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Press review: Tbilisi riots to sting Georgia and Iran tops trilateral meeting in Jerusalem

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, June 24


Kommersant: Anti-Russian unrest in Tbilisi to boomerang on Georgian economy

After Moscow’s decision to suspend flights with Georgia and closing the door for Russian tourists heading to the country, the anti-Russian and anti-government protests in Tbilisi carried on. The new crisis in Russian-Georgian relations could undermine Georgia’s economy. Georgian experts are sure that the authorities will hardly be able to reduce the damage from Russia’s sanctions, which have been or could be introduced in the future. Meanwhile, Russian experts call Moscow’s move "a scathing rebuke," which should serve as a warning to other former Soviet republics, where anti-Russian sentiment is riding high, Kommersant writes.

Meanwhile, the Georgian leadership’s hasty attempts to backtrack and prevent the collapse of the country’s tourism market have come up against a harsh response from Russia. Moscow’s ban on flights to Georgia and the moratorium on selling tours because of the ongoing political protests in Tbilisi will force more than 150,000 Russians to cancel their trips to the country, while airlines will have to pay compensation to passengers to the tune of nearly 3 bln rubles ($48 mln).

Most Georgian experts are sure that Russia’s sanctions will deal a blow to Georgian citizens. "Tens of thousands of families will be affected, whose members are involved in the tourism business this way or another," political scientist Pyotr Mamradze told Kommersant. If Russia decides to target Georgian exports, the damage could exceed $1 bln and affect hundreds of thousands of citizens, he noted. "All this is the result of our authorities’ incompetence as they failed to predict simple things," Mamradze stressed.

Russian experts believe that after this "scathing rebuke," Moscow may reverse the course when the riots in Tbilisi peter out. "Georgian politicians and their supporters, who have been taking to the streets these days, continue playing "the Russian card" in a struggle for power. However, we can definitely say that after the war in August 2008 anti-Russian sentiment in Georgian society did not become overwhelming," Alexey Malashenko, Chief Researcher at the Dialogue of Civilizations Institute, told the paper. The current crisis was created artificially: this is the result of several mistakes on both sides, made when organizing and conducting the visit to Tbilisi by State Duma MP Sergei Gavrilov, he explained. "The country’s authorities, who are not interested in mounting tensions with Moscow, which may end up with millions in losses, have just failed to deal with the situation."

Meanwhile, Moscow’s steps should serve as a lesson and a warning for Ukraine, Moldova and the entire post-Soviet space, where there are Russophobic forces, which are ready to act. However, returning to years-long confrontation neither meets the interests of Tbilisi nor Moscow, Malashenko noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US, Israel want Russia to get on board the anti-Iran coalition

The upcoming talks between Russian, US and Israeli security officials in Jerusalem on June 24-26 are expected to focus on the Iranian presence in Syria. The key initiators of pressure on Tehran will apparently try to convince Moscow of the dangers of Iran’s policies. Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev has pledged that during the contacts with his US and Israeli counterparts that the interests of Iran would be taken into account. However, experts believe that the Iranian leadership has something to worry about, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The Jerusalem meeting has been convened at the initiative of Israel, for which the Iranian presence in Syria remains a sensitive issue. The talks are also expected to meet another task linked to Israel’s domestic policy, the paper notes. Given that the country’s parliamentary election is scheduled for September 17, the key goal for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be to secure victory for his Likud party. He has thanked Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton for his willingness to take part in the "historic" trilateral meeting.

Meanwhile, Russia and Iran are allies in the Syrian armed conflict. Patrushev told reporters commenting on the upcoming meeting in Jerusalem that Russia would convey Iran’s interests to Israel and the US. He also pointed out that the key issue of the Jerusalem meeting would be the Syrian peace process.

Experts believe that the Jerusalem meeting spells great problems for Iran. According to Frederic Hof, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, the Iranian issue would be certainly discussed at the upcoming talks. The meeting in Jerusalem is the result of good relations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Netanyahu, who wants to convince Washington that the Iranian presence is an issue of crucial importance, the expert noted. Since Russia has allowed Israel a free hand in the attacks on Iranian-linked targets in Syria, Tel Aviv wants to see closer Russian-US cooperation on the subject of Syria. However, the positions of Moscow and Washington on Syria, especially on the regime of Bashar Assad, significantly differ, he said.


RBC: Russian delegation’s rights at PACE likely to be restored

The summer session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), opening in Strasbourg on Monday, will be crucial for Russia’s future in the Council of Europe. At the PACE plenary meeting, the members will vote on adopting a report on the decision-making process of the Assembly concerning credentials and voting. The resolution suggests that PACE’s rules include wording that the rights of its members to vote, address or be represented in the Assembly and its bodies cannot be suspended or recalled through challenging or reviewing powers. The report contains another important proposal that the delegations, which are currently not represented in PACE, namely Russia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, should be allowed to apply for taking part in the June session and therefore participate in the voting for a new Secretary-General of the organization on June 26.

In early June, Russia’s State Duma (lower house) Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said that should PACE adopt the report without any amendments, Russia would apply for taking part in the June session on the same day. Earlier, Russian officials pointed out that should the Russian delegation’s rights not be restored, Moscow could leave the Council of Europe and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.

Moscow stopped paying into the Council of Europe’s budget in 2017 and its debt currently stands at 75 mln euro. Under the Council’s Charter, if a member-state does not meet its financial commitments for two years, the ministers may suspend its membership until it pays the sum. The two-year deadline for Moscow expires this June. Most PACE lawmakers interviewed by RBC believe that the report would be passed.

Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy has not ruled out that PACE could fail to endorse the report and in this case, Russian lawmakers would skip the session. According to Nikolai Topornin, Associate Professor of the European Law Department at the MGIMO University, the report is most likely to be passed and the Russian delegation would return to PACE.


Izvestia: Moscow anticipates Washington’s readiness for dialogue in Osaka

A possible meeting between the Russian and US presidents, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, in Japan’s Osaka at the G20 summit is important for bilateral relations and global politics overall. However, the format of this major global summit does not imply holding detailed bilateral talks and solving numerous accrued problems, politicians and experts told Izvestia.

The key issues that would be on the table between the two leaders, if this dialogue takes place, will be the situation around Iran and North Korea, as well as the conflict in Syria. The Russian president said Moscow was ready for talks with Washington, but could wait until the US matures enough.

Trump has traditionally assured the public that he expects to hold this dialogue with Putin. The US leader keeps saying that he wants to mend ties with Russia and that excellent relations will benefit both powers. Although neither the White House nor the Kremlin have so far confirmed the talks and their format, both presidents have expressed readiness to discuss bilateral ties and international problems in Japan on June 28-29.

The difficulties coming from the lack of a particular agenda for the Osaka talks are related to the current mess in Washington, First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Vladimir Dzhabarov told the paper, recalling that it has happened several times when the US cancelled the meetings between the two leaders over far-fetched pretexts.

There is a wide range of pressing issues for this discussion, including Iran, the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia) in Syria, the problem in the Idlib zone and disarmament, the senator said. Certainly, the best option is to discuss these issues at a full-fledged bilateral summit, but if there is no such opportunity, this should be done at the G20 summit, he noted.

Even a brief discussion between the Russian and US leaders is better than nothing at all, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute Richard Weitz said, noting that Putin and Trump could also discuss possible changes in Ukraine after the country’s new President Vladimir Zelensky came to power.


Kommersant: Trump unveils $50 bln economic plan for the Middle East

The White House has published the economic section of its plan to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, known as "the deal of the century," which was announced more than two years ago. The economic initiative, which envisages a $50 bln investment in the Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese economies, is officially titled "Peace to Prosperity." An economic seminar in Bahrain on Palestine’s future, which is also entitled so, is opening on Tuesday. The Palestinians have decided to boycott this event convened by the US, while Russian journalists won’t have access to the forum, Kommersant writes.

The "Peace to Prosperity" plan, the brainchild of Trump’s Senior Adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, may open "a new chapter in Palestinian historyone defined, not by adversity and loss, but by freedom and dignity," the White House said, unveiling the program that includes nearly 200 economic projects. However, the political part of the plan will be only announced in November, when the Israeli government is formed after the early parliamentary polls.

The economic blueprint for the Middle East mirrors the Marshall Plan, an American initiative that helped restore Europe after World War II, the paper writes. Under the document, over the coming ten years, the US is planning to inject $50 bln in investments to fulfill projects in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip ($27.8 bln), and also in Egypt ($9.1 bln), Jordan ($7.3 bln) and Lebanon ($6.3 bln). The projects will cover nearly all spheres of Palestinian life: the economy, medicine, education, reforms in state sector, sports and culture, with most funds ($6.5 bln or 24% from the entire budget) to be earmarked for projects devoted to transport and mobility.

The document states that prosperity can be only ensured by a stable peace deal. Washington has made it clear that no money will be allocated unless all regional states endorse the peace initiative. However, no one in the region is eager to "buy a pig in a poke," promise investments and approve a plan without knowing what Washington will offer as a political deal, Kommersant writes.


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