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Press review: Huge deals seal Putin's Saudi tour and Turkey pushes Kurds into Assad’s arms

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, October 15
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud Mikhail Metzel/TASS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud
© Mikhail Metzel/TASS


Izvestia: Putin receives warm welcome in Saudi Arabia

Moscow and Riyadh have inked 21 agreements during the Russian leader’s visit to Saudi Arabia. The parties, in particular, signed a charter on cooperation between oil producing countries. The experts and politicians interviewed by Izvestia noted that Monday’s visit could be considered one of Putin’s most important foreign trips.

The bulk of the talks was held behind closed doors, and reporters could only hear some opening remarks. Putin noted that Russia laid special emphasis on cultivating friendly and mutually beneficial ties with Saudi Arabia. For his part, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud stressed that Riyadh appreciated Russia’s active role in the region and in the world and reiterated his country’s commitment to cooperation with Moscow.

Against the backdrop of the important role, which Russia and Saudi Arabia play in the Middle East, Moscow and Riyadh should coordinate their stances on a regular basis, Dmitry Novikov, First Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma (lower house) Foreign Affairs Committee, told the paper. He stressed that the two nations had great potential to deepen cooperation. "That applies to both the political and economic spheres. Saudi Arabia and Russia have something to offer in terms of mutual economic cooperation," he pointed out.

According to political commentator and orientalist Vyacheslav Matuzov, that was one of Putin’s most important foreign trips. "The issue at hand in this case is not only bilateral ties and some commercial results, but also the normalization of the situation in the Middle East in general. That concerns, for example, the situation in the Persian Gulf region, Iran and Syria and also efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he explained.

Media: Erdogan’s military campaign drives Kurds into Assad’s arms

The Turkish army and Syrian opposition units loyal to Ankara continue their southward offensive expanding control over Syria’s border regions populated by the Kurds. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proclaimed that the Syrian opposition units would soon enter the strategically important cities of Manbij and Kobani.

Meanwhile, the recent agreement between the Kurds and the Assad regime, which says that Damascus would dispatch its troops to the north of the country to stop the Turkish offensive, could be a new factor that may become a decisive game-changer, Kommersant writes.

The latest statements made by the warring parties indicate, however, that there will be no direct clashes between the Turkish and Syrian armies. Through Russia’s mediation, the parties will prefer to agree on dividing the zones of control in northern Syria.

All indications point to the fact that Ankara and Damascus will eventually be able to hammer out a deal, which will allow Turkey, to a greater or lesser degree, to implement its plan to set up a buffer zone on the border with Syria separating the two Kurdistans - the Turkish and the Syrian ones.

At the same time, Damascus could, unexpectedly for itself, regain control over the Kurdish areas and secure the loyalty of the former US allies.

Wladimir van Wilgelburg, an Erbil-based political analyst specializing in issues concerning Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, explained to Kommersant that the Kurds who had lost the United States’ support would no longer venture to confront Damascus fearing repression. He also noted that an agreement on granting amnesty to the Kurds could be part of a peace deal.

It is more than likely that a scenario agreed on by Russia and Turkey is being carried out, RBC quotes Kirill Semenov, Head of the Department of Middle Eastern Conflicts at the Institute of Innovative Development, as saying. "The schemes for divvying up the north of the country into Damascus’s and Ankara’s zones of influences are being carried out," he noted.

The expert is skeptical about the Kurds’ ability to ward off Ankara’s offensive. "Turkey has the largest military capability in the region. That’s why it would be naive to believe that it will be possible to quell them through military force," he explained.


Izvestia: Kiev and Donbass to agree on disengagement of forces

The disengagement of forces at Petrovskoye and Zolotoye concurred on two weeks ago could be carried out later this week or at the beginning of next week, said Izvestia’s sources close to the talks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.

According to one of them, the parties will reaffirm their readiness to start the much-awaited process along the line of engagement on October 15. While the Donbass republics honored their commitments regarding the beginning of the disengagement, the Ukrainian armed forces failed to follow suit. This is largely due to the stance of nationalists and the so-called volunteer battalions of extremists that do not obey orders from the official authorities in Kiev and proclaim they are determined to "defend Ukraine."

The second attempt to disengage forces is expected to be a success, because the next Normandy Four summit, which Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky needs so much, depends on that, another source explained to the paper. The issue at hand at the Minsk talks will be not just some formal coordination, but genuine actions by Kiev, envoy of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) to the Contact Group’s political subgroup Rodion Miroshnik stressed to Izvestia. In his view, the reason behind the derailment of the disengagement process is the complex political situation plaguing Ukraine. "We suspect that Ukraine is deliberately failing to fulfill its obligations. When there is a need to stop the bombardments, for example, near Stanitsa Luganskaya, Kiev does that. There are domestic reasons for that, including the lack of the leadership’s influence on the law enforcement agencies. Ukraine has to clarify the situation and comply with its obligations to us and international agencies, the guarantors of the agreements," he stressed.

According to political commentator Denis Denisov, President Zelensky of Ukraine has both the desire and political will to make progress on the issue. However, there are quite a few factors, which prevent him from doing so. "The problem is that Zelensky and his entourage fear the radical nationalists very much and are so far unprepared to act in earnest as far as the volunteer battalions are concerned," the expert noted.

As for the Steinmeier formula, the impression is that Kiev has not yet fully shaped its stance on resolving the crisis, he went on to say. "The Ukrainian partners show the desire and, partially, even the ability to move along the political track. It seems, however, that they first make decisions and only then read documents. Moreover, those in Kiev who are involved in the efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis are very poorly prepared. Therefore, it is necessary to wait until they formulate their stance. That will pave the way for the political track at the talks," he noted.


RBC: Russia’s Novomet oilfield services company expands to Middle East

Riyadh’s state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco, along with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), will buy Rusnano’s stake in the portfolio of the Russian oilfield service company Novomet. The deal will be Saudi Aramco’s first investment in Russia, RBC writes.

The parties are staying mum on the deal’s worth. However, the protocol of the intergovernmental commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation between the two countries, whose meeting was held in Moscow in early June, says that the approximate cost of the joint project between Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) comes to $659 mln.

The deal with Novomet will be the first joint investment of the Russian Direct Investment Fund and Saudi Aramco within the framework of the $1 bln energy platform created with the involvement of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) in 2017. It is aimed at investing in Russia’s energy sector with an option to subsequently localize business operations in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East in general. The deal is expected to be completed by the end of the year, one of the paper’s sources said.

The sale of a stake in Novomet is a trial balloon for allowing Saudi investors to enter the Russian market, the paper quotes ACRA Senior Director Maxim Khudalov as saying.

"Relations between the two countries are improving, and perhaps we will see Arab money in Russian projects," he noted. Another condition for the deal with Novemet stakes could be the admission of this Russian company into Saudi Arabia’s market, the expert added.


Vedomosti: Aeroflot to cut back its fleet for the first time in over a decade

Aeroflot’s fleet will be reduced for the first time over the past 12 years, Vedomosti writes citing data provided by the air carrier. At the end of 2018, it tallied up a total of 253 airliners, not counting the 50 Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 planes that it already has.

The company will not receive any foreign-made aircraft this year. However, Aeroflot is expected to get the first ten SSJ-100s out of the 100 it had ordered in 2018. The air carrier uses the Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft with a seating capacity of 98 passengers in order to support the Russian aviation industry. That said, regional airliners do not conform to its route network, the company earlier said.

Aeroflot’s spokesman declined to cite reasons for the fleet reduction. Nevertheless, the company assured that its fleet would increase in 2020 thanks to the latest Airbus A350 long-range aircraft.

The cutback in Aeroflot fleet was predictable, because new aircraft were not ordered in previous years, while its old planes were decommissioned, two sources close to the air carrier said.

The company earlier explained that it had stopped purchasing foreign-made medium-haul aircraft, because it had ordered MC-21 planes from their Russian supplier. The delivery of MC-21 was put off several times, and Aeroflot is expected to get them in 2020.

Aeroflot is banking on the growth of its Pobeda low-cost airline, while its strategy provides, first and foremost, for the growth of the entire group, which is more important," the paper quotes Boris Rybak, Director of the Infomost consulting agency, as saying. According to Aeroflot Group, Pobeda’s fleet has grown by six planes this year to reach 30 jets. The group’s fleet should reach 367 airliners by the end of the year, the Aeroflot presentation said.


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