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Press review: Putin-Thaci chat in Paris and Russia-Japan peace talks woes

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, November 15
Iturup island, one of Kuril Islands Sergei Krasnoukhov/TASS
Iturup island, one of Kuril Islands
© Sergei Krasnoukhov/TASS


Izvestia: Russian-Japanese ventures on Kurils in limbo over jurisdiction deadlock

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed stepping up peace talks at a bilateral meeting in Singapore on Wednesday. They agreed to bolster efforts on solving the territorial dispute. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Izvestia that the two leaders had also touched upon bilateral projects on the South Kuril Islands. An agreement on joint economic activity on the islands was reached back in 2016, but the sides have not yet started implementing it.

The busy schedule of the Russian and Japanese leaders in Singapore on the sidelines of the Russia-Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference prevented them from holding long negotiations. However, Putin said he would again meet with Abe in November at the G20 summit in Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires. The two leaders agreed that Russia and Japan would intensify talks on the peace deal on the basis of the 1956 Soviet-Japanese declaration.

Traditionally, negotiations on a peace treaty between Russia and Japan are complicated, the paper writes. The latest meeting between Abe and Putin was the first one after the September proposal of the Russian leader to sign a deal with Japan without preconditions by the end of this year. The Japanese premier rejected the idea saying that Tokyo wants to solve the territorial dispute with Russia first.

The implementation of bilateral projects on the South Kuril Islands, agreed to in late 2016, is being held back by legal issues. Tokyo is not ready to fulfill projects there upon Russian laws, while Moscow does not recognize foreign legal jurisdiction on its territory, Valery Kistanov, Director of the Center for Japanese Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said.

"So far, practical activity has not been launched on the Kuril Islands. Everything stumbles into the question of on what legal basis should this activity be conducted," Kistanov explained. "If it is implemented based on Russian laws, this will be an indirect recognition by Tokyo of Russia’s sovereignty over the islands. Japan suggests developing a special regime, which won’t concern the problems of sovereignty of any of the two countries. This option does not satisfy Russia, since it won’t agree to create a kind of an extraterritorial enclave on its territory," the expert said.


Vedomosti: Kremlin unveils details on Putin’s meeting with unrecognized Kosovo leader

Russian President Vladimir Putin and leader of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo Hashim Thaci briefly met and shook hands during the events in Paris on Sunday marking the 100th anniversary of the World War I Armistice, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, Vedomosti writes. Putin emphasized the need for Kosovo to achieve a consensus with Serbia, saying that Moscow would support such agreement.

Russia does not officially recognize Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, which the republic declared unilaterally in 2008. Putin has stated many times that Kosovo’s secession is an example of double standards in Europe with regards to Crimea’s reunification with Russia.

"Moscow is a factor, which both sides [Belgrade and Pristina] use in the negotiating process. Until now, Belgrade mainly had taken advantage of that. And now, when Hashim Thaci managed to shake Putin’s hand in Paris, he got a small trump card," said Head of the Center for Modern Balkan Crisis Studies at the Institute for Slavic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Yelena Guskova.

However, the Paris handshake between Putin and Thaci does not mean anything. Russia backs Belgrade's position and this is its key stance, she noted. "At the latest meetings [between Putin and Serbian President] Aleksandar Vucic it was confirmed that Russia would back any decision by Belgrade, yet it is of the greatest importance that it is approved peacefully and in line with the deal between Pristina and Belgrade."

In 2013, the parties inked the Brussels Treaty, but the Albanians have not fulfilled a single condition concerning the granting of certain rights to the Serbs and the autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija. "At present, these talks have continued and hit a deadlock as the Albanians are neither making any moves nor concessions."

According to Andrey Sushentsov, President of the Eurasian Strategies Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) Consulting, the spontaneous meeting between Putin and Thaci had been encouraged by the French side, which was responsible for the protocol and the guests' seating at the event. "They did so that Thaci had an opportunity several times to sit close to our president and ask him about some issues," he noted. The French seek progress on signing a peace treaty between Serbia and Kosovo, the expert explained. "We also want this, but not at the expense of Serbia’s interests."


Vedomosti: FSB may pull plug on US-based satellite internet constellation over security concerns

Russia may be left without mobile satellite internet, which the US-based OneWeb satellite constellation company plans to provide around the world, Vedomosti writes. Russia’s Federal Security Service opposes OneWeb’s operations in Russia over concerns that the company could gather intelligence and harm Russians, Reuters reported in October.

This sudden turn of events does not satisfy Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Qualcomm, Airbus, Japan’s SoftBank investment company and even Coca-Cola, which have invested in the project, as well as Russia’s Roscosmos state corporation. The provider signed a contract with Russia on the launch of 672 satellites of OneWeb (their total number should be just fewer than 900) by Soyuz rockets. "A Russian agency, which launches anti-Russian satellites, that’s too much," the paper says.

The interference by Russian officials and security services in the plans of distinguished investors makes the story with OneWeb in Russia "look tragic," the paper writes. However, is this terrible for OneWeb and Russian users, who may be cut off from satellite internet? One thing is clear - Russian citizens will definitely have access to mobile Internet. By the 2020s, when OneWeb reaches its design capacity, the coverage area of mobile operators will expand.

Meanwhile, OneWeb like other global satellite systems will work around the world regardless of any bans imposed on them by officials. Things won’t go that far to jam a signal from orbit or catch users of orbital internet, Vedomosti writes.

The paper cited the example of another similar operator, the Iridium satellite constellation. The company had been working in Russia for several years illegally. The company commissioned a station for connecting with Russian communications networks in order to comply with Russian legislation on intelligence operations only in 2016. With that in mind, managers of major companies working in the North, officials and even security agencies had used its services.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US lays out ultimatum for China in run-up to Trump-Xi meeting

The coming meeting at the G20 between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires in late November may be a tough test for the two leaders. Ahead of the summit, Washington set an ultimatum for Beijing, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Vice President Mike Pence announced that China should stop stealing intellectual property and forcing US companies to share technologies, and also adhere to freedom of maritime navigation. Only under these conditions, could China avoid a ‘Cold War’.

Leading politicians in the region wonder whether the two major economic powers are approaching a long economic and strategic confrontation or could reach an agreement. Trump is keeping the door open for a deal. However, if China refuses to make concessions, Washington is ready to turn up the economic, diplomatic and political pressure on Beijing.

China is not seeking confrontation, Alexei Maslov, Head of the School of Oriental Studies at the Higher School of Economics, told the paper. Beijing has made steps towards an agreement. At the recent EXPO event, Beijing said it was opening markets of both goods and services for foreign companies. For example, it provides access to tourism and consulting companies, which had been almost impossible before.

"The second moment is that China signed a number of bilateral deals with European and South East Asian countries, and also multilateral agreements with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries on significantly reducing tariffs. This means that formally the markets are opening," the expert said. Touching on the transfer of technologies, many US companies may receive patents for them in China, he noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: New opposition group seeks regime change in Saudi Arabia

A recently formed group of the Saudi opposition has demanded in an anonymous letter that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father King Salman should give up power, stressing that the current leadership’s policy has triggered an unprecedented crisis in the country, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The arrival of the King’s brother Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz from the United Kingdom, where he had been based due to security reasons, may be a signal of an upcoming reshuffle in the highest echelons of power.

The authors of the letter believe that Saudi Arabia should set up an interim government, which will be led by Prince Ahmed, who is known as a critic of the Saudi leadership’s foreign policy and in particular accused it of masterminding the Yemeni war. According to the Middle East Eye portal, the prince arrived in Riyadh after Western intelligence agencies had provided security guarantees for him. His mission will be to pick a new heir to the throne, as the previous one is too "toxic."

"I don’t think that this faction of the Saudi opposition is a secret one," said Grigory Kosach, Professor of the Modern East Department of History, Political Science and Law at the Russian State University for the Humanities. "The return of Prince Ahmed proves that the faction is planning to act legally, there can be no doubt about that." "Most likely, he has returned to the Kingdom to carry out the process of some reconciliation between the rivalling factions of this dynasty and achieve some concessions from the King concerning the participation of the representatives of other factions in the state administration."

According to Kosach, the most influential clan, which can be a rival to the prince and the king, is the Sudairi clan, and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Prince Ahmed belong to it. The murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October was a powerful impetus for changes in the Kingdom, he noted.


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