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Press review: Moscow set to mediate Israel-Palestine talks and OPEC+ deal may see changes

June 04, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday

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© EPA/MOHAMED MESSARA

Izvestia: Moscow ready to serve as platform for Israeli-Palestinian talks, says advisor to UN envoy

Russia’s advisor to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vitaly Naumkin has called for turning Moscow into a platform for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. "Moscow has long urged for (organizing) a top-level meeting between Palestinians and Israelis in Russia, at a Moscow platform. It is necessary to turn Moscow into a venue for such talks. So far it has not been done, and unfortunately amid this background there is no talk about a resumption of the peace process," he said in an interview with Izvestia daily.

Naumkin noted that Moscow is not acting on a unilateral basis. "First, Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet (Russia, the European Union, the United States, the United Nations - TASS), and a member of the UN Security Council. That is why there is a pursuit for implementing the Security Council’s resolutions, and to act within the framework of the ‘quartet’ of mediators, who are currently facing a threat of losing legitimacy and confidence as well," he explained. "One of the most important ‘quartet’ players - the US - has withdrawn from stances that used to be internationally acknowledged. Today, Moscow finds it extremely difficult to act both within the ‘quartet’ framework, and the UN framework, since any of its initiatives strike upon the US veto," the expert added.

According to the adviser, Russia is "the only broker between Palestinians and Israel today." "The US has always stuck to the position of one side in conflicts. For example, not only do the Americans support Israel now, but stand in the corner of the hard-right wing of Israeli public opinion, which is far from being shared by all layers of Israeli society. Whereas Russia has reached a great deal of progress in establishing relations and gaining the confidence of both Israel and the Palestinians," Naumkin emphasized.

Speaking about relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv, he acknowledged there is no total identical positions. "No one says that (Russia) and Israel are in a strategic alliance. We have a normal trust-base relationship. We fight terror together, and our economic cooperation is excellent," the expert said, adding that it is extremely important that the two countries "no longer see each other as enemies." "First, Israel’s position is familiar to (Russia) in terms of issues related to the Ukrainian crisis. Moreover, regarding issues over attitudes on World War 2, and fascism," he noted, pointing out that Israel did not support any sanctions whatsoever.

 

Izvestia: Changes to OPEC+ deal may be on the horizon

The conditions for the current agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC nations on the cut in crude production, nicknamed the OPEC+ deal, are going to change, Izvestia writes with reference to experts. Director of the National Energy Security Fund Igor Yushkov said that "much, unofficially so far, is being said about curtailing it," adding that the agreement has become "the main driver for growth in oil futures since the beginning of 2017."

According to the expert, the next meeting regarding the deal’s future will be held this month. "The OPEC+ accord will undergo serious reforms on production quotas provided for each member. Much also depends on Iran’s production and decisions by its government, Tehran's production quotas are very likely to be given to Saudi Arabia. Even (Russia’s) oil producers are taking an interest, if not in scaling down the deal, at least in raising their quotas to protect their markets form US-originated oil," he explained.

Overall, Russia’s interest in cooperation with the oil cartel is very high, Yushkov said. Deputy Director of Russia’s Institute for Strategic Studies and Forecasts Dmitry Yegorchenkov added that OPEC itself and primarily its Middle Eastern members are also demonstrating their willingness to collaborate with Moscow. He mentioned the recent talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as an example of the general trend of Russia’s rising role in the Middle East. Those countries are starting to see Moscow as a partner and increasingly as the sole unbiased mediator in settling challenging contradictions in the region, he told the newspaper.

Russia entered into an agreement with OPEC and other exporting countries at the end of 2016. The deal was in force throughout 2017 and was extended until the end of 2018. As a result of the efforts by the partners who reduced oil production by about 1.8 mln barrels per day against the level of October 2016, Brent oil price exceeded $50 per barrel and remained above this mark throughout the year. Nonetheless, there are several factors prompting an ease in the current terms of the deal, Izvestia says. The plan on supply caps has been outstripped recently as production in Venezuela and in some African countries is falling. Meanwhile, the cost of Brent crude has exceeded $75 per barrel, while oil exports are expected to drop further, as about half of Iran’s oil exports is covered by sanctions after the US withdrawal from the Iran deal.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian military base to spark controversy between Moscow, Minsk

Military cooperation, particularly, the subject of air base deployment on Belarusian soil that was previously delayed ‘until a better’ moment, may become a sensitive issue for Russian-Belarusian relations, Nezavisiamaya Gazeta says. The information that Poland is allegedly willing to deploy US armored divisions on its territory unveiled last week made the issue of a Russian base in Belarus relevant again. Asked to comment on it, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei rejected any plans to deploy new foreign military bases on the country’s territory, adding though that Minsk has to take into account the steps assumed by its neighbors.

Political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky considers both the fact that the information about Poland’s intensions surfaced, and the interpretation of Makei’s words as Minsk’s readiness to revise its position regarding the air base to be features of pressure being put on Belarus. "As of today Poland has made no official request to the US regarding the base, and certainly there has been no decision by Washington. However, Moscow is already making waves in the media, creating a background for a new phase of pressure on Minsk regarding the issue of its air base deployment on Belarusian soil," Nezavisimaya quotes the expert.

 

RBC: Accounts Chamber warns of $692 mln shortfall in 2018 budget revenues

Russia’s federal budget for this year is facing a shortfall of revenue to the tune of 43.2 bln rubles ($692 mln ) stemming from foregone dividends of state-owned companies, RBC writes with reference to a report compiled by the Accounts Chamber for a bill on amendments to 2018 budget. The bill envisions that the amount of dividend payments to the federal budget will drop 34%, though the Chamber’s auditors expect even less such budget revenues. Traditionally, Gazprom, Transneft and Rosneftegaz, which owns 50% plus one share of Rosneft, were the biggest dividend payers to the budget in previous years.

The government has not yet settled the issue of "setting a single obligatory standard for dividend payments amounting to at least 50% of net profit of the company under IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards)," the auditors noted. "There are risks that the Russian government will make decisions regarding a number of companies in 2018, envisioning allocations of less than 50% of IFRS net profit for dividend payouts," the authors of the report warned. Among companies planning to pay out only 25% of IFRS net profit are Zarubezhneft and Sheremetyevo Airport, whereas Aeroflot, VTB and Russian Railways have not yet provided their outlooks, RBC writes.

Meanwhile, the Accounts Chamber is going to be given a free hand for control over regional expenditures, Vedomosti says. The government approved relevant amendments to the Budget Code passed by the ministries and departments, on May 30, and they are planned to be submitted to the State Duma, the paper says, adding that the amendments might be endorsed in July. A federal official of the government’s financial and economic bloc knows that the amendments will be enforced in 2019. The move is considered to strengthen the audit functions of the state to enact the president’s May decree that will require huge expenditures on social and infrastructure projects, Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at BCS Financial Group, told Vedomosti.

 

RBC: Russia to restart program on bettering business climate

Russia’s Economic Development Ministry is drawing up a new set of measures aimed at changing the country’s business climate, RBC says, citing sources. The plan dubbed ‘The Transformation of the Business Climate’ containing 14 areas, including property rights protection, taxes, human capital and labor productivity, business activity, urban development, territorial planning, customs and international trade, export, and enhancing corporate governance, will offer steps to manage "systematic changes in the business environment," the paper writes.

Two federal officials told RBC that the issue is not about a set of particular proposals handed down, but about ways to adjust them. The Economic Development Ministry’s plan approved by other departments may be submitted to the government in August, in accordance with the request by First Deputy PM and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, two sources told the publication. The ministry’s press service confirmed to RBC that a new mechanism aimed at responding to business’ requests and eliminating red tape is being drafted. "As for now more than 500 initiatives have been collected that will later be discussed with all the sides involved," the press service said.

The new plan is not going to become a final document, but a list of measures to be supplemented every six months, a federal official explained to the paper.

 

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press review

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