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Press review: Pro-Assad militia arrives in Afrin and IOC closes in on Russian flag verdict

February 22, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday

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© Valeriy Sharifulin/TASS

Kommersant: Russia-Turkey-Iran alliance put to the test in Afrin

The deployment of Syrian pro-government forces to the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, which came in response to the Turkish military operation in the area, has tested the strength of the alliance between Moscow, Ankara and Tehran, Kommersant writes. The "people’s militia" units entered Afrin after a statement made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who assured on Tuesday evening that the movement of forces loyal to the Syrian regime towards the area had been stopped after his conversation with the Russian and Iranian presidents.

Damascus is not formally involved in the Afrin operation described as the "people’s initiative." Similar units, which formally did not report to the army, took part in the fighting in the Deir ez-Zor area in early February.

"The fact that the militia rather than the army is involved (in the operation) makes it possible for all parties to save face. Agreements between the Syrian government and the Kurds did exist, and Erdogan was aware of them. Turkey’s Olive Branch operation in Afrin has been going on for a month now, but the Kurdish resistance has not been broken. Ankara needs a pretext to terminate this operation and save face," a source close to the Syrian government told the paper.

According to Turkish political scientist and expert of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Mesut Hakki Casin, a further escalation of tensions in the region is very unlikely. He stressed that Ankara is not fighting the regular Syrian army, adding that Turkey’s enemy is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) labelled as a terrorist organization in Turkey. He noted that Ankara, along with Moscow and Tehran, is a guarantor of Syria’s territorial integrity.

 

Izvestia: Russian athletes might get to march under national flag at close of Olympics

Most members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are currently in favor of allowing Olympic Athletes from Russia to use their national symbols and the tricolor at the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in South Korea’s PyeongChang, a high-ranking source in the organization told Izvestia.

"The IOC realizes that this will be an important step towards building relations with Russia from scratch," he said. "Many members of the organization believe that the Russian delegation took all the IOC’s requirements seriously and believe it will be fair to have the national flag returned to it. The incident with (curler) Alexander Krushelnitsky should not affect the situation, as that was just one isolated case. However, some other IOC members are strongly opposed to the appearance of the Russian flag at the closing Olympic ceremony."

Meanwhile, the IOC’s press service informed the paper that the committee has a special group monitoring the conduct of Olympic Athletes from Russia and compliance with the fundamental principles. The group is expected to report on whether its members feel the decision and spirit of the IOC Executive Board were adhered to once the Games are over.

On Saturday, the IOC will decide on whether Olympic Athletes from Russia will be allowed to take part in the closing ceremony under the Russian national flag.

 

RBC: Chinese financing jitters likely holding up sale of Rosneft’s 14% stake

The Switzerland-based commodity trader Glencore together (which along with Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) wealth fund own 19.5% of Rosneft) plans to seal a deal to sell a 14% stake in Russia’s Rosneft oil company to the China Energy Company Limited (CEFC) by the end of the first half of 2018, RBC writes citing the Glencore report made public on Wednesday. The transaction is now waiting for the regulators’ official greenlight, the report said.

To close the deal, the CEFC planned to attract funds from China Development Bank (CDB), according to two RBC sources close to the Chinese bank. One of them noted that various options for bankrolling the deal were on the table. The company planned to either borrow all the money needed to ink the deal ($9 bln) from the CDB or attract private investors.

For his part, a source close to the CDB told the paper that Chinese officials had advised investors to be cautious about providing loans to the CEFC, which is a private company. "If the CEFC were a state-owned company, it would get a loan very quickly. However, it is a private fund, which has received a large loan from the CDB, and the authorities advised (investors) to be careful about financing it," the RBC source said. Nevertheless, two sources close to the CDB informed the paper that they see no risks that the deal would collapse.

Chances are that the deal’s closure has been delayed because of Chinese partners, says Raiffeisenbank analyst Andrey Polishchuk. Apparently, the CEFC is working to iron out some issues with the Chinese government and regulators, which tightened control over capital outflow last year, the expert stressed.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Eastern Ghouta might morph into second Aleppo

A humanitarian disaster similar to the one that occurred in Aleppo in late 2016 is likely to be repeated in Syria. The government forces’ onslaught in Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, which is officially one of the de-escalation zones, has already triggered new threats from the world community against the Syrian government and its allies, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Eastern Ghouta will top the agenda of talks between French top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian and Russian officials in the near future.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s supporters say that the standoff in Eastern Ghouta is due to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s militants operating in the area. However, Anton Mardasov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), explained in an interview with the paper that the number of extremists in Eastern Ghouta is not very significant. "Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s militants are indeed present in the area, but they are relatively few in number, and they have not joined forces with anyone," he said. He noted that Eastern Ghouta has its own infrastructure controlled by the moderate opposition, adding that there are more civilians in the enclave than in Aleppo.

"The eastern part of Ghouta was separated from the western part under Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, in order to prevent a merger of Sunni enclaves," Mardasov recalled. "The presence of the Sunni opposition ‘pocket’, which, according to various estimates, is home to up to 400,000 civilians, and where about 25,000 opposition fighters are concentrated, currently spoils the entire picture for Syrian state propaganda."

According to the expert, operations in Eastern Ghouta "have been held relentlessly - under various pretexts and against various groups." He added that the negotiating initiatives, which were put forward on several occasions, have never been implemented.

 

Kommersant: Sanctions prompt Russian software developers to pursue emerging markets

The export volumes of Russian software and development services climbed from 10% to 12% in 2017 reaching $8.5 bln, Kommersant writes citing data provided by the Russian Software Developers Association (RUSSOFT). The anti-Russian sanctions have hurt Russian software sales in the United States and the European Union, which made developers shift to developing countries.

In the United States, the sanctions have affected the sales of software in IT security, financial technologies and deliveries to the public sector, said RUSSOFT President Valentin Makarov. The biggest supplier, Kaspersky Lab, reported that its revenues in North America had dropped 8% in 2017. In contrast, its sales grew 8% globally thanks to growth in Russia and CIS countries (34%), in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa (31%), in Latin America (18%) and in the Asia-Pacific region (11%).

According to Makarov, Russian companies create local offices and boost investment in the EU. Besides, business trips to Southeast Asia and Arab countries started becoming more frequent last year. That means that so-called third world markets will accelerate Russian software developers’ growth in 2018, and the expert estimates that market volume could generate 14-percent growth reaching $9.7 bln.

Exports have increased because many Russian software developers open offices around the world, according to Darya Abramova, Marketing Communications & Operational Marketing Head at Orange Business Services. "Big corporations are willing to open their own R&D centers. In addition, more and more projects have recently come from Asia," she pointed out.

 

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press review

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