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Press review: Ex-spy poisoning woes and China's Siberian uranium investment

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, March 13
British Prime Minister Theresa May  PA via AP
British Prime Minister Theresa May
© PA via AP


Kommersant: UK PM reveals nerve agent that poisoned former Russian spy

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday accused Russia of having been behind the attempted murder of ex-Russian spy and former agent of Britain’s intelligence Sergey Skripal and his daughter, Kommersant writes. Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko was summoned by the British Foreign Office and given an ultimatum: Moscow must explain the Salisbury spy poisoning or London will view the attack as an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK.

The substance used in the poisoning of the ex-Russian spy was the nerve agent Novichok, a powerful chemical weapon developed in the late 1980s and banned under international treaties.

A former Russian intelligence officer told the newspaper that nerve agents could be used for drawing broader public attention to an incident.

British and Russian experts interviewed by the paper say that although the Skripal case has similarities with the murder of former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service Alexander Litvinenko in the UK in 2006, there are several significant differences in these two stories. Therefore, the current Russian-British conflict won’t be just a repetition or a new version of the old incident. The UK government has been accused of the failure to learn a lesson from Litvinenko’s murder and that the country’s special services have been unable to protect their agent Skripal, Domitilla Sagramoso, a lecturer at King`s College, explained.

Former Russian Ambassador to London Anatoly Adamishin said May’s statement signals that London is ready to use last-ditch means, with or without the support of its Western allies. "In general, the Skripal case, which is unfolding in an extremely negative way, may turn London into Moscow’s toughest opponent in the West. Now the United States is playing this role. It looks like the UK will be the last in the West who will be ready to mend ties with Russia," the diplomat said.


RBC: China to invest in uranium production in East Siberia

The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) will invest into the construction of a uranium mine in the Transbaikal Region in East Siberia for a 49% stake in the joint venture and 600 tonnes of uranium per year, according to RBC. Russia’s Rosatom state nuclear energy corporation has been unable to attract financing in Russia. RBC writes that the Russia-China Investment Fund for Regional Development, acting on the behalf of CNNC, is ready to invest 16.1 bln rubles ($283 mln) in the construction.

Under a term sheet signed on Monday, the fund will invest 2.53 bln rubles ($44.5 mln) in the construction of surface facilities and re-activating one of the mines, the fund’s Director General Rustam Temirgaliyev said.

According to Temirgaliyev, CNNC and ARMZ Uranium Holding Co. will also sign an offtake contract in late March on the supplies of 50% of uranium from the mine to China. A source familiar with the agreements said China expects to get some 600 tonnes of uranium per year if the mine has a capacity of 1,200 tonnes. Later, the Chinese side plans to agree on the supplies of enriched uranium.

Analyst at the AKRA analytical agency Maxim Khudalov expects that China will see a return on investment in nearly seven years, in line with the industry average.

China has 38 nuclear power reactors in operation and plans to build another 20 reactors by 2020. The country has been actively investing in uranium production projects in Namibia, Kazakhstan, Canada, Uzbekistan and Niger, the paper writes.

"For a country which imports 18,000 tonnes of uranium per year, mainly from Kazakhstan, this amount of 600 tonnes from Russia is just nothing. Apparently, this is a mutually beneficial political project," Editor-in-Chief of the Atominfo portal Alexander Uvarov said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia and Turkey decide Eastern Ghouta’s fate

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has arrived in Moscow on a three-day visit to discuss bilateral ties and international issues with the Russian leadership. Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that the talks will focus on the worsening situation in Syria. Experts say Turkey’s goal is to discuss the details of evacuating Eastern Ghouta’s militants loyal to Ankara.

Over the past days, the situation in Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, where militants of both moderate and radical groups are holed up, has deteriorated, the paper writes. Pro-government forces have divided the rebel enclave into several parts and the humanitarian situation there has been worsening. The West has called on Damascus and its partners, Moscow and Tehran, to stop the offensive against the suburb saying that civilians remain there. The Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Warring Parties in Syria said on Monday that it was in talks on evacuating the sick and wounded militants from Eastern Ghouta.

Turkish experts say Cavusoglu is expected to discuss with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov the situation in Eastern Ghouta and in Afrin, northern Syria. Turkish political scientist Kerim Has expects no "drastic changes" in Eastern Ghouta in the near future. "Most likely, the Syrian government forces will continue the military operation and the Turkish side, despite its tough criticism aimed at the domestic audience, won’t harshly counter the Russian [and Syrian] leadership," he told the paper.

However, in Afrin Turkey needs Moscow’s approval for stepping up its operation, the expert noted. The ministers may discuss this issue, but the advancement in the center of Afrin will be delayed until a meeting between the Russian and Turkish Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, due in early April, he said.

Talks between the Russian and Turkish leaders in Istanbul are expected to play a decisive role in the future of the Kurdish enclave, according to the expert.


Izvestia: Crimea attracts Belgium’s investments

An official delegation from Belgium will visit Crimea for the first time since 2014, Izvestia writes. Some 15 Belgian lawmakers and entrepreneurs, who are planning to invest in the production of construction materials and commercial real estate construction and also develop local port management, will visit the Black Sea peninsula, co-chairman of the organizing committee of the Yalta International Economic Forum Andrei Nazarov told the paper.

Members of the Belgian delegation have confirmed the plans, saying that more than 50 mln euro will be invested in the development of Crimea’s port infrastructure. The Yalta forum, due on April 19-21, will be attended by more than 3,000 people, including over 500 guests from 60 countries.

"Crimea provides many opportunities for developing business. This is a perfect place for trade and favorable weather conditions contribute to developing tourism. I’m heading to the peninsula to ensure investment in port infrastructure. We are planning to invest more than 50 mln euros," commercial adviser of the Anwerp port and owner of the Flanders Maritime Port Services logistics company Peter Vergauven said, noting that "our experience will encourage economic development on the peninsula."

The Belgian delegation’s official visit to Crimea will become an important step towards mending relations between Brussels and Moscow, Senator Anke Van Dermeersch told Izvestia. During the forum, the participants will discuss both commercial projects and cooperation in culture and education, she stressed.

At the forum, the Belgian delegation’s members plan to call for lifting anti-Russian sanctions, which affect the economy of the EU countries, the paper writes. Belgian MP Filip Dewinter said the visit would be a strong signal for Brussels about the need to revise its sanctions policy.

Over the past years, Crimea has been attracting foreign investors, the paper notes. In April, Syrian businessmen will arrive in Yalta, who are planning to pour money into the region’s agro-industrial sector. Irish entrepreneurs seek to invest some 100 mln euros in development projects, namely building hotels on the Crimean coast.


Izvestia: Russia steps up investment in US securities

Last year, Russia increased investment in US government securities by 18.6% to $102.2 bln, data compiled by the US Treasury Department, and that’s despite political turmoil, according to Izvestia newspaper.

The investment in US securities in 2017 accounted for almost a quarter of the overall amount of Russia’s international foreign currency reserves, taking top spot and followed by securities of France and Germany (12.5% and 10%, respectively), according to the Central Bank. The return on investment in US securities reaches 2.3% per year, the Russian Central Bank said. The regulator stresses that the goal is not to earn but to save money.

Analysts told the paper that the current political climate in this case does not affect the financial market: the Central Bank is free to make its own decisions.

The Russian regulator has been investing in US securities since 2007 and the first investments stood at $8.5 bln.

Analyst at Raiffeisen Bank Denis Poryvai said geopolitical tensions do not affect the regulator’s investment strategy. "Just in theory, the United States may block the money of those countries, which have invested in its securities. But in fact they will never take this step since this will unleash a financial "nuclear" war. All countries will know then that they are capable of doing that, and won’t invest in their financial instruments," he explained.


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