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Press review: Russian mercenaries killed in Syria and Abbas seeks Moscow’s diplomatic sway

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, February 14
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Russian President Vladimir Putin Maxim Shipenkov, Pool Photo via AP
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Russian President Vladimir Putin
© Maxim Shipenkov, Pool Photo via AP

Kommersant: Russian mercenaries suspected of being killed in a US-backed Syria Attack

Several Russians who participated in hostilities in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor were killed on February 7 in fighting between pro-government forces in eastern Syria and members of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (outlawed in Russia). The numbers vary from source to source. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Kommersant that it is checking information about the victims, which include CIS citizens among them.

A source in the Russian military told Kommersant that the reason for the incident was an attempt by local "big businessmen currently supporting Bashar Assad" to seize oil and gas fields controlled by the Kurds, who are US allies. According to the source, the Russian command in Syria did not authorize an offensive against the oil fields, which was perceived as a "dangerous initiative". The official statement of the Russian Defense Ministry said, "The reason for the incident was that the reconnaissance and search operations of the Syrian militants were not coordinated with the command of the Russian operational group."

Data on the losses varies greatly. A source in the Russian military told Kommersant that the number of Russians killed on February 7 was 11 people.

Reports about "hundreds of dead" are a classic misinformation campaign, which Western mass media are engaged in, the Russian Foreign Ministry told Kommersant. "We are now checking the information on the victims, including CIS citizens. If the information is confirmed, we will surely publish it," the ministry said.

According to the newspaper, there is no legal status under Russian legislation for people, who are not part of the military or security structures fighting on foreign soil. Legislators are only discussing the concept of a "private military company". "The state did not send these people there. Anyone going to fight for money as a mercenary exposes himself to risk, given the contract with those who invite him. This is not a contract with the Russian state. Russia has no information about it," Director at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vitaly Naumkin told Kommersant. "On the one hand, the state turns a blind eye to their presence in Syria, on the other hand, there is a law that should bring these people to justice. They are mercenaries, and these people do not fall under the protection of the state, although the state is obliged to protect any citizen of the Russian Federation," the expert added. According to him, if Russian career military men died in Syria from the American attack, Russia’s reaction "should have been and would have been very severe."


RBC: Palestinian leader arrives in Moscow to discuss Middle East peace process

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow. Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh, a member of the arriving delegation, told RBC that Russia's authority and ties in the Middle East make the country a key player in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, without US participation, it is still impossible to fully resolve the conflict.

The official told the newspaper that the presence of Russia in the region can create a new vision, a new agenda for resolving the conflict, and that the Palestinians fully "trust" Moscow in this regard since it holds clout on the issue.

At the talks, Putin confirmed that Russia is ready to expand its participation in resolving the Palestinian problem "with the goal of protecting international law and UN resolutions," al-Sheikh told the newspaper. The possibility of trilateral talks between Putin, Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was discussed at the negotiations in the Kremlin as well, the Palestinian minister said. He noted that the possibility of negotiating in this format was discussed earlier, but Israel shied away from it. According to the Minister, the Russian leader said that Moscow is ready to work on creating a new atmosphere to resume the Middle East peace process.

Russia’s growing participation will be positively received in the region, especially by moderate Sunni regimes like Jordan or Egypt, Bar-Ilan University Professor Zeev Hanin told RBC. However, in his opinion, Russia cannot become a full-fledged replacement for the US as a key intermediary, since it does not have enough diplomatic and financial resources for it. The likely outcome, he said, will be the return of Israel and Palestine to bilateral negotiations.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US envoy to NATO says partnership with Russia not working out

On Wednesday, Brussels will host a meeting of NATO defense ministers, and a significant portion of the event will be devoted to the relationship of the North Atlantic alliance with Russia. The United States Permanent Representative to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the alliance would like the relations to improve, however Moscow would need to change its military strategy, because right now NATO allies perceive Russia as a threat, and cooperation even on Afghanistan and North Korea is not working out.

According to Hutchison, nuclear safety issues will be one of the meeting’s key topics. She noted that Washington remains committed to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). According to Hutchison, the US is upgrading the already existing nuclear arsenal, solely as part of its commitment to shielding the United States and NATO allies from threats.

The envoy to NATO noted that the United States also adheres to the treaty on Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF), while Russia has ceased to fulfill it. And given Russia’s actions in Crimea, Ukraine and, earlier, Georgia, Moscow’s stance raises concern both for the US and its allies, Hutchison said, answering a question from Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

According to her, Washington expects to continue dialogue with Moscow, but for the time being one cannot even speak about joint efforts to combat terrorism, which is a common threat both for NATO and Russia. Moscow does not help with Afghanistan, and with North Korea, despite the fact that it is testing new nuclear weapons, Hutchison said.

NATO generally would like to have good relations with Russia, the US diplomat said, but Moscow would have to change its behavior, and adhere to previously concluded agreements. These endeavors would be especially important in the fight against terrorism, she added.


Izvestia: DPR beefs up defenses awaiting Kiev’s potentially new offensive

The armed forces of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) were put on high alert because of the heightened risk of incitement by the Ukrainian military, Deputy Commander of the DPR Armed Forces Colonel Eduard Basurin and Chairman of the DPR People's Council Denis Pushilin told Izvestia. According to the unrecognized republic’s leadership, the fact that the Ukrainian Armed forces are becoming more active is due to the adoption of the so-called "Donbass reintegration law" and Ukraine’s unstable domestic climate.

The DPR leadership has already beefed up defenses to repel any possible offensive by Ukrainian troops. "This was done ahead of schedule. We became aware of their plans, so we decided to be ahead of the enemy and took preventive measures. This is a warning to the Ukrainian side. We are waiting for a reciprocal move from them," Basurin told Izvestia.

Pushilin also confirmed the information to the newspaper. According to him, there are several reasons why possible provocations from Kiev on the line of contact are heightened right now. "Undoubtedly, the danger of provocative actions from Ukraine remains quite high. This is due to the unstable domestic political situation in Ukraine and insinuations after the adoption of the law on so-called reintegration. In addition, the other day the decision to suspend this law was essentially rejected. Thus, we are waiting for an exacerbation of the situation after such decisions," Pushilin said.

Pushilin also noted that additional risks are created by Kiev's attempts to insist on its own version of a deployment of UN peacekeepers in Donbass. Although so far, according to the Chairman of DPR People's Council, "there is only Russia’s peacekeeping proposal."


Vedomosti: En+ intends to sell electricity to cryptocurrency miners for $17 mln

Oleg Deripaska's En+ Group intends to profit off cryptocurrency miners. In 2018, the aggregate demand of electricity from miners may total 100 MW, the company's CEO Maxim Sokov told Vedomosti.

According to him, right now En+ is negotiating with several funds that attract investments into the construction of mining farms that will act as consumers of electricity. En+ is going to offer miners to build cryptocurrency mining farms next to En+ power plants in Irkutsk, Bratsk and Ust-Ilimsk, Sokov said. Currently, the funds collect a pool of investors, including international ones from China and the United States, he added.

This decision will allow En+ to diversify its client portfolio, Sokov explained, without disclosing future electricity tariffs for En+ miners.

En+ could rake in from $10 mln to $15 mln from these 100 MW, ACRA’s research chief Natalia Porokhova told Vedomosti. Using 2017 prices as a base, the company can raise around 980 mln rubles ($17 mln), VTB Capital analyst Vladimir Sklyar told the newspaper. According to a source familiar with the managers of the holding, this is close to the company’s expectations.

The power company would benefit from attracting cryptocurrency miners from China, where strict prohibitive regulation is now in force, and the capacity of individual farms reaches 50 MW, managing partner at Crypto Technology Anton Sobin told Vedomosti.



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