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Press review: Russian, US spy chiefs meet in Turkey and Biden, Xi talk face-to-face at G20

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, November 15th
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin Sergei Fadeichev/TASS
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin
© Sergei Fadeichev/TASS

Kommersant: Intel chiefs from Russia, US meet in Turkey

Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergey Naryshkin, met on Monday with his American counterpart, CIA Director, William Burns. This was the first high-profile Russian-US contact since Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine. The Biden administration insists that the two officials focused on reducing nuclear escalation risks and an exchange of prisoners, rather than on ways of resolving the Ukraine conflict.

Kommersant was the first to report on Monday that Naryshkin had set off for talks with the US in Ankara, citing sources. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov neither confirmed, nor denied that report. Officials in Turkey did not comment on it either. But when the sun set in Moscow, the details of the meeting started to emerge in the US media. CNN specified that Naryshkin and Burns had discussed nuclear risks and a potential prisoner swap, while the New York Times added that Washington had informed Kiev about arrangements for the meeting. Reuters quoted an unnamed US National Security Council official as saying that Washington was committed to not holding any talks on Ukraine without the Ukrainians. Later, Peskov confirmed to TASS that the Russian-US discussions had taken place in Ankara, indeed.

UN chief Antonio Guterres welcomed on Monday the Russian-US meeting in Ankara, saying it was "very positive." However, the topic of Ukraine was not seemingly discussed there, indeed - at least, there were no reports or even leaks about it. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported, citing sources, that the United States had been attempting to coax Ukraine into talks with Russia, since those in the West who fear the conflict might escalate further had not accepted the refusal by Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Back a few days ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukraine’s top diplomat Dmitry Kuleba happened to simultaneously visit the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh which hosted the ASEAN and East Asia summits. A Russian diplomat told Kommersant that no encounter between the two was considered though. A source close to Russian Presidential Aide Vladimir Medinsky, who was Russia’s chief negotiator at talks with Kiev officials in the spring, replied in the negative when asked by a Kommersant reporter whether this dialogue was set to resume.


Vedomosti: What Biden and Xi discussed at G20 summit

On Monday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping met with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali. According to China Central Television, the talks between the US and Chinese leaders lasted three hours and 12 minutes. Experts interviewed agreed that the two had reiterated the usual themes in their narrative in Indonesia and that no radical changes in relations between Beijing and Washington should be expected.

Deputy Director of IMEMO Alexander Lomanov told Vedomosti that it was much more important for China to reaffirm the principles of the indivisibility of security now, since it is the fact that the US has been building military blocs in the Pacific that worry Beijing more than the threat of a nuclear war in Ukraine. According to Lomanov, the two sides will be unable to take their relations back to where they were in either the 2000s or the early 2010s. He highlighted the idea that key topics on the meeting’s agenda did not include bilateral economic cooperation, but criticism of China’s human rights policy. Therefore, he believes that the United States would march on with ramping up pressure on China through tariffs and sanctions in the hi-tech sphere, nor do the Americans accept China’s assurances that it has no intention of bringing down the current world order to become a "new America," he insists. Lomanov described that as conceptual and ideological incompatibility. "The old superpower realizes it has to give way to an evolving one, but it is reluctant to do so," he noted.

A realization is growing in the United States that it would be difficult to ratchet up tensions with both Russia and China, Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies Vladimir Vasilyev told Vedomosti. He thinks after the midterms the US administration would go down the path of exacerbating its confrontation with Russia, and this is why they decided to temporarily tone down their rhetoric with Beijing. Moreover, Washington is still concerned about further rapprochement between China and Russia, yet that does not mean that a thaw in Washington’s relations with Beijing is impossible.


Media: Poland, Germany set to move in on Gazprom assets

Germany is the first EU country that is going to nationalize Russia-related assets, specifically the former unit of Russia’s gas giant, Gazprom Germania, that has been renamed SEFE. German officials attributed their decision to SEFE’s imminent insolvency that risks undermining the security of gas supplies to the country.

Meanwhile, Poland has decided to introduce external management at Gazprom’s share in Europol Gaz, the owner of the Polish sector of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, Rzeczpospolita reported. The Polish newspaper said the measure was necessary "to ensure the provision of utilities services and other public services by the company and to protect the country’s economic interests."

Gazprom declined to comment on the issue. Russia is not currently pumping natural gas to Poland, and the volumes of its supplies to Germany are insignificant, so the nationalization decision will hardly affect the gas market of either of the two countries, Sergey Kondratyev from the Institute for Energy and Finance Foundation told Kommersant. In theory, Russia could try to reduce its LNG shipments, but it wouldn’t be easy to do so technically, for the LNG market is global and suppliers do not always know who the end user is. "I guess Gapzrom will try to challenge the decision in court. The company could potentially make an attempt at seizing government assets or assets of the two countries’ state-run businesses in Russia and friendly nations," he assumes.

Leading analyst at the National Energy Security Fund Igor Yushkov disagrees. In an interview with Vedomosti, he said that he doubted Gazprom would mount a legal battle against Poland’s decision. According to the expert, given the current political situation, Gazprom realizes only too well that not a single court in the EU would take its side.


Izvestia: EU decides to train 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers, no new sanctions on Russia endorsed

The European Union would launch its Ukrainian Assistance Mission by the end of November to train 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers, EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell announced after an EU Foreign Ministers meeting on Monday. And though President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen insists that Brussels would impose an oil price cap sooner or later, experts told Izvestia that the continent-wide bloc is facing a consensus crisis on the issue.

We cannot seriously speak of a change in rhetoric in Brussels. Previous experience of interaction in the EU shows that when they have an opportunity to reach a mutually beneficial compromise within the community, they can impose additional restrictions, but then again, the EU has reached a certain ceiling in negotiations, Anastasiya Likhachyova from the Russian Higher School of Economics told the newspaper. According to her, the question is how to compensate for any losses in the energy sphere to various EU members and how long that mechanism could last. "So, the reason behind the decision to refrain from more sanctions has something to do with the economic situation and institutional aspects. In parallel, this could disguise an invitation to negotiate, but that is of little value," she added.

Germany’s MEP Gunnar Beck told Izvestia that the energy sanctions the EU had already imposed against Russia had almost nullified any cooperation in the sphere already, so no new steps, even an oil embargo, are needed to curtail energy cooperation further, he thinks. Besides, Russian gas supplies to Europe got damaged after the Nord Stream sabotage, so this could be why the EU has not been discussing any further measures openly, Beck said.

Meanwhile, Alexander Yermakov, a military expert with the Russian International Affairs Council, told the newspaper that European countries had been training Ukrainian service members practically since the onset of the special military operation. The mission was aimed at both replenishing Ukrainian forces and providing advanced training for units undergoing reorganization, he said. And the EU is also seeking to train soldiers to use weapons it has been supplying to Ukraine, but the Europeans are not going to enhance their skills to NATO standards for bureaucratic reasons.


Izvestia: Ambassador to Hungary comments on trade with Russia

Hungary has been consistently supporting Ukraine and is not willing to get involved in its military conflict with Russia, Moscow’s envoy to Hungary Yevgeny Stanislavov told Izvestia in an interview. Hence, the Central European country is reluctant to dispatch its soldiers to Ukraine, to supply weapons to Kiev or to give access to its territory for weapons transit to Ukraine, he said. Also, the Hungarians, perhaps, realize what kind of regime is in control of Ukraine today better than ‘enlightened’ Europe, for, unlike the majority in the EU, Budapest has never turned a blind eye to the violations of national minorities’ rights in Ukraine, Stanislavov argued.

According to him, energy cooperation with Russia is vital for Hungary’s economy. Imports from Russia cover 80% of the country’s gas and 55% of its oil needs, while the Paks-1 nuclear power plant built by Soviet experts is generating almost half of its electricity. Budapest finds the existing anti-Russian sanctions useless, saying they hurt Europeans more and should be reviewed.

Hungary says the EU pursued the goal of cutting export revenues for Russia when imposing its sanctions in order to undermine its industrial and military potential, but this strategy has effectively backfired, and Eurostat reported a substantial increase in trade between Russia and the EU in 2022. In the first seven months of this year, trade between Russia and Hungary grew by 160% to $5.7 billion, and Hungarian companies are still present on the Russian market and have been successful there, the Russian diplomat concluded.

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