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Press review: Putin, Trump wheel and deal on G20 and how will EU respond to the Kerch spat

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday

Kommersant: G20 expectations - Is Trump beating around the bush?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not losing hope of meeting with his US counterpart Donald Trump at the two-day G20 summit in Argentina, which is opening on Friday, Kommersant writes. Earlier, Putin’s vis-a-vis did not rule out that the talks could be cancelled over the November 25 Kerch Strait standoff, when Ukraine’s vessels breached the border and were promptly detained by Russia.

According to a source close to the Trump administration, Moscow insists on discussing the resumption of bilateral contacts in business, culture and science, and also on launching talks on strategic stability, including extending the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) for five years and preserving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, although Trump had earlier threatened to withdraw from it. Russia also expressed its willingness to revive a deal on the Russian-US cyber security group (the presidents agreed on creating it in July 2017).

Another potential topic for discussion is the volume and means of delivering humanitarian assistance to Syria and also investments in restoring its war-ravaged infrastructure. The US view on nearly all of the issues above is the polar opposite, a source in Washington told the paper. That’s why only three key issues have been approved for the talks of the two leaders - the future of the INF, the situation in Syria together with Iran’s role in this conflict as well as global oil prices.

Moscow and Washington also have different stances on the schedule of further contacts. The US side believes that Putin should pay a visit to Washington in the first half of 2019, and Trump would visit Moscow in the second half of the year. However, a Russian government source said the US scenario raises a number of questions: "Why should the Russian president fly to Washington first? And if he flies (there), will there be a reciprocal visit for sure?" "Perhaps, in this situation the leaders would be better off meeting on neutral ground," he said.


Izvestia: EU won’t slap new sanctions on Russia despite Kiev’s provocation

The European Union is not planning to introduce new sanctions against Moscow after the recent Kerch Strait standoff, a Brussels diplomatic source told Izvestia. "We are calling for a pragmatic approach and diplomatic settlement to these differences," he told the paper. A high-ranking Russian diplomatic source said that during the talks the EU representatives were not speaking about new measures against Russia. "That’s why we are not expecting any sanctions. On the contrary, (our) European partners asked how they might help regarding dialogue with Kiev. Everyone understands very well the motives behind the incident," the source said.

Deputy Head of the European Parliament’s delegation on relations with Russia Jiri Mastalka is sure that the EU will refrain from new anti-Russian measures over the Kerch Strait incident since many in Brussels acknowledge that the sanctions mechanism is senseless.

"The leadership of many European countries is interested in dialogue with Moscow. Against this background, additional sanctions are just nonsense. Certainly, we will hear the familiar calls to turn up pressure from those anti-Russian minded individuals. But these will be only the statements," the politician told Izvestia. "Besides, it is clear that the recent incident is another provocation by Kiev. That’s why Brussels will stay aside and won’t exacerbate its uneasy ties with Russia."

The EU is not seeking to initiate restrictions, which would result in huge losses for European countries, First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s (upper house of parliament) Committee for International Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov said.

A decision on any sanctions has to be unanimously endorsed at the European Council’s meeting by all EU members. However, given the position of Germany and France, which have opposed the new anti-Russian sanctions, and also the stance of Italy and Hungary in favor of normalizing ties with Moscow, the EU is unlikely to see an accord on this issue.


Kommersant: Russia, EU seek role as mediator for inter-Afghan talks

The Moscow format is ideal for holding inclusive inter-Afghan talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov assured the participants of the Geneva conference on Afghanistan, Kommersant writes. The two-day conference, which was attended by representatives from nearly 100 countries and organizations, came to an end on Wednesday. Almost all members of the leadership represented Afghanistan at the event. The key news of the meeting was a statement by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that Kabul had drawn up a roadmap for talks with the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) and even set up a team of 12 negotiators.

Meanwhile, a source in Afghanistan’s state agencies acknowledged that the Taliban refuses to hold talks with the government, branding it a ‘puppet.’

Speaking at the conference, Lavrov said that if President Ghani was really setting up a special group for talks with the Taliban, this meant that the approach, which had been pursued by Moscow, was working."

However, Russia is not the only country that is seeking to act as a mediator in the direct inclusive inter-Afghan dialogue, the paper says. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini welcomed the Afghan president’s initiative, declaring that Brussels is also ready to act as a guarantor of the negotiations.

However, a key factor is the Taliban’s readiness to hold talks. They are making demands, which are unrealistic given the current conditions, namely to withdraw all foreign forces from Afghanistan’s soil. Therefore, no breakthrough in the settlement is expected in the near future, the paper writes.


Vedomosti: Russia to support Rusal by buying up $150 mln of aluminum

The Russian government will earmark up to 10 bln rubles ($150 mln) for the Federal State Reserves Agency (Rosreserve) to buy aluminum and store it in the state’s coffers, Vedomosti writes, citing an order signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The Russian government plans to purchase up to 50,000 tonnes of aluminum, according to the document. Rusal owned by businessman Oleg Deripaska is the sole producer of this metal in Russia.

However, the government’s plans to buy this volume of aluminum won’t be a giant order for Rusal. In 2017, the company produced 3.7 mln tonnes of aluminum, and its revenues reached $9.97 bln.

In April, Deripaska and eight his companies, including Rusal and its parent company En+, were hit by the US Treasury Department’s sanctions. US residents are barred from doing business with these companies, while non-residents may face sanctions if they have any transactions with them. However, the sanctions have not yet entered into force and this date has been postponed several times. Now the restrictions are expected to go into effect on January 7.

After the US blackballed Rusal and Deripaska, the Russian authorities have repeatedly voiced plans to support the company, Vedomosti writes. One of the options is state purchases of the sanctioned companies’ goods. Another option is temporary nationalization of the company, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Speaking on the government’s plan to buy aluminum, Alexander Losev, Director General at Sputnik Asset Management, said although the assistance is small, it will be symbolic. Even this volume may bolster cash flow and this is positive for the company, though it won’t be a great deal for the federal reserves agency.


Izvestia: ‘Dream’ comes true, as ruling party backed candidate wins Georgian polls

Salome Zurabishvili, a French-born Georgian independent candidate backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, is poised to become the country’s new president, exit polls show, according to Izvestia. In the runoff presidential election, she secured nearly 57% of the vote. Zurabishvili’s victory opens the door for restoring direct dialogue between Tbilisi and Moscow, Georgian MP Georgy Lomia told the paper. According to experts, the outcome signals that citizens fear that former President Mikheil Saakashvili and his allies could return to power.

"In Salome Zurabishvili’s case, there are more chances that she will take the first step and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, something that [her rival] Grigol Vashadze would definitely not do," Lomia said. According to him, the restoration of bilateral contacts should be a priority for Georgia, given that the situation where both countries have almost no contacts is abnormal.

"Mending ties with Russia is of vital importance for Georgia. One should not have bad relations with such a neighbor as Russia. This is nonsense," the lawmaker stressed. "Many are looking to the West, but it has done nothing for us. We have been pushed into billions upon billions in debts, which we must pay off. While the Russian market could be used, it is now closed to ordinary citizens. No one is exporting goods to the West."

The Georgian president has very limited powers, but can still create better conditions for dialogue between Moscow and Tbilisi, Deputy Director of the Institute of CIS Countries Vladimir Evseev said.

Zurabishvili’s victory can be explained by the fact that people still remember the time, when Saakashvili ruled the country, Azhdar Kurtov, a political analyst and expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, told the paper. "There are no conditions in Georgia now for the restoration of the ex-president’s power.

Saakashvili’s time in power is very well remembered, he caused much trouble and grief. He sparked conflicts inside the country, caused the loss of some territories, conducted illegal prosecution of entrepreneurs and undesirable journalists, and had torture in prisons. People do not want this to happen again," the expert said.


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