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Press review: Russia cools down tensions with NATO and Turkey exits Syria

March 31, 2017, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, March 31

1 pages in this article
A Turkish army soldier at a military outpost near the town of Kilis, on the border with Syria

A Turkish army soldier at a military outpost near the town of Kilis, on the border with Syria

© AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

Kommersant:  Russia, NATO move to cool down tensions

Russia and NATO have started drawing up specific measures on preventing unforeseen air incidents, the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after this year’s first NATO-Russia Council’s meeting on Thursday, Kommersant writes. The parties also started holding briefings for one other on regrouping forces and may resume the practice of informing each other of any upcoming military drills. However, in general, relations between Russia and NATO remain very tense, the paper writes.

When answering a question by a Kommersant reporter, Stoltenberg said NATO and Russia’s representatives held talks on military aircraft using transponders when flying over the Baltic region. The use of these devices, which provide information about aircraft’s location, allows flight data controllers to see them and prevent potential dangerous encounters.

The NATO chief said the first round of expert consultations on this issue was held in March in Helsinki as part of the Baltic Sea Team Project. The specialists will again sit down at the negotiating table in June. Russian President Vladimir Putin told the Arctic forum in Arkhangelsk on Thursday that the issue of transponders is "technically difficult." He recalled that in July 2016, Russia’s authorities backed the proposal of Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto to start talks on this issue, but NATO turned down the offer for unclear reasons.

Stoltenberg said the NRC’s meeting was sincere and constructive. However, Russia’s envoy to the alliance, Alexander Grushko said Moscow believes the measures that were hashed over are insufficient to overcome the deep crisis in bilateral relations.

In general, despite some positive developments, patching up ties between the parties is currently not on the agenda. The sides have just started taking particular steps on preventing a real encounter - either in the air or on the ground, the paper writes. However, as the discussion on the Ukrainian crisis showed, the political differences have not been defused.


RBC: Turkey halts its military operation in Syria

Turkey wrapped up its Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria, which had lasted for seven months. Experts told RBC daily that Ankara’s decision was influenced by the growing support of the Kurds by Russia and the United States. Turkey cannot wage a war against them, but seeks to leave the door open to conduct a maneuver, the paper writes.

As was declared earlier, the key goal of Turkey’s operation was to ensure Turkish territorial security, mopping up the northern Syrian areas close to the border of Islamists and the Kurdish units. Ankara claimed that there was a flow of refugees and weapons smuggling to Turkey from these territories and Turkey accused native Syrians of staging terrorist attacks. In contrast, Damascus condemned the invasion of its territory.

However, during the operation, its goals changed, RBC writes. Fighting the Kurds and taking control of Manbij, rather than liberating Raqqa, was the true goal of Operation Euphrates Shield, Ilshat Saetov, a fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies, told the paper. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being held hostage to the domestic political agenda and his key goal is to secure victory at the April 16 referendum on constitutional amendments that will turn Turkey into a presidential republic, the expert said. The main tool of mobilizing supporters is to search for external enemies - first of all the Kurds, who have the support of Russia and the US, he stressed.

Ankara cannot pursue its goals in Syria as this runs counter to the policy of these two major powers, Director of Turkey’s think-tank Energy Markets and Policies Institute (EPPEN), Volkan Ozdemir, told the paper. The policy of Turkey and Russia in Syria may be called a "controlled rivalry" since the sides avoid confrontation, but are not ready to give up their ambitions and interests, Middle East and Turkish expert Timur Akhmetov said. The analyst expects that Turkish forces won’t leave the Syrian areas and only the form of their presence will change "towards developing military and administrative potential of allied forces."


Vedomosti: Rosatom searches for investors to join its Turkish project

Russia's Rosatom nuclear energy corporation is searching for a partner in the Akkuyu NPP Construction Project in Turkey, its Director General Andrey Likhachev said, according to Vedomosti. Many Turkish companies are showing interest in the project, but the final decision will be made only upon agreement with the Turkish government, he said. The Persian Gulf monarchies, Russian companies and some entrepreneurs are interested in joining the project, he said, while declining to reveal further details.

Turkish media reported about Rosatom’s plans to sell 49% of its shares in the project last spring. Turkey’s Cengiz Insaat, Kolin and Kalyon were named among the potential partners of Rosatom.

Rosatom earlier had not invited investors to join the project, Head of Research and Forecasting Group at the Analytical Credit Rating Agency (ACRA) Natalya Porokhova told the paper. The Russian atomic energy corporation apparently seeks to attract funding amid the growing portfolio of orders, or to reduce political risks by inviting a non-Russian investor, she said.

For Russian investors, the Turkish market has become less attractive amid the political crisis in bilateral relations and Russian energy giant, Gazprom’s problems with the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project, Porokhova noted. Yet, some Arab investors have indeed shown great interest in nuclear energy amid plans to build their own NPPs, she pointed out.


Vedomosti: Low voter turnout regions at September polls brought out loudest protesters

The highest activity of protesters on March 26 was seen in those Russian regions which demonstrated the lowest voter turnout rates during the elections to the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, in September 2016, Vedomosti writes citing research conducted by the Sigma Expert agency using big data for analyzing trends. For tallying up the number of the protesters, the agency figured out the arithmetic average between information provided by police and the organizers’ assessments. The research revealed that in nine out of ten cities with the biggest numbers of protesters, the turnout at the elections to the State Duma was lower than the national average. So, the lower the turnout was in September 2016, the more actively people protested in March 2017, the paper writes.

Among the cities topping the list were Smolensk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Chita, Vladivostok and Perm. However, Dagestan’s capital of Makhachkala is out of tune with the trend - the activity of protesters there was high, but the voter turnout was also among the highest (88%). Since the Soviet era, non-participation in elections has been a form of protest, the paper says.

An expert at the Committee of Civil Initiatives, Nikolai Petrov, noted that the list of cities with exceptionally high protest activity largely coincided with the top rating of tensions compiled by the committee. This can be explained as follows, the list includes multi-million-strong cities where citizens are traditionally active and also regions where governors have been recently replaced in addition to the conflicts between the elites there and social and economic uneasiness, he said.

The usage of big data also enables assessing the means for mobilizing protesters. Unlike winter 2011-2012, when Facebook was the key tool, in 2017 the protesters were mainly mobilized through the social network, Vkontakte, head of Sigma Artyom Bulatov stressed.

A spokesman for Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, Kira Yarmish said the "explosive" effect of the March protest came as a surprise for his team.


RBC: Russian version of HBO to be rolled out

The Yellow, Black and White company, one of the leading Russian media holdings, plans to launch the country’s first studio this autumn that will shoot movies and TV series for premiere screening on its own online platform, General Producer Eduard Iloyan told RBC on Friday.

The project dubbed Start, which its creators say is a Russian counterpart to the American premium cable and satellite television network HBO, is designed for the Russian-speaking audience across the world with revenues above average, mainly in the US, Canada, Germany, Israel and former Soviet states. The company plans to earn revenue on paid subscription. Besides, in the future, it will sell broadcast rights for the content.

"In the coming several years, we are ready to develop the project on our own. According to our model, the return on investment won’t be earlier than in three or five years," Iloyan explained. Over the past years, the company has invested around 400 million rubles ($7.1mln) in the project, he said. The money was used for developing the online platform and creating original content.

The studio seeks to attract other production companies and Russian media holdings to take part in shooting movies. "The launch of this project is a good step towards developing the market as the whole production of TV series in the country today is in line with b2b scheme - production companies work for TV channels. Netflix or Amazon produce series under b2c scheme - business for clients who pay out of their own pocket," TV and cinema producer Igor Mishin stated.


TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press reviews

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