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Press review: Iran wants US out of Syria talks and Turkey joins Russia in airstrikes on IS

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, January 19
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif EPA/LAURENT GILLIERON
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif


Kommersant: Iran slams door in face of US at upcoming Syria peace talks in Astana

Tehran’s latest maneuver threatens to disrupt the preparation for talks on the Syrian settlement in Astana scheduled for January 23, Kommersant writes on Thursday. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said he is opposed to US participation in the talks proposed by Russia and Turkey. The country’s President Hassan Rouhani also hinted that Washington should not take part in the talks due to its "destructive role," namely its support of terrorists.

The statements by top Iranian officials that counter the Russian-Turkish plan have shed light on a split inside the Moscow-Ankara-Tehran troika that initiated relaunching a peaceful settlement in Syria. Iran’s special stance hampers Russia’s implementation of its major foreign policy goals - the settlement of the Syrian crisis taking into account the interests of all the key players and the normalization of relations with the US under Donald Trump’s administration, the paper says.

While both Moscow and Tehran blame the outgoing Obama administration for supporting the terrorist groups fighting against the official Damascus government, their principal difference is in assessing the possible future role of the US in relaunching the peaceful settlement in Syria. Moscow is set to begin cooperation from scratch and make Washington part of the solution to the Syrian crisis under President Trump, while Tehran still views the US as part of the problem and denies it the right to take part in the peace talks.

"By resorting to this maneuver, Iran shows that it not only became an independent power center a long time ago, but it seeks to become a leader in the strategically important region and is not planning to cede ground to anyone, including Russia," Alexey Malashenko, an expert of the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Kommersant.

Iran’s special position is also explained by a difficult domestic political situation in the country. Tehran needs new trump cards in its future bargaining with the US and one of them could be an admissions ticket for the intra-Syrian talks, which Iran may try to sell at a higher price, Malashenko said.

Tehran’s maneuver also shows that the alliance between Russia and Iran in the Syrian conflict has some cracks. Experts interviewed by the paper said that the long-term goals of the two countries on a Syrian policy may significantly differ.


Izvestia: Boeing and Russian rocket maker strike bailout deal using Soyuz seat sales

The Russian Rocket and Space Corporation, Energia sealed an agreement with the US aircraft maker Boeing on settling its debt following the Sea Launch consortium’s bankruptcy. Energia’s CEO Vladimir Solntsev told Izvestia that the partners pulled off a barter deal, where Boeing will secure five seats in Soyuz spacecraft on a flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

The deal signed with Boeing is for purchasing two seats, with the US corporation getting an option for three more Soyuz seats in late 2018 and 2019, Solntsev said.

"As part of settling the debt with Boeing, we put this offer forward and the Americans accepted the collaboration arrangement in various areas of space activity, including selling seats on the Soyuz spacecraft," he said. "NASA’s contract with Boeing is expected to be signed within a month. So, we should settle the debt with Boeing during around two years. We will continue developing cooperation and the seats on the Soyuz are only part of our multidimensional relations," Solntsev explained.

The decision that Energia should pay its $330 mln debt to Boeing was announced by a California court last autumn, and the case had been under consideration for more than three years. Five tickets to the ISS cost a total of $400mln, and this deal is beneficial for Boeing, the paper writes.

"There is risk that the Americans will soon stop booking the seats in Soyuz and therefore it is good to have a guarantee that the seats on the spacecraft will be occupied in 2019," said Andrey Ionin, a Corresponding Member of the Russian Cosmonautics Academy. "It is extremely important that this serious dilemma with the Sea Launch has been solved since it had dragged Energia’s financial performance down for many years."


Kommersant: Russia teams up with Turkey in first joint airstrikes on IS in Syria

The air forces of Russia and Turkey began a joint operation against the militants of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra (terrorist groups, outlawed in Russia) on Wednesday. Nine Russian and eight Turkish jets delivered airstrikes on the town of Al-Bab, where the Turkish military has been fighting since December 2016.

Russia’s armed forces are dissatisfied that the militants are sending weapons, explosives and forces from the Iraqi city of Mosul to eastern Syria "without any hindrance." The Russian Defense Ministry accuses the US-led coalition of this, saying that it is pushing out the terrorists rather than destroying them on the spot.

Both countries’ armed forces have agreed on striking 36 targets. A military source told Kommersant that during the first stage of the operation, the two sides destroyed a significant number of the enemy’s forces and heavy weaponry.

According to Kommersant, after reaching agreements with Russia on air support the Ankara-backed Syrian armed units and the Turkish special forces, along with tank units and the Air Force began getting ready for the siege of Al-Bab and plan to drive the terrorists out of there as early as mid-February.

"Ankara indeed carried out an unsuccessful operation in December and they needed Moscow’s help," retired Colonel Viktor Murakhovsky said. "It is almost the first time when Russia is conducting such operations with a NATO member-state, and this is beneficial for Moscow and Ankara from a tactical point of view."

The operation in Al-Bab was "fully expected," Alexander Vasilyev, a senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said. Experts interviewed by the paper say that Russia and Turkey will further cooperate, at least in northern Aleppo. The situation in other Syrian provinces is very difficult. The storming of Palmyra is expected to begin once Damascus will be able to redeploy the most combat-capable units to the area.


Vedomosti: China’s president assumes role of globalization’s leader

The speech delivered by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum in Davos sounded like more lobbying for China’s new role in the global system of international relations, Vedomosti writes. Xi called on the world leaders not to give up on globalization due to the fear of its negative effects and not to "lock themselves in a dark room of protectionism." These words come at a very timely moment and the Chinese leader has made a very favorable impression both in the world and in China, the paper says.

The current forum is being held amid the upcoming inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump. The world is concerned over the incoming president’s statements about policy towards China and the absence of many world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, confirms that the system of global management has been significantly destabilized, the paper writes.

Xi arrived in Davos for the first time and immediately assumed the role of the only leader calling for cooperation. According to the Head of ‘Russia in the Asia-Pacific region’ program of the Moscow Carnegie Centre Alexander Gabuyev, over the past years China has been pretending to have the role of an active participant in outlining the rules of global governance rather than being a passive party accepting guidelines developed by others. The examples of these bids are the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Silk Road initiative.

Meanwhile, there is no global agenda in Xi’s words other than China needing to avoid quarrelling with the US. But there is a regional integrational agenda and the US’ exit strengthens the leadership of China here, according to the paper.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Gazprom pursuing its own rules in Georgia

Georgia’s parliamentary minority is summoning the country’s Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze to the supreme legislative body to listen to his explanations about the recently signed deal with Russia’s energy giant Gazprom, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Starting this year, the Russian company will pay for gas transit via Georgia in cash and not by the 10% of the gas amount supplied to Armenia. The opposition has railed against the deal as "treason" and is ready to stage protests.

Gazprom, which supplies gas to Armenia, has been trying to change the agreement with Tbilisi for a rather long time, the paper says. The Russian side was not more satisfied with the payment arrangement for the transit and it attempted to convert the gas deal into cold hard cash. The energy minister had succeeded in extending the agreement with Gazprom on previous conditions, but now the Russian side flatly refused to play by the old rules.

Gia Huhashvili, an economics expert told the paper that the opposition’s accusations are politically motivated. "It is dramatizing the situation on purpose trying to accuse the authorities of any and all sins. But this does not mean that there aren’t any questions about the new agreement with Gazprom."

The public wants to know why the gas transit agreement that was beneficial for Georgia was broken only now. The money that Georgia will receive from Gazprom won’t allow it to buy gas in the previous amounts, the expert said. "Maybe the Georgian side did not want to spoil relations with Armenia by creating gas supply problems for it. Maybe there is something else. We want to hear this from the government."


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