Russia has lodged a formal appeal with the World Trade Organization (WTO) for consultations with the US over the 25% steel and 10% aluminum duties imposed by Washington. The tariffs came into effect on March 23 dealing a significant blow to most metal producers across the country, Kommersant writes.
Earlier, China, India and the EU initiated similar consultations over Washington-imposed duties. The US has already replied to India’s request arguing that the duties imposed in the interests of national security are not a "safeguard measure" and do not fall under Article 12.3 of the WTO’s Safeguard Measures, therefore New Delhi’s request for consultations is ungrounded.
Meanwhile, a source in Russia’s Severstal steel and mining company informed Kommersant that the US is not a priority market for it (2% in revenues and 4% in sales in 2017), adding though that any restrictive trade measures are harmful. "It is clear that restrictions based on national security grounds are just a pretext. In actual fact, it is a special protective measure, which, contrary to international trade rules and principles, is used with certain exceptions, that is, on a discriminatory basis," the source said.
According to Alexander Pakhomov, Managing Partner at the Law and Business asset managing company, chances are high that Washington’s response to Russia’s request will be identical to India’s inquiry outcome. Alexei Panin, Director of the Moscow Office of Urus Adisory, shared the same point of view. "This is a rather cynical act on the part of the US. However, considering the WTO’s ultra-passive stance on all anti-Russian sanctions imposed earlier, this is hardly surprising."
In his view, if Washington now agrees to have consultations, it will actually acknowledge that it has grossly violated WTO regulations, which is fraught with "growing demands from exporters and even multi-billion fines."
European countries, in particular, Germany and France, are determined to look for new avenues to resolve the Syrian crisis, which is becoming an increasingly obvious threat to the global players involved in it.
However, Qadri Jamil, leader of the Syrian opposition’s Moscow platform told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the proposed move stems from the desire to provide an alternative to Russia’s diplomatic initiatives.
"There is no alternative to UN Resolution 2254, which states that the negotiations should take place in Geneva. That’s an international consensus," said Jamil who took part in the Geneva talks. "They realized that Resolution 2254 is, first and foremost, Moscow’s and Beijing’s initiative, which they agreed with initially. Now they embarked on hampering its implementation in every possible way."
The initiative put forward by France and Germany came as no surprise, Maxim Suchkov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, explained in an interview with the paper. "From the very beginning of the conflict, the parties began to seek their own negotiation platforms. Naturally, they wanted them to meet their interests. Then there was a reverse trend in the global community, that is, to focus on other formats. That was how Astana appeared. Later on, the Europeans decided that it is not really inclusive since three countries decide on Syria’s fate, leaving Western players out. There are more inclusive formats like Geneva, but they have been deadlocked."
The expert suggested that the recent European initiatives could be an attempt to seek America’s continued involvement in efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, because US President Donald Trump said he wants American troops to be pulled out of Syria. "If US involvement in this process subsides, in theory, Russia, Iran and Turkey will have more chances," he noted.
Cuba's Council of State has endorsed Miguel Diaz-Canel, 58, as the new head of state. For the first time in over half a century, a politician whose surname is not Castro and who was born after the 1959 Cuban revolution, became the country’s leader, Kommersant writes.
Although the Castro era has come to an end, Raul Castro who was at the helm for the past ten years is not bowing out of politics. He plans to lead the Communist Party, the only legitimate political force in the country, until 2021.
The nomination of Miguel Diaz-Canel came as no big surprise for Cubans. Over the past five years, he has "played a leading role in running the public and economic sectors effectively replacing Castro," Manuel Yepe, a Professor at the Havana-based Higher Institute of International Relations, told the paper.
Diaz-Canel, who is widely referred to as a typical party official, was initially seen as a politician who could embark on liberal reforms and the democratization of society. However, such expectations are currently on the decline, Sebastian Arcos, Associate Director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, stressed in an interview with Kommersant. Considering his career, he could be a reformer like Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the expert noted, adding though that there are no grounds for that right now. In his public speeches and some private conversations quoted in media reports, Diaz-Canel strikes one as a tough and ideologically-motivated politician, just like the Castro brothers.
On the other hand, Eduard Bely, an expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Latin American Studies, told the paper that the newly-elected Cuban leader could eventually launch economic reforms. "He adheres to a more liberal approach specifically because he is not a military officer. Diaz-Canel is a technocrat and is aware of the challenges facing the Cuban economy," he emphasized.
The Association of European Businesses in Russia (AEB) has expressed concern over Washington’s sanctions against Russia. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will seek a special approach to German businesses in Russia during his visit to Washington later this week, while Chancellor Angela Merkel is reportedly planning to bring up the issue at a meeting with US President Donald Trump in late April.
Alexey Knelz, head of the Communications Department at the Russian-German Foreign Trade Chamber, told the paper that German businesses are facing damages to the tune of several hundred million euros in the near future, while in the long term, projects worth several billion euros could be jeopardized. He added that 94% of German companies in Russia are opposed to the sanctions.
"The US and Britain are using the entire arsenal of their influence to prevent rapprochement between Russia and Germany whose trade volume is one of the biggest. For Russia, Germany ranks second in terms of trade volume after China," Ekaterina Novikova, Associate Professor of the Economic Theory Department at the Plekhanov Economics University, stressed in an interview with the paper. "About 5,000 German companies are working in Russia. The volume of investment in Russia from Germany was about 2 bln euros at the end of 2017."
One of the most pressing issues is the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. "There is every likelihood it will be built, and the chances for success are three to one," said Stanislav Mitrokhovich, a leading expert at the National Energy Security Fund.
According to the expert, a lot will depend on how far the US can go in trying to push its weight around with Germany or other EU states.
"Germany has depended heavily on the US since the American zone of occupation after WWII. However, the Germans often take a chance, and this risk is justified. Punishing Europe for cooperation with Iran or Sudan is one thing, while punishing Siemens for cooperation in Russia is another thing. Russia is very important for Europe, and trying to slap a ban on Germans working with Russian companies will be too much even for Washington," he said.
Kosovo is breaching its obligations to set up Serbian municipalities in the self-proclaimed republic, which is one of the principal causes of tensions between Belgrade and Pristina, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told Izvestia.
"The EU is the sponsor and organizer of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. However, these talks have recently stalled. Actually, that was why a month ago, on March 27, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini had to fly to Belgrade for negotiations with Serbia’s leadership," Chizhov said. "In public, Brussels gives vague assessments to the situation just calling on both parties, although the issue at hand is the violations of commitments that Pristina assumed five years ago as part of the EU-sponsored dialogue, above all, on setting up Serbian municipalities in Kosovo."
The issue of Kosovo’s status is a major problem for the Balkan region and EU security. Backed by most Western countries, the enclave unilaterally proclaimed its independence back in 2008. However, under the Serbian Constitution, the Kosovo and Metohija autonomous province is an integral part of Serbian soil. The fact that Kosovo is part of Serbia has also been confirmed by Resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council passed in 1999.
When signing the Brussels agreement, Pristina, apparently, did not intend to honor its part of the commitments related to Serb municipalities, Serbian lawmaker and member of Serbia’s delegation to PACE, Aleksandar Seselj, told the paper. He noted that the Kosovo administration actually deceived Belgrade relying on US support.
Meanwhile, Pyotr Iskenderov, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, explained in an interview with Izvestia that the region is still in a state when a conflict can erupt at any moment, because Kosovo wants to ultimately take control of the northern part of the region with its predominantly Serbian population.
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