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Press review: Russia sends aid to Italy to cope with COVID-19 and backs NATO dialogue

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, March 28

Izvestia: Russia dispatches military epidemiologists to Italy

The Russian military has promptly complied with President Vladimir Putin’s order to help Italy fight the coronavirus epidemic, Izvestia writes. After a phone call between Putin and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte held on Saturday evening, the Defense Ministry dispatched Russia’s best specialists to Italy, whose experience includes helping eliminate outbreaks of infectious diseases and the development of the Ebola vaccine.

Italy is currently trudging through tough times, and such substantial assistance from Russia will be duly appreciated by the Italian people and the country’s leadership, stressed former Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze.

Russia has been in the forefront of fighting global threats for many years, noted military expert Vladislav Shurygin.

"Our military decisively and successfully participated in the global war against terrorism. The threat of the coronavirus transmission is just as far-reaching and no less severe, and the Russian Defense Ministry is in the lead here," he told the paper.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has demonstrated a very high level of training, says military historian Dmitry Boltenkov. "Less than 24 hours has passed from the conversation between the Russian president and the Italian prime minister to the departure of the first aircraft carrying cargo to Rome. It took the air group from all over the European part of Russia just one night to assemble in the Moscow Region. That shows the unique capabilities of the Russian military transport aviation," he stressed.


Kommersant: Gas prices in Europe sink to historic lows

Russia’s energy giant Gazprom might be getting the lowest gas price in 15 years from its primary market — Europe, Kommersant writes. Spot prices have fallen to the level of $100 per 1,000 cubic meter, while oil-related prices are approaching that level. Gas supplies to Central Russia can be more profitable now than exports to Europe. For example, in the Leningrad Region, the wholesale gas price at the current ruble exchange rate is $57.7 per 1,000 cubic meters. On the other hand, the export netback value for Nord Stream supplies to Germany at current prices at the German NCG hub of $101 per 1,000 cubic meters is about $48 (taking into account the export duty of 30% and transportation fees of about $22 per 1,000 cubic meters).

A Gazprom source told the paper that the company had received no reports of force majeure circumstances on long-term supply contracts to Europe and had no plans to suspend gas purchases from Central Asia or change the deadlines for implementing its investment projects.

Referring to export prices, the energy monopoly cited Elena Burmistrova, Deputy Chairperson of the Gazprom Management Committee, who said she expected an average level of $175-185 per 1,000 cubic meters this year. However, Vygon Consulting Research Director Maria Belova considers this forecast to be optimistic. According to the expert, the average export price for Gazprom will be below $150 per 1,000 cubic meters. In her view, consumers can follow the Chinese scenario by suspending purchases depending on the epidemiological situation.

For his part, Director of Gas & Chemicals Department at Vygon Consulting Dmitry Akishin noted that Gazprom’s large-scale projects, which are expected to be commissioned within the next five years are unlikely to be affected. It is inexpedient to suspend investment in them, since it has already begun, he added.


Izvestia: Russia committed to meaningful dialogue with NATO

Moscow is committed to a meaningful and pragmatic dialogue with both NATO and its individual member states, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin told Izvestia.

"We have never abandoned dialogue with either the West or the East. We interact on all key issues of mutual interest. For example, in a proactive manner, we stopped conducting military exercises in close proximity to Russia’s borders with Western countries. Our warplanes fly over the Baltic region with transponders on. We show unlimited openness during military events, which we hold," he said.

Fomin noted though that NATO is currently not ready to take real steps to ease tensions in Europe. "NATO’s eastward expansion, building up military infrastructure near our borders, deploying missile defense systems amid reducing military contacts — all that only results in escalating tensions, especially along the Russia-NATO line of contact. We view the alliance’s policy with regard to Russia, which is even formulated as the ‘policy of containment and dialogue’ at a conceptual level, as absurd," he emphasized.

Referring to Russian-US relations, Fomin recalled that Washington had labelled Russia its chief geostrategic rival and a threat to America’s global dominance. "At the same time, I believe that the current military and political situation edges Russia and the United States towards communicating more often, and that also implies communication between their militaries. We are ready to discuss pressing international security problems with the Americans," he pointed out.

When asked to comment on the arms control situation in general, he described it as "unfavorable, putting it mildly."

"At present, the only international accord, which limits the strategic offensive arms race, is the START Treaty, which will expire less than in one year, on February 5, 2021. According to the Russian president’s initiative, we are ready to extend that agreement without any preconditions. However, the absence of any reaction from Washington to this proposal creates additional uncertainty in the arms control sphere," he stressed.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US seeks oil truce between Saudi Arabia, Russia

Plunging oil prices have impacted all major oil producers. The question is who will be the first to surrender placing oneself at the mercy of more patient "partners," Nezaivismaya Gazeta writes. Meanwhile, Russia’s decision to reject Saudi Arabia’s proposal to further cut production has practically put America’s shale revolution on hold.

US President Donald Trump earlier said that falling oil prices were good for consumers. At the same time, he admitted that such low prices were dangerous for all of American industry. The Trump administration recently said it was considering intervening in the Saudi-Russian oil price standoff at the right time. Judging by the reaction of the US shale industry, the "right time" has come.

The fact that American oil producers have begun talking about potential participation in a coordinated reduction in production is indicative, the paper quotes Stanislav Mitrakhovich, an expert at the National Energy Security Fund, as saying.

"Previously, it was difficult to imagine that. The Americans have always seen themselves as a strong player and encouraged others to cut production, but did not want to do that themselves. Besides, America has many small and medium-sized oil companies that are difficult to persuade to join the cartel. That said, the United States’ participation in coordinated worldwide cuts in production does not seem to be a guaranteed scenario yet, although not as unbelievable as it seemed a few months ago," the expert explained.


Kommersant: Russian grain prices breaking records

The devaluation of the ruble and relatively high grain prices have bolstered Russian farmers’ confidence. Over the past week, the average price for wheat on the domestic market has soared by 1,000 rubles ($12.3) reaching almost 13,300 ($164.6) per tonne.

The primary reasons for the spike in grain prices are a substantial drop in the ruble and high global prices, the paper quotes Andrei Sizov, Director of the SovEcon analytical agency, as saying. According to the expert, despite market declines, grain prices on world stock exchanges have been climbing. Russian wheat prices stood at $207 per tonne after a steep drop in prices. The global market likewise reacted to the ruble’s plunge and rumors about potential restrictions on grain exports, the agency said.

Igor Pavensky of the Rusagrotrans analytical agency agrees that, despite the volatility of the ruble exchange rate, far from all manufacturers are ready to hold stocks, and so trading continues. In turn, ProZerno Director General Vladimir Petrichenko noted that many grain holders have taken a wait-and-see attitude. "It is still unknown at what price they will have to purchase, for example, imported crop protection agents," he said.

Petrichenko was confident that domestic wheat prices would continue to rise. He noted, however, that the growth would depend on the ruble exchange rate and export prices.


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