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Press review: Netanyahu in Russia to focus on Iran and NSA spies on Russian net users

August 23, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, August 23

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

© AP Photo/Dan Balilty

Izvestia: Netanyahu to focus on Iran's influence in Syria during Russia talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to convince Moscow of the need to diminish Iran’s influence in Syria, during his visit to Russia where he will meet President Vladimir Putin on August 23, Izvestia writes citing sources in Israeli diplomatic circles. "The country’s leadership assumes that Moscow can put pressure on Tehran," one of the sources said. Robert Ilatov, a member of the Knesset and the commission on foreign affairs and security, confirmed to the newspaper that Israel is keeping a cautious eye on the presence of Iran’s allied forces on Syrian soil. “Obviously, Israel is worried about Iranian forces and Shiite militias in Syria. There are some things concerning certain ongoing processes in the country that Israel is not ready to accept. We’ve done everything we could not to interfere in the conflict, but we are protecting our own interests and are not ready to surrender on issues related to our citizens’ security," he said.

Meanwhile, Moscow is not likely to be putting pressure on Tehran, Izvestia says. Chairman of the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) Committee for Foreign Affairs Leonid Slutsky confirmed to the publication that the Iranian issue will be on the agenda during the upcoming talks between Russia and Israel, though he added that Moscow can only act as a mediator in the region. "Russia may be a mediator between the two countries for relieving tensions in the region, particularly concerning the issues of Syrian settlement and the (Syrian) territories bordering Israel," he said.

According to Oleg Glazunov, an expert of the Association of Military Political Scientists, the long-term interests of Russia and Israel regarding Iran may converge. "Currently, Moscow and Tehran have common targets, which are defeating the Islamic State, establishing peace in Syria, sustaining it and preventing any toppling of the legitimate authorities. However, this alliance is temporary. The Islamic Republic (of Iran) is eyeing cooperation with the West no matter what, since Tehran assumes it can gain more from it than from Russia. Simultaneously, Iran sees itself as a leading authority in the region, and its substantial influence in Syria is not what Russia is interested in," the expert said, adding that taking all this into account, Moscow and Tehran will have to reach agreements in the future.

 

Vedomosti: Moscow concerned about US intelligence agencies spying on Russian Internet users

Washington’s intelligence services may have access to Russia’s Internet traffic through major Internet exchange points outside the country, a federal official and a source close to members of the government and the presidential administration told Vedomosti. The US National Security Agency has a large center in Stockholm with access to traffic that goes through major traffic exchange hubs, providing US intel services with the opportunity to skim data from those points, decode them and create a keyword search in order to ferret out terrorists, one of the sources said. However, they also get information about banking transactions, state data and internal correspondence, the sources say.

Director General of IT conglomerate Inoventica Vitaly Slizen told Vedomosti that he knows at least one traffic analysis center serving the interests of foreign intelligence, which is located close to a big traffic exchange point in London. He also said that two primary points in London and Frankfurt receive the data that users inside Russia share. The data also is seen abroad when Russian citizens open foreign services and resources, which happens really often since the bulk of services are locally outside Russia, while European and American users seldom try Russian resources, the official said. However, since European exchange points don’t sell outbound traffic separately from inbound traffic, but sell it in packages, the idle inbound channel is filled with Russian domestic traffic, which literally loops and leaves the country, the official said.

A representative from one big telecom operator confirmed the problem, though sources in two different operators denied it, saying that such ‘loops’ are not economically reasonable as the companies have to pay in foreign currency for them, and can run up more expenses. Russia’s Telecommunication Ministry has proposed a new version of the law on Russian Internet regulation, which particularly focuses on locking the traffic inside the country, Vedomosti writes. According to one of the federal officials, the move is related to potential external threats.

 

Kommersant: Moldovan politicians beat war drums

As Moldova plans to raise the issue of Russian peacekeepers’ withdrawal from Transnistria at the upcoming UN General Assembly session, experts note that local politicians are deliberately exploiting the war topic, according to Kommersant. Mark Tkachuk, a former MP, told the newspaper that "the number of publications in Russian and Romanian analyzing the military potential of the conflicting sides and describing scenarios of how global players could react in case of military operations, has been in the rise." "Moldovan politicians have been mentioning Transnistria more often, and the undertone of those references are more than worrisome," he said, adding that the key issue both pro-Russian and pro-Western political figures are pre-occupied with the country’s choice between the West and the East.

However, according to Vladislav Kulminski, Executive Director of the Chisinau-based Institute for Strategic Initiatives, neither side wants the conflict to be reignited. "Nevertheless, all of them want to receive political dividends, as the democrats are striving for broader legitimacy domestically and internationally, while the socialists seek to climb to power as a pro-Russian force. They all want to use the situation in order to solve their issues, and don’t expect it to have long-term consequences," he explained. Still, the expert fears that "pursuing the interests of a few cliques leads straight to making Moldova a battleground for the competing interests of big players."

The Transnistrian conflict erupted in March 1992 when initial clashes occurred between Moldovan police and Transnistrian militia near the city of Dubossary, followed by an outbreak of armed hostilities. By the summer, it had morphed into a large-scale conflict in Bendery, where about 1,000 people were killed and tens of thousands were wounded and ended up as refugees. The civil war was brought to an end following a peace agreement signed in Moscow in July 1992 and Russian peacekeepers were brought into the conflict zone. Since then, they have been maintaining peace and calm in the region, together with their Moldovan and Transnistrian colleagues, thus allowing Chisinau and Tiraspol to conduct negotiations on settling the conflict on the breakaway republic.

 

RBC: Russian oil giant rolls out $356 mln tender for Zvezda shipyard sites

Rosneft, Russia’s top oil producer, has posted a tender for the construction of one of the Zvezda shipyard’s biggest sites in the Primorye region, in Russia’s Far East. Global majors Hyundai and the China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) will compete for the lucrative contract worth 21 bln rubles ($356 mln), RBC business daily writes. Two sources close to Zvezda’s shareholders told the newspaper that the Korean and Chinese companies plan to participate in the tender, being mainly interested in equipment supplies, which account for around 70% of the contract’s value. Another source told RBC that there are other bidders planning to take part in the project, though the main struggle is expected between those two.

The Zvezda shipyard, primarily focused on Russian oil and gas and shipping companies, has been under construction since 2009. Initially, the project was launched and implemented by the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) and South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. (DSME, a division of Daewoo). In 2012, DSME withdrew from the project and USC gave the package of 75% minus two shares to a consortium that was jointly set up by Rosneft and Gazprombank.

Since Russia is lacking the production of equipment for such construction projects, it is no wonder foreign companies have been allowed to get involved, Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Ruslan Pukhov said, adding that Chinese companies are lagging behind their South Korean counterparts regarding certain technologies. On the other hand, CCCC has no problems with funding as China’s top banks have been eagerly bankrolling its projects.

 

Kommersant: China increasingly interested in Russia’s KHL hockey league

President of the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) Dmitry Chernyshenko considers the Chinese market to be extremely promising and expects cooperation with Chinese clubs to increase. "The Chinese market is very promising, I know it firsthand since I am a member of the coordination commission of the International Olympic Committee for the 2022 Winter Games preparations. China is assuming serious systemic measures, particularly boosting the popularity of winter sports, which include plans to construct hockey rinks for non-professional and professional players," he said in an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia.

"We are already seeing China’s growing interest in the KHL, which first of all affects our TV rights contract. Previously, the Chinese only televised our National Hockey League, but the current contracts stipulate a substantial increase in revenue in the Asian area," he said, adding that the expectations are that "the process will accelerate once the Chinese market is receptive to the products of the National Basketball Association, which has seriously invested in China" then the country’s sponsors and partners will jump on the bandwagon.

Chernyshenko admitted that football is gaining global attention prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. "With the upcoming FIFA World Cup that will take place in Russia next year, this sport will be in the spotlight. Football still has huge potential, but nevertheless everything is ahead of us as a developing market," he said, adding that established markets, European ones first and foremost, have an interest in the Russian league, which drives up the cost of TV rights.

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