The Zaporozhye nuclear power plant has been shelled for more than 10 days already, and it’s not yet clear whether inspectors from the International Energy Agency (IAEA) could visit the facility.
Though both Russia and Ukraine have claimed they are ready to facilitate a visit, neither of the sides has been able to organize one. The key controversy remains the route for the team of inspectors to get to Ukraine’s Energodar on the left bank of the Dnepr, where the plant is located.
Taking the Kiev route would mean crossing the frontline, which would be a huge risk for the inspectors, since the Ukrainian armed forces are dissimilar and mixed in their nature, Igor Vishnevetsky, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s non-proliferation and arms control department, told Kommersant.
Senior Fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP) Nikolay Sokov told the paper there were two aspects around the dispute over the route - ensuring the mission’s security and the politics surrounding the war. "There can hardly be any doubt that it would be safer to arrive at the plant from Russia, and yet this route would mean recognizing Russia’s control of the said area by the United Nations and - to a lesser degree - by the IAEA, which is unacceptable for both, especially for the UN," he argued.
According to him, the problem for the IAEA is that the NPP is still controlled by Kiev’s Energoatom, which means that it would be impossible to sidestep the Ukrainian capital along their route. Russia’s state-run nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom, has already proposed placing the NPP under its responsibility, but the IAEA cannot agree to that, he said. "The visit is very much needed, but it could only take place if the sides agree on a formula that would not touch upon sovereignty," Sokov said, and while the issue is a question of principle for Ukraine, Russia could show flexibility.
The issue could get some clarity in the next few days though. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres discussed the situation around the Zaporozhye NPP with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu over the phone on Monday, and on August 18-19 the UN chief will visit Ukraine to discuss the issue.
The United States may deny visas to the Russian delegation to the 77th session of the UN General Assembly set to open in New York on September 20, two members of the current delegation and Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council (the upper house of Russia’s parliament) Konstantin Kosachev, who was a delegate in previous years, told Izvestia. The Russian Foreign Ministry told the paper that Moscow had called on Washington "to refrain from provocations" that could hamper Russian officials from attending the session.
Otherwise, Moscow would "act accordingly," warned Senator Grigory Karasin, who heads the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee and is a member of the Russian delegation. The senator told Izvestia that if the United States failed to issue visas to the Russian delegates, it would be a gross violation of its commitments to the UN. However, it would be no wonder, since "the Americans have already crossed the line between common sense and international law," he noted.
Another delegate, Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the international committee of the Russian State Duma (lower parliament house), estimated the chances of being rejected for US entry visas as "still unclear," varying "from 0 to 100%."
Kosachev noted that "the risk is always there, as long as we are dealing with the Americans." "The United States cannot be trusted as part of either multilateral or bilateral agreements," he told Izvestia. The US has shown itself to be an unpredictable partner who may ignore their own commitments and push their interests even to the detriment of joint efforts, the senator argued. "This is why I cannot rule out any scenarios," he concluded.
French troops have fully withdrawn from Mali, where they had been deployed at the request of the African country’s government since 2013. Relations between Paris and Bamako soured after a military junta came to power and got reorientated towards military cooperation with Russia. France pulled its troops out of Mali amid a deteriorated security situation, with 40 troops killed in the latest act of terror there in early August. Against this background, Moscow has pledged to help Mali continue its fight against terrorism.
Moves to intensify bilateral cooperation from supplying fertilizers and building a railroad to boosting military-technical contacts were discussed back in May, when Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop visited Moscow on his second trip over the past six months. Addressing the 10th Moscow Conference on International Security on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Shoigu said his ministry "is seeking to expand interaction with Africa in defense and in the military-technical sphere," and hailed the presence of military leaders from Mali and other African countries at the conference.
Earlier, Mali’s government said it had received at least three batches of Russian military equipment over the past year. "Now, many Malians hope the weaponry would help turn the tide in the sphere of security, especially in Menaka," Maria Zolotar, a writer on Telegram specializing in the Tuareg people, told Kommersant.
However, she doubted Russia’s Wagner or any other private military company could replace the French military completely. "It seems French troops did succeed in preventing terrorist groups from advancing," the expert said. Yet now, "nobody likes the French any more," she noted. "Wagner is treated differently, at least because a very large share of the population is prone to pro-government and pro-Russian propaganda. Certainly, some would never recognize the presence of Wagner, but they believe that the presence of Russians is good, and they will help. Only those who oppose the government in Bamako dislike Wagner," Zolotar explained.
The EU’s Russian oil embargo will come into effect in December, but recent events have shown that European countries are not very well prepared for that, Kommersant writes. Diesel imports from Russia have been on the rise, there were reports about "shadow supplies" of Russian oil to Southern Europe, while interrupted oil flows through the Druzhba pipeline over payments for Ukrainian transit forced Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to take emergency measures and process payments themselves.
First, Russia has been exporting its oil to Europe for over a hundred years now. There is the necessary infrastructure in ports, and there are oil pipelines, as well as long-standing contacts with European companies. Geographically, Russia is Europe’s nearest oil supplier, and only North Africa and the Middle East could rival it in this sphere. However, Libya and Algeria are clearly behind Russia in export volumes, while it’s easier for Middle Eastern countries to export their oil to the Asia-Pacific region, where they don’t have to go through the Suez and demand there is stable.
Second, European oil refineries are often adapted to Russian oil, and simply replacing one blend with another would not do. Oil refineries deep inside the European continent that "are tied to a pipeline" would be hardest hit, Associate Professor at the Financial University under the Russian Government Valery Andrianov told the newspaper. Other companies from countries with access to the sea and technological flexibility could refocus on alternative oil blends. Oil from Iran and Venezuela could best replace Russian crude, but the West is waging its sanctions war against them, the expert recalls.
The other, less flexible, oil refineries, will have to reformat their business, which is costly. Not only will they have to halt oil refining for quite a long period, they will also have to replace the bulk of equipment and rearrange production lines, said Dmitry Aleksandrov, chief analyst at IVA Partners.
Third, Europe imposed its sanctions on Russia for political reasons, but Russia remains its closest neighbor, and no sanctions can change that. The need for economic partnership will do its job, and politics will fade into the background, but it could take years though.
Siemens has already submitted its written guarantees that the EU’s sanctions do not affect the turbine for the Nord Stream gas pipeline, and no additional guarantees will be issued, the German company told Izvestia, saying that the turbine was still ready to be sent to Russia. However, Russia demands assurances in writing that the sanctions imposed by Canada, the European Union and Great Britain will not hamper the turbine from operating on Russian soil, nor that repairs of other turbines for the project will ever be affected.
First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Energy Committee Igor Ananskikh told the newspaper that the guarantees were not enough for the turbine to resume operations in Russia after transportation. And he said he could comprehend the logic in Gazprom’s ambitions to obtain relevant documents from Siemens and from Canada and Germany, too.
The German Economic Affairs and Climate Action Ministry refused to comment.
Dmitry Koptev, who heads the media center of the Institute for the Development of Technologies in the Fuel and Energy Complex, said the EU and the UK, on the one hand, and Gazprom, on the other, could make concessions not to delay the repairs. However, the current developments may be fraught with a complete stoppage of Nord Stream, he warned.
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