The Taliban is expanding its control over Afghanistan, and now has 54 districts with a population of 3.7 mln people under its thumb, according to Kommersant’s sources in Russia’s government agencies. The number of Taliban militants in Afghanistan is estimated by Moscow at more than 60,000. Amid the deteriorating situation in that country, Russia is stepping up its efforts on the Afghan track. They include, chiefly, training Afghan police, anti-drug and military units.
The extremely strained situation has forced NATO to review its strategy to gradually phase out its mission in that country. The alliance’s Defense Ministers agreed at a meeting in Brussels to step up its military presence in Afghanistan, increasing the number of troops from 13,000 to 16,000.
US President Donald Trump earlier unveiled Washington’s new strategy for Afghanistan, which includes three major aspects, namely, fighting to win, stepping up pressure on Pakistan, which is accused of providing a safe haven to terrorists, and applying "overwhelming force."
Meanwhile, a Russian diplomatic source informed the paper that today Moscow is putting emphasis on "soft power" in relations with Kabul. In addition to assistance in training Afghan personnel, plans are in store to open its Russian Science and Culture Center in Kabul.
Another focus is on the economy. Plans to intensify economic ties were discussed during a visit to Kabul by a Russian delegation led by Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev, which was not announced in advance for security reasons. However, Russia’s Security Council did not disclose any details of the negotiations after Patrushev’s return to Moscow either. According to Kommersant’s sources, the Russian security chief discussed with Afghan President Ghani and his National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar military-technical cooperation, the war on terror and drug trafficking along with the conditions for Russian companies’ work in Afghanistan.
The liberation of the last and major terrorist stronghold, the city of Abu Kamal, by Syrian troops does not mean an end to hostilities in the country. The fighting and skirmishes between government forces, militants of the Islamic State (IS, terror group, outlawed in Russia) and armed opposition units rage on throughout the country. The civil war in Syria shows no signs of abating and can flare up again under certain circumstances, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Peaceful political developments in Syria are still not on the horizon, while the Russian Defense Ministry has not confirmed that preparations for a large-scale withdrawal of Russian troops from that country are underway. The international community has no unified approach as to how a swift and bloodless peacekeeping process could be organized.
Besides, it’s unclear what the stance of the Kurdish self-defense units backed by the US-led international coalition is. According to Syrian political scientist and journalist Omar Bessam, the Kurds’ power actually rests on American bayonets. He noted that the Kurds made up 9% of the country’s population before the armed conflict. However, at present there are about 70 US military facilities in the areas controlled by the Kurds (and that’s more than one-third of the country’s total area).
The expert emphasized that the Arabs representing the majority in northern Syria are extremely unhappy with the Kurds’ dominance. He added that in some cases the Kurds supported by the US seize Arabs’ property and resort to ethnic cleansing. All that could lead to a new civil war in the future, this time between the Kurds and the Arabs in northern Syria, Omar Bessam warned.
On the other hand, Russian military expert, Lieutenant-General Yuri Netkachev believes that "the destruction of major terrorist forces in Syria marks the beginning of an important stage to establish a peacekeeping process involving all interested parties." In his view, Russia’s leadership is capable of doing that, as Moscow’s influence among the Syrian population is substantial, and Russia’s chief opponents have long realized that the Kremlin’s stance cannot be ignored.
Attempts by EU officials to influence the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline are becoming more sensitive for Russia’s Gazprom energy giant, as the expiration deadline for the agreement on Russian gas transit to Europe through Ukraine approaches, Vedomosti writes.
Earlier this week, the European Commission said it had completed work on the announced amendments to the European Union’s energy legislation, which would jeopardize Gazprom’s plans to finish the construction of the gas pipeline that would substitute the Ukrainian route by 2020.
There are a lot of controversial legal issues in the proposed amendments, says Konstantin Simonov of the National Energy Security Fund. In fact, the EU seeks to regulate the construction of a gas pipeline in the free economic zone in the Baltic Sea region, which is regulated by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out that the amendments will be fully endorsed. They are politically motivated, which means that the EU’s resistance will continue, Simonov stressed.
This increases the risks of the work on the project for Gazprom and its partners, which have grown after the US unveiled a new package of anti-Russian sanctions specifying the possibility of their application to those European companies involved in the project. Although the Europeans have not yet announced plans to withdraw from it, the project’s implementation cannot be delayed. Otherwise, it will be impossible to complete its construction by 2020.
Kosovo Serbs could form their own militia units amid Pristina’s plans to create a full-fledged army in the region, one of the leaders of the Serb community, Oliver Ivanovic, told Izvestia.
"The Kosovo Albanians want the army to be a symbol of their statehood. However, against the backdrop of complete distrust between Serbs and Albanians, any move to arm one side sets off alarm bells for the other side. Therefore, the formation of a militia made up of Kosovo Serbs is a possibility," he said.
President of the self-proclaimed republic Hashim Thaci has supported this idea stressing on several occasions that no one will be able to hamper this process. Moreover, in one of his recent speeches Thaci noted that, with support from the US, the EU and NATO, Pristina would be able to set the idea into motion by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Serbian MP and retired General Bozidar Delic noted that the Kosovo armed forces exist de facto, as the parliament of the unrecognized republic passed a resolution on setting them up back in February, and its implementation is just a matter of time.
"Albanian officers from Kosovo are educated in America and Turkey. Veterans of the Yugoslav war are still on the lists of their brigades and can be mobilized within 24 hours. Pristina has helicopters and light weapons, since the US provides significant military assistance to it. Therefore, as soon as Pristina receives the green light from Washington, it will create its own army," he said.
According to the head of the World Serbian Diaspora Assembly Dragan Stanojevic, Kosovo Serbs are gearing up for the worst-case scenario due to weakening support from Belgrade.
"Attacks against Serbs take place in Kosovo daily, while the authorities deliberately create unbearable conditions for them forcing them to leave their homes. With the advent of the Kosovo army, the Serbs will likewise be forced to take up arms to protect their families," he noted.
Russian companies spent 41 bln rubles ($690 mln) on online advertising in the third quarter of 2017 and 36.5 bln rubles ($615 mln) on TV commercials, Vedomosti writes citing data provided by the Russian Association of Communication Agencies (RACA). Until now, television was ahead of RuNet in terms of advertising.
Russia is not unique in this respect. According to the forecast of the Zenith international communications agency, this year clients will pay more for placing ads on line than for TV commercials for the first time.
Over the past two years, virtually all major players in TV advertising have started their promotional campaigns online. Staff from several such companies told the paper that they currently spend up to 25% of their advertising budgets online, including on placing contextual advertisements.
Deputy CEO of Mail.ru Group Dmitry Sergeyev explained that the Internet could monetize its audiences better. People surfing the Internet not only watch videos and listen to music, but also read news, search for and buy goods and services, which makes it possible for advertising clients to better sell contacts with them. The expert noted though that, while TV copes with the task of building awareness campaigns of a certain product, the Internet tackles more practical issues, for example, selling a certain service here and now.
According to Andrey Chernyshov, Vice President of Dentsu Aegis Network Russia, advertising clients will spend more than half of their Internet budgets on mobile devices by the end of 2018. "It is possible that smartphones will eventually become the biggest media in Russia," he said.
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