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Press review: Russia joins Paris climate deal and 74th UN General Assembly session begins

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, September 24


Kommersant: Russia joins global climate deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Moscow announced its accession to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change on Monday during the UN’s climate summit in New York. Russia, the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas-emitting country, will become a full-fledged participant of the new climate agreement that replaces the Kyoto Protocol. Politicians and representatives of environmental and scientific-research organizations around the world have backed this move. According to the experts, this will reduce Russia’s reputation losses and the risks of imposing hydrocarbon customs duties on it, but won’t nullify them, Kommersant writes.

According to the Russian government’s website, the agreement does not imply that the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, should pass a ratification bill. Head of the WWF Russia’s Climate and Energy Program Alexei Kokorin noted that the procedure is similar to the US accession to the Paris Agreement under Barack Obama in November 2016, when this was done to bypass the Senate. However, in June 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the US was going to pull out of the Paris climate accord, thus rendering the target under the agreement unachievable.

The Paris agreement has been ratified by 185 countries. According to experts interviewed by Kommersant, after realizing that the deal’s materialization did not directly depend on Russia’s ratification, Moscow decided not to rush, but wait until particular rules of the new mechanism were developed. Besides, the so-called anti-climate change lobby, consisting of fuel and metal companies, has been against Russia’s climate obligations. For many years, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs has been sticking to this position, but this January, the group announced that it would not oppose the ratification.

According to Igor Makarov, Head of the School of World Economy at National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia’s accession is an important step symbolizing that it shares the world community’s consensus about the need to fight climate change and move towards a low-hydrocarbon future. However, it will remain symbolic unless it is confirmed by real measures, like introducing state controls over emissions and outlining a clear strategy how Russia’s economy, which now is critically dependent on fuel exports, will adapt to a future where this fuel will apparently take a back seat, he stressed.

Despite criticizing Russia’s climate goals, Greenpeace and WWF Russia, as well as the German Foreign Ministry, have welcomed Russia’s accession.


Izvestia: Global spotlight on UN General Assembly’s 74th session

One of the most fascinating global events, the so-called general debate at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, kicks off in New York on Tuesday, bringing together delegates from nearly 200 countries. Climate change is set to become a headline topic there, despite the opposition of US President Donald Trump, who is hosting the session. Tensions between Washington and Tehran, which exacerbated after a recent drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, allegedly carried out by Iran, are highly likely to dominate the event’s sidelines, Izvestia writes. Although no landmark decisions are expected to be adopted at the UN General Assembly, this will be a great opportunity for many states to synchronize their watches on the most vital issues.

Another event headliner will be the first talks between US President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s new leader Vladimir Zelensky. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is also scheduled to hold a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Washington’s request.

"The General Assembly is a good opportunity for sides to come together and discuss key issues during bilateral or multilateral meetings. Although there won’t be a discussion on the most pressing issue - the Iran-Saudi Arabia situation - since the stage presently is when everyone is playing towards exacerbation, especially Iran. And the parties are not expected to sit down [at the negotiating table] and start untying this knot," Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine, told the paper.

Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) noted that the UN General Assembly is a global barometer, which reflects the situation in the world, the parity and mood of international community’s members, as well as the balance between political forces, and the influence of powers. "Certainly, both the UN Security Council, regional security organizations and special UN agencies are guided by the barometer’s indications," the expert said.


Media: Travel giant Thomas Cook’s bankruptcy to affect Russian market

The news that one of the world’s largest tour companies, Thomas Cook, went belly-up has been dominating headlines in the Russian press on Tuesday. The collapse of this 178-year-old UK travel giant occurred after failed talks between its management, creditors and the British government, which refused to provide a new loan. As a result, 150,000 Britons have been stranded abroad. The collapse of the British travel firm, which owned two Russian tour companies - Intourist and Biblio-Globus, could result in losing one-third of its Russian partners’ clients, market participants told Kommersant. According to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), some 15 mln people in Russia go on tours organized by Thomas Cook annually. Some 2 mln of them are the clients of Biblio-Globus, and another 500,000 signed a contract with Intourist.

According to Kommersant’s sources, the collapse of Thomas Cook is unlikely to seriously affect Biblio-Globus since the UK firm had not yet closed the deal on purchasing it. Meanwhile, Intourist is expected to get a new owner and its business is likely to be sold out. In particular, China, which is a leader in tourist arrivals in Russia, could show interest in the deal.

Irina Tyurina, the Russian Union of Travel Industry’s press secretary, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that this massive bankruptcy could undermine people’s trust in traditional travel agencies and package tours.

While the governments of several countries, hotels and clients are counting their losses from Thomas Cook’s collapse, some firms are expecting multibillion profits, Izvestia writes. This concerns hedge funds, which have invested in the UK firm’s credit default swaps. If the company’s collapse is recognized as an insured event, these funds could earn up to $250 mln, or more than three times as much as the expenses on evacuating the stranded tourists.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Turkey gears up for military operation against jihadists in Syria’s Idlib

For the first time, Turkey has declared its readiness to carry out an independent operation against jihadists, who are still active Syria’s Idlib Governorate. Experts note that this campaign against extremists could guarantee that Idlib will remain in Turkey’s hands, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Idlib is the last major enclave of the Syrian moderate opposition, which is holed up there along with militants of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a Salafist jihadi group, which swallowed up the remaining members of Jabhat al-Nusra terror group (outlawed in Russia).

According to Erdogan’s close associates, the remaining presence of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in Idlib gives grounds for Damascus and groups loyal to Assad to attack the province, and therefore this operation is vital for Ankara.

"If Turkey seeks to keep control over Idlib and moreover turn it into its protectorate, then this is difficult to do this without eliminating Hayat Tahrir al-Sham," Director of the Islamic Research Center at the Institute of Innovation Development Kirill Semenov told the newspaper.

According to the expert, if this operation is a success and Ankara reaches certain agreements with Russia, the Turkish military will be able to rebuff Syrian government forces’ attempts to move deeper into this de-escalation zone. For example, they will be able to use artillery weapons and this won’t be considered as supporting terrorists, he stressed.

However, in order to control Idlib, Turkey needs to rely on the civilian groups loyal to it, he notes. This means that Ankara should let an interim government from Gaziantep work in Idlib, which is affiliated with the opposition taking part in the Astana meetings, rather than make bets on the Syrian "salvation government," which is an arm of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. "Only this will enable it to fulfill humanitarian programs and attract funds for bankrolling the region," he said.


RBC: Kiev looks for loopholes in its commitments to Donbass special status

Ukrainian Presidential Aide Andrei Yermak has suggested signing a new international treaty, which would protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity. According to Yermak, the world’s major players - the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and China - should work on drawing up this sort of deal. However, he did not mention whether Russia should join the effort, RBC writes. The pact should stipulate consequences for any failure to observe the treaty, Yermak said, noting that setting up the headquarters of international organizations in Ukraine would guarantee compliance with such a deal.

Deputy Director of the Center for Current Policy Oleg Ignatov told RBC that President Vladimir Zelensky’s team is trying to adopt a creative approach to the text of the Minsk deal. Kiev is not satisfied by the current document since it demands that a special status for Donbass in Ukraine’s Constitution be enacted, he explained. "Therefore, from time to time, various schemes for roundabout maneuvers emerge in the form of international treaties, which should consolidate the parties’ commitments, satisfy all other negotiators and simultaneously let Ukraine refrain from constitutional amendments," he said. However, this proposal has not been backed by other members of the Normandy Four, the political scientist added.

Ukrainian political scientist Vladimir Fesenko stressed that the stumbling block at talks was not related to whether the US joins the talks or not. According to him, Washington has been taking part in the talks unofficially. The major problem is that Moscow insists that the special status law for Donbass should be confirmed by Ukraine’s Constitution, he stressed.

According to Ukrainian pundit Vadim Karasev, Yermak’s proposal cannot be fulfilled, and what’s more, it won’t solve the key point of discord, that is, the issue on including the status of Donbass in Ukraine’s Constitution.


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