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Press review: Damascus to deal death blow to al-Nusra and CEFC set to seal Rosneft deal

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday


Izvestia: Syria’s Idlib offensive to deal final blow to al-Nusra terrorists

The Syrian army is gearing up for a large-scale offensive in Idlib, with the goal of encircling and wiping out Jabhat al-Nusra (terrorist group, outlawed in Russia), three sources in the country’s army told Izvestia on Friday. The ruling Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party also confirmed the plans to the paper.

The Syrian government forces have surrounded a large group of militants to the southeast of Idlib and seek to create a foothold for an offensive against al-Nusra’s major stronghold, Syrian army sources said. Terrorists from the Islamic State (outlawed in Russia) will be also surrounded and as these two groups fight each other, the mop-up operation is expected to be a success soon, one of the sources said.

A Syrian MP from the ruling Ba'ath Party, Jamal Rabia, told the paper that during the operation, control over the strategic Abu al-Duhur airport will be established. It will be used for a speedy and uninterrupted supply for the forces.

"Syria’s generals with the help of Russian instructors have mastered the tactics of creating "pockets" and are successfully implementing it," First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s (upper house) Defense and Security Committee Frantz Klintsevich said.

"I’m sure that in the near future if Syrian forces continue their offensive at the same pace, the territories held by militants will be liberated."


Izvestia: Russia no longer implicated for alleged role in Montenegro coup attempt

Russian officials, including Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, are not mentioned anymore in the legal proceedings in connection with the 2016 coup d’etat attempt in Montenegro, leader of the Montenegrin opposition and one of key suspects Milan Knezhevich told Izvestia.

"Now the accusations are only against two "Russian nationalists," who had been earlier called special agents," said Knezhevich, who heads the Democratic Front that unites the country’s key opposition forces. "This is a drastic change in the situation. Apparently, the prosecutor has realized that this staged case won’t be a success if it is linked to Russia."

The politician said Montenegro’s major goal is to end the trial before the presidential election set for March 2018. "The court should announce the sentence before the election to fully discredit the opposition in the eyes of Montenegrins. If they continue searching for a ‘Russian’ trace, the process may be delayed. Moreover, the prosecutors have not offered any hard evidence so far," he noted.

Montenegro also understands that if Russian state structures are mentioned in the verdict, this will inevitably result in economic losses for Podgorica. Montenegro could lose Russian investments, energy projects and tourists, Pyotr Iskenderov, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Izvestia. "This fact plays an important role when financial support from the United States and the European Union is not expected. At present, Washington is not even planning to help its traditional allies, let alone Montenegro," he stressed.


Vedomosti: China’s CEFC waiting to seal Rosneft stake purchase

The deal on selling 14.16% shares of Russian oil and gas major Rosneft to CEFC China Energy may be sealed next week, two sources close to the negotiations told Vedomosti. Another source familiar with one of shareholders said the deal may be closed "in two weeks at maximum." The document, which the sides plan to sign at a ceremony, has been already drafted, he said.

Upon closing the deal, CEFC will become the third largest shareholder of the Russian oil company, the paper writes. Other Rosneft shareholders are the state’s Rosneftegaz with 50% plus 1 share and Britain’s BP with 19.75% of shares. Qatar’s QIA and Glencore, an Anglo-Swiss multinational commodity trading and mining company, have 5.3% of Rosneft’s shares. QIA and Glencore have not commented on whether their representatives will withdraw from the board of directors.

Initially, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin expected to close the deal by the end of 2017, however, the reasons for the hold-up are unknown, the paper writes. "Most likely, the delay is because of the Chinese side," Raiffeisenbank analyst Andrey Polischuk said. CEFC reported that it had secured the approval of China’s National Development and Reform Commission in September. However, since then China has stepped up its foreign currency control, Vedomosti says.


Kommersant: Donbass reintegration law shows Kiev snubs EU, wagers on US

On Thursday, Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed a law on Donbass’ reintegration that lays the groundwork for relations with the breakaway republics and is aimed at launching a mechanism for their return to Ukraine. Although President Pyotr Poroshenko had initially worked to turn the document into a tool for fulfilling the Minsk deal, the law confirms Kiev’s refusal to honor the deal reached with the mediation of Russia, France and Germany, the paper says.

The introduction of the "Russian aggression" notion is aimed at outlining Ukraine’s new approach to the negotiations, Director of the Kiev-based Institute of Global Strategies Vadim Karasev told Kommersant. Kiev’s major goal is after signing the Minsk accords three years ago, to acknowledge that the Donbass war is a conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which will now have to come to terms. Earlier, Kiev held talks with the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, while Moscow was not considered as a party to the conflict.

"Following the adoption of the law three scenarios are possible: freezing the conflict, unfreezing it or a Russian-Ukrainian settlement on a bilateral basis," Karasev stated.

According to the expert, Kiev’s withdrawal from the Minsk deal comes as a result of its plans to turn its back on the EU and shift towards the United States. "Ukraine believes that the mediation of Germany and France has failed, given that Berlin and Paris have been unable to ensure the Minsk deal’s implementation. That’s why today Kiev is placing its strategic stake on Washington, expecting that only US strategic pressure on Moscow will be rather tough and effective," the expert said.


Kommersant: Israeli weapons eclipse Russian arms on Indian market

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is wrapping up his six-day visit to India on Friday, the first one for the Jewish state’s head for over the past 15 years. Kommersant writes that the trip has shown that military-technical cooperation is of major importance for both countries. The parties agreed to resume talks on signing a $500 mln contract to supply India with Spike anti-tank missiles. Closer ties between the two countries come amid the new "honeymoon" in US-Israeli relations and also India turning into Washington’s key partner in Asia.

India is wagering on attracting investments and cutting-edge foreign technology while Israel, which used to have rather strained bilateral relations for years, has become one of its priority partners.

Until recently, Moscow and New Delhi had been developing military and technical cooperation: for five years India had remained among top buyers of Russian weapons. However, in 2017 the situation changed, the sides did not sign any contract.

"Israel is filling a number of niches on India’s weapons market that Russia cannot occupy due to technological restrictions. The United States cannot do this either due to red tape and its intention to link weapons supplies to general political issues," Vasily Kashin, senior research fellow at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Kommersant. Israel’s Spike missiles, equipped with imaging infrared seekers, don’t have full counterparts in Russia. Besides, Israel outpaces Russia in drones and is a major supplier of these technologies to India, he said. Even if Russia has similar weapons, in some cases India still gives priority to cooperation with Israel due to its intention to diversify sources of supplies.


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