Press review: Putin, Macron to tackle Ukraine and Syria faces the ‘Blackwater of Jihad' / News / News agency Inforos
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Press review: Putin, Macron to tackle Ukraine and Syria faces the ‘Blackwater of Jihad'

Press review: Putin, Macron to tackle Ukraine and Syria faces the ‘Blackwater of Jihad'

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, August 19, prepared by TASS

Media: Putin, Macron to step up efforts to resolve Ukrainian crisis

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron will receive Russia's head of state Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has announced that the Ukrainian crisis and prospects for activities within the Normandy Quartet will be the focus of the meeting. As for Ukraine, both Moscow and Paris realize the need to resume the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, Izvestia writes.

Macron is capable of influencing Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and demanding that Kiev take specific steps to fulfill its obligations, First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Vladimir Dzhabarov told the newspaper.

The parties are also expected to touch upon the Iranian crisis. The sanctions that the US introduced against those investing in Iran have affected the French economy so Macron has economic reasons to try to resolve the issue, said former Russian Ambassador to France Alexander Orlov. The crises in Syria and Libya, which remain a terrorist threat factor and the source of refugees fleeing to Europe, will also have the two leaders’ attention, Orlov emphasized.

Putin and Macron need each other and seek to take advantage of bilateral relations to address their own problems, Russian International Affairs Council Director General Andrei Kortunov told Vedomosti. "A G7 meeting will take place shortly after Putin’s visit, so if Putin has a message to deliver on how relations between Russia and the West can progress under the new circumstances, then Macron is the best communicator," the expert said. As for the French president, cooperation with Putin is important for him as well, because his position inside the country has been shaken, Kortunov noted. "He has lost his credibility and polls show that his popularity is not high right now," he said. Finally, restoring the Normandy Quartet means a retreat from the initial idea of sanctions on Russia, the expert added. "It won’t make the sanctions policy go down in flames but it will pave the way for some kind of progress. France has always played a special role in NATO and the Western strategic balance," Kortunov pointed out.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian-speaking jihadi private military companies active in Idlib

The first jihadist private military company in the history of the Middle East, Malhama Tactical, is training armed, outlawed gangs active in Syria’s Idlib de-escalation zone, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

The news and analytics outlet reported, citing "opposition sources," that the Syrian air force had allegedly killed the company’s leader Abu Salman al-Belarusi, also known as Abu Rofiq, in southern Idlib. According to the news outlet, Abu Rofiq, 24, comes from Uzbekistan and speaks Russian well. Open sources say that the company comprises more than 50 militants, most of whom originate from Central Asia and the North Caucasus. The media said earlier that Malhama Tactical members had demonstrated top combat efficiency in the city of Aleppo in 2016 and later in the Idlib and Latakia provinces. They release videos on how to handle weapons and carry out military operations, while on Twitter, they invite "qualified instructors, promising good wages, a weekly day-off, and a stable and interesting job."

"I don’t rule out that apart from Malhama Tactical, there also are other private military companies and organizations in Syria that provide training to terrorist groups fighting against Damascus," said military expert Colonel Shamil Gareyev. He pointed out that the media had reported about US military experts training former Syrian militants who ensured the security of organizations opposing the Assad regime. "These are private military companies, and only American ones, but their jihadist clones may emerge," Gareyev noted.

"There is no information about the exact number of Russians and other CIS nationals fighting in Syria. However, I think there are many of them. Presuming that outlawed armed groups in Idlib consist of about 80,000 members, then there must be at least 5,000 to 6,000 Russian-speaking militants. Their wives and kids have started returning to Russia and other CIS countries. Chances are that once the militant groups are defeated, the terrorists and members of these jihadist private military companies, set up with the assistance of Russia’s enemies, will follow the women and children. We are bracing for that," the expert emphasized.

Izvestia: Russia all set to strike trade deal with UK

Moscow is interested in reaching a new trade accord with London following Brexit, and is ready to hold talks any time, Russian Trade Representative for the UK Boris Abramov told Izvestia.

"In our view, both parties will benefit from a new trade agreement. At the same time, it is safe to say that regardless of what form Brexit will take, Russia and the UK will continue to trade at least on WTO terms, as we do now," Abramov explained. He pointed to positive trade trends between Russia and the United Kingdom. Trade reached $6.9 bln in the first half of 2019, increasing 7.7% compared to the same period of 2018.

The Russian trade mission also said that following Brexit, the UK and the EU would introduce trade tariffs for each other, which was likely to have a positive impact on Russia since Britain’s market-access rules would be on equal terms for Russian and EU goods, therefore, Russia’s competitiveness would improve.

"Moscow is interested in expanding trade with as many partners as possible. I think that Brexit will facilitate trade between Russia and the United Kingdom because London won’t have to look back at Brussels," Head of the Economic Research Sector at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe Anatoly Bazhan told the paper. Apart from London’s withdrawal from a number of EU mechanisms, Brexit would also mean a breakup with the common sanctions policy, though in the expert’s opinion, it won’t make London lift restrictions on Moscow. Odds are that if the UK steps up cooperation with the US, pressure may increase.

Vedomosti: Moscow Mayor’s Office expects protests to boost voter turnout

The Moscow Mayor’s Office expects that voter turnout at the Moscow City Council election, set to take place in early September, will reach 30%, three sources close to city hall told Vedomosti. They believe that rallies in support of candidates barred from running in the election will encourage more people to come to the polling stations.

An issue with voter turnout does exist, particularly as far as the protest vote goes, another source close to the Mayor’s Office noted. "This is what the presidential administration is concerned about at the moment: they are afraid that loyal voters will leave for their country houses, while troublesome voters will turn up at polling stations, so there is a need to encourage loyal constituents," he said.

Voter turnout will be far higher than in 2014, reaching 30-35%, political scientist Yekaterina Kurbangaleyeva believes. There is a risk for the authorities for it is unclear who loyal voters are, she noted, adding that "much has changed in the past year." "Clearly, pensioners will most likely vote for candidates linked to the government but it is hard to say whom the 30-45 and the 45-60 age groups will support," the expert explained.

Protests don’t increase voter turnout so it will hardly exceed 25%, said Public Opinion Foundation pollster Grigory Kerman said. "In theory, it is possible that many loyal voters will choose to skip going to the polls. But in any case, loyal voters outnumber the opposition electorate and it is unclear what the latter should do at the upcoming election," he noted. Levada Center Director Lev Gudkov agrees that the share of protest votes won’t be high because most opposition candidates have been banned. According to him, voter turnout may indeed reach 35% but only thanks to the activity of loyal voters. "Young people who are inclined to protest most likely won’t go out to vote," the pollster said.

Voter turnout should increase because scandals have raised people’s awareness, political scientist Alexander Kynev pointed out. "Low turnout stems from a lack of events and awareness about elections. At the moment, the entire country is buzzing about the Moscow City Council election and it will be impossible to slow turnout down in this situation," he emphasized.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia cashing in on US sanctions

Russia, as it turns out, knows how to profit off problems that its allies face, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote, citing Bloomberg. The country has managed to make nearly $1 bln on tightened US sanctions against Venezuela and Iran, which increased the demand for heavy crude oil.

Venezuela has been going through a tough social and economic crisis over the past several years. In addition, Washington has slapped sanctions on the oil and natural gas company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), almost cutting off the country’s oil exports. Meanwhile, Iran’s situation is no better. Tehran is facing problems as demand for its oil is declining amid US sanctions.

"Sanctions against Iran have boosted Europe’s demand for Russia’s Urals oil. It is a good bonus for the Russian economy," said head of Alpari’s analytical department Alexander Razuvayev.

Washington’s sanctions have largely rattled the oil industry in Iran and Venezuela, since both are major heavy crude producers, Chief Analyst at BCS Premier Anton Pokatovich noted. "In fact, the daily amount of about 1-2 mln barrels of oil has been removed from the market, which comprises 1-2% of global crude supplies. Naturally, the market gap will be filled sooner rather than later. Russia, which keeps its crude oil exports rather stable, is taking advantage of the opportunity," the expert added.

At the same time, according to chief of AMarkets company’s analytics department Artem Deyev, there are some factors that will play against Urals oil. "First of all, it concerns new ship fuel regulations, which limit the level of sulphur contamination," the analyst clarified. The recent oil contamination incident along the Druzhba pipeline has also reduced Russia’s revenue potential so chances are that the country’s oil export revenues will decline, the expert said.

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