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Press review: Motives for Crimea college tragedy and Russia proceeds with de-dollarization

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday

Media: Lone student shooter kills 20 in Crimean college

Yesterday's tragedy in Kerch, Crimea, where 20 people were killed and scores were wounded in a shooting and an explosion orchestrated by a student at the Kerch Polytechnic College, topped the headlines in the Russian media on Thursday. A criminal case was initially opened on terrorism charges, but was later reclassified as murder.

According to Kommersant, the alleged shooter, Vladislav Roslyakov, had to have been plotting the crime for more than two months. The motives behind this unprecedented attack for Russia, according to the newspaper, will be clarified by a special group headed by Major General Sergey Golkin, who oversaw the investigations into the terrorist attack on the St. Petersburg subway in 2017 and the 2018 Kemerovo shopping mall fire.

Nevertheless, according to Kommersant's sources, Roslyakov is now being checked for links to Ukrainian extremists from the "Right Sector" and UNA-UNSO that are banned in Russia. The latter organization was already caught plotting a terrorist attack in an educational institution in Russia, the newspaper wrote. So far, however, the assumptions that Roslyakov could have been an extremist have not been confirmed by any concrete facts. "It could have been a conflict with other students or teachers," a source close to the investigation told Kommersant.

Deputy Head of the State Duma Security Committee Anatoly Vyborny told Izvestia that he did not rule out extremist organizations being involved in the tragedy. "Most likely, he has been preparing for this for a long time and carefully. It is possible that he was led by those who are recruiting for terrorist and extremist activities," he told the newspaper.

Former Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Judicial and Legal Affairs Anatoly Lyskov told Vedomosti that initially, from the scale and number of victims, the incident looked like an act of intimidation in order to pressure society and the authorities, but later it became clear that murder was the main motive. Lyskov believes that the reclassification makes sense, and that it will also help avoid speculations related to Russian-Ukrainian relations. "However, they could not be completely avoided: the habit of quickly finding the enemy seems to have become a reflex with some representatives of the political establishment," Vedomosti wrote.

According to Vedomosti, the tragedy in Kerch could be a new terrible episode of mass school shootings, similar to the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, US back in 1999.


Kommersant: US LNG won't replace Gazprom’s supplies to Poland

The statements by Poland's oil and gas conglomerate, PGNiG, about purchases of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States being cheaper than pipe gas from Gazprom, are utterly unrealistic, Kommersant wrote. The declared gain of 20-30% is achieved only by comparing the price of LNG when it is shipped to a tanker in the US with Gazprom's final price for PGNiG. As a result, American gas is unlikely to replace Russian supplies to the Polish market, since upon delivering LNG to Poland; the benefit for PGNiG is almost zero. Therefore, it is more efficient to resell. However, this looks more like a political deal for Poland, and the US is directly interested in it - their LNG plants have not yet been built, and such contracts are necessary to secure funding.

Kommersant's sources in EU companies, which are also in talks with the US' Venture Global to buy LNG, say that the Americans are now offering a liquefaction cost of $3 per mln BTUs (MBTU). Thus, PGNiG could receive gas at $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, which is approximately 20% less than the price of Russian gas for Poland in the fourth quarter - around $295, according to the newspaper.

However, taking into account the cost of delivering LNG from the Gulf of Mexico to Poland ($1 per MBTU) and its regasification in Swinoujscie ($0.4 per MBTU), the cost would almost be the same as gas from Russia.

Given the current gas price climate in Europe and Asia, PGNiG will hardly want to supply gas from the United States to the Polish market, Maria Belova from Vygon Consulting told Kommersant. "Most likely, this gas will go to Asia, and Poland will be able to profit from such transactions, unlike from the deliveries to Poland, where the profitability at current prices will be near zero," the expert said.


Izvestia: Estonia still pursuing ‘Soviet occupation’ compensation

Estonia has concluded its ‘damage’ estimates from its Soviet-era ‘occupation’. According to the Ministry of Justice, the losses amounted to more than 1 bln euro. Izvestia reports that among its claims are repression, the loss of territories, environmental problems, and some astounding points - like a gap with Finland in the life expectancy of its citizens. This is not the first time, Tallinn has been talking about occupation and compensation, the newspaper wrote.

Estonia estimated the damage from the ‘Soviet occupation’ at 92 bln rubles - 1.2 bln euro at the current rate. The Ministry of Justice report states that in 1948-1985, Estonia also lost 1 mln hectares of agricultural land, and noted that among human casualties: 49,500 suffered from repression, while 24,100 people in Estonia died during World War II, in addition to the 139,400 people forced to leave the country. The report argues that these human casualties can be considered genocide. There are utterly bewildering claims like, Tallinn blaming the Soviet Union for the fact that the standard of living in Estonia is lower than in Finland.

Experts interviewed by the newspaper noted that the report comes right during the run-up to the parliamentary elections in March 2019. "There is clear timing, which is based on the election campaign. No need to look at the campaign on the streets, or visit the Parliament’s website. The most accurate indicator is talk about ‘Soviet occupation’," political scientist and President of the Russian Association of Baltic Studies Nikolai Mezhevich told the newspaper.

"Conservatives, nationalists, and patriots - there are a lot of politicians - and the electorate are limited. There is nothing to boast about as far as the economy is concerned. So they have to employ historical issues," the expert added.


Izvestia: Russia’s investment in US debt plunges to historic low

Russia is shifting its investment preference gears. Moscow is decreasing its funding of America’s national debt, so US government bonds may be replaced by deposits into banks of more friendly countries or investments in gold, according to experts interviewed by Izvestia. Reducing investment in US debt fits into the logic of de-dollarization. However, such investments are formed based on the import structure: a country should have access to money in the currency that it uses most actively, Izvestia wrote.

For almost 10 years, Russia has been one of the most significant investors in US government debt, in 2010-2011 Russian investments reached $180 bln. These investments have never been stable, yet this year’s decline is unusually sharp. Currently, the Central Bank holds securities to the tune of just $14 bln and is not even one of the top 35 leading investors.

Finding an adequate replacement for US treasuries will not be so easy, since there are not many alternatives. The problem is that the structure of foreign trade and the debt load of banks requires a large amount of dollars, Managing Director for Macroeconomic Analysis and Forecasting at Expert RA Anton Tabakh told Izvestia. In addition, there are few reliable and liquid dollar instruments other than US government debt. That is why China and Japan are holding huge amounts of money in the form of US government securities, the expert explained.

Taking into account the de-dollarization course of the Russian economy and the campaign of international trade in national currencies, investments from the US government debt can be transferred to both the currencies of "friendly" partners, such as Asian countries, and Eurozone currencies that are safer for Russia, BCS Premier analyst Anton Pokatovich told Izvestia.


Kommersant: Failed Soyuz rocket launch could be operational error during assembly

On Wednesday, a Roscosmos delegation visited the Progress Rocket and Space Center in Samara, where the wreckage of the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle that crashed on October 11 was delivered. According to Kommersant, experts investigating the cause of the failure, lean towards the version that an error was made during the assembly of the vehicle. The incident itself has already affected the astronauts' spacewalk to study another emergency, which happened within the ISS project - a hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, which caused somewhat of a pressure drop. The investigation has been put off until the beginning of December.

According to the newspaper, the majority of experts involved in investigating the failed Soyuz-FG launch is convinced that the cause of the accident was a mechanical problem that was made during the docking of the side units to the second stage of the rocket during the assembly. "Apparently, the damage was caused during the lifting of the side unit with a crane," a source close to the Russian Ministry of Defense told Kommersant. "This is not a design error and not a factory defect. Rather, we are talking about operational errors," the source added. According to Roscosmos, the report on the causes of the incident should be ready by the end of the week.

At the same time, the launch failure will not only affect the timing of launches of Soyuz carrier rockets, but will also affect the program for astronauts on board the ISS. At least the spacewalk to inspect a hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft was postponed from mid-November to at least December. At that time, cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko will arrive and Sergey Prokopiev, who is currently on the ISS, will still be at the station, according to Executive Director of Roscosmos Sergey Krikalev.

Krikalev added that the next manned flight to the ISS is scheduled for early December with Oleg Kononenko, Anne McClain (NASA) and David Saint-Jacques (CSA), as planned.


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