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Press review: US-German deal on Nord Stream 2 aids Kiev and Erdogan’s two-state Cyprus bid

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, July 22nd

Izvestia: Berlin persuades US to drop pressure on Nord Stream 2

Germany and the United States finally struck a deal on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on Wednesday. For several years, this issue has been a major nuisance in bilateral relations, and Berlin and Washington spent a few months holding active contacts. Gas transit via Ukraine will be the cornerstone of the deal that was clinched. Berlin and Washington agreed that if Russia stops it, then they will impose sanctions. In its turn, Moscow stresses that Nord Stream 2 is absolutely a commercial project and any political meddling - including in the form of this deal - seems to be inappropriate.

Chairman of the State Duma’s (lower house of parliament) Energy Committee Pavel Zavalny told Izvestia that deals like the US-German agreement could be viewed as interference in commercial activity. "This deal, more likely a political protocol of intent, looks rather strange and, I would even say, inappropriate. That’s because instead of a dialogue there is some political blackmail against Russia. Nevertheless, the deal has been reached, and it should be taken into account in our relations with Germany, the US and Ukraine."

Deputy General Director of Russia's National Energy Security Fund Alexei Grivach notes that the key point of the deal is to allow the US to save face: such a big country, a hegemon, vowed to destroy Nord Stream 2, but failed to do so, and the gas pipeline has been practically finished. However, the expert warns that despite the agreement, the Americans won’t give up their opposition. "This is not about concern for Ukraine but about national interests," Grivach said. "Their goal is to curb Europe’s development, limit its political and economic competitiveness, weaken Russia and finally, solve problems on promoting their energy resources to the markets."


Kommersant: Erdogan embarks on campaign to thwart Cyprus’ unification

Ankara seeks to convince the world to reject the idea of unifying the Greek and Turkish parts of Cyprus into one state permanently. The practical steps on fulfilling this plan were announced during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Northern Cyprus. In fact, Turkey is ready to reject all resolutions on the Cyprus’ settlement passed by the UN Security Council. Erdogan’s visit and his statements after it sparked a huge outcry from the international community. The European Union warned that it would never agree to a two-state solution for the island.

The chances of holding a new round of talks on Cyprus in the 5+1 format involving representatives of the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot sides as well as the three guarantor states - Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom - are slim, Kommersant writes. The remarks by Erdogan as well as Ersin Tatar, who was elected President of Northern Cyprus in October 2020, cast doubt on any prospects to achieve a compromise.

Turkey has decided to step on all UN Security Council’s resolutions and give up the idea of creating a Greek-Turkish federation and also insisted that there should be two states on the island, the newspaper writes. Furthermore, Ankara wants to achieve the recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) by as many states as possible. However, not so many countries are willing to do so. When Erdogan’s foreign policy ambitions peaked following the victory of Azerbaijan, Ankara’s key ally, in the second Karabakh war, rumors started circulating in the press that Baku would soon recognize TRNC. A recent trip by Azerbaijan’s parliamentary delegation to Northern Cyprus also drew major attention. However, Azerbaijani political scientist Ilgar Velizade told Kommersant that this step could significantly complicate Azerbaijan’s relations not only with Cyprus, but also with Greece and the EU.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US gives Moldova green light to strengthen ties with Russia

The recent statement by US Ambassador to Chisinau Dereck Hogan that Moldova should maintain pragmatic relations with Russia despite its pro-European line drew a response not only in this republic, but also in Ukraine. Political scientist Mikhail Pogrebinsky told Nezavisinaya Gazeta that the conflict in Moldova’s breakaway republic of Transnistria is not advantageous for Washington. Leader of the Social Democratic Party of Moldova Victor Selin notes that Hogan’s remark comes after the Geneva summit between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and should be viewed as a message for Moldova and other post-Soviet states.

"Moscow will now facilitate Transnistria’s unification with Moldova on certain conditions. Fighting for Transnistria is not beneficial for Russia and could also trigger consequences. However, after unifying Transnistria with Moldova, Moscow will get the opportunity to influence Chisinau’s policy through the parliament, where Transnistria’s autonomy (or a territory with a different status) will be also represented," the Moldovan politician noted.

Head of the Chisinau-based Center for Strategic Research and Political Consulting Politicum Anatol Taranu believes that a clear signal was sent to Chisinau that "Washington would not want to have problems with Russia over Moldova". "Moldova’s authorities need to balance their relations with Russia while simultaneously conducting [their] European integration policy. But Chisinau needs to do this without any fuss so that this does not affect US-Russian ties. The US does not want to have friction with Russia over Moldova’s problems. This also concerns Transnistria."

According to the expert, if Washington comes to terms with Moscow, the Transnistrian issue will be ironed out immediately. Right now, it is frozen and maintaining the status quo is advantageous for the key players. The expert notes that Russia could agree to Transnistria’s return to Moldova but it’s important to understand the specific terms here. "Russia has been seeking to achieve this unification for a long time, in which it could influence Moldovan policy through Transnistria. However, now it is clear that Transnistria’s fate will be solved by Moscow and Washington," Taranu said.


Vedomosti: New draft Constitution gives Lukashenko free hand

The Constitutional Commission of Belarus presented a final project on amendments to the country’s legal foundation on Wednesday. According to its Chairman and Head of the Constitutional Court Pyotr Miklashevich, the text of this document has been agreed on and will be submitted to President Alexander Lukashenko on July 22. The proposed new Constitution will be put up for a nationwide referendum, which is expected to be held in early 2022, Vedomosti writes.

The amendments will concern the powers of the president and the parliament. The president won’t be able to serve for more than two terms (it is not mentioned if they are consecutive). Currently, under Belarusian law, the president’s term of office is unlimited. Lukashenko was elected to his post in 2018 and in theory, could rule until 2033. Belarus also plans to raise the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 40. Presidential hopefuls must not hold foreign citizenship and must live in the country for at least 20 years before the elections.

The draft Constitution offers no clarity on Lukashenko’s future and gives him free rein, said Valery Karbalevich, an expert with the Belarusian think tank Strategy. Lukashenko could run for a new term and also create another post for himself. According to political scientist Andrei Suzdaltsev, the new Constitution does not mention Lukashenko’s political future because it has been decided. Lukashenko won’t take part in the next presidential election, bearing in mind the 2020 protests. Lukashenko could chair the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly - a body that will get huge powers - for a lifetime tenure. Under this system, the president will fulfil the functions of a key manager, while the Assembly’s chairman will practically assume the powers of a monarch, the expert noted.


Izvestia: Russia’s exports of services outperform imports for the first time

Russia’s foreign trade of services saw a surplus in June 2021. Exports exceeded imports by $126.7 mln, according to the Central Bank’s statistics. Exports reached $4.74 bln, while imports totaled $4.62 bln. The surplus by the end of the month was recorded for the first time in at least four years. The quarterly data has not registered a surplus since 2001. The country’s exports surpassed imports mostly in the field of transport and IT services. Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development is now analyzing the strategy of building up service exports to ensure that this trend towards growing supplies becomes stable. Despite the surplus, the figures still remain below the level of 2019, experts told Izvestia.

The ministry linked the positive dynamics of IT services to the beginning of the so-called tax maneuver in the sector, and explained the growth in exports of transportation services by the increasing volume of transit shipments.

The exports of transportation services outperformed the imports due to the restoration of the supply chains as well as the efforts on creating a common market of such services, first of all on the basis of such integration associations like the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Chairman of the Board at Freedom Finance Gennady Salych said.

Furthermore, lately the services for road and railway container shipments between China, Central Asia, the EU, and Russia have improved, and the volume of export supplies by way of maritime transport increased, he explained. Although the pandemic has significantly changed the service sector, lately several positive trends have been seen in Russia, Senior Lecturer at Plekhanov Russian University of Economics Elena Rozhanskaya said.

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