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Press review: Moscow ready to mend UK ties and Ukraine’s military creeping towards Russia

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, February 10


Izvestia: Russia ready to mend ties with the UK, says ambassador

London’s stance on relations with Moscow remains contradictory. While speaking in favor of cultivating and improving bilateral ties, many politicians link that with a number of preconditions, Russian Ambassador to the UK Andrei Kelin told Izvestia on the occasion of Diplomats' Day marked in Russia on February 10.

"They are trying to form a new concept under the slogan of ‘moving in all directions,’ that is, to deal with China, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. However, when they talk about Russia, everyone seems to be in favor of cultivating these ties, but at the same time, they put forward a number of conditions. For example, they assert that we must change our behavior, which means abandoning Crimea, terminating assistance to Syria and admitting our guilt for the Salisbury incident. However, the most important thing is that we are ready to revive ties with the UK and are open to that. This is a large country with huge resources, Europe’s second largest economy, which is currently entering new parameters of existence. So, it would be normal to go back to good relations, the way it was in the past," the ambassador said.

When asked to comment on the current situation in international relations, Kelin noted that what is seen now is "a decline in the responsibility of European leadership on foreign policy." "Statements are made aimed at securing more support from domestic audiences during the next elections rather than maintaining the right balance in politics. Actually, it is clear who plays the first fiddle. Without a doubt, it is the US president, who has been making decisions that baffle others. This, of course, is not going to end in anything good," he warned.

"We are in favor of the back-to-the-basics approach. This is, actually, the bottom line of the Russian president’s proposal to convene a summit of the permanent UN Security Council members in order to discuss the declining stability, the lack of certainty and understand how we should live in the future," the Russian envoy added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ukraine moving military bases closer to border with Russia

The Ukrainian armed forces have begun an active transition to NATO standards, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. In particular, Ukrainian Defense Minister Andrei Zagorodnyuk said in a recent interview that the country was upgrading its military infrastructure based on NATO’s requirements. He noted that two new military bases would be built in Mariupol and Severodonetsk. These military facilities will be located several dozen kilometers away from the border with Russia and the unrecognized Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. According to Ukraine’s leadership, these bases will be NATO’s ‘southeastern’ outpost.

The Ukrainian armed forces’ command has said more than once that plans were in store to deploy the so-called ‘mosquito fleet’ [in particular, high-speed boats] to the Sea of Azov, including the naval base in Mariupol, which will be built according to NATO standards. This sort of military presence near Russia’s borders, of course, poses a threat to its military security, and the Russian leadership will respond to such challenges," military expert Colonel Shamil Gareyev told the paper.

He stressed that Ukraine’s newly-approved National Security Strategy stated that "restoring territorial integrity within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine" was a top-priority issue for Kiev.

"That is, this restoration of Ukraine’s territory within the borders, which includes the LPR, DPR and Crimea, apparently implies military action," the expert concluded


Izvestia: Berlin opposes sanctions against Nord Stream 2

Germany rejects any extraterritorial sanctions imposed by Washington, a source in the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy told Izvestia.

The source emphasized Berlin’s stance regarding extraterritorial sanctions, clarifying that, "We [Germany] reject them".

In early February, some German media outlets reported that the United States was cobbling together another package of restrictions on Nord Stream 2. According to the Handelsblatt business daily, If Russia tries to complete the construction of the pipeline on its own, Congress will pass a new sanction law, targeting those companies, which intend to purchase gas transported through that pipeline and those that poured money into the project’s implementation.

One of them, Germany’s Uniper, is perfectly aware of Washington’s desire to impede the construction of the Nord Stream 2 project, a source in the company told the paper, noting that the company had pledged to fund up to one-tenth of the project’s price tag, and it is determined to honor its commitments.

"Investors cannot refuse to take part in the project. They have already paid money, which they are expected to get back gradually after the project is commissioned," Director General of the National Energy Institute Sergei Pravosudov explained to Izvestia.

According to the expert, if the United States ultimately decides to impose restrictive measures, it will primarily harm its European allies and relations with them. If Washington were to widen its sanctions, this would actually set off a global energy war not only with Russia, but with the European Union as well, Pravosudov predicted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Where Belarus-Russia ties are headed

The moment of truth in Russian-Belarusian relations has dawned, and these fraternal ties will gradually transform into market ones, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The official information about the talks in Sochi between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko is limited. The only deal reached by the two sides is the gas price for Belarus ($127 per 1,000 cubic meters, the same as last year). The parties failed, however, to agree on oil prices.

For Belarus, such an outcome means that there are no contracts for oil supplies from Russia on Minsk’s terms and, consequently, there are no revenues from oil refining. Obligations to foreign consumers of petroleum products also remain up in the air. Those oil volumes, which Mikhail Gutseriyev’s companies promise to supply, will be only enough to cover the needs of the domestic market.

"Since two Belarusian oil refineries need oil desperately, Minsk will have to agree, in one way or another, to Russia’s terms of supply. There will be no collapse in oil refining, but Belarus will have to say goodbye to its previous profitability," the paper quotes political commentator Alexander Klaskovsky as saying.

"Under the present climate, there is only one winning solution, that is, reforming the economy and strengthening the nation state. Belarus would be doomed without these specific steps," political commentator Pavel Usov has been quoted as saying.

The Belarusian authorities are currently somewhat perplexed and are probably not ready to embark on a path of reforms, which will entail an evitable decline in living standards and the social net. "Lukashenko’s entourage has no understanding of what to do next. All politics, all relations were based on imitation, without any content and strategic understanding," Usov stressed. This uncertainty is likely to last at least until the next presidential election scheduled for late August.


Vedomosti: Europe sees record decline in gas prices

Europe has seen a record-setting streak of declines in natural gas prices, Vedomosti writes. On February 7, the month ahead contract prices at Europe’s Zeebrugge Hub dropped to $95.7 per 1,000 cubic meters. The cost of delivery futures at the Netherlands’ Title Transfer Facility fell by 6.2% (from $108.4 to $101.7 per 1,000 cubic meters) from February 3 to February 7. This February set a new low in gas prices recorded at the TTF since January 2005, according to data provided by Thomson Reuters.

Zeebrugge accounts for about 5% of physical gas trade, the paper quotes Vygon Consulting analyst Yekaterina Kolbikova as saying. "However, the price dynamics of various hubs is always similar," she stressed.

Unprecedentedly low gas quotes in Europe were caused by both fundamental reasons and adverse circumstances. The trade war between Beijing and Washington and China’s economic downturn have resulted in an oversupply of LNG around the world. Due to the lack of more profitable sales options, LNG sellers increased supplies to Europe. According to ICIS’ estimates, they grew from 51 mln tonnes in 2018 to 76 mln tonnes in 2019.

Russia’s energy giant Gazprom accounts for more than one-half of raw products imported to the continent. Over the past year, the Russian company supplied nearly 200 bln cubic meters of gas there. Taking into account the 30% trade tariffs, the net cost rises to $120-130 per 1,000 cubic meters, Vygon Consulting experts estimate.

"Since the company sells gas under hybrid contracts, the cost of delivery may be slightly higher, that is, about $150 per 1,000 cubic meters," Kolbikova suggested.


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