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Press review: Takeaways from Istanbul’s four-way talks and Netanyahu's surprise Oman visit

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday


Media: Takeaways from the Istanbul hosted four-way summit

The four-party conference on Syria, involving the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany and France, marked a new step towards bolstering cooperation to improve the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. The meeting, held in Istanbul, was the first one of its kind, Izvestia notes.

The summit resulted in a joint statement adopted by the four leaders, who agreed that the Syrian crisis may be resolved only through political and diplomatic efforts in coordination with the United Nations, while the Syrian people themselves should decide on the country’s fate. In this regard, a constitutional committee is being set up in Geneva, which is expected to be launched before the end of the year.

The leaders also expressed their determination to fight terrorism in Syria and reaffirmed the Arab republic's sovereignty and territorial integrity. They also touched upon issues concerning humanitarian aid deliveries to the war-torn country and the Russian-Turkish agreement on Idlib.

The fact that the leaders of Germany and France took part in the meeting with Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan demonstrates a change in the foreign policy outlook of the European Union’s leading states, Federation Council member Alexei Pushkov told Izvestia.

"Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are willing to communicate with key players, which at the moment include Russia and Turkey. This reflects a serious geopolitical shift and Washington's failure. The European Union has been absent from the Middle East for several years, relying on the Americans in an irrational hope that all the issues will get sorted out by themselves. But now the Europeans are facing a situation where they need to choose whether to let Russia, Turkey and Iran resolve all issues or join the process," Pushkov noted.

All parties highlighted the importance of the Russian-Turkish memorandum on the Idlib de-escalation zone. Nevertheless, Putin stated that "Russia reserves the right to actively support the Syrian government’s steps to eliminate this terrorist hotspot."

"Moscow is unlikely to put up with armed provocations for a long time, including drone attacks on its facilities," military expert Colonel Shamil Gareyev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Most of these attacks come from the Idlib zone. I think that Moscow and Damascus have 'plan B' to take decisive action to eliminate militants holed up there. It is a known fact that such an operation, which would have involved Shia units, had already been in place, but Turkey and the international community prevented it, so the Idlib de-escalation zone was established. However, the setup of this zone is unlikely to lead to peace. It is impossible to make hardline illegal armed groups lay down their weapons, they can only be destroyed, which means intense fighting. An operation has already been planned and I am sure that Moscow and Damascus will get back to it sooner or later," the expert said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: What's behind Netanyahu's surprise visit to Oman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sudden visit to Oman - a country that the Jewish state does not have diplomatic relations with - surprised observers. A former high ranking American diplomat told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the visit may be a signal to Iran.

"It is hard to tell the actual reason behind this visit," former Special Coordinator for Regional Affairs in the US Department of State's Office of the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Frederic Hof told the paper. According to him, there were reports saying that several days before Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had visited Muscat. Given Oman’s efforts to facilitate contacts between Iran and the United States some years ago, the question is whether Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said seeks to play a similar role in resuming the Israeli-Palestinian talks, Hof noted. However, since Oman has a reputation of being Iran’s "best friend" in the Persian Gulf, the purpose of the Israeli prime minister’s visit may have been different, he added.

"I cannot imagine that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not raise the issue of Iran in one way or another," Hof explained, adding that he doubted the Israeli leader had asked Sultan Qaboos to create a negotiating channel with Tehran, though he could have sought to take advantage of the sultan’s connections to send messages to Iran concerning Syria and Lebanon.

Following the Muscat talks, Oman’s authorities showed a change in their stance towards Israel, Nezavisimaya Gazeta continues. Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah at a security forum in Bahrain actually called on Arab countries to review their approach towards the Jewish state. "Perhaps, the time has come to treat Israel the same way [like other countries] so that it can implement the same obligations," Oman’s top diplomat said.

Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah added that during contacts with Israel, Oman had put forward a number of diplomatic initiatives to help the Israelis and the Palestinians reach agreements but he denied his country intended to act as a mediator in the conflict. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa expressed support for Oman’s efforts towards a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, while Saudi top diplomat Adel al-Jubeir said that the peace process was the key to improving relations with Israel.

Meanwhile, the Fatah movement has issued a statement saying that Netanyahu’s visit to Oman dealt a blow to the Arab peace initiative based on the principle of “land in return for comprehensive peace.”



Izvestia: Ex-Italian PM slams EU sanctions against Russia, saying politics trumps economics

The ongoing policy of division has made economic cooperation between Russia and Europe impossible, yet efforts to abandon the dollar in trade will take time to succeed, former Italian Prime Minister and former European Commission President Romano Prodi told Izvestia on the sidelines of the Eleventh Eurasian Economic Forum in Verona. He pointed out that politics had become more important than business, as Europe was going backwards instead of seeking a mutual removal of sanctions.

"The euro was created so that there would be another strong currency along with the dollar," Prodi said. "The move from a unipolar world to a multipolar one will only benefit mankind, but it will mean a very difficult transition period. It means there is a need to reorganize the entire financial system and the currency system - everything that supports global trade," he added.

When speaking about sanctions against Russia, the former European Commission chief noted that a year ago, he had talked about possibly lifting the restrictions, but "this year, we are actually going backwards." "Under these circumstances, I cannot show optimism, I can only hope," he said.

"I think that nowadays, politics is more important than business. Clearly, when one door closes, there will be other doors that open up. However, the problem is that the overall situation is deteriorating. When I look at economic relations between my country - Italy - and Russia, I see that they have collapsed over the past several years. And though once we thought that their positive development and growth were forever, now we have found ourselves in a difficult position," Prodi noted.

"Italy and Russia complement each other but unfortunately, this interdependence and the need for each other are not coming to fruition," the former Italian prime minister concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia won’t be blocked from dollar transactions for now

US lawmakers continue to hammer out more sanctions against Russia. Meanwhile, observers and experts are discussing who and what may fall under the new restrictions, and whether these sanctions will be tougher than the previous ones, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Moody’s credit rating agency believes that some individuals may be added to the US Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) List of Specially Designated Nationals (the so-called SDN list that already contains several hundred names) and sanctions may be imposed on Russia’s sovereign debt market, which the country’s economy will easily endure. Conversely, restrictions on dollar transactions for Russia’s major banks are unlikely to be introduced, Moody’s Senior Vice President Kristin Lindow told Reuters.

"Moody’s is the only major credit rating agency that has not yet lifted Russia’s sovereign rating to investment grade. I am not ruling out that they plan to make a decision after it becomes clear what kind of additional sanctions the United States will impose on Russian individuals, companies, state banks and the sovereign debt," Timur Nigmatullin, an analyst at the Otkrytiye brokerage firm, told the paper.

According to the expert, a new law announced by the US senate will be similar to the one adopted in April that particularly targeted RUSAL and its main owner Oleg Deripaska. "A thing to note is that the US Department of the Treasury has eased the sanctions by about 80% since then. The fact is that politicians who adopt this type of legislation do not calculate the entire impact that these sanctions will have on the US economy, this is what the Treasury Department does as it controls the implementation of economic restrictions. Attempts to pass the bill in question have already been made before and the Treasury Department handed down a negative review, it seeks to reduce sanctions to a reasonable level," Nigmatullin pointed out.

In his view, the new law will not significantly affect Russia’s economy, provided that no extraordinary political events take place, which would raise global tensions (particularly in Syria and Ukraine).


Izvestia: Russian athlete says her acquittal would have led to reversal of 500 rulings

The All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) seeks to restore its international status following the reinstatement of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). Izvestia has discussed the prospects for ARAF’s reinstatement with 2004 Olympic champion and Federation Council member Tatyana Lebedeva.

"The roadmap for ARAF’s reinstatement includes the reinstatement of RUSADA. However, there is a problem - to make it happen, we must provide World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officials with access to the samples kept at the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory within three months, which will be hard to achieve. The matter is within the purview of the Russian Investigative Committee that has been investigating the activities of the laboratory and its former chiefs. Everything depends on whether our sports bodies succeed in reaching an agreement with the investigation so that it provides original databases to WADA," Lebedeva said.

When asked why her appeal against the revocation of the medals she won at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games had failed, she noted that legal proceedings had taken more than a year. "At the very first stage of the proceedings, we realized the difficulty of our objective. According to my lawyer, had we won the case, they would have had to reverse 500 rulings in similar cases. It would have harmed WADA’s honor, so it would have never agreed to that," the retired athlete said.

"Chemistry experts used ten criteria to analyze my samples, while WADA took only three into consideration… But CAS judges in Lausanne said during hearings that they were not chemists but lawyers so they would review the case from the legal standpoint… It became clear to us that we were not being heard and it was a waste of money to continue the litigation," Lebedeva explained.

"I discussed the possibility of filing an appeal with the Swiss Federal Supreme Court and the Court of Human Rights but I was told they would be able to cancel the decision only if the procedure had been breached and there had been no such violations. So I decided to close the case," the athlete concluded.


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