Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian, US diplomats to hash over Venezuelan crisis in Rome
On Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov is due to meet with US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams in Rome, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Russia will warn Washington against military intervention and other forms of illegal influence on the legitimate authorities in Caracas, Ryabkov told TASS.
Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Latin American Studies Dmitry Rozental called this meeting a positive step, which could prevent the crisis in Venezuela from deteriorating into an armed conflict. "This is a common humanitarian agenda. Russia and the United States may come up with a peacemaking proposal so that the political conflict won’t morph into a military one," he told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. However, the expert noted that there should not be any great expectations about the upcoming meeting since Moscow and Washington have different positions and approaches to solving the political crisis in the Latin American country.
"It’s very difficult to find any real issue where Russian and US diplomacy could find common ground, given that the positions of Moscow and Washington on the situation in Venezuela are polarized. Besides, we won’t forget that the conflicting sides - Maduro and the opposition - cannot reach any agreement. I would not expect any big breakthrough in terms of ironing out difficulties," the expert said.
Venezuela’s self-proclaimed leader Juan Guaido now urgently needs broad public support, Rozental said. "He needs to create massive backing on the streets to show that he is supported by a genuine majority of citizens. However, it’s not easy to do this given the general exhaustion from political struggle, which has been ongoing in the country for several months. This burnout hinders Guaido’s attempts to mobilize society. That’s why his key goal now, as it seems to me, is to mobilize his supporters to the maximum so that they are ready to take to the streets and actively oppose Maduro," he explained.
Rozental voiced skepticism over a recent opinion poll carried out by the Meganalisis pollster in 16 densely-populated states and 32 Venezuelan cities among 1,100 people, which said that 88.9% of respondents called for Maduro’s resignation. The expert noted that the survey claimed that nearly 88% of Venezuelans were calling on the National Assembly to appeal to foreign powers for military assistance. "These figures don’t seem very trustworthy to me as they contradict the results of a recent poll carried out by a famous sociological service - Datanalisis," he said. According to this survey, more than 70% of Venezuelans support Guaido and would vote for him at the election. However, the same poll showed that at least 20% Venezuelans back Maduro. "I don’t believe that anyone of this 20% support foreign military intervention," Rozental said. The expert also noted that the recent blackout negatively affected Maduro’s positions, lowering his rating and political authority among the population.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia’s Zircon cruise missiles to target Idlib terrorists
Assad's army units may soon strike terrorists’ positions in the Idlib de-escalation zone, several sources reported, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta. This offensive is highly likely to be effectively supported by Russia on the ground, in the air and from the sea. A new satellite photo of Russia’s Khmeimim air base in Syria, released by the Israeli group Image Sat International on Friday, shows that at least four Russian Su-25 attack aircraft had arrived at the airbase.
Military sources earlier reported that more than 30 Russian warplanes and helicopters had been deployed to Syria and last week bombed terrorist targets in Idlib. In addition to air power, Russia’s naval forces are arriving in the southeastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. According to the avia.pro Internet portal, the Admiral Gorshkov guided missile frigate could be used to carry out initial launches of its Zircon missiles. Russia may be interested in using the Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles against the militants in Idlib because these rockets had been successfully tested, the report said.
Washington apparently does not like that Moscow and Damascus will soon launch an operation to fully eliminate terrorists in Syria using Russian Naval and Aerospace Defense Forces, the paper writes. Last week, Deputy State Department Spokesman Robert Palladino said that the US was concerned over escalating violence in Idlib. Ankara, which is relying on pro-Turkish militants and is ensuring security in the buffer zone in Idlib, does not like the launch of combat actions in northern Syria as well. On Friday, for the second time, the Turkish Foreign Ministry canceled Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Antalya, which was set to host a meeting of the Russian-Turkish strategic planning group. Ankara gave no reasons for the cancellation.
Kommersant: Egypt joins club of major Russian weapons’ buyers
Russia has signed a contract with Egypt on supplying several dozen Su-35 heavy multirole fighter jets, Kommersant business daily writes citing two top managers at defense enterprises. Together with the MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets supplied to Egypt they are expected to significantly upgrade the combat potential of the Egyptian Air Force, which still has outdated Soviet MiG-21 and Chinese J-7 warplanes in service. Real progress in the Su-35 talks was reached after these fighter jets had been used in Russia’s operation in Syria, one of military sources said.
The contract to the tune of $2 bln confirms Egypt’s status as one of the major buyers of Russian weapons. The deal, under which Moscow will deliver more than 20 jets and aviation weapons, entered into force in late 2018, and the supplies may begin in 2020-2021. The contract guarantees that the manufacturer, the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aircraft plant, will be working at full capacity "for years to come," the sources told the paper.
Over the past years, Egypt has become one of the major buyers of Russia’s weapons and military equipment, the paper says. This is directly linked to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who came to power in Egypt in a coup d’etat in 2013. According to military sources, President el-Sisi, the former Egyptian defense minister, realized the need to revamp the army. In 2014, Moscow and Cairo signed a package of arms contracts, envisaging the supplies of various air defense systems, artillery, small arms and other weapons to the tune of nearly $3.5 bln. This deal was the first real example of reviving military and technical cooperation between Moscow and Cairo since 1972, when Soviet military advisers were forced to leave the country upon the demand of former Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat. Later, a number of vital arms contracts were signed, including a $2-bln agreement on supplying 46 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets and a $1-bln contract on delivering 46 Ka-52 helicopters. Both contracts are being fulfilled at present.
Vedomosti: Russian tycoon sues US Treasury over $7.5 bln loss due to sanctions
Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska filed a lawsuit on Friday with a Washington court against the US Treasury Department, demanding to cancel the sanctions slapped on him in April 2018. The businessman has also filed a complaint against the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), his representative confirmed to Vedomosti.
The Russian magnate insists that the sanctions were imposed in violation of key principles of US legislation, while his isolation from the international business community and the impossibility of working with banks, which faced the risk of being targeted by sanctions, caused him to suffer financial losses to the tune of $7.5 bln.
In his lawsuit, Deripaska highlights that he doubts that the case could be considered impartially given the current political climate. The respondents show bias towards him, while members of Congress have publicly labeled him "a foe" and "a criminal" without any evidence. All of this is in violation of the presumption of innocence enshrined in American law, he stressed.
Since US sanctions laws are extraterritorial, Deripaska had the right to turn to US courts, however it’s impossible to forecast the prospects of the case, said Alexander Pakhomov, Director of the Law and Mediation Fund for the Fuel and Energy Complex. "The lawsuit shows that the businessman seeks impartiality from the US justice system, but he will hardly be able to do this and distance himself from the Russian political elite," the expert said. Derispaska’s lawsuit is a necessary and positive step, he noted. "Inaction of individuals targeted by sanctions and the lack of pressure on the US justice system, gives free rein to the US Congress and the Treasury Department in their further pressure on Russian businesses," he said. However, the expert doubts that Deripaska could win the case. "This will set a precedent and oblige US agencies to motivate their acts in detail, providing evidence to their decisions on the sanctions issues, and this is very unlikely."
Partner at the Urus Advisory consulting company Alexei Panin said earlier attempts by Rosneft and several other Russian companies and individuals to file lawsuits with the European court had failed, and the chances to win the case in a US court are much slimmer. "It’s almost impossible to imagine that a US court will place in question the entire US policy of the past years," he said.
Vedomosti: UK travel giant eyes buying major Russian tour operator
British global travel company Thomas Cook is in talks about purchasing Russian tour operator Biblio Globus, two sources close to both companies’ leadership told Vedomosti. The deal was expected to be announced in the middle of the week at the Moscow International Tourism Exhibition 2019. However, the parties had failed to finalize the details, one of the sources told the paper. The deal could be made public by the end of March.
Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest tourist company founded in 1841, owns Russia’s Intourist tour operator, which it bought from the Sistema Public Joint-Stock Financial Corporation in 2018. Biblio Globus, founded in the mid-1990s by Alexander Tugolukov, is the largest Russian tour operator and one of leaders of the local market along with Anex Tours, Coral Travel and Pegas Touristik. Last year, Forbes Russia estimated its revenues at 79.5 bln rubles ($1.2 bln)
Biblio Globus provides services to nearly 3 million people annually. Should a deal between Thomas Cook and Biblio Globus be inked, the tourist flow of the united business may exceed 4 million people per year, twice as much as that of other market leaders, the paper says. The deal may be interesting for Thomas Cook both for enhancing its positions in Russia and for increasing its profitability, Head of Infoline-Analytics Mikhail Burmistrov said.