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Press review: Can Power of Siberia bolster China in feud with US and why is NATO convening

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, December 3


Media: Power of Siberia’s launch to help Gazprom reduce dependence on Europe

On December 2, the Power of Siberia gas pipeline was launched, which is Gazprom’s first gas export pipeline oriented towards a new market and the company’s most ambitious project so far. However, it would be right to say that the pipeline’s construction is not just Gazprom’s project, but also part of a national strategy, because bolsters Moscow’s pivot to the East, Vedomosti wrote, citing experts.

"Perhaps, it is not the best project in terms of investment, given Gazprom’s poor resource base in the country’s east, a very long transport leg and the fact that the contract is based on low oil prices," said Fitch Corporations Department Director Dmitry Marinchenko. "However, it is highly important as it paves the way for boosting cooperation with China on a wide range of issues along the economic and political vectors," he added. Gas demand in Europe may drop in the long run as the alternative energy industry evolves, but the Power of Siberia will help Russia establish a foothold in China’s gas market, which may become no less important for Gazprom in the future than Europe is now, Marinchenko pointed out.

The Power of Siberia pipeline provides the company with access to a new market, Gazprombank analyst Yevgenia Dyshlyuk noted, adding that China was the largest gas exporter as its gas market was rapidly growing, Chief Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Alexander Lomanov highlighted the same aspect. "China’s gas needs will continue to grow because the country seeks to shift to eco-friendly fuel," the expert told RBC. "The importance of Russian gas for the Chinese will increase amid the changing global situation. The United States has imposed a genuine trade war on China. The Americans can block seaborne supplies of liquefied natural gas, so Beijing has been taking a growing interest in boosting ties with Russia, particularly in terms of energy supplies that the US cannot ban, Lomanov emphasized.


Media: NATO members to debate alliance’s ‘brain death’

A two-day NATO summit will kick off in London on Tuesday, where member states will sit down to deliberate on key issues the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been facing recently, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

This year marks NATO’s 70th anniversary but the alliance won’t celebrate the date in its best shape. Tensions have escalated between its key members and Turkey, which has the second strongest army in NATO after the United States. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been pursuing his own interests, which at times run counter to NATO’s common vision of an appropriate foreign policy. In particular, Turkey tested the S-400 missile systems purchased from Russia just before the London summit.

The conference also comes amid tensions between France and Germany. French President Emmanuel Macron has called for reforming NATO. In an interview with the Economist in early November, Macron emphasized the need to increase the security role of European countries and pointed to NATO’s "brain death." Meanwhile, Germany favors reinforcing NATO as it is, the country’s Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stated in a recent interview with Die Welt.

Head of the Department of European Integration at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Alexander Tevdoi-Burmuli believes that financial aspects of plans to strengthen NATO’s position in Europe are crucial. The Europeans are unwilling to spend more on defense and increase their fiscal deficit. "I think that the summit’s final documents will point to the need to boost defenses and enhance cooperation between NATO’s European members. However, the summit’s participants are unlikely to make any decisions on taking action in the short term," the expert said.

Contention is on the rise within NATO as the alliance expands, which is an issue that all rapidly growing organizations face, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Andrey Kortunov told RBC. "NATO countries have different priorities, as some consider Russia to be the main threat, while others focus on challenges coming from the Middle East and Africa," he explained.


Izvestia: Heated tensions put trade deal objectives between US, China on hold

Tit-for-tat sanctions between the United States and China make it harder for the two countries to reach a trade deal, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. They pointed out that tensions between Beijing and Washington are unlikely to lighten up in the near future. In response to the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, signed by the US president in late November, China has barred US warships from visiting the port of Hong Kong and banned the activities of a number of American NGOs in the administrative region.

According to Chucheng Feng, a seasoned political risk analyst at the Plenum analytics portal dedicated to China, Washington will turn up the heat on Beijing. In 2020, the United States may pass initiatives concerning Taiwan and laws preventing Chinese tech giants from accessing the American market and barring US research institutions from cooperating with the Chinese ones, which, according to the United States, are part of an espionage network.

Undoubtedly, Beijing won’t turn a blind eye to Washington’s behavior. It means that the war of words and mutual sanctions, albeit symbolic ones, will continue. In the short term, tensions between the US and China risk complicating efforts to reach a trade deal the two countries’ leaders were expected to ink before the end of 2019.

It is perfectly clear to China that US President Donald Trump needs to make a deal as soon as possible in order to boost his approval rating. Some in China believe that Beijing will seek to delay the trade talks in retaliation for the Hong Kong Act, Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy expert Zhao Tong told the newspaper.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Putin signs law ‘foreign agents’ media law

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed new legislation introducing additional regulations for foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents, Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote.

One of the new aspects is that individuals may now be designated as foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents in Russia in case they spread information to an unlimited audience and receive funds from abroad.

An individual or a legal entity may also be declared foreign agents if they spread information on behalf of foreign news outlets acting as foreign agents, provided they are funded from foreign countries. It means that the law won’t apply to those reposting foreign agents’ content, said Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy Leonid Levin. He added that those simply criticizing the authorities should not be liable under the law.

"Unlike our foreign colleagues, we don’t seek to establish criminal liability. We neither seize people nor throw them into torture chambers for five to 15 years, like some countries do," head of the Federation Council Commission for the Protection of State Sovereignty Andrei Klimov emphasized.

The wording "may be designated as a foreign agent" only highlights the fact that this tool could be used if the need arises to take retaliatory measures. The law will affect only a small group of people, Klimov pointed out.

Another important detail is that the document does not ban the activities of foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents but only requires them to make it clear for whose benefit they work. Head of the State Duma Commission on Investigation of Foreign Interference in Russia’s domestic affairs Vasily Piskarev assured that amendments to the law were not aimed at restricting freedom of expression. "Once included in the relevant register, individuals and legal entities will continue to publish their content," he said.


Izvestia: Rising consumer credit boosts Russia’s GDP, but drives down public’s well-being

Russians’ obligatory payments (credit, utility and tax payments) exceeded their income by 15% in 2014, which is a critical level, BCS Premier experts said in a report for Izvestia. On the one hand, a rise in demand based on consumer credit is where the country’s increasing GDP comes from, but on the other hand, debt-servicing costs are bringing people’s incomes down, which will hardly grow by more than one percent.

Chief Economist at the Expert RA credit rating agency Anton Tabakh believes that the rapid growth of debt-servicing costs and tax payments is a real problem.

Meanwhile, consumer loans are serving as the major driver behind the growth of Russia’s GDP this year. According to BCS Premier analysts, consumer spending is what helps maintain the upward trend in the economy, while other GDP components are demonstrating slow rates.

"Since a downward trend in real disposable incomes persisted in the first six months of the year, consumer demand as a factor maintaining economic growth was only expanding through loans," Chief Analyst at BCS Premier Anton Pokatovich pointed out. "Higher consumer spending was largely based on the use of loans," the expert emphasized.

Given the Central Bank’s measures to cool the market, consumer credit growth rates may decline to 12-17% compared to the current 20%. However, BCS analysts warn that if consumer loans are pushed down, the prospects for significant GDP growth may be at risk.



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