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Press review: Russia may ban petrol exports and testing of new hypersonic weapons begins

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, August 4th

Kommersant: Russia and US continue ‘embassy wars’ despite Geneva agreements

The "embassy wars" between Russia and the United States are still ongoing despite the agreements reached in Geneva in June between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden on the need to stop the diplomatic standoff. In response to the previously imposed sanctions, Russia’s authorities stripped the US diplomatic mission of its right to hire Russians, forcing the Americans to sack more than 180 people by August 1. In its turn, the Russian Foreign Ministry complained that the US authorities vow to expel another group of Russian diplomats by September 3. Both countries’ diplomatic missions are trading accusations over the current situation, Kommersant writes.

So far, Russia and the US have managed to iron out only one issue: on returning ambassadors to their posts. However, one key issue - on removing harsh restrictions on the diplomatic missions - still remains unsolved. Moreover, the situation continues to deteriorate. The Russian Foreign Ministry blames the US for this. According to the US side, it is Russia that complicates things.

Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov recalled on Tuesday that Moscow had offered the US to cancel the restrictions and return the situation back to December 2016. Then-outgoing US President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats allegedly in retaliation for interference by Russia’s intelligence and seized Russian diplomatic property in the US. Since then, there have been several rounds of mutual expulsions, closures of diplomatic missions and property seizures, which to a large extent complicates the work of embassies and the life of both countries’ diplomats.

A Russian source told Kommersant Moscow expects full reciprocity from Washington in terms of issuing and extending visas. This means that if the Americans want to replace 180 sacked staff, they should issue or extend the same amount of visas for Russians. The Americans insist that it is Russia that stonewalls their work while it finds itself in a more advantageous situation in terms of the number of personnel, and so Moscow should take the first step to break this vicious circle. Both Washington and Moscow have described this situation as absurd.


Izvestia: Russian-EU summit is possible, but Moscow won’t initiate it, envoy says

A Russia-EU summit may be held, but it won’t be Moscow taking the first steps to make it happen, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov said in an interview with Izvestia published on Wednesday. The Russian diplomat admitted that the initiative of Berlin and Paris to hold the EU summit with Russia is still on the table since "Germany and France have a whole number of supporters in this issue." However, he highlighted that Russia did not initiate the deterioration in relations with its Western partners, so "it should not be the one to take the first step towards reconciliation - these are the rules of diplomacy." According to the envoy, the issue of a summit has given rise to disagreements between the EU countries.

Meanwhile, Russia and its partners don’t need a summit for the sake of it, he stressed. According to him, such events are the result of a major effort. "A summit is certainly an important event, but it is significant not just because of the mere fact of holding it, but due to its content," Chizhov told the newspaper. "So, when we are able to ensure the necessary content, certainly, a successful 33rd summit may be expected."

Russia’s Health Ministry and the EU mission in Moscow are also planning to continue dialogue on mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccination certificates, the diplomat said. "Thank God, this issue today has already become a topic for bilateral discussion. The first meeting between our Health Ministry and the EU mission in Moscow has taken place to hash over the practical aspects. This dialogue will continue," he said.

According to Chizhov, the priority is that "Russian citizens must not be subject to discrimination." For this, "mutual recognition of vaccination results is needed," namely those certificates that are issued in Russia and the EU countries.


Kommersant: Moscow seeks to prevent bloodshed in southern Syria

Russia is trying to prevent bloodshed in southern Syria amid attempts by Damascus to take full control of the Daraa province, known as "the cradle of the Syrian revolution." Three years ago, Moscow made huge efforts to thwart a mop-up operation in this province, pinning hopes on a reconciliation process, rather than on a military operation like in the suburbs of Damascus. Russia’s reputation as an honest broker in the Syrian settlement will now depend on its success in protecting Daraa, Kommersant writes.

Formally, the Syrian authorities regained control over the southern province in the summer of 2019. However, over the past three years Daraa has faced many problems, which have not been solved. The Russian military hoped that the crisis in Daraa could be ironed out through negotiations. On Tuesday, Syrian social networks circulated reports on a ceasefire in the province for 24 hours while the sides are trying to find a compromise. However, local citizens don’t believe the talks will yield success. A day earlier, the opposition rejected Damascus’ proposals, slamming them as humiliating.

"The Assad regime and Iran want to monopolize control over security in the south and are imposing their terms on us. For the citizens of Daraa, this is a struggle for existence. We don’t think that Russia deceived us when it was unable to meet its commitments to Daraa’s citizens. This is not deceit, it’s just a concession to the regime and Iran," one of the Syrian opposition commanders Col. Fateh Hasun told the newspaper.

Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov does not believe that the events in Daraa signal a failure of Russia’s reconciliation policy. "The talks still continue. This is wrong to say that Russia’s reputation as a mediator in the eyes of the Syrian opposition and the world community depends on the developments in Daraa," the expert said. He cited the successful experience of the 8th brigade, noting that now there were problems mostly with those opposition units, which have not joined it and whose status has not been fully solved. Meanwhile, the expert pointed out that although the brigade is not fully loyal to Damascus, it is able to be responsible for the order in the province.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia banks on Kh-95 hypersonic missile in future wars

Russia is getting ready to test a new class of aerial hypersonic weapons, which are unparalleled in the world. Chief of the Military Academy of the Russian General Staff Colonel-General Vladimir Zarudnitsky wrote in an article published in Military Thought magazine that Russia is developing the Kh-95 new long-range hypersonic missile for its Aerospace Force. This means that Russia’s nuclear triad may get super-fast missiles that can hit targets up to 5,000 km away, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

According to media reports, the Kh-95 missile is being developed for Tu-22M3M and Tu-160 M bombers and the PAK DA complex for long-range aviation. The reports said that the new missile prototype has already been test-fired from an aircraft. The Kh-95 missile has never been mentioned before, the newspaper says. Lately, Russia’s advanced developments in the field of armaments have been announced by President Vladimir Putin. However, the mentioning of the Kh-95 missile in the article could be hardly considered a coincidence. Zarudnitsky’s article is special and is targeted at Russia’s army’s elite.

"The US has been unable to catch up with Russia in terms of hypersonic weapons. Most recently, the Pentagon again failed a flight test of a prototype of a hypersonic missile AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). And our Kinzhals have been on combat duty for several years," military expert Nikolay Shulgin told the newspaper. He did not rule out that the Kh-95 missile could be a follow-up to the Soviet project on developing the Kh-90 hypersonic cruise missile. The expert also noted that modern hypersonic missiles need reliable carriers.


Izvestia: Russia eyes banning petrol exports in coming days

The Russian government might endorse the Energy Ministry’s proposal to place a temporary ban on petrol exports in the coming days, President of the Russian Fuel Union Yevgeny Arkusha told Izvestia. Last week, Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov announced that the ministry had submitted this initiative to the cabinet. The ban could be introduced for at least three months. The decision on implementing this measure could be taken swiftly since a legal basis for the ban has already been drawn up, the ministry said. Arkusha stressed that the situation on the fuel market required fast steps as wholesale and also retail petrol prices are growing. The market disruption stems from a lack of supply, he explained.

According to the ministry, a temporary ban on petrol supplies overseas could have a stabilizing effect on prices. However, Deputy Director at the National Energy Institute Alexander Frolov believes that the ban on exports won’t have a significant effect on the market. "We export only 10% of our petrol. Moreover, if the ban on exports is introduced, it won’t target the Eurasian Economic Union’s countries, which are a major destination for Russia’s petrol supplies." The expert explained the current problems by a new peak in demand linked to Russian holiday-makers, who now prefer to travel by car as borders remain closed.

President of the Independent Fuel Union Pavel Bazhenov shares this opinion. "This is not only about how the product is distributed between the domestic and external market, but also how it is distributed in Russia. The key element of pricing is the exchange, where the wholesale price is established. But it is a small volume coming through this exchange now, the supply now is rather little," he explained.

A more effective solution to the fuel problem could be creating a state reserve in the periods of lower demand or encouraging an increase in oil processing capacity, said Dmitry Alexandrov, who heads the analytic research department at Univer Capital.

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