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Press review: Referendum gives Erdogan more muscle and US strike splits public opinion

April 18, 2017, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, April 18

1 pages in this article
© AP Photo/Emre Tazegul


Media: Constitutional referendum results in bolstering Erdogan’s power

Turkey is summing up the outcome of Sunday’s constitutional referendum that has turned one of the leading powers in Eurasia from a parliamentary republic into an executive presidency, Kommersant writes.

This is the most radical political reform since the time of the founder of the Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which vests President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with huge powers, the paper says. However, the consolidation of power is taking place amid a highly polarized political environment: Erdogan’s supporters pulled off a narrow win in the referendum (51.41% against 48.59%). The president’s foes fear that Turkey will clamp down on opponents, including possibly reintroducing the death penalty and abandoning European integration.

“After the constitutional referendum, there won’t be any stabilization in Turkey. On the contrary, tensions will boil over. The terrorist threat and the danger of new military coups will continue. Turkey will turn into a boiling pot with all problems deep inside,” said Stanislav Ivanov, a leading research fellow from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) said. The lack of broad public support forces Erdogan to bank on his conservative backers, playing out the scenario of a “besieged fortress” with daily struggles against domestic and external enemies.

The outcome of the referendum will serve as a pretext to block Turkey’s accession to the European Union, Turkish expert Volkan Ozdemir told RBC daily. Relations with the West may also deteriorate due to Erdogan’s plans to restore the death penalty, which he abolished in 2004. “For the EU, the introduction of capital punishment is a red line, and by crossing it Turkey may complicate talks with Brussels for a long time,” remarked Timur Akhmetov, an independent expert on Turkey. The reintroduction of the death penalty may lead to riots among the Kurds, who fear that the first death sentence may be passed against the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan, he said.

Analysts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Ankara’s expansionism into vital areas, chiefly Syria, may increase. “No easing in policy is expected,” said senior Lecturer at the Department for Political Science of the National Research University Higher School of Economics Leonid Isaev. “Until 2030 Erdogan will be Turkey’s only head honcho. Usually, such things don’t do much good.” Turkish experts have not ruled out that Ankara may launch a new military operation, but now on Iraqi territory. Analysts say Erdogan will focus on securing new supporters, especially ahead of presidential elections scheduled for 2019. The foreign policy goals of the Turkish leader will reflect the domestic political situation.


Izvestia: Four options on the table for Syria’s opposition

In the run-up to the fourth round of Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana scheduled for early May, Russia drew up and sent the armed opposition a package of four proposals aimed at achieving a settlement, Izvestia writes citing sources close to the negotiations. The plan’s implementation should be a follow-up to the ceasefire declared in late 2016. The document details the parameters for setting up a commission to deal with drafting Syria’s constitution, governing the areas under a ceasefire, and also hammering out the conditions for a prisoner swap and mine clearance.

Franz Klintsevich, First Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house) Defense Committee, confirmed that there are such proposals.

“The implementation of these four points could really advance the peace process in Syria. But the string-pullers, who are behind the armed opposition, don’t need this. They have opposite goals,” the senator maintained. Russia has taken into consideration that the representatives of armed groups may skip the upcoming round of talks, but this is not a reason for postponing or cancelling the dialogue, he noted.

“Besides, it seems to me that Turkey has taken a cue from Washington’s policy and in light of any prospect of toppling President Bashar Assad it is not frightened by the prospect of worsening relations with Russia anymore,” Klintsevich emphasized.

The negotiations have been seriously frustrated by the US missile strikes against Syria’s Shayrat airbase, Head of the Russian Institute of Religion and Politics Alexander Ignatenko told the newspaper. “This platform created opportunities for a peaceful settlement to the conflict. But once again the armed opposition refuses to take part in it. If it finally withdraws from this process, it is not very clear how the negotiations may continue under these conditions,” the expert noted.


Izvestia: Tomahawk missile strike on Syria splits US public opinion

Despite all the enthusiasm by US mass media outlets and political war hawks, not everyone in the United States backed the April 7 missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat air base in the Homs province, Izvestia writes. According to an opinion poll carried out by the Pew Research Center think tank, 61% of US citizens said Washington does not have a clear plan on Syria, with 58% of respondents backing Donald Trump’s steps, while 36% said they were against the move.

Experts say there is a rift in US society that may make Washington’s foreign policy less popular. America is also split as Trump’s staunch supporters are absolutely against meddling in the internal affairs of foreign countries, the paper writes.

"There is no single opinion on policy regarding Syria. Many are tired of the Iraqi and Afghan wars and do not want any new campaigns," said Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Vasiliev.

"It is impossible to say that Americans fully supported or came out against the missile strikes on the Syrian army. We can only say that the country is divided," he noted. Trump will find it harder to make decisions on further steps in Syria in this climate, the expert explained.

"Taking into consideration the powerful media campaign launched after the suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria, the percentage of Americans supporting this move can be considered not high enough," said Edward Lozansky, President of the American University in Moscow. While losing support of his allies, Trump runs the risk of facing his political opponents one-on-one, the paper writes.



Vedomosti: ‘Tomato fight’ with Turkey squeezes $1.5 bln in losses out of Russia

Russia’s economic losses due to Turkey’s restrictions on supplies of Russian grain, vegetable oil and other agricultural goods could reach anywhere from $1.3 bln to $1.5 bln, according to research carried out jointly by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy and the Russian Foreign Trade Academy, Vedomosti reported. This is five times as much as Turkey’s potential losses from Russia’s ban on its tomatoes.

Turkey imposed duties on Russian goods in mid-March hoping that Russia would lift its ban against tomatoes, cucumbers and other Turkish agricultural goods, the country’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said. Since January 1, 2016 some 60% of Turkish goods exported to Russia came under the ban, according to RANEPA. The restriction was earlier eased but Turkey’s key export items worth almost $300 mln per year – tomatoes and cucumbers – still cannot be sent to Russia.

Domestic production of tomatoes started actively developing due to Russia’s food embargo introduced in response to Western sanctions, its restrictions on trade ties with Turkey and growing state support for glasshouse projects. The return of Turkish tomatoes to the Russian market could spell disaster, as their wholesale price would undercut Russian tomato producers by 20% or even 30%, said President of the National Union of Producers of Fruits and Vegetables, Sergey Korolyov said.

Turkey’s suppliers still send their goods to Russia bypassing the ban using fake documents. As a result, Turkish restrictions against Russia are more vulnerable than Russia’s ban on Turkish goods, the authors of the research noted.


Kommersant: Russia’s Chukotka may strike gold merger

Highland Gold owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Canada’s Kinross Gold may launch a joint gold extraction project in Chukotka, Russia’s Far East, according to sources, Kommersant writes.

Highland Gold has to develop its Kekura field from scratch and Kinross has a gold extracting factory and fields where reserves will be exhausted by 2021. A source close to one of the sides said Kinross "has always said it was looking into various options for a partnership in Russia."

A joint venture is a logical step, but given that Kinross’ reserves will be exhausted in the next three to five years, there is a serious question regarding the assessment of the Canadians’ share in the JV, a source in the sector told the paper.

Oleg Petropavlovsky, an analyst at the BCS investment company, said the joint venture in Chukotka is just one of the options and it will be difficult to strike an agreement.

Kinross continues prospecting and assessing its reserves in the region and possibly may find raw material for the factory after 2021. In this case, the Canadians may insist on a controlling stake in the JV, and it’s unlikely that Highland Gold will agree to this, he explained.

If gold prices remain in the region of $1,200 per ounce and the ruble does not strengthen significantly, Highland Gold may launch Kekura itself, the analyst said.


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