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Press review: What’s behind the Kosovo crisis and Turkey talks terrorists out of jihad

October 03, 2018, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday

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© EPA/DJORDJE SAVIC

Media: What's behind the recent Kosovo crisis?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic have held talks in Moscow, focusing on the situation in northern Kosovo, where local commandos attempted to seize the Belgrade-controlled Gazivoda dam and hydroelectric power station over the last weekend. Serbia responded immediately by mobilizing its military forces. Consequently, Vucic said he would ask Moscow for assistance, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The Gazivoda incident is nothing but a PR stunt, Leading Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for European Studies Pavel Kandel told the paper. "Talks between Pristina and Belgrade have come to a standstill and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci is facing a domestic situation where everyone is opposing plans to make a deal with Belgrade and he is the one to blame. He needed to prove that he was in control of the situation even in northern Kosovo. This is why the move was made," the expert told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Vucic, in turn, sought to promote himself by putting the army on high alert since he had to prove that he is no less of a tough cookie than Thaci and ready to do everything. Besides, it was a good opportunity for him to make it clear to the international community, namely to Moscow, Brussels and Washington, that Serbia and Kosovo are on the brink of war, meaning that ‘if you don’t a war to break out, come help us’."

Senior Researcher with the Institute for Slavic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pyotr Iskenderov shares this view. He believes that Thaci and Vucic deliberately took steps that may seem aimed at escalating tensions. The expert pointed out that both leaders were ready to make a compromise and normalize bilateral relations but they also needed to save face in the eyes of the public. According to Iskenderov, by promoting Serbia’s EU membership, Vucic is playing his own game. Unlike Thaci, who takes advantage of disagreements between Serbs and Albanians, the Serbian president seeks to benefit from disagreements between Russia and the European Union since Moscow is Belgrade’s major foreign policy ally.

The State Duma (lower house) Foreign Affairs Committee has commended the Moscow meeting between the Russian and Serbian presidents. Given the current situation in the Balkans, it emphasized the importance of Serbia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and economic independence, as well as its willingness to boost cooperation with us, committee member Sergei Zheleznyak told Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Vucic’s crucial statement about his determination to maintain the country’s military neutrality means this is Belgrade’s response to NATO authorities whose goal is to expand their zone of influence to the Balkans, the lawmaker noted. According to him, the West has been deliberately stirring up tensions and openly conducting subversive activities in the region. The Serbian leadership, in turn, is pursuing a peaceful policy and is willing to make every possible effort to prevent an escalation of the conflict and maintain the country’s unity.

 

Kommersant: Turkey talks terrorists into jettisoning jihad

Terrorist groups are ready to withdraw from the demilitarized zone in northern Syria established in accordance with a deal reached by Russia and Turkey in mid-September, Syria’s pro-government newspaper Al-Watan reported. Separating armed opposition units from terrorists was the main condition for Moscow abandoning plans to carry out a large-scale military operation to help Damascus regain control over the Idlib de-escalation zone, Kommersant recalled.

According to Al-Watan, following talks with Turkish intelligence agencies, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terror group, which also involves Jabhat al-Nusra (both outlawed in Russia), agreed to abandon its 'jihadist dogma' so that Ankara would not designate it anymore as a terrorist organization. It also agreed to dissolve the so-called governments of salvation (local authorities), which are expected to be partly included in the Syrian opposition’s administrative bodies. In return, the group demands security guarantees for its leaders and members.

One of the Syrian opposition leaders Colonel Fateh Hassoun told Kommersant that apart from several small units, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was ready to abide by the Sochi agreements. "Its members have two options - they either dissolve their own units or move to other areas in eastern Syria that are still controlled by terrorists," he explained.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly that there can be no talks with terrorists. According to Colonel Hassoun, this statement may spur terrorists into resistance. He stressed that the implementation of the Sochi memorandum already was complicated because most members of the armed opposition did not trust Moscow.

The armed opposition’s objection to the deployment of Russian military police to the demilitarized zone is an example of this lack of trust. "There are roughly equal chances for the agreement’s success and failure. Moscow is interested in maintaining its partnership with Ankara, so there is reason to hope for success, but at the same time, Russia may find a way to use the agreement to its own advantage," Colonel Hassoun said, stressing that different interpretations of the Sochi accords left room for disagreements.

 

Izvestia: Niece of ‘Novichok’ victim wants to meet Salisbury ‘suspects’

Viktoria Skripal, the niece of ‘Novichok’ victim Sergei Skripal, told Izvestia that she plans to meet with Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, whom London blames for the poisoning of the former Russian military intelligence officer and his daughter Yulia. According to her, she hasn’t had a chance to talk to Petrov and Boshirov after their interview had been broadcasted.

Viktoria does not believe that the two were involved in the Salisbury incident. Her personal meeting with Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov could help prove their innocence, she said.

"I haven’t met with them yet because I don’t have their direct contacts. However, I am interested in such a meeting. I want to look them in the eye," Viktoria told the paper. "At the moment, I can only take their word for it, but a meeting would clear things up. There is no evidence of their involvement in the incident because no cameras were installed near the Skripals’ house," she pointed out.

The former Russian intelligence officer’s niece also said that Boshirov and Petrov had the right to prove their innocence. According to her, Great Britain has labelled two Russian nationals "the perpetrators" without providing Moscow with an opportunity to see how the investigation is going.

"The current situation is as follows: they are guilty, Russia is a malign country and everyone just has to believe that. I hope that members of my family will return home and we will not have to travel to Great Britain. However, a [international] passport for our grandmother is in the making so that she can go there. I realize that if I go now, we will not be allowed to meet with them," Viktoria Skripal said.

 

Kommersant: India shrugging off sanctions threat, deepens ties with Russia

On October 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin will arrive in India on a two-day visit to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Kommersant’s sources expect about ten agreements and contracts to be signed following their talks, including the deals for the delivery of the S-400 air defense missile systems and project-11353 frigates to India. Also on the agenda is a roadmap for cooperation in the peaceful nuclear energy sector, which implies the construction of new nuclear reactors in India and nuclear facilities in third countries. Judging by the importance of the documents that are planned to be signed and the list of delegation members, the Russian president’s visit may prove to be unprecedented in recent years.

India’s Cabinet Committee on Security approved the purchase of the S-400s last week. It means that India will become the third foreign buyer of these systems after China, which bought four S-400 divisions in 2014, and Turkey, which inked a contract for the same amount of S-400 complexes in 2017.

According to Indian Ambassador to Russia Bala Venkatesh Varma, history shows that when difficult situations emerge on the international stage, India and Russia always turn to each other to deepen cooperation even further. The ambassador added that the level of personal contacts between Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin was "unprecedented." Varma pointed out that the two leaders had already met twice in 2018 - when Modi made a working visit to Sochi in May and on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg in July.

A Russian-Indian business forum will be one of the key events taking place during Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi. Both leaders are expected to address the forum and among those attending will be Russian Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin, Trade and Industry Minister Denis Manturov, Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media Konstantin Noskov, as well as Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller, Russian Railways President Oleg Belozerov, Rostelecom President Mikhail Oseyevsky, and Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky.

Kommersant’s sources in New Delhi are confident that the upcoming business forum and the visit by the Russian president would turn out to be the largest international event of this kind following the new round of US sanctions against Russia launched in August. Meanwhile, both countries have made it clear that Washington’s threats to impose more sanctions on Moscow in November will not hinder Russian-Indian cooperation, including that in the sensitive security area.

 

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Moscow becoming world leader in shopping malls

The number of shopping malls in Moscow has been growing. According to trade analysts, 15 newly-built and reconstructed shopping malls have opened their doors to customers since the beginning of the year. Another five will be unveiled by the end of the year, Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote, adding that Moscow currently boasts 600 shopping malls, including more than 200 large ones.

Malls are popular with Muscovites, who not only do their shopping there but also spend time with their families, Head of the Moscow Department of Trade and Services Alexei Nemeryuk told the newspaper. "Food courts with a wide range of restaurants and kids' entertainment zones are filled with people even on weekdays, which testify to the popularity of shopping malls.

According to the Moscow Economic Policy Department, the attendance rate at large shopping malls rose 2.6% in the January to July period, thanks to Muscovites’ rising incomes and purchasing power. "Businessmen can feel the demand grow so they have been renting more and more retail spaces in shopping malls, signing rental contracts in advance and planning to open even more shops ahead of the holiday season," Nemeryuk noted.

Brand-name clothing and footwear, accessories, jewelry, makeup, household appliances and banks are what can usually be found in shopping malls and new ones are no exception.

All in all, analysts say that people’s access to quality shopping malls has improved in the majority of Moscow’s neighborhoods over the past three years. There currently are 489 square meters of retail space per 1,000 residents - a figure which is comparable to most European capitals and largely exceeds that of other CIS countries and most Asian mega-cities. Paris and Lisbon, for instance, are on par with Moscow.

"It may seem at first sight that Moscow is packed with malls. However, as far as retail space availability is concerned, the Russian capital lags behind Samara, Yekaterinburg and Krasnodar, which have about 500 square meters of quality retail space per 1,000 people," said Senior Analyst at the CBRE Market Research Department Konstantin Budagyan. Accordingly, this means Moscow has room for growth.

 

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

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