Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, December 10, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Hours-long Normandy Four summit results in three-point communique
Leaders of the Normandy Four group agreed at the summit in Paris on implementing three key points outlined in their joint communique. After nearly six hours of work, the deadlines were set for disengaging forces and hardware, and for swapping detainees. In addition, the sides agreed on holding the next Normandy summit in four months. However, the leaders admitted that they failed to come to terms on some pressing topics, in particular, on control over the Ukrainian border, Izvestia writes.
Besides, Moscow and Kiev managed to discuss another vital issue of bilateral relations: at a separate meeting, the Ukrainian and Russian delegations focused on gas transit through Ukraine, as the current contract expires on December 31. However, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky noted that the parties just started dialogue on this issue. A decision will be made after the heads of respective agencies hold meetings. In the coming four months, foreign ministers and advisers to the four leaders should try to lay the groundwork for the next summit.
The four heads of state signed a joint communique confirming that they had reached several key agreements. According to the three-point document, the Minsk deal remains the foundation for the Normandy Four group’s work. One of the key achievements of the summit is that all four leaders agreed on amending the Ukrainian constitution based on the Steinmeier formula. Besides, the summit’s participants backed a ceasefire implementation in Donbass by the end of this year, agreed on disengaging forces and means on the contact line in three areas and also tasked the Trilateral Contact Group with facilitating a prisoner swap. Zelensky stressed that by December 31, a full ceasefire must be implemented and all participants of the Normandy Four group will control the process.
The sides also confirmed their desire to carry out an all-for-all prisoner exchange by December 31 and the Ukrainian president said December 24 would be the best date. Zelensky also stressed the importance of disarmament in Donbass, saying that only after it, other points of the Minsk deal could be implemented.
At their next summit, the leaders will focus on establishing Ukraine’s full control over the entire border.
Russian President Vladimir Putin highlighted the need for carrying out political reform in Ukraine, namely introducing the law on a special status for certain areas in Donbass and amending the country’s constitution. Moscow insists on amnesty for parties to the conflict and confirms the agreement on the all-for-all prisoner swap. Putin also stressed that a direct dialogue between Kiev and Donbass was an important point of the Minsk agreements, without which the conflict could not be solved.
In general, the Paris meeting confirmed that there is no alternative to the Minsk deal and enabled the sides to bring their positions closer on the Ukrainian settlement. The summit also demonstrated the Zelensky administration’s ability to negotiate. However, now Kiev needs to fulfill on the ground what has been agreed on in writing.
Media: WADA slaps toughest-ever sanctions on Russian athletes
Russian sports has been hit by a major calamity in its history. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s Executive Committee has punished Russia for "manipulating" the database of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory with its harshest-ever package of sanctions. This decision by WADA signals a real peak in Russia’s doping crisis, which flared up in late 2015, Kommersant writes.
In the next four years, Russian athletes will have to perform under a neutral status at major international competitions, including at the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics, and at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Russia’s Olympic teams will lose a whole slew of top athletes, who were previously suspended over doping charges. Among them are swimmer Yuliya Efimova, tennis player Maria Sharapova, speed skaters Pavel Kulizhnikov and Denis Yuskov. A major blow to Russia’s reputation will be another ban on hosting or bidding for hosting major events. This could target nearly a dozen prestigious competitions, including the 2022 FIVB Volleyball World Championship, the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in St. Petersburg and the Summer Universiade in Yekaterinburg in 2023.
Izvestia writes that although it may seem that the new sanctions are similar to the ones against Russia before the PyeongChang Olympics, now WADA has no questions for the Russian Olympic Committee. If the International Olympic Committee does not suspend it, Russian athletes will go to Tokyo as part of the ROC team. WADA does not only seek a neutral status, but is also against any form of identification, including the brand Olympic athletes from Russia, under which Russian athletes competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. However, Russian athletes, who did not compete before 2016, won’t face any problems with access to the Tokyo Games.
Speaking on Russia’s chances of winning its lawsuit in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, RUSADA Director General Yuri Ganus told reporters "there were no such prospects." Sports agent Andrei Mitkov told Kommersant Russia was unlikely to win this battle, stressing that it was senseless to contest "manipulations" in the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory’s database.
Yury Zaitsev, a sports attorney, told Izvestia that this December, independent Russian experts published an investigation indicating that some changes to the database could have been made from outside. If Russia manages to convince the CAS that WADA did not take this into account, the decision could be reviewed, he noted.
Kommersant: Russian top diplomat heading to Oval Office
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a visit to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday for the second time during Donald Trump’s presidency. Lavrov is scheduled to hold talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, after which the sides will hold a news conference. The Russian top diplomat will also meet with US President Donald Trump. A diplomatic source told Kommersant that this meeting was a key condition for Lavrov’s visit to Washington. One of the reasons why Russia sought guarantees for this meeting with Trump is the so-called reciprocity principle, the paper says. Over all the previous years, the US Secretaries of State, who came to Russia, were received by President Vladimir Putin. That’s why the Russian delegation flew to Washington, D.C. expecting a full-fledged program. According to Kommersant, the Russian delegates will also meet with American political scientists, including CEO of the Center for the National Interest Dmitri Simes.
Kommersant recalls that Lavrov’s previous visit to Washington resulted in two scandals. First, US media reports alleged citing sources that Trump shared with Lavrov classified data about Syria, which had been obtained by Israeli intelligence. Both Trump and Lavrov rejected the claims.
Another scandal was linked to the fact that only two photographers were allowed to attend Trump’s meeting with the Russian delegation. The White House press service did not publish photos taken by Trump’s personal photographer, and US media outlets had to post photos by Lavrov’s photographer, Alexander Scherbak, who works for TASS. Some US TV channels even refused to show these photos in a sign of protest.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US deal with Taliban could be costly for Russia
The United States has revealed its plans about the future of its contingent in Afghanistan. Amid reports about resumed peace talks in Qatar between US representatives and the Taliban (outlawed in Russia), US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced plans to redeploy US forces from across the world, even from Afghanistan, to the Asia-Pacific region, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. According to the Pentagon chief, this move was aimed at containing "the revisionist powers" of Russia and China. The forces are expected to be deployed in response to a certain signal and in case with the Asia-Pacific region, if there is such a signal, Esper said, calling it a priority region.
Russia remains an important party to the Afghan settlement and the US sought to consult with it, especially ahead of the challenging rounds of talks in Qatar, the paper writes. After US President Donald Trump, who paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan on November 28, reported about restarting talks with the Taliban, Moscow welcomed this step.
However, a possible deal between Washington and the Taliban, if implemented, could deal a heavy blow to Russian interests, the paper says. "As far as the long-term prospect is concerned, the risks for Russia related to the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan are higher than the risks of continuing this mission in Afghanistan," Omar Nessar, Director of the Russian Center for Contemporary Afghan Studies, told the paper.
"Obviously, Moscow understands this and that’s why Russia did not seriously oppose the US presence in Afghanistan. Russia’s position changed only after it became clear that the Americans made a decision on withdrawing the contingent," he noted. Therefore, reports on a possible redeployment of US military from Afghanistan to the Asia-Pacific region signal greater risks for Russia, the expert said.
Kommersant: With Brexit looming, Russia eyes chances of improving ties with London
This week, the United Kingdom will go to the polls, after which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a chance of keeping his post. Whoever becomes the new British leader, he will go down in history as the premier under whom Britain left the European Union, Kommersant writes. Now Brexit has been delayed again until January 31. The outcome of the December 12 elections will decide on whether Brexit will occur and under what conditions.
No matter who wins Thursday’s election, the future historic shift will inevitably compel London to decide how to build its relations with the rest of the world and Moscow, the paper writes. Dialogue with Russia is far from being among London’s priorities because after the poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, bilateral relations have been frozen. Meanwhile, Brexit could give bilateral ties a chance.
"In theory, Brexit furnishes grounds for an inventory of relations - at least trade and economic ties, if the British want this themselves," a Russian diplomatic source told the paper. According to Director of the European Leadership Network Adam Thomson, Britain thinks that Moscow is responsible for the deterioration in ties and it means that it’s up to Russia to make the first step. However, Moscow is not very interested in this, and London has taken a wait-and-see approach, so no breakthrough is on the horizon, he pointed out.
After Brexit, the UK is expected to sign documents on sanctions against Russia, and probably, those sanctions endorsed by the EU will remain in place, British political scientist James Nixey, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, told the paper. London is unlikely to toughen its policy on Moscow, the expert said, not ruling out that the UK could soften some positions on searching for new markets despite the general critical mood against Russia.