NATO has expelled seven Russian diplomats over the country’s alleged involvement in Salisbury nerve agent attack. Accreditation requests from Moscow for three other officials have also been rejected to "send a clear message", NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday. According to Russia media, the decision did not come as a surprise for Moscow which most certainly is preparing for a hard-hitting response.
The majority of experts believe that the decision was rather expected in the wake of the global expulsions of Russian diplomatic staff. "NATO's actions did not come as a surprise for us. It is hard to imagine that NATO would have been left out of this mayhem," Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Grushko, who until January had headed the Russian embassy to NATO, told Kommersant. "It is also clear that recently the Russia demonization campaign is apparently losing steam and new ‘fuel’ is needed as the NATO summit is coming, where it will be necessary to justify decisions to strengthen the eastern flank, increase military spending, and purchases of weapons," he added. According to Grushko, the decision to expel Russian diplomats "is built on an absolutely absurd basis".
In January 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Alexander Grushko as Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO, and appointed him Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to NATO Yuri Gorlach currently heads the Russian diplomatic mission in the organization. At the same time, there are no plans to appoint a new permanent representative from Russia, a high-ranking source in Russian diplomatic circles told Izvestia. "We do not need an ambassador to the alliance right now," the source told Izvestia, adding "Let's see what happens next, but sending the Ambassador to Brussels under current conditions is a waste of diplomatic personnel."
Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on international Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov also believes that picking a new ambassador should be postponed until things get better. "To establish a dialogue, it is necessary to begin the process of normalizing Russian-American relations… It is time to stop incomprehensible charges, expulsion of diplomats and other non-constructive activities. Especially if we believe it impossible to cope on our own with such threats as international terrorism," he told Izvestia.
On the other hand, some experts view the decision as a purely symbolic one. Head of the Foreign Policy analysis group Andrey Sushentsov told RBC that otherwise the mission would not be reduced, but rather completely shut down. "A large number of Western countries, intending to send away one or two people, corroborate this symbolism of the decision," he noted.
In any case, Russia might soon hit back with measures that could be even harsher. "NATO is cutting off its nose to spite it face. It is unclear how these measures against our mission are related to de-escalation, continuing political dialogue, preventing dangerous military incidents and avoiding misreading each other's intentions - the things the leaders of the alliance constantly talk about? The intentions are now quite obvious," Grushko told Kommersant.
Director of Programs at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Ivan Timofeev told RBC, "The problem is different, we have already frozen everything that we could in our relations," he said. Thus, according to the expert, military provocations cannot be not ruled out at the next stage.
At the same time, Sushentsov told RBC he believes that none of the international players seeks a complete breakdown of relations or a real confrontation. "In Russia, there is a notion that it is necessary to respond not symmetrically, but with tougher measures, in order to demonstrate outrage at the unfair actions. However, the point here is not in real steps, but in the clamor around them," Sushentsov told RBC.
Russia can expect new foreign policy surprises this week. The US Treasury Department might once again expand anti-Russian sanctions by letting the secret piece of the "Kremlin List" come into play, Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council Anders Aslund, who offered the US administration his criteria for new sanctions, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
According to Aslund, new sanctions might be imposed "within a week." These restrictions will correspond to the classified part of the list of Russians stipulated in section 241 of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The analyst noted that the "extraordinary and unprecedented" diplomatic measures against the Kremlin by more than 20 countries in response to the alleged poisoning episode in Salisbury, UK are far from everything that the Russian leadership should brace for.
The clear aim of putting the capital and residence permits of wealthy Kremlin insiders and their families in the crosshairs can be seen in public and private discussions, Aslund said, commenting on further measures against Russia by Western states.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta's sources among the former staff of the Obama administration underscored that the "Russian intervention" narrative has not fallen off the radar, despite the current media buzz surrounding ex-GRU Colonel Sergey Skripal and his daughter. Former Director for Russia policy on the National Security Council Jeffrey Edmonds told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that CAATSA is likely to remain in place for a very long time because the American people are angered by the alleged interference, and its elected representatives in Congress know this.
According to Edmonds, if interventions continue, the US response might be tough, and the Congress, he claims, is likely to take serious measures, even if the administration does not.
The conference on settling the Afghan crisis attended by high-ranking representatives from more than 20 countries and organizations, wrapped up in Uzbekistan on Tuesday. The Taliban did not show up, but sources told Kommersant that at the last minute the group expressed a desire to come to Tashkent. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, who attended the conference, demonstrated a rare consensus by condemning the Taliban for its continued use of terrorism. Meanwhile, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani made it clear that Kabul is eager to negotiate with the movement’s representatives.
A source in the Uzbek Foreign Ministry told Kommersant that despite expressing a desire to come to the summit early Tuesday, the Taliban was not sent an invitation.
The Russian top diplomat made it clear that he considers the Tashkent conference to be a continuation of the Moscow format on settling the Afghan crisis. The most recent relevant meeting took place in April 2017 with representatives of 11 countries. At the same time, the position of the Russian Foreign Ministry initially somewhat contradicted the general message of the Tashkent conference. Moscow on the eve of the conference expressed concerns about "the increase in terrorist activities of the Taliban fighters" and "the expansion of the so-called Islamic State" (banned in Russia) into Afghanistan, thus putting the two in the same group.
Lavrov told Kommersant that earlier the requirements for the Taliban included "recognizing the constitution of Afghanistan, rejecting contacts with terrorists and attempts to solve the Afghan problem by force." "I think that if the Taliban sits down at the negotiating table, that automatically means that they are ready to follow that course of action," Lavrov explained.
On that note, Thomas Shannon said that if the Taliban ignores the call for peace and continues to cooperate with terrorists, it would leave no choice but to continue to fight it.
The conference resulted in signing of the Declaration, which called for the Taliban to acknowledge its share of responsibility towards peace and security in Afghanistan in order to put an end to the suffering of the Afghan people, and expressed support for the Afghan government in creating favorable conditions for initiating peace talks.
Montenegro will hold its presidential election on April 15. Leader of the Democratic Front, the main uniting force for the opposition in the country, Milan Knezevic told Izvestia about potentially fresh accusations against Russia over alleged ‘meddling’ in another election, as well as in Montenegro’s membership in NATO and anti-Russian sanctions.
"Russia can once again be accused of more "interference." There are already statements by certain US government analysts who receive royalties from Montenegrin authorities that Russia will allegedly interfere in these presidential elections. This well demonstrates the level of anti-Russian sentiment in the state structures of Montenegro, as well as the preparation of an alibi in the event of their failure at the polls. The only ones who have ever interfered in the electoral processes in Montenegro are NATO structures, in which the United Kingdom and the US Ambassador in Podgorica play a special role," Knezevic told Izvestia.
It will be a year in June since Montenegro joined NATO. According to Knezevic, the opposition could reconsider the decision. "Only the new parliamentary majority, which will be dominated by other political forces advocating military neutrality, can reconsider the illegal decision to adhere to NATO. Taking into account the rather small state budget of Montenegro, it is clear that the membership of our country in the military bloc has a negative impact on the most vulnerable categories of the population, as well as on the entire Montenegrin economy," he said.
By the same token, Knezevic notes that the sanctions imposed on Russia are contrary to the interests of the majority of Montenegrin citizens. "They are causing considerable economic damage to our country. The Democratic Front, which we hope will have a dominant majority in the new government, will cancel the decision on sanctions against the Russian Federation and support the territorial integrity not only of Russia but also of Serbia," he told the newspaper.
According to the Montenegrin Monstat statistics agency, the majority of tourists visiting Montenegro in 2017 came from Russia. "Despite institutional Russophobia, ordinary citizens of Montenegro accept Russian tourists as members of a brotherly nation. Therefore, it is very difficult to get rid of our sympathy for Russians in our society," Knezevic told Izvestia.
In 2019, an optical telescope with a mirror diameter of more than 3 meters, equipped with a laser range finder, will start operating on the territory of the Altai Optical-Laser Center, research and production corporation Precision Instrument Making Systems told Izvestia. The center already has another laser rangefinder commissioned, and the future telescope would significantly expand the capabilities of the facility.
The new complex is designed to control near-Earth space by obtaining detailed images of spacecraft. In addition, this will facilitate Roscosmos in uncovering the causes of any accidents with space vehicles.
"In case of an emergency, say for example, an unexpected loss of communication, by using the image received from the telescope, it will be possible to understand whether the solar panels have opened, or how a satellite is rotated, if its fragments are to be separated," General Director of Precision Instrument Making Systems Yuri Roy told Izvestia.
According to Scientific Director of the Institute of Cosmic Policy Ivan Moiseyev, commissioning this unique locator will make it possible to greatly expand Russia's capabilities to control outer space.
"This system is necessary for the military," he told Izvestia. "It will also serve to correct the trajectory of the International Space Station and satellites to steer them away from space debris. This invention will help to determine whether the satellite has entered orbit, and its state. In emergency situations this is crucial," he added.
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