Press review: Russia tackles domestic fuel fears and US-China nuke standoff in the cards

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Vedomosti: Russian government, oil companies agree to rein in gasoline prices

The Russian government and the country’s oil companies will sign an agreement on stabilizing the fuel market within the next 24 hours, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said on Wednesday evening after his meeting with representatives of Russia’s oil industry. According to Kozak, a solution has been found, and the situation may begin to get ironed out soon, Vedomosti writes.

The agreements will provide for at least a 3-percent increase in fuel supplies to the domestic market compared to last year, said Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, adding that wholesale prices should return to the level of this past June to ensure filling stations’ profitability.

According to Pavel Bazhenov, President of the Independent Fuel Union, gasoline prices in some Russian regions have risen more than 10% since then.

The parties have actually agreed to keep wholesale prices at the level of retail ones while retaining small profitability, the paper quotes Yevgeny Arkusha, President of the Russian Fuel Union, as saying. “In actual fact, retail fuel prices will be retained until the end of this year at the level of today’s prices offered by oil companies. An agreement was reached that independent filling stations will reduce them to that level,” he explained. However, to maintain margins, vertically integrated oil companies are going to bring down wholesale prices, the expert added.

The biggest risk for oil companies is the imposition of export duties, that is why they opted for a consensus, Raiffeisen Bank analyst Andrei Polishchuk stressed. Non-market regulatory mechanisms exist in many countries, and Russia is no exception. It is essential to get rid of that, the expert said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Is a US-Chinese nuclear standoff in the cards?

Washington has said it was gravely concerned by efforts to decide Taiwan’s fate “other than by peaceful means.” This warning is apparently related to the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping recently met with officers of the armed forces’ Southern Theater Command, ordering them to boost their combat capability, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Beijing earlier warned Taipei that it could use force, if the island embarked on a path of separatism.

Although the US has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan, America continues to support it on the global stage and supplies it with weapons.

According to the Foreign Affairs magazine, the prospect of a military confrontation “no longer seems as implausible as it once did. And the odds of such a confrontation going nuclear are higher than most policymakers and analysts think.”

Alexander Lomanov, Chief Research Fellow at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, explained in an interview with the paper that such publications and statements appear against the backdrop of a very strong domestic rift in the US, particularly in the run-up to the midterm elections. “Those who disagree with President Trump’s policy, try to show it is erroneous. On the one hand, Republicans argue that Trump emerges victorious in any disputes by getting concessions. China is likely to yield to conditions put forward by the United States before long. However, in the wake of remarks by US Vice President Michael Pence who highlighted his country’s rivalry with China in economics, politics, ideology and the military sphere, the Foreign Affairs publication is kind of a warning to those in the Trump administration who got carried away with containing Beijing. China has become a strong country, and attempts to contain it, by not observing those rules that had existed during the Cold War, could result in dire consequences,” he pointed out.


Izvestia: Syria mulls joining EAEU

Damascus is exploring the possibility of trade preferences with some members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and could raise the issue of joining the association in the near future, Syrian Economy and Foreign Trade Minister Samer al-Khalil told Izvestia.

“To join the Eurasian Union, we need first to sign customs agreements, regulate legislation in that area and obtain consent from all of its members. Opening a free trade zone is easier in this regard, but again with all of the countries’ consent. That is why we are exploring the possibility of trade preferences with individual countries, for example, Russia. Syria’s economy is developing at a rapid pace, and, perhaps, we will also raise the issue of joining the EAEU in the near future,” he said.

The minister noted that right now it is difficult to provide exact time periods when Syria’s economy will reach its pre-war level of development. However, according to some estimates, work to rebuild it could take no less than 10 years, he noted.

When asked about plans to extract mineral resources on the Mediterranean shelf, al-Khalil did not rule out that Syria could start oil production in the shelf area once the situation in the country has stabilized.

Commenting on the issue of sanctions and import substitution plans in Syria, the minister explained that Syria had diversified its supplies to get all its essential products despite any obstacles or restrictive measures. “There are friendly countries, even in the Arab world, which supply all the necessary goods. Unfortunately, full import substitution is currently ruled out. Our economy has just begun to recover, but we are working on that,” he added.


RBC: Washington urges Saudi Arabia to cease hostilities in Yemen

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on the Saudi-led Arab coalition to cease hostilities in Yemen and support efforts by UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the conflict. According to Pompeo, the negotiations to end that country’s civil war will begin as early as November.

Although relations between Washington and Riyadh have cooled, the Saudis will not lose America’s support as long as the US sees Iran as a major threat to stability in the Middle East, RBC writes.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in the armed conflict in Yemen in March 2015 after Houthi rebels captured the port of Aden, securing control over Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. The coalition insists that the rebels receive assistance from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement. In June, the Arab coalition launched an offensive against the Yemeni port of Hodeidah controlled by Houthi rebels. The operation dubbed Golden Victory has been raging on until now.

Washington’s attitude towards Saudi Arabia will not change radically as long as the US views the Middle East through the prism of ‘either Saudi Arabia or Iran’, the paper quotes Sergei Serebrov, Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Oriental Studies, as saying. The expert recalled that the Arab coalition had intervened in the Yemeni conflict under the pretext that Houthi rebels represented Iran’s interests and received military aid from Tehran. Riyadh’s allies have not changed their attitude towards the rebels since then, the expert stressed.



Kommersant: International mediators intensify pursuit for Nagorno-Karabakh solution

The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh issue are on a working visit to the South Caucasus. They have visited the Armenian capital of Yerevan and Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, and are set to pay a visit to Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku on Thursday, Kommersant writes.

The mission, which includes representatives of Russia, France and the US, is expected to step up the Nagorno-Karabakh talks following Armenia’s regime change in May.

Despite the lack of progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, international mediators have continued their attempts to break the deadlock in negotiations.

According to Anna Naghdalyan, a spokesperson for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, the government’s program clearly states that Nagorno-Karabakh, being the core party to the conflict, should have a voice in resolving the crisis and be involved in the settlement process. “Armenia’s actions are aimed at continuing the peace process within the framework of that logic,” she told Kommersant.

All key stages of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process have been going on under the OSCE’s supervision since 1992. This is because it was impossible to determine the status of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic at the talks.

After Monday’s dialogue in Yerevan, the Minsk Group Co-Chairs visited Nagorno-Karabakh to meet with its top officials and monitored the line of engagement between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijani troops, David Babayan, a spokesman for the president of the non-recognized republic, told the paper.

“The new visit by the Minsk Group Co-Chairs, who cannot accept the proposals to change the format of Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations, because it is unacceptable for Baku, has shown that this international mechanism continues to spin its wheels,” Alexey Malashenko, Chief Researcher at the Dialogue of Civilizations Institute, told the paper.

According to the expert, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan “understands that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue continues to be unresolved, and there will be no real dialogue between Baku and Yerevan.” “That’s why he deliberately raises the bar of demands to at least consolidate his position in his home country,” he pointed out.


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