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Press review: Idlib cease-fire challenge and Kiev's falling role in EU energy

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, August 8
Syrians at a refugee camp near Idlib, Syria AP Photo
Syrians at a refugee camp near Idlib, Syria
© AP Photo


Kommersant: Russia looking for new approaches to security in Southeast Asia

Security issues that topped the agenda of ASEAN events in Manila are very important for the region, considering the radicalization of local Muslim communities and the flow of people to the training camps of Islamic State (outlawed in Russia), Kommersant writes.

According to Alexander Gabuev, head of the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, cooperation between Russia and the ASEAN member-countries could be seen in improving the information exchange system, methods of tracing suspicious individuals and developing practices of revoking citizenship for those who left the country to join IS. "Russia has huge experience in working with the part of the population professing Islam, which we could share. For example, the exchange of data between special services is not a completely useless idea," he stressed.

Gabuev noted, however, that Russia is seen by some countries in the region as a country toeing China’s line rather than an independent player. "However, in reality this is not quite the case," he noted. "For example, Russia continues to sell arms to Vietnam, because this is in line with its commercial interests, although China does not like that at all."

In his view, currently there are no prospects for a U-turn in Moscow’s policies. "We have no interests in Southeast Asia that would be comparable in scale with the partnership we have with China. Suffice it to mention such symbolic gestures as sending Russian warships to take part in the South China Sea exercises, which are exchanged for Beijing’s symbolic moves like the participation in the Baltic maneuvers," Gabuev stated. "To date, the ASEAN member-countries have not offered anything of this kind in return, and, so far, Russia has not found serious interests that would force it to adhere to a more balanced stance, so the situation is unlikely to change soon."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Idlib ceasefire can be the greatest challenge

Russian, Turkish and Iranian representatives are meeting in Tehran on Tuesday to discuss Syria. The "trio" is facing the task to consolidate the ceasefire in the de-escalation zones agreed previously and to apply this scheme to other regions, including the Idlib province, the largest rebel stronghold, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Finding a solution for Idlib would be incredibly difficult, Michael Stephens, a Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, warned in an interview with the paper. This is partially due to the fact that none of the external forces have influence on the ground, which is necessary to control he main arms groups operating there, especially Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (the coalition, which includes the al-Nusra Front banned in Russia), he noted.

In Idlib, players will have to combine two mutually exclusive strategies, Leonid Isayev, Senior Lecturer at the Higher School of Economics, said talking to Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "On the one hand, it is compliance with the ceasefire, and on the other, the fight against terror groups, above all, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham." He pointed out that the risk of provocations on either side is growing as well. "Of course, this risk makes this de-escalation zone very difficult in terms of the implementation of the tasks set by the Astana agreements."

Isayev noted that initially Idlib was Turkey’s sphere of influence. "The latest developments when Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham came to Idlib and became actually one of the most powerful groups in the province, effectively robbed the Turks of the room for maneuver," the expert explained. "One can hypothetically assume that [Turkey’s] troops will be deployed there, but that will not be the best option for Ankara. I doubt that this move will be approved by Iran and the Syrian regime. That could jeopardize the very existence of the Astana agreements."


Izvestia: Far Eastern gas to be reserved for Power of Siberia

The Russian Energy Ministry decided to revise plans for gas production in the Far East, Izvestia writes citing an updated version of the state energy development program. While initially it was planned to produce 51.3 bln cubic meters there, the planned volume has now been reduced to 43.7 bln. On the other hand, oil production in the region will be growing at the expense of the Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 projects.

A source in the Energy Ministry informed the paper that that the decision to revise plans for gas production downward is linked to the start of supplies through the Power of Siberia Russian-Chinese gas pipeline.

"Gas production figures in the Far East for 2017-2020 have been amended, in particular, with due account for the production synchronization with the implementation of the projects to build export infrastructure, including the Power of Siberia," the source said. By 2035, the ministry hopes to increase gas production in the region by 150% from the current volumes to reach 80 bln cubic meters.

The decision to reduce the pace of gas production in Russia’s Far East is hardly related to putting off the beginning of supplies, Sberbank CIB analyst Valery Nesterov noted. During the latest negotiations in early June, Gazprom and China’s CNPC agreed to begin deliveries along the Power of Siberia route by the end of December 2019.

"Currently, there is no real demand for Russian gas in China. It is logical for Gazprom not to fill the entire pipeline with gas immediately. It will gradually increase its exports within the next several years," the paper quotes Nesterov as saying.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev losing key role in European energy system

Ukrainian Energy and Coal Mining Minister Igor Nasalik has admitted that his country will soon not be able to ensure Russian gas transit to Europe because of the deteriorating state of its gas transportation system. Not only has Ukraine lost its monopoly on gas transit to Europe, it can cease to be a key player in the European market, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Nasalik accused Naftogaz, Ukraine’s national oil and gas company, of being reluctant to invest in the country’s gas transportation system, while the company’s CEO retorted that the minister’s remarks are causing multi-million damages to Ukraine. Considering that Russia’s energy giant Gazprom has increased gas supplies to the European market over the past 18 months, the country can do without Ukraine’s gas transportation system, the paper writes.

The Naftogaz-Gazprom contract on fuel transit to the West expires in late 2019. Since the 2009 spat when Ukraine illegally withdrew gas from the pipeline, Russia has built, as an alternative, the Nord Stream-1 pipeline to Germany and began working on the Turkish Stream project. The construction of the Nord Stream-2 pipeline is also on the agenda, even though its prospects have been marred by the new US sanctions law, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Vyacheslav Kulagin, Department Head at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Energy Research Institute, explained in an interview with the paper that the issue at hand is not just one pipeline. "Ukraine has a large system of gas pipelines and underground gas storage facilities," he said. "Their total capacity is decreasing due to the lack of funding for maintenance, modernization and timely repairs. Today the Ukrainian gas transportation system is reminiscent of an old vessel. Patch it up and it can continue to float, albeit not too fast. True, it is increasingly difficult to find investors there year after year."


Kommersant: Italy to allow flights from new Zhukovsky airport

Russia’s Zhukovsky International Airport is launching Ural Airlines flights to Rome in September - the airport’s first route to Western Europe, Kommersant writes.

A source in the Russian Transport Ministry told the paper that Ural Airlines upped its quota for five flights from Zhukovsky to Rome following talks between the Russian and Italian aviation authorities. Flights are scheduled to begin on September 8.

The air carrier planned to start them back in June, but their beginning was put off because of "traditional" disputes, as the paper writes, regarding the airport’s status.

Russia considers Zhukovsky (located some 40 kilometers from Moscow) a regional airport, while foreign aviation authorities do not share this view. If Zhukovsky is recognized as a regional airport, that will remove all restrictions in terms of the number of designated air carriers and international flights similar to the ones in effect in Vnukovo, Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo.

However, this situation led to disagreements with other countries, including Georgia, Israel and Tajikistan. While flights to Tajikistan and Georgia were agreed to the extent that suited the Russian side, Israel has given its consent to charter flights only.

Meanwhile, Fyodor Borisov, chief expert at the Institute for Transport Economics and Transport Policy Studies at the Higher School of Economics, noted there would always be bargaining involved when it comes to flights from Zhukovsky, and its outcome will depend on the degree of the parties’ dependence on one another. "The argument that the airport is located outside Moscow doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, since Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo are also registered in the Moscow region," the expert emphasized.


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