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Press review: Russian airlines await return to Egypt and Turkey eyes Syria deal with Putin

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, October 21

Izvestia: Russia, Egypt gearing up to resume flights

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will discuss restoring flight connections between the resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada, and Russian airports during the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi on October 23-24, the Egyptian Embassy in Russia told Izvestia. The diplomatic mission noted that they were very optimistic about the negotiations between the two leaders, and that there was great hope that flights would be resumed after their meeting. Also, a source in Russian diplomatic circles confirmed that this issue would be resolved in the very near future.

"We are very optimistic about the upcoming talks between the two leaders. The latest review committee confirmed that everything in Egypt was going well. This offers hope that during the meeting a positive decision will be made on this issue. On the Egyptian side, all conditions have been met," the embassy emphasized.

A Russian diplomatic source confirmed to the newspaper that air traffic could be restored in the very near future. According to him, now the relevant departments of both countries are hammering out the details of the future agreement.

Vice President of the Russian Union of Travel Industry Yury Barzykin told Izvestia that once the top-level decision is made, it would take only about a month to completely restore air routes from Russian cities. "Another question is that tourist plans for the autumn-winter period are already set in place. But I think this will not be a big problem, planes will be re-routed, demand for Egypt is still there, and it is high," the expert noted.

The Russia-Africa Summit, according to Izvestia, might launch Moscow’s triumphant return to the region, and continue Russia’s shift towards the east. In 2018, trade between Russia and the African continent grew by 17% and reached $20.4 bln.

 

Vedomosti: Russia, Turkey will seek common ground on northern Syria

After signing a US-brokered 120-hour ceasefire in northern Syria between Turkish forces and Kurdish YPG units on Thursday evening, Ankara hopes to strike a deal with Moscow. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Russia on Tuesday to meet with Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Military experts interviewed by Vedomosti believe that now Erdogan needs to talk to Putin, especially after agreements with the United States.

The ceasefire is working for the most part, a diplomatic source told Vedomosti. At the same time, Russian negotiators believe it is appropriate to leave Damascus’ forces in the buffer zone, their presence there is in line with the instructions of all countries to maintain the territorial integrity of Syria, the source told the newspaper.

"Erdogan is well aware that the US is an external factor for the region and for the conflict, and Russia is now an internal factor. Russia controls these processes, and a lot depends on it [Moscow]," political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov told Vedomosti. What Turkey wants to achieve in Syria is impossible without agreements with Moscow, the commentator stressed. "No serious military action can happen there that counteracts Moscow," the expert noted. The presidents will try to find options that suit both of them, Lukyanov believes.

For Erdogan, this upcoming meeting with Putin confirms the constant contact with one of the major players, said Ivan Timofeev, a political analyst when speaking to Vedomosti. "This slightly increases his stakes in talks with Washington," the expert said.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Naftogaz hits Gazprom with another lawsuit

Gazprom believes that before concluding a new contract with Ukraine, it is necessary to resolve the existing disputes by withdrawing all claims. In response, Naftogaz decided to file a new lawsuit in November, to recover over $11 bln from Gazprom, in addition to almost $3 bln that Russia should pay according to the Stockholm arbitration decision. Experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that compared to the beginning of this year, Gazprom’s negotiating position has worsened due to restrictions imposed on the OPAL pipeline. If Naftogaz’s new claims are satisfied, Russia’s debt to Ukraine will almost quintuple "Yanukovich’s debt" to Russia unpaid by Kiev.

"In the spring, Gazprom’s market position was able to be described as strong. Now the situation has somewhat changed," Associate Professor at the Plekhanov Russian Academy of Economics Alexander Timofeev told the newspaper. The imposed restrictions on the use of the OPAL pipeline automatically make Gazprom dependent on Ukraine, and this circumstance clearly shaped the overestimated requirements of Kiev, Timofeev said. In addition, Naftogaz insists on concluding a long-term contract with volumes that, according to the expert, "will immediately withdraw two Russian projects from circulation: Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream."

Experts tried to determine where the claim of over $11 billion came from. "Such a large sum of likely claims against Gazprom, obviously, takes into account lost profits from the transit of Russian gas," Director of the Law and Mediation Fund for the Fuel and Energy Complex Alexander Pakhomov said.

At the same time, Univer Capital’s Chief Strategist Dmitry Alexandrov believes that Russia objectively has more advantages — the country has raw materials for exports, the European Union needs these supplies. And in the case of completely incorrect actions by Naftogaz, EU purchasing countries "are able to influence Ukrainian sentiment," the expert said. A new tripartite meeting on gas (Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the European Commission) is scheduled for late October.

 

Kommersant: Project to support Arctic raw materials production submitted to government

The Russian Ministry for the Development of the Far East and Arctic has introduced a package of bills to the government on investor support for the Arctic. One of the documents implies support for Rosneft and Neftegazholding’s joint project Vostok Oil to develop the field in Taimyr for 2.6 trillion rubles ($40.7 bln), Kommersant wrote citing sources.

According to the newspaper, the bill includes resetting the mineral extraction tax to zero for new Rosneft projects, including the Lodochnoye, Suzunskoye and Tagulskoye fields of the Vankor cluster, deducting the mineral extraction tax for the Vankor field for the amount of investments, and other benefits.

Kommersant wrote that such exemptions should bring in roughly 2.6 trillion rubles ($40.7 bln) to the project for jointly developing Rosneft’s Vankor cluster and its sections in Taimyr with the Payakhskoye field that belongs to Neftegazholding located there.

The Ministry of Finance is the main opponent of the bill, the newspaper reported. The sources told the newspaper that the document was submitted to the government with disagreements with the Ministry of Finance. The ministry was ready to transfer the Arctic projects to the value added tax (VAT regime) and give them a special ‘Arctic’ VAT, but this, according to Kommersant, does not suit Rosneft.

Kommersant stated earlier that Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking to grant benefits to the Vostok Oil project. In September, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that no decisions had been made on this subject yet.

 

Izvestia: Russian lawmakers aiming to fine foreign media for violating election laws

MPs from Russia's State Duma (lower house) have proposed slapping foreign media with fines ranging up to 4% of annual revenue or up to 3.5 mln rubles ($54,841) for violating Russian election laws, Izvestia wrote with reference to First Deputy Chairman of the United Russia faction Adalbi Shkhagoshev.

Shkhagoshev told Izvestia that amendments to several federal laws that regulate the activities of foreign media during election campaigns have been prepared in the lower house of the Russian parliament.

According to the newspaper, lawmakers are suggesting adding the concept of "foreign media", that is, media registered abroad, to the law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in a Referendum of Citizens of the Russian Federation." Also, amendments are supposed to be made to Article 5.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, which also regulates election campaigns. A provision on imposing a fine on legal entities in the amount of 2.3-3.5 mln rubles ($36,038-54,841), or 4% of the revenue from the circulation of media products for the year of their activity, will be added to the laws.

Izvestia reported that the initiative was connected with legal violations during the last election campaign in Russia. "We are outraged by this situation for several reasons. First, recently, violations by foreign media in Russia have become widespread. Second, the lack of strict legislative standards allows these media resources to neglect the entire power system in Russia," Shkhagoshev told the newspaper.

Earlier, the State Duma’s Commission on Foreign Interference in Internal Affairs revealed breaches of the law by Medusa, the Russian BBC service, Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and a number of other media resources during the election campaign in the Russian Federation.

 

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