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Press review: Libya’s Haftar strikes Tripoli and US squeezes Turkey over Russia ties

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, April 8
Libya Chief of Staff, Marshall Khalifa Haftar EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT
Libya Chief of Staff, Marshall Khalifa Haftar


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Libya’s Haftar launches attack on Tripoli to gain control over oil

The Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar on Sunday carried out its first airstrike on Tripoli’s suburb. In response, the government forces have declared a counterattack, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Moscow is apparently sympathizing with Haftar and the Tobruk government, which is backing him. Although Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied reports that Russia was supporting the LNA, official army spokesman Ahmed Mismari said that Haftar’s forces had welcomed Russia’s position on Libya. Haftar’s offensive against Tripoli comes amid Western media reports that fighters from the Wagner private military company are providing assistance to it.

At first glance, it seems that Haftar, who controls key oil fields and terminals in the country’s east, has powerful economic levers and financial resources for enhancing his power in Libya. However, this is not so since the entire oil business in Libya is controlled by the National Oil Corporation (NOC), which is headquartered in Tripoli. Nearly all revenues from hydrocarbon sales are channeled to the budget of the Government of National Accord led by Haftar’s opponent Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, who has been recognized by the entire international community.

"Haftar will achieve full-fledged control over Libya’s oil business only when he eliminates dual power in the country," military expert Col. Vladimir Popov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Given this, he launched an offensive against Tripoli last week and refused to hold talks with Fayez al-Sarraj mediated by the United Nations."

The rise to power of the LNA’s leadership is not advantageous for Washington. Amid the imminent escalation, the US has withdrawn its contingent from Libya due to security reasons. The US claims, referring to Ukraine’s Security Service reports, that the bulk of Russia’s private military company in Libya consists of militias with experience in Donbass and Syria, Popov noted. Meanwhile, US special services are contributing to provide aid to the Government of National Accord (GNA) and strengthening Tripoli’s military units and groupings with Ukrainian military specialists, he said.

Military expert Lt. Gen. Yuri Netkachev told the paper: "It’s highly likely that Haftar’s army may seize Tripoli. It is better prepared than the GNA’s forces. However, the US and the international community, including the United Nations, could stonewall this victory. Russia understands this very well and is not trumpeting its support for the LNA." According to the expert, Moscow and its other allies in North Africa hope that Haftar could come to power through non-military means by political compromises and taking part in an election.


Izvestia: US pressuring Turkey over its ties with Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan are due to meet in Moscow on April 8. This will be their third meeting in 2019, Izvestia writes. A formal reason for another round of talks is a meeting regarding the bilateral high-level cooperation council and the opening of the Russian-Turkish cross-cultural year. The presidents will also discuss the foreign policy agenda, which has been practically unchanged since their last meeting. It focuses on the disengagement of the opposition from the terrorists in Idlib and Turkey’s military operation in Syria’s northeast. Another intrigue is that the talks will be held amid Ankara’s dispute with Washington over Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile systems.

US Vice President Mike Pence tweeted on April 3 that Turkey must choose whether it wants to remain a crucial partner in "the most successful military alliance in history" or to risk the security of that partnership by "making such reckless decisions" undermining the alliance.

Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that the conflict won’t be just limited to tweets and the US is likely to introduce sanctions against the Erdogan administration. Turkish political scientist Ismail Togrul notes that US pressure on Ankara over the S-400 is just a formal pretext. Actually, Washington wants to prevent any cooperation between Russia and Turkey, including in the framework of the Astana format. It’s not surprising that the US could slap sanctions on Turkey, he said, noting that Washington is dictating its terms on Iran, Russia and Germany, while the US ambassador tells Berlin with whom to cooperate and which gas to buy.

At the upcoming meeting of the Russian and Turkish leaders, the sides are expected to solve the issues on the Syrian agenda. Despite their different stances on the settlement, the sides are interested in establishing a stable peace and preserving Syria’s territorial integrity, the expert said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US encourages Israel’s further territorial expansion

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement on his readiness to expand Israel’s sovereignty over Jewish settlements on the West Bank has triggered a wave of accusations that he wishes to play the nationalist card at the upcoming election to the Knesset, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. There are questions whether the premier is serious about these plans. However, experts believe that the decision could not have been made without the backing of the Trump administration, which has recently recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Netanyahu’s statement has riled up the Palestinian side, arousing Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki to warn that the Israeli premier would face a "real problem" if he decided to fulfill his election pledge and annex the Jewish settlements on the West Bank. According to the minister, Netanyahu’s rhetoric is apparently aimed at uniting nationalist voters. In case the premier’s words are not just an election pledge, Israel runs the risk of facing another wave of escalation on its borders.

Experts believe that Netanyahu’s statement on annexing the territories housing Jewish settlements had been agreed on with the US side, but not with the Russian leadership, which is trying to maintain good relations with both parties to the Middle East conflict.

Head of the Islamic Research Center of the Institute of Innovative Development Kirill Semenov told the paper: "It’s unlikely that here [in Moscow] this decision was backed in any way." "Most likely these plans [on expanding the Israeli sovereignty] had been outlined long ago." According to the expert, Netanyahu could not have made this statement without consultations with the Trump administration, which has already recognized the Jewish state’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.


Kommersant: Russia’s diamond giant seeks out deep-pocketed clients

Russia’s diamond producer Alrosa is planning to sell large and unique diamonds to wealthy clients of Russian banks, Kommersant writes, citing an adviser to the company’s president Elena Sukhoveyeva. The sales will be carried out through Sberbank, VTB and Gazprombank.

According to Chief Analyst at Promsvyazbank Roman Antonov, Alrosa’s initiative is probably linked to its efforts to expand the sales market of rough diamonds and polished diamonds since traditionally the gemstones are sold at special platforms, which can also provide special terms of taxation.

Since 2017, the company has been regularly conducting auctions on selling large diamonds of more than 10.8 carats across the world. Last year, it sold diamonds to the tune of $463 mln. Simultaneously, auctions were held on selling big and unique diamonds, but the revenues were significantly smaller.

The gemstones for sale are valued at tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in some cases, their price exceeds $1 mln, but there is a potential demand. According to Head of Private Banking at Sberbank Yevgenia Tyurikova, Russia’s ultra high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI) (with a net of over $30 mln) have a constant demand in unmounted gemstones and jewelry. Now most significant deals are taking place outside Russia in special tax zones with developed infrastructure of storing gemstones, she said.

Experts note that investments in diamonds have their specifics, namely low liquidity and difficulty with evaluation, thus turning them into a long-term commitment. Investments in diamonds and jewelry bring more profits than in other luxury assets such as paintings and pieces of art, wine, stamps, coins and cars, according to Sukhoveyeva.


Kommersant: Russia’s top oil company boosting production in Africa

Russia’s oil giant Rosneft and Italy’s oil and gas producer Eni, which have been successfully working on Egypt’s shelf, seek to develop a gas project in Equatorial Guinea where there are reserves of more than 100 bln cubic meters, Kommersant writes. If the companies win the auction, they will be able to build a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant with the capacity of 2.5 mln tonnes.

The EG-27 block is located near the Niger River’s delta, 140 km west of the island of Bioko, with a sea depth of 600-1,950 m. Since 2008, the block had been developed by Britain’s Ophir. The company had planned to create a floating LNG to the tune of $2.1 bln. However, the company was unable to raise even half of this sum and in December 2018, Equatorial Guinea’s government did not extend this license.

Rosneft and Eni are strategic partners on developing oil projects on Russia’s shelf of the Barents and the Black Seas, but de facto, the projects have been suspended over Western sanctions. The only current project of the two partners is the Zohr gas field on Egypt’s shelf with the reserves of 850 bln cubic meters, where Rosneft and Eni have a share of 30% and 50%, respectively. Given the restrictions for Russia on working on the shelf, the company favors a partnership strategy with foreign associates abroad.

Rosneft has been seeking to obtain its own LNG project for a long time, but so far these plans both in Russia (Sakhalin and Pechora LNG) and abroad (Venezuela) have not panned out and the company is only limited to trading operations. There are almost no opportunities for an increase in gas business in Russia for Rosneft, given Gazprom’s monopoly on gas exports, Fitch analyst Dmitry Marinchenko notes. The project with Eni in Egypt has been successful and this probably encouraged Rosneft to search for opportunities in other regions, he said.


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