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Press review: EU's confrontation with Moscow and new initiatives on Donbass, Syria

October 20, 2016, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, October 20

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes the President of Russia Vladimir Putin for a summit with the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and France

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes the President of Russia Vladimir Putin for a summit with the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and France

© AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

 

Izvestia: Russian observers not invited to US presidential elections

The US presidential elections scheduled for November 8 will be held without Russian observers, Izvestia writes on Thursday. The Americans have not invited Russia’s delegation saying that the Russians should instead join the international mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

However, Russia’s Central Election Commission considers this format to be unacceptable. "The initiative was put forward by the Russian embassy in Washington suggesting that it should send diplomats to the ballot stations. After a series of talks, the US Department of State rejected this offer," the CEC told Izvestia.

The Russians’ request to monitor elections in three US states - Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas - was flatly denied. "In violation of all principles of democracy and norms of international monitoring, Texas threatened to press criminal charges against any monitor who would come to the voting stations," a diplomatic source told the paper.

Vasily Likhachev, a member of CEC who supervises international cooperation, said Washington obstructs Russia’s monitoring of the US presidential elections as it sees a threat in this. "This negative approach in the spirit of the Cold War is linked to Russophobic trends dictated by the US Department of State." He confirmed that Moscow won’t send its delegation to monitor the polls.

Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrei Kortunov said the move could be linked to rumors being spread by Hillary Clinton’s headquarters that Russia is interfering in the US election process. "America is not complying with the standards it advocates which exacerbates the international situation and leads to voters’ distrust of the election system."

 

Kommersant: Europe not eager to turn up the heat on Russia over Syria

A two-day EU summit will open in Brussels on Thursday and one of its main topics will be relations with Russia. The first meeting of European leaders after the escalation of the Syrian conflict should answer the question: how far the EU is ready to go in a confrontation with Moscow by condemning its actions in Aleppo, Kommersant business daily writes.

Despite tough criticism by some European politicians, who call for cranking up pressure on the Kremlin, those opposed to new sanctions won the first serious victory. The intrigue that the EU could step up anti-Russian sanctions at the summit lasted for just a few days. Ahead of the summit, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini disavowed the reports on the alleged new package of restrictive measures and even called Moscow’s decision to introduce an eight-hour-long humanitarian pause in Aleppo a positive step. Later diplomatic sources confirmed that the participants of the summit will not adopt a final document on Russia and will delay the decision until December.

The EU plans to move the dispute with Russia to a "global discussion" that will allow it to save face and avoid further escalation in relations with Moscow, the paper says. A high-ranking diplomat from a key EU country told Kommersant: "For us the priority is not to breach a consensus inside the EU and not to create artificial tensions where this could be avoided." "It is impossible to reach a consensus on any new sanctions against Moscow. Some EU member-states demand easing the current restrictions introduced as a result of the Ukrainian issue. The sanctions pressure on the Kremlin cannot contribute to softening its position in Aleppo. On the contrary, this can only cause further escalation."

 

Izvestia: Putin voices peace initiatives on Syria, Donbass

The drawn-out marathon talks between the leaders of the Normandy Quartet ended in Berlin on Thursday. Russian President Vladimir Putin cautiously assessed the success of discussing the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, Izvestia writes.

The leaders agreed that new areas for disengaging the conflicting sides will be designated in Donbass and another decision was made on introducing an armed peacekeeping mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). An agreement was reached to continue discussions on local elections in the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass.

Vladimir Putin, Pyotr Poroshenko, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel spent several hours speaking on how to solve the "no war-no peace" situation and begin the implementation of the Minsk agreement as scheduled, the paper writes. Putin said little progress in the humanitarian issues has been made due to Kiev’s unwillingness to dole out social welfare payments to the citizens of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

Regarding the Syrian crisis, the key news was Russia’s plans to keep up the pause in airstrikes in the Aleppo area - of course if the militants do not ramp up their activity during this time. The Russian leader said the political element of the negotiating process is a top priority, reiterating the proposal to adopt a new constitution in Syria to carry out elections involving the opposition.

Up to the last moment, it was not clear if the Russian president would fly to Berlin, the paper says. In the run-up to the trip, Putin said he saw no sense in it if the meeting of the expert-level group in Minsk produced no positive result. Finally, a decision was made to carry out the visit in order to step up the Minsk process, and this led to certain shifts in the settlement process, Izvestia writes.

 

Media: Russia’s sports minister promoted to deputy prime minister

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has been appointed Deputy Prime Minister for Sport, Tourism and Youth Policy despite the recent doping scandal, RBC business daily writes. This appointment is meant to show that pressure on the Russian president is useless, experts told the paper.

"Mutko is a good functionary, he has dealt with Russian sport for eight years. But he will be remembered by poor knowledge of English and the doping scandal. I think the doping scandal played a positive role in Mutko’s career," political scientist Konstantin Kalachev said. The president could sack Mutko but this move would mean the acknowledgement of the doping problem in Russian sport, Kalachev explained. Another political scientist, Evgeny Minchenko, echoed this opinion saying: "This appointment is a signal that Putin is not subjected to external pressure, including on such a sensitive issue for Russia as sport."

Director General of the Sports.ru portal Dmitry Navosha said Mutko’s work can hardly be called good or even satisfactory. "Failure exists in two key elements of Russia’s sport - amateur and professional - but Mutko is valued not for this." "The key performance indicator upon which he is assessed by the leadership is the Olympic medals. Mutko led the Sports Ministry when Russia won the Sochi Olympics and performed in Rio better than expected, excluding the doping scandal," he expert said.

Sources in Russia’s sports authorities expressed concerns to Kommersant that "Vitaly Mutko’s higher status may be perceived by foreign partners as a kind of a demonstrative act and a deterioration in relations with them."

Another source in Russia’s Sports Ministry said on the contrary the redistribution of functions will ease dialogue with international bodies. He said Mutko would continue making strategic decisions regarding the development of the sector, which will be directly, managed by the new Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov, "who is completely loyal to him" and "is not disapproved by his counterparts."

 

Vedomosti: Syrian opposition doubts US will liberate Raqqa quickly

Syria’s opposition members do not believe that Washington’s plans to retake Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (terror organization, banned in Russia) in Syria, could be fulfilled soon, Vedomosti writes on Thursday. The US seeks to liberate the city before the Obama administration leaves office in January.

The Americans need to first solve at least two serious problems before the start of the operation, former Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of the People’s Will Party, Qadri Jamil said, responding to a report by the Wall Street Journal that the US is assembling coalition forces to retake Raqqa.

"The Americans do not take part in the land operation in Syria, which significantly complicates the mission. Besides, there are serious differences among the Turks, who pursue their own interests in northern Syria, and the Kurdish units who are very well prepared. It is still too early to speak about the operation to liberate Raqqa. At first, the operation in Mosul should be completed, and this may take some time," the politician elaborated.

Alexander Kuznetsov, Deputy Director of the Institute of Forecasting and Settlement of Political Conflicts, said the operation to free Raqqa has little hope for success. "There are too many liberators in northern Syria, they already starting to elbow each other out of the way." The operation in Mosul and US media reports are meant solely for PR, the expert said. "Obama wants to be viewed as a successful leader and if he copes with Mosul he could score a victory over the terrorists, although this won’t solve the problem in the region."

The Syrian Kurds will join the operation in Raqqa only if the Americans support their political demands, said Abd Salam Ali, a member of the left-wing Kurdish party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

"Now there is no other force in Syria that would solve this task: government troops are too busy in Aleppo, the Free Syrian Army has been left in tatters, apart from scattered radicals who try to join one of the groups. Therefore, we demand that they give us autonomy as part of a federal Syria, so without this our military won’t strike a deal."

 

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

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