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Press review: Why Biden will meet ASEAN leaders and EU may renegotiate on Nord Stream 2

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, May 12th
US President Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden will hold a series of meetings with the leaders of Southeast Asian nations as part of a US-ASEAN summit on May 12-13. Washington seeks to gain the support of regional countries amid sanctions on Russia and efforts to contain China, Kommersant writes.

"The need to strengthen an anti-Chinese front in Southeast Asia is becoming increasingly relevant for Washington. Besides, the Biden administration is facing strong criticism at home for its lack of resolute support for Ukraine, which is why Washington is trying to drag ASEAN countries into a war of sanctions against Russia," Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies Vladimir Vasilyev pointed out. The US also seeks to seize the window of opportunity in order to overcome a crisis in its economy by boosting trade and investment ties with ASEAN countries who are reopening after the coronavirus pandemic. The third important aspect relates to defense cooperation, Vasilyev noted.

It won’t be easy for Biden to persuade Southeast Asian partners to increase pressure on China and join the US-led coalition against Russia, Professor Vladimir Batyuk of the Higher School of Economics emphasized.

"An important thing that distinguishes Asia from Europe is the ability to separate economic affairs from political ones, which the Europeans have almost lost, judging by their recent actions in the Ukrainian crisis and an escalating war of sanctions. A number of ASEAN countries have ambiguous relations with Beijing, who is involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea. However, China remains a crucial trade partner for ASEAN and the organization’s member states have no intention of rejecting the benefits of economic cooperation with Beijing. And since ASEAN nations don’t have disputes with Russia, they are even less willing to cut trade and economic ties with Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine," Batyuk stressed.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: West softens rhetoric as parties to Ukrainian conflict engage in war of words

A new fork in the negotiations road on Ukraine is possible once the current round of escalation is over, experts say as the parties to the conflict exchange sharp words. The Kherson Region’s authorities seek to join Russia, while the Lugansk People’s Republic’s Ambassador to Russia Rodion Miroshnik says that peace is impossible unless the Kiev regime is dismantled. At the same time, the Ukrainian top diplomat stated that the restoration of Kiev’s control over Ukrainian territory within the 1991 borders was crucial for resolving the issue, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

Meanwhile, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell has recently spoken about mediators and emphasized a lack of desire to wage a war against Russia. This remark came as a surprise after his recent statement about the need to achieve victory on the battlefield.

According to Russian International Affairs Council Director General Andrey Kortunov, the European Union does not have significant military potential so Borrell’s remark about the need for a military victory raised some eyebrows. However, it’s important to understand to what extent Ukraine and its foreign partners are ready to make compromises. Judging by Washington’s decision to provide Ukraine with $40 bln in military aid, the US believes that the conflict will last a long time because it is difficult to quickly spend this amount of money. For political reasons, the US cannot say that it expects the conflict to last as long as possible so disclaimers are being made about getting to the negotiation table, Kortunov noted.

Clearly, as far as talks are concerned, there is a need to wait for a break in the current wave of tensions. The parties need a pause for regrouping. And then, another junction on the road will come as the pause will be used either for accumulating resources and making preparations for another round of escalation (which is relevant for Kiev who is looking forward to receiving more military aid) or for boosting diplomatic talks. In this case, it will be possible to reach agreements in the future, the analyst said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Europe may return to the negotiating table on future of Nord Stream 2

Russian gas supplies to the EU dropped by nearly one-third on Wednesday due a fall in transit via Ukraine. Kiev earlier proposed to Russia’s energy giant, Gazprom, that all gas flows be transferred to the Sudzha transit point because the Ukrainian authorities no longer controlled the route through the Sokhranovka point. Experts believe that if the gas transit via Ukraine comes to a halt, it will be difficult to find an alternative, which will pave the way for a resumption of talks on the future of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Technically, 120 mln cubic meters of gas can be transported through the Sudhza point every day, which almost completely covers the transit that Gazprom pays for under its contract with Ukraine’s Naftogaz, head of the Energy Development Center Kirill Melnikov said. In his view, there are no issues finding an alternative to the Ukrainian route. "The Yamal-Europe gas pipeline is practically idle and one of the Nord Stream 2 lines is also ready for operation though the German regulator has not issued permission for its launch yet," the expert added.

According to Melnikov, even if Russia takes control of the Sudzha point during its special military operation and Ukraine refuses to continue abiding by the transit contract, Gazprom will have enough capacity to fulfill the requests of its European customers, particularly if they move to reduce Russian gas purchases. "If purchases remain the same, Germany will probably need to urgently allow the launch of one of the Nord Stream 2 lines in order to replace the Ukrainian transit route," he noted.

Ukraine’s gas transmission system consists of three main lines, which pass through the Sudzha and Sokhranovka points and Belarus, Executive Director of the Capital Market Department at Univer Capital Artem Tuzov pointed out. He believes that in the current situation, Russian gas flows to the EU will be redirected to other lines. "However, if transit comes to a full stop, there will be no replacement for Ukraine’s gas transmission system. Increasing gas transit via Poland has its own difficulties given the Polish authorities’ years-long economic war with Gazproim," Tuzov said, adding that the EU market was expected to face gas shortages and another gas price hike.


Izvestia: EU seeking out alternatives to Russian oil

The European Union is moving towards agreements on abandoning Russian oil. However, the odds are still high that there will be no full ban because the EU needs to take the position of Eastern European countries into account, for whom a strict ban is unacceptable, Izvestia notes.

The talks on a Russian oil embargo have been going on for almost a month, but the EU is still far from reaching unanimity on the issue. Eastern European nations, who are deeply dependent on oil, are demanding at least a long delay or even an exemption. If Russian oil gets embargoed, it will have to be promptly replaced but there aren’t that many alternatives.

"If an embargo is introduced, Europe will need to find a replacement for 3.6 mln barrels of oil per day," VYGON Consulting consultant Ivan Timonin noted. "Exporters who are potentially capable of increasing oil supplies to the region include the OPEC countries who are parties to an oil production cut agreement and have free capacities estimated at up to 4.5 mln barrels per day, and the United States where oil output is growing and consumption is declining amid decarbonization efforts," he said. The expert added that if the sanctions against Iran and Venezuela were lifted, the two countries would be able to raise oil production by 1.5 mln barrels a day.

"However, it won’t be easy for importers to fully replace Russian supplies due to a number of important factors, which include the OPEC+ deal, tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia, prolonged talks on the JCPOA, where agreements are needed for the lifting of sanctions on Iran, as well as the fact that European oil refineries are designed to use Urals oil. This is the reason why a full replacement of Russian oil on the European market is likely to be a long-term goal," the analyst emphasized.


Kommersant: Russia’s top diplomat visits Algeria and Oman

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has made a brief trip to the Middle East, visiting Algeria and Oman. Given the special operation in Ukraine and the pressure of Western sanctions, it is important for Moscow to maintain ties with its partners in the region to make sure that they have no plans to violate their obligations to Russia, particularly in the field of oil and gas supplies. In addition, Moscow sought to demonstrate that it continued to have its attention focused on the Middle East, Kommersant writes.

The countries of the region have not joined the West’s sanctions against Moscow but they are concerned about the conflict’s impact on economic stability. Besides, Middle Eastern nations are considering the benefits that could be derived from the situation. Western politicians are visiting the region one after another, hoping to find alternatives to Russian oil and gas. Major gas exporters, Qatar and Algeria, have found themselves in the center of the spotlight. Doha is already in talks with European partners. As for Algeria, it "cannot - and, most importantly, has no desire to - offer additional amounts of gas to Europe," Director of the Center for African Studies at the Higher School of Economics Andrey Maslov noted.

Lavrov’s visit to Oman has a great significance as well. "Oman has always sought to take a special position and have its own opinion on all issues. Oman is also an experienced mediator in regional affairs, including the Yemen issue and Iran’s nuclear program," Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov noted.

All in all, Lavrov’s tour of the Middle East turned out to be a timely one amid speculations in the regional media about Russia’s declining role in the Middle East and its diminishing presence in Syria. "Russia is focused on maintaining its presence in the areas that it finds crucial, primarily near its military bases in Latakia and Tartus, as well as in the areas where the presence of Russian troops is envisaged by agreements, particularly with Turkey. In other places, it may be about a temporary presence," Semenov explained.

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