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Press review: Macron's Donbass peace plan and Assad no longer the 'bad guy'

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, June 28
Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko and French President Emmanuel Macron EPA/ALAIN JOCARD/POOL
Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko and French President Emmanuel Macron


Media: Macron puts forward new peace formula for Donbass

At Monday's talks in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko agreed to work out new proposals on settling the Ukrainian crisis. No details of the new strategy have been unveiled so far, but Poroshenko did not rule out that it may be called "the Macron formula," highlighting the active role of the new French leader, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Macron did not reveal any details, saying only that the approach should be changed to avoid "fruitless discussions." He called for hashing out new ideas before next week’s G20 summit in Germany, not ruling out that the leaders of the Normandy Four group (Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France) may meet within the next 10 days.

Kiev sees the G20 summit as a turning point in the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the paper says. The principal difference in positions, hindering a compromise on Donbass, is that Kiev seeks to eliminate the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, while Moscow accepts their existence and recognition. In the framework of the Normandy Four, tensions continue to mount as the Ukrainian side sees Moscow as its adversary in the conflict, while Russia’s delegation insists on its role as a mediator on a par with Germany and France, the paper says.

The Ukrainian side is hammering out a bill on a new format for their Donbass operation, terminating the anti-terrorist effort without martial law being declared. According to the paper, Kiev is eyeing a hybrid format of carrying out the military operation. By late summer, Kiev also plans to sign an agreement on defense cooperation with Washington, which has not been unveiled so far. Poroshenko earlier said that during his visit to Washington he had discussed arms supplies to Ukraine.

Experts in Kiev say the defense weapons are a kind of a US "stick" aimed at intensifying the Donbass talks, while the new French president may introduce a "carrot" for the negotiating parties.

Andrey Buzarov, a Ukrainian expert in international affairs and legal issues, told RBC daily: "It’s obvious for everyone that Macron is trying to step up the work of the Normandy format and is putting in great efforts, meeting with Putin, Poroshenko and other leaders on the issue." Lately, Germany, France and Ukraine have made it clear that they are ready for a meeting, while Russia has not confirmed any plans so far, he said.

"Given the overall regional and geopolitical situation, the US and Russia continue playing a key role in a possible settlement to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and so until a meeting between Trump and Putin takes place, chances are dim for the Normandy Four talks," the expert said.


Vedomosti: Putin-Trump talks not anticipated to be productive

Advisers of US President Donald Trump say that Washington should keep Moscow at an arm’s length, suggesting a brief meeting instead of full-format talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Vedomosti writes on Tuesday. The Russian side will be ready to accept any meeting format that will suit Washington, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. The White House said it has not decided if the meeting between the two leaders would be held and no such talks are on the agenda now.

Former Russian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Andrey Baklanov, who is deputy chairman of the Council of the Association of Russian Diplomats, said the format is less important and what matters most is the agenda and the readiness of leaders to discuss the pressing issues. Usually at summits, meetings between leaders take place in two formats: they can be planned beforehand and be included on the agenda, or they may be held on the sidelines of an event and prepared by the negotiating teams, he said. "Sometimes this is a brief meeting, when a very important issue is discussed and an agreement on which is reached."

At their first meeting, Putin and Trump will pursue different goals, said William Pomeranz, Deputy Director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington. For Trump, the mere fact of a meeting is important since he has spoken a lot about his plans to mend ties with Russia and now he will have a chance to prove this. Putin wants the US to take certain steps, including guarantees that the sanctions won’t be expanded, the expert said. Trump will be "walking a tightrope." Trump cannot be too open or friendly with Putin, and the format of meeting he had with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov won’t work this time, and will only fire up suspicions among the US Congress and the establishment over his true intentions, Pomeranz stated.

Russia is the only foreign policy trajectory where the Republicans work to tie Trump’s hands, he elaborated. Expectations about the meeting in Germany’s Hamburg should be modest: Putin won’t get what he wants from Trump and the US president cannot improve relations with Russia alone, Pomeranz noted. So far, Trump does not have any team that can conduct his foreign policy, while many positions in the State Department remain vacant and the tools for improving bilateral ties are beyond the framework of current relations. The war on terror in the Middle East may become such a tool, but it is inaccessible now and in the near future, according to the expert.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: West changes its tune on Assad

Western capitals are reshaping their agenda on Syria. Recent statements by prominent politicians and top brass show that Syrian President Bashar Assad is currently off the radar as the main villain, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, said Washington has nothing against Damascus, if it puts up an efficient and coordinated fight against the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia).

French President Emmanuel Macron also surprised the Western mainstream media last week, saying that Paris would not insist that the Syrian president must go and laid out plans to battle terrorists in the Middle East, even as part of joint operations with Russia.

"Today, the geopolitical situation in Syria has become shaky, given that the regime’s forces are not capable of fighting further, but are rather strong and won’t give up," said Yevgeny Zelenov, who heads the Department for Oriental and African Studies at the St. Petersburg branch of the Higher School of Economics.

"“The West’s position is a statement of fact that today there are five zones of influence in Syria, and one of them is a zone controlled by the Syrian regime,” he said, noting that Western countries have taken on a pragmatic stance moving their goalposts from a standoff to talks, "where a compromise is needed."

"There is only one way left - to end the conflict and then to begin talks. In this sense, Assad’s fate should be decided not on the battlefield, as demanded by the combatants just several months ago, but at the negotiating table," Zelenov emphasized.


Izvestia: Russia conquers new markets in EU

In January-April 2017, Russia’s exports to the EU grew by 38%, year-on-year, to $53.8 bln, the Ministry of Economic Development said in a report, according to Izvestia. This growth was largely due to the increasing average export prices for hydrocarbons. Another factor spurring on the growth was the weather. Due to the cold winter, northern European countries increased Russian gas imports.

The most notable growth in Russia’s supplies of oil and petroleum products was seen in Portugal, Greece, Denmark and Croatia. Russian suppliers surpassed their Middle Eastern rivals here thanks to successful marketing policies, experts say. Oil and petroleum products account for more than 80% of overall Russian exports to Denmark and Croatia.

Rising exports to such countries as Greece, Denmark, Croatia and Portugal show that the geography of supplies is expanding, said Ivan Kapitonov, assistant professor at the Higher School of Corporate Administration of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. "In other words, we are increasing exports to new markets, and this is certainly a positive element. We should also bear in mind the growth of economies in European countries, as another factor," he noted.

Besides hydrocarbons, the EU saw a rise in imports of aluminum and copper, but the revenues from these supplies pale in comparison to oil and gas.


Media: Washington rushes to stoke arms race

A group of US Congressmen, led by House Armed Services Strategic Forces Chairman Mike Rogers, has submitted a proposal to the US presidential administration on withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), signed with the USSR 30 years ago, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

However, this initiative has not garnered full support, with the Pentagon, the State Department and the US National Security Council voicing concerns that this step may launch a full-scale arms race. Moscow has already hinted that it would not turn a blind eye if Washington withdrew from the INF Treaty and attempted to use the situation to bolster its military potential in Europe.

Russia will take retaliatory measures, Chairman of the Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) Committee for Defense and Security Viktor Ozerov warned. His deputy Frants Klintsevich slammed the initiative by US legislators as "a nostalgia for war," but said Russia would be never drawn into the arms race.

Mikhail Ulyanov, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Department, told RBC daily that Russia has no plans to withdraw from the INF Treaty. We still feel that the treaty meets our interests and those on European and international security.”

Moscow and Washington cannot come to terms on strategic security as they view it differently, a report prepared by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said.

"For the US, such stability refers to a nuclear arms race, while for Russia strategic stability is more focused on parity in military potential," according to the report. "There is a rather thin line between strategic and conventional arms, and the weapons considered by Russia as strategic may be viewed by the US as tactical or conventional arms."


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