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Press review: OPEC+ to boost oil output and US, Russian top brass talk troop movements

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, April 2

Kommersant: OPEC+ to ease restrictions on oil production starting from May

Major oil producers unexpectedly stepped up their oil production for the next three months by 2 mln barrels per day, or about 2% of global consumption, despite the threat of a new wave of coronavirus and lower oil prices in recent weeks. Saudi Arabia, which until now insisted on maintaining strict quotas, sharply changed its mind following the results of telephone negotiations with representatives of the United States and Russia. As a result, in May-July, OPEC+ will increase production by 1.1 mln barrels per day (bpd), and Riyadh will gradually roll back its voluntary reduction by 1 mln bpd.

The new OPEC+ approach means that over 2 mln bpd will return to the market in the next three months. Russia and Kazakhstan, which, unlike other OPEC+ countries, were able to increase production in April by 130,000 bpd and 20,000 bpd, respectively, will increase production more slowly in the next three months. Under the new agreement, Russia was given the opportunity to additionally beef up production by 114,000 bpd cumulatively in May-July.

The OPEC+ decision will allow Russia to produce an additional 1.4 mln tonnes of oil in May-June, according to Daria Kozlova from Vygon Consulting.

In her opinion, this increased production is important to ensure the domestic market and the loading of refineries before the planting season and the holiday season. Russia’s final level of oil production for 2021 will depend on further decisions by OPEC+, the expert noted, and Russian companies need more long-term signals on production recovery to the pre-crisis level. If after July, OPEC+ will systematically step up production by 500,000 bpd per month, then Russia’s average production in 2021 should be 10.5 mln bpd, which is 7% lower than in pre-crisis 2019, Kozlova noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US, Russian top brass hold talks as Kiev claims Moscow may soon launch ‘hostilities’ against Ukraine

A telephone conversation between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley and his Russian counterpart, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov was held at the initiative of the US side at the beginning of the week. The conversation focused on the aggravated situation in southeastern Ukraine. The US military claims that the Russian Defense Ministry is transferring troops to the country’s southwestern borders, building up a grouping in Crimea, which raised its concerns, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. According to Kiev, Russia is gearing up to invade Ukraine, yet Moscow announced the start of test exercises while beefing up its troops on the Crimean Peninsula to ensure its security.

According to military expert Lieutenant General Yury Netkachev, "the transfer of troops to Crimea may be associated with forming an airborne assault regiment there with a permanent base in Feodosia." Back in 2016 it was stated that in order to strengthen Crimea’s security, an airborne regiment would be deployed on the peninsula, and now a decision has been made.

Meanwhile, the situation near Russia’s southwestern border remains tense. The Ukrainian command also transported military equipment and personnel in an eastern direction in February-March 2021 by railroad. The OSCE Mission reported numerous violations of the ceasefire in Donbass.

Kiev ignores Moscow's position and contends that Russia might unleash genuine hostilities on Ukraine’s soil, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. NATO supports Ukraine not only with words, but also with lethal weapons. "If the conflict between Russia and Ukraine morphs into a military one, it is possible that units from the alliance countries may be brought into Ukraine. It is not known how much they will threaten Moscow," military expert, Colonel Nikolay Shulgin told the newspaper. "Numerous military maneuvers planned by Kiev and the alliance can be a pretext for bringing NATO troops into Ukraine," he added.


Vedomosti: Polish fleet opposes Nord Stream 2 construction

The construction fleet of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline became a target for warships and civilian ships, mostly Polish ones. Director of the Nord Stream 2 operator, Andrey Minin, said on April 1 that the planned provocations are being carried out by fishing vessels, warships, submarines and airplanes. In addition, in the second half of March, flights by foreign aircraft over the pipe-laying vessels became more frequent. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, the situation is pure theatrics and cannot do any real damage to the project’s progress.

Based on data released by Nord Stream 2 AG, the construction of the pipeline is now 95% complete, with only 121 km left to go. Germany is already preparing supply lines that will receive the gas exported from Russia.

According to Senior researcher at IMEMO RAN Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky, the actions of the Polish Navy in the construction zone of Nord Stream 2 are exclusively demonstrative in nature. "The Poles need this topic to be in plain sight. They want to show that they are guarding Europe, that there are countries that oppose the Nord Stream 2," the expert told Vedomosti. According to him, there is "nothing deep" behind this show and the Polish fleet will not be able to cause real problems during the construction of the pipeline.

The pipeline passes through the exclusive economic zones and territorial waters of five countries - Germany, Denmark, Russia, Finland, and Sweden, Managing Partner of Pen & Paper Anton Imennov said. It is necessary to establish in which zone the incident occurred, it will decide which states will become parties to the dispute, the lawyer explained. If there was a collision at sea, the owner of the damaged vessel would be entitled to insurance compensation, Imennov added.


Kommersant: Belarus intends to rewrite constitution to ensure strong presidential powers

The Constitutional Commission of Belarus intends to complete work on a draft constitution in July. According to Kommersant, it is already clear what to expect at the finish. Alexander Lukashenko, the nation’s head of state, wants the president to be able to influence ‘any decision from top to bottom. And since the commander-in-chief still has such capabilities, the creators of the new constitution are unlikely to disobey, the newspaper writes.

The proposals made at the opening session do not yet paint a full picture of the new system of state administration, according to Kommersant. However, it became clear that the state will tighten the rules of the game for the media and bloggers. That being said, Lukashenko gave specific instructions on what should be included in the new constitution the day before the commission's meeting. On March 30, he said that the country needs a strong leader.

Belarusian political scientist Pyotr Petrovsky agrees with the current approach. "Belarus is in an emergency geopolitical situation. Such countries need a strong authoritarian government," he told Kommersant. "As the examples of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia show, forming a liberal parliamentary system creates conditions for foreign intervention," he pointed out.

That said, there are no real opposition figures in the constitutional commission, the newspaper writes. Maxim Bogretsov, a member of the Belarusian Opposition Coordination Council, told Kommersant that he monitors the work of the commission and "the authorities have every opportunity to make positive changes to the law. But whether they want to is another question."

Kommersant's sources in Russia’s state bodies responsible for Belarus confirmed that the transit of power is a desirable scenario. In the meantime, we’re dealing with someone who’s in control.


Izvestia: Russia seeing prices skyrocket on domestic airline tickets

The price of airline tickets purchased in January-March to some Russian destinations with departure dates set for April-June soared 15-120% higher than in 2019, Izvestia writes, citing data from travel aggregators Aviasales,, Kupibilet, and OneTwoTrip. Airlines cannot keep a lid on air fares due to rising costs, low margins, and accumulated losses in 2020, experts explained.

Elena Shelekhova, a representative from OneTwoTrip, confirmed to Izvestia that airline ticket prices within Russia with departures from Moscow, Sochi, and Simferopol during April to June 2021 soared, while the average price of a one-way ticket from the capital was 5,100 rubles ($67), which is 10% higher than two years ago, before the coronavirus pandemic.

On the other hand, told Izvestia, airline ticket prices in Russia are still far more affordable than in other countries.

Air carriers could not keep airline ticket prices in check due to the surge in key expense items, the sector’s low profitability, and the accumulated loss for 2020, Deputy Director of the ACRA Corporate Ratings Group Alexander Gushchin told the newspaper. In his view, many airlines stimulated demand in 2020, using lower fares but this could not last long.

The Ministry of Transport is not in a position to comment on the price hikes since it is not familiar with the way in which the aggregators estimate air fares, the agency representative said. He specified that the increase of the carrier’s capacity, which the airline is prepared to offer for Q2 2021, will have a positive effect on the accessibility of minimum fares for the public.


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