The escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the destabilization of Ukraine could be the key challenges facing Russia this year, RBC writes citing a report titled International Threats 2018 prepared by Russia’s Foreign Policy Analysis Group. According to this report, Russia will be able to take advantage of such global contradictions and challenges as its ongoing fragmentation and the rapid development of information technologies to consolidate its positions in the world. The experts warned, however, that Moscow needs to analyze the situation properly, sort out priorities and be ready to compromise.
Andrey Kolesnikov, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, doubts that Moscow is prepared for changes in its foreign policy. "Actually, Russia has neither strategy nor tactics in foreign policy, while relations with the West are based on an ‘action-reaction’ principle," he told the paper.
"If we want to use pragmatism as a tool, we need to be ready to meet the West halfway. However, that’s impossible now."
One can identify some of the most serious problems among an entire range of threats, challenges and opportunities in 2018, said Andrey Sushentsov, head of the Foreign Policy Agency and Program Director at the Valdai Club. According to Sushentsov, who led a team of authors who drew up the report, those could be the exacerbating crisis on the Korean Peninsula and the political destabilization in Ukraine.
"In addition to that, possible attempts to meddle in Russia’s presidential election in March would result in an international crisis. Of course, natural disasters and terror attacks won’t disappear either," the expert added.
A new round of the inter-Korean negotiations held for the first time since December 2015 has produced a number of breakthroughs for both parties, Konstantin Asmolov, Leading Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said in an interview with Kommersant.
"Pyongyang has demonstrated its ability and willingness to negotiate, something many did expect from it. As for Seoul, it got the opportunity to hold the Olympic Games peacefully. The presence of the North Korean team indicates that Pyongyang is more than likely to refrain from tests during the event. Previously, there was a risk that some Western delegations could opt for not sending their athletes to PyeongChang fearing for their safety," he said. According to the expert, their absence would deal a serious blow to South Korea’s self-esteem.
On Tuesday, delegations from the two Koreas met to discuss steps that could be instrumental in easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula after an unprecedented number of nuclear and missile tests conducted by Pyongyang in 2017. North Korea also agreed to send its national squad and a high-level delegation to the Olympic Games.
Russia views the beginning of the dialogue between the two Koreas as a positive sign. Head of the State Duma (lower house) International Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky described the mere fact that Seoul and Pyongyang had begun high-level negotiations as a breakthrough.
On the other hand, James Schoff, a Senior Fellow in the Carnegie Asia Program, is skeptical about the prospects for the inter-Korean talks. He recalled in an interview with Kommersant that there are two camps in Washington, one who is certain that North Korea is basically incapable of negotiating in a constructive fashion and the other who believes that it should be given a chance. Which of them will prevail depends on whether it will be possible to extend the negotiations beyond the Olympics, he stressed. In his view, the denuclearization issue will come to the fore again after the Games, and disagreements here seem to be irresolvable.
Given that terrorism has truly become a global threat, lawmakers need to provide the nation’s special services with an effective tool to fight terror in the form of legislation, Pavel Krasheninnikov, Chairman of Russia’s State Duma (lower house) Committee on Statehood Development and Legislation, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
According to Krasheninnikov, a new law, which makes it possible to adequately respond to today’s challenges, stipulates tougher criminal penalties both for those who commit terrorist attacks and for those who involve others in terrorist crimes. "For example, a suicide bomber does not care what measures are enshrined in the legislation - ten years behind bars or life in prison. However, for an organizer or recruiter who persuaded a suicide bomber to commit this act of terror and continues doing so with regard to other individuals, the difference will be substantial. Such crimes deserve punishment to the full extent of the law, just as financing terrorism," he stressed.
The new law specifies tougher punishment for public calls in favor of terrorist activities and attempts to justify terrorism in public, Krasheninnikov noted. "If terrorism is advocated and promoted through mass media or online, the perpetrator will face up to seven years in prison. Such measures will make it possible to effectively apply this Criminal Code section, because with the advent of IT advances, new forms of drawing people into terrorist activities have cropped up, especially on the Internet," he explained.
Commenting on the recent avalanche of hoax bomb calls, which sparked a wave of evacuations across Russia, the lawmaker noted that false reports on terror attacks are also terrorism. "After all, their goal is to frighten the population, spread panic in society and destabilize normal everyday life. Those responsible for such actions will now face long prison terms. Along with steps to block telephone terrorists’ numbers, the law will provide an important tool for law enforcement agencies to fight this evil."
The Jabhat al-Nusra terror group (outlawed in Russia) is behind the attacks against Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in Syria, Izvestia writes citing officials in Moscow and Damascus.
Brigadier General Samir Suleiman, head of the Media Affairs of the Syrian Defense Ministry's Political Office, told the paper that Jabhat al-Nusra uses every means to hold back the Syrian army’s successful offensive against the militants’ positions in Idlib.
"Jabhat al-Nusra currently fully controls Idlib and areas bordering other provinces, including Latakia, from where the attacks on Russia’s Hmeymim airbase were carried out. This is the leading militant group, which receives aid from the United States. Other groups, be it the Free Syrian Army, the al-Rahman Corps or some others, are subordinate to Jabhat al-Nusra," he said.
This information has been confirmed by Izvestia’s military-diplomatic source in Russia. He noted that the "Russian Defense Ministry suspects that Jabhat al-Nusra militants carried out the strikes against Hmeymim."
Syrian lawmakers are likewise certain that Jabhat al-Nusra is responsible for the attacks. "Over the past few days, terrorists have lost control over 90 localities. Militants carry out such attacks because of the difficult situation they found themselves in," MP from the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, Muhannad Ali al-Haj Ali, told the paper. According to the lawmaker, there is every likelihood that the militants received the UAVs that attacked the Hmeymim airbase from the United States, because it "has extensive experience in making such vehicles."
Russia’s Hmeymim airbase was struck twice over the past two weeks. The Russian Defense Ministry noted that "the engineering solutions used by terrorists to attack Russia’s facilities in Syria could only be obtained from a country possessing high technical capabilities."
Telegram plans to create the Telegram Open Network (TON) blockchain platform with its own cryptocurrency, Vedomosti writes citing the messenger’s so-called white paper.
The existing blockchain networks (for example, bitcoin or Ethereum blockchain networks) are unable to replace the Visa or Mastercard payment infrastructure. Transactions with these cryptocurrencies are too slow, so the principal demand for cryptocurrencies comes from investors rather than consumers, Telegram states.
However, everything is going to change once Telegram creates its own blockchain platform, which will be able to compete with Visa and Mastercard, while TON will become the world’s most common crypto-wallet, the messenger said.
The new platform to be created by Telegram may try to compete with bank cards, but due to insignificant volume of transactions, it is unlikely to be a serious rival to standard money transfer systems, says Alexey Arkhipov, Director of Crypto-Technology Development at Qiwi.
Attempts to create one’s own currency have been made on numerous occasions. However, without a "public consensus" on their use, their success was very limited, according to Alexey Chubar, Head of the Digital Transformation Department at VTB Bank. They cannot compete with conventional banking, he said.
Telegram’s sphere of circulation is so small that it cannot pose a serious challenge to long-established businesses and banks, said Chairman of Russia’s State Duma (lower house) Financial Markets Committee Anatoly Aksakov. However, customers will appear if the platform’s transactions are faster than traditional payment systems, but it’s too early to talk about its prospects, he stressed.
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