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Press review: Has Libya gained from Berlin’s talks and will Assad break up Russia, Turkey

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, January 20


Izvestia: Takeaways from the Berlin conference on Libya

The participants in the Berlin conference have called for a political solution to the conflict in Libya without outside interference and acknowledged that the issue could not be resolved through the use of force. However, they were unable to bring delegates from Tobruk and Tripoli to the negotiation table.

The experts interviewed by Izvestia are certain that an intra-Libyan conference is required to resolve the crisis.

The Berlin conference is undoubtedly a positive step, member of the German Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee Waldemar Gerdt told the paper. He stressed that Libya needed a strong leader who would be able to bring numerous groups and clans under his control. Only then will it be possible to gradually shift to democratic principles in order to shape the country’s statehood, he added.

Prime Minister of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj earlier called for the deploying international forces to Libya in order to stop Haftar’s offensive to seize Tripoli. However, according to Grigory Lukyanov, a senior lecturer at Higher School of Economic s’ Faculty of Social Sciences, such initiatives will only scare away supporters of the GNA’s leadership.

"According to the public perception, that would be associated with intervention. The relatively recent historical period, when Italy colonized Libya, is still fresh in people’s memories. Haftar’s propaganda extensively uses the foreign intervention factor to show the failure of his opponents," the commentator stressed.

The problem is that, despite the weakness of the Government of National Accord, most of the political actors in Tripoli, where about 2.5 million people live (that’s slightly less than one half of the country’s population) are still not ready to recognize Field Marshal Haftar’s victory.

"There is a lot to discuss here, but inside Libya, not at international conferences, and this is Berlin’s major shortcoming. However, the meeting in the German capital can be a forerunner for a conference of that kind," Lukyanov concluded.


Kommersant: Belarus, Russia struggle for breakthrough in oil transit

Moscow and Minsk will apparently not step up negotiations on the conditions for pumping Russian oil through the country. No substantial rapprochement has been achieved between the parties, while the transit rate will be adjusted for inflation by 6.8% starting from February 1, Kommersant writes.

Belarus is ready to concur with the transit rate inflation adjustment so as to begin new talks on oil prices by this coming summer, taking into account the environmental tax and calculations for compensation payouts for last year’s contaminated oil supplies, the paper’s sources familiar with the situation said.

The latest round of bilateral consultations was held on January 16. There is no information on new meetings so far, a spokesman for Acting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who is involved in the talks, informed Kommersant.

According to one of the paper’s contacts, at the last working meeting on the issue it turned out that Minsk calculated the tariff based on the volume of delivery to its refineries standing at 17.5 mln tonnes, while Russia builds on the agreement to supply 24 mln tonnes. "It is logical that, if Belarus focuses on volumes that amount to less than 18 mln tonnes, it will want to compensate for the lost profits with a higher tariff," he explained.

On the other hand, Sergey Garamita of Raiffeisenbank believes that, if Minsk insists on raising the tariff by 20-30% or more, Russian companies could redirect part of the flows from the Druzhba pipeline to seaports. Russia’s Transneft oil transporting company is capable of increasing the capacities at Primorsk, Ust-Luga and Novorossiysk by at least 30 mln tonnes. Another option could be redirecting oil for refining in Russia. Based on requests from shippers for 2020, deliveries to Russia’s refineries will rise by 13 mln tonnes.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Maduro ready for talks with US and Venezuela’s opposition

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has expressed his willingness to foster ties with the United States despite the fact that Washington’s policy towards Caracas has failed, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. In an interview with the Washington Post, he also made a number of statements regarding the domestic political feud within his country.

Referring to relations with the US, Maduro said he was trying to contact President Donald Trump directly to promote dialogue. He mentioned US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom he believes is responsible for the failure of Washington’s policies in the Latin American country.

Contacts with the Americans would be desirable for Maduro, because that would show the world that the US recognizes him to some extent, Viktor Kheifets, director of the Ibero-American Studies Center at St. Petersburg University, explained to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"However, Washington’s readiness has not been seen so far, though there has not been much pressure from the White House over the past two weeks. As for the statements about [his] willingness to foster dialogue with his opponents inside the country, here Maduro is just trying to buy time, since he has nothing to offer the opposition, and they are not inclined to meet him halfway," he stressed.

The expert noted that Venezuela’s incumbent president has a certain resistance resource and that the military servicemen loyal to him have no intention of defecting to the opposition yet. Nevertheless, Maduro’s prospects to remain in power in the long run are bleak, Kheifets projected.


Kommersant: Russian-Turkish deals on Syria’s Idlib remain unstable

The situation in Syria’s Idlib de-escalation zone has rapidly deteriorated over the past few days despite the ceasefire brokered by Moscow and Ankara, Kommersant writes. According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his patience is running out. He earlier discussed the situation in Idlib with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the talks in Berlin. Meanwhile, media reports say that Ankara is handing over weapons to pro-Turkish Syrian groups in order to stop Assad’s offensive. In turn, Moscow accused the West of preventing the total mop-up of terrorist pockets of resistance in Idlib.

According to the Russian military, terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra (outlawed in Russia) are responsible for the deterioration of the situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone.

At the January 8 meeting between the two presidents in Istanbul, they announced the cessation of hostilities in Libya. However, it turned out that the next day that an agreement on Syria’s Idlib had been reached as well. Moscow earlier hosted negotiations involving high-ranking delegates from Turkey and Syria.

The agreement on Idlib stipulates setting up a 15-20 kilometer deep "safe zone" around Idlib. It also envisages the pullout of Jabhat al-Nusra militants and heavy equipment from the area.

"Bashar Assad’s forces has continued bombing towns in Idlib and a ground offensive. Accordingly, efforts to establish a truce in Idlib failed. This is not in Assad’s interests, since the Russian-Turkish agreements prevented him from entering Maaret Naaman, a strategically vital inhabited community in Idlib," Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) expert Kirill Semenov told the paper.

He added that Russia was ready to abide by the ceasefire agreement, but "Assad is rushing to solve the Idlib dilemma by dragging Russia into new operations."


Vedomosti: Foreign direct investment in Russia returns to stable level

Foreign investors poured over $26.9 bln into Russian non-financial companies in 2019, Vedomosti writes citing data provided by Russia’s Central Bank. That’s 4.6 times more than a year earlier ($5.9 bln) and slightly less than in 2017 ($27.1 bln). The net inflow of investment into Russia’s economy amounted to a mere $600 mln, but this is the first positive result since 2016. In 2018, the net outflow exceeded $23.7 bln, the record figure held since 2014.

In 2018, investment fell due to geopolitical risks and businesses’ concerns that new restrictions were on the horizon, the paper quotes Dmitry Polevoy, Chief Economist at the Russian Direct Investment Fund, as saying. In 2019, geopolitical fears weakened substantially, risks decreased, and global growth slowed down, increasing the uncertainty of foreign investment, he explained.

That said, 2018 was an abnormal year, with anxiety soaring in the business community, recalls Dmitry Dolgin, Chief Economist for Russia and CIS countries at ING Bank. In previous years, when the situation was more stable, direct investment into the non-financial sector came to $20-30 bln annually, the expert noted. "We have returned to the normal trajectory," he pointed out.

The global struggle against offshore companies has affected the investment inflows into Russia since 2014. Nothing fundamental happened in 2018 and 2019, says Rustam Vakhitov, International Tax Partner at Crowe Expertiza. However, the balance could be affected by the overall deoffshorization process and capital amnesty. Thus, due to the drop in foreign investment, the money went directly to Russia.


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