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Press review: New Russian PM’s post-reshuffle plans and Erdogan's gamble in Libya

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, January 17
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin  Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin
© Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS

Izvestia: Russia’s new PM Mishustin ready to form his team

New Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has promised to form a new government in the immediate future. He emphasized that governance reform, control over the National Projects and efforts to improve the situation in business would be the overriding priorities in his work, Izvestia writes.

After all routine procedures were observed, 383 of 450 lawmakers voted for Mishustin’s candidacy, while 41 MPs abstained. None of the parliamentarians voted against him.

So far, the formation of the government in Russia has gone according to the plan proposed by the prime minister. Quite possibly, this time events will be unfolding according to this scenario as well.

Meanwhile, the experts interviewed by the paper believe that the cabinet reshuffle is unlikely to be radical.

President of the Aspect Center for Social and Political Studies Georgy Fedorov believes that the new prime minister has every chance of retaining his position after the 2021 elections to the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament), but much will depend on the results that will be achieved. He stressed that Mikhail Mishustin is a very ambitious person.

Head of the Political Expert Group think-tank Konstantin Kalachev likewise noted that, if Mishustin coped with the tasks that had been set, he would retain his position after Putin’s proposed constitutional amendments were submitted.

On the other hand, Dmitry Orlov, Director General of the Political and Economic Communications Agency, noted that, since the reform that has begun, the new government would be interim. In his view, the Cabinet’s task is to ensure the stability of the system and the implementation of the social programs announced in President Putin’s State of the Nation Address. Anyway, specific decisions under these circumstances remain the purview of the head of state, he stressed.


Vedomosti: Proposed constitutional amendments to demonstrate ‘broad public debate’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has chaired the first meeting of the working group, which has been tasked with hammering out proposals to amend the country’s Constitution. The group is made up of lawmakers, attorneys, public figures, famous musicians, actors and athletes — more than 70 people overall. Many of them, like for example, Olympic pole vault champion Elena Isinbayeva and renowned pediatrician Leonid Roshal, were Putin’s authorized agents during the 2018 presidential election, Vedomosti writes.

The first working meeting will be held at the Russian Government’s Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law. Its Director Talia Khabrieva admitted it was difficult to predict the course of the discussion. "Everyone has their own vision, everyone represents some group of society. That’s very important for legitimizing the discussion. The issue at hand is the president’s initiative. This being so, he can outline his version of the amendments to the law, and I do not rule out that these will be two parallel processes. That doesn’t mean, however, that they will proceed separately," she said.

At the meeting, Putin outlined his vision of how to amend the Constitution without affecting its fundamental principles, the paper quotes Chairman of the State Duma Labor Committee Yaroslav Nilov as saying. The task of the group is to draw up the amendments, which will be precise, accurate and will not be ambiguous," he explained.

"The president has largely given the working group a free hand in developing mechanisms for the implementation of certain novelties. I do not exclude that there will be some other proposals as well so that the president can choose from different options what, in his opinion, will be optimal," says Yuri Shutov, Dean of the Political Science Faculty at Moscow State University. The fact that the group includes representatives of various areas of society is a huge plus, because they have vast experience and are able to use it, the expert assured.

It is difficult to imagine some of the group’s members in the capacity of constitutional law experts, so their presence in the group is quite symbolic, said political commentator Yevgeny Minchenko. The purpose of this group’s makeup is probably to "demonstrate a broad public discussion," he suggested.


Kommersant: Erdogan’s march on Libya

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed that Ankara would dispatch troops to Libya to support the Government of National Accord (GNA). He made a statement to this effect shortly before the Berlin conference on Libya set for Sunday, Kommersant writes.

The Turkish president would not specify what forces would be sent to Libya and what role they were going to have. However, in his recent interview with CNN Turk, he explained that Turkish military servicemen would go to Libya as military advisers.

"Turkey wanted to avoid potential losses, hoping that the mere threat of deploying troops would be enough to have the right impact on Libyan National Army Commander Khalifa Haftar. However, since this did not happen, a real military deployment can be expected. Nevertheless, Erdogan would prefer not to wage war," Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov told the paper.

It is no coincidence that the Turkish president persuaded Russia to come up with a joint ceasefire initiative for Libya. Both parties to the conflict agreed with this proposal, but Monday’s talks on a ceasefire agreement held in Moscow failed. Haftar refused to sign the deal.

Although the Moscow meeting did not result in finalizing the ceasefire, the truce, which Russia and Turkey had called for, still holds. In spite of reports on fighting, nothing serious is happening, Romain Grandjean, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, explained to Kommersant.

The expert warned though that the situation was very fragile and that hostilities could erupt again any moment due to the absence of a strong monitoring mechanism.

The conference in Berlin could help restore the minimum level of consensus among international players, and that will be a positive signal to Libya’s warring parties, he added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian expert mulls consequences of US exit from Mideast

If the Americans withdrew from the Middle East that would leave a vacuum, which would be filled by some other major world powers, Igor Yurgens, Chairman of the Board of the Contemporary Development Institute, wrote in his article published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Referring to the US-Iranian standoff and its aftermath, he noted that "the assassination of Iran’s high-profile General Qasem Soleimani and subsequent events are seen as a magnitude 10 political earthquake." "The general, with all his fanaticism, had a reputation of a more experienced and sophisticated politician than the entourage of the ayatollahs or the military. The Quds, an organization with an obscure structure and potential, and the numerous foreign units created by the Iranians, from Hezbollah to Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, could be dangerously radicalized without his control," Yurgens warned.

"On the other hand, Iranian patriots will, of course, rally around the leader, and massive anti-government protests in some provinces will morph into anti-American [ones]," he added.

A gradual reduction in US presence seems to be the most likely scenario, especially in light of Trump’s statement that America no longer needs Middle Eastern oil and gas and that Washington expects NATO to be more active in the region, the expert noted. "In the event of an escalation, especially if the interests of the strategic US ally, that is, Israel, are affected, the remaining military presence and strategic power will be enough to stop any conflict. However, should the Americans depart that would leave a vacuum in the region with a youthful population in the tens of millions and numerous unresolved contradictions, which someone would have to fill," he pointed out.

"I would not like this burden to fall on Russia, even partially, which nearly borders the region and is already present there militarily and politically," Yurgens concluded.


Vedomosti: Russia may cut oil exports in 2020

Russia’s Transneft expects the volumes of oil in the trunk pipeline system to expand 0.8% to 488.5 mln tonnes in 2020, Vedomosti writes citing data provided by the company. Deliveries to Russian refineries may climb 5.3% to reach 259 mln tonnes, but exports will decrease 3.8% to 229.5 mln tonnes. These forecasts are based on requests from shippers. The company transports 87% of oil produced in Russia.

Most oil companies, especially those that have invested heavily in refineries, prioritize deliveries to the domestic market over exports, the paper quotes Sergey Agibalov, a senior analyst at the Argus Consulting Service, as saying.

In 2019, oil refining in Russia fell slightly, partially because of repairs at the Achinsk refinery and suspended work at the Antipinsky oil refinery. In 2020, it should return to the 2018 level, says Fitch’s Dmitry Marinchenko. "The planned increase in oil supplies to refineries and a decrease in crude oil exports depends on that," he explained.

Meanwhile, the issue of oil supplies to Belarus (about 7% of Russian oil exports) remains unresolved. Russian oil companies stopped oil deliveries to that country on January 1, 2020.

Russia is capable of redistributing transit oil flows running through Belarus through seaports, Transneft announced earlier.

The capacity of seaports enables Transneft to redistribute at least 23.5 mln tonnes, Sergey Suverov, a senior analyst at BCS Premier, has been quoted as saying. Thanks to the redistribution of oil in favor of Russian refineries and in the event of a deduction of Belarusian refineries’ consumption, these reserves can grow and account for 90% of the transit via the Druzhba pipeline.


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