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Press review: Lavrov, Blinken open door to June summit and will NATO surface in Kazakhstan

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, May 21st
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
© Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP

Izvestia: Russia, US gear up for Putin-Biden summit

After talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on May 20 in Reykjavik, practical work is expected to be launched on the agenda for the Putin-Biden summit, scheduled for June, sources familiar with the situation told Izvestia. According to them, up to this point, the meeting of the two leaders had been in limbo, since its content was not clear.

Meanwhile, experts interviewed by the newspaper noted that comments from both Moscow and Washington on the results of the meeting in Iceland offered hope for the continuation of Russian-US relations.

The meeting of the top diplomats was held in a constructive manner, the newspaper writes. First, the parties agreed to start a dialogue on strategic stability, considering all aspects - nuclear, non-nuclear, offensive, and defensive. The US also confirmed that the meeting discussed the situation in Afghanistan, and the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea. In addition, the diplomats touched upon Syria, and the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Meanwhile, sources in the know on the subject told Izvestia that the negotiations in Reykjavik actually marked the beginning of laying the groundwork for the summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden. According to one of them, until May 19-20, work on the practical content of the meeting scheduled for June had actually not been carried out, since the agenda of the presidential gathering was not set. "Lavrov and Blinken outlined the topics. Teams in both countries will now work on the content. Before, there was only Biden's proposal to talk, but without any formalized substantive specifics. Now this work should begin," the source told Izvestia.

According to experts, following the Lavrov-Blinken talks, the summit’s agenda became clearer. Although there are still many questions for the Americans, Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for the Study of the United States Yuri Rogulev told Izvestia.

And yet, the atmosphere of Lavrov's first meeting with the new Secretary of State gives hope for the continuation of the Russian-US dialogue, Director of the Institute of the USA and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences Valery Garbuzov believes. Another thing is that all assessments from Moscow and Washington must be treated with caution. Indeed, under the Trump administration, negotiations with Russian colleagues were also positive, but in reality, they did not lead to any positive shifts.

Earlier, Izvestia wrote that the Putin-Biden summit could take place in one of the European diplomatic capitals. The Austrian Foreign Ministry told Izvestia that Vienna is ready to host the high-level event.


Kommersant: Zelensky still pursuing summit with Putin

President Vladimir Zelensky of Ukraine has summed up the outcome of his two years as president. During a major press conference on Thursday, he identified his priorities as building a country without oligarchs, without corruption, without poverty, and without war. Regarding the last point, he noted that the possibility of meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is under discussion. However, according to a Kommersant source, the Zelensky meeting is unlikely to be held before Putin's summit with Joe Biden, the US head of state, which may take place in June.

The top priority for the Ukrainian president is to continue efforts to end the war. The key role in this issue is not just for the Ukrainian army. The settlement, Zelensky added, is 99% dependent on Russia.

The Ukrainian leader began to actively seek a meeting with Putin starting in April, offering to meet in Donbass, Kommersant writes. The Russian leader said he was ready to receive his Ukrainian counterpart in Moscow on the condition that the conversation would not be about Donbass, but about bilateral relations. The dialogue between them, therefore, did not work out from the very beginning, the newspaper added.

Nevertheless, a Russian-Ukrainian summit is still being hammered out, the Ukrainian president said. According to Zelensky, a conversation has begun on this topic between the Kremlin and the office of the President of Ukraine.

A source in Russian government agencies explained to Kommersant that prior to the coming Putin-Biden summit, which may take place in June, the Russian president's meeting with Zelensky is unlikely. That being said, the Russian-US summit worries the Ukrainian president, Kommersant writes. According to him, sanctions against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 project should not be lifted, since it could present Russia with a notable geopolitical victory and bring about a new redistribution of global power and influence.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: NATO forces might appear in Kazakhstan in July

Russian President Vladimir Putin must soon endorse a law on the ratification of the Treaty on Military Cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan. Signed in Nur-Sultan on October 16, 2020, for 10 years, the document is very important for Moscow, since it ensures joint security in the region. However, Kazakhstan’s policy and its close contacts with the United States might present serious inconsistencies in military cooperation with Russia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Kazakhstan's consent to the deployment of US and NATO troops being pulled out of Afghanistan might be a major surprise for Russia, Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Sergey Naryshkin cautioned.

Kazakhstan is maintaining active contacts with NATO and even plans to hold regular military exercises on its soil in July 2021 with the participation of US, UK, and Canadian troops. The US armed forces here are not just engaged in instructing and training military personnel, the newspaper writes.

"I won’t be surprised if the US military soon surfaces in Arys again, and whether there will be only engineers, sappers, and not other specialists, for example, members of intelligence, radio-technical troops, air forces, air defense forces - is a big question," military expert, Colonel Shamil Gareev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "It is beneficial for the Americans to have their own units in this region on a long-term basis. And there is a fear that the Kazakh leadership will not strongly oppose this," the expert believes.

"I believe that Russia will be able to compensate for the growing influence of the US and NATO over Kazakhstan by interacting with China. Beijing is interested in boosting its influence in Central Asia," military expert, Colonel Nikolay Shulgin told the newspaper.


Kommersant: Armenia, Azerbaijan searching for way out of new conflict

The escalation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border has set off renewed destabilization in Armenia. Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia confirmed on Thursday that an agreement had been drawn up with Baku concerning the delimitation and demarcation of the border. If the process begins, then Russia will once again act as a mediator, just as it did during the last year's war in Karabakh, Kommersant writes. According to the draft, Moscow is ready to form a delegation to provide advisory assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan's statement came as a surprise not only to the opposition, but also to other government officials. The Armenian Foreign Ministry did not have any information about the document, and a similar statement was made in the office of President Armen Sarkissian. Meanwhile, the Armenian opposition has demanded that the text of the document be made public immediately, suspecting that Pashinyan is hammering out some kind of "shadow deal" with Baku that would contradict national interests.

The draft of the new agreement, circulated by the media, says that Russia "will form a delegation to provide them with advisory assistance." As of Thursday evening, the Russian side did not yet comment on the document’s authenticity.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday held separate telephone conversations with both Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Acting Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan. "The Russian side will continue mediation efforts and provide advisory assistance aimed at reaching an agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia on launching the process of the delimitation and demarcation of the state border," the Kremlin press service said after the talks.


Vedomosti: Gazprom drops plans to build gas export pipelines to India and Japan

Gazprom is no longer considering the construction of gas pipelines to India and Japan, Deputy Chairman of Gazprom Management Committee Elena Burmistrova said at a press conference. According to her, the routes turned out to be too capital-intensive, and besides the demand is covered by LNG. Experts told Vedomosti that it is now much more important for Gazprom to maintain its position in the European market amid decarbonization and expand its presence in China, which implies a lack of free funds for less promising areas.

Maria Belova from Vygon Consulting noted that in India’s case it is very expensive to construct a pipeline through the Himalayas. According to Vedomosti, the project’s price tag was estimated at $7.5 bln. As for Japan, the situation is less straightforward. Belova pointed out that the project’s development was hampered by the political factor associated with the unresolved issue of the Kuril Islands.

Nikita Blokhin, a senior analyst with Alfa Bank, added that both India and Japan have always been key importers of LNG. That being said, Japan, which for a long time had remained the global leader in terms of LNG demand, is now showing a gradual decrease in consumption, while India, on the contrary, is growing. According to Alfa Bank, in 2020, India consumed 25 mln tonnes of LNG, while Japan consumed about 74 mln tonnes.

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