- Press review: Russian regions lift quarantines and Sweden isolated for being lockdown-free
- Russian nationals arrive in Moscow after exhausting repatriation trip from Fiji
- Press review: US to leave Open Skies treaty and Russia, Turkey hash over reviving tourism
- Press review: US production may exit China and Abbas runs to Putin over annexation fears
Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, August 20, prepared by TASS
Media: Putin, Macron see eye to eye on Normandy talks
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a working meeting with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the latter’s summer retreat of Fort de Bregancon off the Mediterranean coast. The focus was on Ukraine, Iran, Syria, Libya and the future of European security, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Both presidents agreed that there is no alternative to the Normandy talks involving Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine. Following the change of government in Ukraine, there is a good chance to resuscitate the Minsk process, former Russian Ambassador to France Alexander Orlov told Izvestia. According to him, Russia and France need to find a way to encourage the new Ukrainian president to implement Kiev’s obligations.
At present, resolving a number of issues depends on Moscow and Paris, said First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Dmitry Novikov. "The talks will pave the way for positive developments not only in bilateral relations but also regarding efforts to resolve many global issues," the senior lawmaker said.
However, it will only be possible to fully improve Russian-French relations after the sanctions are removed, said Thierry Mariani, a European Parliament member representing France’s National Rally party. "Most French people understand that there is no point in maintaining the policy of sanctions because it will help resolve neither the Crimea issue nor the Ukrainian conflict," he told Izvestia.
Dialogue between Moscow and Paris is particularly important at the moment, said Head of the Center for French Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for European Studies Yuri Rubinsky. "Who can Russia deal with in Western Europe? New British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is focused on Brexit, Italy is going through a political crisis, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is about to step down," the expert told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "That said, Macron is obviously claiming to represent the European Union’s interests in talks with leading powers, whether it be Russia, the United States or China," the Rubinsky pointed out.
Kommersant: Terrorists still have Afghanistan under their thumb
While Washington and the Taliban (terror organization outlawed in Russia) continue talks, another terrorist scourge - the Islamic State - has come to prominence in Afghanistan. On Saturday, its members attacked guests at a Shia wedding ceremony, killing more than 60 people. On Monday, when Afghanistan was celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence, explosions rocked the city of Jalalabad, Kommersant wrote.
The Taliban issued a statement on Independence Day, calling on all foreign invaders to leave Afghanistan like the British and Soviet troops had done in the past. US President Donald Trump, who - unlike his Afghan counterpart - has recently been speaking about the Taliban in a positive way, has boosted hopes for a US troop withdrawal.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani keeps on emphasizing that he doesn’t see any difference between the Taliban and the Islamic State. Washington’s position is different: the Trump administration is talking about making a deal with the Taliban in the near future and reducing the number of US troops in Afghanistan.
The last round of talks between Washington and the Taliban took place in Doha in early August, with both parties pointing to significant progress. However, Taliban members told the newspaper at the time that some of the agreement’s provisions required further elaboration.
According to Arkady Dubnov, an expert on Central Asia, the Afghan president’s priority is to prevent the Taliban and the US from striking an agreement, which would threaten his power. "It would have been beneficial for Ghani if the Taliban carried out the attack on the wedding," he explained. "It would have been a perfect argument against their agreement with the Americans. However, the Americans are determined to reach a deal in the near future. They believe that once the Taliban turns into their allies, the Islamic State’s position will weaken," the expert said, adding that in that regard, Russia’s interests are aligned with those of the United States.
RBC: Israeli PM faces difficult choice in Ukraine
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently on a visit to Ukraine, to recognize the 1932-1933 famine as an act of genocide against Ukrainians. It would be difficult for the Israeli prime minister to make a decision, experts say, and RBC notes that Netanyahu hasn’t commented on Zelensky’s proposal.
Recognizing the famine, labeled "the Holodomor" in Ukraine, as genocide won’t be easy for Netanyahu, said Dmitry Maryasis, Head of the Department of Israel Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies. Netanyahu values relations with Moscow a lot, while Russia’s position on the matter is different from that of Ukraine. "I think Netanyahu will find a soft diplomatic way to avoid a direct answer and further discussions of the issue," the expert noted.
In his address, Netanyahu pointed out that the blame for crime was on the Stalin regime and not on the Russian people and today’s Russia, former adviser to the Israeli prime minister Benny Briskin emphasized. "An official recognition will hardly follow, they will most likely only make a declaratory statement," he said.
Netanyahu’s visit to Ukraine comes amid an election campaign, as a snap parliamentary election is set to be held in Israel on September 17. During the last election campaign, he made visits to Russia and the United States, and now he has chosen Ukraine and India, The Times of Israel wrote. From an electoral standpoint, Netanyahu’s visit is aimed at winning the votes of those coming from the former Soviet Union, Briskin emphasized. "It has been a long time since such active competition for votes took place," he said. "Moreover, the new Ukrainian president is of Jewish descent so there were many reasons for making a visit to Ukraine," he added.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: With US-Iran conflict brewing, West fears it may be targeted by Hezbollah
A recent TV address by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has made it perfectly clear that if a conflict between the United States and Iran broke out, the so-called Shia resistance front will engulf a large part of the Middle East. At the same time, concerns are increasing in the West that Hezbollah may target the US and European countries through its sleeper cells, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
Concerns started growing after a Hezbollah agent named Ali Kurani had been arrested in the United States. According to the case files, he was spying on military and intelligence facilities. Hezbollah is known to have a special group called Unit 910 for planning attacks in other countries.
Experts believe that the US is indeed facing risks, given Hezbollah’s presence in Latin America. "Hezbollah’s activities on the Latin American continent are no secret and unfortunately, we have seen the organization’s continuous attempts to expand its scope of actions," Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya expert and former Israeli parliament member Ksenia Svetlova told the newspaper. "Even if Hezbollah doesn’t have its own agents in the United States, it is indirectly involved in the activities of drug cartels and other criminal organizations based in the US," Svetlova pointed out.
The terrorist attacks that shattered Argentina in the 1990s are often times mentioned as evidence of Hezbollah’s presence in the Western Hemisphere. In 1992, the group’s militants blew up a car parked outside the Israeli diplomatic mission in Buenos Aires, and in 1994, a terrorist bombing attack struck the AMIA Argentine Jewish cultural center.
Vedomosti: Russia’s Alrosa sees decline in diamond sales
Since jewelry sales are slowing in the wake of global macroeconomic uncertainty, Russia’s top diamond producer Alrosa has reduced its 2019 diamond sales forecast from 38 mln carats to 32-33 mln. Alrosa’s diamond sales dropped by 22% in the second quarter of 2019 compared to the first quarter, Vedomosti writes.
At the same time, Russia’s diamond titan has increased its gemstone production forecast from 38 mln carats to 38.5 mln, which means that the company will keep stocking diamonds. Alrosa Director General Sergey Ivanov explained to Vedomosti that the company couldn’t pursue a flexible production policy. "The market develops in cycles so sometimes it is more economically feasible to produce and stock diamonds rather than reduce output," he said.
According to VTB Capital analyst Dmitry Glushakov, the situation on the diamond market is expected to improve in early 2020 following holiday season sales. Glushakov pointed out that the world’s second largest diamond producer DeBeers was facing similar issues and was deliberately cutting sales in order to manage its stocks.
Global diamond sales are tumbling amid the trade war between the United States and China, Fitch Ratings analyst Yulia Buchneva noted. "Three largest producers control more than 60% of the market. Diamond producers, including Alrosa, tend to prioritize prices over output," she noted. It means that if demand declines, companies usually cut back production and beef up their stocks instead of reducing prices. When the demand recovers, they start to sell their stocks, the expert specified.