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UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura may hand in his resignation letter soon, Izvestia writes on Wednesday, citing diplomatic sources in Russia and Syria. The final decision will be made after another round of intra-Syrian talks in Switzerland’s Geneva due on February 20. De Mistura was appointed by former UN chief Ban Ki-moon, and the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has to decide on the organization’s format of dealing with the Syrian settlement.
Former deputy UN chief Sergey Ordzhonikidze, who personally knows de Mistura, told the paper that the issue on replacing the UN envoy is indeed long overdue. "Staffan de Mistura failed to show his worth in this office. By the way, I’m sure that the Syrian conflict is very important and the Secretary-General should deal with this issue himself." The UN envoy did not always have a neutral stance in line with the UN principles and his decisions often depended on third parties, Ordzhonikidze said.
"He is a UN official who complied with the instructions of the Barack Obama administration. Now things are changing and there is no this administration anymore," the former diplomat said.
A member of Syria’s government delegation to the Geneva talks, MP Mohamed Khair al-Akkam, shares this view. "De Mistura does not often comply with the neutrality principle and backs this or that side. This is the main complaint against him. Unfortunately, he makes much more effort to remain in office rather than contributing to a search for compromise between the sides," he explained.
The Syrian opposition is also dissatisfied with de Mistura’s activities. The head of Hmeymim group delegation to the Geneva talks, Ilian Masaad, told the paper that the UN envoy fails to fulfill his duties. "First of all, he is very subjected to the US pressure and does not convene the Geneva talks when this is needed, he plays for time for no good reason and does not try to influence the Riyadh group (external opposition) to agree on forming a single delegation of the opposition," he said.
Syrian experts told Izvestia that Damascus will welcome de Mistura’s resignation. A source familiar with the talks on Syria said Moscow is also dissatisfied with the UN envoy’s performance.
The meeting in Prague on Tuesday between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Special Envoy of Georgia’s Prime Minister for Relations with Moscow Zurab Abashidze ended with an important breakthrough, Kommersant writes. The participants of talks decided to revive the treaty on trade corridors. The document, signed in 2011, allows the sides to trade and develop transport communications through Abkhazia and South Ossetia without focusing on the status of the former Georgian autonomies.
Grigory Karasin told Kommersant that this is "serious progress." After the talks Abashidze told the paper that the sides decided to discuss only those issues that can be solved in principle, "without crossing the red lines." For Moscow and Tbilisi, this is the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and also the presence of Russia’s forces on their territory.
Leaving aside the sharp political differences, the parties to the talks managed to reach serious progress in the commercial and economic field. "We decided to use the 2011 treaty allowing our countries to develop trade and transport relations," the Georgian premier’s envoy said.
Karasin said there are plans to use three corridors and a Swiss company SGS will act as an operator of customs points under the agreement between Russia and Georgia. A high-ranking Russian diplomat said the representatives of Switzerland’s authorities plan to visit Moscow and Tbilisi in late March to discuss the unsolved issues, namely on the location of these customs points.
After that, Russia and Georgia are expected to sign an agreement with SGS. "We are ready to do this," Karasin told Kommersant. He also stressed that not only Russia and Georgia, but also Armenia is interested in implementing the 2011 agreement. "As soon as we solve all the remaining issues, we will immediately start implementing this. We need to make the last and the most difficult step," he stressed.
A draft presidential decree envisaging a ban for the state-owned companies on buying new assets has been finalized and submitted to the Russian government, Vedomosti writes.
The presidential decree proposes endorsing a national plan on promoting competition in 2017-2019. Deputy Head of the Russian Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) Sergey Puzyrevsky confirmed that the document has been approved in general and submitted to the government, taking into consideration suggestions of the respective agencies. "Now the finishing touches are being put on it," he said.
The document proposes decreasing the level of the state’s participation in the economy, including through reducing the market share of state and municipal companies. Under the draft, the government should bar the state companies from purchasing new assets - either directly or through their subsidiaries.
The state-owned companies should also get rid of assets, including non-core ones, Vedomosti writes. According to the paper, the state companies will be forced to develop the respective programs. However, Puzyrevsky explained that if a company is efficient and the state as the owner does not deteriorate the conditions for competition on the market, the asset may be retained.
The activity of state-owned companies on the market of mergers and acquisitions is a pressing issue, the federal official said. Since 2006, the number of companies with state participation fell 2.5 fold to 1,627 joint-stock companies as of mid-2016. However, at the same time the number of the state companies’ subsidiaries grew, the FAS deputy head stressed.
The Russian anti-monopoly watchdog also suggests introducing a ban on creating unitary enterprises on competitive markets and to eliminate this form of business ownership by February 1, 2018, Vedomosti writes.
After Ukraine’s forces and militias of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic stopped fighting in Avdeyevka, near Donetsk, Kiev started again speaking about possible plans of imposing martial law, RBC writes. The proposal was made by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko earlier this week and backed by deputy head of faction of the pro-presidential Pyotr Poroshenko Bloc Irina Lutsenko.
However, sources in Ukraine’s parliamentary and military circles told RBC that Kiev is unlikely to introduce such a radical step and no real preparation for imposing martial law is underway. "These talks emerge from time to time, but this does not mean anything at all," one of the sources stressed.
In accordance with Ukraine’s legislation, martial law may be imposed in the entire country or in certain areas for any timeframe. The authorities may introduce labor duty, curfew, and seize property from legal entities and individuals. The command may limit the freedom of movement, carry out checks of identification, cargo and property, and also impose a ban on strikes, rallies and holding elections, the paper writes.
A Ukrainian MP told RBC earlier that the introduction of martial law was indeed discussed in 2014, but Poroshenko decided against the move. The issue later became irrelevant and a subject of speculations of politicians.
Experts say there were high chances of imposing martial law during last week’s crisis in Avdeyevka, but after the international partners’ call for de-escalation this decision could mean letting them down, the paper says.
Ukrainian political scientist Vadim Karasev said the talk on martial law is a PR stunt of Tymoshenko, who recently visited Washington, inspired by the US alleged plans not to support Ukraine’s authorities.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic does not expect Kiev will introduce martial law. The DPR’s envoy to the Minsk talks Denis Pushilin said this would disrupt talks and aggravate Ukraine’s relations with the West. Alexei Chesnakov, Director of the Center for Current Policy, which is close to the Kremlin, said martial law would escalate tensions in the region and torpedo the Minsk peace agreements.
Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani paid a visit to Moscow on Tuesday and held talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The main outcome of the meeting was the invitation for Kabul’s representatives to take part in the second round of consultations on Afghanistan’s settlement initiated by Moscow, Kommersant writes. The discussions will also involve the diplomats of China, Pakistan, Iran and India.
Now as the administration of Donald Trump took the reins of power, Moscow is considering plans of inviting representatives of the United States to the consultations on Afghanistan, the paper says. The decision to involve more mediators comes due to the unsuccessful first round of consultations on Afghanistan held in Moscow in late December without the participation of the Afghan authorities.
Now Moscow plans to make the second attempt of launching the diplomatic effort by including the representatives of Afghanistan, Iran and India. New Delhi is voicing concerns over the increasing activity of the Taliban in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, Kommersant writes.
"The talks in Astana on Syria showed that the Russian side has a flexible approach to various international formats," said Elena Suponina, an advisor to the Director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies. "I do not rule out that Americans will be invited as observers. However, even if this does not happen, it won’t have a serious impact on the efficiency of talks - the countries invited for the meeting have a great influence inside Afghanistan and its borders."
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