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All eyes are on the upcoming Syrian talks in Astana with the authorities, opposition and international mediators deep in negotiations on issues related to the ceasefire announced at the end of 2016, which tops the agenda. Also, the Syrian opposition is planning to propose the creation of joint units to fight the Islamic State (terrorist group, outlawed in Russia), Izvestia daily writes citing sources in the armed opposition. The idea is accepted in Damascus, though with certain conditions: the members of the groups are to be Syrian citizens and the units should come under command of the country’s military leadership.
"I can see no obstacles for Syrians, even those who fought on the other side with deadly force, to return back into the fold of the country and counter the IS terrorists, as this would diminish the bloodshed and extend the truce over many regions of the country," Sadji Taama, a member of the Syrian Parliament’s Committee on Inter-Arab and International Relations and a representative of the ruling Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, told the newspaper. "It will be a constructive step for the armed opposition to raise this question, and we will obviously welcome an agreement implying that military units become part of the Syrian Arab army," the MP said. A top-level source in the Syrian forces confirmed the position to Izvestia. "From the outset, we supported the initiative for Syrian citizens from illegal armed units to either return to a life of peace or join the army to combat the militants," the source told the newspaper. "The country’s leadership, including the military forces, are perfectly aware of the fact that many people were taken in by various chimeric promises and now want to stop fighting their fellow citizens. For our part, we can only welcome such initiatives and are ready to broaden opportunities to fight the militants, but obviously under the command of Syria’s top military brass," he said, adding that there have been quite a number of people deciding to switch to the side of Damascus.
Izvestia sources in Syria also say maintaining sovereignty is crucial for Damascus. According to Yuri Zinin, a leading researcher at the Centre for Partnership of Civilizations of Moscow-based MGIMO University, the armed opposition can hardly dictate terms under the current circumstances. "The opposition has a simple choice now: either its armed units are further eliminated, or it attempts to find a common ground with Damascus and agree on its participation in the country’s future political life," he said, adding that the initiative about joint units can only be applied within this framework.
The inaugural speech by US President Donald Trump carried a tone of protectionism, Russia’s business ombudsman Boris Titov who attended the ceremony said, according to RBC business daily. Trump spoke much about jobs in industry and agriculture, but never mentioned the innovative sectors, which might seem to be a step backwards economically, but it is probably necessary for the United States, which being in the forefront of innovative development, has somewhat fallen out of touch with reality, Titov said.
James Sherr, Associate fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) is one of those analysts who expect Trump to start from a clean slate, RBC writes. According to Sherr, Trump has declared not the beginning of a new administration, but the beginning of a new regime, and he is the first president in the US’ post-war history who refuses to take the responsibility for the global liberal order. Traditionally, inauguration speeches are based on the essential principles of the US Founding Fathers, such as liberty, democracy, justice, the succession of institutions and the rule of law, Sherr says, adding that Trump avoided those topics all together.
Trump’s speech was a declaration of war against the Washington-based political elite at its core, President of the Center on Global Interests Nikolai Zlobin told Izvestia daily, stressing that it should not be viewed as a war on the US establishment in its entirety. "That is the reason why he gets on the nerves of the elites of US politics and the media. Certain presidents previously attempted to fight Washington’s establishment, but were quite unsuccessful. I think the latest such attempts were made partially by Harry Truman after the World War II and Ronald Reagan," Zlobin said. "Nevertheless, Trump has declared this war, and it would be really interesting to see who wins," he added. Also, the expert does not expect a prompt return to normal relations between the US and Russia, saying that "anti-Russia sentiment is too strong in the US Congress, and among establishment and the US media." In this regard, the first steps may be made on regional issues, for example, Syria, rather than a "immediate lifting of sanctions," Zlobin said.
US intelligence has opened up loads of classified documents to the public starting January 17, Izvestia writes on Monday. Among them are the plans of military actions in Europe under conditions of conventional and nuclear war, as well as long-range aviation command, General Staff Academy textbooks and hundreds of other Cold War-era documents available only for those with secret access even nowadays. In 2012, first digitalized documents were posted, but only now have all such documents been made available online.
Victor Murakhovsky, Editor-in-Chief of Arsenal of Fatherland Magazine told the newspaper that "interest from professional historians and publishers involved in this period is definite, as only materials before 1965 are open now, with the rest available only for those with access to secret information." According to Murakhovsky, the documents of the US intelligence services are only the tip of the iceberg, whereas the true picture will only be made after the Russian archives are opened.
Infrastructure, industry, high-tech and exports are the four key areas the Russian development bank plans to focus on in the near future, Kommersant business daily writes. On the whole, it will require from 570 to 700 bln rubles ($9.6 bln -$11.7 bln) per year to implement this strategy, with up to 300 bln rubles ($5 bln) needed for infrastructure, industry and high-tech requiring up to 250 bln rubles ($4.2 bln), and up to 150 bln rubles ($2.5 bln) needed for export expansion. According to a source in VEB speaking with the newspaper, this is the estimation of the market demand, not the company’s crediting plan.
In 2017, the bank plans to provide 80-100 bln rubles ($1.3 bln - $1.7 bln) worth of loans, and to raise the amount of loans granted to 300 bln rubles ($5 bln) per year further on, a top manager told Vedomosti. This planned target level is lower than in recent years, even though in the best years the amount of loans never exceeded 250 bln rubles($4.2 bln), he said. VEB is expected to integrate the functions of four organizations: a development institute, an investment bank, a direct investment fund and an asset management fund, the source told the newspaper. The manager added that this was going to be a unique global experience but without it VEB would not survive and would likely to turn into a bank saddled with bad loans once again.
The Kerch Bridge, venues for 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the Moscow-Kazan high-speed railroad are among the large-scale infrastructure projects planned over the short-term. According to S&P analyst Karen Vartapetov, VEB is only involved in investment projects if they are not loss-making, according to its 2007 memorandum on financial policy. "In fact, the bank had been caught up in such projects, and they mainly became the sources of its problems afterwards," he says, adding that the issue is more about how the new strategy is implemented rather than about the strategy itself.
Russia’s gas supplies to Europe via the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline may have a strong rival, as ministers of four countries - Italy, Greece, Israel and Cyprus - are gathering in Brussels later on Monday to hash out plans to construct a new gas pipeline through the Mediterranean Sea from the Israeli Leviathan field via the Cyprian Aphrodite field to the Italian city of Brindisi, Nezavisimaya writes. In case Italy and Greece get access to Mediterranean gas, their interest to the Russian gas to be supplies via the Black Sea may weaken, the newspaper says.
Some experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta hope the resources of the two fields won’t dent the prospects of Turkish Stream, as they are only going to be developed, and at any rate may be seen as "additional gas sources for Europe." However, Valery Nesterov of Sberbank Investment Research notes the Turkish Stream project faces many pressures now. "Those are Iranian LNG supplies to Europe, US shale gas, and Algerian gas exports to the EU," Nesterov says, adding that "only the future of the first line of the (Turkish Stream - TASS) gas pipeline is clear today."
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