Washington's plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), a 1987 arms control deal between the United States and the Soviet Union, are dominating Monday's headlines in the Russian press. Kommersant business daily writes that the possible US pullout from the agreement would become the center of attention during the upcoming talks between US National Security Adviser John Bolton, who arrived in Moscow on Sunday, and Russian officials. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has branded Washington's threat to leave the treaty as "blackmail." This potential step by the US would undermine the system of nuclear deterrence and would most likely prevent the extension by 2021 of another important deal on disarmament, the New START Treaty, he said.
Military sources told Kommersant that "there is nothing good in this [Trump’s rhetoric] neither for the US nor for Russia nor for the world in general." "These documents have always been a factor of containment for both parties, and the consequences of refusing to participate in the treaty would be predictably sad." According to one of the sources, Russia was already prepared for this turn of events. The Russian Defense Ministry’s specialists had warned of this back in 2014-2015.
Andrei Baklitsky, an expert with the PIR Center, noted that the US withdrawal from the INF would stop and even turn back the clock on the process of bilateral nuclear disarmament. "Russia will have to react and it’s not hard to imagine that new types of Russian intermediate-range missiles aimed at maintaining the balance of forces with the US will be shown at one of the next addresses to the Federal Assembly," he noted.
Ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the milestone treaty in 1987 with then-US President Ronald Reagan, has called for the preservation of the agreement. In his interview with Izvestia, the politician noted that the INF Treaty was the first agreement of its kind and contains a lot of important things even though 30 years have passed since it was signed. All agreements inked between the US and the Soviet Union, and after 1991 with Russia, hold great importance for the world, he stressed.
According to Izvestia, so far, Trump’s move to scrap the INF Treaty has been only backed by the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, France and China have more grounds to support Russia’s stance, Head of Russian Federation Council's International Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev pointed out.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton has kicked off his visit to Russia and the South Caucasus, and is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. After the talks in Moscow, Bolton will set off for meetings in Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Despite a deep crisis in relations, both the United States and Russia understand the need for high-level contacts, Senior Research Fellow with the Center for Caucasus Studies and Regional Security at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) Nikolai Silaev told the paper.
"This concerns the situation in Syria, Ukraine, North Korea, Iran, and general stability. John Bolton is among those politicians, who are fierce critics of Russia, but as the president’s national security adviser, he is forced to hold dialogue with Moscow," Silaev explained.
Bolton’s trip to the South Caucasus has a very dim outlook, the paper says. Georgia is now preoccupied with the upcoming presidential election set for October 28. One of the dirtiest election campaigns has engulfed the country over the past years. Tbilisi is not ruling out that Bolton will remind Georgia that it remains a strategic US partner and a stronghold in the South Caucasus, and that’s why Washington needs stability in that country. This is especially important as Georgia still has rocky ties with Russia, which seeks to restore its influence in the region.
The US security adviser’s visit to Armenia is a good opportunity to build ties with the Trump administration, political scientist and a senior lecturer at the Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences Mikaelyan Zolyan said. "For Armenia, it’s very important to establish efficient communication channels with the Trump administration to contain a possible US shift towards Ankara and Baku," the expert told the paper.
Bolton is expected to arrive in Baku on October 24. Azerbaijani political scientist Ilgar Velizade told the paper that the talks are likely to focus on Baku’s relations with Russia, Iran, Turkey, energy projects, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Afghan transit prospects, and social and economic projects in Afghanistan.
Moscow and Tashkent have stepped up their cooperation by launching an important energy project, Izvestia writes. During the Russian president’s state visit to Uzbekistan, both heads of state Vladimir Putin and Shavkat Mirziyoyev attended the first forum of regions, and launched a project to build the first nuclear power plant in the Central Asian republic. The parties also signed an agreement on cooperation in the social sphere. Russian Labor Minister Maxim Topilin told the paper that the countries might also sign an intergovernmental pension accord.
"After the leadership in Uzbekistan had changed, a drastic adjustment of approaches to foreign policy occurred. Tashkent started fostering ties with Russia and Vladimir Putin’s current visit cements many areas of cooperation," Azhdar Kurtov, a political analyst and expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, told the paper.
From a geopolitical viewpoint, the Russian leader’s visit opened a window of opportunities for extending a partnership with Uzbekistan, relations with whom were worse two years ago, according to Andrey Grozin, an expert on Central Asia at the Institute of CIS countries.
"Russia used to have one strategic partner in the region - Kazakhstan. Now the possibility is opening up for a second center to emerge. The fact that the first Russian nuclear power plant in Central Asia is being built in Uzbekistan is clear evidence that our relations are flourishing," the expert noted.
"Unlike the United States and China, Russia may give Uzbekistan what it needs to modernize its industry - Russian technologies," Kurtov emphasized. "Creating new production facilities on Uzbekistan’s soil is what Russia is doing now," he pointed out.
US sanctions against Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod-based automotive conglomerate, GAZ Group, will be imposed on December 12 instead of October 23, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said. Earlier, the introduction of sanctions against other companies owned by Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska - UC Rusal and En+ - was also put off, Vedomosti writes.
On Friday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak met with US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman. At the meeting, the parties discussed shielding GAZ Group from sanctions, the paper says. According to Kozak, the government considered different options, involving state and other potential buyers. One of the options is selling a share to Germany’s multinational automotive manufacturer, the Volkswagen Group. "This dialogue took place, but no decisions have been made so far," the deputy prime minister said.
The US Treasury Department could lift the sanctions if Deripaska got rid of his controlling share. Media reports in June said that the entrepreneur had discussed possibly selling a part of his stake. Chairman of the Board of Directors at GAZ Group Siegfried Wolf was among the potential buyers. GAZ Group, the largest asset of Deripaska’s Russian Machines conglomerate, was included in Washington’s sanctions list on April 6, 2018 along with the Russian mogul himself and his other companies.
German car giants, Daimler and Volkswagen, which are major partners of GAZ Group, have not halted their cooperation with the company. Sanctions against GAZ Group won’t be that tough as they are for UC Rusal since the latter’s exports were impacted in this case, while the automobile giant sells most of its products inside Russia, Aton Senior Analyst Mikhail Ganelin noted.
Russia’s Transport Ministry has drafted a governmental regulation entitled: ‘Requirements for an automated air traffic information system,’ Vedomosti writes. According to this regulation, starting from January 1, 2020, the servers and databases, which book and sell tickets for domestic Russian flights, and also ensure registration for flights, must be located in Russia. In addition, the booking system’s provider should be a Russian legal entity. The implementation of these measures may cancel the operations of Russian airlines or lead to the suspension of their work for at least two to four years, and an expensive shift to other booking systems, Director General of Siberia Airlines (part of S7 Group) Vladimir Obyedkov warned in his letter to President of the Russian Air Transport Operator Association Vladimir Tasun.
Three major Russian airlines have foreign providers: US Sabre cooperates with Aeroflot, Switzerland’s SITA with S7 and Spain’s Amadeus with Ural Airlines. The fourth major Russian airline, Utair, and nearly all other Russian companies work with Russia’s Sirena travel. The exceptions are the low-cost carrier, Pobeda, which cooperates with US Navitair and Azimut airline, which works with the National Booking System, developed by Russia’s Rostec together with Vnukovo Airport.
Sabre and Amadeus are global market leaders and they may not want to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into complying with this regulation for Russian business, a top manager at the foreign provider told the paper. Another top manager of an airline, which is a client of Amadeus, says that the provider is looking at plans to localize in Russia. Meanwhile, Russian providers do not meet the demands of airlines, Obyedkov said.
"Ural Airlines and Pobeda may easily start working with a Russian provider, but Aeroflot and S7 are part of global aviation alliances (Sky Team and One World) and Russian systems are not able to ensure operation in the alliances," managers of Sirena travel and the National Booking System said. The system may be fine-tuned during the year if needed, they noted nonetheless.
International flights will continue in line with established global rules, a spokesman for Russia’s Transport Ministry stated.
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