A record high number of diplomats from Arab countries gathered in Moscow on Tuesday to take part in the fifth ministerial session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, Kommersant writes. While Russia and Arab countries declare that they have ideal relations, behind the closed doors it seemed that they have more differences than they wanted to show. Some of them are linked to conflicting positions inside the Arab League.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Moscow with high-ranking diplomats from Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Qatar, Lebanon, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Comoros Islands and Tunisia. Another nine member-states of the Arab League were represented at a lower level.
It was surprising that Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala skipped the event, although he had been included in the lists drawn up by the Arab League. It is not ruled out that he may pay a visit, but not in the framework of the forum, where the presence of one of the parties to the Libyan conflict could arouse a heated debate, the paper says. Qatar is opposed to Commander of the Libyan National Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose forces launched an offensive against Tripoli early this week, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE back him. Although everyone supports the UN efforts on ironing out the Libyan conflict, in Moscow the sides disagreed on a point of the final declaration, which called on all the sides to refrain from military escalation. Some participants of the meeting insisted on the wording that Haftar’s forces are fighting against terrorists. However, this was not included in the text of the document.
As for Syria, there were more reasons for a debate, sources told Kommersant. The Arab side insisted that the declaration won’t mention the role of Turkey and Iran in the Syrian settlement. Syria’s return to the Arab League is not included in the document either. Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit noted that while Moscow wants Syria to return to the group, some Arab states insist that this should happen after progress is made in the political and constitutional process.
The Turkish issue triggered a debate in the context of not only Syria, but also Iraq. The declaration rules out any meddling in the internal affairs of this country, including Turkey’s military presence there. However, Qatar was against mentioning Turkey in this context.
Meanwhile, the participants of the Moscow meeting shared position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab participants praised Russia’s stance on countering US plans on changing a status quo in the Middle East by recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over disputed territories. There was no discord on developing bilateral cooperation between Russia and the Arab world. Over the past 10 years since the Russian-Arab forum was launched, trade turnover between Russia and the Arab League states has more than doubled reaching $21.7 mln, according to the paper.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to meet with his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic in Moscow on Wednesday. The talks will focus on Kosovo, sources close to the Serbian leadership told Kommersant. By the end of April, the fate of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina on normalizing relations should become clear. Against this background, Serbia seeks to secure support or at least the understanding of Moscow on its position in this dialogue. Belgrade expects that this will reinforce its positions at the final stage of the talks.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron invited the leaders of all Balkan states for a meeting in Berlin on April 29, which will be devoted to normalizing ties between Serbia and Kosovo. According to European diplomatic sources, this will be the last attempt to persuade Belgrade and Pristina to strike a deal before the EU leadership is changed.
In order to step up pressure against Belgrade, Kosovo’s authorities have imposed a 100% tariff on Serbian goods and are not in a rush to cancel it despite demands by the EU and the US. Belgrade is refusing to hold talks with Pristina until the draconian tariff is canceled, but understands that without normalizing ties with Kosovo it won’t see integration with the EU, which is a key priority for Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. So, although Russia is not taking part in the Kosovo talks, for Belgrade even symbolic support from Moscow is important because the final solution to the Kosovo question should be endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.
Although Belgrade thanked Moscow for its support on solving the Kosovo issue, the two countries’ approaches to the settlement do not coincide, the paper writes. Vucic is promoting an idea of disengagement with Pristina as a condition for normalizing relations. Moscow believes that basically this will mean Belgrade’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence. Russia is also opposed to the EU-backed deal between Serbia and Kosovo, fearing that it may turn them into NATO protectorates.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is scheduled to pay a visit to Russia next week and preparations are currently underway for the event, a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed to Izvestia. The first meeting between the two heads of state over the past eight years is expected to be held in Vladivostok, in Russia’s Far East, before Russian President Vladimir Putin sets off for China’s Belt and Road Summit due on April 26-27. The two leaders are expected to discuss all issues of their bilateral relations and the development of economic ties amid sanctions. Besides, Moscow will announce its support for Pyongyang’s course towards a political and diplomatic settlement on the nuclear question and demand that sanctions against North Korea be eased.
In recent days, Kim agreed to hold a third summit with US President Donald Trump and also received Seoul’s invitation for a new inter-Korean meeting. "Perhaps, this will change his approaches [to visiting Russia]. He is an impulsive person," the diplomat noted.
Indirect proof that the visit is still being planned was the arrival of Kim Chang-son in Russia, the actual head of the North Korean leader’s administration, who is responsible for the logistics of Kim’s trips to Singapore and Vietnam. On March 19-25, he visited Vladivostok and Moscow, and then Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev paid a visit to Pyongyang.
The last time the leaders of Russia and North Korea met was in August 2011, when then-President Dmitry Medvedev received the father of incumbent North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, in Buryatia, Siberia. "For a while, many problems have accrued, and North Korea’s role has been changed. This meeting is needed," expert on Korea at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Yevgeny Kim told the paper.
The parties are also expected to hash over the issue of North Korean citizens working in Russia’s Far East. Under a UN resolution, which Moscow backed, by the end of 2019 all North Korean migrant laborers have to leave Russia. According to various estimates, their number is between 35,000 and 40,000. "For Russia, in general this is a small figure. But for the Far East this is a significant workforce and its departure creates certain economic problems for us," he noted.
The Baltic region these days is hosting a number of active NATO maneuvers on the ground, in the sea, in the air and in cyberspace, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Nearly all of these exercises are being carried out in Estonia, in areas of direct proximity to Russia’s borders and under the slogan "rebuffing Moscow’s aggression." The alliance insists that this is a scheduled exercise but it comes amid preparations for Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid’s visit to Russia due on April 18 and looks like a provocation, the paper writes.
The Estonian leader is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. She is planning to discuss bilateral relations, cross-border cooperation and the situation in Ukraine and Georgia. According to Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin seeks to allay Estonia’s security concerns. Meanwhile, NATO’s military activity in the Baltic region and in particular, in Estonia is alarming.
Shortly after NATO’s cyber exercises Locked Shields 2019 wrapped up in Tallinn last week, on April 16 the alliance began its Ramstein Alloy 19-1 exercise in Estonia’s skies. On April 29, major ground forces’ Kevadtorm 2019 (Spring Storm-2019) exercises will be carried out in Estonia near St. Petersburg. In late May, naval drills Baltic Protector are scheduled to be held.
"NATO’s Spring Storm-2019 drills are clearly provocative," military expert Col. Shamil Gareyev told the paper. "Russia does not have any plans on attacking Estonia. However, the British at these drills plan to watch Russia’s territory and want to train to conduct guerilla operations on the territories allegedly occupied by Russian forces," he said. According to Gareyev, NATO countries have been actively gearing up for hybrid wars and are training this tactic. During last week’s cyber exercise Locked Shields 2019 the alliance’s member-states performed the scenarios, similar to what is going on in Venezuela now, he noted.
"A number of coordinated cyber attacks against key civilian information and telecommunications systems are carried out on an imaginary island state of Berillia. The attacks disrupt the work of water-purification systems, power grids, 4G networks and other critical infrastructure facilities. Simultaneously, facts have been uncovered of attacks on public opinion about the outcome of elections, which would spark poplar unrest," according to the cyber drills’ scenario.
The British government presented a regulation on anti-Russian sanctions on April 15, which should enter into force once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, RBC writes. Under the latest agreement between London and Brussels, Brexit should take place by October 31, 2019. The British authorities decided that they will neither reduce nor increase sanctions powers compared with the current EU regime. When the regulation comes into effect, it will replace the current European legislation "with substantially the same effect." However, the anti-Russian regulation stipulates details, which are not included in the European sanctions documents, the paper says.
The UK’s restrictive measures against Russia will be obligatory for implementation not only on the country’s territory but also by all British nationals outside the country. Besides, the powers on control over the sanctions implementation will be given to British vessels in international or foreign waters, vessels without nationality in international waters, foreign vessels in international waters. In particular, to control the implementation of the trade embargo against Crimea or the ban on supplies of military or dual use goods to Russia British naval officers will be authorized to stop a vessel and search it with the use of justified force and confiscate the banned items.
British Foreign Secretary will be vested with the right to include people on the sanctions lists and freeze their assets in the UK jurisdiction or bar them from entering the UK. So, after Brexit, the UK will be able to add to the sanctions lists new Russian citizens and companies. Many Russian businessmen blacklisted by the US are not on the current EU lists, the paper says.
A significant difference from the European restrictive measures will be a possibility for the UK to place certain persons on secret sanctions lists if this is in the interests of national security or international relations and also in order to prevent a serious crime in the UK. The British regulation also envisages removing from the sanctions lists if this meets national interests.
The UK’s sanctions regime is among the toughest ones in Europe, analyst at AKE Group consulting company Maximilian Hess told RBC. Among the factors, triggering this trend was the plot to assassinate former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal, which London blames on Moscow, and also the UK campaign against corruption and "dirty" money from abroad. In the future, the British sanctions policy is expected to drift towards the US, head of the French department of British consulting company Aperio Intelligence George Voloshin told the paper. However, this tough stance may be changed if the opposition’s Labor Party comes to power, Hess said. The Labor Party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to step up pressure against Russia, the expert said.
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