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Press review: Kiev agrees to ink Steinmeier formula and Cuba set to boost ties with Russia

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, October 1


Izvestia: Kiev agrees to sign Steinmeier formula

Kiev says it has agreed to ink the so-called Steinmeier formula, outlining special terms for introducing a special status for Donbass, diplomatic sources close to the talks told Izvestia. Fulfilling this promise is a key to arranging the summit of the Normandy Four (Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine), which could be held in Paris this October, they stressed. Experts interviewed by the newspaper believe that if Ukraine really put this plan on paper, this would be a significant step towards peaceful settlement.

"There can be no Normandy Four talks until Kiev signs the Steinmeier formula. This was and remains a key condition," one of the sources told the paper. "Meanwhile, Ukraine has verbally confirmed its commitments on this. Moreover, they are ready to fully observe the Minsk agreements, including the clause on a special status for Donbass. All of these assurances give hopes for some cautious optimism that this long-running issue could be resolved soon. Moscow can only welcome this." According to another source, the Normandy Four summit will be held shortly after this condition is fulfilled. Besides, if Kiev continues sticking to this pragmatic line, the settlement in Donbass could be on the horizon, he said.

The future of the settlement in Donbass depends on the real outcome of talks between Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and US leader Donald Trump, said Vladimir Yevseyev, the head of Eurasian Integration and SCO Development department at the CIS Countries Institute. According to him, Washington is unlikely to force Kiev to stonewall this effort, given the challenging economic situation in Ukraine and therefore its dire need of European financial assistance. The only stumbling block to peace is that Zelensky does not control local radicals who have been pursuing their own policy in Donbass. "So, Ukraine’s authorities cannot give any ironclad guarantees until they assume control over this part of the conflict, which is now out of their hands," the expert told the newspaper.


RBC: Havana gearing up to boost cooperation with Moscow

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is due to visit Cuba for the first time since 2013. His working visit is scheduled for October 3-4. The delegation will also include his deputy Yuri Borisov, who oversees the military-industrial sector. A source close to the Russian Foreign Ministry told RBC that during the visit a new drilling rig is expected to be launched and the sides also plan to sign a deal on modernizing local railways as part of a 2 bln euro project. Besides, Medvedev will be awarded an honorary doctorate degree at the University of Havana and a plaque will be unveiled to honor Russian specialists who helped restore the golden dome of the National Capitol Building in Havana. Russia had allocated some 642.5 mln rubles ($9.9 mln) for the restoration effort.

The issue of military and technical cooperation between Russia and Cuba has been reduced to a minimum, a source close to the Russian Foreign Ministry told RBC, commenting on the visit’s agenda. Probably, the sides will discuss the restoration of the Lourdes SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) facility, Chief Editor of the Arms Export magazine Andrei Frolov said. The center had operated until 2002 and its major goal was to intercept information from the facilities on US soil. Cuba should be mainly considered in the context of political developments in Venezuela, Frolov emphasized. "It’s no secret that the leaders of Venezuela and Cuba have very close relations. For Maduro, Cuba is a sort of a safe haven and its closest ally. That’s why any of our moves in Cuba are largely motivated by our policy on Venezuela," the expert said.

The latest agreement on military and technical cooperation between Russia and Cuba was signed early this year. Russia granted Cuba a 38 mln euro loan, the newspaper writes citing Head of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation Dmitry Shugayev.


Vedomosti: Kurz gets new chance to lead Austrian government after scandal

The Austrian People's Party won Sunday’s parliamentary elections in the country, securing 38.4% of the vote, according to preliminary data. Now its leader and former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is gearing up to create a new ruling coalition. The Social Democrats saw their worst result of all time with just 21.5%. The former partners of the Austrian People's Party in the coalition from the far-right Freedom Party lost nearly 10 percentage points, coming in third with 17.3%. However, the Austrian Greens, who failed to get over the 4% threshold in last year’s elections, have garnered 12.4%.

Vedomosti writes that it will be a challenging task for Kurz to create a new coalition given his tense relations with other parties’ leaders. In order to win an absolute majority in parliament, the Austrian People's Party needs to get 92 seats, but so far the party has secured 71 mandates. Kurz could set up a coalition with any party, except for the Freedom Party, Head of the Center for German Studies at the Institute of Europe Vladislav Belov said. "The talks will be challenging, but he does not have irreconcilable differences with anyone, except for the Freedom Party," he noted.

According to the expert, Kurz could go into a coalition with the Greens or the Social Democrats, but his party’s alliance with small liberal parties NEOS and JETZT was also on the cards. The success of Kurz’s party had been expected, evidenced during the elections to the European Parliament, Belov notes.

Meanwhile, the Austrian Greens’ strong election gains were explained by the so-called "Greta effect," the expert said. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, who gave an emotional speech on climate change at the UN, was credited for motivating voters to back the Greens, he explained.


RBC: Abdullah’s presidential victory may hasten US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah, 59, has claimed victory in Sunday’s presidential election. His key contender in the race was incumbent Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The official results will be announced on October 19 and the final outcome will be unveiled by November 7. Abdullah is seeking presidency for the third time after losing in 2009 and in 2014, when he also claimed victory shortly after the election.

Meanwhile, Omar Nessar, Director of the Russian Center for Contemporary Afghan Studies, told RBC that this time Abdullah’s statement should be taken seriously. "Abdullah’s words are backed by figures, showing his lead in the north and the country's central regions."

The presidential election was held amid terrorist attacks: several people were killed in blasts near the polling stations in Jalalabad, Kunduz and Kandahar. Earlier, the Taliban terror group (outlawed in Russia), which has been struggling for power in the country, said it would not recognize the election. For more than a year, the Taliban has been holding talks with Washington on the terms of withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan. Two sources told RBC that a basic scenario of the deal stipulates pulling out some 5,000 US troops (out of 14,000) within two years. However, President Ghani has strongly opposed this deal. If Abdullah wins the election, he should be more open to talks with the Taliban, Nessar noted.

"Before the election, Abdullah had declared readiness to come to terms in order to achieve peace. Certainly, after his potential victory he will try to secure broad legitimacy and to this aim, he could change his position, but nevertheless, he is likely to take a more active part in the talks," the expert said.


Kommersant: US sanctions ricochet on Russia’s Yamal LNG

Washington’s sanctions against the world’s largest Chinese shipping company Cosco have dealt a heavy blow to Novatek’s Yamal LNG project. The liquefied natural gas project won’t be able to use more than one third of its fleet, namely six Arc7 tankers, owned by a joint venture of Cosco and Canada’s Teekay. This is the effect of US sanctions imposed on Cosco Shipping Tanker (Dalian) and Cosco Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Seaman & Ship Management Co on September 25, Kommersant business daily writes. The sanctions were slapped for allegedly shipping Iranian oil.

Although these vessels could be only used in cabotage routes inside Russia, sources and lawyers voiced concerns that they could be laid up indefinitely until the sanctions were removed.

Novatek has told Kommersant that a solution to this situation depends on the relations between Teekay LNG and China LNG Shipping Limited. The company emphasized that Yamal LNG had all capabilities to ensure supplies to its customers under current contracts. Some sources in the sector believe the consequences for Yamal LNG will be unpleasant, but still not dramatic.

There is still hope that Teekay will get permission from the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for these tankers’ operations, like this was done in the case of Venezuelan oil shipments, the paper says.


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