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Press review: Biden’s summit bid to impact US, China, Russia and Israel-Iran balancing act

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, April 29
US President Joe Biden EPA-EFE/Andrew Harnik/POOL
US President Joe Biden
© EPA-EFE/Andrew Harnik/POOL

Kommersant: Biden’s bid for Putin summit creates intrigue in US-Russia-China triangle

Russia and the United States are discussing a possible summit for the first time after a lengthy pause. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed US President Joe Biden’s proposal to talk face-to-face with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to build "a stable and predictable relationship."

Despite Moscow’s move to draw up a list of unfriendly countries, with the US at the top, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was positive about Biden’s initiative. This creates a new intrigue in the US-Russia-China triangle, making Beijing, not Moscow, a major challenge for Washington. Chinese President Xi Jinping has not received a proposal from the US leader on a meeting so far, Kommersant writes.

Given that the first months of the new US administration were filled with scandals in relations with Russia, the White House’s declared readiness for dialogue with Moscow at a high level surprised many experts, Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, notes. "There is no surprise here. The Biden team views Russia more like a current problem for the US rather than a strategic challenge," he explained. "On the one hand, Moscow’s cockiness in many places of the world - from Ukraine to Venezuela, from Syria to Myanmar - irritates US politicians, and the ongoing evolution of Russia’s political system cannot be welcomed in Washington. On the other hand, the Biden administration believes that there are not so many fundamental contradictions between the two countries." First, Russia and the US almost do not vie for global markets, second, Russia’s naval forces do not pose a navigational threat through strategic transport routes for America, and third, there is no ideological challenge by Moscow anymore, Kortunov said.

"China is another case. All the components of a strategic challenge to the US exist: both fierce economic and technological rivalry and its rapidly growing Navy and the Communist Party, which is not giving up its ideological positions. China, unlike Russia, is seen as a rising power, which will insist on dividing the world in its favor."

Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies Vladimir Vasilyev shares that opinion. "The Russian-US summit, which both sides want to hold in any political atmosphere, may be defined by the formula of "write two, but keep three in mind," where China is the third." The Russian-US tango is intended to create the impression for Moscow that its foreign policy remains multi-pronged, while the US won’t stop at trying to pull Moscow away from Beijing thereby creating a chill in the heart of Russian-Chinese ties," the expert said.


Izvestia: European Parliament’s gamble to cut Russia off SWIFT likely to fail

In its relations with the European Union, Russia relies on Brussels’ actual steps rather than the European Parliament’s calls, Chairman of the Federation Council’s (upper house) Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev told Izvestia, commenting on an EP draft resolution demanding Moscow be cut off from SWIFT. The EP’s members also insist on halting Nord Stream 2’s implementation and slapping sanctions on Russian oligarchs for corruption.

Experts told the newspaper that the document won’t trigger any real consequences. This is not only because the resolution is advisory, but also due to the fact that these demands are fraught with very high risks, which the EU is unlikely to take. "Cutting Russia off from SWIFT will lead to very serious fluctuations on financial markets. The initiators won’t achieve any political goals but the damage will be huge - first of all for Russian-EU relations with its significant trade turnover," said Program Director of the Russian International Affairs Council Ivan Timofeev. "If they got away with such sanctions against Iran, they’d better not repeat this ploy with Russia, because the subsequent damage and political consequences will be much more serious than in the case with Tehran."

"As for Nord Stream 2, I’m sure that nothing can stop this project. Europe is unlikely to sever ties with Moscow over Navalny," political scientist Alexander Rahr said. "This will continue to be an irritating factor because for Europe human rights remains one of its key issues. However, heavyweight European politicians understand that it’s absurd to change historic relations over just one person."

The EP’s resolution was approved amid further deterioration in relations between the EU and Russia. At first, the Czech Republic claimed that Russian intelligence services were behind a blast at an ammo depot in Vrbetice in 2014, and then they expelled more than 60 staff members of the Russian diplomatic mission. Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia followed suit in solidarity with Prague, while other EU countries backed the Czech Republic verbally. Valdai International Discussion Club Director and Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine Fyodor Lukyanov believes that the Russian aspect in small European countries serves to explain unstable domestic policy.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: France pursuing foothold in northeastern Syria

France is planning to beef up its role in Syria. The administration of the northeastern areas of the Arab Republic, which are mainly under the control of Kurdish units, is preparing to send a delegation to Paris. The intensified French efforts are not just an attempt to consolidate their sphere of influence but also a desire to counter Turkey, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

France was one of the key supporters of creating the Syrian Democratic Forces, a multinational coalition, which mainly consists of Kurdish military units. After the US launched an active campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, the SDF became their key foothold on the ground. Against this background the Kurdish structures made contacts with the US their priority. After the formal end of the struggle against the caliphate, the ties between the SDF and Washington weakened.

Meanwhile, France’s position amid this background was more consistent. Paris has also intensified its efforts amid the upcoming May 26 presidential election in the Arab Republic. France’s steps in Syria’s direction are often interpreted as an attempt to defend its right to its historical sphere of influence in the Middle East. However, this is also another attempt to counter other international players, including Turkey, according to the newspaper. A certain anti-Turkish vector in France’s moves is seen not only in what concerns the SDF, but also in cooperation with the Kurdish National Council and the efforts to stop it from cooperation with Ankara, said Kirill Semenov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council. French policy focuses on its effort to boost its role in Syria. "Besides the Kurdish track, basically Paris has no options for carrying out its own line. Moreover, France is acting here in harmony with the course of the US."


Kommersant: US shares plans for Iran with Israel

The United States and Israel have agreed on combating the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles and precision guided missiles, produced in Iran and provided to its proxies in the Middle East. During the US-Israeli meeting in Washington, Iran’s aggressive behavior was traditionally discussed. However, this won’t prevent Washington from continuing talks in Vienna on its return to the nuclear deal with Tehran and even looking for contacts with the Iranian leadership outside this negotiating platform, Kommersant writes.

The statement by US Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat shows that in its attempts to find solutions related to the nuclear deal, it’s important for Washington to show its commitment to allied relations with Israel, senior researcher at MGIMO Maxim Suchkov said. "The US promise to inform Israel about the talks in Vienna and the creation of an inter-agency group look like a safety mechanism for the Israelis in case Washington returns to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action," he noted. The commentator recalled that when the nuclear deal in 2015 was reached, it complicated US-Israeli relations. Now, nobody wants this situation to repeat, so the sides are looking for a compromise in advance.

Although the outcome of the meeting seems to be positive for Israel, it’s unclear whether Meir Ben-Shabbat managed to achieve the key goal of his visit, the newspaper says.

Meanwhile, rumors are circulating in media reports and among experts that CIA Director William Burns recently met with representatives of Iran’s authorities in Baghdad. Later, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council Barbara Slavin confirmed in her tweet that Burns met in Baghdad with Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran Ali Shamkhani. The parties discussed something more than just a nuclear deal, she said, pointing out that these could be global agreements between Iran and the US on regional security.

It’s noteworthy that this week Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia confirmed in an interview with Al Arabiya that the kingdom was working with partners in the region and in the world to find solutions to its problems with Tehran. He called Iran a neighboring state and expressed hope to have good relations with it. This was the prince’s mildest remark on Iran of late, according to the newspaper.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Zelensky’s summit proposal surprises Moscow and Vatican

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s proposal on meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the Vatican surprised both Moscow and the Holy See. Many doubt in Kiev that the meeting, initiated by the Ukrainian president, will actually take place. Judging by the statements, the sides have different views on the content of talks between the Ukrainian and Russian leaders, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

In an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, Zelensky confirmed that the meeting with Putin will be certainly held and is necessary to stop the war in Donbass and achieve a fair and stable peace. He also noted that the Ukrainian and Russian leaders had not met for a long time and this did not contribute to constructive talks. According to him, the meeting should be held in a place, which embodies peace and dialogue. The Vatican is indeed "an ideal place" for dialogue on peace, he stressed. In early February 2020, Zelensky paid an official visit to Vatican City and met with the Pope.

In his turn, Putin invited the Ukrainian leader to visit Moscow at any time but stressed that the sides could only discuss bilateral relations, and not the war in Donbass. The Russian president stressed that Kiev officials must hold direct talks with Donetsk and Lugansk. Meanwhile, Zelensky told Ukrainian reporters lately that he would not negotiate with "terrorists." Kiev did not accept the proposal on a visit to Moscow either.

Zelensky’s Chief of Staff Andrei Yermak, who was tasked with organizing the consultations, told reporters that neither the date nor the venue of a possible meeting had been agreed on. But in his opinion, the talks between Zelensky and Putin will take place and will be substantive and probably historic. Meanwhile, Russia has not made any upbeat statements about the prospect yet.


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