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Press review: Will the Ukrainian gas transit deal be extended and EU grants Brexit delay

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, October 29

Izvestia: Russia suggests extending Ukrainian gas transit contract for one year

Moscow won’t be surprised if talks on new terms for Ukrainian gas transit fail to be completed before the end of the year. The issue could be resolved by extending the existing agreement for another year, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said following another round of trilateral consultations between Moscow, Kiev and Brussels. The current contract will expire in about two months. Over this period, Ukraine is expected to switch over to the European Union’s energy guidelines in order to build its relations with Russia anew. However, experts interviewed by Izvestia think that Kiev is unlikely to meet these demands on time.

The EU and Ukraine seek to strike a long-term agreement, while Russia is only interested in maintaining Ukrainian gas transit until the Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipelines are fully put into operation. Another thing to note is that under a recent ruling issued by the European Court, Gazprom won’t be able to use the OPAL pipeline connecting Nord Stream to Germany at full capacity. This is why Moscow is not yet ready to abandon Ukraine’s transit facilities but calls for signing a short-term contract.

Kiev is expected to separate its gas transit system from the Naftogaz company, set up an independent regulator and launch auctions to sell facilities. That means that Russia’s gas company can reserve the necessary facilities within the Ukrainian gas transit system for the necessary period of time.

"The contract’s terms are highly essential for Gazprom. It concerns the amount of gas, delivery time and transit fees. And it doesn’t matter who is the other party signing the contract," said Director General of the National Energy Institute Sergei Pravosudov. "As for auctions, this looks rather strange because clearly, there will be no other suppliers except Gazprom," he noted.

The next round of trilateral gas talks may take place after the European Commission is reshuffled. Deputy General Director of Russia's National Energy Security Fund Alexei Grivach told the newspaper that in a situation where time is running out, a reshuffle may create additional risks. However, the European Commission’s stance is unlikely to change much, he added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: European Union grants Brexit delay

EU leaders have agreed to give the United Kingdom until January 31, 2020, to discuss Brexit terms, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes, adding that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won’t be able to fulfill his promise to withdraw from the European Union by October 31.

Parliament earlier obliged Johnson to ask the EU for a delay. The prime minister did it but in a way that made everyone, including British voters and EU leaders, know that he was only giving into pressure. Johnson sent two letters to Brussels: the first one contained the delay request but was not signed by the prime minister and the second one, which was signed, explained that he personally considered a new delay to be a mistake.

If the delay issue was put on an EU summit agenda, debates would have been long and difficult as the leaders of 27 EU member states would have to clarify their position on Brexit. However, there will be no summit. Instead, EU leaders will set out their positions in written form. A formal decision on the delay will be made without discussion at a meeting of EU ambassadors.

"Johnson definitely wanted the EU to reject the delay request. In that case, a no-deal Brexit would have taken place on October 31 but the blame would have been on the European Union and not on Johnson. So now, the situation has become unclear and unpredictable once again," Senior Researcher at the Center for British Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe Kira Godovanyuk told the newspaper.

The House of Commons clearly will not risk shouldering responsibility and won’t approve a deal with the EU, the expert said. The situation may change if a snap parliamentary election is held in the country before the end of the year. Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn earlier vowed that his faction would support a snap election if the EU postponed Brexit. The outcome of the election is hard to predict but chances are that new parliament members will turn out to be bolder, Godovanyuk pointed out. "In any case, the Christmas season is going to be hot in British politics," the expert emphasized.


Kommersant: Armenian PM positive on relations with Moscow, West

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke about ensuring the safety of Syrian Armenians in an interview with Kommersant, and also pointed out that the choice between the East and the West was irrelevant for his country.

Pashinyan thanked Putin for taking into account the security interests of Armenians residing in Syria. "Russia has a considerable presence in Syria and plays a rather important role in ensuring security. Russia has many tools to enhance the safety of local Armenians. Armenia also has a mission in Syria but it is a humanitarian one and has nothing to do with security issues," Pashinyan pointed out.

He emphasized that Armenia was not facing a choice between the East and the West. "We are an EAEU [Eurasian Economic Union] member, and we also have the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the EU. Russia does not object to our cooperation with the EU, while the European Union does not oppose our EAEU membership," he explained. "Russia in itself is an example of how the East and the West can coexist in harmony," the Armenian prime minister emphasized.

When speaking about Armenia’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) membership, he noted that the country’s goal was "to do everything we can to make the CSTO more efficient, since it is an organization and a security system that is very important to Armenia, Russia and other member states."

Pashinyan declined to answer a question on whether the 2008 conflict in Georgia and the 2014 crisis in Ukraine could have been a result of rivalry between Russia and the West.

"Armenia went through changes in 2018. A non-violent revolution took place because there was not a single foreign force involved in the process. There was no geopolitical aspect to it," the premier said. "My team and I managed to prevent foreign factors from influencing our domestic processes. And we also said that there wouldn’t be a shift in our foreign policy. There hasn’t been and won’t be any shift," Pashinyan vowed.


Vedomosti: Experts expect social protests to swell

The amount of protest activities in Russia may increase, while social protests will become politicized, Vedomosti wrote, citing a report by the Agency for Political and Economic Communications.

Hundreds of protests occurred in the first half of 2019. The overall level of participation has not been high, but the demonstrators’ agenda tends to exceed their initial claims and the government’s social and economic policies clearly fuel these rallies, the report says.

Social protests in Russia’s regions may take on a political vibe as ties within various groups grow stronger and demonstrators begin to combine their demands because the authorities keep rejecting them time after time, the Agency’s Director General Dmitry Orlov explained. "Protests are highly likely to become politicized in a situation where a competitive election campaign is accompanied by a conflict among the elite. Different elite groups may bet on demonstrators," he added.

Political scientist Gleb Kuznetsov, in turn, pointed out that "we have seen more protests in the past two years, which suddenly sprung up in unexpected places." "It is a global trend: 2019 can be described as the year of demonstrations, ranging from the Yellow Vest movement in France to Latin America, Hong Kong and Barcelona. Street protests are not only a Russian trend but also a global one as well," he pointed out.

Unresolved social and economic problems are the main reason behind the mounting protest activities, but in Russia, rallies are not as large-scale as in other countries, the expert noted. Kuznetsov said that people’s dissatisfaction with their social and economic situation was the root cause of any protest. "That said, anything at all can spark unrest, including political, environmental and even religious reasons," the expert specified.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Top American brands face hard choice in China

US Vice President Michael Pence has accused sportswear giant Nike and the National Basketball Association (NBA) of violating American values and yielding to China’s censorship. A while ago, Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team expressed support for Hong Kong’s protesters on Twitter and in response, broadcasts of the team’s games were suspended in China. The NBA rushed to dissociate itself from the ill-fated manager, while Nike removed Rockets-branded merchandise from shelves. In fact, US companies are left to choose between losing their profits or putting up with China’s pressure, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

Head Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies Alexander Lomanov told the newspaper that "the situation is very uncomfortable for American businesses as they are caught between Chinese public opinion and political debates in the United States."

"Perhaps, Pence thinks that all these companies are giving into Chinese government pressure, yet the Chinese people are always supportive of foreign businesses. However, in actual fact, that’s not the case. An assault or even a hint of an assault on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which may, for instance, take the form of a wrong map, can spark outrage among Chinese bloggers, wealthy youngsters and middle-aged people, who watch American basketball teams’ games and buy their merchandise," the expert explained.

It is not the Beijing government that American companies fear. They are afraid of losing their customer base. If rumors start spreading that some sports team or a company supports the idea of splitting China or staging a color revolution similar to the developments in Hong Kong, then customers will vote with their wallets. "Pence actually repeated a moralizing statement that is typical of America: stop making money on the Chinese market to show you moral consistency. However, since the Chinese market keeps growing and remains attractive, every company makes its own choice," Lomanov pointed out.

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