The 9th round of the Astana peace talks kicks off on Monday, in Kazakhstan’s capital. According to the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, besides the guarantor states - Iran, Russia and Turkey - others will be attending the two-day summit chiefly government delegations, Syrian opposition groups, UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, and a Jordanian delegation. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the format might be hindered by the threat of a war, as "fighting terrorists takes a back seat, and the key motives of the main players are focused on purely geopolitical and military-economic goals."
According to the newspaper, during the talks in Astana, the parties intend to consider the current situation in Syria, including in the de-escalation zones, discuss humanitarian and confidence-building measures, in addition to coordinating further steps to advance the process of resolving the crisis in the country.
"The Astana process is stuck, apparently, because Damascus and Moscow, with the participation of Turkey and Iran, control only about 60% of the country's territory," military expert Lieutenant-General Yuri Netkachev told the newspaper. "And economically important land, with numerous oil and gas fields, is controlled by the Americans and their allies. Therefore, they want to dictate their terms for the political structure of Syria, trying to draw Arab countries into the zone of their interests," he added. The expert told the newspaper that the Russian General Staff assesses the situation in a similar manner. At the same time, Damascus and Moscow are ready to work with the opposition on a new constitution for Syria, and to conduct negotiations both in Astana and Geneva as the main UN platform for an inter-Syrian dialogue, the newspaper wrote.
However, the US-led coalition might have its own plans, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Damascus, with references to Arab social networks, said that in violation of all international norms and without permission of the legitimate government, the United States and their allies in Syria have created 14 military bases, many of them located on the territory of oil and gas facilities.
"After analyzing this information, it becomes obvious that the Assad regime and its allies are unlikely to succeed politically by controlling the country’s hydrocarbon infrastructure east of the Euphrates. The power play under these conditions might threaten to morph into a real war," the newspaper wrote. Additionally, Israeli actions under the guise of fighting against Shiite formations in Syria suggest that the threat of a large-scale war also exists in the western part of the country.
The summit of the heads of state of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) will be held in Sochi on Monday chaired by President Vladimir Putin. Experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta, they expect the Russian leader to present a new Eurasian agenda at the summit, as well as hold bilateral talks with the heads of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Moldovan President Igor Dodon who was also invited, is counting on his country receiving observer status in the organization.
This year Russia is chairing the EAEU. According to acting Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov, under Russia’s chairmanship, the organization is prioritizing building up efforts to create a single market for goods and services, developing production links and cooperation, and a course for rapprochement of financial policy.
However, according to the newspaper, experts are less optimistic. The summit is important for the personal contacts among the heads of state. Moreover, leaders and also political systems have changed in Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. The border problem is becoming more acute as the 2018 World Cup in Russia is approaching. In addition, according to the newspaper, Kazakhstan often questions the viability of the country’s membership in the EAEU. This is primarily because the players haven’t seen any economic efficiency due to the similarities of the economies of Kazakhstan and Russia, which is mainly a strong dependence on raw materials sales.
"2017 was a year of trials, shocks, and trade and transit wars. These conflicts have already become routine for our union," independent expert Kubat Rakhimov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. According to him, this has both a negative and a positive side. "There are serious shortcomings in the EAEU’s structure. However, it is good that we identify and grasp them. Finding compromises is normal," he added. According to the expert, politics prevailed over the economy. "In 2015, Russia entered a period of sanctions and response sanctions. These conditions caused serious resistance and misunderstanding among the allies," the expert said. In his opinion, it is necessary to return to the idea of creating a single border and customs control.
"We have to trust each other's external perimeters, to remove partitions between our countries, as it was done in the Schengen zone. At the same time, we would have solved the issue of 'sanctions and counter sanctions’," the expert continued. He noted that the adoption of a new Eurasian agenda is expected during the summit. "If this does not happen, the EAEU will have conflicts - for example between Russia and Belarus, and between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan," Rakhimov said.
Cooperation between Russian oil major Rosneft and Italy’s energy giant Eni in geological prospecting on the Russian shelf may be terminated due to US sanctions. Contrary to the parties’ statements, the US sanctions called into question Eni’s possibility to finance oil projects with Rosneft on the Russian shelf, according to financial statements prepared in May for joint ventures of companies registered in Luxembourg. Although ditching the joint venture is out of the question, sanctions threaten to terminate the exploration work in the Black and Barents Seas, on which the companies have already shelled out about $270 mln, Kommersant wrote. Sources in the industry told the newspaper that the projects are suspended.
Eni remains Rosneft’s last major Western partner, which has so far not officially refused to work on the shelf. In 2012, the companies agreed to explore and develop sites in the Barents Sea, and the Black Sea. Eni received 33.33% in the projects. Rosneft and Eni assured Kommersant that the energy giants remain partners on the shelf and that abolishing the JV is out of the question. "Eni will continue to fulfill its obligations as long as international sanctions allow it," a representative of the Italian company told Kommersant.
The new US sanctions are aimed primarily at banning the financing of projects and might prove to be more effective. According to Kommersant’s sources in the industry, the JV's operations de facto have already been suspended. One of the sources told Kommersant that back in 2017, Eni began to cut back the number of employees working on the joint venture. Another source noted that Rosneft employees sent out on the joint venture are returning to the company’s home base.
By the decision of the Russian government, major companies might not have to publicly disclose some information. According to Izvestia, the Ministry of Economic Development hammered out the corresponding bill. Thus, companies might be allowed not to publish information about its founders, top management or information that the company is in the process of reorganization or any new legal entity that may arise from it. Lawmakers expect to avoid sanctions against Russian strategically core organizations and their top management. Analysts believe that the measure should be temporary, otherwise it will affect the investment attractiveness.
The goal of partially classifying information is to avoid sanctions against strategically vital domestic companies and their management, according to the consolidated report to the bill.
The ability to hide information is appropriate as a temporary protective measure against Western sanctions, but no more than that, Dean of the Higher School of Corporate Governance of the Russian Academy of Science and Technology Sergei Kalenjyan told the newspaper. According to him, there must be a time limit that organizations can use to hide information. Otherwise, it can generate non-transparent schemes in companies.
By the same token, Director of Grant Thornton FBK Strategic Analysis Institute Igor Nikolaev told Izvestia he believes that because of the measures business will lose a lot in terms of investment attractiveness, since investors need predictability and transparency.
Non-profit organizations helping the ill, appealed to the heads of both chambers of the Russian parliament demanding not to include medicine and medical equipment in the list of goods banned for import into Russia, Kommersant wrote. The list should be developed by the government in accordance with the bill on responding to the "unfriendly actions" of the United States and other countries. The Russian State Duma has already promised that by the second reading, the bill will not mention a direct ban on medicine and medical equipment.
The authors of the appeal believe that the possibility of imposing restrictions on imports does not offer any guarantees, but medical products will fall under the ban. The authors are convinced that "the pharmaceutical market in Russia does not hold a great appeal for foreign pharmaceutical companies even without restrictions". According to the request, the Gift of Life charity fund is forced to import unregistered medicine to Russia based on oncologists’ recommendations that are necessary for treatment children. The bill in its current form deprives legal entities of the opportunity to import drugs into Russia.
"The bill in its form that will be considered in the first reading practically wipes out all the work of charity fund Gift of Life, and of our doctors," founder of the Fund Chulpan Khamatova told Kommersant. "After our letter was sent, and we hope it was read, we heard that the bill would be rewritten. However, we still have fears. Now the text does not specify enough, and does not clearly show that medicine, medical equipment, supplies and in general everything related to the treatment of patients would not fall under the ban," she added.
Head of the committee of the Federation Council for Social Policy Valery Ryazansky told Kommersant that the upper house’s position remains the same. "Without studying the specific parameters of our market and our patients’ needs, especially rare orphan diseases, the decision to reduce the purchases of medications cannot be made," Ryazansky said.
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