The deadline for Russian diplomats to leave the premises of the Russian Consulate General in Seattle expired on Wednesday. The residence of the diplomatic mission in Seattle has thus joined the list of five diplomatic sites that US authorities deprived of immunity and blocked since the end of 2016. The Russian authorities hope to return the buildings through court battles and have already found a law firm that will go to bat for their interests. In turn, the State Department is certain of the legitimacy of their actions. Experts interviewed by Kommersant believe that the chances of the American authorities reconsidering their decision are "minimal."
Russia continues to be the owner of the listed properties, Spokesperson for the US Embassy in Moscow Andrea Kalan confirmed to the newspaper. Nonetheless, she specified that these sites would not be authorized to carry out diplomatic or consular activities.
The Russian government intends to seek recognition that the US government's decision concerning the Russian diplomatic properties was illegal. However, it is not yet clear when the hearings will begin and which court would consider the claim. Sources in Russian state structures told Kommersant that a lawsuit this complex requires careful preparation.
Experts interviewed by Kommersant gave varied assessments of Russia's chances of winning the case against American authorities. Professor of Law at UCLA Kal Raustiala told the newspaper he believes that the US authorities' actions against Russia’s property could be challenged in court, since international legislation provides diplomats, embassies and consulates with serious protection.
BGP Litigation associate Denis Durashkin told Kommersant "at first glance, Russia's claim seems hopeless." "The United States did not deprive Russia of ownership of the premises, but withdrew their status and associated privileges and immunities. Russia still has the right to dispose of its property. The question of granting or depriving consular status, however, is in the exclusive purview of the United States," he explained to Kommersant.
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told the newspaper, "This situation is absolutely unprecedented. It has no comparison or parallels whatsoever, not in our relations with the United States, nor in the system of international relations in general. Colleagues in Washington have crossed the red line and went beyond the permissible and reasonable." "We are 100% sure that we are right," he said, adding, "We are absolutely convinced that our arguments are ironclad and based on a clear understanding of the basics of international and private law."
The destructive actions of the West, led by the United States, pose a serious threat to the Commonwealth of Independent States, Chairman of the CIS Executive Committee and CIS Executive Secretary Sergei Lebedev told Izvestia. According to him, despite political pressure, the CIS remains a promising international organization that offers its members more freedom than the European Union.
Lebedev noted that the primary external threats to CIS countries are "the destructive actions of the West led by the United States that exacerbate the situation in the military-political sphere." "Considering the modern world along the lines of "friend-or-foe or "you’re either with us or against us", a number of Western countries are making crude attempts to use the power dynamic to promote their own interests. Their strikes on Syria undermine the entire system of international relations," he told the newspaper.
According to the Chairman, other shared concerns include international terrorism, extremism, illegal drug trafficking and arms smuggling, transnational organized crime, corruption beyond the borders of individual countries, illegal migration and human trafficking.
Lebedev believes that the conflict in Ukraine is an acute problem of the post-Soviet region. "All states of the Commonwealth are concerned about the current situation. This topic has been repeatedly touched upon during the meetings of the CIS’ highest bodies. We are all interested in an early resolution to the internal conflict," he said, adding that the most important thing is to end the clashes on the confrontation line and start a constructive dialogue between the opposing sides.
Nonetheless, Kiev has been ignoring the CIS leadership meetings over the recent years. According to Lebedev, these actions do not benefit Ukraine. "For me, the advantages of integration within the CIS are obvious. So far, the executive committee has received no official documents on Ukraine's withdrawal from the CIS. Ukraine occasionally discusses it, but so far there were no official decisions," he told the newspaper.
Meanwhile Lebedev believe that the CIS can offer something that the EU cannot. According to him, the principle of multi-speed and multi-level integration, operating in the CIS, provides an opportunity for states to participate in whatever they deem interesting and beneficial, and to their desired extent.
"We can say that the Commonwealth is in the development stage. Participating in it or joining it at this stage means engaging in the process of developing very important documents. It is always better than coming to the existing integration association, like the European Union, where the rules have already been established, and members often demands a lot from newcomers," Lebedev told Izvestia.
Government circles in the UK have been using the Skripal saga to carry on hostile relations with Russia, Member of the European Parliament from the United Kingdom Bill Etheridge said in an interview with Izvestia. The representative from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Etheridge believes that Crimea’s suffering is the result of avoidable pressure from the Western counties that stagnates its economic development through foreign investors.
Etheridge stated that the Salisbury incident was used to provide the government with ramped-up justification to promote a more aggressive policy toward Russia. He told the newspaper, he believes that the UK still does not really know what happened. Until there is evidence of Moscow’s alleged ‘malicious’ intentions, the majority of the British public would want to maintain friendly relations between both countries, he added.
As for the Western coalition attack on Syria, the MEP thinks that this action did not generate any benefits, and the strike itself took place without the decision of the UN Security Council. According to him, only the Islamic State (IS, terrorist organization banned in Russia) benefited from the attack on Damascus.
According to Etheridge the situation with anti-Russian sanctions, first introduced after the events of 2014, was in a greater degree stoked by the EU, which began to create unnecessary pressure on Moscow, trying to interfere in the internal affairs of Ukraine, Crimea and Russia itself. The politician believes that is why Britons voted for Brexit - they do not want to be a part of the "European superpower", but rather an independent United Kingdom that can freely discuss issues like the status of Crimea. Moreover, he noted that the European Union is doing everything to make Russia a major world threat, he told the newspaper.
According to the UKIP representative, the overwhelming majority of Crimeans consider the peninsula to be part of Russia, and the United Kingdom Independence Party has always believed in people’s right to participate in referendums.
The MEP noted that many European businessmen would want to invest in the region. If the political atmosphere was different, then Crimea would have colossal potential, he told Izvestia. According to Etheridge, given the current conditions of artificial confrontation, investors will act very cautiously, fearing to embark on any particular project.
Iran suggested creating a new negotiation format to prevent a "lack of dialogue" in the Persian Gulf and abandon the "paradigm of hostility", Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. Speaking at the New York Council on Foreign Relations, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif noted that the era of hegemonic influence in the region had passed and relations between states needed another formula.
One of the possible changes is the creation of a new negotiation format that would smooth things over in relations with Gulf states, which have become considerably aggravated after US President Donald Trump took the reins of power. Zarif believes that the Iranian initiative, the so-called Regional Dialogue Forum, which according to him should include the countries of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), as well as Iran, Iraq and possibly even Yemen.
According to Zarif, there is a problem with the lack of dialogue and trust in the Middle East. He said he was confident that the time had come to make the Middle East strong, instead of trying to become the strongest in the Middle East.
Experts believe that eventually Tehran would have put forward diplomatic initiatives to normalize relations with its neighbors - acute confrontation is becoming increasingly difficult for them. "For Iran, the situation is much worse than for Saudi Arabia, despite its successes in expanding its influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon," Director of the Centre of Islamic Research at the Institute of Innovative Development Kirill Semenov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Iran has too narrow an economic platform to keep everything on its own shoulders. One day it might collapse," he added.
Tehran would like to legalize its presence, consolidate and share spheres of influence in some countries of the region, the expert said. "However, right now the main problem is Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. While these problems are not solved, this initiative by Tehran will hang in the air," Semenov said. The expert noted that the Iranian proposal is more of an attempt to absolve itself of responsibility for further escalation in the region by putting forward the initiative, showing they are ready for dialogue.
Andrei Prokofiev, CEO of the software developer Flexbby, suggested that Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev form an operational headquarters of government and business representatives in order to iron out problems that companies are faced with due to the Telegram ban, according to his letter available to Kommersant. According to the message, carrying on the current methods of dealing with the messenger service in the coming months could cost Russian companies $1 bln, and Amazon and Google might also lose the same amount by the end of the year. The Russian telecom watchdog, since starting the ban, has already received more than 46,000 complaints, and has sparked consultations with industry representatives, the newspaper wrote.
In its attempts to block Telegram, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media blacklisted about 18 million IP-addresses as of Wednesday evening, which leads to difficulties in the work of Internet services of Google, as well as third-party companies. According to Flexbby, companies suffer failures in data storage, business applications, artificial intelligence systems, geolocation, payments, interaction with banks, customer service, and so on.
"This is the greatest pessimistic scenario," Prokofiev said. The beneficiaries of the redistribution of the market, in his opinion, could include Rostelecom, Mail.ru Group, Yandex and Microsoft, whose cloud services will be in high demand.
Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev told Kommersant that he has not yet received the letter, but expects many complaints from companies affected by the ban.
Evaluation of the companies’ losses due to the banned IP address is outside the purview of the media watchdog, the federal service told Kommersant. The watchdog, however, is ready to consider official proposals to create operational headquarters to solve the issue.
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