Press review: Russia reacts to Trump’s Mideast peace plan and who’s got Aces High in Libya

Press review: Russia reacts to Trump’s Mideast peace plan and who’s got Aces High in Libya

US President Donald Trump made a crucial step Tuesday towards fulfilling his key election promise: going down in history as a peacemaker, who would iron out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of the world’s most enduring and problematic standoffs, Kommersant writes. Standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump announced details of the so-called ‘deal of the century,’ vowing that it would be advantageous for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the US proposal largely aligns with Israel’s stance, the paper says. On Thursday, Netanyahu, who has called the White House occupant "the greatest friend that Israel has ever had," is due to visit Moscow. He plans to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin about the US plan and apparently expects at least understanding, if not support. However, Russia has been rather skeptical about the initiative. The Palestinian leaders agreed on Tuesday to jointly counter Trump’s peace plan.

Trump highlighted that the plan would be implemented within four years, and this actually coincides with his second presidential term if he is re-elected. Washington expects that the Palestinians who are now fighting the deal would accept the proposed terms. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have announced their "days of rage" condemning Trump’s plan as a conspiracy that would trigger a new Palestinian crisis. However, the Palestinians don’t have any other tools of influence except for refusing to cooperate with the US. So far, the protests did not end in anything other than new victims. For a successful implementation of the Middle East peace initiative, Israel’s backing would not be enough and the support of the international community is required, the paper writes. The regional states will outline their position on Saturday at an emergency meeting of the Arab League.

Moscow has so far made rather cautious statements on the issue and offered to host direct talks between Israel and Palestine, but Tel Aviv has earlier refused to participate. Earlier, commenting on ‘the deal of the century’, Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov noted that the Middle East Quartet, which includes the EU, the UN, the US and Russia, had failed to act. Sources told Kommersant that Moscow blamed both Israel and Palestine, which only preferred a direct dialogue with the US. In any case, it would be hard to convince the Palestinians to consider the deal without the assistance of Russia and the EU, the paper says.

Izvestia: Russian lawmaker elected PACE vice president

Head of Russia’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Pyotr Tolstoy was elected as PACE’s vice president undeterred by Ukraine’s protests. Moscow is sure that this high-ranking seat in PACE would strengthen the Russian delegation’s position and boost its authority, Izvestia writes.

"The appointment of Pyotr Tolstoy is a good choice. It’s been a long time since a Russian representative has served in ruling structures," Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov said. "The authority of the delegation, whose representative serves in PACE’s ruling bodies, has significantly grown. No matter how our "friends" in Ukraine and Baltic states tried to prevent this, Russia still managed to secure this seat."

Meanwhile, the powers of Russia’s PACE delegation are still in question. Some 30 PACE lawmakers challenged them on the first day of the winter session. A vote on the issue is set for late Wednesday. The delegates will also discuss the procedure of responding to the Charter’s violations. Sources in the organization told the paper that no matter how the discussions end, Russian legislators won’t veto the proposed mechanism and will let it pass to the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe.

However, there is a threat that fundamental contradictions over the new mechanism would again split the organization and trigger a new crisis, sources say.

According to Tolstoy, opponents suggest, "condemning Russia for constitutional amendments, which have not been introduced and are just being discussed in society." As for other complaints regarding the participation of Crimean delegates, "they have been rejected by the Venice Commission" of the Council of Europe, the politician said. Tolstoy told the paper that the monitoring committee recommends that delegates should confirm Russia’s powers and this increases chances for a favorable scenario.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Libya turning into challenge for Russia’s Arab policy

The ongoing fighting in Libya has shown that it’s impossible to stop the war in the North African country only through Russian and Turkish endeavors. Once again, opponents of Khalifa Haftar accused the renowned commander of the Libyan National Army of violating the ceasefire. Specialists focused on the region interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta believe that the Libyan commander’s offensive is marching on thanks to the support of Haftar’s regional partners.

Claudia Gazzini, a senior analyst for Libya at the International Crisis Group, told the paper that Haftar’s Arab partners would continue supporting the offensive. According to her, the agreement between Ankara and Moscow on Libya and their tools of pressure on Libyan partners are not enough to stop the war. For Russia, this is not a problem that the Turkish forces could enter Libya. However, this is a major concern for Egypt, the UAE and the Saudis, who have hostile relations with Turkey, she noted.

Apparently, Ankara and Moscow are bargaining for mutual concessions on Libya and Syria. It’s clear that the situation in Syria’s Idlib could be balanced in favor of Russia, while Turkey would get some concessions on Libya, the analyst said.

Head of the Center for Islamic Studies at the Innovative Development Institute and Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov also linked the LNA’s continuing offensive with the position of Haftar’s Arab sponsors. "They want to continue these operations," he said. "Those who are placing their bets on Haftar have no other scenario. Any election could end not in favor of Haftar, or the forces in Tobruk because most citizens are in Tripoli," he explained, noting that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would continue sticking to their policy.

However, Semenov noted that the scale of Russia’s support for the LNA’s forces was unclear. According to French newspaper Le Monde, the Wagner private military company, deemed as a Kremlin project, was sponsored by Saudi Arabia to fight in Libya. So, the Libyan campaign was not that costly for Moscow as it seemed. Semenov also believes that Moscow and Ankara had struck a deal on Libya. "The pillar of Russia’s return to the Middle East is the Russian-Turkish relationship. All the rest is the consequence," the expert stressed.

Izvestia: Russian foreign trade drops for first time since 2016

The two-year growth in Russia’s trade with other countries has come to an end, according to preliminary data of the Federal Customs Service. Last year, total trade volume dropped 3.3% to $665 bln. In particular, exports fell 6% to $423 bln, while imports grew 1.7% to $243 bln. Izvestia writes that the changes in the figures were influenced by plunging oil and gas sales as well as rising imports of medicines and automobiles. Experts have no serious concerns about Russia’s economy. Some positive changes are also seen in Russia’s foreign trade — the sales of non-energy goods abroad have occupied a significant portion of Russia’s export structure.

Russia purchased high-tech products abroad, mainly mechanical equipment (2%, $42.7 bln), electrical equipment (-2%, $29.4 bln) and medicines (+31%, 10.6 bln). Russia’s automotive imports climbed nearly 10% to $8 bln.

China remained Russia’s major partner last year. The total trade volume with Beijing was almost unchanged — it inched up from $108 bln to $109 bln. However, Russia started selling fewer goods to China ($56 bln in 2018 compared with $55.6 bln in 2019), while it bought more ($52.2 bln and $53.6 bln, respectively).

Russia’s trade with Germany, its second largest trade partner, had plummeted (12%) to $52.4 bln. The Germans started buying fewer Russian goods and exports to Germany declined from $34.2 bln to $27.6 bln. However, this was somehow compensated by a growth in Russia’s trade with the Netherlands. Russia’s exports to this EU state rose from $43.4 bln to $45.8 bln.

In 2020, foreign trade will largely depend on import dynamics, chief analyst at Alfa-Bank Natalya Orlova said. According to her, it would be hard to boost exports in the near future. This year started out with concerns about the Chinese economy and then coronavirus outbreak struck, which ruined global expectations on China’s increasing GDP. The Russian government expects to bolster exports of non-raw materials, and this will mostly depend on whether Russian producers will manage to enter Chinese markets. This is a challenging goal, given the tough competition, she noted.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Terrorist attack on oil refinery leaves Assad’s army without fuel

Terrorists have blown up an oil refinery in the Mediterranean port of Baniyas, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported citing the country’s Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources. Syria is now facing a major lack of combustive and lubricating materials and the latest incident could affect the power of Assad’s Syrian Arab Army, which has been carrying out a successful offensive in Idlib backed by Russia’s air power and Shia groups, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. In June last year, five offshore oil pipelines near Baniyas were blown up. Experts blamed the attacks on Assad’s foes, noting that this was part of a hybrid war staged by US and its allies.

Washington is apparently dissatisfied by the activity of Moscow and Tehran in the Middle East’s hydrocarbon industry. According to Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Damascus has signed new contracts with Russian and pro-Iranian companies to restore the oil and transportation system of Syria and carry out geological exploration works in oil and gas fields on the Syrian shelf in the Mediterranean Sea. In particular, there are plans to create an oil processing company, the Rusafa Refinery in Raqqa.

According to military expert Yuri Netkachev, Qasem Soleimani, the now-deceased commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, was also in charge of geopolitical and economic issues and in particular, he oversaw ensuring the security of the Kirkuk-Baniyas pipeline. Although the pipeline did not operate, it could face more destruction. "This was one of the reasons behind the shellings against Shia units near Abu Kamal and in northern Iraq and also possibly Soleimani’s death," the expert notes.

Military expert Shamil Gareyev says that the attack on the oil refinery, located near Russia’s military base in Tartus, occurred after media reports that the People’s Council of Syria had approved bills on creating the Rusafa Refinery. The company plans to build new oil terminals in Tartus jointly with Russian and Lebanese specialists, he said.
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