Kommersant: Turkey arms Ukraine with combat drones

The Ukrainian army will get Turkey’s newest drones dubbed the Bayraktar TB2, which can be used for airstrikes, Kommersant writes. Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko announced that the deal had been signed, but did not reveal the contract’s price tag.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in an interview with Kommersant that weapons supplies for the Kiev regime must not become a factor that exacerbates the internal Ukrainian conflict. Experts and sources in Russia’s defense sector note that the deal won’t turn the tide in the Donbass conflict, but will enable Kiev to carry out surgical strikes, which may spark more destabilization.

According to Turkey’s state agency Anadolu, six drones will be supplied to Kiev “within a year.” The only country, other than Ukraine, to have purchased these drones is Turkey’s close regional ally, Qatar, the paper says.

A source in Ukraine’s Defense Ministry explained that although the Bayraktar TB2 drones can conduct airstrikes, the Ukrainian army won’t use them for offensive operations in Donbass. “We are conducting a defensive operation, not an offensive one. We are not going to attack Donetsk and carry out massive shelling of Ukrainian citizens’ houses. We are strengthening our defensive capacity.”

While Poroshenko and his administration insist that Kiev had bought strike drones, Russian military experts questioned by Kommersant note that this assessment has nothing to do with reality. “The key goal of the Bayraktar TB2 is to carry out surveillance operations, rather than delivering airstrikes. That’s why it is appropriate to call it not an attack, but a surveillance-attack drone, given that equipping this aircraft with a small laser-guided missile weighting less than 20 kg is an additional option,” said Ivan Konovalov, Director of the Center for Strategic Studies. According to the expert, equipping the Ukrainian army with Turkey’s drones cannot radically shift the balance of power but nevertheless this could stir up more tension in Donbass. In particular, they can be used in the information war with the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, he noted.

Vice President of the Russian International Affairs Council and retired Lieutenant -General Yevgeny Buzhinsky shares this opinion. “It’s not serious to call them strike drones. Their major goal is to carry out reconnaissance operations from the air that are crucial given the current conditions for each side,” he said.


Izvestia: Damascus demands closure of major US base

The largest US military base in Syria, located in Al-Tanf on the border between Syria and Jordan, must be closed, the ruling Ba’ath party’s press service told Izvestia. Syria will demand a full departure by the US from its entire territory, and the base in the south of the Arab republic won’t be an exception.

There is still no direct contact between the US and Syrian government forces, and the mediation effort is being carried out by the Russian military, the Ba’ath party said.

The US Embassy told Izvestia citing a statement of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the American military would continue ensuring the security of the Syrian-Jordanian border near the base and the Rukban refugee camp. Some US media reports said, citing Pentagon officials, that Washington plans to leave the base for some time or transfer it under direct control of the Jordanian military. But Damascus is against this scenario, the Ba’ath party said.

Chairman of Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament) Defense Committee and former Commander of the Russian Airborne Troops, Vladimir Shamanov told the paper that Turkey is another influential player, which is interested in gaining control over the US base. “The Turks want this base to be turned over to their jurisdiction, and they are holding talks with the Americans. There have been no results so far or we do not know them yet,” the lawmaker explained. Another possible option is to preserve the base, leaving a small contingent of troops there.

Frants Klintsevich, a member of the Defense and Security Committee of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house), stressed that the US base was set up in Syria illegally and the Syrian leadership should demand the pullout of the entire US contingent from their soil.


Media: Trump pressed over Putin talks, as shutdown delays Russia sanctions

With the 2020 presidential election approaching, US President Donald Trump is once again coming under fire domestically. This time, members of the Democratic Party, who now control the House of Representatives, are interested in personal conversations between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The presidential meeting in Germany’s Hamburg in 2017 on the sidelines of the G20 summit is in the crosshairs, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The US Congress intends to hold hearings on Trump’s ties with Putin. The Washington Post has added fuel to the fire by saying that the US leader had concealed the details of his talks with Putin in Hamburg from the administration.

“The upcoming hearings in the House of Representatives are part of the Democrats’ anti-Trump crusade, which began once he assumed office and is expected to last until he leaves the White House,” said Andrei Sushentsov, Program Director of the Valdai Club Foundation. “They are trying to make a direct connection between Moscow and the Trump administration and will search for any pretext and even grabbing at far-fetched reasons such as the content of the conversation between Trump and Putin. All this is an element of a struggle ahead of the election. Particularly, now this concerns the 2020 presidential race. We may suggest that these episodes will continue to be a distinctive feature of the US domestic political standoff,” the expert said.

Washington’s current atmosphere is playing into Moscow’s hand, Izvestia writes. While the US is preoccupied by its concerns, it is not rushing to slap new sanctions on Russia. The shutdown, which flared up in the US amid Trump’s standoff with the Democrats, has broken a historic record, holding out for 23 days.

According to Senior Researcher at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Vasilyev, domestic political uncertainty will gain steam in Washington and therefore US politicians will be less focused on Russia. “The issue of new sanctions has been brought to a standstill and the US military machine is actually frozen,” the expert noted.


Vedomosti: Huge profits await Russia’s Gazprom from rising EU gas demand

Last year, Russia’s energy giant Gazprom set the third record in a row, exporting more than 200 bln cubic meters of natural gas to Europe and Turkey, and in the next five years it may boost both supplies and its share of European market, Vedomosti writes.

Europe’s appetite for gas imports saw demand rise 8.3% in 2017, according to Eurostat, reaching 312.1 bln cubic meters. Gazprom predicts that by 2025, EU demand will climb another 19% (or by 60 bln) and by 2030 by 25% (78 bln cu m). The peak of gas imports in Europe – 409 bln cu m per year – will be seen in 2025, analysts at the International Energy Agency said in November. The share of Russian supplies will be 37%, they wrote.

In a worst-case scenario, if production in the Netherlands’ Groningen and supplies from Algeria are halted, and Norway does not open new vital gas deposits, Europe’s demand for gas from other sources may grow by more than 50 bln cu m, says Dmitry Marinchenko, Director at Fitch Ratings.

“This is a quarter of what Europe now buys from Russia and half of the capacities of all US liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals by the end of 2019,” he said. “The European market may become more attractive for LNG producers, even from the US. But this is also a chance for Gazprom with its excessive production capacities. After launching the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, it may boost exports.”

Besides obstacles to gas imports in 2022, Europe may be facing a dilemma of a quicker reduction of its own output, said Tatyana Mitrova, Director of the Energy Center at the Skolkovo Business School. Although supplies from Azerbaijan are growing, they cannot compensate for this deficiency. Mitrova admits that there are many scenarios for gas imports in the upcoming 5-7 years, but Gazprom remains the most important supplier. However, its rival is not gas from Algeria, the Netherlands or Norway but LNG, she stressed. “Gazprom can use various strategies, ranging from preserving the current price to switching to spot prices, and even dumping,” the expert noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US forcing Berlin to ditch Russian gas pipeline project

The recent threats by US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell against companies involved in the construction of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline have sparked a diplomatic scandal, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The German Foreign Ministry criticized the US envoy’s undiplomatic behavior. However, the American ambassador ignored Berlin’s remarks. Amid this standoff, the German business community acknowledged for the first time that the gas pipeline’s construction might be really halted. Earlier, European politicians said this was almost impossible, the paper says.

There are no legal tools to stop the gas pipeline project in the framework of European legislation, Czech Ambassador-at-Large for Energy Security Vaclav Bartuska said. However, the Trump administration is trying to halt the project not through European legal procedures, but by announcing bans on German corporate activity.

It’s no secret that after Germany’s capitulation in World War II, Washington has continued controlling the country as part of a limited sovereignty concept, the paper writes. It’s a big question whether Berlin may ignore Washington’s clear message and pretend that it’s independent, but today the Nord Stream 2 project is actually Germany’s attempt to move beyond post-war limitations and conditions of limited sovereignty.

Russian experts say it’s important to distinguish political statements and particular steps by the US administration. “There are words about Washington’s position and there are moves of the US administration. So far, these moves have not affected the Nord Stream 2 project. The construction is ongoing and will be completed by the end of 2019,” said Sergey Pravosudov, Director of the National Energy Institute. US countermeasures against Soviet and Russian gas exports to Europe have been in place for more than 50 years. Despite these steps, Russian gas exports to European countries continue and even grow, he noted.


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