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Press review: Putin-Kim summit heavy on symbolism and Europeans refuse Russian oil

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, April 26


RBC: Putin-Kim meeting in Vladivostok was mostly symbolic

The first negotiations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which focused on Pyongyang’s nuclear program and economic ties, have brought no specific results, having a symbolic meaning, RBC writes.

The meeting began with a face-to-face conversation, which was expected to take an hour but lasted twice as long. "The tete-a-tete dialogue lasted longer than planned, which indicates that the meeting was not a mere formality," Konstantin Asmolov, a Leading Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told the paper.

That was Kim’s first visit to Russia since he assumed office and 2011 and was re-elected earlier this month, and Putin was the sixth leader he met with.

The meeting had no formal results even in the form of a communique, says Alexei Maslov, Head of the School of Asian Studies at the Higher School of Economics. The summit was important for the two leaders so that they could get acquainted with each other. It will consolidate Kim Jong-un’s positions at the talks with US President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. For Putin the summit was important in light of his visit to Beijing where he could present his vision of future steps aimed at an inter-Korean settlement, RBC quotes the expert as saying.

Judging by the makeup of the delegations, the parties paid considerable attention to bilateral economic ties, specifically, in the energy sector, Asmolov suggested. According to the expert, a sizeable part of North Korea’s problems is related to the energy crisis, as the UN Security Council’s resolutions prohibit virtually any interaction in the energy sector with North Korea. Suffice to mention the fact that bilateral trade turnover decreased more than 56% in 2018.


Izvestia: Kiev never filed formal application for quitting CIS

Ukraine has not withdrawn from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) despite all the bombastic statements made by the Poroshenko regime. The Commonwealth hopes that Kiev will resume its involvement in the organization’s activities under Vladimir Zelensky, Chairman of the CIS Executive Committee Sergei Lebedev told Izvestia.

"Ukraine continues to be a CIS member from the legal point of view. Although Kiev has actually curtailed its participation, we are particularly concerned about the fact that it refuses to participate in some agreements that it signed earlier. This is not in the interests of Ukrainian citizens and not in the interests of other CIS member-states," he stressed.

However, with the advent of the new leadership, Kiev could change its approach towards the issue and realize that it is essential to cooperate with its traditional partners, he went on to say.

"We were closely following the presidential election in Ukraine and are carefully studying what the president-elect is saying. I sent him a message of congratulations on his election, expressing the hope that Ukraine will return to constructive and mutually beneficial cooperation within the CIS," Lebedev added.

Zelensky must understand that 73% of votes in his favor mean that Ukrainians voted, among other things, for changing Kiev’s policy with respect to its neighbors, and, subsequently, for reviving cooperation within the CIS, according to Viktor Vodolatsky, First Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma (lower house) Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots.

"On the other hand, the CIS needs Ukraine, since we have close economic, cultural and social ties. This fact cannot be ignored," he told Izvestia.

Meanwhile, members of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) told the paper that Kiev’s full-fledged pullout from the CIS would have an adverse effect on the country’s economy. According to lawmaker Tatyana Bakhteyeva, the Ukrainian political establishment is trying to take advantage of the lack of unity in society, scoring points in the eyes of just one population group. She added that such policy would also affect those Ukrainians who are working in Russia.

For his part, parliamentarian Yevgeny Balitsky is certain that Kiev’s rhetoric shows that Ukraine’s national interests are of minor importance for the outgoing leadership.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Europeans refuse to purchase Russian oil

Some European countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic, have refused to purchase oil from Russia because of impurities this week. Belarus, which was the first to point to the low quality of Russia’s oil, tentatively estimated its losses at $100 mln. Halting imports could trigger legal claims against Russian suppliers, penalties and even refusal to buy Russia’s oil, experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta warned.

According to Alor Broker analyst Alexei Antonov, Russian oil supplies through the Druzhba pipeline could resume as usual next week. However, the fact that the contamination has been documented means that Russia’s Transneft pipeline monopoly will have to pay a fine to the Belneftekhim Belarusian oil company. The expert did not rule out that Belneftekhim could attribute many problems at its oil pipeline and oil refining equipment that existed before the contamination to the low-quality Russian oil.

The longer the solution of the problem is delayed, the more financial problems Transneft could face, the paper quotes Finam analyst Alexei Kalachev as saying.

"It will have to pay a penalty and defray the costs of removing low-quality oil from the pipeline or processing it before bringing it into conformity with the chlorine content standards. This is not a simple technological problem, and its solution will take time," he pointed out. The delay in tackling the issue could also intensify the process of replacing Russian oil with other grades, he added.

Meanwhile, Russian high-ranking officials assured that they were doing their best to solve the problem. According to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, high-quality oil from Russia will begin to flow through the pipeline to Belarus as early as April 29. The Russian Cabinet earlier stressed that the oil quality issue was "purely technical" and would be resolved soon.


Izvestia: Syria to restore bridges across Euphrates

Syria, with the assistance of Russia and China, will soon begin to restore bridges across the country’s longest river, the Euphrates, Syrian Minister of Economy and Trade Mohammad Samer al-Khalil informed Izvestia on the sidelines of the Yalta International Economic Forum.

According to the minister, this is a top-priority issue for the Syrian government, as this will make it possible to integrate the northeastern regions separated from the country’s mainland by the Euphrates.

"We plan to ask for friendly countries’ assistance in restoring the crossings. These are Russia, Iran and China," he said. "We will be sure to start restoring the bridges, but now we are working on the issue from an engineering viewpoint."

The minister added that Beijing had agreed to earmark over $120 mln for Syria’s reconstruction. Plans are also in store for Syria to join the One Belt One Road project.

The decision on restoring bridges is not fully up to Damascus, orientalist Vladimir Fitin, an expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), explained to the newspaper. According to Fitin, the issue has stalled because of the presence of the US troops and Turkey’s stance.

"Everything depends on whether US troops will stay there and the behavior of the Turkish government and the Kurdish groups," he said. "The construction of bridges will facilitate the passage of Syrian military equipment, including tanks. However, the Syrian government will not agree to a direct standoff with the Americans."

Meanwhile, Alexei Chepa, Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, told Izvestia that Moscow was interested in the early reconstruction of Syria, so Russian companies could take part in restoring bridges across the Euphrates.

"It is essential to restore the country’s infrastructure to preserve its unity and return to peaceful life. Unfortunately, many facilities were destroyed by the coalition forces," the politician said. "Russia has a wealth of experience in building bridges, and so could provide assistance in restoring bridges across the Euphrates."


Kommersant: Beijing becomes top Arctic LNG partner

Russia’s Novatek oil and gas company has come to grips with making an investment decision on the Arctic LNG gas liquefaction project selling 10% to the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and 10% to the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), Kommersant writes. The terms of the transaction will be the same as in the deal with Total, meaning Novatek will be able to receive up to $2.1 bln in cash from each Chinese company and about $600 mln in contribution to the project’s capital.

As a result, the Chinese state-owned companies will be the largest foreign shareholders in the project with a capacity of 19.8 mln tonnes of LNG per year.

The decision on two Chinese companies joining the Arctic LNG project came as a surprise for the market. However, experts interviewed by Kommersant believe this move is logical, considering China’s status as the most promising LNG market in the world.

Novatek planned to make a decision on Arctic LNG in the second half of the year, but now the process can be accelerated. Negotiations with the Chinese companies and their share was a key issue, according to the paper’s source familiar with the situation.

One of Kommersant’s experts noted that Novatek was contemplating a deal with Asian companies right from the start due to the prospects of this market. Besides, the presence of pro-Western partners (Total and the Japanese companies) could shield the project from Washington’s potential sanctions, another source added.

Risks for the project have reduced substantially, according to Andrei Polishchuk, an analyst with Raiffeisenbank. "Most importantly, the partners will pay Novatek sufficient funds to finance the project almost completely, even if the shareholders pledge up to 70% of financing," the expert said.


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