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Press review: Who’s joining Sochi’s Congress and Israeli PM to urge Putin to abandon Iran

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday


Kommersant: Syrian National Dialogue Congress participants remain a mystery

The decision to put together a commission to hammer out constitutional reform is expected to be the key takeaway of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which will open in Sochi on Tuesday, according to Kommersant, which has a draft of the documents that will be reviewed by the Congress participants. Sources told the newspaper, Western countries proposed their own, alternative ‘peace’ project for Syria and did everything to ensure that the Moscow event ‘failed’.

According to the newspaper, Russia plans to greet 1,600 delegates representing various ethno-confessional and political groups of Syria. However, the exact composition of the participants remains a mystery until the very end. Many of those who wanted to come to Sochi, did not receive an invitation, or refused to come. Thus, after lengthy consultations, part of the united Syrian opposition, represented in the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), as well as the Kurdish Democratic Union Party will not attend the event. "That’s ok if certain political forces do not want to come. In Sochi, we are waiting for those whose voice has not yet been heard, representatives of local communities and administrative councils," a diplomatic source in Moscow told Kommersant.

Realizing that the number of participants may raise doubts about the legitimacy of any decisions by the Sochi conference, Russia has tried to obtain UN support, the newspaper wrote. In particular, the text of the congress’ final statement, mentions the 12 principles discussed at the Geneva talks between the Syrian opposition and official Damascus. The statement also includes an appeal to the UN Secretary General with an appeal to entrust his special envoy "to assist in the organization of a constitutional commission in Geneva." As a result, on Saturday, practically at the 11th hour, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres agreed to send UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to Sochi. According to Kommersant, this has been regarded as a diplomatic victory for Moscow, as many Syrian politicians wanted to make sure that the congress would receive the blessing of the UN before deciding on the trip. However, sources told the newspaper, that the EU might not support any process of rebuilding Syria led by Russia.

Qadri Jamil, leader of the Moscow platform of the Syrian opposition, told Kommersant that opponents of the visit to Sochi within the HNC "strongly regretted their decision" after they learned that de Mistura was going to visit the Congress.

So far, according to the newspaper, Sochi's main intrigue is the question of how 1,600 people will agree in one day on issues that the opposition and Damascus have not able to negotiate for several years within the framework of the Geneva peace talks.


Kommersant: Israeli leader might try to convince Moscow to abandon support for Tehran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will briefly visit to Moscow on Monday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu, who is the only global leader who has close relations with the presidents of the United States and Russia, will focus on the idea jointly deterring Iran. According to Kommersant source in Washington, familiar with the content of the talks between Netanyahu and Donald Trump, the United States and Israel are counting on persuading Moscow to stop Iran from expanding its presence in Syria, near Israel’s borders. At the same time, Israeli ambassador to Russia Gary Koren told Kommersant, despite official statements, Moscow ‘shares concerns’ about Iran's nuclear program, and therefore Netanyahu will try to convince Putin to support the US-initiated revision of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

"These will be the seventh talks between the two leaders since Russia became a key player in Syria. Despite active contacts through both foreign ministries, the high sensitivity of the issues requires discussion at the highest level," Ambassador of Israel to Russia Gary Koren told Kommersant. Considering the fact that the Iranian nuclear program is becoming one of the central topics of American-Israeli relations, the talks in Moscow will also deal with the future of the nuclear agreement with Iran, signed in July 2015 between the six international mediators and Tehran, the newspaper wrote.

On the eve of his flight to Moscow, Netanyahu confirmed that Syria would be one of the key subjects of the talks. According to the Israeli leader, he intends to "discuss the developments in the Middle East and strengthen coordination between the Israel Defense Forces and Russia’s armed forces in Syria, as well as a number of issues important for Israel’s defense."

"Israel still expects Russia to either be able to sway Iran's decision on expanding its presence in Syria, near Israeli borders, or to act as a constructive deterrent force for Tehran in the region," Al-Monitor Editor Maxim Suchkov told the newspaper.

Kommersant sources noted that Netanyahu's visit to Moscow takes place after his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos and talks with Western leaders, including US President Donald Trump. "In the face of an unprecedented crisis in Russian-American relations, Netanyahu actually remains the only world leader who has close relations with both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin," the newspaper wrote. Experts interviewed by Kommersant are convinced that in the context of strengthening the ties between the Trump administration and Israel, it is especially important for Putin to maintain productive working contacts with Netanyahu.


Izvestia: Kurdish enclave might fall under Damascus’ control with Moscow’s mediation

The Kurds are leaning toward putting Afrin under the control of Assad’s forces, two sources in Kurdish circles told Izvestia. The information was confirmed by a Russian diplomatic source. Farhad Patiev, Chairman of the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of Kurds, told the newspaper that negotiations are currently in progress. In addition, the Syrian Defense Ministry announced that the Syrian Armed Forces would enter Afrin, as well as any other region of the country, when they deem it necessary. If this happens, it would be possible to talk about an imminent end to the hostilities between the Turks and Kurds in the north of Syria, Izvestia wrote.

Operation Olive Branch, conducted by Turkey since January 20, has driven the Kurds to seek a compromise on transferring Afrin to the control of Damascus, Kurdish sources told Izvestia. "We are ready to give up the city and surrounding areas, but we must get guarantees that our interests will not suffer," one of the sources said.

According to a source in Russian diplomatic circles, a final agreement has not yet been reached, but dialogue on the issue continues. The source noted that Moscow is acting as an intermediary in this process, trying to convince the Kurds of the need to turn over Afrin to Damascus. Chairman of the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of Kurds Farhad Patiev confirmed this to Izvestia, saying, "These talks are currently in progress - both the Russian and Kurdish sides have their own conditions."

The Syrian Defense Ministry told the newspaper, that they would be ready to enter any region of the country, depending on the situation.

"We do not need an invitation, let alone permission, to occupy any place in our country. This is the Syrian army’s right. Afrin is part of Syria. And when a decision is made to enter these areas, the military will do it," Brigadier General Samir Suleiman, Director of the information bureau of the Syrian Ministry of Defense's political leadership, told the newspaper.

Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Boris Dolgov told Izvestia, "Transferring Afrin to the jurisdiction of Damascus will serve as a compromise alternative, which would help reduce tensions in the region."


Izvestia: Russia introduces test fields for new oil production technologies

Russian authorities will support the development of shale technology nationwide. That said starting from 2019, the oil industry will have an opportunity to cultivate new methods of extracting hard-to-recover shale oil at selected landfills, Izvestia wrote referring to amendments to the Subsoil Law drawn up by the Natural Resources Ministry. Due to risks and the high costs of production, the oil industry is hardly interested in developing shale oil in Russia. However, since the number of large deposits of traditional oil is drying up, Russia is being driven to extract hard-to-recover oil.

The Natural Resources Ministry has decided to further stimulate the development of non-traditional raw material stocks and create a separate type of subsoil use - special landfills. According to the Ministry, test landfills will be distributed at the request of oil companies - either through an existing license for the development of the field, or through competition based on capabilities and scientific resources. In both cases, the license would be given free of charge. Using a landfill, the company will be exempted from regular fees for subsoil exploration and oil extraction taxes.

"We expect that thanks to the mechanisms included in the draft law, the volume of hard-to-recover oil extraction will significantly increase in Russia," Russian Natural Resources Minister Sergey Donskoy told the newspaper.

Because of decreasing reserves of undeveloped traditional oil, hard-to-recover oil extraction is becoming more urgent, leading expert at the National Energy Security Fund Igor Yushkov told the newspaper. In 2014-2016, the drop in Brent crude oil prices from $100 to $35 per barrel made it more important to invest in optimizing production on existing assets. Thus, the development of shale deposits has significantly slowed down.


RBC: Suppliers of Siemens turbines to Crimea included on US sanctions list

The US Treasury slapped sanctions on Russians and companies that participated in the supply of Siemens turbines to Crimea, RBC wrote. The list also includes traders who, according to RBC sources, are supplying raw materials from Donbass to Russia.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of the Treasury included three Russians who oversaw the supply of Siemens gas turbines to Crimea in the sanctions list. Among those blacklisted are Deputy Energy Minister Andrey Cherezov, Director of the Energy Ministry’s Department of Operational Control and Management in the Electric Power Industry Evgeniy Grabchak, as well as General Director of Technopromexport (develops power plants in the Crimea and supplied turbines) Sergei Topor-Gilka. The list also included Alexey Mordashov’s Tekhnopromexport and Power Machines - the company is a minority shareholder in the Siemens Gas Turbine Technologies plant (the supplier of the four gas turbine units that were sent to Crimea). The assets of these individuals will be frozen in the United States, and they also will not be able to conduct business with the US.

"The decision by the US Department of the Treasury to include Power Machines on the sanctions list is puzzling. The motives of this action are unclear. We are trying to get to the bottom of the situation," a representative of the company told RBC.

"We are accustomed to living under sanctions. It is a pity that the main tool in international relations is pressure, not dialogue," a representative of Rostec (controls Tekhnopromexport) told RBC.

According to the newspaper, 70% of Power Machines’ equipment is supplied to export markets, the key destinations are Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe, the CIS, and so on. The sanctions will not affect the company's relations with counterparts from other countries directly, the real consequences will depend on the behavior of foreign partners and possible political pressure on them, Head of Research and Forecasting Group at ACRA Natalia Porokhova told RBC. Generally, Power Machines supplies equipment for large power plants whose construction is supervised by states, she added. "Power Machines is working in a very competitive market, and in this situation, the sanctions are unpleasant news for the company," Porokhova said.

In addition, the new restrictions were imposed on three people and four organizations that "supported the illegal trade in coal from the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics". For example, according to the list, one of the companies coming under the sanctions - Vneshtorgservis - in the spring of 2017 started operating Ukrainian enterprises, including coal mines located on the territories of the Donbass republics.


TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press review