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Press review: Russia seeks WMD-free Middle East and F-16 deal for Taiwan stirs China’s ire

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, September 28
US Air Force F-16 fighter jet  Kim Hong-Ji/Pool Photo via AP
US Air Force F-16 fighter jet
© Kim Hong-Ji/Pool Photo via AP


Izvestia: Russia pursuing WMD-free zone in Middle East

Moscow is continuing efforts to organize an international conference on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, Director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Vladimir Yermakov told Izvestia. Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that forming this sort of zone is essential, and this subject should be discussed together with ways to settle conflicts in the region.

"Creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East today does not have real prospects. It is necessary to convene an international conference on this issue to resume work," Yermakov said. He also noted that efforts on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East "are at an impasse" at the moment."

"However, we cannot even get a conference together. The Russian side has made all possible efforts to seat the Arab countries and Israel at the table and begin negotiations, but the United States has disrupted the process at the last moment. This issue is very urgent - if nothing is done, it will undermine the foundations of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," the diplomat warned.

He also noted that Russia's position is "consistent and persistent" and work will be conducted "with all sensible forces in the international arena."

Shaping a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is certainly crucial, but it is extremely problematic because of all the conflicts in the region, leading researcher at the Section for Non-Proliferation and Arms Limitation at the IMEMO RAS Stanislav Ivanov told Izvestia.

"Now it is necessary to settle the current conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq first. As long as there are wars, establishing a WMD-free zone takes a back seat," the expert told the newspaper.


Kommersant: US approves military gear sale to Taiwan, raising China's ire

Chinese representatives have strongly protested against Washington's sale of F-16 spare parts to Taiwan to the tune of $330 mln. The US Department of State approved the sale of weapons amid deepening tensions between Beijing and Washington over trade and the South China Sea, Kommersant wrote. China, which regards Taiwan as its breakaway province, sees this move as an anti-Chinese provocation. At the same time, Taiwan believes that strengthening the island's defenses will help preserve stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The Pentagon said the decision to supply spare parts for the F-16s used by the Taiwanese Air Force would be a significant contribution to the foreign policy and national security of the United States, and help improve the recipient's defensive capabilities, which is an important force for supporting political stability and economic progress in the region. Meanwhile, Beijing has countered with an opposing assessment of the situation, calling the sale a gross violation of international law and a blow to China's security.

Senior Research Fellow at the Center for East Asian and Shanghai Cooperation Organization Studies Igor Denisov told Kommersant, in March US President Donald Trump signed a law passed by Congress that allowed renewing official contacts between Washington and the administration of Taiwan, including in the military sphere. "The decision on new arms shipments should confirm that closer ties with Taiwan are becoming the new reality," the expert said. "The US administration is trying once again to turn arms supplies to the island into one of the important levers of pressure on Beijing. However, this decision has another goal - to reassure Taiwan despite its drastically dwindling number of diplomatic allies," Denisov told Kommersant.


Izvestia: Viktor Bout’s wife to pursue independent probe of her husband's case

The spouse of Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison, began raising funds for an independent investigation into her husband's case with the help of international experts from America and the United Kingdom, Alla Bout told Izvestia.

Bout plans to revise charges based on the previously abolished sanctions of the UN Security Council against her husband. In her opinion, "an independent expertise will not only restore the good name" of her husband, but also provide additional opportunities for Russia to free the businessman.

"Such an investigation will create a precedent that will significantly boost the chances of returning other Russians home, who are serving time in US prisons under false pretenses. We have experts from the United Kingdom and the United States, who are ready to check all the documentation on my husband's case, as well as interview those who testified to find out to what extent their information was distorted, misrepresented or falsified," Alla Bout told Izvestia.

According to her, the funding of the investigation, which can reach $130,000, will be carried out through a charity fund that she set up. She believes that the probe must begin with the information that was provided to the UN Security Council by separate expert groups, based on which Viktor Bout was accused of selling arms to African countries.

Viktor Bout was detained in Thailand in 2008 on an arrest warrant issued by a local court at the US’ request. He was charged with illegally supplying weapons to a group called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), regarded as a terrorist organization in the United States. In 2010, he was extradited to the US, and in April 2012 sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined $15 mln.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: EAEU looking to wean itself off US dollar

Given the intensifying trade wars by the United States and several countries, supporters of dumping the dollar in mutual settlements have begun taking concrete steps to replace the greenback with alternatives, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. The latest developments in the process of dedollarization are the export of Russian grain for rubles and increased imports of the euro to Russia. Analysts associate these dedollarization attempts with increasing risks of sanctions that Russian companies and banks are going to face in settling accounts in US dollars.

In Russia, the dollar is becoming a risky instrument in international settlements, which is why Russian investments into the US economy were sharply reduced, with investment in US bonds nose-diving from $96 bln in April to $15 bln. According to the Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin, the trend of increasing the role of the ruble should be supported, along with such measures as moving away from foreign currency loans.

The ruble is still far from taking on the role of a global currency, the newspaper wrote, noting that its unstable exchange rate is a serious obstacle. The global process of dedollarization, according to some analysts, may take 50 years. It is possible, however, that a new global currency will not appear at all.

"It would take a long time to completely abandon the use of the dollar in the financial system. And it is not a political, but an economic and, to some extent, a psychological problem," Teletrade financial consultant Mikhail Grachev told the newspaper. "Despite all the talk about settlements in euro or yuan, the vast majority of export contracts and supplies are in US dollars. You can settle using anything, even gold, if you want, but the conversion will go through dollar cross-rates. The US dollar has been a supranational currency for a long time, and no other asset can compete with it in liquidity," the expert emphasized.


Kommersant: Industry and Trade Ministry tweaks proposals on regulating auto sector

On September 28, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak will once again discuss reforming regulations in the automobile industry, according to Kommersant. Earlier, the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade toned down its proposals on changing the rules of the game in the industry to support Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal, the newspaper wrote. According to Kommersant, the previous version did not suit Kozak due to complaints from car manufacturers.

This is not the first version of the amendments to support Rusal that fell under sanctions. Since August, another version has been under discussion. Kozak demanded more work on the project, his representative told Kommersant.

According to the paper, at present the disagreements have been largely removed, but the new requirements in the car industry still seem unrealistic. At the same time, market participants called the new document controversial and noted that up until the last moment the ministry discussed the old version with them, the newspaper wrote.

The new draft still contains obligations to use Russian engines and gearboxes, and Russian-made metal for car bodies. However, Kommersant’s source believes that many companies will not be able to do that. "For non-gross segments it is unrealistic due to small production volumes and lack of suppliers," the source said.

A number of Kommersant’s sources believed that the current document is an interim version, which either would fail to get the green light, or will later be replaced by the previous version. Another source told Kommersant that officials simply "want to confuse the industry participants".


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