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Press review: What's behind Sea of Japan incident and how will new UK PM relate to Russia

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, July 24
Russia's Tu-95MS aircraft  Alexander Ryumin/TASS
Russia's Tu-95MS aircraft
© Alexander Ryumin/TASS


Media: What lies beneath the Sea of Japan incident

South Korea’s controversial actions in the skies above the Sea of Japan should be treated as a misunderstanding, a Russian lawmaker told Izvestia. The newspaper’s sources in the Russian Defense Ministry pointed out that the Tu-95MS aircraft had been conducting a scheduled flight over neutral waters, while the pilots of South Korea’s F-16 jets had acted inadequately when conducting maneuvers dangerously close to the Russian bombers.

The South Korean air force tried to interfere with the Russian aircraft’s flight path, claiming that they had entered Seoul’s air defense identification zone - a zone that "a country can declare on its own though it is not part of its airspace," military expert Anton Lavrov said. International law doesn’t regulate the establishment of such zones, he pointed out. "Under current laws, it is neutral airspace where all aircraft can fly freely and their rights cannot be limited," the expert added. "South Korea seeks to put the air defense identification zone on par with its airspace but formally, there was no border violation," Leading Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies Konstantin Asmolov stressed.

The incident over the Sea of Japan is unlikely to complicate relations between Russia and South Korea, said Deputy Chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee Alexei Chepa. "Seoul is an important economic and political partner for Moscow, and Russia is not interested in raising tensions in the region. The incident is rather a misunderstanding that should be addressed thoroughly. However, the fact is that Russia did not violate South Korea’s borders," the lawmaker said.

Meanwhile, Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies Vasily Kashin noted in a conversation with Kommersant that the patrol mission had also involved two Chinese bombers so chances are that South Korea sought to hinder new trends in cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, probably, "at the request of Seoul’s American friends."


Izvestia: Johnson may pull UK out of EU but not out of crisis with Russia

Boris Johnson’s appointment as British Prime Minister won’t change the UK’s foreign policy, including its approach to Russia, Federation Council member Alexei Pushkov told Izvestia. However, he didn’t rule out that Moscow and London might boost cooperation in areas of common interest, from the Iran nuclear deal to the fight against terrorism.

The paper writes that Johnson is taking office in hard times, and his Brexit strategy is still unclear. Earlier, he didn’t dismiss the possibility of suspending the House of Commons around October 31 to stop lawmakers from preventing a no-deal Brexit. According to experts, the government doesn’t really need a decision from the House of Commons but it still has political significance. "If the opposition calls for a vote of confidence, Johnson’s government may face defeat," said Yelena Ananyeva, the Head of the British Studies Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe. "Then, a new general election will be called," she added.

"As for Russia, the UK’s foreign policy will remain the same as it was under Theresa May," Pushkov noted. "He [Johnson] may point out that his great grandfather came from the Russian Empire, but if he has an affection for Russia, it is rather strange. He has never put forward any initiative to improve relations," the senator added. At the same time, Pushkov did not rule out that under Boris Johnson, Moscow and London might boost contacts on certain issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, the Syrian conflict, the North Korea problem and counter-terrorism.

Boris Johnson will focus on talks with the EU and will probably face a new general election, said David Lane, a Valdai Discussion Club expert and Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge University. According to him, the country very much depends on the United States’ support and a change of policy towards Russia could weaken ties with Washington. Lane added that Jeremy Hunt would probably remain British Foreign Secretary so no changes in relations with Moscow should be expected to take place.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US drags Russia into its conflict with North Korea

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill authorizing the collection of data about Russia’s assistance to North Korea. US observers claim that technologies making it possible to upgrade missiles had leaked from Russia to North Korea, as the Kremlin seeks to eventually drive US troops out of the Korean Peninsula, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

US media reports suggest, citing sources, that Russia continued to hire North Korean workers who entered the country posing as students and trainees, the paper writes. In addition, as Pyongyang faces an acute lack of foreign currency, it is searching for ways to offset it, particularly by boosting the tourism industry.

Head of the Korea and Mongolia Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Alexander Vorontsov told the newspaper that "Russia is abiding by the UN Security Council’s decisions." "They are clear about what is prohibited. And what is not prohibited is permitted. If some students and other young people come to Russia to gain work experience, which is like jetting a job, they don’t have worker status. Why should we build hurdles for them? As for workers, the last of them will leave Russia in December in accordance with UN sanctions," the expert pointed out. He added that there were no restrictions on the tourism industry. "Russians are certainly interested in getting to know their neighboring country," Vorontsov noted.

However, Washington considers a slight revival of ties between Russia and North Korea as a potential threat to the United States’ military dominance in Asia. It is no coincidence that American experts are claiming that North Korea may have acquired Russian missile technologies capable of evading the US’ THAAD and Patriot systems.

It is important to note, according to the paper, that US lawmakers and analysts started talking about Russia’s interference in Korean affairs after denuclearization negotiations between the US and North Korea had come to a standstill. According to observers, Kim Jong-un has recently inspected the construction site of a new submarine. Chances are that it can be equipped with ballistic missiles - this is the way Pyongyang responds to US sanctions pressure.


Izvestia: Tanker disputes won’t make London leave the Iran nuclear deal

The United Kingdom has no intention to leave the Iran nuclear deal despite rising tensions over an oil tanker crisis with Tehran, a British Foreign Office spokesperson told Izvestia. The official added that the UK would continue using solely diplomatic methods to ensure the release of the British Stena Impero oil tanker detained in Iran’s waters. However, London doesn’t rule out unilateral sanctions against Iran.

Valdai Discussion Club Program Director Ivan Timofeyev told the newspaper that neither the Iranians nor the British were interested in escalating the conflict. "The United Kingdom has limited opportunities to influence Iran military-wise. It can surely ask its US allies for assistance but there is no unity on the use of force even in the United States," the expert explained. "The parties will most likely make an informal agreement: Iran releases the British tanker and Gibraltar does the same in relation to the Iranian one," he noted. Timofeyev also said that it wasn’t the current crisis that was important but its consequences: the question was whether the situation would repeat itself when another Iranian oil tanker passed Gibraltar because it could lead to a full-fledged armed conflict in the Persian Gulf.

The United States was unable to stand by quietly. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the establishment of a coalition to patrol the Strait of Hormuz. Meanwhile, Chairman of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev stated that neither the US nor any other country had the right to set up rules for the movement of ships through straits and other maritime areas. "It is the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea that regulates these issues and any changes in this regard should either be added to the Convention or be approved by the UN Security Council," the Russian senator said.

"In this case, such operations will only flare up tensions in the region. I am absolutely sure that the coalition’s policies won’t help solve the accumulated problems," Kosachev noted. "I think Russia shouldn’t participate in such schemes," he added.


Vedomosti: EU expects Russia, Ukraine to resume gas transit talks

European Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maros Sefcovic has come up with a date for the next trilateral meeting on gas transit that would involve Russia and Ukraine. It can take place in Brussels on September 16, Sefcovic said in a message to Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Vedomosti writes.

EU countries are the main exporters of Russian gas, purchasing a total of 171 bln cubic meters of gas in 2018. Russia’s Gazprom exported 86.8 bln cubic meters via Ukraine but the gas transit contract will expire at the end of 2019. By that time, Gazprom expects to complete the construction of two pipelines that would allow Russia to stop transiting gas through Ukraine. However, one of the segments of the Turkish Stream pipeline’s second string connecting Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria is not ready yet, while Denmark still hasn’t approved the construction of Nord Stream 2.

In 2018, another issue emerged, as the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce ordered Gazprom to pay $2.56 bln to Ukraine’s Naftogaz to offset its losses.

Reaching an agreement before winter is an optimistic scenario though it’s not impossible, Corporations Department Director at Fitch Dmitry Marinchenko said. According to him, the big parliamentary election win of Vladimir Zelensky’s party means that his team will be able to determine its position in talks on its own and make quick decisions, but Naftogaz will hardly reject the $2.56 bln payment for political reasons.

"It is also possible that the parties will continue to test each other's limits and gas transit will stop at the beginning of next year," Marinchenko noted. "However, even if Gazprom manages to fulfill its contract obligations by using gas kept in storage facilities, the termination of gas transit via Ukraine before Nord Stream 2 is in full operation will make Europe nervous, probably resulting in the rise of spot gas prices," the expert emphasized.


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