Kommersant: SPIEF's international guest list grows
The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) has brought together thousands of foreign delegates. The official statistics regarding the forum's international presence has not been disclosed yet, but the number of foreign participants has been growing steadily since 1997, Kommersant writes. Last year’s event was attended by more than 17,000 guests from 143 countries.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Slovakia's PM Peter Pellegrini and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will take part in Friday’s plenary session together with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Foreign delegates paid considerable attention to tensions around the globe. The UN chief compared the current redistribution of influence in the world to the standoff between Sparta and Athens in ancient Greece, which provoked the Peloponnesian War. Regional problems were in focus as well. For one, Russian Permanent Representative to the EU Vladimir Chizhov noted that, despite the deep and multifaceted contradictions within the European Union, Moscow and Brussels need to restore full-fledged bilateral relations.
SPIEF's morning session, dedicated to relations with Germany, France and Austria, looked closer to reality. Russia has bilateral "dialogues" with these countries (the St. Petersburg, the Trianon and the Sochi ones respectively). These public forums are expected to facilitate contacts between civil societies. On Thursday morning, their co-chairs held a formal meeting at the same table for the first time calling for constructive dialogue.
"If our governmental commissions worked more actively, there could be more than three such dialogues," Chairman of the Russian St. Petersburg Dialogue Coordinating Committee and head of the Gazprom Board of Directors Viktor Zubkov assured Kommersant. "Of course, that would be a substantial help to our diplomats and civil societies in achieving their goals. If we worked with civil societies more, it would be easier for us to uphold our stance."
Izvestia: Republika Srpska ready for cooperation with Russia, Crimea
Republika Srpska (part of Bosnia and Herzegovina) is ready for economic cooperation with Russia, including Crimea, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik told Izvestia.
"We are ready for cooperation with all of Russia, including Crimea. I say that on behalf of Republika Srpska. Crimea is an integral part of your country, and, if I have an opportunity, I am ready to visit the peninsula," he said.
When asked to comment on the current Kosovo crisis, Dodik stressed that the Albanians in Kosovo are trying to influence the Serbs by using force. "The decision-makers in Pristina are very nervous, because they want to close the Kosovo issue as soon as possible and join all Western alliances. However, Serbia is ready to use military force and police to protect its people in Kosovo. The situation is really tense, and one can only hope that it will not spiral into a full-scale armed conflict. Pristina must realize that the problem cannot be solved without dialogue with Serbia," he said.
The developments in the region are the result of ill-considered decisions and an erroneous policy pursued by the West, which supports one party, that is, the Albanians, he went on to say. "As a result, Kosovo has become one of the most significant challenges on the global stage. Serbia is trying to preserve its territory, while the US is emboldening the Albanians who consider Kosovo an independent country. Despite Washington’s pressure, Serbia, Russia and some other countries refused to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty," he noted.
Referring to the prospects for Bosnia and Herzegovina joining NATO, Dodik explained that his consent was required to initiate the process. "Republika Srpska is determined to adhere to a policy of military neutrality. We are opposed to membership in the alliance. As Republika Sprska’s representative, I have no intention of changing that decision."
The Serbs remember the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia well, he stressed. "There is no support for the idea to join NATO among our people. Besides, we do not want to be part of an organization that has unfriendly relations with Russia. Despite threats and pressure, there can be no doubt that we will not change our views. We admit that we could cooperate with the alliance for the sake of peace, but there will be no full-fledged membership in the North Atlantic Alliance," he vowed.
RBC: Sanctions could leave Maria Butina’s attorneys with empty pockets
The Russian Foundation for the Protection of National Values is conducting a campaign to raise funds for Maria Butina who is serving out her prison sentence in the US. However, the transfer of funds could be hampered by Washington’s sanctions legislation, RBC writes.
According to the experts interviewed by the paper, the participation of Alexander Malkevich, the foundation’s president, in the fundraising campaign could be a stumbling block, since the US authorities earlier added him to the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN).
Butina who was sentenced to 18 months behind bars is currently in a prison in Florida, and the funds are necessary to pay the defense team’s fees. The total debt to her defense attorneys amounts to nearly 43 mln rubles ($659,000), according to Vice President of the International Committee for the Protection of Human Rights Alexander Ionov. He told RBC that the three lawyer’s services cost $890 per hour. "We concluded an agreement and promised that we would pay the money sooner or later. We will pay by the time of her release. We have agreed on the schedule of payments," he explained.
The foundation led by Malkevich has raised nearly 10 mln rubles ($153,000), while the Russian Peace Foundation headed by senior Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky collected another 3 mln rubles ($45,900).
Any transfers to bank accounts in the US in the interests of individuals added to the SDN list will be blocked, the paper quotes Erich Ferrari, head of the Ferrari & Associates law firm, as saying. If Malkevich or any other individual added to the blacklist was involved in in the work of a foundation providing assistance to Butina, the legal entity representing the fund could be sanctioned as well, George Voloshin, head of the Paris branch of the British consulting firm Aperio Intelligence, told RBC.
For his part, Alexander Ionov is certain that the initiative aimed at helping Butina will face no problems because of sanctions. "The foundation accumulates funds from private investors and hands them over to the Maria Butina fund. From a legal point of view, there would be problems if it was Malkevich personally, but he is not the owner of this money from the legal viewpoint," he pointed out.
The final beneficiary of the funds is the Maria Butina fund, which receives the money and interacts with the lawyers, Malkevich told the paper. "This is not my personal money," he explained, adding that a considerable part of the funds had already been received, and the money continues to be transferred.
Izvestia: Russia has no plans to reconsider the Taliban’s status
Moscow has no intention of seeking the Taliban’s removal from the list of outlawed organizations. Moreover, a high-ranking diplomatic source informed Izvestia that it was pointless to discuss the issue at the UN, because the Taliban’s current status did not hamper its negotiations with Kabul.
"Those meetings, which occurred in Moscow, were not negotiations between Russia and Afghanistan. We just promoted a peaceful settlement, so reconsidering the Taliban’s terrorist status is pointless, even more so since the 2003 UN Security Council resolution provides for such negotiation formats without changing the status of one of the parties to the dialogue," the source said.
Contacts with the Taliban are not considered a violation of UN regulations, since they permit negotiations in order to promote peace, Dmitry Verkhoturov, an expert at the Center for Contemporary Afghanistan Studies, explained to Izvestia.
Preliminary truce and ceasefire agreements are required for a change in the Taliban’s status, the expert said, adding that they should be supported by genuine actions. He also noted that Taliban members are not too upset because of their status.
"The Taliban negotiators are experienced people, they understand what it is all about. They were apparently provided guarantees that, while in Russia, they will not be arrested and nothing will happen to them," the expert explained.
The Taliban’s representatives last visited Moscow on May 28 as part of celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Afghanistan. The parties approved a joint statement following the negotiations between the Taliban and the official opposition led by ex-President Hamid Karzai, calling for long-term peace in the country.
Kommersant: Lukoil expands presence in Africa
Lukoil, which is limited in its ability to expand its resource base in Russia, continues to expand its presence in Africa. The company, which has stakes in projects in Nigeria and Cameroon, shelled out $800 million to participate in a project on the Congo shelf, Kommersant writes.
Plans are in store to buy a 25-percent stake in the Marine 12 project from Britain’s New Age. This is the company’s first mining asset in the country. The project’s operator, Italy’s Eni (owns 65%), which had a preemptive right, transferred the stake to Lukoil. The deal will be closed after approval by the Congolese government.
According to Raiffesenbank analyst Andrei Polishchuk, Lukoil currently has a large free cash flow, which grew to reach 146 mln rubles ($2.23 mln) in the first quarter, and the company plans to earmark half of it to new potential projects after paying dividends. There is every likelihood that the issue at hand will be foreign assets, since there are almost no large undistributed deposits in Russia, while it is difficult to get access to the existing ones due to competition with state-owned corporations.
On the other hand, Lukoil is unlikely to develop foreign deposits from scratch on its own, considering its previous negative experience, the expert stressed. However, everything will depend on the expected profitability. If it exceeds 15%, such projects could be of interest to Lukoil. He noted though that working abroad is always more risky, but the amount of the company’s investment will pose no threat to it in the event of a potential failure.
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