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Press review: ‘Russiagate’ hint in senator’s arrest and EU media likely target of new law

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday
Suleiman Kerimov


Media: "Russiagate" clamor may be behind Russian senator’s arrest in France

The detention of Russian Senator Suleiman Kerimov is turning into a serious diplomatic spat between Moscow and Paris, Izvestia writes. The Russian Foreign Ministry has filed a note of protest over the incident. The French police detained Kerimov on Monday evening on an alleged tax evasion charge. Moscow regards this as an unacceptable and unfriendly move, Russian Senator Vladimir Jabarov, First Deputy Head of Federation Council (upper house) international Affairs Committee, told the paper.

"The fact is that, even if they [the French police] detained him on a civilian passport rather than a diplomatic one, they still knew perfectly well that he was a senator enjoying diplomatic immunity. If they had complaints against the Russian legislator, they should have contacted [their Russian counterparts] through official channels, such as the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Foreign Ministry or the embassy and say that they have some questions for Mr. Kerimov. What has happened only serves to discredit French justice," Jabarov stressed.

Meanwhile, the press service of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) did not provide a clear-cut answer when asked by Izvestia whether Kerimov’s arrest could be linked to the so-called "Russiagate investigation" in the US led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It said that the FBI could neither confirm nor deny the existence of the probe and could not comment on the issue.

According to the US media, Kerimov had contacts with Russian citizen Rinat Akhmetshin whose activities were aimed at upholding Moscow’s interests. According to The New York Times, Akhmetshin, who received US citizenship in 2009, has close ties with the Russian government and "is associated with a former deputy head of the Russian intelligence service, the FSB." For his part, Akhmetshin has rejected these allegations.

Meanwhile, RBC’s source in the Russian Federation Council said that the senator’s arrest could become "a new stumbling block in relations between Russia and the West. "Of course, this indicates that any high-ranking member of the Russian elite can be caught in the crossfire. That can been seen as an element of [Western] pressure in the run-up to the presidential election," Yevgeny Minchenko, head of Minchenko Consulting Communication Group, said in an interview with the paper.


Kommersant: Azerbaijan’s increasing gas appetite brings back Gazprom

Russia’s energy giant Gazprom and Azerbaijan’s State Oil Company have inked a contract on resuming Russian gas supplies to that country. Azerbaijan thus resumed purchasing gas from Gazprom after an 11-year break, Kommersant writes. The volume of deliveries will come to 1.6 bln cubic meters per year.

The two countries made an attempt to agree on gas supplies back in 2015, but a deal was not hammered out at that time. Azerbaijan’s internal demand for natural gas is 10 bln cubic meters per year.

Baku stopped purchasing Russian gas in 2006, when the country launched its major Shah Deniz field, which had reserves amounting to 1.2 trillion cubic meters of gas. Moreover, Russia began purchasing gas from Azerbaijan to supply it to Dagestan. However, the supplies were often suspended due to repairs.

The field currently produces about 9 bln cubic meters of gas, and plans are in the offing to bolster production by 16 bln cubic meters in Q3 2018. However, the additional gas volumes are part of the contract on deliveries through the Southern Gas Corridor, which provides for the transportation of 16 bln cubic meters of gas from the Caspian Sea region through Georgia to Turkey (6 bln cubic meters) and Europe (10 bln cubic meters).

Therefore, there is a shortage of gas for domestic consumption in Azerbaijan, which made the new contract with Gazprom inevitable. That can also force Georgia, which currently covers its domestic demand at the expense of supplies from Azerbaijan, to purchase more gas from Russia.

According to Alexey Grivach, Deputy Director of Russia’s National Energy Security Fund, the surge in demand from Azerbaijan’s domestic market and the decline in domestic production have shown that Baku is unable to honor its commitments. Azerbaijan’s State Oil Company will have to purchase gas from Russia at some point. That proves that the diversification of gas supplies in Europe at the expense of the Southern Corridor is unfeasible, because Azerbaijan will purchase gas from Russia to supply it to European consumers.


Izvestia: EU media may come into crosshairs of Russia’s foreign agents law

Moscow might add some European media outlets to the list of foreign agents, if pressure is cranked up on Russia’s mass media working in the EU, Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house) Provisional Commission on the Protection of State Sovereignty, Andrey Klimov, told Izvestia.

"If the EU toes the line of the United States and begins putting pressure on our media outlets, we will act under the tit-for-tat principle, on the basis of international law and the UN Charter, and defend our sovereignty. If EU member states do not like our reactions, they should criticize Washington for that instead of us. We are responding to their unfriendly moves against RT [television channel] and Sputnik [news agency]. Those media outlets that Russia issued a warning to are actually not mass media outlets. What is Radio Liberty and the Voice of America? These are propaganda machines broadcasting the interests of the United States," Klimov stressed.

Some EU leaders, OSCE top officials and press services criticized the amendments to Russia’s foreign agent law, which makes it possible to label media outlets bankrolled from abroad as foreign agents. Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament) unanimously voted for the bill on November 15, while the Federation Council (upper house) endorsed it on November 22.

Olga Kovitidi, member of the Commission on the Protection of State Sovereignty, told the paper that the amendments theoretically make it possible for Moscow to use tit-for-tat moves against any media outlets, including European ones. "Before commenting on our laws, Western governments should understand the reason for their appearance. The reason was the use of discriminatory measures against Russian media. That means that the law will be applied to all legal parties abroad, both in the US and in Western Europe," she said.


Vedomosti: Russia’s Rosneft to share gas with China

Russia’s oil and gas major, Rosneft, is looking for an investor for the third largest gas project - Rospan International (Rosneft’s subsidiary) - and is prepared to sell a stake in the company, some well-informed sources told Vedomosti.

Rospan is developing several fields close to Novy Urengoy (the largest city in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region) with the total reserves of over 1 trillion cubic meters of gas.

Two of the sources interviewed by the paper noted that the future Rosneft shareholder, CEFC China Energy, could be the potential customer. It could buy up to 49% of Rospan, one of the sources said.

Olga Danilenko, Oil and Gas Director at Prosperity Capital Management, and BCS analyst Kirill Tachennikov unanimously concur that Rospan International can be valued at $5.5-6.2 bln depending on the ruble exchange rate and oil prices. However, according to Raiffeisenbank analyst Andrey Polishchuk, judging by the reserves of Rospan International’s fields, it would have a price tag of $8-9 bln, which means that a 49% share can cost from $2.75 to 4.5 bln.

Selling a stake in Rospan can also have a strategic aspect, said a source close to one of the parties. Rosneft has been promoting the liberalization of gas exports from Russia for a long time, as the monopoly has belonged to Gazprom since 2006. "If the deal is a success, both Rosneft and its foreign partner will promote the liberalization of gas exports," the source noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow region gearing up for 2018 FIFA World Cup

Russia will be hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup next year, which will be not only a holiday for sports fans but also a test for the authorities, including regional ones, to organize such large-scale events in a worthy manner. Although the Moscow region will not host any of World Cup matches, 12 games will be played in Moscow. Therefore, the region needs to provide comfortable accommodations for athletes, ensure training practice and tackle many other issues, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Moscow Region Governor Andrey Vorobyov earlier said that most of the teams would live in the region for a month, adding that preparations are underway to provide accommodations for the world’s leading teams.

A special emphasis will be placed on security issues, specifically, the installation of CCTV cameras. "To date, more than 4,000 CCTV cameras integrated into the Safe Region system have been installed in 13 municipalities where the World Cup facilities are located. By the beginning of the competitions, their number will increase by 1,500," said Dmitry Pestov, Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Region Government.

A large amount of work is being done on highways and nearby areas, in addition to infrastructure facilities being revamped, he noted. "The World Cup will end, and the work that has been done to prepare for it will serve Moscow regional residents for a long time. It will help improve the level of comfort and security in our communities," Pestov concluded.


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