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Press review: Forecasts on Putin-Trump talks and Belgium, EU proponents of Russia dialogue

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, July 12


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Putin-Trump summit: expectations and concerns

The upcoming meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump scheduled to be held on July 16 will be their first full-fledged summit. The two leaders are expected to speak in favor of cooperation in such areas as achieving strategic stability, curbing the arms race and resolving the crises in Syria and Ukraine. It has already triggered divergent opinions on both sides of the Atlantic, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Some Western politicians fear that Trump will "mitigate" relations with Putin thus breaking down the current world order. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and 15 ex-foreign ministers of a number of countries have sent a letter to Trump, in which they warned that it would be a gross mistake to ignore the threat emanating from Russia.

The Russian expert community seems to be divided on the issue. Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics and an expert at the Valdai International Discussion Club, believes that the summit will put an end to the uncontrolled Russian-US confrontation turning it into a controlled standoff. "The second expectation is the launch of the long overdue Russian-American strategic stability dialogue, which would include the existing arms control agreements, specifically the INF Treaty and the New START Treaty. I also expect Russian-US cooperation on military cybersecurity issues to be launched as part of this dialogue," he told the paper.

"And the last thing I expect is that Trump will announce following the summit that he had received guarantees from Russia that Moscow would not meddle in the upcoming Congressional elections in November and, essentially, guarantees of non-interference in US domestic political issues. That would be the most important result for Donald Trump," the expert emphasized.

Meanwhile, Alexander Konovalov, President of the Institute for Strategic Assessment and Analysis, is far more skeptical about the prospects for the summit. "No specific agreements will be reached in Helsinki, so one cannot expect a breakthrough in Russian-US relations. This is not the kind of the meeting that took place between Gorbachev and Reagan after he said the USSR was an evil empire," he said.


Izvestia: EU favors political dialogue with Russia, says Belgian ambassador

Belgium and the European Union back political dialogue with Russia on resolving the situation in Ukraine and believe it will help the parties gradually lift sanctions, Belgian Ambassador to Russia Jean-Arthur Rigibeau told Izvestia.

"Our goal is dialogue. Of course, we believe it would be better if there were no sanctions. However, to remove them, it is necessary to strike political deals with Russia. Resolving the Ukrainian crisis is the key premise for solving the sanctions problem. The ‘Normandy format’ negotiations have been going on for a long time now. Unfortunately, they have not been very successful," he said, adding that this is the only way for the EU and Russia to break the sanctions deadlock.

When asked to comment on relations between Washington and its NATO partners, the diplomat recalled that the parties signed an agreement in 2014, which stipulates that the alliance’s members should spend at least 2% of their GDP on military expenditure. "We realize that we will not be able to achieve that in one or two years’ time. We have a lot of important spending on infrastructure, healthcare and other social needs. We are aware though that we do make our contribution to the security of the alliance and the European Union," he stressed. "Belgium does not think it should spend nearly 4% of its GDP on the alliance’s military expenditure, the way the US does," the ambassador added.

He also pointed to disagreements between the EU and the US in trade. "We are not particularly enthusiastic about additional trade tariffs imposed unilaterally by the United States. So we decided at the [EU] summit to slap restrictions on US goods and launch WTO proceedings," Rigibeau explained.


RBC: Will Athens’ decision to expel Russian diplomats affect bilateral ties?

The Russian-Greek diplomatic spat that resulted in the expulsion of four Russian diplomats erupted at a time when relations between Moscow and Athens were actually slipping into a downward trajectory, Yury Kvashnin, Head of the European Union Studies Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Global Economy and International Relations, told RBC.

According to the expert, with the advent of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, both Moscow and Athens were overwhelmed with euphoria. "There were some top-level visits, and bombastic statements were made about the prospects for fostering ties." However, these expectations did not pan out, and no major progress was made in bilateral relations, the expert pointed out. "Greece switched to boosting its energy partnership with Cyprus and Israel. Besides, growing concern over the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara could be seen in Athens," he explained.

Greece earlier announced it would expel four Russian diplomats over alleged attempts to meddle in the country’s affairs. They are accused of violating national security and attempting to collect information and bribe Greek officials. Some media reports also claimed that Russian diplomats were involved in rallies against the agreement on Macedonia’s name change between Athens and Skopje.

Efforts to accuse Russia of trying to destabilize the situation in the Balkans are not something entirely new. Some Russian nationals detained in Montenegro in 2016 were accused of an attempted coup. However, the current diplomatic feud will not affect Russia’s reputation in the Balkans, says Pavel Kandel, Leading Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for European Studies. "This is just a local incident connected with specific circumstances," the expert told RBC.

Meanwhile, a source in the Russian Embassy in Greece informed the paper that preparations for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to that country scheduled for this coming fall continue.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian, Israeli leaders discuss Iran’s presence in Syria

The Iranian military presence in Syria, which continues to be a major headache for the country’s southern neighbors, topped the agenda of Wednesday’s talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One of the reasons for Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow was to attend the Russia-hosted FIFA World Cup. However, it is not difficult at all to understand that the core motive behind it was the offensive launched by Syrian government forces close to the borders of the Jewish state, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. It is no coincidence that that day before the Israeli premier’s arrival in Moscow, two senior Russian officials, Putin’s envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin paid a visit to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s office reported that the talks focused on regional events.

Israel fears most of all that the transition of Syria’s southwestern regions under the government forces’ control will help pro-Iranian forces, specifically, Hezbollah, Shia militia and even the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps consolidate their positions there. For their part, Iranian politicians have made it clear that their country will not "cede ground" so easily.

"The whole matter will end with Syria’s partition. There will be territories free from any Iranian military presence, yet there will be areas controlled by the Iranians, such as Aleppo or Deir ez-Zor," head of the Center for Islamic Studies at the Institute for Innovative Development and expert at the Russian Council for International Affairs Kirill Semenov told the paper.

"There is a Turkish protectorate in northern Syria. There will be areas controlled by Iran. Naturally, it is only possible to force Iran to leave Syria by exerting pressure on Tehran itself, the way the Americans do. Once the Iranians have no sources to support (those units, which are loyal to them), that will compel them to leave the country. It is unlikely that there are other levers, even more so at Russia’s disposal. It can do that only indirectly by influencing Damascus," he explained.


Kommersant: Chinese company ready to supply steel to Russian shipyard

China’s Hebei Bishi is eyeing the construction of a shipbuilding steel plant in Russia’s Primorsky Region with a capacity of 1 mln tonnes, which is three times greater than the actual needs of Russian shipyards, Kommersant writes.

Local officials say the region needs such a plant, because the country’s biggest shipyard, Zvezda, is under construction there. Zvezda is being built by a consortium of Rosneft, Rosneftegaz and Gazprombank (75%), while the United Shipbuilding Corporation has a 25% stake.

A source in the Rosneft oil company informed the paper that the project of the metallurgical complex for Zvezda "is being implemented in accordance with the approved plan." The company is also "considering all cost effective options to provide Zvezda with steel products and is potentially ready to consider options for cooperation."

According to Infoline Analytics head Mikhail Burmistrov, the volume of shipbuilding steel consumption in Russia in 2015-2017 stood at about 300,000 tonnes per year, while in 2018 its consumption will grow at least 20% due to government support for shipbuilding. However, projects focusing on shipbuilding steel are pointless from an economic perspective, the expert noted. According to Burmistrov, the localization of production in Russia’s Far East would make sense, if its capacities could compete with the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Plant and Severstal (which supplied 93,000 tonnes and 51,000 tonnes respectively in 2017).

Boris Krasnozhenov from Alfa Bank noted that China had partially moved its industry abroad to solve environmental problems, and Hebei Bishi’s plans, along with large-scale plans to develop Amurmetal Holding Limited announced by Chinese investors could stem from these considerations.


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