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Press review: Turkey flexes muscles at Russia and what the US has planned for Central Asia

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, February 13
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan  Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
© Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool


Media: Erdogan flexes muscles against Syria, Russia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has put forward an ultimatum against Damascus and Moscow, insisting that Assad’s forces must leave the Idlib de-escalation zone and stop the attacks against the Turkish military. Otherwise, Ankara reserves the right to deep-six the deal brokered with Moscow on Syria and use its full combat might. What’s more, for the first time, Erdogan has blamed Russia for the deaths of civilians in Idlib, warning that jets now attacking settlements, won’t be able to act as freely as earlier, Kommersant business daily writes.

In his phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan announced that an agreement had been reached that delegates from the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and intelligence services would hold talks in Moscow. The two previous rounds of negotiations held in Ankara on Saturday and Monday failed to yield any result, the paper writes. While Moscow and Ankara squabble over who is to blame for the current situation and over the Sochi memorandum, the United States has fully taken Turkey’s side. Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov notes that despite his belligerent rhetoric, Erdogan hints that he is not seeking a direct conflict with Damascus. "He signals that he expects to strike a new deal on Idlib with Moscow by the end of February," Semenov said, noting that a demand to withdraw pro-government forces from the de-escalation zone could be viewed as a starting point for bargaining.

A high-ranking diplomatic source told Vedomosti that Erdogan’s rhetoric is far from his usual tone at his talks with Putin. This is bad because by using far-fetched pretexts, Turkey is delaying meeting its commitments and is making the challenging situation in Syria even worse. Erdogan hopes that the issue will be solved during the Turkish delegation’s upcoming visit to Moscow led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal. However, looking back at prior experience, no illusions should be expected here, the source notes. During the Russian delegation’s visit to Turkey on February 8-10, the sides failed to bring their positions closer on any issue as the Turkish negotiators had failed to develop an independent stance. A source close to the Russian General Staff has not ruled out provocations in Syria in the near future.


Izvestia: US returns to Central Asia, aiming to bring region closer to Afghanistan

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent tour of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and the new US strategy on Central Asia are now in the region’s spotlight. Moscow and Beijing are guessing Washington’s plans concerning the Central Asian states, which are often branded as "Russia’s underbelly," Izvestia writes.

For the first time, Washington has acknowledged in its strategy that the Central Asian states are self-sufficient regardless of the situation in Afghanistan, China and Russia. The US strategy also highlights that the Central Asian republics, which are close to Afghanistan, should partly take responsibility for restoring the war-torn country.

Experts polled by Izvestia believe it would be too simple to regard any US steps in the region as an attempt to move in on Russia. They also believe that the regional states need ties with the US as a counterbalance in their relations with Moscow and Beijing. "The trend is that the Americans are not planning to get drawn into a new confrontation with Russia in the post-Soviet space.

However, they are interested in elbowing out China," said Rafael Sattarov, a US-based expert in Central Asia. "If we look at the biographies of US ambassadors in Central Asian countries, all of them are somehow linked to China and Asia. Several years ago they used to send diplomats there, who were experts on the Soviet Union or Russia."

Temur Umarov from the Carnegie Moscow Center believes that there is an understanding in the region that although relations with the US are important, they take a back seat to their key neighbors, Russia and China. "From the geographic perspective, the Central Asian states will still remain in Moscow and Beijing’s orbit, since Washington is far away. In addition, Russia is not that naive and it understands that although the Americans promise the moon, they are not very interested in the region." Washington is now focusing on the Central Asian countries’ proximity to Afghanistan, where it seeks to achieve success, but it is not going to call the shots in the region, the expert explains.


Kommersant: Kiev offers water supply to Crimea in exchange for concessions on Donbass

Moscow and Kiev have been entangled in a new scandal over Crimea and Donbass. David Arakhamiya, who chairs the Servant of the People faction, the largest in Ukraine’s parliament, has suggested that water supplies from the Dnieper River could resume to Crimea in return for Russia’s concessions on Donbass. His remark has come under severe fire in Kiev, fueling a heated debate, Kommersant writes.

Arakhamiya said that the idea of supplying water to Crimea via the Northern Crimean Canal would be a compromise since "one way or another the water in Crimea would be used by Ukrainian citizens." In exchange, Kiev should receive full control over the border in Donbass. Later, the lawmaker retracted his statement, noting that his words had been quoted out of context. There is a debate in Kiev now whether this statement could be viewed as a non-binding confession or "a trial balloon" to lay the groundwork for bargaining on Crimean water.

Russia’s Federal Water Resources Agency plans to fully solve the problem of water supply to Crimea by 2025. However, this year the region has faced a challenging situation with filling water reservoirs due to a heavy drought this autumn and following a lack of precipitation this winter. According to some estimates made in early February, Crimea’s capital of Simferopol would have enough water just for 90 or 100 days.

Meanwhile, Crimea has rejected any attempts of linking the water supply issue to the settlement in Donbass. First Deputy Speaker of the Crimean State Council (parliament) Yefim Fiks noted that this "only confirms that the Ukrainian authorities don’t quite understand the events happening in Ukraine."

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov also stressed that there could be no bargaining over Crimea. Meanwhile, he backed ex-Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk’s idea that the water supply to Crimea should be considered through the prism of business cooperation between Moscow and Kiev.


Izvestia: Euro hits new lows amid growing economic woes

The euro has been plummeting over the past weeks to new lows not seen since early October. This slump is explained by a whole range of factors, signaling that the euro will face a difficult future and is unlikely to edge out the dollar as a reserve currency. Although the current decline is not as sharp as the one in 2015, when the euro was facing a mini crisis over falling oil prices, the current trend is deeper and more fundamental, Izvestia writes.

The major newsmaker for global stock exchanges early this year was the coronavirus outbreak in China, which has also affected Europe. Besides problems with supplies, there is also a falling demand in China for services and goods from the European Union, thereby negatively impacting the euro.

Besides the coronavirus scare, Europe has a few other headaches. According to the data released on February 12, industrial production in the Eurozone in December dropped 2.1%, the worst figure over the past four years. Germany’s growing political crisis could also trigger further turbulence. Another factor threatening the euro’s stability is a weakly developing high-tech Internet industry in Europe, the paper writes.

The Trump factor should also be on the radar. The US president could accuse the Europeans of artificially lowering the currency rate, but there are no signs of this and the euro is declining only due to natural reasons. The result of this conflict could be another currency or trade war that would not benefit anyone.

A key conclusion that can be drawn from the current situation on the foreign currency market is that the euro has been unable to outperform the dollar as a global reserve currency. It is unstable and weakens each time there are signs of investors’ uncertainty in the European economy, the paper says.

Kommersant: Lukoil, Novatek set sights on Gazprom Neft’s fields

Lukoil and Novatek are in talks with Gazprom Neft about entering a project to develop oil fields on the shelf of the Sea of Okhotsk (the Sakhalin project), three sources told Kommersant. The Neptune and Triton oil fields, opened in 2018, have total reserves of more than 550 mln tonnes, while recoverable reserves are estimated at 70 mln tonnes and 45 mln tonnes, respectively. Two sources noted that the companies had held consultations but the prospect of a partnership was unclear.

Gazprom Neft’s First Deputy Director General Vadim Yakovlev pointed out that it was in talks with "a number of potential partners." Since the Sakhalin shelf is not part of the Artic zone and the depths of the oil fields do not exceed 100 m, the projects there are not under the US and EU sectoral sanctions.

Lukoil has been actively developing production on the shelf of the Caspian and the Baltic Seas. Novatek is mainly focusing on gas production and has no shelf projects yet, but it is planning to get this experience, the newspaper writes.

However, Gazprom Neft is mostly interested in teaming up with Royal Dutch Shell because the British-Dutch oil and gas company has the needed know-how in developing the shelf and is very familiar with the region. Shell has not yet made a decision on its participation in the project. Neptune and Triton are expected to be launched not earlier than in 2026.


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