Russia, Turkey and Iran are getting ready for new talks on Syria in Astana scheduled to be held for May 14. As part of these preparations, Moscow will host a meeting of the three countries’ top diplomats on April 28.
Meanwhile, Washington and its European allies are discussing alternative plans for settling the Syrian crisis. The issue topped the agenda during French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the United States, where Paris and Washington agreed to push ahead with efforts to counter-balance Iran’s and Russia’s role in resolving the Syrian conflict.
Experts interviewed by the paper did not rule out that some Arab countries, primarily Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (in contrast to Egypt), could take part in the Syrian operation provided that the Americans and their European allies remain there.
According to Grigory Kosach, Professor of the Modern East Department of History, Political Science and Law at the Russian State University for the Humanities, attempts are being made to "float trial balloons, mulling various options and difference alliance." Anyway, an unpleasant trend for Russia is obvious, the expert noted. "Our relations with Saudi Arabia, which have barely emerged, may collapse, the alliance with Turkey on Syria, fragile as it is, will be jeopardized. We can remain alone with Iran," Kosach stressed.
Kirill Semyonov, an expert with the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), told the paper that the issue at hand is setting up "an alternative Syrian project" in the north of that country where the funds allocated by the Gulf states will be used, while there is shortage of money to rebuild the country in other parts of Syria. "This is a matter of concern for Moscow, Tehran and Damascus," he stressed.
Spokesman for the Islamic State (IS, terror group, outlawed in Russia), Abu al-Hasan al-Muhajir, has addressed supporters on behalf of the group’s leaders.
The message contained the traditional threats against all those who do not support or are opposed to IS. Along with recognizing the challenges the organization is facing, it described the Washington-declared victory over the Islamic State as illusory, Nikolay Plotnikov, Head of the Center for Scientific and Analytical Information at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Oriental Studies, wrote in his article published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The Islamic State’s chief propagandist in particular called on the citizens of Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq to refrain from going to the polling stations, adding that the group’s supporters should derail the election process.
Last Sunday’s suicide bombings in Kabul and in the city of Pul-e Khomri (in northern Afghanistan) demonstrated that these are not just idle threats, the expert pointed out.
He stressed that IS terrorists stepped up their activities both in Iraq, especially in the provinces bordering Syria, and in Syria itself.
"There are IS militants in Syria’s areas controlled by official Damascus and in those areas where the Syrian government’s control has not yet been restored. While Syrian state forces backed by Russia and Iran continue to consistently and methodically eliminate the remaining IS enclaves, the situation in the areas controlled by US troops is different," Plotnikov writes.
IS units continue to operate in a vast area in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the US military. There are about 2,000 US troops there.
The expert is certain that fighting Islamic State is just a pretext for grabbing control over Syrian oil. "That means that all statements made by [US President Donald Trump] about the speedy withdrawal from Eastern Syria will remain nothing but words. Besides, the US president can hardly resist the persistent requests from the European Union, specifically, French President Emmanuel Macron, who would like the US to remain in Syria even after the war against the Islamic State is over in order to create ‘a new Syria’, together with its allies," he stressed.
The Armenian parliament is expected to endorse the country’s new prime minister on May 1. The move comes amid mass protests that have swept the country. The opposition insists that leader of the Yelq faction MP Nikol Pashinyan be elected to the post.
Pashinyan stated in an interview with RBC that the most important thing for the Armenian opposition is honest and legitimate elections. "We will guarantee such elections, regardless of whether we win or lose," he said.
According to the protest leader, the events that occurred in Armenia over the past two weeks have changed a lot in people’s thinking. "Just a month ago, many in Armenia thought they cannot decide anything at all. Now I am sure that people understand the situation and their role in the country’s future, and that changes a lot. These changes are another factor that guarantees free elections."
Referring to his recent meeting with the Russian ambassador, Pashinyan noted that among the issues discussed at it was "how Russia can contribute to efforts to resolve this situation."
"This [protest] movement has no geopolitical context whatsoever," he emphasized. "This is not a movement against Russia or the United States or the European Union or against Iran or against Georgia. This is a movement against corruption, against inefficient governance, and this is a purely internal Armenian movement. I am glad that Russian officials say they have no intention of meddling in Armenia’s internal processes, the more so since there is no geopolitical context here and no anti-Russian sentiment at all."
The Immortal Regiment processions to memorialize those who fought in the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1945 will be held on May 9 in many Ukrainian cities. The events to mark Victory Day are expected to bring together at least one million people this year, the organizers informed Izvestia.
"The Immortal Regiment marches are expected to be held in many Ukrainian cities. In addition to Kiev, that’s Kharkov, Odessa, Dnepr (Dnepropetrovsk), Nikolayev and Zaporozhye. Some events will be held in Lvov. Over 600,000 people took part in such processions last year, while this year we expect at least one million people to join them. Not a single event held by the authorities brought together such a large number of participants," the Immortal Regiment organizers said.
The organizers added that they are ready for any incitement by extremists who, just like in previous years, are gearing up for counteractions with the connivance of the Ukrainian authorities. Searches were earlier conducted at the apartments of the movement’s activists and volunteers in Kiev, Kharkov and Odessa. In light of that, the march organizers decided to seek support from human rights activists and politicians.
"Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko (2011-2014) said he was willing to help. Televised round-table panels attended by lawyers and activists are planned as well. They will tell people how to behave with law enforcement officers, what they need to know if they are apprehended and what kind of provocations can be expected on May 9," the movement’s coordinators said.
Difficulties surrounding Victory Day celebrations stem from Kiev’s new policy aimed at glorifying Nazi henchmen, demolishing and vandalizing Soviet-era monuments and other steps aimed at rewriting history.
The sentiment of the urban middle class in Russia improved during the first quarter of 2018 almost reaching the pre-crisis level of mid-2014, Vedomosti writes citing data provided by Sberbank, Russia’s biggest banking and financial conglomerate.
According to Sberbank’s consumer confidence index, the so-called well-being index, that is, the difference between those who believe their incomes have dropped and those sharing opposite views, rose from -18% in the first quarter of 2017 to -12% in early 2018 (compared to -6% in 2014).
A total of 2,300 people in 164 Russian cities with a population of more than 100,000 people were interviewed for this survey.
Just like a year ago, the middle class considers corruption and unemployment the biggest challenges to the country’s economy (the share of unemployed people within this group dropped by 1 percentage point to 9.9%).
The economy has stabilized, there are no more drops in incomes for a sizeable part of the population. All that led to a rise in consumer optimism and confidence in prospects for the future, the paper quotes Natalia Akindinova, Director of the Center of Development at the Higher School of Economics, as saying. However, the sanctions and exchange rate fluctuations can have an adverse effect on the middle class’ consumer expectations, in particular, its willingness to invest in real estate, expensive cars and the desire to travel, she noted. However, if the West does not impose new restrictive measures and Russia does not come up with tit-for-tat steps, which always affect consumers’ welfare, the economic situation is unlikely to deteriorate, and people’s sentiment will hardly change, the expert added.
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