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Press review: What’s on the Munich Security Conference agenda and Syrian gas fuels war

February 16, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, February 16

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Nezavisimaya Gazeta: ‘Russian threat’ and Ukraine conflict to top agenda of Munich conference

The so-called "Russian threat" is expected to be a key issue for participants of the 54th Munich Security Conference opening in the Bavarian capital on Friday, indicates a 88-page report prepared by its Chairman, Wolfgang Ischinger, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The prime consideration is that Russia is an obvious challenge to security, given Crimea’s incorporation, "support for separatists" in Donbass, Moscow’s actions in Syria and efforts in the Mediterranean. A lack of mutual understanding could result in military confrontation, Ischinger warned, adding that one of the ways of achieving de-escalation could be to search for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine.

Another report that is going to be circulated among the conference’s participants will likewise focus on this issue. The matter at hand is the document prepared at the request of former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who is currently an adviser to Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko. The report’s author, Richard Gowan, a UN expert at Columbia University in NYC, promotes the idea of deploying 20,000 peacekeepers on the entire territory of the Donbass region, right up to the border with Russia.

The initiatives outlined in the aforementioned reports are not feasible, Alexey Arbatov, a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Head of the Center for International Security at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), told the paper. "The aim of deploying UN peacekeepers to Donbass should be to implement the Minsk agreements in order to resolve the crisis. However, the format proposed for the mission is poorly correlated with the provisions of Minsk-2," he said. "While Russia expects a guaranteed ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy equipment from the peacekeeping mission, Ukraine backed by the West is pinning its hopes on the fall of the current regimes in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics (DPR, LPR) and the arrival of the authorities loyal to Kiev there."

 

RBC: Syrian oil and gas fields keep civil war’s fire burning

Last week’s clash between Syria’s pro-government forces on one side, and the Kurds and the US military on the other heralded a new stage in the Syrian conflict, Alexander Shumilin, Director of the Center for the Analysis of Middle East Conflicts at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies, told RBC.

"Now we are entering a totally new stage of the Syrian war. It is not just about bringing intra-civil confrontation to the fore once again. The issue at hand is also the external forces’ desire to accelerate the achievement of their goals. For Turkey it’s preventing the creation of a Kurdish state, while for Israel this is an attempt to prevent Iran from solidifying its positions," he emphasized.

The shootout between the coalition and pro-government forces occurred on the left (north-eastern) bank of the Euphrates, in close proximity to two gas fields in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province. The area was recaptured from terrorists by Syrian government troops backed by the Russian Aerospace Forces last autumn.

The bulk of the oil and gas fields along the Euphrates came under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the international coalition. Without these resources, it will be difficult for Damascus to begin restoring the lands it has retained, Shumilin pointed out.

The seizure of the gas fields could be just one of the goals of the pro-government forces, while the second possible objective was to prompt the local Arab tribes to switch sides and support Damascus, according to Anton Mardasov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). "Damascus is actively trying to lure and even bribe Arab tribal chieftains on the ‘Kurdish’ part of the Euphrates. Negotiations on that were already going on, and anonymous reports on the transfer of the gas plant were part of that plan," the expert explained.

 

Kommersant: Expert highlights Russia’s experience as seasoned negotiator

The Middle East has become a priority area in Russia’s foreign policy due to the military campaign in Syria. The issue will be the focus of attention at an upcoming conference organized by the Valdai International Discussion Club and the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences scheduled for next week in Moscow.

Russia is working with all players in the region, including its close partners and allies and those who have close ties with the West, one of the conference’s key participants, Academic Director of the Institute for Oriental Studies Vitaly Naumkin told Kommersant.

"Look at Russia’s relations with the Arab monarchies in the Gulf. Moscow is solidifying its positions without trying to squeeze the US out or compete with it. Russia is capable of working with various groups of countries acting in its own interests carefully and without getting involved in any serious standoff with regional players," he explained.

Naumkin stressed that Russia has enormous experience in negotiating with conflicting parties, not only in the Middle East. "Russia can try to mitigate confrontation between feuding parties and prevent conflicts. One of the latest examples of this is Turkish-Kurdish relations. Turkey is one of Russia’s most important economic, political and now military partners. As a NATO member-country, it purchased Russian-made S-400 missile systems, that’s very serious. On the other hand, there are the Kurds with whom Moscow has had ties with for a long time. Russia wanted the biggest political force in Syrian Kurdistan, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), to take part in all negotiation formats on the Syrian settlement. However, Turkey is strongly opposed to that. Russia had to make a difficult decision," the expert stressed.

Concerning Russia’s partnership with Iran, Naumkin recalled that Iran had its own geopolitical interests in Syria, which do not always coincide with those of Russia.

"It is not an easy partner, but Russia is in the same boat with it in the war on terror. The situation is exacerbated by tense relations between Tehran and the Arab monarchies and Israel’s reaction to Iran’s presence in Syria. All that creates risks for those cooperating with Tehran. However, Russia adheres to the approach that Iranian advisers were invited to Syria by the government and that Iran’s presence in that country is legitimate," he added.

 

Vedomosti: Hackers set sights on cryptocurrency exchanges

One of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange desks, Binance, temporarily ceased all operations last week, which made users suspect that it had been attacked by hackers. However, Binance was quick to assure the public that no attack had taken place.

The cryptocurrency industry has recently attracted hackers’ attention increasingly more often due to the growing asset values and the number of cryptocurrency exchanges. Nonprofessionals, experts interviewed by Vedomosti said, have carried many of these attacks out.

Attacks against cryptocurrency exchanges began immediately after they began to appear in 2010. They were hacked, money was withdrawn, and the founders disappeared, recalls Ivan Tikhonov, founder of the Bits.Media website.

Many attacks are non-public, but the market reacts to them all the same. The withdrawal of large amounts of money affects the rate of exchange, Stepan Gershuni, Managing Partner at New Mining Company, explained. That was the case with the Japanese exchange Mt.Gox in 2014. The attack against it was the best-known incident in cryptocurrency history. As a rule, once hackers withdraw any money, getting it back is technically impossible, Gershuni noted.

 

Kommersant: Gulf investors flocking to Russia

Gazpromneft has signed an agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the UAE’s Mubadala Sovereign Fund on the key terms of the deal to sell 49% of Gazpromneft-Vostok shares, several sources in the industry informed Kommersant. According to the sources, the deal is worth $325 mln, with $14 mln set to be invested by the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the remainder will come from the fund’s partners.

One of the sources noted that Gazpromneft was in talks with a wide range of interested parties, in particular, with Japanese and Korean funds, but the best offer came from Mubadala. The deal with Gazpromneft could become Mubadala’s first investment in the Russian oil industry after a series of unproductive attempts.

The deal is estimated at over $2 for BOE (barrel of oil equivalent), which is a relatively high figure for the industry. Moreover, it seems to be due to the prospects of growth in the resource base, production and is some kind of "entrance ticket" to establishing relations with Gazpromneft, according to Karen Dashyan from Advance Capital.

According to Dashyan, Mubadala is interested in cooperating with a major state-owned player like Gazpromneft. The deal will make it possible for the Russian oil company to redistribute its financial burden so it can develop other assets at an early stage, the expert added.

 

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

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