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Press review: Trump closer to impeachment and NATO may target Russia’s southern underbelly

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, January 16


Izvestia: What are Trump's chances of being impeached?

Democrats have the potential of launching impeachment proceedings against US President Donald Trump in the near future, several political sources in Washington told Izvestia. The president’s opponents realize that Trump potentially resigning under the existing circumstances is unrealistic, since the Senate is controlled by the Republicans, so the goal of the impeachment threat is to damage Trump's potential candidacy for the 2020 presidential race.

"Much depends on the results of Robert Mueller’s probe. If there is real evidence of the president’s collusion with Russia, the procedure will be launched. It will deal a blow to his reputation and help end his chances for a second term," one source said.

Another interlocutor stressed the timing issue, pointing to whether this is the right time for launching this procedure. Some of Trump’s opponents are certain that the process could do more harm to him and the Republicans as the election nears.

However, under certain circumstances, Trump could even benefit from the impeachment, which would proceed amid tough inter-party standoff, according to Anders Aslund, a Senior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council. In his view, this move could mobilize the Republican Party to rally around its leader.

The impeachment threat shows no signs of dying down and it is likely to be launched, Dr. Edward Lozansky, President of the American University in Moscow, told Izvestia.

"Democrats are well aware of the fact that they will not have enough votes. However, their principal objective is tarnishing Trump's image with the help of the obedient media. The hunting season for the president’s entourage will now open in order to find any compromising evidence, even fake proof, to 'stoke the fire’ before the imminent launch of the impeachment process. Judging by the intensity of emotions, there is no chance of a compromise on the horizon," he stressed.


Kommersant: Russian lawmakers to skip PACE’s January session

Russia's delegation will not take part in the January session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Moscow has no plans to make its 2019 payment to the Council of Europe, despite a proposal to partially restore the Russian delegation’s powers, Vice Speaker of Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament) Pyotr Tolstoy has announced.

Russia is not a country that serves as a punching bag to shake down for money, head of the State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs Leonid Kalashnikov told Kommersant. "Foreigners should not infringe on our rights. If Russia quits the Council of Europe, and then other countries withdraw from it, nobody will need that organization at all tomorrow," he said.

According to Kalashnikov, during the entire period of its Council of Europe membership, Russia "had been unable to get any of its resolutions passed, though we constantly pay money according to the European Court’s decision."

The Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) is expected to look at a statement on the situation concerning Russia’s participation in PACE’s activities on Wednesday. Chairman of the Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev told the paper that the senators would state that "PACE’s regulations preserve the possibility of using sanctions against national parliamentary delegations for political purposes." "This violates the principles of democracy and creates the possibility of re-imposing sanctions on Russian lawmakers. Due to that, we see no opportunity to apply for confirming [our delegation’s] powers for the 2019 session," he explained.

If cooperation with the Council of Europe is terminated, that will affect, first and foremost, the specialized agencies working with the European Court of Human Rights, says Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. "For example, the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor-General’s Office and the Federal Penitentiary Service, together with the European Court of Human Rights, improved prison conditions and the entire law enforcement practice. If relations with the Council of Europe are severed, this process will be suspended," he warned.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Amid looming US exit from INF, NATO aims for Russia’s underbelly

Russia and the US have held consultations on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in Geneva. As expected, the parties failed to reach any agreement and continue to hurl accusations at one another of violating the accord. Meanwhile, the participants in a NATO Military Committee meeting once again accused Russia of aggressive steps and expressed their willingness to ensure security through additional military measures in the event of Washington’s withdrawal from the landmark agreement, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

NATO argues that Russia has breached the INF by putting the 9M729 missile for the Iskander system into service, which can allegedly hit targets at a distance of more than 500 kilometers. Moscow has said on numerous occasions that the missile in question does not violate the agreement.

Last week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was ready for military measures to resolve the INF issue. According to Stoltenberg, rescuing this arms control deal remains a top priority but "there is a need to get ready" to face a world without such a treaty.

"In 2019, NATO members stepped up their defense spending considerably. It exceeds Russia’s military budget substantially. However, the alliance will apparently need new financial and material resources due to Washington’s potential pullout from the INF Treaty," military expert Lieutenant-General Yuri Netkachev told the paper.

This can only rouse Russia’s concern, the expert went on to say. "If NATO countries decide on Georgia’s accession to the alliance, new military threats are not ruled out. These threats will be aimed at Russia’s southern underbelly. Taking into account the loss of the INF Treaty factor, the US MK 41 systems aimed at targets in Russia can be deployed not only to Romania and Poland but also to Georgia," he explained.


Izvestia: Zimbabwe awaits Russian investors

Cooperation between Russia and Zimbabwe should benefit the population of both countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted during talks with his Zimbabwean counterpart Emmerson Mnangagwa. The parties signed a number of agreements after the negotiations, with the key one being on the extraction of minerals in the Darwendale platinum deposit, Izvestia writes.

Besides, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the African Export-Import Bank and the Great Dyke Investments Russian-Zimbabwean company. It provides for earmarking up to $192 mln to implement the Darwendale project.

The talks apparently focused on conditions that are more favorable for Russian companies, Vasily Sidorov, expert at the Center for Southern African Studies, told the paper.

The Russian State Geological Company, Gazprombank and KAMAZ truck manufacturer have likewise shown interest in entering Zimbabwe’s market.

A few years ago, Russian energy producer Lukoil explored the possibility of building a new oil pipeline from Mozambique to Zimbabwe, but an analysis showed that the existing pipeline’s capacity was more than enough.

According to Vasily Sidorov, if the economies of Zimbabwe and neighboring countries grow, Russia’s energy cooperation with them could turn out to be quite promising.


Vedomosti: Gazprom makes Russian gas available to Europe’s largest hub

Gazprom Export has announced the beginning of gas sales through the electronic trading platform (ETP) with a delivery point at the TTF (Title Transfer Facility) gas hub in the Netherlands, Vedomosti writes citing data provided by the Russian energy company. TTF became Europe’s biggest gas hub in Europe in 2016 selling both pipeline and liquefied natural gas.

Gazprom Export commenced sales through the ETP last September, selling nearly 2 bln cubic meters of gas to European customers. Last year, the company exported 201.7 bln cubic meters of gas.

Gas prices on TTF went down to $256 per 1,000 cubic meters since the beginning of this winter, according to European Energy Exchange AG.

Europe’s relatively mild weather and the lack of problems with filling underground gas storage facilities have pushed down gas prices. Besides, spot prices are strongly affected by a drop in oil prices, the paper quotes Alexei Grivach from Russia's National Energy Security Fund as saying. "Gas prices under Gazprom’s long-term contracts, which are linked to oil prices, react to changing oil prices a bit slower. However, if the prices for the latter stabilize at their current level, there will be no big difference between the prices of Gazprom and the hubs," he explained.

The beginning of TTF supplies is an example of how Gazprom is adapting to the changing conditions in Europe’s gas market, according to Maria Belova, Head of Research at Vygon Consulting.

"In 2008-2011, its strategic choice was maintaining prices to the detriment of sales volumes. Today the company, when offering its gas, including on the TTF platform, has a chance of preserving the total gas sale volumes, even if hub prices turn out to be lower than the contract prices," the expert pointed out.


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