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Press review: Merkel’s 'dangerous views' and Trump's key to settling crisis in Ukraine

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday


Kommersant: Trump’s administration key to settling Ukrainian crisis

Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, expects the new US administration to play an important role in settling the Ukrainian crisis. "Now that Ukraine chairs the Security Council this issue is back to the Council. On February 2, there was a public meeting of the Security Council, and it was impossible to miss that the atmosphere of discussion was a far cry from what it used to be. In fact, only two delegations supported Ukraine - the UK and the US, while the rest urged a political settlement and the implementation of the Minsk accords, which is exactly what we are pushing for," Churkin said in an interview for Kommersant daily.

According to the diplomat, the Syrian settlement and tackling terrorism is obviously another top priority issue the Security Council is facing now. "We expect a logical call by US President Donald Trump for uniting efforts to counter the Islamic State (terrorist group outlawed in Russia) will retransmit into concrete approaches to the whole Syrian settlement track, which will help reach a positive outcome," he said. "The United States can join in on the measures, which are already being assumed, you may be aware of the fact that we’ve invited the Americans to the meeting in Astana headed by Russia, Turkey and Iran," Churkin added, admitting though that it would be rather challenging to "seriously get ahead without a positive and more or less active role of the United States."

When asked to comment the intention of the new US administration to slash its payments to the United Nations by 40%, he said that "the UN is not a gift by the United States to the world, but an international structure, which plays a crucial role in the settling regional and worldwide political, social and economic issues, without it, the global community would have had to solve them separately, which would be less efficient and more costly."

On the other hand, he added, "there are statutory and voluntary payments within the UN, and if the United States failed to make statutory payments this would first of all hurt Washington’s image, not to mention the existing rule that if a country’s indebtedness exceeds its two-year contribution, it is divested of UN General Assembly vote."


Izvestia: Astana peace talks set to differentiate between terrorist and opposition groups

Representatives from Russia, Iran, Turkey and Jordan are expected to put an end to the issue of divided Syrian opposition to moderate and radical groups at their meeting in Astana scheduled for February 15-16. Experts think this will seriously expedite both the task of tackling terrorists and holding peaceful talks, Izvestia wrote.

According to the newspaper's informed source in military and diplomatic circles, Russia and its partners in Astana talks are determined to define the lists of ‘moderate’ and ‘radical’ groups of the Syrian opposition during the next round of the negotiations. The former are considered as potential participants in the peace talks, while the latter will be targeted for a resounding defeat, the source added.

"On Monday, the main criteria for assessment of the groups were set - their involvement in terrorist activities, dealing with civilians and ideology," he said, adding that considering the "assumption that not all fundamentalist groups should be viewed as radical and terrorist as the main breakthrough." "The key task for now is to divide the groups, which used to be part of the former Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham(terror groups, outlawed in Russia)," the source said.

According to Elena Suponina, an advisor to the Director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, the move to differentiate between moderate and radical opposition may kill three birds with one stone. "First, this will make the war against with terrorists easier for all sides, as the military will understand which positions are permitted to be bombed and which are not," she told Izvestia. Second, ‘moderate’ groups will be able to join the peace process," Suponina said. "They will have to stop hostilities, sit down to talk with the government and agree the settlement’s parameters," she said. "Finally, the dispute between international players regarding which opposition representatives should be considered as terrorists will clear up, which will seriously facilitate cooperation towards a peace process with Turkey, Iran and Jordan, and potentially - with the United States and the countries of the Persian Gulf.


Izvestia: MEP slams Merkel’s views as dangerous for European stability

German Member of European Parliament and member of the delegation for relations with the United States, Bernd Koelmel, told Izvestia daily that the political views of the country’s Chancellor Angela Merkel are dangerous for the stability of not only Germany bur other European countries as well. "In everyday life Angela Merkel is a very good person, but regarding political issues she encourages stagnation, does not take into account the opinion of German citizens and stands for further centralization of the European Union. This particularly concerns her policy regarding the European currency, migrants and nuclear energy," he said, adding that the country will pursue a shortfall policy in case Merkel wins the election.

Speaking about the relations between the EU and the United States, the MEP said that the two "are very important strategic partners." "Much depends on the decisions that will be made during the talks between institutions and EU countries’ leaders on the one hand and Donald Trump’s administration on the other.

"For Trump as a new player on the political arena, it is necessary to get in contact with the European Union as a guarantor of peace, stability and welfare on the European continent," Koelmel said.

"In the economic sphere as well as the issues of safety and freedom, the partnership between the EU and the US is top priority. Obviously, there are certain issues, which should be discussed in the near future in order to find common ground, for example with regards to the Iranian nuclear deal, which is not subject to revision. Also, a special focus should be put on trade, currency and export issues," he said, adding though that he expects the two sides "to find correct decisions as they have more common values and interests than contradictions."

Also, he added, both sides are "interested in improving the relations with Russia as an important partner in solving global problems."


RBC: Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency to sell off bankrupt fugitive banker's assets

Settlements with creditors of the failed lender, Mezhprombank, (the International Industrial Bank, or IIB) at the expense of its former CEO and beneficiary Sergei Pugachev will begin in the near future, RBC business daily wrote on Thursday with reference to market insiders. Lower Venn Farm, an 18th century estate in the county of Herefordshire in the UK, disclosed by order of the London Court, is expected to be the first foreign asset to be sold, the newspaper says.

According to players on the luxury property market interviewed by RBC say the transaction may be worth anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of pounds. "The latest deal involving this asset was registered in 2003. It was worth 379,000 pounds. At the moment, the asset may be worth up to 686,000 pounds taking into consideration the dynamics of average indicators adjusted for inflation in the region," Etage Real Estate’s consultant Yulia Ananyeva told the newspaper. She added that this estimation is relevant for middle class property, though the estate "could have undergone major repair works, which could crucially change its status."

In this case the cost of the asset could rise up to 3 mln pounds, she added. Experts at Kalinka Group estimate the cost of the estate at around 600-700,000 pounds.

Earlier the cost of another London estate - Old Battersea House built in the late 17th century - was estimated at 14-15 mln pounds. Those are the first Pugachev’s assets seized in the United Kingdom to be sold. According to a source in the Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA), which is the bankruptcy trustee of Mezhprombank, "the agency is now involved in searching for assets owned by Pugachev in other jurisdictions." The former Mezhprombank CEO, who fled to the UK and later to France, is accused of embezzlement and abuse of office. In 2016, Russian Prosecutor General’s Office requested Pugachev’s extradition from the UK. A short while later the former banker left the UK in violation of the High Court’s resolution.



Vedomosti: VEB claiming extra oil and gas revenues to seek cheap financing for investment projects

Russian President Vladimir Putin has requested to find sources of cheap long-term funding for Russia’s development bank VEB, Vedosmoti writes citing sources familiar with the matter. One of the options is to take part of the extra oil and gas revenues, two people close to the bank told the newspaper and two federal officials confirmed the information.

At present, additional oil and gas revenues are transferred to the Reserve Fund, and when it reached 7% of GDP - they will flow to the national Wealth Fund. What VEB is proposing is to create another target fund to finance investment projects, including those carried out by the institution. However, a federal official told Vedomosti that so far there are no profound discussions regarding the matter underway. According to VEB’s development strategy to 2021, the institution can hardly do without low-cost financing. Both Finance Ministry and Economic Development Ministry are expected to object the idea, the newspaper writes.·


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