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Press review: Who backs Moscow’s Donbass plan and Russia-US space cooperation to expand

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, January 26


Izvestia: Russia’s proposal on Donbass peacekeepers gets international backing

Russia’s draft resolution on deploying peacekeepers will lay the foundation for the work of a special United Nations mission in Donbass. A high-ranking Russian diplomatic source told Izvestia that all international mediators in settling the conflict, including the United States, agree with Russia’s proposal. Moscow suggests that Kiev should introduce "any amendments" to the document (except for deploying peacekeepers to the Russian border) to start the discussion. At Friday’s meeting Russian Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov and US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker will hash over the ins and outs of the Russian draft resolution and Washington’s proposals. A source close to the Ukrainian presidential administration told the paper that Volker’s recent trip to Kiev was aimed at persuading the leadership to accept the Russian initiative.

Kiev had repeated that they planned to put forward their own draft resolution on the peacekeeping mission in Donbass, but this has not been done so far. Ukrainian government sources told Izvestia that Kiev has indeed drawn up an alternative document, but won’t submit it as Paris, Berlin and Washington insist that the Russian document should become the basis for the peacekeeping operation.

Chairman of the board of the NGO Civil Union Armen Martirosyan, who is close to the Contact Group in Minsk, told Izvestia that all sides endorse the Russian draft resolution on peacekeepers. However, it is not beneficial for Kiev to fulfill any agreements ahead of the presidential race, so President Pyotr Poroshenko will again delay making a decision. Head of the State Duma (lower house) Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Leonid Kalashnikov said peacekeepers in Donbass are needed to protect the mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and may be deployed to the contact line. "But sending them to the border between Ukraine and Russia…This is even ridiculous to discuss. Kiev is doing this to derail the agreements since it is well aware that no one will accept this," the Russian MP stressed.


Izvestia: Russia, US to conduct joint space experiments

US researchers have announced plans to take part in joint experiments on simulating flights to outer space as part of the Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station (SIRIUS) program. US scientists suggested adding two additional research projects to the program with participation of a joint six-member Russian-US crew, Director of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences Oleg Orlov told Izvestia.

"Our American colleagues have expressed interest in expanding the five-year scientific program, which should result in one experiment on an annual isolation," Orlov told the paper. Russia has backed the initiative and now it should be included in official documents. The NASA Human Research Program has also confirmed the plans to join the experiments with the paper.

Besides NASA, the German Space Agency is also gearing up to take part in the SIRIUS program, Orlov said. Scientists from Japan, Italy, France and some other countries have also verified their interest.

The first two-week-long experiment as part of the SIRIUS program started in late 2017, the paper writes. In late 2018-early 2019, a four-month-long isolation is in store, to be followed by an eight-month-long experiment in 2019-2020. Later, three-year-long experiments are expected to be conducted in 2021-2025, according to the new plans.

The SIRIUS program is being implemented as part of preparations for flights to outer space, primarily for work on the lunar orbital station called Deep Space Gateway. Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos and NASA announced its creation in September 2017. The station’s first module will be launched from the Earth in 2022, with an international crew.

Academic Alexander Zheleznyakov of Russia’s Tsiolkovsky Academy of Cosmonautics said the agreements reached between Russian and US scientists on space cooperation hold special significance amid the current climate in bilateral political relations. "The experience of recent years has shown that it is more advantageous to explore space together, rather than alone," he told the paper. "This allows uniting intellectual resources, and this is cheaper. Both the United States and we understand this very well. That’s why both countries try to shield space from politics and keep it as a field for cooperation. We see that success here has been achieved."


Media: Russia seeks to reform Syria’s constitution

Moscow will call on participants of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress due to be held in Sochi on January 29-30 to consider its proposal on setting up a committee for Syria’s constitutional reform that should operate under the auspices of the United Nations, Qadri Jamil, chairman of the Moscow group of the Syrian opposition, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Russian International Affairs Council Expert Yuri Barmin told the paper that rumors started swirling that Russia also suggested creating election and presidential committees. "This is a logical decision," Barmin said, commenting on Russia’s initiative to set up a UN body aimed at reforming Syria’s national legal foundation. "The only thing that baffles me is if the High Negotiations Committee and Kurdish delegates do not come to Sochi, how can the constitution be discussed?"

Many factors serve as roadblocks to the Sochi meeting, including the participation of the Syrian Kurds there, the paper noted.

Kurdish politician Radwan Badini told Kommersant that the Kurds need to defend their rights at various platforms devoted to Syria’s future, including the upcoming Sochi Congress. However, after Turkey launched its operation in Afrin many Kurdish politicians said Russia betrayed them because it hadn’t stopped Ankara.

Representatives of the Democratic Union Party earlier said they would not go to Sochi, although there has not been any talk on an official invitation for them lately, the paper says. From the very start of preparations for the Sochi meeting, Turkey has opposed the participation of Kurdish parties there, chiefly the PYD. Moscow opted not to quarrel with Ankara bearing in mind that political settlement in Syria is impossible without a compromise with Turkey and Iran. Holding the Congress largely depends on Ankara’s position and its pressure on the opposition, Kommersant writes.


Kommersant: US multinational nixes plans to buy Russian oil pump maker

US multinational Halliburton has decided against carrying out a $1 bln deal on acquiring 100% of Novomet, a Russian oil equipment manufacturer, Kommersant business daily writes, citing sources. The Russian company has confirmed the report. The Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service said Halliburton has withdrawn its application. FAS Chief Igor Artemyev earlier pointed out, when commenting on the deal’s delay, that Halliburton was bracing for another round of sanctions.

Under the foreign investments law, the deal should have been considered by a government commission, but this did not happen, the paper says. In November, Novomet told Kommersant the deal was delayed, but did not confirm the cancellation. Sources told the paper that the sides had set the deadline on the decision by the end of 2017.

Talks with Halliburton began in 2016, and sources in the sector told Kommersant that the Americans sought to increase their share on the Russian drilling market. From the very beginning, sources suggested that Halliburton could face the same problems that prevented Schlumberger from buying a major Russian oilfield service company, Eurasia Drilling Company (EDC), in 2015.

Other investors may be also interested in buying Novomet, the paper says. A source told Kommersant that some oil and oil service companies have already shown interest in purchasing Rusnano’s 30.76% stake in the company and this signals a budding merger trend in the sector.


RBC: IOC slams Olympic door on best Russian athletes

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Thursday published a list of 17 conditions, used in making its decisions to de-list Russian athletes from the PyeongChang Games. The IOC earlier refused to invite 111 Russian athletes out of 500 on the list provided by the Russian Olympic Committee. Among them are several team captains from the national squad, who had not been singled out in doping scandals, including short-track speed-skater Viktor An, cross-country skier Sergey Ustiugov and biathlete Anton Shipulin.

Experts interviewed by RBC said the IOC’s criteria lack transparency. Deputy editor-in-chief of the Internet portal Yevgeny Slyusarenko said imposing such criteria on athletes from other countries would lead to their suspension from the Olympics en masse. Only very young athletes may comply with these criteria, he explained. The top candidates to be suspended are either those who have already won medals or who are eligible for getting them, he said.

"It turns out that you are "clean" because of your age. This may be the only possibility to get an invitation to the Olympics under these criteria. It seems to me that the IOC is playing it safe," Slyusarenko said.

The final list of Russians who will go to the Olympic Games is due to be published by January 28 or ten days before the tournament begins. Slyusarenko did not rule out that new names of leaders of Russia’s team may be included there.


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