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Press review: Erdogan using refugees to blackmail EU and Netanyahu’s party wins election

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, March 4

Izvestia: Turkey uses Syrian war refugees as bargaining chip to blackmail EU

The real number of refugees fleeing from Syria’s Idlib to Turkey has been sorely overblown, sources familiar with the situation told Izvestia. Experts believe that Ankara is using the dire humanitarian situation as a bargaining chip at talks with the European Union.

During the fighting in Idlib not more than 260,000 people fled to Turkey, according to sources close to the Syrian government. This figure, which has been confirmed by objective monitoring, is much less than 1 million as Turkey had earlier claimed.

The Erdogan regime is apparently using these exaggerated refugee numbers as a tool for achieving two goals, military expert Vladislav Shurygin said. "[Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is frightening Europe with them in order to force it to interfere in the conflict and get more preferences and money by bargaining," the expert noted. At the same time, the Turkish leader seeks to exert pressure on Russia through international organizations to make it stop the anti-terror operation in Idlib. "When Turkey crushed the Kurdish enclave around Afrin, hundreds of thousands of Kurds and Arabs fled. On the contrary, Ankara was not worried about their fate then," he noted.

The refugee problem has become a headache for Ankara, but now this is a good way to persuade the Europeans to pressure Moscow over the Syrian conflict, Yuri Mavashev, a Russian expert on Turkey pointed out.

Here, it’s unclear what the EU plans to do to contain the flow of refugees. The question is why over the past four years the EU, who has come up against Turkey’s threats to "flood Europe with migrants," has failed to invent Plan B? According to experts polled by Izvestia, there are no alternatives here and the 2016 deal remains the only way to solve the migration crisis.

German politician Lars Patrick Berg, a member of the SEDE committee in the European Parliament from the Identity and Democracy Group, told the paper that the EU should definitely say "no" to Erdogan’s migration blackmail and consider it as an attack on the EU’s sovereignty and integrity. As a response to Erdogan’s shakedown, the politician suggests introducing new sanctions against Turkey.


Media: Netanyahu’s party wins Israel’s third election in a year

Israel’s ruling party Likud won the parliamentary election on Monday. With 90% of the vote counted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party has secured 36 seats while the Blue and White centrist political alliance led by Benny Gantz has garnered 32 seats. This was the third election over the past year because in the two previous polls, none of the parties managed to set up a ruling coalition, Vedomosti writes. Although the final outcome will be announced only at the beginning of next week, the prime minister has already declared a landslide victory "despite all hardships" and vowed to start forming a coalition as soon as possible.

Netanyahu, who has recently faced accusations of bribery, fraud and breach of public trust, needs the support of the population and the Knesset. The situation when the incumbent prime minister is under investigation is unprecedented for Israeli politics and it’s unclear whether President Reuven Rivlin could entrust Netanyahu with forming the coalition, the paper writes. Although Netanyahu remains a popular politician, the court is likely to slap accusations on him, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies Irina Zvyagelskaya said. "The question is whether the premier’s seat could safeguard him from a trial."

Israeli experts told Izvestia that Likud’s high performance in the March election campaign can be attributed to Netanyahu’s activity on the international arena. First, the prime minister hosted the January 23 international forum in Jerusalem marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. The event was attended by leaders from 46 countries. Second, he helped free Israeli national Naama Issachar, who was sentenced to 7.5 years in Russia for carrying hashish. The third factor that contributed to Netanyahu’s success is the publication of the White House’s "Deal of the Century," which took into account all Israeli territorial claims.


Izvestia: Trump agrees to attend summit of five permanent UNSC members

The United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members could soon agree on a timeframe and a venue for a summit, which Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested holding back in January. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that the initiative had been backed by the leaders of France, China and the United States. The United Kingdom is also expected to endorse the proposal because London sides with Washington’s stance, Chairman of the Russian Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev told Izvestia.

"Britain has no room for independent action here. Let’s say that a turning point has come and soon actual preparations for arranging the meeting will begin," Kosachev said, noting that the timeframe and venue depend on the participants’ political will.

According to Lavrov, besides the challenging issue of nuclear disarmament, the parties are expected to discuss regional conflicts, new challenges and threats such as international terrorism, drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime, as well as human trafficking, migration issues and new technologies, which could slip out of control and pose a serious threat to humanity.

It’s easier to arrange this meeting of the five UNSC permanent members in New York, said Pavel Podlesny, Head of the Center for Russian-American Relations at the Institute for the US and Canadian Studies. "China and France backed the idea to meet a long time ago and now the US has agreed, and therefore Britain has no other option. It’s easier to hold the discussion in New York ahead of a session of the UN General Assembly as Donald Trump has offered," he noted.

The meeting is expected to take place before the US presidential election in November 2020. This will be another chance for Trump to win extra political points. "Certainly, this meeting should not be delayed. This will be a chance to discuss the most vulnerable issues, including arms control," the expert said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Arab leaders embark on creating anti-Turkish front

Turkey’s confrontation with Damascus is forcing Assad to create surprising alliances. Authorities in Eastern Libya opened a diplomatic mission in the Syrian capital on March 3. This comes eight years after the two countries, affected by the Arab spring events, had severed contacts. Neither the government of Eastern Libya nor the Assad administration are hiding the fact that they are restoring their partnership in order to counter Erdogan’s belligerent policy, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Syrian President Bashar Assad received Libya’s delegation consisting of Deputy Prime Minister Abdel Rahman Al-Ahiresh and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij. The parties at the talks agreed that the events in Libya and Syria were links in a chain. According to them, the policy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was aimed at pursuing personal interests and was a destabilizing factor in the region.

In accordance with the agreements signed between the Eastern Libyan government and Damascus, now all Syrian mercenaries captured by the Libyan National Army, will be handed over to Syria’s authorities. The documents also envisage close cooperation in exchanging intelligence data. This means trouble "on the ground," according to the paper. Military operations march on in both Libya and Syria despite the ceasefire deals promoted by Russia and Turkey.

Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov, who heads the Center for Islamic Studies at the Innovative Development Institute, told the paper that both governments have shown that they were ready for joint actions against Turkey. "I don’t believe that especially for this any assistance of the Arab monarchies [supporting Commander Haftar] was needed," the analyst said. "Damascus and Tobruk are able to find common ground independently. They have a common enemy now — Turkey — which these regimes are at war with."


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia mulls reducing key rate after surprise Fed rate cut

The US Federal Reserve has announced a surprise move to cut its key rate. This was the regulator’s response to the threats hovering over the global economy from the coronavirus spread and a way to stop panic on financial markets. This decision by the Fed could also prompt the Bank of Russia to slash the key rate in March, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

The Fed’s emergency rate cut was the first since the 2008 global economic crisis, when the regulator urgently lowered the rate twice. First, after the US stock market had crashed and then after the financial behemoth Lehman Brothers collapsed, the paper recalled.

Global markets have positively responded to the Fed’s decision. However, investors understand that this monetary accommodation is not effective in a situation when people are limited in travel and production has stopped, chief analyst at Sovkombank Mikhail Vasilyev said. Another measure such as tax incentives (increasing budget spending) would be more effective, and this could be announced later, he noted.

According to Anton Pokatovich, chief analyst at BCS Premier, by cutting the rate by 0.5 percentage points, the Fed has reduced its capabilities to support markets in case of a further decline. He estimated that the risks of a market collapse in March were high.

The analyst believes that the Fed’s decision could encourage the Bank of Russia to lower the key rate at its meeting on March 20. In January, the Russian Central Bank hinted that it was ready for this move, but recently the market doubted this scenario amid the ruble’s depreciation.


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