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Press review: France as lead negotiator on Syria and Gazprom's LNG exports

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, October 7
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault EPA/LEONHARD FOEGER / POOL
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: France seizes initiative on Syria

France has apparently decided to assume the role of the chief negotiator on the Syrian crisis and thus to help resolve the situation in Aleppo, which, according to UN forecasts, is fraught with complete destruction, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes on Friday.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault urgently arrived in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the Syrian crisis with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The main issues on the agenda were Paris’s "Syrian" resolution submitted to the UN Security Council earlier this week and the deteriorating military situation in that Arab country.

Yevgenia Obichkina, a professor in the International Relations and Foreign Policy Department at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), recalled in an interview with the paper that France used to be one of the most active players in Syria and actively supported the moderate opposition. "The 2013 Lavrov-Kerry initiative (on eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles) pushed France into the background as a protagonist of the Syrian settlement. That was a serious setback for President Francois Hollande’s ego. Now that the situation has again reached a dead end, Hollande wants to return to the first tier of those involved in solving the Syrian problem," she said.

France is the only country that can maintain the role of Russia’s main interlocutor on behalf of the West, Sergei Fyodorov, a leading researcher at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "As for Syria, we should not forget the historical aspect. After WWI those were France’s mandate territories, and this region is important for the Fifth Republic due to cultural ties. Under the current circumstances, when our dialogue with the Americans has stalled, France wants to solve these problems somehow and bring the parties to the negotiating table thus preventing confrontation between the West and Russia in this region."


Kommersant: Gazprom may share its LNG exports with Shell

The Baltiysky LNG plant, a new project by Russia’s energy giant Gazprom may obtain the right for independent export, Kommersant has found out. That was achieved at the talks between Russian officials and an international partner - the Anglo-Dutch Shell company. As a result, Shell will be able to sell Russian gas abroad provided that Gazprom abandons supplies to its markets in Europe. The Baltiysky LNG plant is also seeking additional tax benefits, while the Anglo-Dutch multinational wants to expand its participation in the project by obtaining its own production capacities in Russia and becoming a raw materials supplier for the Baltiysky LNG plant.

Kommersant’s sources familiar with the negotiations explained that Gazprom wanted all liquefied natural gas from the plant to be exported under an agency agreement with Gazprom Export, while Shell insisted on independent supplies abroad. Eventually, a compromise has been achieved. Gazprom agreed that the joint Baltiysky LNG-Shell project company should get the right for exports.

Shell agreed though to certain marketing restrictions, namely, to abandon supplies to the European countries where the project may enter into direct competition with Gazprom’s pipeline gas.

Meanwhile, experts interviewed by the paper consider Gazprom’s concession to be serious and the price of Shell’s compromise low. "Even if Shell does not sell gas from the project to the European counties where Gazprom is present, nothing can prevent consumers, for example, in Spain, where the Russian energy giant’s gas is not delivered through a pipeline, from redirecting the cargo wherever they deem it necessary after receiving it, including to Gazprom’s markets in Italy or Turkey," said Maria Belova of Vygon Consulting.

Another question is whether supplies from the Baltiysky LNG to Europe will be attractive in principle or whether it will be sold under short-term contracts and in the spot market.


Izvestia: Russian humanitarian aid helps Transnistria weather blockade

Moscow’s assistance is helping Transnistria withstand the blockade imposed by Moldova and Ukraine and develop its industrial potential, the head of the unrecognized republic, Yevgeny Shevchuk, told Izvestia.

"Russian aid today is very different from the practices that took place five years ago. Thanks to the personal efforts of (Russian Deputy Prime Minister) Dmitry Rogozin and Moscow’s leadership within the framework of the Eurasian Integration non-profit organization, Russia has enlarged its assistance to Transnistria over the past five years. Now we are able to use these funds for developing our industrial potential," he said.

According to Shevchuk, the main factor that hinders Transnistria’s economic development is the blockade. To overcome its consequences, the authorities have begun to use the Russian experience of import substitution and focus on the Russian market, which will make it possible to create 20,000 additional jobs in the future.

"The country produces a wide range of products, from heavy engineering to light industry. Agriculture is well developed. Vegetables and fruit grown in Transnistria are in great demand in the Russian Federation," he emphasized.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Istanbul awaits Putin and Novak for talks on OPEC oil output freeze

At the World Energy Congress to be held in Istanbul on October 9-13, Russian President Vladimir Putin may meet with Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, whose country is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), while Energy Minister Alexander Novak will hold talks with his counterparts from OPEC member-states, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The oil cartel is to decide on production quotas by the end of November.

The paper notes that Russia, which is an OPEC permanent observer, is ready to support steps to freeze oil production, the paper notes. Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev earlier said that the level to be frozen was the issue under discussion.

At the current level, freezing oil production poses no threat to Russia, Eldar Kasayev, a member of the expert council of the Russian Oil and Gas Industry Union, informed the paper. "Oil production in Russia exceeded 11 mln barrels per day in September, which is a long-term record," he said. "However, one should take into account the fact that it is technologically difficult for Russia to quickly increase or drop production, in contrast to, say, Saudi Arabia or Iran."

Bogdan Zvarich, a FINAM Group analyst, confirmed to the paper that no one can set an oil production quota for Russia. "Quotas exist within OPEC, and Russia is not a member of the cartel," he noted. "The participants in the upcoming meeting are likely to discuss the quotas for OPEC member-countries, which should determine the quantity of decline in production as well as the possibility of Russia joining the agreements on freezing production."


Izvestia: Russia to develop inbound medical tourism

The Russian Ministry of Health, the Foreign Ministry, the Federal Tourism Agency and the Association of Medical Tourism have begun developing a project to popularize Russian medical services and medical facilities abroad, Izvestia writes. The decision was prompted by the growing number of foreigners coming to Russia for treatment. According to the Russian Association of Medical Tourism, in the first half of 2016 the number of patients arriving in Russia for treatment grew by about 30% compared to the same period last year.

The association’s President, Konstantin Onishchenko, informed the paper that the main advertisers will be the Visit Russia tourist offices abroad. Due to the rapid growth of inbound medical tourism, it was decided to pay much more attention to this area, he said.

This has been confirmed by Sergey Korneyev, Deputy Head of the Federal Tourism Agency who oversees the work of the Visit Russia offices. "We intend to actively promote two areas closely related to each other, namely, medical tourism as such and our resort complex. They can be advertised together or on an individual basis," he told the paper.

There are several reasons for the growing popularity of inbound medical tourism to Russia, such as an advantageous exchange rate of the Russian Ruble, and legal and medical restrictions existing abroad. The administrative measures taken by Russia, include easing the visa regime for Chinese, Indian, South Korean citizens and nationals from the former Soviet republics. At the moment, citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Baltic countries make up the majority of foreign nationals coming to Russia for treatment.


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