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The implementation of the memorandum on setting up four de-escalation zones in Syria drafted by Russia and signed by the participants at Thursday’s intra-Syrian peace talks in Astana may run into some insurmountable obstacles, Maxim Suchkov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, said in an interview with Kommersant.
In his view, the key hurdle is that the opposition has not backed the Astana memorandum. “The opposition demands that the de-escalation zones apply to all of Syria, which is unrealistic under the circumstances. That means that the idea aimed at consolidating the ceasefire is likely to be torpedoed again by certain forces on the ground, despite the fact that even external players seem to be willing to promote it,” he said.
Meanwhile, a diplomatic source admitted to the paper that so far it is unclear which countries’ or organizations’ contingents will be deployed along the perimeter of the de-escalation zones.
Suchkov also noted that the Obama administration had proposed setting up no-fly zones in Syria. “However, back then the danger was that they would hinder the operations of the Russian Aerospace Forces and eventually lead to a direct military confrontation between Russia and the US. With the advent of the Trump administration, the idea was transformed into de-escalation zones. Apparently, all interested external parties found acceptable options for themselves in this solution. There will be four zones, which could be made safe and where aircraft will not operate,” he emphasized.
On Sunday, French voters will go to the polls to elect the country’s next president in the coming runoff election between the far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen and former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron who describes himself as a centrist. Le Pen considers herself to be the voice of those who are dissatisfied with the elites, globalization and migrants, whereas Macron is in favor of the EU, free trade and liberal tax and labor market reforms, Vedomosti writes.
For the first time in the history of modern France, neither of the two traditional political parties - the right-wing Republican Party and the Socialist Party - made it to the runoff election. In this regard, luck accompanied Macron who had much more opportunities to expand his electorate than Le Pen.
The duel between Macron and Le Pen is a struggle between the two current leadership styles rather than a purely French phenomenon, according to Alberto Alemanno, Professor at the HEC Paris School of Management. In his view, on Sunday, a divided France will have to choose between two opposites in the socio-economic, cultural and territorial spheres.
On the other hand, Yevgeny Osipov, senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World History, noted that a low voter turnout is the only factor that could play into the hands of Le Pen. "The more serious the election in France, the higher the turnout is. However, there is hardly anyone who hopes that he will be the president. He is, above all, a compromise figure. It is like a marriage of convenience when people vote not for him or his election program. They vote against Le Pen," Vedomosti quotes him as saying.
"The situation is unique now, because Macron is not at the helm of any leading political party. Therefore, he cannot expect his party, which is only one year old, to gain the majority in a month’s time. The clear frontrunner in June will be The Republicans, and they will do their utmost to take revenge for their defeat and put him under their control," Osipov noted.
The paper recalls that there is a phenomenon in French politics when the president and prime minister belong to different political parties yet have equal influence. A decade and a half ago, the country’s constitution was amended to eliminate this phenomenon, which paralyzed the country’s political life. After that France started holding parliamentary elections a month later than the presidential election.
The Montenegrin opposition is determined to take all possible legal avenues to annul the country’s decision favoring NATO membership and is ready to fight on against Euro-Atlantic integration, Izvestia writes.
Last week, Montenegro’s parliament voted in favor of the country joining the alliance, despite the fact that most citizens oppose the move.
Stefan Djukic, head of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro, informed the paper that the issue at hand is, above all, filing a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court, since there is a probability that the parliament’s decision violated Article 91 of the country’s constitution. He also emphasized the need to submit a law prohibiting the deployment of any foreign military bases in Montenegro.
However, Serbian political scientist Dragan Stanojevic explained to Izvestia that such legal proceedings, even if they got underway, would unlikely end favorably for NATO’s opponents.
He noted that only a regional boycott could change the government’s position somehow. “In fact, the government has no support in the north of the country. Let’s wait and see what local projects will be implemented when individual cities begin to boycott the allied commitments and actually abandon the alliance,” he said.
The issue of Montenegro’s accession to NATO has sparked a rift in society, which may widen into a more serious political crisis in the future, the paper notes. Opinion polls show that support for NATO has never exceeded 40%, with the overwhelming majority being in favor of holding a nationwide plebiscite on the issue.
Moscow is ready to support the extension of the agreement on reducing oil production with OPEC, Kommersant writes citing a statement by Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak. The Russian government is thus going to join the stance of other major players in OPEC, despite oil companies’ dissatisfaction. According to analysts, the deal will be extended under the current terms, which will mean a decrease in production in Russia compared to the planned 549 million tonnes.
Experts interviewed by the paper noted that Russian oil companies opposed the deal’s extension, since it sets back their projects and plans to increase production, which they had put off to the second half of the year.
The new agreement with OPEC is likely to envisage freezing production at the current level until the end of the year, said Alexey Polishchuk, an analyst with Raiffeisenbank. The quotas for some countries are likely to be changed too, he added. If OPEC decides to further cut production, that decision will be the most difficult for Gazprom Neft, which planned to significantly increase production due to new projects.
Artyom Konchin of Oktritie Capital likewise believes that the OPEC and non-OPEC countries will extend the deal under the current terms. According to his estimates, in that case, a gap of 3 mln barrels per day between demand and supply could emerge by October due to production cuts and growth in demand. If that is the case, the increase in production in the US will not affect the market significantly and will be no more than 1 mln barrels per day at a price of $60, Konchin said.
May 9, which is celebrated in Russia and most Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member-countries as Victory Day in the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany is of particular importance, since the Soviet population sustained the greatest amount of human losses in their fight against the Nazi invaders. Despite Western anti-Russian rhetoric, citizens in many European countries continue to remember and honor this triumph by the Soviet people, Izvestia writes. This year commemorative events will be held in more than 60 countries, including Europe.
Vladimir Mikunda, a spokesman for the Slovak Association of Anti-Nazi Fighters, informed the paper that commemorative events will be held in Bratislava, near the monument dedicated to Soviet servicemen and in some small cities, where people honor the memory of these fallen soldiers. A total of 63,512 Red Army soldiers are buried in Slovakia, Mikunda said.
On May 7, a concert dedicated to Red Army soldiers will be conducted in Vienna’s main square, while on May 8, a flower laying ceremony will be held and on May 9, the Immortal Regiment march and the St. George’s Ribbon campaign will take place. Yulia Egger, head of the Memory non-profit organization, told Izvestia that in small Austrian cities commemorative events would be held at Soviet servicemen’s burial sites.
The Soviet victory over Nazism remains in the memory of the Serbian people as one of the most significant events in the 20th century despite attempts to downplay the Soviet Union’s role in the war. “Our response will be not only the Immortal Regiment march, which will be held in Belgrade on May 9, but other events as well, which we will hold in memory of those who fought against Nazism,” Dragan Stanojevic, head of the world Parliament of the Serbian Diaspora, said in an interview with the paper.
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