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Press review: Does Zelensky differ from Poroshenko and China warms up to North Korea

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky
© AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Kommersant: Zelensky on tour of EU capitals

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s Tuesday visit to Berlin followed his trip to Paris. During the European tour - the first after he had taken office - gave him a chance to talk to the leaders of two key EU countries and members of the Normandy Quartet on Donbass. As a result, the parties agreed to hold another Normandy Four summit involving Russia in the near future. Experts interviewed by Kommersant point to Zelensky’s new style, saying that he seeks to become "a president of peace" - the complete opposite of his predecessor Pyotr Poroshenko.

"There is a common perception that Vladimir Zelensky is following Pyotr Poroshenko’s behavior and political position. However, a more thorough analysis shows that despite his reluctance to hold direct talks with the unrecognized Donbass republics, there are many new details," Russian Council on International Affairs expert Alexander Gushchin said. "Zelensky is trying to demonstrate a new approach to the presidency and shift away from his predecessor’s callous practices," he added. "It is too early to say that Zelensky is capable of radically changing the situation in Donbass. Despite his rhetoric being tough, he talks about soft power, about peace being the only option, about the need to reintegrate people and not territories, as well as about the resistance to these goals that a part of the Ukrainian political elite is showing. In this regard, the difference between him and Pyotr Poroshenko is clear," the expert emphasized.

"The Ukrainian president’s European trip has sparked disappointment, bullying and rebuke in Russia. However, the thing to remember is that since the conflict is ongoing, the president, who is also the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, can only take a stance aimed at protecting the country’s national interests the way that Kiev sees them," Center for Political Technologies President Boris Makarenko pointed out. "Besides, let’s not forget that Vladimir Zelensky campaigned as Poroshenko’s opponent and he wants to become "a president of peace" though the conflict is smoldering and still may explode, so he will have a different point of view on many issues," Makarenko concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China plays North Korean card in standoff with US

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to North Korea will make it clear that Beijing supports Pyongyang’s position on denuclearization. By restoring relations with North Korea after a long chill in relations, Beijing seeks to get a new tool against the US who has been trying to stop China from becoming a high-tech leader. At the same time, Beijing doesn’t mind acting as a mediator between the United States and North Korea, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

Xi’s visit, scheduled to take place on June 21-22, is no ordinary event. The last time a Chinese leader (Hu Jintao) visited the neighboring country was 14 years ago. So what does the Chinese president seek to gain?

Higher School of Economics Professor Alexander Lukin told the newspaper that "China, just like Russia, believes that the United States is to blame for the failure of the North Korea-US talks because Washington in unwilling to resolve the issue step by step." "So Xi Jinping will show that he supports North Korea’s position. He will probably try to make sure that the North Koreans are truly ready to eliminate their nuclear weapons. And then he will say: ‘See, they are ready but the Americans are muddying the waters.’ The Americans are reluctant to accept a step-by-step solution but demand that Pyongyang give in, while Washington won’t meet it halfway. That said, Xi’s visit will be an act of support for North Korea," the expert pointed out.

The question is, is there a military alliance between North Korean and China? Head of Korea and Mongolia Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Alexander Vorontsov noted that the two countries had signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty in 1961. "North Korean leader Kim Il-sung first singed such a treaty with Moscow and then, while on his way home via China, with Beijing as well. The document contains an article on mutual assistance. When tensions with the US rose in 2017, Beijing announced through its state media that if North Korea started a commotion, China would not come to its assistance but if it came under attack, Beijing would help," the expert noted.

However, no one plans to start a war at this point. The White House has welcomed Xi Jinping’s visit to Pyongyang, saying it intends to continue working on North Korea’s denuclearization.


Media: Gazprom takes precautionary measures in case of Ukrainian gas transit shutdown

Gazprom’s contracts on gas supplies to Ukraine and Ukrainian gas transit will expire at the end of the year. The company hopes to resume transit talks once a new government is formed and parliamentary elections take place in Ukraine, Vedomosti writes.

Since risks are still hovering over the fate of Ukraine’s gas transit, Gazprom is creating additional gas reserves in Europe. It plans to pump a total of 11.39 bln cubic meters of gas into underground gas storage facilities before the 2019-2020 season begins, which is nearly twice as much as the year before. The amount may prove enough for Gazprom to provide gas to customers in Europe even without the Ukrainian transit.

Gazprom also doesn’t rule out that the transit contract may be extended before the year ends. However, the February 2018 decision made by the Stockholm arbitrary court, which awarded a compensation of $2.6 bln to Ukraine’s Naftogaz oil and gas company, remains a stumbling block. Gazprom did not accept the decision and filed an appeal.

Pumping the maximum possible volume of gas into underground storage facilities is reasonable, said Corporations Department Director at Fitch Dmitry Marinchenko. At the same time, if the parties fail to reach a compromise, Moscow would like to hold on to its trump card in its dispute with Kiev, which is the possibility of suspending Ukrainian gas transit, he noted.

Many experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta point out that Ukraine will suffer the most damage if the transit ends, while Russia’s losses will be minimal, provided that the country succeeds in completing the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on time.

"Much depends on the prospects for the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project and on how much gas that used to be transported through Ukraine will be possible to distribute through Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream," Senior Analyst at the Alpari Center Vadim Iosub pointed out. "However, they are very unlikely to fully replace the Ukrainian route, so the lack of transit via Ukraine will hurt Gazprom as well," he added.

Tamara Safonova, Assistant Professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), in turn, emphasized that the Russia-Ukraine gas conflict had long become a tool for getting political benefits instead of economic ones.


Izvestia: China-US trade dispute tops agenda of firebrand Italian minister’s visit to Washington

Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo won’t affect relations between Rome and Moscow, Salvini’s adviser Gianluca Savoini told Izvestia, pointing out that the meeting had particularly been focused on the West’s trade standoff with China.

Despite alliance relations between Italy and the United States, it was Salvini’s first official visit to the US in his first year in office, while the Italian minister has already made two trips to Russia. He has also repeatedly pointed to Rome’s plans to pave the way for the removal of sanctions against Russia. Savoini told the newspaper that Italy’s position on Russia remains unchanged: at his meeting with Pompeo, the Italian minister called for not abandoning dialogue with Moscow and building good relations with Moscow.

"Italy is a NATO member and it would be strange if the chief Italian politician maintained no contact with the US," said Russian Federation Council member Alexei Pushkov. "On the other hand, we need to proceed from the statements that Matteo Salvini has made and continues to make. As for sanctions, I think that Italy’s position is aimed at preventing their expansion and convincing other EU countries that the sanctions are harmful," he added.

According to Gianluca Savoini, the meeting between Pompeo and Salvini was particularly focused on the two countries’ common economic strategy towards Beijing. In his view, it is crucial to build good relations with Moscow, so Russia had better be in the same league with the West than with China. Meanwhile, it is worth noting that the Italian authorities agreed to join China’s One Belt One Road initiative during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s March 2019 visit to the country.

A dual approach to foreign policy is normal for the Italian establishment, said Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe Elena Maslova. "Italy seeks to take advantage of relations with countries such as Russia and China to increase its role as a regional European power and prove to others that Italy is determined to pursue an independent policy," the expert explained.


Izvestia: Huawei may help meet Russia’s demand for 5G smartphones

China’s tech giant Huawei is considering the possibility of producing smartphones supporting the 4.8 - 4.99 band, which will probably be used in Russia to build 5G networks, a source close to a partner company of several mobile operators told Izvestia. A concept for the development of mobile communications, established at the Communications Ministry’s request, stipulates the use of the 4.8 - 4.99 band for the creation of 5G networks. The State Commission on Radio Frequency Spectrum earlier authorized the launch of several dozens of trial 5G zones (primarily in Moscow and St. Petersburg).

There is yet no equipment supporting this particular band, including smartphones. Nevertheless, TMT Consulting Director General Konstantin Ankilov said that Huawei smartphones supporting the 4.8 - 4.99 band may provide a large number of consumers with access to 5G.

Such smartphones will come out in China by the end of the year and Huawei may also launch several devices, Project Manager at Spectrum Management Vadim Poskakukhin told the newspaper.

The talk about Huawei supporting the development of 5G networks in Russia did not come out of the blue, for the Russian authorities have set out a policy of supporting China and Huawei in particular, Head of the Content Review agency Sergei Polovnikov noted. Meanwhile, the situation surrounding the assignment of frequencies for 5G networks in Russia is uncertain because Huawei clearly wants to get guarantees from Russian officials before launching a large-scale production project, the expert added.

The 4.8 - 4.99 band is unlikely to become the highest priority as far as 5G networks are concerned, Spokesman for the Tele2 telecommunications operator Olga Galushina told the paper. According to her, the 3.4-3.8 GHz band better suits the development of 5G technology. At present, it is particularly occupied by military satellite communications devices and the pace of the country’s 5G development will depend on how fast the frequency band is vacated.


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