Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Turkey, US on brink of clash in Syria over Kurds
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday that Ankara had completed preparations for an operation to destroy terrorists active to the east of the Euphrates River and would not trust Washington’s promises anymore. Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that the operation could result not only in the full elimination of the Kurdish units, but also in a direct clash between Turkish and US forces.
Ankara’s key demand for Washington is to seize weapons, which the Pentagon had provided to the Kurds citing the need to fight terrorism. If US weapons remain in the arsenal of the People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that it regards as a terrorist group, the situation in the region will further deteriorate.
Ankara is calling on Washington to break its ties with such terrorist organizations as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YPG, Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said, according to the Anadolu news agency. The Pentagon appeared to meet the demands of its NATO ally and in a few days during his Middle East tour US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed that the weapons supplies to the Syrian Kurds had stopped. Experts pointed out that Washington had decided against fomenting tensions with Ankara. However, US President Donald Trump requested $300 mln in budget funds for 2019 to sponsor the so-called moderate Syrian opposition. Since Washington considers both the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the YPG to be the moderate opposition, some weapons would be inevitably handed over to the Kurdish units in northern Syria, the paper writes.
Apparently, that was the final straw for Ankara and it decided to make its move. President Erdogan stressed that the YPG militants are terrorists while Ankara’s strategic partners, including the US, have a different opinion. He emphasized that the YPG is the PKK's Syrian branch, and that the goal of the operation would be to destroy the remaining YPG stronghold to prevent the creation of any Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria.
The key question here is about the US further steps: whether it will betray its ally in the fight against the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia) hoping to improve ties with its NATO partner or will it side with the Kurds. In the first case, Washington could mend ties with Erdogan, and therefore Ankara could give up economic and military cooperation with Russia. In the second case, a conflict on an unpredictable scale and with consequences would erupt between two NATO members, which could split the alliance, the paper says.
The second scenario is more beneficial for Moscow. However, if it is fulfilled, Syria’s territorial integrity wouldn't be restored since its north will definitely transform into the "Turkish south."
Vedomosti: Rosneft to leave Iranian market amid US sanctions
Russia’s oil giant Rosneft has changed its mind on cooperating with Iran, three sources linked to the state company’s top managers told Vedomosti. Late last year, Rosneft and the National Iranian Oil Company announced plans to fulfill joint projects in oil and gas production to the tune of $30 bln and produce up to 55 mln tonnes of oil per year. The sides signed a roadmap on implementing the strategic projects. However, the talks stopped this summer amid fears that the US could slap sanctions on Iran, one of the sources told the paper. The sanctions were eventually imposed on November 6 and in particular restricted Iranian oil exports.
Another reason to leave Iran is Rosneft’s decision to change its strategy. The Russian oil company is planning to focus on growth inside Russia, another source told the paper.
Rosneft is not the first Russian company, which refused to work in Iran. In early November, Zarubezhneft, a state-controlled oil firm based in Moscow, sold its operator of production projects in Iran, ZN-Vostok, to an enterprise owned by the Russian Energy Ministry.
All of Russia's oil majors had planned to work with Iran, but suspended talks, Vedomosti writes. Apparently, Rosneft decided that the risks of working in Iran were too high, expert at the Analytical Credit Rating Agency (ACRA) Vasily Tanurkov said.
Exports of Iranian oil have been restricted, and this is expected to last for a long time, he explained, noting that the conditions for Russian companies operating in Iran are still unclear. "Probably, given all the risks Rosneft had sought to get more profits than those offered by Iran," the expert said.
The refusal to invest in Iran is "a wise move" given Rosneft’s new strategy and growing political risks over looming sanctions, Fitch's Dmitry Marinchenko said. "In some ways, the refusal to cooperate may be related to Russia’s attempt to form a political alliance with Saudi Arabia, which has bad ties with Iran."
For Rosneft and other companies, the exit from the Iranian market is not critical as Tehran has not offered attractive financial terms for international investors, according to ATON’s analyst Alexander Kornilov.
Izvestia: UK PM May survives no confidence vote, but Brexit troubles loom
Theresa May has weathered an attempt by Tory MPs to oust her as head of the Conservative party, and will remain the Prime Minister for at least 12 months, Izvestia writes. The no confidence vote was held ahead of her trip to Brussels, where May is planning to convince the European Council to amend the Brexit deal. This document caused discontent among her fellow party members.
A source in the European Council told the paper that the EU leaders are not planning to review the agreement, but are ready to discuss a scenario under which the UK will leave the bloc without a deal.
The moment for holding the no confidence vote was very inappropriate, since several months are left before the UK’s exit from the EU, and the parliament has not yet voted on the Brexit deal endorsed by London and Brussels, Izvestia says.
The most challenging issue is the land border problem between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Under the Belfast agreement of 1998, which ended the conflict in the region, this border does not actually exist. When the UK leaves the EU, Northern Ireland will stop being part of the bloc, while Ireland will remain a member. To keep the Belfast agreement, London and Brussels introduced the so-called backstop plan until the beginning of 2021, and the UK will stay in the EU Customs Union. If the issue is not solved by the end of the transition period, the country will remain in the union forever.
"This means the lack of its own trade policy, which was originally a key argument in favor of Brexit, and also the priority of the EU law over the national British law," Kira Godovanyuk, Senior Researcher at the Center for British Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, told the paper. "While remaining in the Customs Union, Britain will actually stay in the EU, but lose the right to vote."
By the beginning of the EU summit on Thursday, it is clear that May will stay on as the UK’s premier and expects to carry out Brexit by March 29, 2019. Brussels is not planning to change the Brexit deal and is ready for the UK’s exit without an agreement.
Experts consider that amid the acute political crisis no scenarios can be ruled out - neither a second referendum in the UK nor a ‘hard’ Brexit.
By January 21, 2019, May is due to put the Brexit deal up for a vote in the House of Commons. If the deal is approved as planned, Britain will leave the EU under its conditions. If the vote fails, under British law on Brexit, the country will leave the bloc without a deal. This means a tough divorce with the EU structures and a heavy blow to the British economy, which will trigger a fall in GDP, a depreciation in the national currency, a growing deficit in the state budget and also a collapse of transport communications between Britain and the EU member-states, the paper says.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US mass media gripped with ‘spy’ hysteria over Butina case
On Thursday, a US court is due to hold another hearing on the case of Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina, who is allegedly planning to plead guilty in exchange for US citizenship, sources close to her told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The Russian-speaking diaspora in America emphasizes that there is still a long way to go before the trial ends, and expects new revelations. The US media, which is hostile to US President Donald Trump, has already announced its verdict by branding the Russian citizen a ‘spy’.
The Butina case is being covered by many US media outlets in an absolutely geopolitical context as part of Moscow’s standoff with Washington, the paper says. Simply put the truth about any crimes, which she may have committed, is not being discussed. Much of the press has repeated the narrative that Butina is an exposed spy, although no espionage charges have been pressed against her. In fact, Butina is accused of lobbying Russia’s interests without being registered as a foreign agent.
A source close to Butina told the paper that mass media, which reported that she would plead guilty and be deported to Russia, are apparently "nuts." "According to my information, she was promised citizenship in exchange for some evidence. She should acknowledge her mistake that she had not known that she needed to register as a foreign agent."
"Butina reached a plea deal only on one of the two counts, where she faces a lesser sentence," coordinator of the Free Russia Foundation in the US Dmitry Valuyev told the paper. Meanwhile, she is not pleading guilty to the key charge, namely not having registered as a foreign agent, he said. "Maybe this is the strategy of her attorneys. But it cannot be ruled out that these could be signals to Moscow."
Kommersant: Russia’s Gazprom Neft shows interest in Sudanese shelf
Russia’s third largest oil producer, Gazprom Neft, is ready to study the prospects of developing Block 13 of the Sudanese shelf in the Red Sea, Kommersant business daily writes, citing a protocol of the Russian-Sudanese intergovernmental commission. A source close to the company confirmed its interest in the block. Gazprom Neft has not made a decision so far on launching geological prospecting works and is currently assessing the prospects.
The Russian company earlier demonstrated interest in other sites in the country, but did not start geological prospecting works. Now the situation is more favorable amid Sudan normalizing ties with South Sudan, which had split from it, and the gradual removal of US sanctions imposed due to this conflict. According to experts, the development of Sudanese assets may be profitable given the current oil price climate.
A source in the company explained that now technical consultations were ongoing and only in case of achieving the agreements could any commercial aspects be discussed, and it was too early to hash over the timeframe of the project. A company representative also noted that the assessments on the Sudanese shelf significantly differ, not excluding that the actual reserves could be more than the current estimates.
Another Russian oil refining company, Russneft, has shown interest in the Red Sea shelf in Sudan, a source told the paper. In 2015, Zarubezhneft also held talks on developing several blocks, but ditched the project stating that it was not advantageous under the current oil prices.
Yekaterina Grushevenko, an expert at the Skolkovo Energy Center, believes that there are high chances of Gazprom Neft’s joining the project. According to her estimates, production costs in Sudan would be some $40-$50 per barrel, and this fits the market situation for the next few years. The country is ready to offer 23 sites with proven reserves. According to KPMG Global Head of Oil and Gas Anton Usov, the Sudanese shelf is potentially promising, given the exhausting traditional production regions and the activity of Chinese companies in the region of late.
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