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Although Russia and Japan are ready for joint economic activity on the Kuril Islands, their positions sharply contrast on the issue of security. This is the outcome of Monday’s 2+2 talks between the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries, the first meeting in this format since 2013, Kommersant business daily writes.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the talks were "very useful and substantive." A source in Japan’s Foreign Ministry told Kommersant that the sides had not expected any breakthroughs but considered it important to just resume contacts. The sides focused on security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. Moscow sees the deployment of the US missile defense system to Japan as a threat to its security, while Tokyo is against additional forces and weapons on the Kuril Islands and in Russia’s Far East.
While no agreement was reached on global issues, the Russian and Japanese defense chiefs agreed on establishing contacts through the General Staff. Moscow and Tokyo plan to hold 30 joint events in 2017, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said. The development of Russian-Japanese relations is also hindered by the Japanese-US alliance as Tokyo needs to coordinate all principal decisions on security with Washington, Kommersant writes.
The Japanese participants of the Tokyo-hosted talks told the paper that the most positive issue during the discussion was on joint economic activity on the Kuril Islands. The delegations exchanged packages of proposals, but the major stumbling block is the creation of a special legal regime that would allow the parties to carry out joint economic activity without encroaching on the sovereignty over the islands. Still, the two countries may develop many projects by leaving this issue out of the picture, the paper says.
In the run-up to the Tokyo-hosted diplomatic talks, a group of Japanese lawmakers from the ruling party put forward a detailed plan based on the proposals by authorities in Nemuro, located in Hokkaido, near the Kuril Islands. Local entrepreneurs suggested creating a special economic zone around the Kurils to organize cruises, pick algae and grow Hanasaki crabs. Japan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Tokyo would hold talks based on these proposals and taking into account its national interests.
Lavrov promised his Japanese colleagues that Russia would carefully consider the requests to facilitate transport links between Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands. The sides will be able to discuss all the proposals in late April when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to visit Russia, Kommersant writes.
A spokesman for the Kurdish political party PYD in Moscow confirmed media reports to Vedomosti that a Russian military base has been established near Afrin, a Kurdish district in northwestern Syria. "The creation of this base is a positive step, as our units have already shown to the entire world their capability and success in the war on terror. As for any possible deterioration of relations with the Turks, they are allergic to everything linked to the Kurds. The Turks on Syrian territory are occupiers, they have nothing to do here," the representative stressed.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry told the paper that "there are no plans for deploying new Russian military bases to the Syrian Arab Republic." Under the Russian-Turkish accords of December 30, 2016, Russia’s Center for Reconciliation of the Warring Sides carries out round-the-clock monitoring of the truce, the spokesman said. To prevent ceasefire violations, one of the center’s branches is located in the Aleppo province near Afrin in the area of contact between the Kurdish militia and formations of the Free Syrian Army controlled by the Turkish side, he explained.
Alexey Malashenko, professor at the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, told the paper that there is no sense in establishing a permanent military base to fight against terrorism. "This base may be set up in any place…as terrorists are mobile." Neither Moscow, nor Ankara seeks to ignite the Kurdish issue, the expert said. Turkey will hold a constitutional referendum in a month to boost the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and every fifth citizen of Turkey is a Kurd, he explained.
"This close cooperation with the Russian military in northern Syria irritates some part of the Turkish establishment, particularly the military. However, they do accept it for what it is, given that Russia and Turkey though not allies, are partners. At the same time, Moscow won’t stand for or against the Kurds in an explicit manner," Malashenko noted.
The Assad administration has refused to receive UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura as it is dissatisfied with his activity, the country’s parliament told Izvestia. Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, also noted that De Mistura does not often have a neutral stance and there are many questions on this matter. The loss of trust may prevent De Mistura from holding a constructive round of negotiations at the upcoming Geneva-hosted Syrian peace talks scheduled for March 23, Izvestia writes.
Igor Morozov, member of the Russian Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee, told the paper that the UN envoy had discredited himself and therefore the demarche of Damascus was well-grounded.
"De Mistura explicitly lobbies the interests of the external opposition backed by the West. He has repeatedly accused Russia of allegedly exerting pressure on the opponents of the Syrian authorities. By now, the envoy has lost everyone’s trust. In fact, he has lost the leverage of managing the negotiations. He will have to somehow get out of this dead-end," Morozov elaborated.
The senator recalled that the Geneva talks had failed to produce any results, whereas the negotiations in Kazakhstan’s Astana proved to be efficient. Despite attempts to undermine the talks, there the sides discussed maintaining the ceasefire, separating the armed opposition from terrorists and also parameters for a post-war Syria, including a draft constitution, he said.
It is still unclear if the armed Syrian opposition will attend the Geneva talks, Izvestia writes. The opposition members boycotted the Astana meeting on March 14-15. However, this did not prevent the Syrian authorities, international mediators - Russia, Turkey and Iran - and also observer-countries to discuss the issues linked to the situation on the battleground in Syria. It’s a major question if De Mistura manages to persuade the participants of the talks to have a constructive dialogue, the paper writes.
Turkey has blocked a cooperation program between NATO and Austria, and the move may negatively affect its relations with other partner countries, the alliance’s press service told Izvestia. NATO’s decisions on cooperation with countries, which are not members of the military bloc (like Austria) are based on the principle of unanimity.
Serious political rifts between Turkey and some European countries may force Ankara to take harsher steps. NATO may find itself in a situation when its policy towards rapprochement with partner countries will be put on the back burner, Izvestia writes.
"Turkey has been gearing up to boost [Erdogan’s] presidential powers and Europeans criticize this. Besides, it needs to solve the Kurdish issue and the Islamic State. It is not ruled out that while seeking to achieve its goals, Ankara will blackmail NATO or will search for partners outside the alliance," Slovak analyst Mikhail Ondreichik told the paper.
Turkey’s stance may negatively affect NATO’s cooperation with Georgia, which seeks to join the alliance, political scientist Adzhar Kurtov emphasized. "Tbilisi is not part of NATO now and Ankara will have enough leverage to exert pressure on the Georgian leadership regarding bilateral relations. The Turks also understand that the creation of a NATO military base on Georgia’s territory will become an irritating factor for Russia. Lately, they have sought to improve ties with Moscow," he noted.
Now Turkey is trying to influence its NATO partners but Ankara’s tools are limited and it can only suspend its participation in joint projects, the paper writes.
"Turkey may resort to blackmail. However, the conflict between it and the European countries is temporary, which has no principal character," Russian military expert Viktor Litovkin said.
With supposed ‘Russian hackers’ hiding in every nook and cranny, Russia’s information security software developer Group-IB has decided to earn more overseas than on the domestic market. The company plans to export its expertise about the destructive activity of so-called Russian hackers, Kommersant writes. Market rivals do not consider this to be a unique sales gimmick, warning that it is difficult to secure trust among US clients.
In the near future, Group-IB should gain most of its revenues from abroad, said Garry Kondakov, who was recently appointed the company’s business director. The share of the group’s profit in foreign currency should exceed 50% in the next three years, the company’s CEO Ilya Sachkov said. By the end of financial year (March 31, 2017) this figure will reach nearly 30%, he expects.
The software developer has "great expertise on destructive activity in the Russian-language segment of the Internet" and this knowledge is in demand not only in Russia, Kondakov noted.
However, opponents say expertise on "Russian hackers" will hardly be an advantage on the market and will alarm potential clients in some regions. "I would not say that Russian developers have better tools to deal with other Russians. I think we have identical abilities to deal with ‘the bad guys’ in many countries, not only in Russia, but also in China and in Arab countries, and with our ally America," Chief Business Officer at Israel’s Morphisec Omri Dotan stated. He explained that Russians also work in the company. "Amid the growing popularity of Russian hackers, there is a very high level of mistrust of Russia’s decisions in information security, and it will be much more difficult to gain any results than in Belarus or Kazakhstan, for example," Director General of Russia’s Zecurion company Alexey Rayevsky said.
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