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Press review: Israel in Syrian de-escalation plan and Brexit at dead-end

July 21, 2017, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, July 21

1 pages in this article
© AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert


Izvestia: US includes Israel in Syrian de-escalation plan

Washington strove to uphold Israel’s interests during Russian-US consultations on establishing a de-escalation zone in southern Syria, a high-ranking source in the Russian Foreign Ministry informed Izvestia.

"The principal aim during the talks was to thwart the creation of a foothold for a Shiite Blitzkrieg towards the Golan Heights. Besides, Washington is interested in terminating the supply of weapons along the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut route," the source noted.

Meanwhile, a Russian military-diplomatic source told the paper that during the consultations between the Russian, US and Jordanian militaries on setting up a de-escalation zone, the parties reached an agreement on withdrawing all non-Syrian units 30 kilometers away from the Syrian-Jordanian border. These include Iraqi militias, the Lebanese movement Hezbollah, Iranian military personnel and volunteers from some other countries.

"Israel has carried out strikes against Syria’s southern regions on numerous occasions, specifically, on Hezbollah positions," Boris Dolgov, Senior Researcher at the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies, said talking to Izvestia. "If a ceasefire is declared and maintained there as part of the plan to establish a de-escalation zone, such strikes can be classified as a violation of the agreement. Naturally, Israel sees this scenario as a security threat."

According to the expert, Tel Aviv believes that Iran may beef up its military presence in Syria. The United States and its allies are trying to thwart these plans.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier said that Moscow and Washington did their utmost to take Israel’s security interests into account while setting up the de-escalation zone.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Brexit talks between EU and UK heading towards dead-end

The Brexit talks between the European Commission and the UK have exposed the ongoing profound rift between the parties, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The second round of negotiations kicked off on July 17.

UK Brexit Secretary David Davis together with European Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier stated in summing up the talks they held at their meeting that although some progress has been made, the parties continue to disagree on several issues. The two sides, in particular, were unable to reach a consensus on who will guarantee citizens' rights after Brexit. The European Commission insists that the European Court should be in charge of the issue, while London disagrees arguing that guarantees of Europeans’ rights should be enshrined in international law, and their execution must be overseen by British courts rather than European.

The longer the negotiations last, the more headaches British officials will have, says Alexander Tevdoy-Burmuli, Associate Professor at the European Integration Faculty at the MGIMO University. The expert noted that the parties have not yet come up with any details on solving the border issue between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"If the Northern Ireland border continues to operate in the same way it is operating now, the UK will apparently not be able to withdraw from the Customs Union the way it wants," he explained." However, if the border is closed, this could significantly hinder the Northern Ireland settlement."

The paper recalls that back in January British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the UK’s plans to withdraw from the EU Customs Union. This, in turn, could lead to the appearance of a full-fledged border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which would affect the two Irelands’ economies and harm the peace process.

The UK and the EU plan to kick off consultations on their future trade and economic ties next October. However, if the talks on the issues during the second round are delayed, the beginning of economic debates could be put off for a later date. Barnier earlier said that the EU is not prepared for dialogue on trade ties with the UK until the issues of citizens’ rights, financial obligations and Northern Ireland’s border are resolved.


RBC: Syrian opposition joins fight against extremists to avoid collapse

While the Kurds and the Syrian army are launching an offensive against the positions of the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia), internal strife between the armed opposition is gaining momentum behind the lines. As the suspension of US aid looms, it is crucial for the moderate opposition to dissociate itself from the extremists, RBC writes.

On Thursday, fighting broke out between the opposition and Islamist groups in Syria’s Idlib province. The Tahrir al-Sham group (founded on the basis of the Jabhat al-Nusra group, outlawed in Russia) reported that it had captured several large cities knocking out its chief rival, the Ahrar al-Sham group, from the area. Idlib is the chief stronghold for Tahrir al-Sham extremists. Moderate opposition gunmen backed by Turkey and various Arab countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, also operate in the region.

The clashes between various groups in Idlib show that the process of disengagement of the moderate opposition and extremists has gone into effect, according to Anton Mardasov, Head of the Department of Middle Eastern Conflicts at the Moscow-based Institute for Innovative Development.

He noted that the opposition had suspected that the de-escalation zones would make it weaker and contribute to its disintegration. Now they are sure that Moscow is determined to establish these zones, so the issue of the need to fight extremists inside these groups has been raised. "If an offensive against Idlib involving the Syrian army begins, the operations will be conducted against the whole opposition rather than just the Tahrir al-Sham Islamists, so it is preferable for it to join the fight against the extremists," the expert told RBC.


Izvestia: Moldova’s president vows to avoid war in Transnistria

Moldovan President Igor Dodon has said he would do his best prevent a new conflict in the country’s unrecognized Transnistrian Republic, as such a scenario will put an end to Moldova’s statehood. He stated this in an interview with Izvestia, adding that he is ready to compromise with Tiraspol and is determined to tackle the issue through negotiations.

"There should be no military scenario for Transnistria. I believe that the problem must be solved only through negotiations, and we need to meet each other halfway. Of course, we do have some people who favor confrontation, but they are few in number. I admit that this sentiment is being whipped up by some forces in the West, which would like to see another hotspot of tension here. I have always been strongly opposed to such a scenario. We can see the consequences of such actions in other countries. We are ready for compromises to unite the country. This is acknowledged by our partners in both the West and the East," Dodon stressed.

The paper noted that a paradoxical situation has emerged. Although Moldova elected the leader seeking a compromise for the first time in many years, the situation around Transnistria has nevertheless deteriorated.

Chairman of Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament) CIS Affairs Committee Leonid Kalashnikov noted that this stems from the fact that the Moldovan president still does not enjoy support from the government and parliament, which are controlled by politicians adhering to diametrically opposing views.

"The sad thing is that the power in Moldova does not belong to Igor Dodon completely. Everything is controlled by the government and those political parties that had formed it. In addition to that, there is an element of hostility coming from Ukraine, which organized the actual blockade of Transnistria," Kalashnikov told Izvestia.

The lawmaker added though that over the past 25 years, Transnistria has been transformed into a state and learned to protect its security, "along with the help from Russian peacekeepers."


Vedomosti: Russian consumer demand surges due to foreign travel, online shopping

The drop in Russia’s retail trade does not mean that the country’s economy is not pulling out of the recession. Consumers are spending more on those goods and services that are overlooked by official statistics, Vedomosti writes citing data provided by the Central Bank’s Research and Forecasting Department.

The demand for goods and services grew 2.7% in the first quarter of this year, but retail sales slumped 1.6%, Russia’s Federal Statistics Service reported. Retail trade turnover scaled back 0.5% in the first half of the year.

Russians began to spend more money abroad using their bank cards and bought more goods in online shops abroad, yet Russia’s statistics service fails to take this fact into account.

A new model of consumer behavior seems to be taking shape in Russia, with a greater share going for online purchases, Renaissance Capital analysts estimate, which means that consumer demand in Russia is higher than one might think.

Russians spend money during their overseas trips, shop in international online stores or consume products from their own gardens, says Nikolay Kondrashov of the Development Center of the Higher School of Economics.

Natural consumption remains at the same level as last year, just as consumption of free public services, according to Igor Polyakov of the Center of Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting. However, due to the fact that the ruble has appreciated against the dollar and euro, Russians’ spending on purchasing goods and visiting cafes abroad were expected to grow. These are not only tourists. These are also businesspeople and Russians travelling abroad to visit their relatives, he added.


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

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