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Press review: Syrian deconfliction woes and Kiev's Martial Law initiative for Donbass

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, June 20

Media: US, Russia just a heartbeat away from military confrontation in Syria

Following the Russian Defense Ministry’s decision to terminate the deconfliction channel with Washington after the US-led collation shot down a Syrian jet last week, experts are increasingly worried about what lies ahead for the partnership between Moscow and Washington in Syria. Andrey Payusov, a military expert, told RBC that Russia’s withdrawal from the deconfliction memorandum only means that Russia will stop notifying the American side about the regions of aircraft activity and stop requesting their coordination. "Now the parties will be very cautious, unless a mission is laid out to deliberately down an aircraft," he said.

"Undoubtedly, Russia and the United States are competing in Syria, just like in Ukraine, using allied forces under their control," Gordon Khan, a US independent expert on Middle East, told RBC, adding that Washington is aiming for the creation of a safe zone for its allies, though Bashar Assad’s regime is preventing it. "The risk of a military confrontation between Russia and the US in Syria is heating up, while the lack of cooperation is increasingly destabilizing the Middle East," he said.

Director of the Russia - East - West Strategic Research and Analysis Center Vladimir Sotnikov agrees, saying that the Syrian conflict may morph into a more serious one. "Unfortunately, we’re getting closer to this scenario. The downing of the Syrian jet was followed by extremely sharp statements by Moscow’s representatives," he told Kommersant. "Some politicians and military are even threatening to use counter measures against US aviation, which is dangerous rhetoric," Sotnikov warned, adding that it is important ‘to localize and minimize the incident instead of intensifying it."

However, Mikhail Troitsky, an associate professor at the Department of International Relations and Russia's Foreign Policy of Moscow-based MGIMO University, does not expect a face-off. "The situation is alarming as risks are rising for both sides, but I think common sense will prevail and the military will get a signal to strive for reason and restraint," he said, adding that the incident is also unlikely to affect preparations for the meeting between Russian and US presidents, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, set for early July.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev seeks to replace anti-terror operation with martial law

As Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko gears up to meet his US counterpart Donald Trump in Washington for talks on settling the Donbass conflict, Kiev plans to finalize a bill on the issue by this week, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports. A source familiar with the matter told the publication that the strategy is to lift the anti-terrorist operation regime. “Of course, this is a war, not an anti-terrorist operation. However, the status is not only a formal reference, which specifies the situation, but the system of the authorities’ actions. If we lift the anti-terrorist operation, we’ll have to enforce another status immediately,” he said, adding that the issue is about imposing martial law across Donbass territories occupied by the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR), and the Ukrainian regions bordering the demarcation line. “A separate bill is needed because up till now the anti-terrorist operation was led by Ukraine’s Security Service, whereas martial law implies that powers will be handed over to the Defense Ministry. Both power structures and local authorities on those territories to be under martial law status should subordinate to the military forces,” the source told the newspaper.

The Ukrainian president said earlier that the draft law in question will be dubbed "On the reintegration of the occupied Donbass territories into Ukraine," adding that the bill is not an attempt to shift to martial law, but a whole set of actions and steps needed for reintegration and definition of a legal regime. Poroshenko also said that Kiev would simultaneously carry on efforts to settle the Donbass conflict at the political and diplomatic levels. Nezavisimaya’s source said closed discussions of the bill’s provisions were attended by military experts, political analysts, and representative of influential public organizations. He added that the adoption of the draft law may be a matter of 1-2 weeks. “The issue is about measures aimed at reintegration, a way to implement the Minsk accords, and not about the intention of killing thousands of people,” he emphasized, adding that no disputes in the parliament regarding the bill are expected. In addition, he said, much will depend on Tuesday’s meeting between Poroshenko and Trump, as the Ukrainian side will try and convince Washington that its vision and plan for the Minsk accords’ implementation is the right one.


Izvestia: Moscow to draw up terror blacklists for UN

Russia will compile a list of terrorist organizations and submit it to the UN's soon-to-be unveiled office of counterterrorism, as the new structure will be headed by a Russian diplomat, who will assume the post of Under-Secretary-General, the newspaper says with reference to top-ranked sources in the Foreign Ministry. Russia welcomes the initiative to form a new UN department, which was announced on June 16, and the country is ready to tackle global terrorism, the sources said.

"Moscow has made up a list of individuals who participated in terrorist activities. Currently, the document is in the process of getting approval so that the lists could be coordinated as soon as the new UN office is formed. The new department will be headed by a ‘point man’ from our team" one of the source said, though refusing to name the person. According to another source close to the UN administration, "the staff of the new department will be made up of the Secretariat’s personnel." "However, all countries belonging to the organization are encouraged to put forward their candidates for work in the new office," he said.

What the new structure will focus on is international consolidation in the war on terror and hammering out a unified list of terrorist organizations and separate terrorists, a source close to the United National told Izvestia. "The issue of a single interpretation of the term ‘terrorism’ is the most challenging. Everyone is perfectly aware of the fact that this has been the reason behind the formation of this department, though it was held up for a long period of time. There are loads of definitions of terrorism. Moreover, each country has its own list of terrorist structures," he said.

Former Deputy UN Chief Sergey Ordzhonikidze told the newspaper that hammering out a uniform definition of 'terrorism' is going to be a serious uphill battle, which may present significant hurdles. However, he added, the fact that the counter-terrorism office was created is itself a huge step forward, which may be considered a success, particularly for Russian diplomacy. "It takes months to set up a new department within such a huge mechanism as the United Nations. I will just remind you that the system employs more than 10,000 people," he said, adding that the new office will mostly be focused on analytical, consultative and coordination activities.


RBC: Gazprom Neft not seeking government compensation for OPEC deal

Russian oil major Gazprom Neft is not going to push for compensation from the deal between OPEC and non-OPEC nations on capping crude production, the company’s Chief Executive Officer Alexander Dyukov told RBC business daily. "I think extending the agreement on the production cut is a step in the right direction that will make it possible to get rid of unnecessary volatility and unpredictability. The agreement will be beneficial both for consumers and producers, and the global economy, ostentatious as it may sound. We also realize that amid low prices Russia’s oil sector should be prepared for the Finance Ministry’s unexpected initiatives aimed at increasing the burden on the industry," he said. "Obviously, a higher price is a positive factor for oil companies. On the other hand, oil companies are negatively affected by the ruble’s overvaluation," Dyukov noted. Still, he admitted that "Gazprom Neft has been aggressively boosting production over the past years - by 7-9% annually," and planned to retain high growth rates, but due to the OPEC deal, growth rates have only come to 4-4.5% per year, which " is a negative factor" for the company.

According to the CEO, low oil prices are also the reason the company is taking its time in clinching deals with foreign partners, though it has already reached agreements on developing the Arctic shelf with several international players. “Now investors are reluctant to get involved in such challenging projects as the development of the deep marine shelf, projects with high-viscosity oil and oil-bearing sand, and obviously Arctic shelf projects are among them. Nevertheless, talks are underway, and we see it as positive dynamics.

In any case, we will proceed with our geological exploration activities, with or without our foreign partners," Dyukov said. Furthermore, he added, the company cannot attract western associates to projection projects due to the existing sanctions. "Personally I think that we’re doing well without them, and though their participation would not hurt and would even help in some cases, the issue is not critical for us," he said.


Izvestia: Cutting-edge Russian radars to pinpoint targets over thousands of kilometers

Russia’s Defense Ministry is deploying a group of unique Voronezh-VP high potential radars, an advanced version of the meter-band radar, which are able to pinpoint missiles over thousands of kilometers in distance, Izvestia writes. Dmitry Stupin, RTI’s Deputy General Designer, told the publication that the existing Voronezh-DM radar locators only need an additional antenna and several modules of new equipment to operate in the centimeter band. "From the viewpoint of information opportunities there will be more informative signals and processing algorithms that will make it possible to optimize the functions and boost the efficiency of finding targets," he said.

It is assumed that the first Voronezh-VP will be deployed in the town of Olenegorsk on the Kola Peninsula by the end of 2018. At present, the Voronezh-DM radars have been deployed, being built or under trial operation in Armavir, in the Krasnodar Region, in Pionersky, in the Kaliningrad Region, in Yeniseysk, Barnaul, the Altai Region and in the Amur Region.


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