Russia’s Aerospace Defense Forces carried out surgical strikes against targets in Syria’s Idlib Governorate on March 9 in response to the terrorists’ violation of the ceasefire, two Russian military sources told Kommersant. According to them, the strikes were delivered on Idlib’s northwestern area near Jisr ash-Shugur, some 55 km from Hmeymim. The move had been agreed on with Ankara, they said. The Russian Defense Ministry has not officially announced the strikes. Now there is no talk about a large-scale operation in the last remaining de-escalation zone in Syria. Moscow still hopes the mid-September deal on Idlib signed with Ankara in Sochi will be fulfilled. Six months after the Sochi summit, the Russian and Turkish militaries finally started jointly patrolling Idlib.
According to Kommersant’s sources, the situation is worsening in Abu al-Duhur on the border between the Idlib and Aleppo Governorates, where in response to the Islamists’ fire the government forces had to carry out missile and artillery strikes on their command points.
Meanwhile, the deadline for implementing the Sochi memorandum expired a long time ago, the paper notes. Diplomatic sources told Kommersant that the Russian military finds it more difficult to contain Damascus’ desire to regain control over Idlib, but Moscow is still ready to give Ankara time to separate its forces. Since the Sochi memorandum’s signing, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham militants have got the upper hand in the majority of Idlib’s territory.
In early March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that this group had carried out violent provocations against civilians, and against the Russian and Syrian armed forces. However, he said Moscow was committed to the deal on Idlib and insisted on its implementation by its Turkish partners. At the same time, Moscow has repeatedly stressed that its patience cannot last indefinitely.
A cyber attack against Venezuela’s power facilities, which Caracas has blamed on the US, was designed to create intolerable living conditions throughout the Latin American country, Izvestia writes. According to Washington strategists, the power outage was aimed at whipping up protest sentiment to topple Venezuela’s legitimate President Nicolas Maduro. On March 7, state power corporation Corpoelec reported an act of sabotage at the country’s major Guri hydroelectric plant, which supplies power to the capital and 70% of Venezuela. Since Thursday afternoon, 21 out of 23 states across the country have been without electricity.
According to an expert from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Igor Pshenichnikov, Washington is trying to paint the Venezuela blackout as though absolute chaos is reigning throughout the country and all Venezuelan economic sectors, including critical ones such as power supply, have been shaken to the core by the crisis. The country’s TV channel, Telesur, reported that the US is using this "economic crisis" plotline as another pretext for its planned military intervention into the country under the slogans of "establishing democracy and order."
Apparently, the masterminds of this attack sought to target sensitive social infrastructure facilities, primarily hospitals, to disrupt life-supporting equipment that requires uninterrupted power supply. The major goal was to spark mass public discontent. Meanwhile, the organizers of this cyber attack and those in the mass media covering it made a blunder, the expert noted. All these "dramatic" articles and Twitter reports about power cuts in hospitals and even the death of 79 patients turned out to be fake news, the paper writes. Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the masterminds of this cyber attack and their accomplices in Venezuela did not take into account that under President Maduro’s initiative all hospitals across the country had been equipped with reserve power generators and not a single hospital faced power cuts nor did anyone die. Local media reports said the power supply is being restored across the country and "peace and calm are prevailing in Venezuela."
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been lambasted by US Vice President Mike Pompeo for failing to swiftly oust Maduro, in his turn has blamed civil servants, who are supporting the authorities. He urged them to go on strike against Maduro’s government and promised that a bill would be passed protecting them from "repressions." Earlier, Guaido had told the same to the military, calling on servicemen to side with him, but so far they have ignored his appeal, the paper writes.
The amount of foreign financiers, who believe that business climate in Russia has worsened, more than doubled last year compared with 2017, from 22% to 50%, based on a survey carried out jointly by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the FleishmanHillard Vanguard agency, Kommersant writes. The number of foreign investors, who are upbeat on Russia’s entrepreneur climate, declined from 33% to 10%. The share of those, who did not see any changes, is almost the same (40% in 2018 and 45% a year ago). The poll questioned more than a hundred Fortune 500 companies ahead of the opening of the Russian Business Week organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.
The survey indicates that international entrepreneurs views on the business climate in Russia are back at the 2016 benchmark of 53%. Since 2012, when the poll was launched, the worst business climate figures were seen in 2014, when 82% of foreign investors saw a downturn. However, in 2016 and especially in 2017, the outlook nearly rebounded to that of 2013. "What we are seeing now is most likely an adjustment of these exaggerated expectations of 2017 rather than a new trend. The recent results are still significantly better than in 2014," Director General of FleishmanHillard Vanguard Elena Fadeyeva told the paper.
Head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Shokhin also notes that the great expectations of 2017 were not delivered on last year. "In 2018, foreign businesses adopted a wait-and-see attitude despite the lack of any important changes," Shokhin said. Among the top problems hindering business in Russia, foreign investors pointed to corruption among the authorities (60%). Meanwhile, the number of investors who complained about the lack of skilled personnel declined from 67% in 2017 to 40% last year.
The Russian authorities’ decision to extend visa-free entry to the country for foreigners with Fan IDs after the World Cup until the end of 2018 has yielded its fruit, Vedomosti writes. One in ten foreign football fans returned to Russia in August-December 2018 taking advantage of the visa-free entry for holders of Fan IDs, the country’s top lender Sberbank said. This accounted for 5.4% of inbound tourism to Russia. These tourists, who used credit cards, spent at least 9.9 bln rubles ($150 mln) in August-December 2018.
According to the Russian Ministry of Communications and Mass Media, during the World Cup in Russia, which was held between June 14 and July 15, 2018, some 1.83 mln Fan IDs were issued, including for 843,000 foreign citizens. The Federal Security Service (FSB) reported that more than 633,000 people entered Russia on Fan IDs during the World Cup.
The analysis of bank transactions showed that citizens from practically all across the globe took advantage of the chance to return to Russia without obtaining visas. Most fans came from the United States, Germany and Kazakhstan, Sberbank said. The World Cup encouraged tourism across Russia. The top five destinations were Moscow, St. Petersburg, the Moscow Region, the Krasnodar Region and Tatarstan. As for the number of Russian regions visited by tourists from one country, the leaders were Brazil and the US (83 regions), and Germany (82 regions).
Vice President of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia Dmitry Gorin noted that the number of requests to visit Russia from foreign tourists has grown 20%. If Russia simplifies the visa regime the tourist flow may rise at least 30%, he said.
Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko has declared a new missile program under which high-precision weapons will be created for "aiming at targets far into enemy territory," Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Poroshenko announced that amid the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Ukraine was no more committed to certain restrictions and obligations. Kiev needs high-precision missiles and it was not going to repeat the mistakes of the Budapest Memorandum, Poroshenko declared.
These statements could be viewed as a PR stunt for the election campaign. However, Ukraine started pursuing its course to create high-precision missiles with a range of up to 3,000 km since 2014, when Crimea rejoined Russia and the civil war broke out in Donbass, which Kiev blamed on Moscow, the paper says.
The Ukrainian president’s latest statement on the refusal to comply with the restrictions on the range and capacity of missiles may mean that these armaments may be equipped with nuclear warheads.
Under the Budapest Memorandum and the Lisbon Protocol, Ukraine joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1996 along with Kazakhstan and Belarus as a participant state that has no nuclear weapons. Now more than 20 years after these documents were signed, Poroshenko has hinted that soon Ukraine could become a nuclear power.
Over the past four years, relying on Soviet-era military potential, Ukraine has tested and put into service Neptune cruise missiles and a multiple launch rocket system with high-precision Olkha missiles. According to open source data, the Neptune can have a range of up to 300 km and the Olkha - up to 120 km. They have been deployed to Donbass and to the Sea of Azov’s coast.
Director of the Defense Express information and consulting company Sergey Zgurets believes that the Neptune missile, which was developed based on the Soviet X-35 missile, could even reach Moscow.
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