The Kremlin and the White House on Monday confirmed that the preparation for a summit between the Russian and US presidents, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, was ongoing despite the crisis in bilateral ties.
A potential summit between the two leaders would positively influence Russian-US relations under any circumstances, former Russian Ambassador to the US and First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s (upper house) International Relations Committee Sergei Kislyak told Kommersant.
"Meetings between leaders are always important, at least to bring clarity to the relationship. So, I believe if the meeting took place, this would be positive under any circumstances," Kislyak said in an interview.
Meanwhile, the senator noted that if the meeting is held, it is unlikely to bring any serious progress since this type of atmosphere is absent in the United States. The entire political climate around Russia is very tense and many forces in the US want these tensions to exacerbate, he explained. "Therefore, everything happening in Russian-US relations is probably the result of an extreme degree of an absence of normality since the end of the Cold War," Kislyak noted.
Touching on the fears that a military confrontation between Russia and the United States could flare up, Kislyak hoped that the US administration would not decide in favor of a direct conflict since a war between the two nuclear powers could destroy everyone. "We have enough potential to ensure this containment at a due level. But there can be numerous tense situations," he said.
Kislyak commented on the recent US expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats amid accusations against Moscow by the United Kingdom over the alleged poisoning of former Russian military intelligence Colonel turned British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. According to the senator, this is not a reaction of the US administration towards London’s accusations, but a means to demonstrate its tough position on Russia. "This is the continuation of infighting in the country. The administration has apparently decided to show how firm it is in its stance on Russia," he explained.
The opposition Serbian Radical Party called on Belgrade last week to give up military neutrality and join the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a post-Soviet security bloc, one of the party’s leaders Alexander Seselj told Izvestia. The call came in the wake of an arrest of a high-ranking Serb official in Kosovo and mounting tensions in the region.
According to Seselj, only the CSTO can ensure Serbia’s security. The party has drawn up a special resolution on the issue, which will be sent to all of the country’s political forces soon.
"The Serbs must not allow deepening cooperation between Belgrade and NATO, an organization, which destroyed the former Yugoslavia and is behind the death of more than 2,500 civilians during the bombing in 1999. We do not want to follow the path of Montenegro, which has been drawn into the alliance despite the opinion of local citizens," he stressed.
Serbia needs "a strong ally, which won’t turn a blind eye to what is happening in the region," the politician stressed.
The CSTO, which brings together Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, has stated many times that it is ready to consider any country’s political request showing interest in cooperation and a desire to maintain collective security.
"Serbia and Russia have special relations. We welcome its desire to join the CSTO. But we understand that this is unlikely to happen given Serbia’s neutrality," First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s (upper house) Foreign Affairs Committee Vladimir Dzhabarov told the paper.
Serbia’s diplomatic sources told Izvestia that the plans to join any military and political bloc were not on the agenda.
Washington is pursuing Serbia’s accession to NATO and without the country’s membership the alliance has no full military and political control over the Balkan region, Pyotr Iskenderov, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Izvestia. "However, if NATO cranks up its pressure, then real anti-Western forces may take power in Belgrade and then the country may indeed turn towards the CSTO and other organizations in the post-Soviet space," he said.
Washington will focus on backing the Iranian opposition, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. This conclusion is being drawn from the appointment of John Bolton, who called for regime change in Iran, as US President Donald Trump’s new US national security adviser. Bolton also said the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran is a real alternative to the leadership in the country.
The potential US decision to support the group would harm its policy towards Iran, Yuliya Sveshnikova, Research Associate at the Higher School of Economics, told the paper. "These people are seen as ruthless terrorists who were responsible for many deaths in the earliest days of the Islamic Republic," the expert said. There is no opposition force in Iran yet, which the US could bank on. Political opponents of the current leadership are lacking unity following the crackdown on protests in 2009, she noted.
The Iranian political elite is very cautious about Bolton’s appointment, said Nikolai Kozhanov, senior lecturer at the European University in St. Petersburg, who is also a fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House.
There is also no doubt that Iran has protest potential, and this January’s manifestations confirmed that. "This was a clear demonstration that not everything is as smooth as it seems in the country," he said, noting that the Iranian elite is split.
William Courtney, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the RAND Corporation, has not ruled out a possible shift in Washington’s policy on Iran.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to pay a two-day visit to Turkey on Tuesday, his first foreign trip after the March 18 presidential election. The talks will focus on bilateral relations and the situation in Syria, Kremlin Aide Yuri Ushakov said. Russian-Turkish ties, which were frozen in 2015 after Turkey’s Air Force downed a Russian Su-24 bomber, have been practically restored, RBC writes. The number of high-level meetings confirms this. In just 2017 alone, the heads of state met eight times and spoke 20 times over the phone. Furthermore, the renewed cooperation has positively influenced trade. In 2017, trade turnover surged 40% to $22.1 bln, according to the Federal Customs Service.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin will start discussing the situation in Syria in a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The discussion will continue on April 4, during talks between the Russian leader and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and at the scheduled trilateral negotiations later that day. The previous such meeting was held in Sochi on November 22.
Further operations in Syria’s de-escalation zones will top the agenda of the trilateral meeting, said Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science of the Higher School of Economics Leonid Isaev.
"The leaders of the three states need to make a decision on the necessity of their further existence," the expert said, noting that these zones have not become an efficient tool for reducing violence in any of the four areas.
According to Isaev, for Russia, Turkey and Iran the de-escalation zones are primarily a mechanism for legitimizing their presence in Syria and participating in the Syrian conflict as ceasefire guarantors."
Damascus backs the presence of the Russian and Iranian armed forces in Syria, yet Turkey on the other hand has not received this permission, even though it has been conducting military operations against the Kurds in northern Syria, the paper points out.
March 31 was the deadline for China’s CEFC conglomerate to transfer its 20% sum to Qatar’s QIA investment fund and Glencore (nearly $1.8 bln) to wrap up its planned purchase of the 14.16% stake in Russia’s energy giant, Rosneft, Vedomosti writes.
According to expectations, the Chinese conglomerate is supposed to shell out another $7.3 bln by late September 2018, a source close to a party of the deal told the paper.
The deal has not been derailed, two sources close to the parties told Vedomosti. According to one of them, "several days ago China made a decision at the highest level to go ahead and close the deal." A source close to another party confirmed that "all participants of the process decided to wrap up the deal."
The parties agreed to extend the deadline for the first transaction by another 10 days, both sources said. However, one of them noted it was highly likely that CEFC would not meet the deadline. The seller is ready to wait longer, the second source said.
Meanwhile, Glencore and QIA have already found another promising buyer in case the Chinese do not buy the 14.16% stake in Rosneft, a source close to one of the companies said, giving no further details.
President of the Russian-Chinese Analytical Center, Sergei Sanakoyev, doubts that the deal will be closed in its current form since the Chinese government had not authorized it from the very beginning.
If the deal is closed, CEFC may become a good strategic partner for the Russian company, which needs investment in oil extraction, said Andrey Polischuk, a Raiffeisenbank analyst.
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