2 mln British pounds.
The parliamentary discussion was attended by several Russians, including former top manager of Alfa Group and executive director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation Vladimir Ashurkov and former vice president of Rosgosstrakh insurance company Roman Borisovich.
Ashurkov told Kommersant before his speech in the parliament: "I’m against limiting Russians’ rights just based on their citizenship or the origin of money. Most funds coming to Britain from Russia are legal. I’m sure they are not under threat. But there are some cases linked to high-level corruption, and they should be investigated."
British Labor Party politician Helen Goodman said one of the goals in the near future would be to put together a list of corrupt Russians, stressing that the government has the right to seize property if it was purchased using money of dubious origin.
Last year, the United States quadrupled its exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and will soon take the top spot among major producers of this fuel, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. US producers expanded their geography of exports, with Mexico becoming the key buyer of US LNG. Asian giants China and South Korea are the world’s second biggest importers, and Europe comes in third.
Meanwhile, US gas interests run head-to-head with Russia, which supplies more than one-third of the pipeline gas imported by Europe. Besides, Russia has been stepping up its LNG production, the paper says. Russian manufacturers have recently announced their plans, which are on par with US ambitions.
LNG has serious advantages due to the lack of dependence on pipelines, but it is uncompetitive on the global market due to its high cost of production. Russian energy giant Gazprom may lose market share only if alternative suppliers reduce the price, Igor Yushkov, a leading expert at the National Energy Security Fund, told the newspaper. However, currently Gazprom sells gas at much lower prices than its rivals, namely LNG suppliers.
"The US claimed that it would flood the whole world [market] with its gas and push Russia out of the European market. Yet in reality, US LNG cannot compete with Gazprom in terms of price, and practically the entire volume of LNG from the US goes to markets with higher prices - that is, South American countries and Asia. Even if the entire US LNG had come to Europe in 2017, it cannot be compared with Russian supplies in terms of price," the expert emphasized.
Last year, Gazprom exported 194 bln cubic meters of gas to non-CIS countries, and the entire US export reached nearly 20 bln cubic meters, he explained. The supplies of US LNG to Europe may be profitable only if oil prices rise to $100 per barrel and higher, along with gas prices climbing to $350-400 per 1,000 cubic meters. However, Gazprom still can outperform US LNG by offering discounts to its clients.
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