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Syria will not dominate the agenda of Rex Tillerson’s first visit to Russia as US Secretary of State, Kommersant reports on Wednesday with reference to sources close to the Russian Foreign Ministry. The US State Department chief will attempt to focus cooperation between Moscow and Washington on the Korean issue, which was announced as Donald Trump’s key priority during the 2016 presidential election campaign, the countries said, adding that the Tomahawk cruise missile attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Syria's Homs governorate last week demonstrated the measures that Washington can assume in another strategically important area of the world.
The result of the attack - the elimination of nine out-of-date jets of the Syrian air forces was "absolutely insignificant for a salvo of almost sixty cruise missiles worth $100 mln," one of the source stressed. "All indications are that Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow will be focused on the Korean settlement," the source said. Meanwhile, it will be rather challenging for the US to attain this goal in this part of the Asian-Pacific region without agreements with Moscow, the newspaper writes. In case of an attack against North Korea, the US would need room to maneuver in the Far East, which would mean drumming up support from the key players in the Pacific region – China and Russia.
Meanwhile, Pyongyang is reporting that it is on high alert and is willing to take on the United States. Izvestia quotes Jeff Kingston, Director of Asian Studies at Tokyo-based Temple University, saying that the attack on Syria has demonstrated Trump’s readiness to use unilaterally military methods against Pyongyang. As the North Korean ocean-spanning missiles and nuclear tests are aimed mainly at the US, the country will focus on making Washington sit down at the negotiating table and acknowledge it as a nuclear state, the newspaper says.
Spain's top diplomat Alfonso Dastis Quecedo plans to visit Moscow on May 3, in what will be his first trip to Russia, Kommersant daily writes Wednesday citing sources. His meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be focused on all issues of mutual interest, primarily bilateral relations, Ignacio Ybanez Rubio, the newly appointed head of Spain’s diplomatic mission to Russia, stated in an interview with the newspaper. "There is a wide scope for upgrading cooperation in various areas, such as the situation in Latin America, the Mediterranean and Asia, and regarding other aspects of foreign policy," the envoy said, adding that "it is crucial to intensify economic ties between Russia and Spain, as well as relations between Russia and the European Union." "Spain is an EU member-state and plays an important role in integration, which is becoming even more significant due to Brexit," the ambassador said.
According to Ignacio Ybanez Rubio, the upcoming meeting between the foreign ministers is likely to focus on Crimea and the Ukrainian crisis. "It is wonderful that the ministers will have a chance to discuss it all. Spain has always supported the necessity to maintain dialogue regardless of the country’s stance, an open dialogue, one that friends usually have. I’ve always said that the European Union and Russia are destined - in a positive sense - for mutual understanding, and we as an EU member want to contribute to this understanding," he told Kommersant.
The diplomat assumes that Spain and Russia are far from limiting their potential economic ties. "Trade with Russia is not in line with the scale of the two countries," he said, adding though that Madrid intends to promote a mixed intergovernmental commission, which will convene its next meeting in end-May or early June. "It is going to be an important meeting as we are lacking any balance in economic relations," he said. Also, the plan is to promote the operations of working groups involved in various spheres, such as tourism, energy, space, and trade.
Brussels is considering an initiative of holding a meeting between delegations from the EP (European Parliament) and Russian legislators on neutral territory, as put forward by Jiri Mastalka, Deputy Chairman of the EP Committee on Relations with Russia, Izvestia reports. He told the newspaper that Serbia is being considered as a potential site for the meeting. "The European Union and Russia need to shift to talking about key issues, we can’t just tackle low-priority ones. For example, the change of experience can contribute a great deal to the global war on terror. Citizens of European countries also expect Brussels and Moscow to enhance cooperation," the lawmaker stressed, adding that since Russian deputies cannot come to Brussels due to the European sanctions the proposal is to organize a joint meeting of MPs on neutral ground,” for example in Serbia.
The response by Russian lawmakers was quite positive, Izvestia writes. Chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky told the newspaper that he welcomes the initiative. "We support the idea to continue the operation of the committee for parliamentary cooperation between Russia and the European Union. Let’s see who is ready to participate in the EU’s delegation. Theoretically, we can make a positive decision," he said, adding that there are no intentions to cut off contacts that were suspended under the initiative of Brussels." Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs Alexey Chepa sees "the issues related to tackling terrorism, economic and migration problems" topping the agenda. "The role of parliamentary diplomacy is very important. The MPs have been elected by the people, and they represent various views and parties," he told Izvestia.
Russia’s Federal Tax Service has dropped claims against Deutsche Bank for 10 bln rubles ($175.7 mln) worth of additional tax charges on sale-purchase transactions of the German lender’s Russian subsidiary, unprecedented for the Russian banking sector. Several sources familiar with the matter told RBC business daily that the tax service has changed its decision to charge the bank over transactions made in 2013-2014. "The parties reached an understanding following lengthy discussions," one of the sources said.
The potential payment of 10 bln rubles would have substantially increased the bank’s losses and could have even reduced its capital to critical levels, which would have required re-capitalization, the newspaper says. "The news is very positive for the market as all major lenders make such transactions on a daily basis," Metallinvestbank’s Sergey Romanchuk told RBC. He also views this case as significant since it has demonstrated that the tax service can acknowledge its mistakes.
"This demonstrates its growing professionalism, which shows that it could become a solid environment for improving Russia’s business climate," he added. One of the newspaper’s sources said though that the outcome of the Deutsche Bank case could have been politically motivated.·
The owner of the RBC media holding company, Mikhail Prokhorov, could sell the asset to businessman Grigory Berezkin, head of ESN Energy, Vedomosti says citing three sources close to parties partaking in the deal, which may be signed before May 1, 2017, one of the sources said, adding that the sides have already reached a principal understanding. VTB Capital has been selected as the deal’s consultant, and as one of Vedomosti’s informants stated, the organizer, as well. Prokhorov has owned the controlling stake in RBC since July 2010, while the remaining shares are traded on the Moscow Exchange (MOEX).
Prokhorov is being forced to sell his media business, according to one of Vedomosti’s sources. Previously, he was ready to sell off the asset last spring, though back then he was going to get a ‘good price’ for it, that is, at least $250 mln. However, following searches in April 2016, potential buyers refused to negotiate any deals, one of the source said. The talks were also complicated by the holding’s huge debt, which was almost three times that of its revenue (14.9 bln rubles as of end-2016).
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