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Press review: Moscow mediates Libyan crisis and Ukrainians bypass Russian social media ban

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, November 15


Kommersant: Moscow works to reconcile Tripoli and southern Libyan tribes

Moscow acted as a mediator in the intra-Libyan settlement and with the assistance of the Russian contact group, it was able to launch a dialogue between representatives of the southern tribes of Libya and the Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, according to Kommersant. Head of the Contact Group on the Intra-Libyan Settlement Lev Dengov told the newspaper that the Russian intermediaries succeeded in organizing negotiations between the chiefs of the major tribes - the Toubou and the Tuareg - controlling Ubari, a city in the country’s southwest, and Libyan Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj.

"When we negotiated Russia's humanitarian assistance to the people of southern Libya, tribal representatives living in the city of Ubari asked for help in establishing dialogue with the Government of National Accord," Dengov told Kommersant. According to him, after that the members of the Russian contact group got in touch with Fayez al-Sarraj’s representatives and made sure they were ready to sit down at the negotiating table.

The contact group informed Kommersant that "according to the results of the meeting, a number of contradictions were cleared up, the parties agreed to continue negotiations." According to the newspaper, members of the southern tribes in the Libyan media thanked Russia for support. "Russia's mediation in the dialogue between the officially recognized government and representatives of the southern tribes shows that both sides trust Moscow," Dengov told Kommersant.

In October, the UN Security Council approved a phased plan to end the crisis in Libya, which included a conference with the participation of the main political forces and civil society organizations, presidential and parliamentary elections, and adopting a new constitution. This plan was based on a political agreement according to the intra-Libyan settlement, signed in the Moroccan city of Skhirat in 2015. It was not possible to achieve any real progress in stabilizing the situation in Libya over the past two years, Kommersant wrote.


Kommersant: Putin to discuss next decade's defense spending with top brass, key officials

Next week, Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a string of meetings with the defense officials, government members and representatives of the military-industrial complex, Kommersant wrote. The parties are expected to set the course for the new state arms program for 2018-2027. According to Kommersant sources, its preliminary funding hit 19 trillion rubles ($314.6 bln), which should ensure a balanced development of all branches of the armed forces for the next decade.

Several top managers from defense enterprises told Kommersant about the upcoming meetings, specifying that it will be held on November 20-23 at Putin's Sochi residence. The information was confirmed by sources close to top defense brass and the presidential administration. "All participants are satisfied with the event’s format. It is effective and makes it possible to delve into all the tricky issues," a source told the newspaper. Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the preparations for the event without going into details.

According to Kommersant sources, the meetings will be divided into two parts. In the first, military industry representatives will report on the outcome of the state arms program for 2011-2020. The second part will cover the final discussions on the technical, and most importantly, financial parameters of the defense spending program for 2018-2027.

The newspaper’s military sources noted that the main difference between the new defense spending plan and its predecessor should be the allocation of 1 trillion rubles ($16.56 bln) for the construction of facilities to "synchronize the supply of weapons and construction of facilities for their storage."

The new program will pay more attention to strategic nuclear forces, for example, the purchases of air-launched cruise missiles, submarine ballistic missiles and land-based intercontinental carriers. In terms of the Russian Navy, the plan will include purchases of diesel-electric submarines, and new generation nuclear missile carriers.

According to Kommersant, the final version of the new state arms program will be handed over to Vladimir Putin for signing in December.


Vedomosti: Rosneft might put off new projects due to OPEC deal

Russia’s oil major Rosneft may postpone one or two projects if the agreement between OPEC and other oil producers to limit production is extended, the company’s First Vice President Eric Liron said during a teleconference on the company's performance for January-September 2017. According to Vedomosti, Rosneft is the first Russian company that might adjust the input of new fields due to the OPEC+ deal.

In particular, the oil giant might postpone launching Russkoye oil and gas condensate field in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous region, Liron said, as well as the Yurubcheno-Tokhomskoye field in the Krasnoyarsk region.

The deal between OPEC and 11 oil-producing countries (including Russia) was concluded in last November and extended until March 2018. However, even after this coming March the agreement could be extended, as OPEC members and Russia have repeatedly said. In 2018, the market will be more or less balanced if the deal is prolonged, Director at Fitch Ratings Dmitry Marinchenko told the newspaper. Failure to lengthen it would bring more than 1 mln extra barrels a day to the market, which would mean a rise in oil reserves surplus and a return to a 2016 scenario, the expert said.

New projects by Russian oil companies tend to be eligible for tax incentives, which makes them significantly more profitable than mature fields, Aton analyst Alexander Kornilov told Vedomosti. Therefore, investors react adversely to any postponement of developing new oil fields, the expert said, adding that despite that, the negative effect might be partially offset by oil prices hikes thanks to the OPEC+ deal.

Rosneft, however, has not completely abandoned launching new fields. The company intends to accelerate the launch of the Tagulskoye field at the Vankor cluster with planned output of 4.5 mln tonnes per year, the newspaper wrote.


Izvestia: Jailed Russian pilot faces tougher prison conditions

Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, serving a 20-year sentence in the Fort Dix Correctional Institution, told Izvestia that starting on November 27, 2017, the prison administration will slap serious restrictions on the storage of his personal belongings. This applies to photographs, postcards, letters, clothes and even personal hygiene items. Yaroshenko noted that the rules are a response to his numerous complaints about discrimination and arbitrariness on the part of the prison authorities.

"The restrictions will be introduced as of November 27, 2017, by the prison administration allegedly for security reasons. The Fort Dix authorities claim that in early October, a fight broke out between the inmates. In order to stop such brawls, restrictive measures have been introduced. But how do photos of my mother, wife and daughter affect prison security?" Yaroshenko told the newspaper.

The pilot added that the crackdown was imposed after his numerous complaints about discrimination on religious and ethnic grounds. "The administration takes such steps in order to show their strength and unlimited possibilities. Meaning, you can say anything, but we will do whatever we want," he said.

The Fort Dix prison administration in the state of New Jersey and the Federal Bureau of Prisons did not provide Izvestia with any immediate comments.

Russian civil aviation pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko was arrested in Liberia in May 2010 and secretly hauled off to the United States. In April 2011, a jury found him guilty of conspiring to smuggle drugs to the United States. Yaroshenko was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He pled innocent and condemned his arrest as a staged provocation. Yaroshenko’s defense team noted that seven years after his arrest, all the legal mechanisms for his return have already been tried and tested. The only hope now is Washington's political resolve.


RBC: Banned Russian social networks remain popular in Ukraine

Despite the ban imposed on May 16, 2017, Kiev has failed to completely block access to Russian social networks and services in Ukraine over this past half year. Although the number of users has decreased, they are still popular. VKontakte still ranks among the top 10 most visited websites in the country, according to a study by SimilarWeb prepared for RBC, which even considered VPN Internet traffic.

According to SimilarWeb, user traffic for nearly all popular social networks subjects to the prohibition halved. For example, as of May 2017, before the ban, the number of VKontakte’s Ukrainian users reached 11.6 million. Immediately after Kiev imposed the restriction, this figure fell to 6.9 million. However, Ukrainians spend roughly the same amount of time on this network: in May it reached 24 minutes, while in October it came to 23 minutes.

VKontakte Spokesman Yevgeny Krasnikov told the newspaper that the social networks ban in Ukraine is a "blow to users", but they are able to bypass it. "VKontakte statistics of its Ukrainian users in recent months only corroborate the high level of computer literacy throughout the country," he told RBC.

"We see that Ukrainians do not want to lose contact with friends and family, so using various methods they continue to obtain access to the social networks’ services," a representative of the Odnoklassniki social network told the newspaper.

Both social networks - VKontakte and Odnoklassniki - added a possibility to use proxy servers in their applications, which allows access to its services on Ukrainian soil. Yandex has done the same for their web browser.

Director of Strategic Projects at the Institute for Internet Research Irina Levova told RBC she believes that statistics for the first half of the year prove that it is impossible to fully block resources on the Internet. "As all experts predicted, people will continue using services with the help of VPNs and other tools that easily allow you to bypass the bans. Most likely, the Ukrainian authorities will decide on adopting the "advanced" Russian experience and will adopt another inefficient law banning VPN services," the expert told RBC.

On November 1, Russia imposed a law on regulating anonymizers, including private VPN-services. Now those who provide access to bypass technologies will be obliged to close access to banned websites.


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