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Press review: Erdogan gunning for Libyan intervention and Israel braces for war with Iran

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, December 27

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Turkey seeks to meddle in Libyan civil war

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced plans to seek his parliament’s support for sending troops to Libya. The Turkish forces would fight on the side of the Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al-Sarraj against the Libyan National Army headed by Khalifa Haftar, who enjoys the support of a number of countries, including Russia. The Turkish troops will be deployed to Libya as soon as they receive an invitation from Sarraj’s government.

The Turkish leader is aware that he is interfering not just in a local conflict in Libya, but in a war involving many countries. Besides Russia, among those backing Haftar are the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France, Israel and Sudan. The Kremlin rejects allegations that Moscow is taking part in the Libyan conflict, while acknowledging that mercenaries from a huge number of countries have been spotted there.

According to orientalist at the Higher School of Economics Andrei Chuprygin, the Turkish forces are unlikely to turn the tide in the ongoing hostilities. "Haftar has been stopped without Turkey’s participation. He has been trying to seize Tripoli for eight months but has failed to do that," the expert said.

Turkey’s participation in the Libyan war holds more advantages for Erdogan than for Sarraj, Chuprygin noted. The Turkish leader needs to show that he is ready to protect his interests in the Mediterranean region, even by using military force. Erdogan is hinting to his voters that he remains faithful to his party’s ideology and is still ready to support political Islam.

While noting that the Muslim Brotherhood (outlawed in Russia) remains a powerful player in western Libya, the expert cautioned against describing the civil war as a struggle against Jihadists. At least two battalions of Salafists are fighting on Haftar’s side, he said.


Izvestia: Russia, Belarus set sights on signing integration deal by early 2020

Moscow and Minsk have good chances of inking the Union State’s Action Program by early next year, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Dmitry Mezentsev told Izvestia. According to the diplomat, the gas price issue won’t be discussed at the talks on roadmaps for the program. The idea to talk over this and a few other challenging issues in bilateral relations at separate negotiations significantly increases the chances for success in deepening integration, the paper says.

Initially, the Russian and Belarusian heads of state, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, were expected to sign the Action Program on fulfilling the treaty on creating the Union State on December 8. However, Moscow and Minsk failed to iron out some pressing issues related to oil, gas and taxes.

Head of the Belarusian think-tank EcooM Sergei Musienko told Izvestia that Russia and Belarus were highly likely to reach a vital deal soon. "We have all seen that the negotiating process has been challenging. But the positive fact is that the parties are coming to terms, searching for compromises and exchanging views. We will find a compromise and there are great expectations here," he noted.

According to the expert, the odds for success are higher because the most pressing matters related to energy have been taken off the table during the discussion on the roadmaps. The sides will solve issues on the oil prices without linking them to the Action Program and the roadmaps.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak announced on Thursday that Russia and Belarus still had time to reach an agreement on the remaining oil and gas issues by the year-end.

From the very beginning, the content of the roadmaps that Moscow and Minsk had been coordinating over the past months was not unveiled to the public. This gave rise to some unfounded allegations that bilateral ties were far from perfect, the paper writes. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s rhetoric against Russia only fueled this speculation. However, Moscow did not respond to this, acknowledging that while the two countries had some unsolved issues, they did not affect the entire atmosphere of relations.


Kommersant: Russia, Ukraine opening new page in gas relations

Moscow and Kiev are starting off 2020 with a new page in their gas relations, which have been customarily challenging and very politically sensitive. The contract, which was signed at the very last moment, arouses many issues, especially on Russia’s concessions to Ukraine, Kommersant writes. However, Russia and Ukraine have reached the first real deal over the past five years of the fierce conflict. This document was signed under new Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and coincided with milder confrontation rhetoric. The deal’s timeframe is surprisingly the same as the terms of office of the two presidents (until 2024) and the entire scheme of gas relations is reminiscent of the one built around RosUkrEnergo.

Obviously, the deal will boost Zelensky’s image, which began sinking nationally due to the land reform and the talks on Donbass. A potential failure at the gas talks could have dealt a serious blow to the Ukrainian leader. However, now as Gazprom has agreed to give Ukrainian companies a discount from the price for Germany, Kiev will get really cheap gas. This could strengthen some Ukrainian economic sectors and help Zelensky reduce utility prices.

The transit deal gives the Ukrainian president and businesses a certain political and financial resource for carrying out an independent policy without the need to rely on the US and the EU, Kommersant says. This money is unlikely to solve the problem of Donbass, but could hold Kiev back from taking harsh anti-Russian steps. In case the plan fails, Russia always has the possibility to shut the gas valve and Ukraine has acknowledged this risk, agreeing to cut transit volume in the new deal to 40 bln cubic meters starting from 2021.


Izvestia: Data breaches double this year and could surge in 2020, experts warn

Hackers have gained access to more than 14 billion records (personal and payment data) around the world this year, or double what was seen in 2018, experts at the Russian information security company InfoWatch told Izvestia. This number in Russia has grown six-fold (nearly 170 mln records). Experts believe that two-thirds of leaks in 2018 were deliberate and the share of these crimes in Russia is 40%.

Experts predict that the trend towards rising data hacks will continue in 2020. Hackers will step up their efforts to steal state secrets and valuable commercial data. According to Izvestia, data breaches in Russia’s banking sector account for 1 mln or less than 1% out of the total number. This confirms that Russian banks are capable of guaranteeing a high level of information security.

In 2018, nearly half of the data leaks were blamed on staff and some 40% were caused by hackers and other malefactors. However, in 2019 these breaches were mostly the work of hackers. In Russia, the share of hacker crimes is less than 20%, while staff were responsible for more than 70% of data leaks. That said, a significant rise in leaks of email data is among the notable changes. This is mainly attributed to the growing popularity of phishing attacks on companies.

"I think in the future perpetrators will again be widely using email phishing," said Head of Analytics and Special Projects Department at InfoWatch Andrei Arsentyev. "This is a stable trend. They will continue hunting for vital information and try to transfer corporate money to their accounts through fraudulent schemes."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Israel bracing for confrontation with Iran

Israeli Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi has warned that Israel is facing a "limited confrontation" with Iran and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are preparing for this scenario. The defense official admitted that the Israelis were unlikely to count on the assistance of their foremost ally, the United States, or their tactical Arabian partners. Experts have confirmed these concerns, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security warns that a large-scale conflict between Iran and Israel could flare up in 2020 in case Tehran continued its uranium enrichment activities. The experts advised that Israel should be ready to tackle Iran on its own. Israel should also prepare to resume US-Iranian talks and work on ensuring full coordination with Washington on making demands against Iran.

JISS experts also paint a gloomy picture about Russia. They predict that Israel won’t be able to live up to the Russian leadership’s expectations as Tel Aviv cannot convince Washington to soften its stance on Russian policy through diplomatic mediation. Besides, there are no guarantees that Russia will let Israel dominate the Syrian skies to strike Iranian targets and given this the IDF should draw up its own maneuvering plans. The experts note that Israel should continue dialogue with Russia while keeping a balance between Moscow and Washington.


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