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Press review: Moscow, UN shape Syria plan and Slovak MPs seek to remove Russia sanctions

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, July 5


Kommersant: Russian, UN diplomats hammer out compromise on Syria

A political settlement on Syria and the composition of the Constitutional Committee top the agenda of the Russian-UN consultations in Moscow. Kommersant found out that Russia had been able to hammer out a new compromise formula discussed by UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ahead of Pedersen’s visit to Damascus scheduled for next week.

The decision to set up the Constitutional Committee was made at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi in 2018. By the end of last year, the Astana "trio" - Russia, Iran and Turkey - reached an agreement on the committee’s composition with Damascus and the Syrian opposition. However, the UN decided that the list of civil society representatives was not balanced, and work began anew. Damascus refused to make any compromises for six months, but now there is a glimmer of hope that the parties will finally be able come to terms.

On June 20, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin and Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev visited Damascus where they were received by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

According to Kommersant’s sources, during the trip, the "4+2" formula was developed, and Syrian officials agreed with it. Under the agreement, Damascus will offer four names on the list from the civil society category, while the UN will offer two.

An article published in the pro-government Syrian daily Al-Watan earlier this week stated that, if Damascus endorsed the composition of the Constitutional Committee, its first meeting could be held at the beginning of September.


Izvestia: Slovak MPs seek to remove anti-Russian sanctions

Lawmakers in Bratislava will submit a resolution highlighting the need to get rid of the anti-Russian sanctions and mend relations with Moscow to Slovakia’s parliament, member of the country’s National Council (unicameral parliament) Peter Marcek informed Izvestia.

According to the politician, the number of people who are dissatisfied with Slovakia’s pro-Western policies and the lack of constructive dialogue with Russia is growing, and that was the reason for hammering out the resolution in question due to be submitted to parliament by the end of this summer.

"No one says that we should refuse to cooperate with the US, Britain or other Western countries. However, it is inadmissible for us to be in a state of confrontation with a country, with which we have close historical, cultural, economic and human ties," he said. "The resolution, which is in the final stage of preparation and will be presented within the next two months, calls for removing anti-Russian sanctions that have had an adverse effect not only on our country’s economy, but on the economies of other European Union members as well."

Slovakia is a country where a sizeable part of the population, including its politicians, is in favor of restoring good relations with Russia.

The anti-sanction initiative can be backed by opposition parties, independent lawmakers and members of the Slovak National Party, which is part of the ruling coalition. According to the party’s leader and Slovak Parliament Speaker Andrej Danko, the anti-Russian sanctions have failed to achieve their goal.

"I believe that they will be removed soon, just as the restrictions in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) were lifted just recently. The paradox is that many expected the sanctions to harm Russia. However, the reality turned out to be different. We see that science and technology are developing in Russia, while import substitution is carrying on successfully," he told the paper.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev’s gas policy leaves Ukraine wide open to serious crisis by 2020

Ukraine will be extremely vulnerable to a potential gas crisis at the beginning of next year because of a decline in its own production, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes citing Executive Director of Naftogaz Ukraine Yuri Vitrenko. He asserted that daily gas production in the country was falling.

However, according to the information provided by Ukrtransgaz, natural gas production in Ukraine grew almost 3% year on year in the first half 2019 reaching nearly 10.5 bln cubic meters. Yet, in June, production experienced a slight dip (0.3%).

Ukraine has been increasing both gas production and its reserves in underground gas storage facilities. Kiev’s objective is to boost gas reserves to 20 bln cubic meters this year.

Ukraine stopped purchasing Russian gas in November 2015, and currently buys reverse gas from Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. The current contracts for Russian gas supply and transit via Ukraine will expire in late 2019.

Vitrenko’s statements on declining gas production look like an attempt to buy time and win the West’s support in transit negotiations, the experts interviewed by the paper stressed.

"The situation in general looks strange. Ukraine’s arrangements for stopping the transit fail because of a drop in its own production, while Vitrenko, as executive director, is reluctant to disclose how the funds earmarked for that production are spent," said Ivan Andrievsky, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the 2K Engineering Company.

According to Alexander Pakhomov, Director of the Law and Mediation Fund for the Fuel and Energy Sector, falling gas production can be caused by a number of factors, including a decrease in the level of stock or the lack of necessary investment. "Given the current economic situation in Ukraine, the latter scenario is more probable," the expert said.

In light of that, statements by Naftogaz top officials look more like an attempt to once again draw the attention of political forces in Europe and Russia to resolving that urgent issue, Pakhomov stressed.


Izvestia: Russian official unlocks details of EAEU's role in global community

There is no political dimension in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and this is not because its members have no need for a political association, Tatyana Valovaya, who used to serve as Minister in Charge of Integration and Macroeconomics at the Eurasian Economic Commission and was recently appointed Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva, told Izvestia.

"Such a need does exist, but it is implemented in other forms. For example, we have the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which is actually a military and political alliance. We have bilateral agreements between our member-countries. All that is implemented within other frameworks, which we believe should not be linked to our economic activities," she explained.

Valovaya stressed that the EAEU had been integrated into the global architecture and had a productive relationship with many regional associations. "We have about twenty memorandums with some key countries across the globe, for example, with such integration associations as ASEAN, MERCOSUR and the Andean Community. There are memorandums with the key UN agencies, that is, we have become a full-fledged member of the global geo-economic architecture over the past five years since the EAEU was established," she said.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, practically all post-Soviet countries began thinking about new forms of integration. However, in the early 1990s, the euphoria of sovereignties prevailed, she went on to say.

"When back in 1994, Kazakhstan’s first President Nursultan Nazarbayev came up with a kind of prophetic idea to create a Eurasian union of states, many viewed it as not very realistic at that time. However, at the beginning of the 2000s, it became clear that the world was changing and becoming multipolar. It was clear that that the world would be based economically on partnership between 10-20 major regional players. The current EAEU members were faced with a dilemma: either become part of the existing associations with limited opportunities to influence their global decisions or try to create our own economic alliance," the official explained.

When asked whether the EU’s experience was taken into account when establishing the EAEU, Valovaya said, "For me personally, the EU remains the front-rank integration association, and we have a lot to learn from it. However, this experience should be used sensibly, without just copying it."


Vedomosti: Russian airline flights to Czech Republic to continue until September

The Russian Transport Ministry has offered its Czech counterparts to put off the final decision on air communication cooperation until September, when the summer season is over, Vedomosti writes citing the ministry’s spokesman.

This is done to ensure that citizens of both countries can plan their trips during the height of the summer season. Prague accepted that offer, the Czech Transport Ministry confirmed.

On July 2, the Czech Republic imposed a ban on most flights by Russian air carriers to Prague and Karlovy Vary. This move came in response to the Russian Transport Ministry’s refusal to extend permission for Czech Airlines to fly over the Trans-Siberian route for Prague-Seoul flights. Later in the day, the two aviation authorities agreed to prolong the previous agreements until July 7.

Vedomosti found out that the cause of the dispute was attempts by the Russian Transport Ministry to secure the Czech Republic’s consent for a third air carrier to perform flights from Moscow to Prague. Alternatively, the Ministry of Transport sought an increase in the number of frequencies for Zhukovsky International Airport for flights to Prague.

"When deciding on the number of frequencies between pairs of countries, the parties’ interests often diverge. For most international destinations from Russia, there is a disparity in the number of flights in favor of Russia’s air carriers. The Russian Transport Ministry has such tools as access to the Trans-Siberian route, and it uses it when more trivial arguments do not help," says Director of the AviaPort Agency Oleg Panteleev.

The Russian Transport Ministry will agree to compromise in the end, and flights will continue, because its actions have already resulted in a serious spat, the paper quotes the top manager of a Russian airline as saying.


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