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Press review: What awaits Venezuela after aid convoy fiasco and envoys pursue Afghan peace

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday
Venezuelan clash with the Bolivarian National Guard on the Colombian side of the Simon Bolivar International Bridge in Colombia EPA-EFE/Ernesto Guzman Jr.
Venezuelan clash with the Bolivarian National Guard on the Colombian side of the Simon Bolivar International Bridge in Colombia
© EPA-EFE/Ernesto Guzman Jr.

Media: Venezuelan opposition leader, US pave the way for military solution to crisis

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and his Western sponsors are preparing the international community for a military scenario of toppling President Nicolas Maduro, which would lead to a civil war, Izvestia writes. The recent clashes on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, triggered by attempts to deliver US humanitarian cargo, have already led to casualties. Two people were killed and nearly 300 were wounded. Experts and politicians questioned by Izvestia believe that the efforts to impose US assistance on Venezuela and cutting diplomatic relations between Caracas and Bogota are bringing the situation to a boiling point.

First Deputy Chair of the Federation Council’s Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov believes that the opposition and its US-led patrons won’t be able to strip the legitimate Venezuelan president of power "quickly and simply." According to the senator, Washington’s meddling in the South American country’s affairs is so evident that the US will find it hard to explain the reasons for its intervention. "The situation is worsening every hour and any provocation may be on the horizon. However, another question is whether the Americans will dare to carry out a military intervention," Dzhabarov said.

"Toppling the incumbent leader by force may spark a civil war. The script writers from the US and the opposition should bear this in mind as this can undoubtedly result in bloodshed," the senator said, warning that a negative scenario of events may spiral into destabilization in Latin America.

After the idea of ousting Maduro swiftly had failed a "humanitarian catastrophe" scenario became the foundation for the US goal of regime change in Venezuela, an expert from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Igor Pshenichnikov, told the paper. "The US show on the border was successful. They have a formal reason to discuss the means of a "forceful" delivery of humanitarian cargo to Venezuela. Direct armed US intervention remains in the cards, especially given the Cuban authorities’ report that the US marines and special ops forces have been deployed to Venezuela’s borders," the political scientist said.

Academic Secretary of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Latin American Studies Dmitry Rozental told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that both parties to the conflict are using humanitarian aid as a tool for political struggle. Those who control the distribution of humanitarian assistance control the streets, he explained. Therefore, Maduro is rejecting external attempts to deliver humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, the opposition seeks to hand out aid in order to enhance its political levers. "So, it’s not surprising that Maduro is not willing to accept the assistance offered by the opposition."

According to the expert, the US and other Latin American states, which recognized Juan Guaido, initially expected a swift change of power. "However, after understanding that they won’t be able to take power swiftly, Maduro’s opponents are now going for the long game with the goal of stifling his government economically." Rozental voiced skepticism over any US military intervention given that regional states oppose this move. The only condition in favor of it, is the consolidation of other Latin American countries on this issue. "If all of them come to a conclusion that the only way out of the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is military intervention and go with this decision, the chances for intervention will significantly grow," he noted.


Vedomosti: US, Russia deliberate over Afghanistan’s fate

On Friday, Turkey’s capital of Ankara hosted a meeting between Russian and US special envoys for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov and Zalmay Khalilzad, Vedomosti writes. The sides agreed on that "all-inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue is essential to advance peace efforts," Khalilzad tweeted. The talks also focused on options for securing UN travel waivers for Taliban (terror group, outlawed in Russia) negotiators to participate in the peace talks, he said.

The meeting of the two special envoys is unusual with regards to the current relations between Russia and the United States, but it won’t have any significant effect for Russian-US dialogue, experts told the paper. "Russia and the US have working contacts on very sensitive hot spots such as Afghanistan, North Korea and Syria, at least on a military level," political scientist Fyodor Lukyanov said. "This does not change anything but this is an exchange of mutual services when something is needed on very specific issues."

This does not mean a breakthrough in other areas because the Americans are cooperating with Russia if this is beneficial for them. "This does not mean any major changes either to the sanctions regime or for any dialogue," Alexey Kupriyanov from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations said. At the same time, these contacts are vital for an Afghan settlement, he noted.

"Now, the Americans are trying to somehow ensure their exit from Afghanistan and to do this so that it does not look like flight and to ensure the interests of their allies in the region as best as they can. They need talks with the Taliban and they want the war in Afghanistan to gradually turn into a negotiating process and the Taliban to somehow integrate into the new Afghan authorities," he said.

According to Lukyanov, the US has been in talks with the Taliban for a long time. "This is reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s departure from Afghanistan 30 years ago. The US promises a smooth exit, and it apparently wants the Taliban to provide some guarantees of co-existence with the authorities, which came to power with American assistance." However, many believe that Washington needs these talks to save face and after its pullout the country will be controlled by the Taliban, the expert said.


Izvestia: Moldovan elections to point where country is headed

The outcome of parliamentary elections in Moldova may seriously change the country’s domestic and foreign policy and also help Russia get back 37 bln rubles ($565 mln) illegally taken out by Moldovan oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, experts and politicians interviewed by Izvestia said. According to opinion polls, the Party of Socialists backed by President Igor Dodon is the frontrunner in the election. The potential victory of Dodon’s allies is highly likely to result in Chisinau rethinking its integration with the EU and increasing its cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union. Although the final results have not been announced, the socialists have garnered 31% of the vote with 10% of the ballots counted. Before the vote counting ended, key rivals accused each other of rigging the election. However, according to a Russian observer from the Central Election Commission, Alexander Kinev, no serious violations were recorded during the polls.

Moldovans are tired of the arbitrariness of the current people in power and this election is crucial for the country, MP from the Party of Socialists Vladimir Turcan said. "They robbed the country and ruined ties with Russia. The democrats even spoiled relations with the EU over the pilfering in Moldova, especially to the tune of $1bln (which disappeared from the bank accounts and Prime Minister Vlad Filat was jailed). In the end, even the Europeans were dissatisfied with the authorities. Serious changes in the country’s leadership are needed," the politician said.

For Russia, Moldova is an important country and partner in Eurasian cooperation, which became an observer in the EAEU, said Viktor Vodolatsky, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for the CIS affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots of the Russian State Duma (lower house). The outcome of the polls will predetermine the future of Moscow’s ties with Chisinau and the settlement of the Transnistria conflict.


Vedomosti: Rosneft sheds light on fate of major oil contract with China

After China’s CEFC went bankrupt, the rights to buy Rosneft’s oil were transferred to its Singapore-based subsidiary CEFC Shanghai International Group, the Russian company said. The 2017 contract on supplies of 48 mln tonnes is now being fulfilled according to its initial terms, a source close to one of the parties told Vedomosti.

"For Rosneft, it is important that the contract is in force and the contractor here is actually a company controlled by the state. This provides for a rather high level of comfort in the context of loans and other risks," Corporations Department Director at Fitch Dmitry Marinchenko told the paper.

"Singapore is one of the most convenient countries as far as regulating jurisdictions for trading business goes. For example, the parent company of Swiss oil trader Trafigura is registered in Singapore," the expert noted. A source close to one of the parties explained that CITIC structured its trading business in Singapore and therefore it transferred the contract to a Singapore subsidiary of CEFC, which it acquired with the bankrupt company’s other assets.

Last year, Asia was a priority for Rosneft. In 2018, the company supplied 59.2 mln tonnes there, whereas to Europe it delivered 55.8 mln tonnes. "It is more beneficial for Rosneft to supply oil to China than to Europe," said Andrey Polischuk analyst at Raiffeisenbank, explaining that the profits are higher and the Chinese pay in advance.


Izvestia: Russia to build first private tourist spaceport

Russia will build the first private spaceport for suborbital flights, Izvestia writes. The project’s price tag comes to $40 mln and is expected to be constructed on the territory of the Nizhny Novgorod Region or in Tatarstan. One investor will sponsor the creation of the project, which is the brainchild of KosmoKurs, a Russian company based at the Skolkovo Innovation Center, but so far, its name has not been revealed.

The spaceport is designed for reusable suborbital rockets, which will deliver seven-seat tourist spacecraft to the height of the Gagarin orbit of nearly 200 km. The space tourists will spend some five or six minutes under zero gravity and will be able to move freely inside the cabin with personal illuminators. The entry ticket to the space attraction will cost $200,000-$250,000, and flight training will take nearly three days.

The first flight of the spacecraft with passengers onboard is scheduled for 2025, and the experimental one may take place in 2023. The annual number of space tourists may reach 700 by 2023 if the demand is high.

"The Baikonur spaceport is located far from the central part of the country and has infrastructure only for launching intermediate and heavy carrier rockets, which is not suitable for fulfilling our project," Director General of KosmoKurs Pavel Pushkin said. "If we speak about the Vostochny spaceport, it doesn’t have convenient fields for landing. That’s why we have designed our own platform exclusively for suborbital launches," he explained.


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