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The blast that rocked St. Petersburg's subway on Monday was part of a terrorist plot to carry out a double bombing in the city’s metro system during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Russia’s second-largest city. Eleven people were killed and around 50 others were wounded when one explosive device went off in a subway car. According to reports, the second bomb did not explode as the suspected terrorists’ cell phones had been blocked.
A source told Kommersant that Russia’s special services had known about the plan to carry out a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, but the information was insufficient. The authorities had been tipped off by an Islamic State (outlawed in Russia) recruit, a Russian national, who had been detained shortly after returning from fighting for IS in Syria.
A veteran of one of Russia’s special units told Izvestia that the damage sustained by the subway car showed that the blast was apparently carried out by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt. Some ‘experts’ theories also speculated that the explosion was supposedly masterminded by right-wing nationalists, the paper writes. Another law enforcement source told Izvestia that the ringleaders and perpetrators of the blast belong to the so-called terrorist “sleeper cells”, well-known throughout Europe. In St. Petersburg, Moscow and other major Russian cities there are several Islamic jihadists consisting of members of these IS “sleeper cells”, who wait for an order from the terrorist network’s chieftains.
Vedomosti writes that St. Petersburg’s security system will undergo thorough checks after the deadly subway blast. Special attention will be paid to the country’s sports facilities ahead of the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup, a member of special services said. This year’s most important economic event in Russia, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, is unlikely to be directly affected by the attack, Nikolai Petrov of the Higher School of Economics told the paper. The terrorist attack won’t change the political agenda, Alexey Makarkin, Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies, said.
Leader of A Just Russia Party Sergey Mironov said the goal of the terrorists in St. Petersburg was to “test the president.” Sociologists told Kommersant that “anxiety in society will increase,” but it is too early to predict if this could affect the 2018 presidential elections.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who calls both for closer ties with Russia and Serbia’s accession to the European Union, won Sunday’s presidential elections. Both Russian and EU officials have welcomed Vucic’s victory. However, rapprochement with the EU may push Vucic to change his pro-Russian stance, an expert told RBC daily.
Senior Researcher at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Pyotr Iskenderov, said Vucic’s visit to Moscow and talks with President Vladimir Putin could have helped him attract some pro-Russian voters and secure his victory. The expert said under Vucic’s presidency, Serbia will continue discussing and possibly join major Russian energy projects, including the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project. Serbia’s authorities also seek to boost commercial ties with Moscow and Russian companies' participation in the privatization of Belgrade's Nikola Tesla Airport, he said. Serbia will continue implementing the agreements with Russia reached when Vucic had been the country’s prime minister and there is no risk that he could opt for rapprochement with the West, taking into consideration the current crisis inside the EU, according to the expert.
Meanwhile, Head of the Center for the Study of Modern Balkan Crisis of the Institute of Slavic Studies, Elena Guskova, said Vucic’s victory will not be beneficial for Russia as he is oriented towards the West and clearly says that there is no alternative to joining the EU. “There is a great desire to join the EU and he (Vucic) will be forced to coordinate Serbia’s foreign policy with that of the EU, and this would mean, for example, the introduction of sanctions against Russia,” she said.
Vucic’s meeting with Putin ahead of the Serbian presidential elections was just a PR stunt, which is unlikely to offer anything new for cooperation, the expert said.
Members of the European Parliament have castigated the EU top court’s ruling to uphold sanctions against Russia’s oil major Rosneft as unjust and counterproductive. The political rift should not affect cooperation between Russia and the EU, and moreover judicial decisions, far-right French politician Aymeric Chauprade and European economist Jacques Sapir told Izvestia.
“Such companies as Rosneft and any other Russian companies have no relation to the Ukrainian crisis,” Chauprade told the paper. According to the European Parliament’s member, Russia never triggered Ukraine’s civil war and the sanctions are based on allegations.
“Each serious geopolitician knows that the truth is that pro-American forces carried out a coup d’etat to change the Ukrainian regime and create a gap between Kiev and Moscow,” the politician said.
In this case, Rosneft does not bear any responsibility for what happened in Kiev or in Donbass, Chauprade stressed. “Western citizens should understand that this policy is aimed at isolating Russia from the EU and halting the process of Eurasian unification,” he said, insisting that it is impossible to imagine Europe’s future without a close partnership with Russia. “I call on my colleagues in the European Parliament to lift these unfair and counterproductive sanctions. We should rebuild our relations with Russia and Russian companies,” he stated.
Jacques Sapir, professor at France’s School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (also known as EHESS), said the EU is undergoing the most serious crisis since its founding. “For the European elite, the events in Crimea are just a reason to rally around the anti-Russian flag,” he explained.
By punishing companies only because they are Russian, the EU has created a fatal precedent pointing to the return of a Cold War-like confrontation, the economist said. Speaking on the economic repercussions of the sanctions against Rosneft, Sapir said European oil and gas companies working with Russia, including France’s Total and Germany’s E.ON, have also been affected.
Russia and Belarus have finally resolved their energy feud, which had dragged on for more than a year, Izvestia writes. In the next ten days, the sides will settle all the issues linked to the gas price and a $720 mln debt payment by Minsk, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday after talks with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko. This year, Russia will resume duty-free oil supplies to Belarus in full and Gazprom will restore gas discounts for Belarus in 2018-2019.
Minsk is Moscow’s closest ally, and Russia and Belarus have a united economic, humanitarian and educational space without borders, Director of the Institute of the Newest States Alexey Martynov said. “Minsk’s position on important issues is clear, but certain harsh statements by the Belarusian leader demanded some explanations in closed door talks between the presidents. I think they were given and accepted, and all misunderstandings linked to some difficulties in the integration processes between Russia and Belarus were alleviated,” he explained.
It is important that the parties agreed not to just continue cooperation in the energy field, but to settling the gas debt issue, Martynov said. “Belarus finds itself in a rather difficult economic situation amid the global crisis, but the integration process has never been stopped,” the expert said. The sides are expected to continue integration, primarily in security, he noted.
In the run-up to the 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Russia and India, the two countries’ leading diplomats, top military brass and experts brainstormed the strategic partnership between Moscow and New Delhi, Kommersant writes. The forum in New Delhi was held by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), an influential Indian non-governmental organization, known as the alma mater of Narendra Modi’s cabinet.
Amid the crisis in Russia’s relations with the West, India is seeking to become one of the major partners in developing East Siberia and Russia’s Far East, boosting investments in energy and infrastructure projects, the paper writes. However, cooperation is complicated due to the growing misunderstanding between the parties on regional security.
The Indian participants claimed that Russia’s military ties with Pakistan, its readiness to help establish dialogue with the Taliban’s moderate wing in Afghanistan and also growing cooperation with Beijing may affect its ties with India. The Russian participants of the forum said the misunderstanding between Moscow and New Delhi can be explained by several factors. “The lack of information brings out a myth in India (unfavorable for Russia) about Russian-Chinese and Russian-Pakistani relations,” Vasily Kashin, senior research fellow at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said. “Due to a simple lack of attention towards India, Russia may sustain significant losses on the Indian weapons market, still one of the world’s largest and fail in diversifying economic and political ties with Asian countries,” he said. There is an apparent disbalance in Russia’s ties with China and India in the political and military arena, the expert noted.
Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Andrey Kortunov stressed that Russia’s key goal now is to “bring new dynamics to the economic relationship with New Delhi,” noting that India deserves more of Moscow’s attention.
At a meeting, held behind closed doors, the sides agreed to draw up a new roadmap of cooperation that will be put up for consideration by the Russian and Indian leaders.
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