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Press review: Iran clashes with Russia on Syria and World Cup may kick off blitz on DPR

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, May 23

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iran rejects Moscow’s call for it to leave Syria

Tensions between the guarantors of Syria’s ceasefire - Russia, Turkey and Iran - are mounting, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes on Wednesday. Tehran has rejected the Russian leadership’s call for it to pull out foreign contingents from the Syrian Arab Republic stressing that its forces are there at the official invitation of Damascus. Experts link these statements to possible bargaining between Moscow and Washington on Syria. One of the US demands for Russia could be exerting pressure on Iran, the paper says.

Anton Mardasov, an expert from the Russian International Affairs Council told the paper that Russia, Turkey and Iran used to have tensions, but due to their common goals they were defused. Now Syria has regained control of nearly its entire territory, which is not divided into de-escalation zones, and the major goal is to reach a compromise with foreign parties controlling the remaining areas.

"It is not ruled out that Russian representatives are in talks with the Americans on decreasing their presence in Syria and tackling the problem of the Kurdish protectorate. This may occur but probably in exchange for diminishing the Iranian presence in Syria," the expert said, noting that Russia may be also bargaining with the Persian Gulf states.

The analyst believes that the agreements on Syria’s southern territories, signed in Jordan, signaled a compromise between Russia and the West on the Iranian forces there. "Apparently, Russia should have influenced Iran, but this did not happen," Mardasov said. "These statements [by Russia’s authorities] most likely fulfill political goals amid the talks with some foreign parties, which possibly promise something in achieving a political solution."

However, there is no sense in demanding the full withdrawal of Iran’s forces from Syria, the expert stressed. "Tehran will still remain there through many various local groups sponsored by it. The Iranian presence may be cut, but Tehran’s forces won’t go anywhere." However, Russia has the means to pressure Iran, Mardasov noted. "This is Israel," he said. "That’s why strikes by the Jewish state against Syria are very beneficial for Russia."


Kommersant: Donbass conflict heating up ahead of World Cup in Russia

The situation in Donbass has sharply deteriorated, Kommersant writes. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have recorded 7,700 violations of the ceasefire over the past week. Consequently, Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donbass republics are hurling accusations at one another over the escalation.

Deputy Commander of the Donetsk republic’s Armed Forces Eduard Basurin links the deterioration to the FIFA World Cup in Russia, which is due to begin on June 14. "From a historical perspective, military outbreaks have taken place amid major international competitions," he pointed out.

A source in Russia’s Foreign Ministry told Kommersant that the situation is dangerous and if it is not settled there is a "real risk" that it may "result in something more serious."

Russia is ready to take part in a video conference of the Contact Group for settling the Ukrainian crisis on May 23 to discuss the latest events in Donbass, the source said. The Ukrainian crisis will be also on the agenda of the upcoming meeting between Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Russia’s envoy to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich told Kommersant that the latest events in Donbass will be discussed on May 31 at a meeting of the organization’s Permanent Council. He accused Kiev of ramping up the conflict by "blocking the initiatives in the Contact Group, refusing to hold a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk, and sabotaging the OSCE’s proposals."


Vedomosti: Russia’s top lender strikes deal to sell Turkish subsidiary to Emirates NBD

Russia’s state-owned banking and financial institution, Sberbank, targeted by US sanctions, has clinched an agreement with Dubai-based Emirates NBD on selling its Turkish subsidiary Denizbank, Vedomosti writes. The deal will be carried out under a locked box mechanism, which means that the price tag is defined at the moment of signing rather than upon closing it.

Alexander Morozov, Deputy Chairman of Sberbank’s Executive Board, said the price tag would depend on the Turkish currency rate against the dollar. "We believe that it may amount anywhere from $3.4 bln to $3.7 bln." Sberbank bought Denizbank in 2012 for $3.5 bln. This is the group’s largest foreign subsidiary.

For Sberbank the basic currency is the ruble, Morozov noted. "Given the currency’s fluctuations over the past years, Denizbank will be sold at a much higher price than it was bought."

“This is an excellent deal,” analyst at VTB Capital Mikhail Shlemov said, noting that experts earlier recommended that Sberbank sell its foreign subsidiaries. The idea of Sberbank’s international expansion since 2011 has proven to be inefficient, the expert said.

"Keeping capital in foreign markets is senseless. The Turkish subsidiary was the most profitable - last year it gained a 15.4% return on capital, but Sberbank had more than 25% in Russia."

This is not Sberbank’s first deal on selling its foreign subsidiaries, the paper says. In December 2015, the Russian lender agreed to sell a bank in Slovakia. As of December 2015, Sberbank Slovensko’s assets were worth 1.8 bln euros. In December 2017, Sberbank Europe sold Ukraine’s VS Bank to the TAS group of ex-chairman of Ukraine’s National Bank Sergey Tigipko.


RBC: Russian tourism agency to deliberate on banning

By June 4, Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency will consider a proposal to curb the operations of the online accommodation reservation service,, in Russia upon the Culture Ministry’s request, RBC wrote citing the agency’s press service.

"We believe it is necessary to ask respective professional public associations about their opinion on the proposal and this request will be swiftly sent to them," a spokesperson for the federal agency said.

According to the newspaper, the proposal on banning in Russia was put forward by the Culture Ministry’s Department for Tourism and Regional Policy. The initiative on limiting the service’s operations in Russia in retaliation against anti-Russian sanctions was forwarded by the head of Russian tour operator Svoy TS Sergey Voytovich, who sent a letter to the ministry in April.

A US company, Booking Holdings, owns the international online accommodation reservation service The service is a dominant market player accounting for up to 70% of individual sales in Russian hotels, according to Svoy TS. "No Russian tour operator can be compared to since they limit agreements with major international hotel networks - Accor, Rezidor and Radisson," Voytovich said. "Russian tour operators won’t sign such a deal and will get terms, which will be much worse. That’s why will dominate the market now and for years to come."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US, China driving Russia out of Uzbekistan’s arms market

The Russian leadership is trying to step up its military and defense technology cooperation with Uzbekistan, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Military cooperation between the two countries has been so far limited to combat training rather than armaments. No particular military-technical contracts between Moscow and Tashkent have been made public. Sources in Uzbekistan said the country’s new leadership is only preparing for them. Tashkent seeks to launch their manufacturing on its soil with Russia’s participation rather than buy armaments. "If anyone wants to supply armaments to Uzbekistan, they should do so based on a cost-free aid principle or on very advantageous prices. The Americans and the Chinese did this when supplying armaments and military equipment to Uzbekistan," a military and diplomatic source told the paper.

Military expert Vladimir Popov said China’s HQ-9 air defense missile system is much cheaper than Russia’s S-300 and that’s why Uzbekistan bought it. China and the United States are Russia’s key rivals in military-technical cooperation, he noted. "These countries are more economically developed and can enable dumping by selling and gifting armaments and military equipment to Uzbekistan and other less developed countries."

Popov noted that Russia might fulfill its goals by making price concessions and political steps, and by implementing long-term joint projects in the defense sector to make Uzbekistan and other former Soviet states dependent on its economy.


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