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Press review: Putin's Valdai speech takeaways and Rosneft's Kurdistan oil deals in danger

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday

Media: Putin’s Valdai speech offers moderate tone of frankness, dialogue with the West

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a plenary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club on Thursday, sharing his assessments on the current hurdles in international relations and outlining the goals for the nation’s incoming chief executive, in the run-up to the 2018 election, Izvestia writes. In his speech, the Russian leader noted that previous formulas of resolving conflicts have fallen short in today’s world and countries need to search for a balance between cooperation and rivalry. According to Putin, "contradictions are becoming unpredictable and dangerous, leading to harsh conflicts."

Political Scientist Gleb Kuznetsov, who is a member of the board of directors at the Expert Institute of Social Studies, told Izvestia that Putin’s speech is "a direct answer to Trump on his ideas of reforming the United Nations." The Russian leader lent his support to the ideas and principles of the international organization.

First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Committee Council on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov said the Russian president invited the Western partners to hold dialogue.

"This is a very bright speech. I hope our Western partners will heed Putin’s call. He did not reproach anyone but called for dialogue and said: "Let’s move further." According to the senator, the most impressive remarks were devoted to nuclear disarmament. "It turns out that starting from 1992 the Americans have been misleading us. They strung us along getting us to make numerous concessions, and we honestly met our commitments, even more than that. In the end, we got nothing instead. This once again shows that the West has not always behaved honestly and frankly with us."

Andrey Kolyadin, who is in charge of regional programs at the Expert Institute of Social Studies, said the president focused on foreign policy in his speech, noting that this is important for Russians as this shows Moscow’s growing role in the world.

"During Vladimir Putin’s tenure, Russia affirmed its domestic agenda and started dictating certain conditions on the international arena, in Syria," he said.

Vedomosti writes that in general, Putin repeated his assessments, which he has voiced many times during other speeches on international issues. "The speech was non-confrontational, there was some criticism of the West, but in a moderate tone, without the fervor that used to be heard earlier. That’s why it should not beget new fears regarding Russia’s politics, and this is very relevant now," political scientist Andrey Kortunov told the paper.


Izvestia: Moscow urges Ankara to split Syria’s armed opposition from Nusra terrorists

Russia wants Turkey to separate Jabhat al-Nusra (terror group, outlawed in Russia) from the moderate opposition in the Idlib province, where the fourth de-escalation zone was set up in Syria, a high-ranking Russian diplomatic source told Izvestia. Moscow earlier demanded this from Washington, but without any success. Now Ankara, as one of the guarantors of the Syrian de-escalation zones, should tackle this issue, the paper says. Experts note that Russia needs certain lists of groups to carry out strikes against and lists of those militants who are ready to take part in creating the de-escalation zone. After that, the West won’t be able to make claims that Moscow bombs the opposition.

"We have been waiting for this from the Americans for a long time and to no avail. Now it’s Turkey’s turn. Under the Astana deal, it controls the inside perimeter of the Idlib de-escalation zone. Besides, we know that it maintains contacts with Jabhat al-Nusra. We will press for Ankara’s steps to separate the opposition from terrorists," the diplomatic source explained.

The borders of the fourth de-escalation zone were agreed on at the September 15 meeting in Astana. According to observers, the process of hammering out and consolidating the ceasefire there will be a challenging task. In fact, the Idlib province has become a hotbed of terrorists, the paper writes.

Turkey has already launched talks with the Nusra terrorists, some Arab media reports said.

Yuri Zinin, a leading researcher at the Center for Partnership of Civilizations at the Moscow-based MGIMO University, told the paper that now there is indeed a chance to persuade the commanders of certain units to break from Jabhat al-Nusra.

"The support for this organization from abroad has been dwindling lately. The Turks may indeed try to convince many militants to abandon this organization," the expert said. "As for Russia, traditionally it is accused of bombing the armed opposition, not terrorists. In response, Moscow demands disengagement, but this has not taken place so far."

The expert hoped that some groups affiliated with al-Nusra will bail from the organization and join the effort to set up the de-escalation zone, and that this will turn out to be a success. "Some 20,000 militants - that’s the whole army and if its ranks somehow shrink, it will be much easier to fight against the remaining ones."


Media: Rosneft seeks to boost oil supplies to China

Russian oil major, Rosneft, plans to ramp up its oil supplies to China next year by 10 mln tonnes under a long-term contract with China Energy (CEFC), which will become a new shareholder of the Russian company by the end of 2017, Kommersant writes. However, it is unclear how Rosneft will be able to deliver this volume. All its pipelines are full and the company will apparently have to cut the sales of free oil at the Kozmino port or use a railway route through Mongolia. Andrey Polischuk from Raiffeisenbank told the paper that Rosneft may also buy oil from other producers. This is unlikely to be profitable, but will enable Rosneft to get an advance payment and secure a market niche, and also a chance to sign new contracts.

Experts told Vedomosti that Rosneft’s bet on China is the right move, although its high dependence on it is risky. China is a major market for many areas and it is difficult to offset this risk, head of the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center Alexander Gabuyev said. However, Rosneft may take advantage of domestic rivalry between the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation and CEFC Energy, a private trader. In the mid-term prospect, China will remain a major oil consumer, but there is also a risk that its consumption will decrease, Gabuyev said.

Nesterov told Vedomosti that China is Russia’s strategic partner and boosting Russian oil supplies there is a strategically important decision. "This will allow keeping China’s interest in trade and economic relations at the state level," he said. Rosneft will also try to expand its presence on the markets of India, Indonesia, and Thailand, in an effort to diversify its supplies.


Vedomosti: Baghdad brands oil deals with Kurdistan illegal imperilling Rosneft’s projects

On Thursday, Iraq said all agreements on developing oil and gas fields, if they had not been endorsed by Baghdad’s oil ministry, are illegal, Vedomosti writes. On October 18, Russia’s Rosneft announced that it had inked a deal with the government of Iraqi Kurdistan on buying an 80% share in five oil deposits in the region. The deal is worth $400 mln and the reserves at the fields total around 670 mln barrels of oil.

Iraq’s oil ministry insists that only the federal government in Baghdad has the legal authority to sign such deals. Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin said Iraq and Kurdistan should solve their political problems themselves, stressing that "we are very seriously determined to work in Kurdistan and in Iraq in general." Rosneft is implementing several other projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, the paper says.

There are no grounds to expect that the global community will recognize the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan, leading researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Andrey Korotayev told the paper.

"Baghdad has been turning a blind eye for a long time to Kurdistan’s independent oil and gas trade. But Erbil [the capital of the Kurdistan autonomous region] was the first to break the rules of the game. The attempt to hold an independence referendum exacerbated the long-running conflict," Korotayev noted.

All companies, which signed deals directly with Kurdistan, find themselves in a very sticky situation, the expert said. "International law, should there be judicial proceedings, will side with the official government of Iraq."


Kommersant: Finland joining NATO cannot be totally ruled out – Helsinki's top diplomat

Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said in an interview with Kommersant business daily that Helsinki’s possible accession to the North Atlantic Alliance should not be absolutely ruled out, but the government believes that this path is irrelevant.

"We should not exclude the prospect of joining NATO," the Finnish top diplomat told the paper. "Any country should have such a possibility, and that’s why the open door policy is important for us." "But the position of the current government of Finland is that we believe it is irrelevant."

Soini also noted that Helsinki does not see any danger coming from Russia. "Finland does not feel any threat from Russia and is not afraid of anything. I believe this is a general opinion."

The Finnish foreign minister said the EU has not rejected Russia’s idea on deploying a UN mission to Donbass to protect OSCE peacekeepers and would like to get more details about it. "Russia’s initiative on peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine has whipped up certain interest in the EU," he said. "The Russian proposal is under consideration. EU states have not discarded it, but we need to study it."

Finland also believes the European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, which opened in Helsinki on October 2, may cooperate with Russian cyber security experts. "Certainly, this is possible, this is a multinational center," he said. "But it [center] works independently from the Finnish authorities, and we cannot dictate to them with whom to cooperate and what to do," he emphasized.


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