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Press review: Bulgaria’s pipeline pursuits and more Ukrainians up for travel to Russia

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday

Izvestia: Bulgaria one step closer to getting second leg of Turkish Stream

Bulgaria has all the necessary infrastructure for implementing the Turkish Stream project, according to Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. Thus, Sofia once again is openly demonstrating its desire and readiness to use the second leg of the gas pipeline for itself. At the same time, Gazprom's press service told Izvestia, that the company did not make a final decision on the second branch's route. Experts, however, believe that it is economically and technically profitable for Russia to launch the second leg of the pipeline to Bulgaria, and from there - to Hungary, Serbia and Austria, which basically copies the South Stream route.

Before July 26, Bulgaria will determine the winner of a tender for the design, construction and commissioning of the gas pipeline that will pass through the country from the Turkish border. Sofia is actively preparing to host the second line of the Turkish Stream, intended for gas supply to the Balkans and Southern Europe. Thus, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said that that country already has all the necessary infrastructure, and the only thing that remains to be found is the right "administrative formula".

Similarly, Gazprom's press service told Izvestia, that at this stage, the gas giant is considering two options for the route of the future line - through Turkey, Greece and Italy (the so-called Poseidon project) and through Turkey and Bulgaria towards Austria's Baumgarten. The company representative did not elaborate on the exact date when the route could be finally determined.

According to Igor Yushkov, an expert at the National Energy Security Fund, directing the pipeline’s second line to Bulgaria would be more profitable for Russia. "This is the old route of South Stream and it is the most developed. In addition, with this option comes a market, and this is the key factor," the expert told Izvestia.


Izvestia: Ukrainians’ interest in traveling to Russia continues to grow

Despite the ongoing anti-Russian propaganda that Kiev echoes urging its citizens not to visit the country, the number of Ukrainian tourists wishing to visit Russia is constantly increasing, two sources in Ukraine’s ruling circles told Izvestia. This information is confirmed by the official data of Russia’s Federal Security Service.

Two sources in Kiev told Izvestia that the pursuit by country’s authorities to distance Ukraine from Russia has not yet yielded their desired outcome. "The majority of our people understand that it is necessary to establish friendly relations with Russia, the way they have always been. Ukrainians know that there they have nothing to fear. I have many friends who have recently visited Russia. According to them, they had no problem during these trips and were treated kindly. I believe this helps normalize relations between our countries. In addition, about every fifth family in the country has ties with Russia. Many residents of Ukraine went to the World Cup," Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) MP Tatiana Bakhteeva told the newspaper.

According to the border control agency of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), in Q1 2018, 5,300 tourists from Ukraine came to Russia, one year ago - in the first three months of 2017, around 3,000 Ukrainians visited Russia, in the same period in 2016 around 2,300 people.

"Ukrainian citizens come to Russia not only as tourists but more often for work. They can really see that life in Russia and public sentiment sharply differ from the Ukrainian media reports... According to statistics, half of Ukrainians are well-disposed towards Russia," leading researcher at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies Oleg Nemensky told Izvestia.


Kommersant: Jordan’s top diplomat plans to hash over Syria in Moscow

A meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi will take place in Moscow on Wednesday. The situation in southern Syria is expected to be the main topic of the talks. The issue is especially relevant in the light of the military operation launched by the Syrian army near the Jordanian border, as well as the forthcoming Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki, which will also focus on Syria, Kommersant wrote. Presumably, US President Donald Trump will offer his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a deal that would allow Bashar Assad to retain power in exchange for Iran leaving the country.

Before his visit to Moscow, the Jordanian top diplomat said his goal is to achieve an early ceasefire and end the violence in southern Syria. Exactly one year ago, Amman, together with Moscow and Washington, initiated the creation of a southern de-escalation zone in Syria, which included the territory of the Daraa, Quneitra and As-Suwayda provinces. Had it not been for those arrangements, as well as the unofficial but no less significant attention of Israel to this region, the fate of Syria’s south would have been resolved long ago, Kommersant wrote.

Moscow is ready to discuss the withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces from the border regions of Israel and Jordan, and is willing to deploy Russian military police there with the consent of all parties. However, the question is how much Tehran is ready for compromises. From the very beginning of the operation in Syria’s south, Russia tried to do everything possible so that the pro-Iranian forces would not participate in it, Kommersant wrote. However, according to the Syrian opposition media, they still joined the Syrian army, slipping into their uniforms. Valdai Club expert and senior lecturer at the Tehran Shahid Behsti University Hamidrez Azizi told Kommersant that he sees no indication that Iran is going to leave Syria. In addition, part of Tehran's activities goes through pro-Iranian factions, where Russia simply does not have any real influence, he added.


Kommersant: Georgian defense chief battling ‘treason’ allegations

Georgia has been rocked by a major scandal. A company, owned by Russian citizen Petre Devrishadze convicted in 2010 by a Georgian court for spying for Russia, has been engaged in supplying the Georgian army with equipment and computers, Kommersant wrote. The opposition accused Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria of ‘treason’ and demanded that he be brought to trial. Georgian authorities contend that the relevant departments could not have known beforehand who had stood behind the companies participating in tenders for public procurement.

According to Kommersant, Devrishadze pled guilty at the time, saying that he had indeed "monitored important people and transmitted information to Moscow." Shortly thereafter, he struck a plea bargain with the prosecutor and was released. Sources told the newspaper, that Devrishadze was exchanged for an unnamed Georgian citizen convicted of espionage in Russia. After that, Devrishadze once again engaged in business.

Shota Utiashvili, former head of the Information and Analytical Department of the Georgian Interior Ministry, told Kommersant that the arrest of the Russian citizen and 12 others involved in the case was "the largest operation against a Russian spy network in Georgian history."

So far, Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria refused to come and face the parliament for hearings. This department claims that because of the large-scale anti-corruption reforms of Mikhail Saakashvili all tenders in the country began to be conducted exclusively in electronic form and anonymously. The agency that announces a tender has no legal tools to know in advance who owns the company that could receive a state order.

Meanwhile, Devrishadze has labeled the entire uproar about the espionage allegation as "fiction by the Saakashvili regime" and slammed the latest accusations as "schemes by competitors", who could not offer the Defense Ministry low prices, the newspaper wrote. At the same time, he said he is ready to continue to "properly supply the Georgian army with high-quality products."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian Far East’s poor infrastructure spurs population decline

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the development of the Far East was a national priority for the 21st century. However, Russian authorities seem to have a more important undeclared priority: all-out savings for the sake of accumulating foreign exchange reserves, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. According to the newspaper, this undeclared primacy affects the fate of the Far East’s population, who continue to leave the region.

The newspaper reported that more than two-thirds of the region had been left without the possibility of air travel. Just one-sixth of all airports and landing sites that had operated during the Soviet era have been kept in use in the Far East today. "It is not surprising that with such deteriorating infrastructure, the population of the Russian Far East continues to fall," the newspaper wrote. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the details of the "national priority development" project were stated at a meeting of Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev with federal and regional officials.

Meanwhile, officials of the Ministry for Development of the Russian Far East told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that together with the Ministry of Transport, they are "working on ways to increase subsidies for air transportation to the Far East." Proposals have already been drawn up for the prime minister to boost subsidizing the region’s air transportation program by 700 mln rubles ($11 mln), the Ministry told the newspaper.

"The decline of the population in the Far East is really an unfortunate reality. In this regard, there is a need to reassess the measures to support the economy of the region, which the government is currently using. These measures do not work in full and still do not meet expectations," Head of the department of state regulation of economics at RANEPA Vladimir Klimanov told the newspaper.


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