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Press review: Who’s the EEF’s guest of honor and can Russia capitalize on US-Iran tensions

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, September 3

Kommersant: Indian PM Modi to be guest of honor at Eastern Economic Forum

The fifth Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) is going to kick off in Russia’s Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok on September 4. Russian-Japanese business talks and a visit by Malaysia’s high-ranking officials will be the centerpiece events, Kommersant writes. In addition, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the guest of honor at the forum. A Russian-Indian intergovernmental agreement aimed at tripling bilateral trade turnover and several major contracts between companies in both countries are expected to be inked in Vladivostok.

Chinese President Xi Jinping who led his country’s delegation was a special guest at the forum last year. This time, Beijing’s delegation will be led by State Council Vice Premier Hu Chunhua. That being said, China’s share in foreign investment in Russia’s Far East has amounted to 59% over the past five years.

"Our stance on attracting Chinese investors to Russia is as follows: it is only possible in a partnership with Russian companies. The goal is to ensure that Russians have a controlling stake in the land, while foreigners should have a controlling interest in trade," Leonid Petukhov, Director General of the Far Eastern Investment and Exports Agency, told the paper.

According to Petukhov, the most promising areas for foreign investment in the region are agriculture, tourism and the mining industry.

For his part, Ivan Zuenko, a research associate at the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes that three major breakthroughs over the five years of the forum’s existence are "a marked increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Russia and demand for Russian food and agriculture products."

He added though that it is difficult to evaluate the EEF by criteria such as the volume of transactions or investment projects. "The Eastern Economic Forum is not about trade and not even about investment. It centers primarily on the state’s policy to develop the Far Eastern region," he stressed.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow, Tehran stepping up political, economic cooperation

Iran has said that it wants to salvage the nuclear deal hammered out in 2015. This issue topped the talks between Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in the Russian capital, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Moscow supported Tehran’s desire to comply with the basic provisions of the accord despite Washington’s withdrawal from the deal. The two sides were also concerned about growing tensions in the Persian Gulf.

The Russian-Iranian talks have triggered comments from media outlets across the globe. For one, Reuters stressed that Russia, just like France, was trying to resolve the crisis and find a way of reviving the dialogue. On the other hand, the US publication, Business Insider, asserted that the Persian Gulf tensions played right into Moscow’s hands.

It cited some media reports claiming that Moscow wanted to establish a naval base in Iran, which would enable making Peter the Great’s dream of reaching the warm waters of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean come true.

Nina Mamedova, Head of the Iran Section at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, slammed this conjecture as totally unfeasible. "Only Iran’s Majlis (parliament) can authorize the opening of a base, which is impossible given its current composition," the expert explained.

Just like other states, Russia, naturally, wants to bolster its influence in the region, she went on to say. "Having friendly relations with Iran, it is possible to exert influence on Syria and Iraq. However, Russia’s overriding goal at the talks is strengthening bilateral ties and searching for a mutually acceptable solution on the nuclear program, which would suit Iran, Russia, the European Union and even the United States," Mamedova pointed out.


RBC: Zelensky plays Ukrainian economic roulette

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has outlined the priorities for the country’s development at a meeting with top officials from the Verkhovna Rada (parliament), the Cabinet and law enforcement agencies, RBC writes.

Following his talks with US Vice President Mike Pence in Warsaw, Zelensky vowed that all major reforms in Ukraine would be launched within the first year of his presidency.

Ukraine’s newly-appointed government plans to ensure 40-percent economic growth over the next five years. Prime Minister Alexei Goncharuk told reporters after a closed-door cabinet session that plans were in store to guarantee stimulating the economy with the help of foreign investment and economic liberalization.

To achieve that goal, Zelensky ordered to launch a massive privatization plan, submit to the parliament a bill on the agricultural land market and lift the moratorium on the sale of land.

The opening of the land sector has been expected for a long time, political consultant Alexander Kharebin told the paper. "The launch of a full-fledged land market would be an additional factor in Ukraine’s geopolitical stability, especially if it is open to foreign investors," he said.

"Of all the Ukrainian presidents, Zelensky has the best chance of implementing these proposals," the paper quotes Ukrainian political scientist Ruslan Bortnik as saying. He noted, however, that it would be very difficult for the president to keep his promises due to the state being weakened by the current military conflict.

Another obstacle for Zelensky is his team’s unpreparedness, lack of experience and, sometimes, even not quite adequate assessment of reality, says political commentator Mikhail Pogrebinsky. The president gets out and grandstands by setting deadlines and appointing those responsible for executing these plans, which the public views favorably. However, all that can turn out to be just a "window dressing." Those responsible will have to simulate work, and run the risk of making unachievable decisions, the expert stressed.


Izvestia: South Ossetia beefing up security on border with Georgia

South Ossetia will step up security on the border with Georgia to protect its citizens in the wake of Tbilisi’s incitement, President Anatoly Bibilov told Izvestia.

Last week, Tskhinval said Georgia was illegally building a checkpoint on South Ossetia’s territory near the border village of Uista. Moreover, South Ossetia said that its unmanned aerial vehicle, which was patrolling the border with the neighboring country, had been shot down by Georgian forces on September 1.

"The situation along this stretch of the boundary remains tense. The checkpoint was built on South Ossetia’s terrain, and maps of all periods, including Soviet ones, indicate clearly that this is South Ossetian soil. It is impossible not to see that. The only thing Georgia is seeking is an escalation of tensions on the border with South Ossetia," Bibilov said.

He added that South Ossetia was taking steps "aimed at bolstering the security of its citizens and was doing its utmost to make sure that this territory was protected."

Moscow is likewise concerned about the mounting tensions in the region. The situation is dangerous, and the confrontation could escalate even further, member of the Russian Federation Council’s (upper house) Defense and Security Committee Franz Klintsevich told Izvestia.

"It is a shame the experience of ex-President Mikhail Saakashvili hasn’t taught the Georgian leadership anything. Unfortunately, Western sponsors regularly order Tbilisi to intensify provocations and create an opportunity for a conflict. However, one should realize that people living in South Ossetia will not give up their sovereignty for nothing," the senator stressed.

For his part, Georgian lawmaker Giorgi Lomia pointed to the need for dialogue between all parties.

"We need to focus on improving relations and, if possible, avoid provocations on the part of those forces that are trying to unleash a new conflict with South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Russia," he told the paper.


Kommersant: Tatneft enters the rubber business

Russia’s Tatneft oil and gas company has reached an agreement with the SIBUR petrochemical holding on purchasing SIBUR Togliatti, a manufacturer of synthetic rubbers, Kommersant writes.

The deal’s price tag is estimated at $150-200 mln and it is anticipated to be closed by the end of October. Kommersant’s sources noted that Tatneft would have to invest in the assets that require modernization. However, this is more profitable than reducing tire production, the way it is happening now.

According to the paper’s interlocutors familiar with the details of the potential transaction, SIBUR had been seeking to sell its production facilities in Togliatti for a long time and was evaluating proposals coming mainly from small, specialized investors. In the end, it found Tatneft’s offer to be the most attractive. Besides, the company has the resources to pour the necessary funds into upgrading the production facilities, one of the sources noted.

A source in SIBUR explained to Kommersant that the company had focused on the creation and development of large-scale production of base polymers, promising medium tonnage products and premium specialty chemicals. It explained that it would remain in that business and develop its individual areas.

Tatneft needs its own rubber production to diversify the supply of raw materials, taking into account plans to boost its capacity, market players explained.

Tatneft CEO Nail Maganov confirmed that the declining tire production was due to shortages of materials. "We need stable reliable sources of materials. Of course, we cannot depend on one source," the paper quotes Maganov as saying.


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