The Trump administration is hammering out a new strategy on Iran, which is expected to be unveiled by the end of this year, US diplomatic sources and several members of the Republican Party told Izvestia. This comes "amid the need for outlining in detail the administration’s line on Tehran."
Most recently, Trump’s domestic political opponents welcomed the new US strategy on Afghanistan, and Washington hopes that the "Iranian document" will also be roundly accepted. Intrigue around the potential US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal will still linger until the new strategy is unveiled, the paper writes.
According to a US diplomatic source, Washington views Tehran as its major regional foe. Trump may indeed make a speech on Iran soon, and is likely to label it as a sponsor of terrorism and announce plans on broadening anti-Iranian sanctions. It took Trump several months to draw up the new US policy on Afghanistan and South Asia, the paper says. Unlike Obama, who called for a reset in relations and launched talks with Tehran, Trump is taking a very tough stance on Iran. The US leader has not ruled out using military force against Tehran.
Richard Weitz, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute, confirmed that the White House's Iran policy is being worked out now. The key issue on the table is whether Washington will withdraw from the nuclear deal, he said.
By September 1, the US Embassy must cut its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455, in line with the Foreign Ministry’s note issued in late July. Out of 755 personnel, at least 600 were employed in Russia and only 100 of them are US citizens, RBC writes citing two sources well-informed on the US Embassy’s plans. A source familiar with the situation in the US consulate in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg said almost 60% of staff members employed in Russia have been slashed.Some diplomatic staff were sacked in the US consulates in St. Petersburg and Vladivostok, another source told the paper.
"The cuts are enormous and the process is underway. The downsizing is continuing," a source said. By this Friday, at least two-thirds of the staff from each department of the Embassy (their number stands at 18) will be fired, the sources said. Russian citizens who lose their jobs will receive a "generous compensation" package in line with Russia’s labor code, the sources said.
Employees who had worked for more than 15 years for the Embassy will be able to file for a Green Card (Permanent Resident Card), they said.
The diplomatic staff cuts will seriously affect cultural projects implemented by the Embassy. According to the paper, about 15 personnel from the cultural department (or two-thirds) have been slashed. In fact, this means that the department will be disbanded. Their activity is devoted to organizing academic and professional exchanges, in which more than 50,000 citizens from Russia and the US have taken part over the past 10 years. "It is evident that the era of enthusiasm over "soft power" in Russia and in the West is coming to an end. The bright-eyed aspirations about the power of culture and forming positive images, and international reputation fell into oblivion after 2014 (when relations between Russia and the West deteriorated after Crimea’s reunification with Russia and the war in Donbass)," Ivan Tsvetkov, an associate professor at the department for US studies at the St. Petersburg State University, told the paper.
In the first six months of 2017, Russia had increased exports to offshores by 32.6% to 20.6 billion rubles ($352 mln), the Russian Export Center said in a report obtained by Izvestia. Major export destinations were Cyprus, the Netherlands and Luxemburg, according to the Federal Customs Service. However, Russia increased the supplies of fuel and non-ferrous metals, while the exports of non-raw-materials dropped, the paper says.
Experts note that major Russian companies were able to boost exports of raw materials to "tax havens" of their subsidiaries in order to broaden their opportunities for getting loans. According to the scheme, Russian goods are sold to a company registered in offshores and are then sent to another country. "The best example of countries from the category of "traders and offshores" is the Netherlands. Russian exports to the Netherlands are almost double the amount that stays in that country," Director for Export Policy and Analysis at the Russian Export Center, Mikhail Sneg, said.
Valery Mironov, Deputy Director of the Center for Development Institute of the Higher School of Economics, explained: "Russia’s major companies have always taken out loans in Western banks but due to the sanctions now they cannot always do that. One of the loopholes for bypassing the restrictions is to sell raw materials to their company registered in offshores to enable it to take out loans in a European or US bank secured by its own export gains from selling these raw materials. This company is not legally ‘Russian’, so the sanctions do not apply to it."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Qatar on Wednesday, wrapping up his tour of the Persian Gulf region, RBC writes. Russia’s top diplomat said Moscow does not have any new proposals on the Qatari crisis. Experts say Russia is only sizing up a possible role as mediator to the dispute.
Lavrov’s visit to the Gulf states signals that at the moment Moscow is only "declaring its own readiness to act as a mediator, should Kuwait’s efforts fail to be a success," said Maxim Suchkov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council. According to the specialist, the aim of Lavrov’s tour was to test the waters and see if the region is ready for Moscow’s mediating role. At present, the Gulf monarchies are not demonstrating any interest here and are not seeking to open new opportunities for Russia in their region, he said. The expert also doubts that the United States will manage to act as an unbiased mediator as there is "rivalry of mediating strategies" between Moscow and Washington.
Russia is unlikely to become a full-fledged mediator in the Qatari quagmire on par with the US, Alexander Shumilin, Director of the Center for the Analysis of Middle East Conflicts at the Institute of the US and Canadian Studies in Moscow, argues. Qatar wants Russia to have this role, but its enemies oppose the plan as Moscow is a de-facto ally of Iran, the arch enemy of all the Persian Gulf monarchies, he explained. Lavrov’s tour is a demonstration of peacekeeping intentions, the specialist said.
Given that Russia is not actively involved in settling the Qatari quarrel, one of Lavrov’s key tasks was to discuss the situation in Syria, experts say. Lavrov confirmed that the Syrian issue was touched upon during the visit. In the run-up to the Geneva talks, Russia’s top diplomat sought to make sure that Moscow’s initiatives in Syria would not be undermined due to the crisis surrounding Qatar, a key backer of a part of the Syrian opposition, Suchkov noted.
Russian arms manufacturers signed export contracts to the tune of $300 mln at the Army-2017 international military and technical forum last week, Director of the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation Dmitry Shugayev said, according to Vedomosti. Rosoboronexport Deputy Director General Sergey Goreslavsky said more than 10 contracts and deals were inked, among them with Kazakhstan and Burkina Faso. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu also discussed military and technical cooperation issues at the meetings with defense ministries of Qatar, Niger, Mali and other countries.
A source in Russia’s Rostec, the state hi-tech corporation, told the paper that a major contract on the supplies of Su-30SM multirole fighter jets was concluded with Kazakhstan. Since 2015, the Central Asian country has been buying these fighter aircraft in small batches and by late 2017, Kazakhstan had scooped up 12 jets, said a source close to the United Aircraft Corporation’s leadership.
The framework agreement signed with Kazakhstan’s Defense Ministry outlines the conditions for the supplies of another batch of 12 fighter jets. In 2018, Kazakhstan will buy 4 or 5 these aircraft worth more than $150 mln, a source told Vedomosti.
Equatorial Guinea also sealed a deal at the forum on supplies of two combat vehicles of the Pantsir-S anti-aircraft artillery weapon system. So, this Central African oil producing country became this system’s fifth buyer after the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Algeria and Russia’s Armed Forces, the paper writes. A source close to Russian state arms export agency, Rosoboronexport, said the deal was worth $20 mln.
Russia also clinched a deal estimated at around $20 mln on supplying two Mi-17 helicopters to Burkina Faso. A source told Vedomosti although these contracts are small in figures, they were signed under conditions of intense competition, first and foremost with China, which has strengthened its positons in Africa over the past decade.
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