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Press Review: What Syria's 'unified' opposition has in store and what Donbass has planned

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday
Syrian peace talks at the United Nations Office in Geneva, 2016 Philippe Desmazes/pool photo via AP
Syrian peace talks at the United Nations Office in Geneva, 2016
© Philippe Desmazes/pool photo via AP

Kommersant: Syrian opposition split on Assad’s fate despite forming single delegation

Geneva will host the eighth round of intra-Syrian peace talks opening on November 28. These talks come on the heels of the summit between the Russian, Turkish and Iranian presidents who announced in Sochi the onset of a new stage in the Syrian peace process, to break the impasse and work towards rebuilding the post-war state and tackle issues such as elections and a new constitution.

However, the situation in the run-up to the negotiations is unlikely to offer hope for a breakthrough, Kommersant writes. Despite the fact that the Syrian opposition has agreed for the first time to be represented by a single delegation, the points of contention between its members, above all, on the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, still linger. The communique adopted by the opposition in Riyadh states that it is impossible to resolve the Syrian crisis without the resignation of Assad and his administration at the beginning of the transition period. Besides, it contains tough rhetoric against Iran, which is accused of destabilizing Syria.

Chairman of the Syrian opposition’s Moscow Group, Qadri Jamil, told the paper that Assad’s political fate should be determined at the negotiating table rather than before the beginning of the talks. As for criticism against Tehran, according to the Moscow Group’s delegates, it is inappropriate, since Iran, along with Russia and Turkey, acts as a guarantor of the Astana process.

According to Valdai Discussion Club expert Maxim Suchkov, today the parties have an understanding that they are at the very start of the political settlement process, so quick results are still out of reach. "The meeting in Geneva, which is to be the logical continuation of the Astana process to reconcile the warring parties, will just test the waters. The parties will just try ‘to get along’ with each other, negotiate the conditions and format of the subsequent negotiations," he told Kommersant.

Meanwhile, Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, believes “the political transition in Syria will yield no dividends for either President Assad who hopes to remain in power after the military victory or the radical wing of the opposition insisting on his early departure. "In this situation, progress at the Geneva talks will depend largely on the position of the external players, namely, Russia, Turkey, the US and Saudi Arabia who can influence the parties to the Syrian conflict," he explained in an interview with the paper.


Izvestia: No price hikes on Russian gasoline and diesel until New Year’s

Russian consumers can rest easy for now since hikes in gasoline and diesel fuel prices are not expected until the end of this year. According to information obtained by Izvestia, by the end of November practically all oil companies planned to increase gasoline sales at the St. Petersburg Mercantile Exchange by 7% and diesel fuel - by 20%, in accordance with the recommendations by Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service. Presumably, this will help put the brakes on price hikes that began in the autumn.

The press service of the St. Petersburg Mercantile Exchange informed the paper that, since the beginning of this month, oil companies had delivered to the exchange about 362,000 tonnes of gasoline and 333,000 tonnes of diesel fuel. That said diesel fuel prices experienced the biggest hikes at the beginning of this month, hence the response from the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, which asked oil majors, including Rosneft, Gazpromneft and Lukoil, to increase exchange delivery this month and next month.

Russia’s Anti-Monopoly Service is closely keeping an eye on the situation at the exchange and has already achieved a reduction in exports in favor of the domestic market, Dmitry Makhonin, Head of its Fuel and Energy Complex Control Department, told the paper. He noted that in December exchange supplies will be regulated taking into account domestic demand at gas stations.

"The companies responded to the service’s request and have significantly increased the sale of fuel at the exchange. All the factors associated with the growing prices stem from unscrupulous practices by traders. We are consistently auditing them," he assured.

Given the increase in fuel sales and the seasonal drop in demand for gasoline, the rise in fuel prices can be followed by a drop, according to Leonid Rybakov, Head of the Trade Operations Department at the BCS. "The 20-percent increase in exchange sales in November and December will make it possible to slow rising prices and curb them by the end of the year to a level close to the current one," the paper quotes him as saying.


Kommersant: Gazprom tightens ‘gas’ pressure on its Indian partner

Negotiations between Russia’s Gazprom and its biggest client in the liquefied gas market, India’s GAIL, on revising its contract have gotten stuck in the mud, Kommersant writes citing its own sources. The Russian energy giant has notified its Indian partner of the beginning of the contract’s execution for LNG deliveries in 2018. The issue at hand is the 2014 contract for 2.5 mln tonnes of LNG per year (with a possible increase up to 3.5 mln tonnes) for 25 years. The supplies were scheduled to begin in 2018.

Kommersant’s sources in the energy sector have confirmed that the talks are deadlocked and the issue is likely to be taken to the political level, since failure to fulfill the contract provisions is fraught with huge financial losses for one of the parties. Demand for gas in India turned out to be lower than GAIL estimated (in no small measure due to delays in the construction of domestic gas pipelines), and this year the Indian company had to resell the LNG received under long-term contracts.

LNG contracts traditionally contain a tough take-or-pay condition (at least 85%), and GAIL is facing losses, since it is likely to get a lower price when reselling gas, while the contract with Gazprom does not envisage resale at all.

Considering the changing market climate, the Indian company has asked for a significant price cut. According to Kommersant’s sources, GAIL would like to reduce the coefficient in the formula to 12.5%. However, in reality, it can expect only about 13%, even such price cuts would leave Gazprom at a net loss.

However, a tough standoff between the parties is unlikely, experts say. In contrast to Europe, disputes over long-term contracts in Asia are generally resolved after years of negotiations. In Gazprom’s case, litigation should not be expected either, according to Roman Kazmin from ICIS. In his view, since the issue at hand is two government-funded companies, the matter will be handled at the political level, while Gazprom will eventually meet its partner halfway, considering the prospects and significance of the Indian market for the company in the future.


Izvestia: Donbass republics set sights on pursuing Novorossiya confederation

Novorossiya will inevitably emerge from a future metamorphosis of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics (DPR and LPR). This will help counter Kiev’s actions and foster statehood more effectively, officials in Donetsk and Lugansk said in an interview with Izvestia.

"We have a lot of common issues right now, and we make more common decisions. This union as a whole is possible. What it needs is ‘the right’ moment. In my personal opinion, it is easier and more effective to tackle many issues with a single government," Denis Pushilin, Chairman of the DPR People’s Council, told the paper.

Officials in Lugansk likewise confirmed that the formation of a united republic is under discussion. However, both republics signed the Minsk accords. Although Ukraine is essentially the one failing to comply with the agreements, all parties insist that there is no alternative to the Minsk-2 deal and declare their intention to pursue their full implementation. Therefore, to begin with, it is necessary to resolve all the "Minsk" issues and then embark on unifying the Donbass republics. Otherwise, this will serve as an excuse for Kiev to accuse Donetsk and Lugansk of violating the agreements.

Political Expert Denis Denisov, who is the head of the Kiev branch of the Institute of CIS Countries, is certain that both Donbass residents and the political leaders should have a clear understanding what ordinary citizens in the two republics will get in the event of unification and how that can help the settlement.

"Once the crisis is overcome, the hostilities stop and the future is clear for at least the coming 5-10 years, only then will be it possible to talk about the integration options. However, this should be determined by people in the Donbass region," the expert told Izvestia.


Vedomosti: Merkel’s new coalition talks bound to be rocky, expert warns

Chances for forming a coalition between the alliance of the German Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria that won the September elections to the German Bundestag and the Social Democratic Party of Germany are quite good, but the negotiations will not be easy, Vedomosti quotes Professor Jens Hacke of Martin Luther University as saying.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier said the alliance was ready to begin negotiations with the Social Democratic Party promising that the talks will be "serious, intense and responsible."

Merkel’s first attempt to forge a coalition failed last week. Now there are three possible options: reviving the big coalition including the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union and the Social Democratic Party, the first minority government in the post-war history of Germany or new elections.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany refused to form a coalition with Merkel immediately after the elections and confirmed this decision after the talks were derailed last week. However, over the weekend, some prominent party members softened their position. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, will also play a major role by using his influence to facilitate the talks and make them more productive, the expert forecasted.


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