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Press review: EU blackballs Lukashenko and more Gulf Arab states eye ties with Israel

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, August 18
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Valery Sharifulin/TASS
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
© Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Izvestia: EU blackballs Lukashenko

On August 17, leading parliamentary factions of the European Parliament stated that they do not recognize Alexander Lukashenko as the elected president of Belarus, and branded him persona non grata in the EU. They demanded "new and free elections, under the supervision of independent observers," their statement reads. The document also calls on Russia not to meddle in the affairs of Belarus.

The fact that Brussels does not recognize the results of the Belarusian election became clear back on August 14, following a meeting among the EU’s top diplomats. Back then, they deemed the country’s election results as falsified, and concurred on imposing individual sanctions against several Belarusian officials. A source in European diplomatic circles told Izvestia that the restrictions would include the usual freezing of EU assets and banning entry to the EU. The names to be put on the blacklist are currently under discussion.

However, not everyone in the EU would like to intervene in the domestic affairs of Belarus. Izvestia’s sources in the European Parliament noted that this statement had been made not on behalf of the entire parliament, but on the behalf of separate political movements, which means that it does not reflect the position of the entire legislative body.

Moscow has lambasted the European Parliament’s statement.

"We are the Union State, and Belarus is our closest neighbor. We are told not to meddle. But why on earth would the EU meddle? As far as I know, the republic does not form part of the EU," First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s (upper house of parliament) Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov told the newspaper. "Belarus has its lawfully elected president. The government and the Belarusian nation, not the EU, will decide what to do next. We already know how its meddling worked out in the past, when the union posed as a guarantor for the peaceful transition of power in Kiev, and we all remember how that ended. I think that the European Parliament slightly exceeds its authority. This matter concerns the Belarusian nation, they will deal with it themselves. If we should not need to meddle, then neither should the EU," the senator stressed.


Izvestia: US-Taliban deal on the rocks

The deal between Washington, Kabul and the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) is under threat. Kabul has suspended the process of releasing 400 remaining Taliban members due to the objections made by France, Australia and the United States. They suspect that the list of released prisoners includes people involved in the killing of French, Australian and American citizens in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump wants to include the US-Taliban agreement on a list of successful deals made during his administration in order to rack up political points for this presidential campaign, Izvestia notes. According to recent opinion polls, so far, 46% of Americans are ready to support Trump in the election, while 50% say they will vote for Trump’s most probable Democratic rival Joe Biden.

When Trump promised that American soldiers would pull out of Afghanistan, everyone saw this as some utopia, political analyst and post-Soviet expert Galiya Ibragimova told Izvestia. "When the US leader began to lobby for a deal with the Taliban, people said that it was stillborn. Everyone understood that Afghanistan is not a priority issue for the Trump administration, and they had no illusions about it," she explained.

The expert added that the US leader had been repeatedly criticized for negotiating with the Taliban, a terrorist organization. "So it turns out that the US, a global power, has begun to negotiate with a group considered a terrorist entity in many countries, including the United States itself, and not with a state that is a subject of international relations. They [the Taliban] have become a political subject, they have become a significant power within Afghanistan," Ibragimova told the newspaper.

The events in Afghanistan are a direct factor in the US election race. President Trump needs to show his electorate that he had achieved progress, and he sees a peace deal with the Taliban as major proof that his policy is a success, Eduard Solovyev, who heads the Post-Soviet Research Department of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) told Izvestia.

"The end of America’s presence in Afghanistan and the settlement of the situation there formed part of Trump’s election campaign back when he ran for his first term. He wants to use this promise as a trump card before the new election campaign. However, right now, Afghanistan has taken a backseat. US voters have other priorities, namely in foreign policy like stepping up the confrontation with China, and trying to rebuild relations with European allies," the expert noted.


Kommersant: More Gulf Arab states mulling ties with Israel

A number of Arab states may follow the example of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which agreed to normalize relations with Israel, both Israeli and US politicians working on the agreement with Abu Dhabi confirm. Oman and Bahrain have been named among the next possible candidates, Kommersant reports.

So far, Israel has established diplomatic relations with Egypt (in 1979) and with Jordan (in 1994). However, in recent years, the situation has changed, and the Palestinian issue has taken a backseat, although officially, it still remains the main obstacle for establishing ties between many Arab states and Israel. It is no coincidence that Israel’s suspension of its planned annexation of part of the West Bank was one of the conditions for the Israel-UAE deal. Other Arab states expect the same of Israel when discussing peace in the region, the newspaper points out.

A deal with Saudi Arabia may also be in the works, Kommersant suggests. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the importance of dialogue with Saudi Arabia, reiterating that Israel’s reconciliation with the Arab world may facilitate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and not the other way around.

"It is more difficult for Saudi Arabia than for Oman or Bahrain. A deal with Israel may cause domestic unrest there. While Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has a pragmatic stance on contacts with Israel, many members of the royal family, including the king himself, as well as members of the religious and political elite, are against any convergence of both states, at least in the near future," Grigory Kosach, a professor at the Lomonosov Moscow State University, told Kommersant. He pointed out that the Saudi monarch has the title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and he is considered the main defender of the interests of Muslims. "There have been calls within the Islamic world for revoking this title from the Saudis, and open contacts between Riyadh and Israel may deepen the rift," the expert noted. However, according to him, the reaction of state-run Saudi media shows that the kingdom supports a pragmatic approach to relations with Israel.


Vedomosti: Russia’s oil industry crisis impedes overall recovery

In July, all Russian industrial sectors except resource-based sectors indicated a recovery. The overall volume of production dropped 8% lower than last year’s figures, on the other hand, it rose 3.4% higher than last month. The Russian Federal State Statistics Service informed that including seasonal and calendar factors, Russia’s industrial sector grew by 1.5% compared to June.

Oil producers and refineries have been named among the outsiders, however (oil production dropped 15%, while oil processing went down by 11%), along with fuel producers (with a 10-15% drop in production recorded), producers of construction materials (brick production is down by over 10%) and steelworkers involved in manufacturing certain categories of goods.

"A recovery was recorded in July among the majority of processing industries," Vladimir Salnikov from the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Range Forecasting told Vedomosti. "Normally, the steeper a drop is, the faster the recovery."

However, this recovery has been thwarted by the ongoing crisis in the hydrocarbons industry. According to Salnikov, the growth of industrial production in Russia will remain negative due to the industry being dominated by the extraction of mineral resources, which will be on the decline within the OPEC+ agreement and due to low demand within the economy.

Georgy Ostapkovich, who heads the Center for Market Studies at the Higher School of Economics, told Vedomosti that the main factor impeding businesses from entering an active growth phase is the "uncertain economic situation." Companies cannot make long-or short-term predictions regarding their finances when it is unclear whether a second wave of the novel coronavirus is going to strike, whether oil prices would rise or drop, or whether banks would increase or lower their credit rate, the expert said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia reaches peak in job dismissals

Russia has reached a peak in job dismissals compared to previous years, Levada Center, a Russian independent polling and sociological research organization, noted. In July, 17% of about 1,500 respondents noted that they or their family members had received delayed payments, 28% said that their salary had been cut, and 29% reported that they or their family members had been fired.

The analysis of employer activity shows that this year, it reached a peak low in late April, the SuperJob research portal informed Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Researchers have calculated an index measuring the recruitment activity of employers on the Russian market. In late April, this index had reached 42% of the average pre-crisis (or pre-quarantine) level. However, after the coronavirus restrictions had been lifted, the activity of employers began to rise.

"Currently, the labor market index hit 84% compared to the average figures before the crisis," SuperJob spokesman Konstantin Tikhov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Yet, wage offers have dropped on average by 25-30% from the pre-crisis level."

"According to our researchers, the recovery of the Russian economy will take several years," he noted, adding that the activity of job searchers is lower than the employer index. "This is due to the fact that those people who thought of changing their job abandoned this idea in favor of stability. Seasonal factors have also played a role. The majority of people currently searching for work preferred to spend the summer in their country houses or in small cities," Tikhov stated. "It is expected that by early fall, the activity of job searchers will rise. This will increase competition for job offers. However, highly qualified specialists will stay in demand, and they will be entitled to higher wages," he added.



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