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Press review: Putin-Trump meeting produces Syrian truce and US bows out as global leader

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, July 10


Izvestia: Russia mulling downgrade in level of contacts with NATO

Moscow is considering plans to downgrade the level of its representation in the North Atlantic alliance to a temporary charge d’affaires once Russia’s current Permanent Representative to NATO Alexander Grushko steps down. Sources in Russia’s Foreign Ministry told Izvestia that the anticipated measures may be linked to NATO’s eagerness to constantly stir the pot and its reluctance to hold a constructive dialogue. The alliance’s representatives, including Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, on the one hand stress the need for talks, yet on the other hand in reality they demand that Russia should give up its foreign policy course, blaming it for all the present major crises, diplomatic sources told the paper.

"An option is on table to leave a temporary charge d’affaires in Brussels after Alexander Grushko comes back to Moscow," a high-ranking source in the Foreign Ministry said. However, the paper says it is too early to say that a decision has been made but Moscow may take these measures if no positive changes occur in the near future.

Russia also doubts that the NATO-Russia Council’s meeting, set for July 13, will be productive as the alliance is unwilling to listen to Moscow’s standpoint and tries to blame Russia for the events in Ukraine, the paper says. "It is absurd to hope for any constructive line in this situation when the opposite side only hurls accusations," a high-ranking source in the Foreign Ministry said.

First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council (upper house of parliament) Committee for Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov told Izvestia that Russia’s possible measures are justified since the alliance refuses to cooperate with Moscow. Meanwhile, NATO may change its position amid the challenging situation in the world, he noted.


Kommersant: Putin-Trump meeting gives new impetus to Syrian peace process

Talks between the Russian and US presidents at the G20 summit in Hamburg have produced a ceasefire that went into effect in southwest Syria on Sunday, Kommersant writes. Vladimir Putin praised the deal with Donald Trump as “one of the breakthroughs” that may create preconditions for resolving the Syrian crisis. The US leader said it was "time to move forward in working constructively with Russia."

The initiative brokered by Russia, the United States and Jordan serves not only as a blueprint for the Syrian settlement, but also affects the strategic interests of several neighboring states that are crucial for its implementation, experts interviewed by the paper said. The major intrigue is whether the new plan will be accepted by Iran, which earlier opposed Washington’s participation in setting up the de-escalation zones and hoped to turn southwest Syria into its foothold in the Middle East near Israel’s borders.

"By putting forward the new initiative on Syria, Moscow apparently expects to convince Iran that this is necessary. The agreement with Tehran will be crucial given that the Astana triangle will collapse without Iran," Alexey Malashenko, an expert of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said. It is obvious that Tehran won’t be excited about the new initiative, but many factors will influence Iran’s position, "including a challenging domestic political situation in the country where the struggle between conservatives and liberals is ongoing," the expert said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US bows out of global leadership role

Last week’s G20 summit in Germany’s Hamburg showed that the United States is bowing out of its role as a global leader, and this is being done at the will of the White House. According to experts, the root problem is in the US administration’s protectionist slogans, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The G20 leaders said in a joint statement that all of the forum’s countries seek to preserve open markets and continue the struggle against protectionism. However, this runs counter to Trump’s America First policy. Western analysts note that French President Emmanuel Macron had persuaded Trump to sign the document.

Chairman of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov told the paper: "The US is not insisting on its global leadership anymore." "In Trump’s view, America has the role of a global boss. It is not seeking to change anything. The world is like it is and let it be so. But if we need something, we should be able to achieve this by all means. That’s the position of a boss," he said.

However, the G20 was created to thwart the growth of any protectionist tendencies throughout the world, the expert noted. Due to its position, the US finds itself in certain isolation, but apparently Trump is not troubled by this. "A leader has emerged who declares protectionist slogans consciously and in principle. These are very significant changes," Lukyanov highlighted.

The expert also doubts if Russia is of great interest to Washington. "It is essential that for Trump, Russia is not a priority or a very important issue," according to Lukyanov. "It is crucial for Trump to reshape global trade and economy, and Russia is not a player here. It is a player in other fields."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: West draws up new Donbass settlement plan

Kiev discussed an action plan for resolving the conflict in Donbass on Sunday, and on Monday the Ukrainian capital is hosting a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Kiev seems to have changed its tune on Russia. Political expert Igor Garbaruk noted that Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko abandoned his defiant tone and apparently does not want to aggravate the Russian leadership, though it is still sticking to its guns.

Experts noted that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his newly appointed Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker conveyed news to Kiev about the outcome of last week’s Hamburg meetings. "Probably, a real plan for ending the war in Donbass has been worked out and already exists," Garbaruk said, according to the paper.

An anonymous source told the paper that the plan of action envisages a compromise on both sides. Since 2016, the Ukrainian authorities have insisted that all points of the Minsk peace deal linked to security should be implemented first, and then followed by steps devoted to a political settlement. The Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and Russia demand that these points should be fulfilled simultaneously, he said. "But the West has apparently chosen a happy medium: first the sides stop shooting and withdraw forces, and then the other points of the Minsk agreements are implemented step by step."

Poroshenko stressed at a news conference that it is up to Russia to take the first step. The Ukrainian president underscored that Kiev hopes that the US will have an active role in ensuring the guarantees that Ukraine has under the Budapest Memorandum. He made it clear that Washington won’t directly join the negotiations but will control the situation.

There is no talk of changing the official format for settling the crisis in Donbass, but some adjustments may be expected in the balance of forces, experts in Kiev say. They note that top brass from the United Nations and NATO are visiting the Ukrainian capital these days and a group of lawmakers from the European Parliament is on its way to Donbass. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is also discussing the Ukrainian crisis presently.


Kommersant: Spain’s energy giant, Gazprom Neft eye new assets

Russia’s fourth largest oil producer Gazprom Neft may become a key partner for Spanish oil producer Repsol in Russia, Kommersant writes. The parties will look for new assets near their Evrotek-Yugra joint venture, where Gazprom Neft has recently bought a 25% share.

Until now, Repsol has been developing extraction projects solely with the Independent Oil Company (NNK) owned by Eduard Khudainatov and since 2014 the Spanish company has not been active on the Russian market, also due to sanctions imposed by the West, according to the paper.

Experts say that Gazprom Neft has experience in setting up JVs on a parity basis and may be a favorable partner for Repsol. Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of Russia’s biggest gas producer Gazprom, and Repsol may agree on cooperation in Iraqi Kurdistan. Meanwhile, Gazprom Neft has not made any significant purchases on the market for a while, the paper notes. 

Repsol’s major asset in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region, in western Siberia, is a 49% share in the gas extracting JV with NNK, the paper writes. However, this cooperation may be in jeopardy due to the recent US sanctions against the Russian gas producer who is accused of cooperating with North Korea. Market players have earlier noted that Repsol could withdraw from this JV, and this may happen earlier than scheduled due to the restrictions.

The Spanish energy giant owns 40% in the Kurdamir block, which is being developed now, and also in three geological-prospecting blocks in Kurdistan. Gazprom Neft has shares in one extraction project and two geological-prospecting projects there, according to Kommersant.


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