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Press Review: Berlin okays NordStream 2 fruition, Switzerland may host Putin-Biden summit

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, May 18th

Kommersant: Putin-Biden summit may take place in Switzerland

With less than a month left before the date that Washington proposed for a summit between Presidents Joe Biden of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia, Moscow has not yet officially agreed to the meeting. Kommersant’s sources in Russian state agencies say that the final decision will largely depend on talks between the two countries’ top diplomats, Sergey Lavrov and Antony Blinken, scheduled for May 19-20. If Moscow green lights the summit, it may take place in Switzerland, sources say.

Joe Biden earlier proposed a meeting with Vladimir Putin in a European country on June 15-16. The dates are convenient for Washington because the US president will be in the United Kingdom for a G7 summit on June 11-13 and will participate in a NATO summit in Brussels on June 14. Moscow is still weighing the pros and cons as, on the one hand, a summit can help ease tensions between the two countries, while on the other, there is a risk that Washington will take advantage of the meeting give Moscow a lecture in the public eye.

The newspaper’s sources say that the situation will become clearer later in the week in Reykjavik, where Sergey Lavrov and Antony Blinken will meet for the first time on the sidelines of an Arctic Council ministerial meeting. They are expected to discuss the modalities of the summit and an outline agenda. Russia views strategic stability issues as crucial.

According to the paper’s sources, if Putin and Biden finally get to meet each other, Switzerland may eventually host the meeting. The sources note that no decision has been made yet but that the country is the most likely location for the summit.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin declined to comment on reports of the summit’s venue.


Izvestia: Palestine welcomes Russia’s idea of extended Middle East Quartet meeting

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is entering its second week with parties maintaining the intensity of their attacks. According to the Israel Defense Forces, about 3,000 rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip since May 10, killing ten people. Gaza sources report 198 dead and over 1,000 wounded, Izvestia writes.

Meanwhile, the United States’ stance has for the third time prevented the United Nations Security Council from adopting a joint statement on the escalating tensions between Israel and Palestine. Washington vetoed a draft statement as it failed to mention rocket attacks on Israeli civilians on the part of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Palestine maintains direct contact with the Russian Foreign Ministry and is positive about Moscow’s initiative to convene an extended meeting of the Middle East Quartet, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee Ahmed Majdalani told the newspaper. The meeting, proposed by the Russian Foreign Ministry, is supposed to involve Russia, the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Palestine, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

According to Majdalani, the Quartet could develop a plan to hold an international conference on peace in the Middle East. All parties interested in ensuring regional and global security and stability could participate in the event.

Majdalani pointed out that Palestine did not have any additional conditions for a ceasefire with Israel. The main condition remains the same: Israel must implement UN Security Council resolutions on settlements and Jerusalem. However, Palestine believes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to raise tensions in order to achieve domestic political goals and undermine efforts to form an alternative government, Majdalani emphasized.


Izvestia: Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of intrusion in wake of Nagorno-Karabakh hostilities

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of intruding onto its territory: Yerevan claims that the neighboring country’s troops entered Syunik Province. Armenian authorities have sent an official request to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) while Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for military assistance. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has launched large-scale military drills, Izvestia notes.

Armenia’s Syunik Province used to border the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic but Azerbaijan’s army reached the border during hostilities in the fall of 2020. No demarcation has ever been carried out there, which is the reason why there are numerous disputes emerging now.

Experts say that the crisis stemmed from the domestic political situation in the two countries. "Baku continues to enjoy the euphoria of its military success, President Ilham Aliyev maintains the image of a victorious leader. As for Armenia, there is no end to a political crisis, which allows Azerbaijan to test a strategy aimed at biting off chunks of Armenia," Institute of CIS Countries Deputy Director Vladimir Yevseyev said. According to him, Armenia’s actions are questionable. "The country appears to be completely helpless. Government bodies aren’t even trying to solve the problem themselves. It seems that Yerevan is searching for someone who would resolve the border conflict for Armenia. For instance, the country has turned to the CSTO and Russia for some reason," the political scientist noted.

Leading Research Fellow at the Center for Studies of Caucasus at MGIMO University Nikolai Silayev, in turn, pointed out that Azerbaijan sought the most advantageous positions on the border. "Armenia’s tolerance is surprising. Six months have passed since a new border emerged in November, but Yerevan still hasn’t established the borderline. As a result, the Azerbaijanis have no issue crossing it and the risk of armed clashes arises," the expert stated.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Germany gives green light for work to complete Nord Stream 2 pipeline

The construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline can go ahead in Germany’s exclusive economic zone, the country’s Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) said after considering a lawsuit filed by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) environment organization, which claimed that laying the pipes was negatively affecting rare birds during the nesting season, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

The BSH came to the conclusion that construction works would not have a significant negative impact on protected bird species. The lawsuit concerned a two-kilometer segment of the gas pipeline crossing the German economic zone, which is planned to be laid right after the completion of the Danish segment.

The ecologists’ lawsuit did not pose any particular threat to the gas pipeline, Fuels and Energy Technology Development Institute expert Sergei Alikhashkin said. According to him, European countries are facing a harsh reality and have to abandon speculations about the need to finish the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and get to real work, stepping up efforts to complete the project. A cold winter has left gas storage facilities empty and work to refill them should have started a month ago but it’s not happening, while gas prices are rising, setting new records, the expert pointed out.

This looks like a legal tag game, Deputy General Director of Russia's National Energy Security Fund Alexei Grivach noted. "Green" organizations and those behind them are taking advantage of a legal loophole in order to slow down construction works. The regulator, in response, issues a new permit or changes the old one, making it possible to complete the project in accordance with the law, he explained.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Employers cool on remote work

As remote work has become more and more widespread, many companies have started to save money on office expenses. According to a Knight Frank poll involving 400 international companies, 35% of them plan to reduce office space. However, 30% of companies intend to expand their offices in the next three years, Rossiyskaya Gazeta notes.

Both employees and employers have become significantly less enthusiastic about remote work, Leasing Director at Millhouse Elena Malinovskaya pointed out. It’s difficult to set up a workspace at home, and companies are facing personnel motivation and cybersecurity issues. Additionally, employees tend to become less loyal when they work from home: it is easier for people to change jobs because it’s not that important who your employer is when you telecommute.

"In the past year, we saw that people burn out faster without in-person communication and lose team spirit. This is why we have decided to return to the office as soon as it became possible," KROS Agency Director General Ekaterina Movsesyan said.

Many companies plan to make their offices more comfortable by installing food vending machines and opening gyms. Office space oftentimes requires expansion in order to create various activity zones, Malinovskaya notes.

Large companies are the ones working on expanding their offices because they survived the crisis better than others, along with the businesses that got a boost during the coronavirus pandemic, namely online retail, delivery services and food production, Commercial Real Estate Director at PROFIS Realty Yevgeny Popov added.

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