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Press review: Kabul open for peace with Taliban and high gas prices justify Nord Stream 2

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, August 3rd

Izvestia: Kabul ready for peace with Taliban on certain conditions, top diplomat says

Afghanistan’s authorities are ready for peace with the Taliban movement (outlawed in Russia) if it abides by certain conditions, Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said in an interview with Izvestia.

The top diplomat pointed out that developments in Afghanistan could not be described as civil war. According to him, it is a war unleashed by an international terrorist network, which unites not only Afghan Taliban fighters but also terrorists from Central Asia, China and Pakistan, as well as Al-Qaeda (outlawed in Russia). Their involvement means that it’s not a civil war but a war between international terrorism, on the one side, and Afghanistan and the entire region on the other, Mohammad Hanif Atmar explained.

He went on to say that the Afghan authorities were ready to work with the Taliban, include Taliban members in the cabinet, make peace and share power with them. The conditions are that the Afghan people should have the free will to decide the country’s future, Afghanistan should pose no threat to other countries and no foreign terrorist force should remain in the country, Atmar noted.

Afghanistan is willing to cooperate with all other nations, the foreign minister stated. He noted that Kabul would like Afghanistan to become a place for cooperation instead of being an area of confrontation and competition. The top diplomat emphasized that the Afghan authorities did not offer this kind of partnership only to the United States, but they were also proud of their friendship with Russia, which they view as a reliable partner. They also work with China, Central Asian countries and India, maintaining strong ties with Iran and good relations with Saudi Arabia. Kabul is also looking forward to improving relations with Pakistan. The focus is on creating an atmosphere of cooperation and working together to achieve common goals, Atmar said.

He pointed out that Afghanistan was not the only country facing the threats of terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime. A common threat requires a common strategy, the Afghan top diplomat said.


Kommersant: Pashinyan gets second chance as Armenian prime minister

Armenia’s parliament has once again appointed Nikol Pashinyan, who has been holding the country’s reins since 2018, as prime minister. President Armen Sarkissian approved his appointment. The opposition, which blames Pashinyan for Armenia’s defeat in the Karabakh war, failed to nominate a candidate but used every opportunity to obstruct the hearing. According to experts interviewed by Kommersant, Armenia is facing a new political reality as parliament now includes staunch opponents of the government.

After assuming office and receiving greetings from foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pashinyan immediately began appointing cabinet members.

"I believe that Nikol Pashinyan and his team will focus on domestic issues for the time being," Armenian political analyst Armen Bagdasaryan said. "At least, this is where they feel at ease. They will prefer to work on this track, seeking to delay solutions to pressing foreign policy issues such as Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia’s borders and the conflict with Azerbaijan," he added.

Although Pashinyan’s supporters have the majority of seats in parliament, it is their sworn enemies, the supporters of former President Robert Kocharyan, that make up the minority.

Political analyst Grant Mikaelyan pointed out that the new parliament was unlikely to become a place for dialogue between the government and the opposition. "The matter is that Armenia always used to have spoiler parties, which cooperated with the authorities, giving the appearance of dialogue between the government and the opposition," the expert explained. "This is not the case anymore, these parties failed to make it into parliament, which now includes political forces that uncompromisingly oppose each other, which means that heated debates can be expected to take place in the new parliament," the analyst concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: High gas prices prove value of Nord Stream 2 to Europe

Russia’s Gazprom has reduced gas pumping to Europe’s underground gas storage facilities, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes, citing data from Gas Infrastructure Europe (ING). At the same time, Gazprom has held off booking additional capacity for gas supplies via Poland and Ukraine. A number of experts believe that this is how the Russian company is making it clear to Europeans how important the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project is.

The European Union’s situation is further complicated by disruptions in liquified natural gas (LNG) supplies. In particular, the current level of LNG supplies to Europe is 20% lower than last year. The reason is that Asia, where prices are higher, attracts most of the available LNG. With the lowest gas stocks since 2015, Europe is facing the risk of entering the winter with empty storage facilities, which will send prices up, ING analysts pointed out.

Meanwhile, the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is about to be completed and some experts don’t rule out that the decline in gas pumping is somehow related to the launch of Nord Stream 2. "If it is true, then the timing is very good because Europe does not have enough time to get the necessary amount of gas to make it through the winter comfortably. Russian gas supplies will most likely grow as soon as the new gas pipeline is put into operation. Besides, Europe will have no more doubts about whether it needs the pipeline to ensure its energy security," AMarkets Analytics Department Chief Artem Deyev pointed out.

The European Union’s market is losing the competition with Southeast Asian countries in terms of LNG purchases, Humanity project spokesman Andrei Loboda noted. Gas prices are currently 15-20% higher in Asia than in Europe, making it a more attractive market, he said. Today, only the start of commercial gas supplies via Nord Stream 2 can help ensure the EU’s energy security, the expert emphasized.


Izvestia: Bulgaria’s new cabinet may adopt pragmatic approach to Russia

Bulgaria’s new cabinet can be expected to adopt a more pragmatic approach to relations with Russia but is unlikely to make radical changes in the country’s foreign policy, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. The country’s new government will be formed based on the outcome of an early parliamentary election held on July 11, which was won by the There Is Such A People party.

Russia’s relations with the previous Bulgarian government, led by the GERB party, were not always positive, as can be seen from spy scandals and the expulsions of diplomats.

"Relations between Russia and Bulgaria are based on objective interests rather than on the views and priorities of the ruling circles in Sofia. It is about energy cooperation, particularly on the TurkStream gas pipeline, through which Bulgaria transports Russian gas to Central European countries, receiving tangible benefits from the transit," Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Slavic Studies Pyotr Iskenderov explained. "There is also investment cooperation and the tourism industry. Let’s not also forget that Bulgaria is an important player in the Balkans and Russia has close historical ties with the region. This is why, no matter what forces come to power in Sofia and what statements they make about plans to contain Russia, the new authorities will have to try to reach a mutual understanding with Moscow," he added.

According to the expert, Russian-Bulgarian relations may become more predictable and realistic in the coming years. However, the Bulgarian government will pay more attention to domestic issues amid the coronavirus pandemic, Iskenderov concluded.

Although no fundamental changes are possible, the new cabinet can be expected to be more pragmatic than the previous government and refrain from openly anti-Russian moves, Leading Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe Pavel Kandel added.


Vedomosti: Parliamentary election campaign failing to grab Russians’ attention

Even amid a parliamentary election campaign, Russians seem to take little interest in domestic policy issues, Vedomosti writes, citing opinion polls. Weekly polls conducted by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center and the Public Opinion Foundation show that respondents rarely pay attention to domestic political events.

The president’s activities top the list of political events that impress Russians the most. These include Vladimir Putin’s meeting with US President Joe Biden in Geneva on June 16 and the Russian president’s Q&A session on June 30. However, pandemic-related stories are what stick in people’s minds the most, only giving way to the Russia-US summit and the Siberian wildfires last week.

Russians are indeed less interested in the upcoming election than in other topics such as the pandemic, natural disasters and sporting events, Public Opinion Foundation Leading Analyst Grigory Kertman says, adding that people’s interests are defined by the media agenda, which is currently filled with events related to those topics. Campaigning has been weak so Russians are unlikely to start taking more interest in the election than in the pandemic by September, Kertman noted.

The All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center confirms the low interest in the upcoming election. Changes in the election calendar are the main reason, as elections used to be held several times a year but since 2012, they have been held just once a year, the center’s Director General Valery Fedorov noted. According to him, it is also important to consider what kind of vote is expected to take place because Russians pay more attention to presidential and gubernatorial elections than to assembly elections. People understand very well who makes policy-making decisions and so voter turnout depends on the power that those elected will actually wield, Federov said.

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