Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, June 20, prepared by TASS
Media: Dutch-led probe reveals names of suspects in MH17 downing case
Five years after the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, which killed 298 people, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has presented new conclusions about the tragedy, revealing the names of four suspects. Three of them have Russian citizenship and are now in Russia, and the fourth suspect is a Ukrainian national, who is currently in the country’s east. Besides these four persons, who are allegedly behind the MH17 crash, the investigators have several other suspects, a spokesperson for the Dutch prosecutors Brecht van de Moosdiyk told Izvestia, stressing that the JIT would continue the investigation.
According to investigators, the suspects could have been involved in delivering the Buk missile system that downed the MH17. The system had allegedly came from the Russian city of Kursk to Ukraine’s Pervomaysky village and the crew members had also supposedly arrived from Russia. Meanwhile, the investigators won’t demand the suspects’ extradition since the countries’ laws do not allow handing over their citizens abroad. Nevertheless, they will ask Moscow to provide assistance in questioning them. The trial over the suspects is due to kick off on March 9, 2020.
Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic is sure that the latest announcement of the suspects’ names will trigger renewed aggression by Kiev in Donbass. According to Miroslav Rudenko, an MP in the DPR’s legislature, tensions have mounted to levels seen back in 2014.
Commenting on possible repercussions for Russia, attorney Alexei Obolenets told RBC: "At the moment, Russia is not obliged to do anything, neither the Kingdom of the Netherlands nor Interpol have sent any requests on legal assistance. However, Russia ratified the 1959 European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, under which the Dutch authorities may send a demand to Russia on questioning persons or providing documents."
If it is confirmed that the suspects are on Russian soil, the Netherlands can send an extradition request to Moscow. Like many other countries, under its Constitution, Russia does not extradite its citizens, but Moscow will have to justify its refusal, though there is no mechanism of forcing it into meeting these demands, he explained.
Izvestia: Minsk deal, Ukraine to hover over Putin, Trump at Osaka talks
Washington should acknowledge that a solution to the Ukrainian crisis directly depends on Kiev’s implementation of the Minsk peace deal and this is the only way the United States can help settle the conflict in Donbass, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told Izvestia. Over the past months, the issue of Ukraine has been raised during Russian-US contacts. According to experts, although the agenda of possible talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump in Osaka in late June is still unclear, the sides will have to discuss Ukraine given the change of power in Kiev.
Earlier, the Russian and US leaders tried to avoid the Ukrainian issue in their public comments since the positions of Moscow and Washington seriously differ, Director of the Institute for US and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Valery Garbuzov told the paper. According to him, neither side saw any sense in exchanging negative replies. "Now the situation has somehow changed because Ukraine has new authorities, or at least a new president. Zelensky desires to bring about some changes. This includes reviving the Normandy talks and breathing a new life into the Minsk agreements. So, it’s highly likely that at the talks in Osaka, Moscow and Washington will hash over the Ukrainian crisis," the political scientist predicted.
Meanwhile, Washington is not expected to back Ukrainian President Zelensky’s idea that Washington should join the Normandy talks (Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine), Garbuzov noted. That’s because the US is not rushing to become the guarantor of any decisions on Donbass, and Trump understands that this is a great responsibility, he explained.
According to Director of the Franklin Roosevelt US Policy Studies Center at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev, a lot will depend on the format in which the Russian and US leaders will hold talks. The parties could focus on Ukraine in case they decide to hold full-fledged talks rather than to have a brief ‘on the go’ meeting. However, Trump is not interested in making Ukraine a priority issue as he seeks to make the discussion’s outcome a PR success for his domestic audience.
Ryabkov notes that the talks between Putin and Trump in Osaka at the G20 summit would be rather useful, given the problems accrued in bilateral and international relations.
Media: UN report accusing Saudis of Khashoggi murder may have consequences for Trump, Iran
Amid growing tensions around Iran, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard has suggested slapping sanctions on its key regional opponent, Saudi Arabia, over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The report, published on Wednesday, will be put up for review at the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday. Callamard believes that Riyadh’s investigation into the killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 was not transparent. She has called on the international community to introduce sanctions against high-ranking Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Experts told Kommersant that even if the draft resolution on sanctions against Saudi Arabia is submitted to the UN Security Council, it is unlikely to be adopted and each country will prefer to decide on this issue independently. However, the report may seriously harm US President Donald Trump and ricochet on Iran.
According to editor of Al-Monitor’s Russia branch Maxim Suchkov, Callamard’s report will step up domestic political struggle in the US and Trump’s adversaries will definitely take advantage of this opportunity. In particular, they will accuse Trump of appointing people, who have no idea how to handle important issues, most notably, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has close personal connections with Prince Mohammad.
Against this background, the Trump administration may use "the Iranian threat" as a pretext to prove that the US will need Saudi Arabia’s assistance. One of these grounds may be the latest attack on the facilities of major US oil companies, including ExxonMobil in southern Iraq. Washington may pin the blame on pro-Iranian forces for this rocket strike, the expert noted.
Meanwhile, Russia is not planning to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia after the UN report, which accuses Riyadh for organizing Khashoggi’s murder, Deputy Head of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Andrei Klimov told Izvestia. The senator stressed that the Saudi regime’s involvement has not been proven and the UN Security Council has not made a final decision on this issue. That’s why Moscow will continue building its relations with the Kingdom for the sake of its interests. Experts interviewed by the paper said that Western states would turn a blind eye to any UN conclusions because it is not beneficial for them to lose Saudi financial capital. According to Roland Bidzhamov, a political scientist and expert on the Middle East, even if Saudi Arabia’s guilt is proven, the only possible repercussion will be lowering the status of its diplomatic relations.
Izvestia: North Korea, China hope Xi’s visit will help solve problems with US
Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to pay a visit to North Korea on June 20-21. During the first visit of the Chinese leader to North Korea over the past 14 years the sides will not only try to expand economic cooperation, but will also seek to attain their own geopolitical goals, Izvestia writes. For Xi Jinping, the "North Korean card" should become somewhat of a lever of influence on Washington during the challenging trade talks at the G20 summit in Osaka set for late June.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expects that Beijing’s support will help him show the US that the sanctions pressure is not affecting Pyongyang. However, there is a lot of uncertainty about whether the two Communist allies’ hopes will be fulfilled, experts told the paper.
"China has been going through a number of difficulties: demonstrations in Hong Kong, the situation in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait and the trade war with the US are the most pressing problems for Xi’s government. Obviously, he is planning to use "the North Korean card" to get levers of influence at the future talks with the US," Lee Sang-soo, the head of the Korea Center at the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy, told the paper. Xi will try to convince Kim to dismantle his nuclear program and this will let him encourage Trump to reach a compromise on a trade deal and also relieve pressure on such issues as Taiwan and Hong Kong, the expert noted.
Andrey Lankov, an expert at Seoul's Kookmin University, notes that at the meeting with Kim, China will pursue the well-known agenda: freezing or scaling down North Korea’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting UN sanctions. "Xi Jinping will promote this compromise in Pyongyang. Although there is no alternative to it and China needs it, and there is no confidence that Xi Jinping will help put it on the table now," he noted.
Meanwhile, Kim is also is acting with an eye on Washington and one of key goals of Xi’s visit from the perspective of his North Korean diplomacy is to show the Americans that North Korea has China as an ally. This is especially vital after the failed February summit with Trump, Izvestia writes.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian authorities stifle economic growth
The Russian Federal State Statistics Service has significantly revised its data on Russia’s GDP. It found out that during the entire last year, Russia’s economic growth did not speed up but on the contrary, slowed down. This year Russia’s economy has declined and the situation concerning domestic industry has notably deteriorated, Nezavisimaya Gazeta says. According to assessments by experts, this past May saw the lowest industrial production growth rate over the period since December 2017.
The newest data signals a crisis in Russia’s economy, the paper writes. In Q1 2019, the GDP dropped 0.4% compared with Q4 2018, Director of the Analytical Department at Loko-Invest Kirill Tremasov said. In annual terms, Russia’s GDP growth reached 0.5% by the end of the first quarter.
Experts interviewed by the paper pointed to the factors that are stonewalling the country’s economic growth. Among them are the ongoing sanctions and other external circumstances. However, the experts also mentioned a range of other obstacles created by the Russian authorities themselves.
"First, the undying sanctions pressure is causing harm. Second, in most regions there is no real support for small and medium-sized businesses. Third, the slowdown in the global economy has had a negative effect on Russia," Head of the Analytical Department at Amarkets Artem Deyev said. "Perhaps, the development of Russia’s economy is also impeded by those decisions made by the authorities in the economic sphere."
According to Head of the Investment Department at BCS Broker Narek Avakyan, there are key two reasons hindering economic growth: increasing the value added tax (VAT) and the deteriorating business and investment climate," he noted.
Furthermore, he noted that "maybe even a greater negative impact on the economy is coming from problems with the investment climate. Regular reports about arrests or criminal cases against certain businessmen, and ramped-up administrative pressure, causes the business community to view all this as a signal of the worsening business climate," he said.