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Press review: Trump to forge Arab NATO and US takes aim at alleged Taliban shift to Russia

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, July 31


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: US aiming to cobble together ‘Arab NATO’ for new Mideast strategy

The White House is setting up a new military and political alliance in the Middle East, Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote on Tuesday. According to the strategy, six Sunni states in the Persian Gulf (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar), Egypt and Jordan will be part of this future alliance. The so-called ‘Arab NATO’ will be aimed at countering Iran and its influence in the region, according to the paper.

Discussions on creating this new bloc began shortly after Trump took office. Initially, it was expected that Israel would also join the alliance and provide intelligence data. However, now when Washington is ready to convene the future alliance members in the US (a summit is scheduled for October), Israel is out of the picture. The Jewish state’s relations with the Arab world deteriorated after Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Expert on the Middle East and a researcher at the Institute for Social Sciences at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Sergey Demidenko played down the prospects of carrying out the Arab NATO project. Most Arab states lack a mutual development strategy on security, he pointed out. While NATO was created in 1949 amid the standoff between the West and the Soviet Union, the situation in the Arab world is different. There is no common enemy, though the US tries to demonize Iran. However, not even all emirates that make up the UAE view Iran in a bad light. Doha will be friends with Tehran just to annoy Riyadh, the expert noted.

Washington’s influence is being challenged as these Arab states have invested a great deal into the US economy in order not to depend directly on America’s decisions. So, Washington "has to draw up some sort of checks-and-balances system to attain its goals in the Middle East," Demidenko explained.

Proposals like the current one, to create an Arab military and political alliance, have been put on the table several times. Previous US administrations also tried to unite their Persian Gulf allies, but these efforts were all in vain, the paper says.


Izvestia: Risk of recession in Russia down to 20%, experts forecast

The risk of recession in Russia has dropped from 50% in early 2017 to 20%, a macro-forecast by the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics analyzed by Izvestia shows. The most probable scenario of Russia’s economic development points to a growth rate of 2%, the experts say. Meanwhile, the Economic Development Ministry believes that Russia’s economic growth will not exceed 2% before 2020. The ministry expects that the GDP will grow 1.9% by the year-end and 1.4% next year. Russian Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin earlier attributed this slowdown to a hike in the VAT (value added tax) from 18% to 20%.

Upbeat forecasts for Russia’s GDP growth are encouraged by high energy prices, moderate volatility of the ruble rate and this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia. According to experts questioned by Izvestia, the championship could spark a 1.3% increase and its contribution to the annual economic growth would reach 0.13%.

However, there are certain risks for Russian GDP, namely the threat of new EU and US sanctions, which undercut the stability of the national currency and prices on energy resources.

The risk of recession is now higher in Brazil and Saudi Arabia (30%) and in the UAE (45%), said one of the forecast’s authors and Assistant Professor at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics Nikita Moiseyev. The surge in investments into Russia’s infrastructure during the FIFA World Cup stimulated GDP growth. Now, the global and Russian economies face the risk of slowing amid the trade wars between the European Union, the United States and China, the expert stressed.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US seeks to counter Taliban’s rapprochement with Russia

The Taliban (outlawed in Russia) has positively assessed the outcome of direct talks with US authorities held last week in Qatar. A representative of the faction, who took part in the meeting, spoke about a "friendly climate" during the dialogue, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Experts say the contacts in Doha, which have not been confirmed by the US State Department, are a sign of Washington’s plans to thwart the Taliban’s rapprochement with other players, including Russia.

Amid the reports about the direct talks, the media suggested that soon Washington would decide to revise its Afghan strategy unveiled by US President Donald Trump last year. US officials claim that the White House occupant is disappointed because his strategy on Afghanistan has turned out to be inefficient.

"I suspect that this is more of the same policy and the same swings which are always going on in the US," Omar Nessar, Director of the Center for Contemporary Afghanistan Studies, told the newspaper, commenting on the rumors about plans to review the US strategy.

"First, they go full throttle on military strategy, then some time later there is some abatement, with the focus going towards the negotiating process. Then everything comes full circle. If we look at the US policy over the past 10-15 years, we can conclude that all this is repeated and the pattern never changes," the expert said.

Nessar did not rule out that the direct talks would affect dialogue between Russia and the Taliban. "I suspect this is one of the key US goals - to prevent any rapprochement between the Taliban and regional states, including Russia, or more precisely China and Russia." "Over the past two years many statements have been made on the rapprochement between Russia and the Taliban, and the US does not even hide that this is a source of its concern," he noted.

The Taliban’s leadership may use these talks with regional players as a tool during its dialogue with Washington. Meanwhile, Nessar notes that reports about the Taliban becoming closer to Moscow are not true. "From my point of view, all contacts between the Taliban and Russia are exaggerated," he explained.


Izvestia: Egypt suggests moving Russian Embassy to new capital

Russia’s Embassy in Cairo may move to Egypt’s new capital by the end of 2018, two Russian diplomatic sources told Izvestia. Moscow is studying this proposal now. The report was confirmed by head of the information bureau of the Egyptian Embassy in Moscow Ayman Mousa Mustafa. Cairo has offered 90 countries to move their diplomatic missions to the new capital. The procedure will be carried out on a voluntary basis.

By the end of this year, Egypt plans to complete the construction of its new administrative capital, where all its government agencies will be moved to. The city, which has not been officially named, is located 45 km to the east of Cairo. Under the plan, the future capital, covering 700 square km, will host the nation’s key ministries, the financial center and residential areas for 5 million people. There are plans to build government quarters, the Cairo Opera’s new stage and the largest theme park in the Middle East in the city center.

Diplomatic missions will be located in a special area for security reasons. The new capital will also have its own airport for servicing international flights.

Senior researcher at the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Filonik said the decision on building the new capital had been in the making for a long time and triggered by the transport collapse.

The initiative to move the capital will enhance security in Egypt, Senior Researcher at the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and professor at the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Lomonosov Moscow State University Vladimir Isayev told the paper.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Terminals for US LNG in Europe may be used by Russian tankers

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker promised US President Donald Trump last week that Europe would build more terminals to import American liquefied natural gas (LNG) in order to solve the dispute over trade tariffs with Washington, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. This should also calm US fears about the EU’s excessive dependence on Russian pipeline gas supplies (last year Gazprom’s share reached 36%).

However, the increase in the number of terminals in Europe won’t necessarily lead to rising imports of US fuel, the paper says. Russia has been also boosting its LNG production and exports.

Since 2009, Russia has been producing 11 million tonnes of LNG every year. The Yamal LNG project was launched in December 2017 and the second and the third lines will be launched in August and by early 2019, respectively. So, the overall LNG production in Russia may reach some 30 million tonnes, placing it among the top five LNG producers worldwide.

Recently, the US has been also purchasing Russian gas. On Sunday, media reports said a tanker with gas from the Yamal LNG project was headed to the US East Coast along the Atlantic Ocean.

So, Junker’s new terminals may be used by Russian suppliers, the paper writes.

Analysts say the key obstacle for the US LNG supplies to Europe is not the lack of terminals, but lower prices for Russian pipeline gas. US LNG prices are higher than those of Qatar and Russia. So, Russian LNG has a chance to secure a serious share on the global market.


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