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Press review: Netanyahu reveals Putin’s Iran offer and Gazprom maps out TurkStream route

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
© AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia offers plan to remove Iranian forces from Syria, Netanyahu says

Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered his assistance to the United States and Israel in reducing Iran's presence in Syria in return for easing anti-Iranian sanctions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset behind closed doors. Based on deductions, Putin suggested this to US President Donald Trump when they briefly met in Paris during the events marking the 100th anniversary of the World War I Armistice, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Although Russia’s Foreign Ministry has not confirmed that this discussion was held at this level, this does not mean that the Russian leader had not put forward these ideas, the paper says. Experts say that Moscow has some leverage over Iran in Syria, though minor at best. The Israeli prime minister stressed that this was an unofficial offer and that the Jewish state has not worked out its stance on this issue.

"Israel believes that Russia has leverage over Iran, but they understand that this is limited rather than complete leverage," Israeli political scientist and Head of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, a public diplomacy project, Ariel Bulstein told the paper. The idea that Russia as a country, which de facto controls all of what is happening in Syria, should bear responsibility for this, and namely stop all of Iran’s attempts towards turning Syria into a foothold for an attack against Israel, is an Israeli position, he noted. "Touching on a possible bargain, I believe this is not a reasonable approach as sanctions against Iran are related to Iran’s appetite in the nuclear weapons sphere rather than Syria. The goal of the restrictions in this case is to bring the Iranian leadership to its senses and make it abandon operations in purchasing military-grade atoms."

Russian experts believe that at talks with its Western partners, Moscow somehow keeps mentioning the Iranian factor. "Russia may even say that the containment of Iran is somehow in effect," expert at the Russian Council for International Affairs Anton Mardasov said.

Meanwhile, objectively, Russia is unable to contain Iran, but can only jockey for its influence with Tehran and paint this as containment, he noted. It was important for Russia to make an offer to the US and Israel in order to show that it is an important diplomatic mediator. "On the one hand, this boosts its standing as a mediator," Mardasov noted. "On the other hand, this is bargaining. For example, Russia can say: we'll contain Iran, but you Americans should leave Al-Tanf. We will contain Iranian ambitions, and you should settle the situation along the eastern Euphrates."


Kommersant: Eastern Europe confirms TurkStream pipeline’s route

Russian energy giant Gazprom has decided on the gas supplies route via the TurkStream pipeline, which will run through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia, and is already participating in the procedure of reserving new pipelines in these countries, Kommersant writes. Gazprom plans to launch supplies to Bulgaria and Serbia via TurkStream in 2020, and to Hungary in 2021, and this will make it possible to abandon transit via Ukraine starting from 2022.

This is actually the South Stream route, which the European Union froze in 2014 under American pressure. The system’s expansion will be valued at $1.63 bln. Now it is difficult to pick a bone with this project since Gazprom’s approach is fully compliant with EU legislation, the paper says. But this is unlikely to shield the project from political punches.

Market sources told Kommersant that the Kremlin remembered the letdown of the South Stream’s cancellation and sought to delay the moment of announcing the real route in order to reduce the risk of foreign pressure on transit countries. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not exclude restrictions against TurkStream saying that the US "throws around these measures and no one is protected from pressure."

The fact that Gazprom took part in the open season, a procedure of reserving future pipelines, means that the Russian company "is fully compliant with EU demands and the Third Energy Package rules, and given this it would be very difficult to pick a bone with expanding TurkStream," analyst Maria Belova from Vygon Consulting said. Gazprom is not seeking to attract attention to these projects until the open season ends, she noted.

"There will be certainly political pressure, especially from the US, which has suggested over the past months to impose sanctions on all Russian export pipelines," the analyst said. Meanwhile, it is impossible to stay silent on the project anymore given that the pipeline will be officially launched in a year.


Izvestia: Interpol Inequality - EU, US meddling cost Russian general the election

Major General of the Russian Interior Ministry Alexander Prokopchuk, who had been widely expected to win the election to the presidency of the global police organization Interpol, lost to South Korean candidate Kim Jong Yang. Izvestia writes that Western media outlets, which had stepped up their Russophobia amid fears that a Kremlin ‘proxy’ would win a key post in the organization, interpreted the news as "a blow to Moscow." Russia pointed to the unprecedented pressure on the voting process and the political bias of the decision, but took it rather calmly.

The general tone of the narrative was that Moscow would definitely use the system of red notices (placing persons on an international wanted list) for a ‘witch-hunt’ against its ‘political opponents,’ the paper writes. Ukraine and Lithuania had threatened to withdraw from Interpol if Prokopchuk had won. British MPs also called for pulling out of Interpol in protest against the Russian’s potential presidency. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt even suggested that democratic countries could create a parallel organization if Prokopchuk emerged victorious. Four US senators, including Marc Rubio, who had authored numerous resolutions with initiatives to punish Russia, China, Iran and Cuba, sent a letter to US President Donald Trump and Interpol’s General Assembly demanding to prevent the Russian general’s election to this post, noting that this would be "akin to putting a fox in charge of the henhouse."

The unprecedented pressure from many politicians, and even the threats by some states to leave Interpol, indicated that politics trumps Interpol’s primary goals, Alexei Chepa, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma (Russia’s lower house of parliament) Foreign Affairs Committee, told the paper. "Our candidate is a top-notch professional. Time will only tell who has lost or has gained from this."

"Russia would not have gained anything if Prokopchuk had clinched the position because Interpol’s central administration consists of Americans and Britons and it would easily block the chief’s decisions," professor at the Lomonosov Moscow State University and PhD in political science Andrei Manoilo said.

It is noteworthy that Interpol’s president is a ceremonial post. The functions of its Secretary General, who is in charge of the organization’s daily operations, are more important. A German, Jurgen Stock, now holds this position.


Vedomosti: UK-owned DIY retail subsidiary leaving Russian market

British retailer Kingfisher DIY and home improvement tools and supplies, which owns Castorama network of hypermarkets, has announced that it is leaving Russia, Spain and Portugal, Vedomosti writes. "This will allow us to apply our strategy with more focus and efficiency in our main markets," Chief Executive of Kingfisher Veronique Laury said.

Castorama, which has been operating in Russia since 2006, is the fourth largest DIY retailer after France’s Leroy Merlin, Russian company Petrovich and Germany’s Obi, according to Infoline.

The retailer’s accrued losses since the beginning of its work in Russia will exceed 12 bln rubles ($183 mln) by the end of 2018, and most losses were recorded in 2014-2018, Director General at Infoline analytics Mikhail Burmistrov said.

Castorama’s work in Russia was plagued by red tape and was not flexible enough and this prevented the company from adapting to the ruble devaluation and keeping profitability amid mounting competition, Burmistrov explained. The company was very late with launching online sales and was slow in upgrading its hypermarkets, which became outdated, Burmistrov said.

Now, Castorama has 18 hypermarkets with the total area of 225,000 square meters and also two stores in shopping malls, and the total real estate is valued as at least 24 bln rubles ($366 mln). Leroy Merlin is seen as a potential buyer of Castorama’s business, but Russia’s anti-monopoly restrictions could foil its plans, a member of Maxidom board of directors Maria Evnevich told the paper.


Izvestia: Russia’s Fan ID system may be used at UEFA Euro 2020

Russia’s Fan ID is most likely to be used at the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship, which will be held across the entire continent in 12 cities in 12 European countries, Izvestia writes. Russian know-how proved its efficiency at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the 2017 Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup, which was recognized as the best in history by the FIFA Council. The Union of European Football Associations believes that the Fan ID experience will be useful for both football fans and organizers.

According to Izvestia, a decision on the need to introduce a compulsory Fan ID for buying tickets for the Euro 2020 games may be made at the UEFA Congress on February 7, 2019 in Rome.

Head of the Russia-2018 Organizing Committee and the Euro 2020 organizing structure Alexei Sorokin confirmed that UEFA is interested in using Fan IDs. "After the 2018 World Cup everyone understood that this is not just an artificial restriction for security reasons. Fan IDs offer great advantages for fans," he said, noting that the card may facilitate free travel and visa-free travel to any country and also be used for payment and discounts on visiting museums and restaurants.

Russia is ready to share its experience of working with Fan IDs with other organizing countries of Euro-2020, Sorokin said. Besides St. Petersburg, the Euro 2020 matches will be held in Amsterdam, Baku, Bilbao, Bucharest, Budapest, Glasgow, Dublin, Copenhagen, Munich, London and Rome.

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup more than 1.6 mln Fan IDs were issued, including for high-ranking officials and celebrities.

"Not a single major incident occurred during the 2018 World Cup, thanks to the Fan IDs. You should agree that in the modern world it is important to understand who and for what purposes is at a stadium," Sorokin stressed.

Fan IDs may be also introduced during the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, French Ambassador to Russia Sylvie Bermann told the paper.


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