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Press review: Putin, Erdogan strike deal on Idlib and Ukraine ditches friendship treaty

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday

Media: Russian, Turkish leaders agree to create demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed at their talks in Sochi on Monday that no military operation will be carried out in Syria’s Idlib, the last of four de-escalation zones, which is still not under the control of Damascus, Kommersant writes. The two countries’ defense ministers signed a memorandum on stabilizing the situation in the province and creating a demilitarized zone along the contact line between Syria's military forces and the armed opposition. Meanwhile, just several hours after the memorandum was signed a missile strike from the sea was delivered on Latakia, near which Russia’s Hmeimim airbase is located.

At talks, the Turkish leader vowed to conduct efforts jointly with Russia to avoid any provocations and underlined two major outcomes of the talks for Ankara. The first is that the decision not to hold an operation will make it possible to avoid a humanitarian crisis, which could result in numerous casualties among civilians and thousands of refugees. The second is that the armed opposition will be still able to control Idlib.

Sources told Kommersant that the most challenging issue of fulfilling the memorandum is how the exit of radical groups from Idlib will be carried out. "The Sochi summit helped stop the bloodshed between tens of thousands of Syrians - the opposition and those loyal to Damascus. This is a positive step in Russia’s relations with the Syrian revolutionary forces," one of leaders of Syria’s armed opposition Fateh Hasun told the paper. However, he noted that the Sochi memorandum might face several obstacles since some armed groups may reject it.

Chairman of the Building the Syrian State (BSS) political movement Louay Hussein believes that the Sochi deal may be a temporary solution and sooner or later Damascus will regain control of Idlib. "Neither Damascus, nor the forces loyal to it, nor the Russians will leave the ‘island of safety’ out of the Syrian army’s control and won’t allow illegal arms to remain in the region. Meanwhile, the Sochi accords make it possible to crush the terrorists, including Jabhat Al Nusra (outlawed in Russia)," he pointed out.

"Turkey is really afraid that a military operation by Bashar Assad’s forces will be held in Idlib with Russia’s support," Orhan Gafarli, expert at the Ankara-based Center for Political studies, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "It decided to use a multi-faceted policy to thwart any danger." Turkey’s drive to prevent the operation in this province satisfies the interests of Western countries, the expert noted. Europe is concerned that millions of refugees may flood Turkey amid the mop-up operation in Idlib, and Ankara may serve as a gateway for them to Europe. "Turkey is now trying to balance between the interests of the West and Russia."


Kommersant: Poroshenko terminates friendship treaty with Russia

On Monday, after more than four years of heated debate in the Rada (Ukrainian parliament) the Poroshenko administration announced that it is terminating the Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between Russia and Ukraine. The pact expired this year and its extension would have reduced President Pyotr Poroshenko’s chances of winning the upcoming presidential race, Kommersant writes. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has voiced deep regret over this move by Ukraine. According to experts, the treaty’s termination paves the way to severing diplomatic relations between Moscow and Kiev.

Until recently, the treaty served as a legal basis for Russian-Ukrainian relations. The sides promised to build their relations based on "mutual respect and trust, strategic partnership and cooperation, hold regular consultations and develop ties in all areas," including security and defense. The document will be officially terminated on April 1, 2019.

Director of the Center for Current Politics in Russia Alexey Chesnakov told the paper that the treaty’s non-extension "confirms the line towards further worsening relations" between Moscow and Kiev. "This step triggers a slew of further developments, for instance, both sides are now sliding closer to severing diplomatic ties," he said. According to a member of the Defense and Security Committee of Russia's Federation Council (upper house of parliament) Frants Klintsevich, by the steps he has taken, Poroshenko is carrying out a direct order of the West and hopes to secure a new presidential term capitalizing on the wave of Russophobia.

Ukraine’s authorities have been seeking to ditch the treaty since the mid-2014. However, this step was taken only now. Ukrainian legislators and officials feared that the treaty’s denunciation would be construed by Russia as non-recognition of the borders between the two countries, leading to a military escalation. Second, the treaty lays the basis for Ukraine’s lawsuits against Russia in international courts. Opponents of tearing up the treaty claimed that this decision would undermine Ukraine’s positions in legal proceedings.

According to Vladimir Fesenko, Director of the Penta Center of Applied Political Studies, there are no grounds to think so. "It’s rather strange to believe that the treaty’s termination would encourage Russia to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity," the expert said, noting that this was already done in 2014 and the treaty is no longer in force de-facto.


Izvestia: Russian mission in Bern repudiates Swiss ‘spy hysteria’

Moscow has rejected all accusations of carrying out illegal activity in Switzerland, Russia’s Embassy in Bern told Izvestia. Earlier, the Swiss authorities toughened the accreditation procedure for Russian diplomats and demanded that Moscow stop its alleged spying operations. Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry said this spring two Russian citizens were detained by its special services on suspicion of espionage and were expelled to Moscow.

However, Russia’s diplomatic mission dismissed the accusations as unfounded stressing that the Swiss authorities so far have not provided any official evidence of any illegal activity by those Russian citizens.

Bern’s bombastic rhetoric came after the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper published an article on "Russian spies" on Sunday. According to the paper, two Russian nationals, who were allegedly involved in espionage in a Swiss institute in Spiez, were detained in The Hague in spring 2018. Experts from this institute carry out research on the substances used in the chemical attacks in Syria and the Salisbury poisoning.

Rising anti-Russian hysteria in Switzerland’s mass media "creates an unsound environment" around bilateral relations, the ministry said. Russia and Switzerland are able to settle all disputes through dialogue, but whipping up a frenzy won’t do anyone any good, the embassy said. On Monday, Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry vowed to do its utmost to maintain good relations with Moscow.


Kommersant: Key oil producers seek to balance global market at Algeria meeting

Ministers of the world’s major oil producers will gather in Algeria on September 22-23 to discuss the outcome of the deal to cut oil output, which was reached two years ago, Kommersant writes. Over the past couple of years, the OPEC plus deal made it possible to balance the global oil market and led to oil price growth. Now the leading participants of the deal, namely Saudi Arabia and Russia, have to make a challenging decision on how to maintain coordination between major oil producers since the deal’s goals have been attained and cope with the task of replenishing the market, the paper says.

The key problem is that amid Venezuela’s economic crisis oil output has nearly halved and continues falling. Simultaneously, the United States restored sanctions against Iran, which are scheduled to go into force in early November and will slap restrictions on Iranian oil.

Given the price hike, the ministers in Algeria are expected to discuss production growth, and this makes the OPEC plus deal obsolete, since it was signed when the goal was to cut production.

According to Raiffeisenbank’s energy analyst Andrey Polischuk, OPEC plus countries should boost output in order to avoid the oil price surge. He believes that the deal on oil cuts would not be extended late this year. "It’s important not to inflate prices, keeping them within the range of $60-$70 per barrel in order not to weaken demand and not to slow down global economic growth," the analyst cautioned.

Maria Belova from Vygon Consulting believes that OPEC plus countries won’t make a decision on increasing production at the Algeria-hosted meeting, but are likely to delay this step until November when the sanctions against Iran kick in. Oil consumption falls during the winter, and the volume of oil that will leave the market is unclear now, she explained. The expert noted that it’s important for Russia to prevent a harsh confrontation between Riyadh and Tehran, and work to keep Iran at the negotiating table.


Izvestia: Russia increasing diplomatic missions around the world

Russia plans on opening two new consulates general soon, Izvestia writes. One of them will be in the center of Thailand’s resort of Phuket, and the other in China’s Harbin, based on a bilateral treaty signed three years ago. The exact opening date of the consulate general in Phuket is unknown yet, but this depends on solving a range of financial and technical issues, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s information and press department told the paper. A diplomatic source said, "this will happen soon."

The opening of the consulate general in Phuket will help ensure the rights of Russian citizens, who stay in Thailand’s southern provinces, situated quite far from Bangkok. Russia’s tourist flow to Thailand has been on the rise hitting 30% annually, namely to Phuket.

Over the past years, Russia’s diplomacy has been boosting its presence around the world. According to the Foreign Ministry, 10 new Russian diplomatic missions were opened in 2008-2017, including in Paraguay, Brunei, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow also opened three permanent missions at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Italy’s capital of Rome and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Indonesia’s Jakarta.


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