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Press review: TurkStream’s startup to boost EU energy and OPCW battles for blame power

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday

Media: TurkStream completion to strengthen energy cooperation

Putting the TurkStream gas pipeline into operation will greatly boost energy cooperation between Moscow and Ankara and will also help ensure Europe’s energy security, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his visit to Istanbul, where a ceremony marking the completion of the TurkStream natural gas pipeline’s offshore section took place. The project’s implementation will provide Russia with access to new markets and a reliable transit route, while for Turkey, the pipeline is strategically important, according to experts cited by Izvestia.

Director General of the National Energy Institute Sergei Pravosudov pointed to the South Stream pipeline project, which was aimed at the construction of significant gas transportation facilities in Europe but had to be cancelled after Bulgaria had pulled out. "Unlike that project, TurkStream is based on another scheme. The first leg directly reaches Turkey and connects to the network of gas pipelines that already exists in the country, while the released infrastructure will need to be upgraded before it can be used for the construction of the second leg," the expert explained. "The only issue is that there is no connection between Bulgaria and Serbia, but it is going to be built. Once this is done, gas will be transported from Serbia to Hungary and then to Austria. Compared to the expensive South Stream project, the scope of work is not that big," Pravosudov noted.

Igor Yushkov, an expert at the National Energy Security Fund, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that "the Nord Stream 2 project has set a precedent, as the Germans proved that a gas pipeline from Russia to Europe is not necessarily a political project." "It means, the Bulgarians may now say that since Nord Stream 2 is an economic project, then TurkStream is also an economic project and the pipeline can be constructed," the expert added.

The mega-event marking the completion of TurkStream’s offshore part highlights the strategic nature of relations between Russia and Turkey, Federation Council member Alexei Pushkov told Izvestia. According to him, frequent meetings between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan demonstrate Turkey’s wish to pursue an independent foreign policy course and diversify its international ties, loosening the grip of the United States, its NATO ally.

For Turkey, this gas project is important not only from a transit standpoint. It will strengthen the country’s role and is also economically beneficial to Ankara, head of the Political Expert Group think tank Konstantin Kalachev said. In his view, gas supplies to customers must be reliable, competitive, safe and independent of any shifts in the political climate. TurkStream fully meets these requirements. Russia needs access to markets and reliable transit routes, while the pipeline is strategically important for Turkey as it will enhance its role for Europe, the expert pointed out.


Kommersant: Battle for OPCW’s blaming powers rages on

The dispute between Moscow and London on whether the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) should have the right to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons, will be resolved at the current OPCW conference in The Hague. The UK and countries supporting it demand the creation of an investigative commission on attribution responsibility, while Moscow demands that a task force be set up to look into the initiative’s consistency with the Chemical Weapons Convention, Kommersant notes.

Until recently, the OPCW had the right to inspect facilities related to chemical weapons and the chemical industry, as well as to conduct investigations to ascertain the use of chemical weapons, but the United Nations Security Council has been the body eligible to assign blame. However, following the poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the British city of Salisbury, London proposed a change in rules. At June’s OPCW conference, 82 out of the 193 states supported the British initiative, while 24 voted against it and others abstained.

Plans are that the OPCW will establish an investigative commission to fulfill its new duties and allocate additional 2.4 mln euro for its activities. According to OPCW Director General Fernando Arias, the commission is expected to start by investigating the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Based on the probe’s outcome, the intergovernmental organization will prepare a report about those responsible for the use of chemical weapons. The organization’s Executive Council and the UN secretary general will review the document and decide whether to make it public. At the same time, the OPCW will not have the right to punish those responsible.

Meanwhile, Russia and China have come up with an initiative to create an international expert group to look into the initiative’s consistency with the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Experts have different views on whether Russia’s objections to the expansion of the OPCW’s mandate have any grounds. Chemical Weapons Expert Anton Utkin told Kommersant that the conflict between Russia and the UK is rooted in varying interpretations of the Chemical Weapons Convention. "It [the Convention] does not say that the OPCW has the right to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons," Utkin said. "An annex to the Convention is the only place where the responsibility issue emerges - it says that if a group investigating the use of chemical weapons obtains information about someone’s responsibility, it has the right to include that information into its report," he added. According to the expert, "the British approach runs counter to the Convention as it ascribes duties it did not initially have, and it also runs counter to the UN Charter."

However, Ralf Trapp, an expert on chemical and biological weapons and arms control, who took part in one of the OPCW missions to Syria, is confident that none of the attribution mechanism provisions contradicts the Convention. "I can only guess why Russia has questions about the new approach," he told Kommersant. In Trapp’s opinion, one of the reasons may be that Moscow can veto the UN Security Council’s decisions but OPCW countries have no such right.


Media: Browder suspected of poisoning Magnitsky

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has opened a criminal conspiracy investigation into Hermitage Capital founder Willian Browder. According to investigators, attorney Sergei Magnitsky, Universal Savings Bank owner Semyon Korobeinikov and businessman Valery Kurochkin could have been poisoned on orders of the British-born financier, Izvestia writes.

The Hermitage Capital case came to light back in 2008, when the fund’s auditor Sergei Magnitsky was arrested on a tax evasion charge. Having spent 11 months at a pre-trial detention center, Magnitsky died. Valery Kurochkin, Oktai Gassanov and Semyon Korobeinikov, who were considered to be Browder’s accomplices, all died under suspicious circumstances.

The Prosecutor General’s Office said that Kurochkin, Magnitsky and Korobeinikov had been poisoned with chemical agents created for sabotage, which contained aluminum compounds. The toxic substances allegedly used to kill them have been tested in the United States, France and Italy.

Initially, Kurochkin and Magnitsky were believed to have died naturally from health complications. Businessmen Gassanov was the third victim of poisoning, the Prosecutor General’s Office said. Korobeinikov’s death was initially described as an ‘accident’ but later evidence proved that his death had been a violent one.

In 2017, Russia unilaterally put Browder on the Interpol’s wanted list and he was detained in Madrid on May 30, 2018. However, the Spanish police later released him saying that the arrest warrant issued by the Russian authorities had been invalid.

German political analyst Manuel Ochsenreiter told Izvestia that Browder would do anything to get what he wanted. In 1998, he renounced his US citizenship to obtain a British passport and avoid paying taxes. "Willian Browder is a financial locust who only seeks to increase his financial benefits. Rules and laws don’t mean a thing to this predator. Any government, not only the Russian one, should have the courage to start prosecuting him and his accomplices," Ochsenreiter said.

Meanwhile, Browder’s Russian lawyer Alexander Antipov told Kommersant that he intended to file an appeal against the criminal conspiracy case. According to him, the investigation violated the financier’s right to defense, by having failed to inform Browder and his lawyers about the case.


Izvestia: NATO admits it ‘needs to talk’ to Russia

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is interested in dialogue with Russia to ease tensions. However, the bloc does not plan to abandon its policy of containing Russia over the events in Crimea and the situation in Ukraine, an official from the alliance told Izvestia, stressing that the NATO-Russia Council remained an important platform for dialogue. Russian State Defense Committee Chairman and former Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Airborne Troops Vladimir Shamanov explained to the paper that Moscow was ready to resume cooperation with the Alliance but without preconditions.

NATO will maintain its dual-track approach of a strong policy in defense and openness to political dialogue with Russia, the alliance’s press service said in response to Izvestia’s question about the prospects for the resumption of cooperation with Moscow in 2019. NATO officials explained that practical cooperation with Russia had been suspended following the events in Crimea and the destabilization of the situation in Ukraine in 2014.

"We need to talk to Russia to resolve the most pressing issues we face and overcome the current hurdles in (our) relationship," a NATO official said. When tensions are high, dialogue is particularly important for easing them and increasing predictability. NATO officials stressed that in order to achieve those goals, eight meetings of the NATO-Russia Council had been held since 2016.

Meanwhile, Shamanov believes that NATO is acting in a counter-productive manner citing the Ukrainian events as the reason for suspending cooperation with Russia. He highlighted the fact that NATO member states - Germany, France and Poland - acted as the guarantors of an agreement to sort out the political crisis in Ukraine, that the country’s then President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition leaders signed on February 21, 2014. According to the Russian politician, the agreement eventually went up in smoke, sparking a coup in Kiev and leading to the events in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

"NATO - the very organization - has been devalued, which is what their master [US President Donald Trump] told them. So now they are trying to show some activity," Shamanov told Izvestia. "But Russia will not allow anyone to impose conditions. We are a sovereign country and we know how we should act. Particularly, because we said a long time ago we were ready to maintain any kind of relationship provided there are no preconditions," he stressed.


RBC: Financial bigwigs ‘pessimistic’ on Russia, says poll

The number of pessimists among financial executives working in Russia has reached a record high since 2015. Financiers questioned by Deloitte say that businesses would be most negatively affected by VAT’s growth to 20% and sanctions, RBC wrote.

The poll conducted by Deloitte involved 80 financial executives, 55% of whom work in Russian companies and 45% work for foreign companies that have localized businesses.

The number of pessimistic financial bigwigs has nearly quadrupled to 37% in the past six months, which is an all-time record.

Russian companies are usually more pessimistic than foreign ones working in Russia. Telecommunications, media and technological firms are more inclined to optimism, as well as companies with revenues ranging from 5 bln to 25 bln rubles ($76.2 mln to $381 mln).

The seemingly insignificant VAT growth (two percentage points) has turned out to be a serious negative factor for businesses, said one of the researchers, Senior Specialist at the Deloitte CIS Research Center Dmitry Kasatkin. All companies expect a surge in the inflation rate, while rising prices and declining demand cannot make anyone optimistic, Chief economist at BCS Global Markets Vladimir Tikhomirov noted.

As for the significant rise in the number of pessimistic financial executives from the production sector, it mostly stems from the sanctions imposed on Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal in April. The move came as a shock to Russian industrial companies and now they don’t rule out that even non-governmental companies may face restrictions as new western sanctions are under consideration. "Exporting companies realize they are the first in line to be blacklisted," Tikhomirov said.

Another reason for the growing pessimism and uncertainty, particularly among steel and oil companies, is the global economic situation and trade wars between the United States and China, which have been getting tougher.

"Everyone fears that it will lead to a significant decline in demand in the global economy and affect the financial performance of companies," Tikhomirov explained.



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