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Press review: Moscow confirms Normandy Four summit and what will Iran’s protests generate

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, November 19
A road is blocked by protestors after authorities raised gasoline prices in Tehran Majid Khahi/ISNA via AP
A road is blocked by protestors after authorities raised gasoline prices in Tehran
© Majid Khahi/ISNA via AP

Kommersant: Moscow confirms Normandy Four meeting

The Kremlin has confirmed that the Normandy Four summit, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelensky will meet for the first time, will be held on December 9. Their bilateral talks in France are not planned, Kommersant’s sources said. They noted, however, that such a possibility could not be ruled out.

Moscow believes that Monday’s handover of Ukrainian naval ships seized during the Kerch Strait incident last November, along with the September prisoner swap, improves the climate for the upcoming talks in Paris. "The atmosphere [for negotiations] is different now," said the paper’s source overseeing the Ukrainian issue in Russia’s government agencies.

He did not rule out that bilateral contacts between Putin and Zelensky could take place in Paris in addition to the four-party talks on Donbass. "Everything will depend on the background. Much can happen in three weeks’ time. By the same token, it is noteworthy that Zelensky tries to avoid harsh remarks in relation to Russia and sound neutral," he stressed.

There are plenty of outstanding issues in Russian-Ukrainian relations, including the prospects for Russian gas transit across Ukraine. The existing contract will expire on January 1. Russia plans to minimize gas supplies through Ukraine’s gas transportation system. On November 18, Russia’s Gazprom said it was ready to extend the existing contract or sign a new agreement for one year, but only if all lawsuits filed by Ukraine’s Naftogaz were dropped. For its part, Naftogaz said it was ready for constructive negotiations but had no intention of dropping its claims against Russia’s energy giant.

The talks have thus been deadlocked, due to which gas transit could be discontinued next year. Previously, such issues were often tackled at the top level.


Izvestia: Russian legislators to draft new non-interference convention

The Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) is working on a new international UN convention on non-interference in the affairs of other countries.

Many documents, which focused on foreign interference in other countries’ affairs, have been cobbled together since the UN was founded in 1945, Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Andrei Klimov told Izvestia. However, all of them boiled down to just one phrase: interference is unacceptable.

"In modern conditions, certain rules of states’ conduct are required. On the one hand, interference is inevitable in some situations. On the other hand, scientific and technological progress is taking its toll. New ways of meddling, which couldn’t have even been imagined in the late 20th century, have emerged," he said.

The non-interference principle is enshrined in the UN Charter approved in 1945 and the General Assembly’s 1965 declaration that was submitted by Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.

The current document plays almost no role, because, unlike the convention, the declaration is not legally binding, Sergei Ordzhonikidze, former Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, explained to Izvestia.

"The United States has never agreed to sign documents expanding the provisions of the UN Charter. That’s the Americans’ stance stemming from the premise that the Charter allegedly envisages whatever is required. In the 1960s, a group of countries, which was comprised of members of the Soviet bloc, Yugoslavia and Egypt, provided a counterbalance to their influence, but not without difficulty," the diplomat said.

Meanwhile, Pavel Podlesny, Head of the Center for Russian-American Relations at the Institute for the US and Canadian Studies, believes the US is unlikely to stop meddling in other countries’ domestic affairs.

"The question is that there should be no cases of heavy-handed interference authorized by the government that would earmark funds for these purposes. It was precisely such actions that have been gaining momentum recently, so the Federation Council’s initiative is well-justified," the expert stressed.


Kommersant: Iran protests unlikely to result in regime change

Demonstrations sparked by gasoline price hikes have swept across Iran. Although officials in Tehran say that the situation is gradually returning to normal, there is no objective confirmation of that information, as Internet access had been shut off, Kommersant writes. According to experts, the latest wave of protests will not result in regime change, although the United States hopes that will be the case. Washington backed the protesters almost instantly.

Tehran responded by saying that Washington’s objective is to undermine security and harm the interests of the Iranian people. For its part, Russia has expressed solidarity with Iran, stating that external forces were involved in these developments.

The response from external players, both the United States and Russia, is traditional, Yulia Sveshnikova, Research Fellow at the Higher School of Economics, told the paper. "Each of them is playing its role. What is different about it is that Washington would like to view these protests as a sign of the imminent collapse of the regime, but it is hardly possible to speak about that for the time being. Nevertheless, tensions in the country are mounting, that’s for sure," she stressed.

The expert recalled that large-scale protests had erupted in Iran two years ago, and they have not come to an end completely. However, the authorities in Tehran should hardly fear for their fate until the middle class takes to the streets. This time, members of the middle class began to join the protests, but their fears of reprisals still prevail, she went on to say. "The situation in Iran has not yet reached the ‘we have nothing to lose’ level," Sveshnikova said.

She added that a new generation has grown up in the country, for which the Islamic Republic’s values were no longer a top priority. "That’s why the situation is quite explosive,’ the expert added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kim leaves door open for dialogue with US despite tough talk

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has begun talking about preparations for a military conflict as he was overseeing large-scale air force drills, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

However, the attention abroad was attracted not by the exercise itself and not by the fact that it was attended by Kim Jong Un, but by the statements, which he made during his visit. The North Korean leader highlighted the need to improve the army’s preparedness for war and conduct the drills "under simulated conditions of real war."

Kim’s statement came in the wake of an important conciliatory step taken by the US and South Korea, which postponed the joint Vigilant Ace exercise usually held in November or December. Pentagon Chief Mark Esper said he hoped North Korea would respond with a goodwill gesture.

Despite its traditional belligerent rhetoric, North Korea is leaving the door open for dialogue, Konstantin Asmolov, a Leading Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told the paper.

"If North Korea was determined to abandon dialogue with the United States, it would be explicit. Pyongyang’s stance has so far remained unchanged, that is, to wait until the end of the year. Kim Jong Un is not only waiting for the US to outline its stance, but he also hopes that by the end of the year it will be more or less clear whether or not Trump will be re-elected. If it becomes clear that he will get re-elected, then dialogue will continue. If not, then it will be pointless for the DPRK to reach any agreements with the outgoing president," he explained.


Vedomosti: Construction of TurkStream’s rival completed in Turkey

The second and final part of the first stage of the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) will be commissioned on November 30, Vedomosti writes citing Turkish media reports.

TANAP is the Turkish section of the Southern Gas Corridor, which is supposed to ensure gas supplies from Azerbajan’s Shah Deniz field to markets in Turkey and Southeastern Europe. Its length is more than 1,800 kilometers, and its construction’s price tag is estimated at about $7 bln.

Gazprom likewise has a pipeline carrying natural gas to Turkey, called Blue Stream. The Russian company hopes to begin exporting gas through another pipeline — TurkStream — in late 2019. The project was initiated in 2015, when Gazprom exported about 27 bln cubic meters of gas per year to Turkey with the total consumption of about 46.6 bln cubic meters in that country.

From January to September 2019, Gazprom exported 11.7 bln cubic meters of gas to that market, which is a 35-percent decrease compared to 2018.

The drop in gas demand in Turkey is the result of a slowdown in the economy and rising domestic gas prices, the paper quotes Maria Belova, head of research at Vygon Consulting, as saying. "Russia acts as the closing supplier to the Turkish market, giving way to LNG and Azerbaijani gas. The two Azerbaijani contracts, supplies from the Shah Deniz project, will largely serve as benchmark for gas imports to Turkey," she noted.

In Turkey, Gazprom is facing the same challenges as in the European market, that is, competition with alternative suppliers and the need to be flexible, especially as far as prices go, in order to protect its market share, Corporations Department Director at Fitch Dmitry Marinchenko said.

"The construction of TurkStream coincided with the commissioning of TANAP, which can lead to the fact that even TurkStream’s first leg will not be fully loaded. The capacity of the Turkish market may be not enough to absorb all volumes," he warned.


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