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Press review: Saudis eye Russia’s S-400s and will Syria see peace after Ankara summit

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, September 17
From left: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, September 2018 Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool
From left: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, September 2018
© Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool

Media: Russia, Turkey and Iran bring Syria closer to peace

The peace process in Syria has reached an irreversible stage following the fifth summit of the Astana trio, held in Ankara. Experts interviewed by Izvestia point out that since 2017, Russia, Turkey and Iran have done their utmost to diminish the threat of terrorism that has been hovering over the region.

In less than two years, the three-country group managed to achieve rather tangible results. Large-scale military activities in Syria have come to an end and the country is now slowly returning to a peaceful life. Nevertheless, a number of issues remain unresolved, with the existence of a hotbed of terrorism in Idlib being the most pressing one, as about 5,000 militants are holed up there, according to various estimates. However, Vyacheslav Matuzov, a former diplomat, told the newspaper that resolving the Idlib problem was only a matter of time.

The establishment of the anticipated Syrian constitutional committee was another issue that the three leaders mulled over on Monday. According to Matuzov, the committee’s launch will mark the completion of the trio’s peace efforts. The expert noted that a final decision on the committee member list, reached in Ankara, meant a victory for the forces that truly wish to resolve the Syrian crisis.

Meanwhile, "all participants in the Astana talks have their own interests as far as Syria is concerned," Leading Research Fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences Viktor Nadein-Rayevsky told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "An important thing for Iran is to limit Saudi Arabia’s appetite there. As for our country, the crucial task is to launch an intra-Syrian peaceful political dialogue, while Turkey’s biggest concern in Syria is the Kurdish issue," the expert said, adding that Erdogan would try to take advantage of Russia’s efforts to establish peace in order to accomplish its own goals.

However, experts are confident that although Moscow, Ankara and Tehran have certain differences on the situation in Syria, the three countries are still united in their uncompromising fight against terrorism.


RBC: Drone attack on Saudi oil facilities ramps up oil prices

It will take up to six months and hundreds of millions of dollars to repair the equipment damaged in a recent drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. Oil prices have soared following the attack, bolstering the ruble, though experts interviewed by RBC believe that the Russian currency’s rise is temporary.

Repairing Saudi Aramco’s oil facilities may take three to six months, Head of the Oil Refining Technology Department at the Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas Vladimir Kapustin told RBC. According to him, expensive large-scale equipment has been damaged and replacements will have to be ordered either from Europe or the United States. At the same time, Houthi rebels from the Ansar Allah movement, who claimed responsibility for the September 14 drone attack, have threatened to carry out another one.

Amid these developments, the dollar dropped below 64 rubles on Monday morning. On average, when oil prices increase by ten percent, the Russian ruble rises by one percent against the dollar, Sberbank’s FX and Rates Strategist Yuri Popov said. However, if Saudi Arabia fails to promptly restore output, the surge in oil prices will have more impact on the ruble. If prices reach $70 per barrel, the exchange rate will increase to 63 rubles per dollar, Popov pointed out.

However, rising oil prices will deal a blow to the global economy and accelerate inflation, so the oil price factor will support the ruble but "not too much," said Chief Economist at the Russian Direct Investment Fund Dmitry Polevoy. In his view, investors’ attitude to risky assets and developing markets will be crucial, so trade wars, a global economic slowdown, Brexit and the overall geopolitical climate will continue to play a role.

The drone attack on Saudi Aramco’s facilities was just an incident that is unlikely to provide much support for the ruble, said Chief Economist at Nordea Bank Tatyana Evdokimova. She expects the dollar to scale back to the 64-65 ruble level as soon as the Saudi oil facilities are restored.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Saudi Arabia may put its trust in Russia’s S-400 systems

The Saudis may seek Russia’s assistance in beefing up its missile defenses following the recent drone attacks on Saudi Aramco’s oil plants, a diplomatic source in the Gulf Cooperation Council told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"Saudi Arabia will probably want to reinforce its missile defenses following these attacks," an Arab diplomat said, declining to disclose his country of origin. "I think that the S-400 systems will be one of the first options for consideration," he added. As for the political consequences of the recent attacks, the diplomat believes that the Saudi ruling family might soften its position on Yemen’s Houthi rebels, whom the Saudi-led coalition has been fighting for quite a while. "But I don’t think that under the current situation, Saudi Arabia will take any steps against Iran or Iraq," the diplomat emphasized.

"The fact that such an attack took place points to the inefficiency of the Saudi missile defense systems and the inadequate training of its personnel," Program Coordinator at the Russian International Affairs Council Ruslan Mamedov said.

"Saudi Arabia, as is well known, uses the American-made Patriot systems. The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that US weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia fail to prove their efficiency. In this regard, Russia’s S-400 systems are one of the most impressive options that the Saudis could turn to," the expert said. However, Mamedov noted that the parties would have to calculate all possible consequences of such a deal. According to him, talks on the matter may take place during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia.


Kommersant: Russian-speaking voters may decide Israeli election

Israel is holding a snap parliamentary election on Tuesday. The main question is whether the Likud party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will get enough voter support to rally right-wing forces and form a government. Russian-speaking votes may prove to be the deciding factor, Kommersant writes.

Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu (or Israel Our Home), headed by Avigdor Lieberman, are struggling for Russian-speaking votes that can provide 15 Knesset (Israel’s parliament) seats if voter turnout reaches the highest possible level. The struggle has turned out to be a tough one. Unlike many other communities in Israel, the Russian-speaking one is extremely diverse, Ariel University Professor Zeev Hanin explained, adding that the community included people that had moved to Israel during the immigration waves of the 1970s and the 1990s, as well as just recently. In addition, the "Russians" have different cultural and historical backgrounds since they come from Moscow, the Caucasus, Ukraine, the Baltics, Uzbekistan and other places on the CIS map.

Israel Our Home is traditionally considered to be "a Russian party," as six of its leaders originate from the former Soviet Union. However, Likud is also making every effort to attract Russian-speaking voters, though a number of politicians and experts have told Kommersant that over the past ten years, the party did not care much for the concerns of this segment of the electorate. Nevertheless, Likud member Tali Ploskova, who is in charge of the "Russian" sector, told the newspaper that Netanyahu pledged to pay attention to the issues that Russian-speaking Israelis were facing.

Meanwhile, many in Israel regret that the Kahol Lavan (or Blue and White) bloc hasn’t focused much on the "Russians" though there are enough people ready to support the bloc in the hope that Netanyahu will step down from politics. Others plan to vote for left-wing parties, and some of the "Russian" votes will go to right-wing religious parties. However, many Russian-speaking Israelis told Kommersant that they hadn’t made up their minds on who to vote for yet.


Vedomosti: Washington permanently bans Kaspersky Lab from government contracts

The United States Federal Acquisition Regulation Council (FAR) has finalized a rule prohibiting government agencies from using Kaspersky Lab’s products. The rule took effect on September 10. Accordingly, a temporary ban introduced on October 1, 2018, has become permanent, Vedomosti notes.

The multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider began to face troubles in the US in 2017, when the Department of Homeland Security had become suspicious that the company cooperated with Russian intelligence services and barred government bodies from using Kaspersky’s tools. The restriction was described as temporary but now a permanent ban on Kaspersky Lab’s products has been imposed, Managing Partner at the Law and Business company Alexander Pakhomov said, adding that the prohibition would remain in place until the FAR Council lifted it.

Kaspersky Lab tried to fight the temporary ban through an appeal but in May 2018, a DC court rejected both of the company’s lawsuits. What’s more, this decision was upheld by a court of appeal. Furthermore, Pakhomov pointed out that there are no judicial precedents of removing restrictions that the US imposed for political and national security reasons.

The company does not intend to contest the ban on cooperation with US government agencies, Public Affairs Vice President for Kaspersky Lab Anton Shingarev said. This prohibition is purely politically motivated and it is pointless going to court to file appeals against it, he explained. The decision will be revoked once the political situation changes, Shingarev emphasized.

In 2018, Kaspersky Lab’s sales in North America saw a 25-percent decline, which the company attributed to the complicated geopolitical situation. However, Kaspersky continues its activities on the American market, which it still considers to be the most important one, Shingarev pointed out.


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