On Monday, EU foreign ministers will be discussing two sanctions packages in Luxembourg against countries that carry out cyber attacks and use chemical weapons, and Russia may become their key target, Kommersant business daily writes. The United Kingdom, the key lobbyist of both packages, has garnered the backing of five EU countries (on cyber attacks) and nine member-states (on chemical weapons use). France is the co-author of the initiative, earlier reports said. Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania back these sanctions against those responsible for using chemical weapons, according to the paper. According to preliminary data, only Italy has vehemently rejected the initiative. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will try to convince the remaining 18 member-states to support the measure. That being said, all EU decisions are made by a consensus.
Moscow underestimates how negatively Europe views the reports on the cyber attacks and misinformation blitz, which Russia is allegedly pulling off against European countries, Head of the Robert Bosch Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) Stefan Meister said. "The British are determined to exert pressure on their EU partners to ensure that the new restrictions are adopted," the expert told Kommersant. "As for the Italians, on the one hand, they have their own position, and on the other hand they need the budgetary support of the EU. In the end, this may persuade them to pass the harsher sanctions."
If earlier politicians and entrepreneurs in Italy, Austria and Greece called to ease sanctions, after the Skripal poisoning case and the latest spy scandals, such talks will be discarded, political scientist Alexei Makarkin told Vedomosti. "European countries will try to have fewer contacts with Russia, businessmen understand that amid these sanctions any contract with Russia is a risk."
"It is impossible to imagine now that the EU is shaping a common stance on easing sanctions, and calling for this is really becoming more difficult," Director of the Europe Insight company Andrei Kulikov said. However, in many countries there are political forces, which are in favor of dialogue with Russia, and this is not only Italy and Austria, but also some mainstream politicians in Germany and even the UK, the expert said. Sanctions against individuals and security agencies, unlike sectoral ones, cannot significantly influence economic relations, he noted.
Despite Western sanctions, foreign investors plan to pour $40 bln into Russia’s economy over the next five to seven years, Head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), a sovereign wealth fund, Kirill Dmitriev told Izvestia. More than 20 companies and funds from various countries will invest in Russia. Key investors will be corporations from China and South Korea, sovereign funds from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and also a port operator from the United Arab Emirates.
Most of the financing will be spent on regional projects, Dmitriev stressed. Nearly 40% of investments will be poured into building railways and highways, and also ports and airports. In addition, the RDIF chief said 25% of investments would be aimed at upgrading technology.
Meanwhile, experts doubt that the projects will be long-term, explaining that foreign investors are not willing to put money into assets with a payback period stretched out over an extended timeframe amid the unstable geopolitical situation. Russia attracts foreign capital through projects, which cannot be offered by other states, namely drinking water or oil and gas production, capital management expert at the International Financial Center Vladimir Rozhankovsky told the paper.
Earlier, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the strategic goal was to increase the share of investments in Russia’s economy to 25% of the GDP by 2024. According to the Economic Development Ministry, in 2017 this figure reached 17.3%.
Washington has agreed to discuss withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan at talks in Qatar with the Taliban (outlawed in Russia), the rebel group claimed, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The United States has remained mum on the matter, but confirmed the talks. The Taliban earlier said that the presence of foreign forces was a major obstacle to peace.
A key point to note is that Washington is being represented at the negotiations by US Special Adviser to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, an experienced American diplomat hailing from the South Asian country. Khalilzad served as US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations under President George W. Bush. Given his wealth of experience here, Trump brought back the veteran diplomat to service in September.
"The US is trying to set itself up as a mediator in the peace process. This is rather strange since the US is one of the conflicting sides. Second, it’s likely that a possible pullout of forces was talked about. Nevertheless, a dialogue about it does not mean that Washington backs it. Moreover, this is the key obstacle hovering over the negotiations. The Taliban demands that forces either leave or name a date for a full troop withdrawal. Neither the US nor the Afghan government can accept that," Omar Nessar, Director of the Center for Contemporary Afghanistan Studies, told the newspaper.
According to the expert, this problem cannot be solved through several rounds of talks.
Khalilzad, who visited four influential countries in the Afghan peace process - Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, signaled that Iran, India, China and Russia do not play any role in this process, the guru noted. "This really reduces the chances for his successful mission," Nessar said.
The US is also trying to hold parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, but they largely depend on the Taliban, which controls nearly half of the country’s territory and keeps a tough stance on the polls.
If the Taliban does not give it the go-ahead, then the elections are unlikely to be legitimate. To maneuver around this, the US possibly used a promise for some concessions in exchange for easing the Taliban’s position, the expert noted.
Political analyst Faizullah Zaland, who works in Kabul, said that in order to end the war successfully, the Taliban and the Afghan government would need to agree on dividing power.
On Monday, Minsk will host a meeting of the Holy Synod (governing body) of the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill arrived in the Belarusian capital to attend the conference and is also due to meet with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
"We have to solve many vital issues, including how to react to what is happening today in the family of the Orthodox Churches and the situation unfolding in Ukraine," the patriarch told reporters. This is the first meeting of the Russian Orthodox Church on Belarusian soil in its history, he stressed.
Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavsk Pavel (Ponomarev), the Patriarchal Exarch (envoy) in Belarus, has backed the Russian Orthodox Church’s position. However, not all Belarusian public figures and experts share this stance.
In his recent interview, Protodeacon Andrei Kurayev said that following the Constantinople Patriarchate’s decision to grant autocephaly (self-governing status) to Ukraine’s church, Belarus should follow suit. There is an autocephalous Orthodox Church in Belarus, which is not official and does not share the stance of the Belarusian Orthodox Church.
Experts say it is not a coincidence that the Synod’s meeting, which may become a historic event, will be held in Minsk. According to Belarusian historian and political scientist Anatoly Sidorevich, the Russian Patriarch is travelling to Belarus more as a political, rather than a religious leader. Belarus remains the only political ally of Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church, he said.
Most Belarusian analysts say that the frequent visits by the Russian leadership, including President Vladimir Putin, and the current visit by the Russian Patriarch, in addition to Minsk hosting the crucial Synod conference, signal Moscow’s drive to ‘cement’ this territory, and that its influence here is still firmly in place.
Italian exporters have lost nearly 7 bln euros due to the European Union’s sanctions and Moscow’s retaliatory measures, with Italy’s exports to Russia having shrunk 30% since 2014, President of Confindustria Russia Ferlenghi Ernesto said in an interview with Izvestia. According to him, a major blow to businesses was losing a significant portion of the Russian market, which was hastily scooped up by other large international players.
Confindustria Russia was set up in 2015 to represent the interests of Italian businesses in Russia. It brings together Italian companies, which have business ties with Moscow or seek to enter the Russian market. The association’s members plan to voice their interest in continuing business contacts with Russia and their discontent over the sanctions at a meeting with Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is coming to Moscow on October 17, the paper says.
"Since the introduction of the sanctions, Italy’s exports to Russia that hit 14.5 bln euros in 2014, has dropped by a third. Over the first three years, the decline stood at 45%, meaning that over this period losses reached over 7 bln euros, and in terms of days, Italian exporters lost 7 mln euros every day," Ernesto specified.
The head of the Italian lobby group said that exports had inched up only last year to 9.8 bln euros. "This is not just about net losses, this means that we lost a share of the Russian market," he stressed, noting that most members of the association dream that the sanctions, which are hindering business, will be lifted.
According to Ernesto, the recent uptick in trade turnover between the two countries is linked to a more stable ruble rate and Russia’s GDP growth. "The overall trade turnover between Russia and Italy significantly grew due to rising oil and gas prices, which comprise the bulk of Russian exports to Italy," he said.
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