Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the General Staff on Wednesday stated that the actions of Washington and the US-led coalition are aimed at splitting Syria and once again accused Washington of turning a blind eye to the increasing activity of the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia). The US has called Russia’s statements a dangerous game and suggested ending the Astana format of talks on Syria.
Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov outlined Moscow’s stance on Syria at a briefing for foreign military attaches on Wednesday, emphasizing that the US military presence there is a major obstacle in the war on terror. Gerasimov doubted the success of combat operations against the IS militants conducted by the US-led coalition and its allied Kurdish units along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. According to him, IS sleeper cells have intensified their activity in this area and the group’s influence there has been growing. Over the past six months, the coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces, largely consisting of Kurds, have been unable to eliminate IS units near Hajin. He noted that Damascus's forces could have fulfilled this task within one or two weeks.
Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov believes that Gerasimov has exaggerated the successes of Assad's army and its allies, given that IS enclaves are still prevalent in areas controlled by Damascus. "It’s wrong to accuse the US and the Kurds that they haven't been able to be victorious over the IS," Semenov told the paper. However, he said it was unclear why the operation along the eastern side of the Euphrates has been protracted.
Meanwhile, Moscow is convinced that Washington’s major goal is not to combat the IS terror group, but to create a quasi-state in eastern Syria, which will be independent from the central authorities. "They are forming the government of the so-called democratic federation of northern Syria," Gerasimov said.
Warsaw and Washington are holding active consultations on establishing a US military base in Poland, which could be located in Orzysz near Russia’s Kaliningrad, Polish diplomatic sources told Izvestia. According to the sources, the would-be US military outpost near Russia’s border should protect Poland and also Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia from external threats.
Under the plan, a US armored tank brigade would be deployed to the potential US base in Poland, which is being dubbed Fort Trump. Other sites for the likely base in Poland would be Zagan and Drawsko Pomorskie, which are also being looked into.
Moscow has stated many times that it is ready to take tit-for-tat steps in case a US military base would be set up in Poland. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that Russia would not turn a blind eye to the break in parity.
According to Frants Klintsevich, a member of the Defense and Security Committee of Russia's Federation Council (upper house), Poland’s decision is an absolutely "irresponsible step," which creates more tensions in the region. Warsaw's moves are politically motivated, dangerous from a military perspective and economically unjustified. "If a facility is really created on Polish territory, it will immediately become a target for a strike. These are the rules of the war," the senator stressed.
Poland is one of Washington's key allies in Europe, housing a significant number of NATO’s military infrastructure facilities.
If the US pulls out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, then Moscow reserves the right to respond, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Wednesday. In response to accusations that Moscow is not complying with the arms control deal, Putin said Washington had not provided any evidence to substantiate its claims. Meanwhile, Russia is calling for preserving the 1987 deal, Putin stressed. On November 5, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out a 60-day ultimatum for Russia to go back to complying with the treaty.
Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Deputy Chairman Andrei Klimov said the story with accusations against Russia over violating the INF is just an attempt by Washington to camouflage its intention to ditch the deal.
"The Americans really need to ramp up their military potential in the Asia-Pacific Region," the senator explained. "The INF Treaty prevents the US from doing this. They have stated many times that China and some other countries in the Asia-Pacific Region have serious military potential, which will soon pose a threat to the US and its Pacific Fleet."
By branding Russia as the transgressor of the agreement, the US wants to deflect accusations against President Donald Trump that he holds a pro-Russian stance. Besides, the US military and industrial lobby seeks to embark on a massive missile production effort, the senator noted.
Washington’s allegations are related to Russia’s 9M729 missile developed by the Novator manufacturer. Back in 2014, then US President Barack Obama stated that the rocket breached the INF accord. However, Moscow argued that the missile’s flight range was in compliance with the deal. Nevertheless, this autumn Donald Trump spoke about scrapping the INF, labeling the deal as having become irrelevant.
Editor-in-Chief of the Military Russia Internet project Dmitry Kornev told Izvestia that it’s unclear where the Americans got the information from on the flight range of the 9M729 missile. "The rocket’s characteristics and design are classified information." The expert noted that the US does not share its information about Russia’s alleged violations either because the intelligence data does not exist or it is based on unreliable sources.
On Wednesday, the Brussels-hosted conference for NATO’s foreign ministers focused on the Afghanistan settlement, Kommersant writes. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg admitted that the situation is not easy and many players, including Moscow, could contribute to hammering out a settlement. Meanwhile, the Afghan peace process fits the current context of Russian-US relations, characterized now by rivalry rather than cooperation, the paper writes.
Stoltenberg told Kommersant that the alliance is not against Moscow’s initiative to host a direct inclusive inter-Afghan dialogue, but it’s up to Afghan citizens to have a leading role in the peace process.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad is currently on a tour of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Russia, the paper says. The US diplomat is due to visit Moscow on December 7 and meet with Russia’s Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov.
The talks are expected to focus on Russian-US cooperation on Afghanistan. However, a leading expert at the Center of Contemporary Afghanistan Studies, Andrey Serenko, doubts that this cooperation could be established given the current political climate.
According to the expert, Washington’s Afghan envoy is conducting an extensive tour with the goal of "demonstrating that the US is not planning to yield its central role in the Afghan settlement to anyone." "The important thing is not what will be discussed in Moscow, but the signal that Khalilzad will send after this to the Taliban. For example, he may make it clear that they should not deal with Russia."
The European Commission on Wednesday unveiled its roadmap on expanding the euro’s global role, RBC writes. Brussels seeks to make the European currency more attractive in international accounts and in the global financial system, expand the use of the single currency on the oil and gas markets and in strategic industries. The program documents do not directly talk about plans to break the dollar’s global hegemony, but this is implied, the paper says.
The European economy is compared to the US in scale, but the euro still takes a back seat. The Eurozone’s annual GDP per capita purchasing power parity in 2017 stood at $14.9 trillion, while that figure in the US was $19.4 trillion, according to the World Bank, but the dollar plays a more significant role.
Meanwhile, Trump’s eccentric policy, including import duties levied on European goods and unilateral sanctions against EU trading partners, forces Europe to think about its own economic sovereignty.
"The growing politicization of the dollar and the usage of sanctions are a trigger," Elina Rybakova, a researcher at Bruegel, an EU-based think tank, told the paper.
Of late, Russia’s authorities have been speaking about the plans to wean its economy off the dollar. The EU’s drive to strengthen the euro’s role coincides with Russia’s plans, Rybakova noted. Russia and the EU have close economic ties and they have a chance to increase their trade in the single currency, the economist said.
However, there are two key obstacles for increasing the share of transactions in the euro between Russia and the EU, she noted. The first difficulty is that the oil trade is based on the dollar and this trend is unlikely to be overcome quickly. The second stumbling block is that the liquidity in the euro-ruble currency pair is low, especially given the Russian currency’s depreciation amid the Western sanctions.
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