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Press review: Trump picks ambassador to Russia and Putin to discuss economy with Erdogan

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, March 10


Kommersant: Putin, Erdogan to discuss joint military and economic projects

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is paying a visit to Moscow, with the aim of finally putting the crisis in bilateral relations to bed and reviving the work of the High-Level Cooperation Council that had been interrupted after the Su-24 fighter’s downing in November 2015. One of the key issues is cooperation in Syria. After initiating the ceasefire and restarting the peace process, Moscow and Ankara are trying to agree on the future of the Assad regime and cooperating in the fight against the Islamic State (IS, terror group outlawed in Russia), Kommersant writes.

The latest visit by the Turkish leader is to wrap up the process of restoring bilateral trade and economic ties and unfreeze large-scale projects affected by the sanctions. The construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant and the Turkish Stream gas pipeline are expected to top the economic agenda during the talks.

In retrospect, prior to the rift in bilateral relations, Turkey was one of Russia’s largest business partners. So, one of the events on Erdogan’s agenda will be his participation in the sixth meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council, which is resuming its work after a long hiatus. Its new ambitious goal is to ramp up trade turnover to $100 bln, which will require the removal of some trade restrictions currently in effect.

A source in the Russian Direct Investment Fund informed the paper that the two sides are going to sign an agreement on Friday on setting up a joint $1 bln Russian-Turkish investment fund to finance projects in various areas, including public health and tourism.


RBC: Trump’s "tough" pick for US ambassador to Russia

Moscow is ready to work with anyone who is willing to improve bilateral relations but is not sure that Jon Huntsman, who has reportedly accepted the post of US ambassador to Russia, will be committed to that goal, RBC writes.

Prominent Russian Senator Alexey Pushkov earlier commented on Twitter that the former presidential candidate and Utah governor "is not a dove, that’s for sure." He recalled that Huntsman is "the head of the Atlantic Council, where strong criticism against Russia has become an accepted thing. According to Pushkov, Trump’s entourage includes many people who do not want an improvement in relations with Russia, or expanded cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State (terrorist group, outlawed in Russia), which makes the search for common ground all the more difficult. 

On the other hand, Dmitry Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, emphasized in an interview with RBC that the situation regarding Huntsman’s appointment does not mean that Trump has succumbed to anti-Russian sentiment. "As a former governor and presidential candidate, Huntsman has stronger positions and a higher rating in the eyes of Trump and his administration than Thomas Graham (who was earlier named as a potential candidate to become ambassador to Russia)," he added. "Huntsman is closer to the Trump administration in spirit, which consists of businesspeople to a large extent," Trenin explained.

Russian Presidential Spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, earlier said that Russia would "welcome any head of the US Embassy in Moscow who will be a staunch supporter of the idea of establishing dialogue between the two countries."


Kommersant: Chinese conglomerate eyes investing in Murmansk coal terminal

China’s investment in Russia continues to grow as Poly International could become the main investor in the construction of the Lavna coal port terminal in the Murmansk region owned by the Russian State Transport Leasing Company. The Chinese are getting ready to seal an investment deal with the region on the project worth $300 mln, Kommersant writes.

The Murmansk regional government said on Thursday that Poly International President, Wang Lin, got acquainted with the Murmansk port’s infrastructure and investment prospects in the region. According to First Deputy Governor, Alexey Tyukavin, the Murmansk regional government and Poly are preparing to sign a cooperation agreement in the near future.

Murmansk Regional Transport and Road Facilities Minister, Dmitry Sosnin, confirmed in an interview with Kommersant that work on the agreement is underway, adding that details are being hammered out. According to Sosnin, Lavna’s major shareholder, the Russian State Transport Leasing Company, and Poly have already signed a cooperation agreement. He noted that the Chinese company is mulling over investment in regional infrastructure facilities. He declined to disclose any further details.

Poly International was earlier named among the potential investors in the construction of the Belkomur railway line (from the White Sea to the Urals) and the Archangelsk port’s deep-sea area.


Izvestia: Damascus gives green light to Iraqi airstrikes against IS in Syria

The Assad administration has given the go-ahead to Baghdad’s airstrikes against the Islamic State’s (IS, terror group, outlawed in Russia) positions in Syria, Saji Taama, member of the Syrian parliament’s Inter-Arab and International Affairs Committee, told Izvestia. "Our countries have encountered a common threat. Just like Syria, Iraq is confronting IS extremists," the MP explained. "A few years ago, we started coordinating combat operations against terrorism. I do not rule out that in the future, Syrian aircraft will pursue militants in Iraq, in the frontier zone."

Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, earlier said that Baghdad is ready to wipe out extremists not only in its country, but in neighboring countries as well, referring primarily to Syria.

According to Russian orientalist and former diplomat, Vyacheslav Matuzov, cooperation between Damascus and Baghdad is indicative of significant changes in the regional players’ stances.

"Evidently, the administration of former US President Barack Obama forbade members of the US-led anti-terrorist coalition, which includes Iraq, to cooperate with the Syrian government," he said in an interview with Izvestia. "Now there is a new administration in Washington, which holds new approaches. The situation in the Manbij area where the Kurds backed by the US agreed to transfer part of the territories to Syrian troops proves that. Apparently, the Americans are allowing the authorities in Damascus to restore order in their country."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: EU turns heat up on Gazprom

While Russia is promoting alternative gas routes bypassing Ukraine, Europe insists that it is interested in new gas pipelines, but on condition that transit through Ukraine is preserved. European officials, in particular, link the Nord Stream-2 project to the fate of gas transit through Ukraine. German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, has made it clear that Berlin needs Nord Stream-2 not in place of transit supplies, but with them. Thus, Russia is being pushed to sign a new transit deal for the period after 2019, which means that Moscow and Kiev will have to reach an agreement, possibly on terms unfavorable for Russia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Gazprom CEO, Alexey Miller, earlier said the Russian energy giant would never sign a transit contract that it considered having unacceptable or unfair terms.

Meanwhile, the experts interviewed by the paper noted that attempts to link the Nord Stream-2 project to gas transit through Ukraine are indeed a form of pressure, both on Moscow and Kiev.

"I believe European consumers can see the risks of transit through Ukraine, but so far this is a relatively cheap route. Nord Stream-2 is necessary, because the capacities of the first thread are not sufficient at present. The transit could be reduced only after the construction of the Turkish Stream," Georgy Vashchenko, an analyst at Freedom Finance, said, adding that this is a good pressure lever on Kiev.

"Kiev is presently in the position of an absolute counterbalance to everything that is somehow connected with the Russian partnership," noted Anna Bodrova, a senior analyst at Alpari. "That’s why striking a new agreement remains problematic." She noted, however, that "if European consumers need a steady stream of Russian gas, Ukraine will try to provide it one way or another in order not to strain relations with Europe and not to lose contacts with creditors."


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