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Press review: Did IS ringleader’s death deep-six IS and Russia’s SWIFT answer for Asia

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, October 28
People looking at a destroyed houses near the village of Barisha, Syria, after an operation by the US military which targeted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi  AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed
People looking at a destroyed houses near the village of Barisha, Syria, after an operation by the US military which targeted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
© AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed

Media: Islamic State chieftain al-Baghdadi finally eliminated, White House says

Leader of the Islamic State terror group (IS, outlawed in Russia) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a special operation carried out by American troops, US President Donald Trump announced. According to him, the terrorist was cornered in the Barisha village in Syria’s Idlib province, close to the Turkish border, Vedomosti writes.

Meanwhile, the Russian military has actually rejected Trump’s claim. Russia’s top military brass does not have reliable information on another operation to eliminate al-Baghdadi, the defense ministry’s spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. He pointed out that ‘yet another’ al-Baghdadi death had no impact on the situation in Syria since the Syrian army, supported by the Russian Aerospace Force, had defeated IS.

Trump’s statement was aimed, first and foremost, at his domestic audience, said Assistant Professor at the Higher School of Economics Leonid Isayev. "In early October, he announced the US troop pullout from northeastern Syria in a move to fulfill one of his major election promises. And now, less than a month later, he is talking about redeploying troops from Iraq to eastern Syria to protect oil fields - formally, from the IS, but in fact, from Assad. It means that on the one hand, the US has no interests left in Syria because IS has been defeated, but on the other hand, Washington needs a reason to stay there and control the oil fields," the expert noted. This is why al-Baghdadi’s death comes in handy: it is a milestone in the fight against the Islamic State, which only highlights the remaining threat, Isayev added.

Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Boris Dolgov, in turn, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the IS leader’s death did not really matter to the group’s future. "Actually, it doesn’t exist anymore. As a military and political organization, the Islamic State has been destroyed both in Syria and Iraq. The units and sleeper cells that still remain don’t pose a threat as they are unlikely to revive IS. The killing of al-Baghdadi is more important as a symbol indicating the group’s defeat," Dolgov explained.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iran, Saudis cut ‘enmity’ costs by avoiding involvement in Iraqi unrest

The Iraqi protests have raised alarm bells in neighboring Iran. Tehran is hopeful that the Iraqi people and the central government will be able to reach a compromise. Although recent developments leave room for speculation about the involvement of external forces, experts say that in the current situation, regional players are behaving unusually, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

"Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States hold the best prospects to influence the situation in Iraq," said Grigory Lukyanov, a senior lecturer with the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Higher School of Economics’ School of Political Science. "Nevertheless, given the turbulence that the region is going through in 2019, these three countries are the least interested in the Iraqi political protests snowballing into something more serious. In light of the complicated situation in the Persian Gulf, the recent attacks on Saudi Aramco, and threats to the movement of goods via the Persian Gulf, it is hard to argue that Saudi Arabia is ready to enter one more game, apart from those in which it is already involved in," the expert emphasized.

Lukyanov pointed out that the Saudi royal family has its hands full with the Yemen conflict. "As for Iran, it has to spend much resources on Syria, so it is the last one to be interested in raising expenditures on the situation in Iraq," the expert noted. "Under the circumstances, both Iran and Saudi Arabia will do all they can to reduce their participation in the Iraqi developments as much as possible," he added.

"On the other hand, some destructive political elements, including the Islamic State, which has a strong clandestine presence in Iraq, will seek to take the most advantage of the situation in order to stir up violence," Lukyanov said. However, he strongly opposes the idea "that some country has a hand in acts of sabotage and incitement." According to the expert, it could be either IS or some groups that used to be part of Shiite militia forces.


Izvestia: Russia seeks to create new payment system for China, India

Russia, China and India have come up with a new method of payment in the event of a cutoff from the SWIFT banking messaging service. Russia’s Central Bank plans to coordinate Moscow’s solution - the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) - with Chinese and Indian payment facilities, two sources close to the Bank of Russia told Izvestia.

As far as China is concerned, the idea is to connect the SFPS to China’s Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS). India doesn’t have a national banking communication mechanism so plans are in store to link the Russian Central Bank’s platform to a potential system developed by an independent Indian company, a financial market source said.

Head of the State Duma’s Financial Market Committee Anatoly Aksakov has confirmed that making payments through channels other that SWIFT is under consideration. According to him, a connection between the Russian Central Bank’s system and the CIPS could be created. Partners in India have requested information on the SPFS and are looking into all possible alternatives, the lawmaker specified. After Iranian banks had been cut off from SWIFT in the wake of Washington’s sanctions, many countries began to think about creating alternate payment channels, Aksakov added.

Kicking Russia out of SWIFT is not on the global agenda any longer so no one is in a rush to start using alternative methods, Association of Corporate Treasurers President Vladimir Kozinets pointed out. However, such a risk does exist, so it will be only logical to find an interim compromise.

The risk of sanctions is not the only reason why business circles are interested in alternative communication channels, Director of the Center for Financial Policy and Markets at the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Andrei Lisitsyn added. There are also purely economic reasons: SWIFT is expanding and its security requirements are mounting, so it is becoming too expensive for many organizations and even countries to maintain facilities needed for the use of this system, the expert noted.


Izvestia: United States rejects jailed Russian pilot’s handover request

Washington has refused to transfer Russian national Konstantin Yaroshenko jailed in the United States to Moscow, Izvestia wrote, adding that the pilot’s family was informed of the refusal on the day when another Russian prisoner, Maria Butina, returned home from the US.

According to a letter that Associate Director of the International Prisoner Transfer Unit within the Office of International Affairs Criminal Division at the US Department of Justice Paula Wolff sent to her counterpart at the Russian Justice Ministry Alexandra Dronova, the US rejection for the Yaroshenko handover request on October 7 based on the severity of charges.

Although the decision was made three weeks ago, the Yaroshenko family was informed of it only on October 26, when Maria Butina, who had spent 18 months in an American prison, returned to Russia.

Konstantin Yaroshenko told the newspaper that he couldn’t believe what had happened. "I was certainly encouraged by Butina’s return. But I know that Moscow will continue to use every possible tool to bring me home," the pilot said.

The Yaroshenko family was devastated by Washington’s decision. "We could have expected anything from them but we didn’t think they will keep us in the dark for three weeks after they made a decision, only to tell us that they gave us a denial. It seems they sought to time the move with Butina’s return to Russia. Perhaps, they wanted to reduce the negative effect of their refusal. We did hope for a positive response because my husband is innocent and they know it. We had been waiting for a letter for half a year," the jailed Russian’s wife Viktoria said.

Yaroshenko will be able to act on the 1983 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons only in two years. However, according to Paula Wolff’s letter, the US is unlikely to make a different decision, unless the situation changes much.


RBC: Russian Economic Development Ministry rejects carbon tax proposal

Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development has removed provisions related to a carbon tax, proposed by Rusnano CEO Anatoly Chubais, from a bill on the state regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Gazprom would have lost $8 bln because of the tax, RBC noted, citing a letter that Deputy Economic Development Minister Mikhail Rasstrigin wrote to the cabinet.

The ministry’s decision is particularly based on conclusions by the Energy Ministry, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP). The latter organization is confident that a carbon tax would negatively affect investment activities so it sought to persuade the Economic Development Ministry to remove fees for carbon emissions from the bill, pointing out that Russia was exceeding its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement.

In a letter to the government, RSPP President Alexander Shokhin said in particular that in order to fulfill its obligations, Moscow only needed "to correctly assess the absorbing capacity of Russian forests and implement the pre-planned energy efficiency programs." Shokhin also called for building a system in order to record emissions and facilitate projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

RBC sent a request for a comment to the Economic Development Ministry, the Energy Ministry and the RSPP. An RSPP source told the paper that they hadn’t received the final version of the bill yet, while spokespersons for the deputy prime ministers in charge of the relevant issues declined to comment.

Energy Development Fund Director Sergey Pikin told RBC that Russian exporters should brace for tariffs that developed countries would impose on goods, whose production exceeded carbon emission limits, and a carbon tax could have been helpful in that regard. However, the export tariffs that Europe and other countries may introduce will only affect exporters, so the RSPP’s call for refraining from overburdening industries is well-founded.

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