Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, June 18, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Germany morphing into key US opponent in Europe
One of the key topics of the two-day online talks held by NATO defense ministers, which kicked off on Wednesday, was US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out 9,500 US troops from Germany. The White House occupant earlier said he had no idea why the US should spend money on protecting Germany from Russia while Berlin buys Russian gas. Washington’s partners in NATO were puzzled over the move but the Trump administration’s position essentially irritated Berlin. Germany, which used to be a loyal US ally, is becoming a major US opponent in Europe and this is playing into Russia’s hands, Kommersant writes.
Trump clearly signaled that he is punishing Germany. First, Berlin buys Russian gas instead of importing it from America. Second, Germany owes multibillion debts to the US and NATO because Berlin has been unable to increase its defense spending to 2% of the GDP as demanded by the 2014 NATO summit decision. Last year, Germany allocated 1.38% of its GDP to the military budget and came in second after the US in terms of contributions to NATO. However, Trump made it clear that this payment was insufficient. Berlin expressed regret over the US administration’s decision on cutting its contingent. Another issue for criticism by German politicians and experts was the fact that the German authorities found out about the upcoming troop withdrawal from US mass media reports.
Meanwhile, Germany is running out of common interests with the United States under the Trump administration, Kommersant writes. This comes after the US halted its participation in the Paris climate deal and withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal and the Open Skies Treaty. The fiercest clash between the US and Germany was over energy. The Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany was at the heart of this dispute. Washington is threatening to impose sanctions against the pipeline, which could also target European companies, including those in Germany. Now Gazprom continues active preparations for laying down the Danish section of the underwater gas pipeline. Although the German government has stressed many times that this was a private business project, the efforts to preserve it were taken by Germany at the highest level. Given the remarks by German politicians, they don’t even anticipate that bilateral ties will improve under Trump.
However, Moscow is very upbeat over the prospects that America’s military presence in Europe will be reduced. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia was convinced that European countries were capable of defending their security independently without persistent US patronage.
Izvestia: Palestinians banking on UN sanctions against Israel
The Palestinians expect that the United Nations Security Council won’t let Israel annex the Jordanian Valley and take tough measures, including sanctions against the Jewish state, Palestinian Ambassador to Moscow Abdel Hafiz Nofal told Izvestia. The UN Security Council’s meeting on this issue is scheduled for June 24, the diplomat said. The Israeli PM’s administration told the newspaper that the UN Security Council would not take any steps against the Israeli plans since Washington would veto any such resolution. Experts note that the split in the ruling Israeli party could disrupt the operation in the future.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to start applying Israeli sovereignty to the Jordanian Valley by July 1. The Middle East Quartet, which includes Russia, the US, the UN and the EU, has not yet come up with a unified stance and failed to suggest a decision mostly due to Washington’s position. Although back in January, when presenting the political part of the "deal of the century," Trump said the Palestinians would be given four years to think it over. That said, the Jordanian Valley’s annexation will begin this year.
The annexation of the territories in question will put the final nail in the coffin of two-state solution, and the Palestinian administration seeks to prevent this, even by going through the UN Security Council, the Palestinian envoy to Russia told Izvestia. "On June 24, the Security Council is due to hold a meeting on this issue. Palestine will raise the issue that the Security Council should harshly criticize the Israeli plan and pass a resolution and sanctions. Certainly, many countries, including the EU, Russia and China, have condemned the planned annexation. However, no real steps such as sanctions, or other measures have been taken so far," the ambassador said.
Netanyahu’s administration told the newspaper that they did not understand the term "annexation" since it implies seizing a legal territory of another state. "The UN Security Council cannot criticize this, they can adopt a resolution against this step. But this is impossible because the US supports Israel on this issue," stressed Ariel Bulstein, the Israeli prime minister’s adviser. He also noted that the dispute in the ruling coalition on this issue would not hinder the project’s implementation.
Out of the five permanent members of the UNSC, Israel’s plans are backed only by the US. Russia’s permanent mission to the UN headquarters in New York told Izvestia that now Israel’s steps were believed to be just plans. "We respond to actions," the mission stressed, answering a question whether Russia was ready to adopt a resolution condemning Israeli steps.
Media: Top Russian diplomat heads to Serbia ahead of election
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a visit to Belgrade on Thursday to hold talks with the Serbian leadership. This will be the first foreign visit by the Russian top diplomat after a pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. Besides, the visit will take place three days ahead of the parliamentary election in Serbia. This visit seeks an answer as to whether Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, whom Moscow backed in his election, is ready to be Russia’s strategic partner in the region not only in words but also in deeds, Kommersant writes.
"Lavrov will visit Serbia on the eve of the parliamentary election in the republic due on June 21. The visit will show that Russia is banking on Vucic and also wants to test the Serbian leader as a partner and show him and also the majority of pro-Russian and pro-Putin Serbs that Russia backs them," said Vlado Vurusic, a renowned Balkan expert and commentator for the Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list in an interview with the business daily. "Although Vucic’s party is highly likely to have a confident victory in the election, this evident support of Moscow is playing into his hands."
According to the expert, Lavrov’s trip to Belgrade is not just to support Vucic but also to cement Russia’s positions in the Balkan region. "These positions do not always coincide with Belgrade’s approaches." For example, Moscow does not share Vucic’s drive to swiftly sign a deal on normalizing ties with Kosovo since it is afraid that this would pave the way for Pristina and Belgrade both to the EU and NATO. Next week, Vucic is heading to Washington for talks with Kosovo’s leaders, due to be attended by President Donald Trump, the expert noted. "Moscow has reasons to fear that the Serbian president could accept a deal on Kosovo that does not meet Russian interests."
Moscow and Belgrade also disagree on the status of the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center in Nis in southeastern Serbia. Moscow has been long insisting that its Russian staff be given diplomatic status while Belgrade has been avoiding signing this agreement under various pretexts, fearing to spoil relations with the US. However, Serbia, which Russia deems as a key ally in the Balkans, has taken a range of steps towards the North Atlantic Alliance. NATO staff obtained freedom in moving across Serbia, along with access to all facilities and diplomatic immunity. Besides, new irritants have emerged in Russian-Serbian relations not due to Moscow’s fault, including the recent "spy scandal."
"Lavrov will definitely demand actual clarification from Vucic on Belgrade’s relations with the West, China and Russia," Vurusic said. "More precisely, guarantees that his policy is really tied to Moscow."
Although Vucic put it straight that Serbia is not going to discuss Kosovo’s independence in Washington, his allies have rushed to accuse him of these plans, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. According to the Kremlin’s press service, during the exchange of views on the Kosovo settlement, Vladimir Putin called for finding a compromise decision, which will be backed by Belgrade and passed by the UN Security Council. This concerns a new UNSC resolution on Kosovo replacing Resolution 1244, which is the cornerstone of the current positions of Moscow, Beijing and Belgrade, which has not been working for a long time. Obviously, the Kosovo issue will dominate the agenda of Lavrov’s visit to Belgrade and Putin’s meeting with Vucic in Moscow five days later.
Kommersant: New US sanctions against Syria come into effect
The United States has not stopped its crusade to strong-arm Damascus into playing by its rules. On Wednesday, Washington took the first steps as part of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, also known as the Caesar Act. The sanctions targeted 39 individuals and legal entities in Syria, including President Bashar Assad and his wife Asma. Now restrictions may be imposed not only on Syrians but also against anyone who cooperates with them, including Russian and Iranian structures working in Syria. The reason for imposing these punitive restrictions may be some decisions by the Assad government, which anger Washington. Moscow believes that the Caesar Act is aimed at toppling the legitimate authorities in Damascus, Kommersant writes.
Those who take part in restoring the Syrian economy in the areas controlled by Damascus, Russia and Iran could face sanctions. The restrictions may be imposed for cooperation with foreign nationals who are staff members of private military companies, mercenaries and participants of armed groups, which are operating in the interests or on behalf of the Syrian, Russian or Iranian governments.
China has dismissed the new US sanctions as inhuman while Russia’s envoy to the UN Vasily Nebenzya stressed that the Caesar Act’s goal was to oust the legitimate Syrian authorities.
The rift between Moscow and Washington over the Syrian settlement is deepening every day, the newspaper writes. In the coming days, they will clash over the humanitarian assistance for Syria. Russia’s refusal to make concessions to the US in the UN Security Council and allow it to expand assistance to Syrians by skirting Damascus could be a new reason for sanctions.
"The Caesar Act is a test of Russia’s capability to help the Syrian regime stay afloat. The US sanctions are dealing a blow to Russian-Syrian cooperation as well as Moscow’s attempts to ease the suffering of Syrians by sending them grain and medicines as well as other projects. The sanctions against Syria’s Central Bank jeopardize any transaction with the country," Vice President of the Russian International Affairs Council Alexander Aksenenok told the newspaper. The Caesar Act is also targeting the top Syrian leadership, deepening the emerging split in Assad’s family, the Alawite circles and the ruling elite as a whole, he noted. "Against this background, it’s logical that the Syrian leadership should review its stance on the work of the Constitutional Committee. The question is whether Damascus is acting rationally in accordance with political logic," the expert said.
Vedomosti: New major player could emerge in Russia's crab business
The Russian Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) has received a bid from the Antei Assets Management company, which seeks to purchase a share in several crab fishing companies with quotas totaling 8,100 tonnes. The company was set up in February 2020 and is owned by Igor Mikhnov and Arkady Pinchevsky, Vedomosti writes. Mikhnov is the owner of the Antei group, which catches fish and crab. Its crab assets will become part of the Antei Assets Management, according to the FAS files. Pinchesvsky, who was not earlier engaged in the crab business, confirmed plans to join the enterprise, saying he had shown interest in it a long time ago.
The Antei Assets Management company seeks to buy 99% of shares in the Murmansk-based Antei Sever company owned by Mikhnov, which has quotas to catch more than 4,900 tonnes of crab. The company also wants to secure 49% in the authorized capital stock of Alestar company, which has quotas for 1,100 tonnes of crab.
Structures close to businessman Arkady Rotenberg showed interest in Antei’s crab business, while Pinchesvsky could represent their interests in this enterprise, a source close to the leadership of the Antei group told the paper. Meanwhile, Rotenberg’s representative rejected this idea, saying that the businessman had no ties to the crab business and was not planning to join it.
Last year, the rights for using half of all crab quotas for more than 142 billion rubles ($2 bln) were sold at auctions. In 2019, some 91,000 tonnes of crab were caught in Russia. The crab industry is one of the most profitable sectors in the country. The average net profit margin in the fisheries industry is 52%, and it reaches 60-70% in the crab business, Oleg Kan, founder of Moneron company, told the paper.