Russian President Vladimir Putin is paying a two-day visit to Turkey, his first official foreign trip after his landslide re-election victory on March 18. On Tuesday, he held talks with Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and on Wednesday, Putin and his Turkish and Iranian counterparts are expected to make a joint statement on the Syrian crisis after negotiations on the issue.
Russia is focusing its efforts on harmonizing the interests of the central players in Syria, Ilshat Saetov, a research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "One cannot rule out that that the issue of the legitimacy of Turkey’s presence in northwestern Syria will be raised, along with guarantees that Ankara can provide that it will not interfere in Syria’s internal affairs," the expert said.
When asked from what perspective the Kurdish issue could be discussed, Saetov pointed out that Putin is unlikely to publicly condemn Turkey’s Olive Branch military operation in Syria. "Quite enough time has passed since its beginning on January 20, and Moscow has had an opportunity to condemn Ankara’s actions. I do doubt though that some political statements will follow."
While Russia earlier made it clear to Turkey and it would not interfere in its standoff with the Kurds, this non-interference can very well be challenged in the event of a direct military confrontation between the Turkish army and the forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "On top of that, Kurdish units have military and political support from the US," the expert stressed. "So now the question is whether it will be possible to prevent the situation in Syria’s northwest from evolving into a full-fledged military conflict involving the Turkish army and whether the armed units backed by Russia and Iran will be drawn into it."
A well-heeled network around the globe deals with meddling in Russia’s internal affairs. Nevertheless, the United States is particularly active on this track spending tens of millions of dollars for the purpose annually, Andrei Klimov, Head of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house) Commission to Protect Russia’s State Sovereignty and Prevent Interference in its Internal Affairs, told Izvestia.
"That’s at least tens of millions of dollars, but perhaps a lot more. And these are only those funds, which are stipulated by the law of August 2, 2017 (which contains recommendations for Washington’s allies on countering Russia). You can include here the CIA and the Pentagon budgets. However, this is classified information. Plus, the funds allocated to all kinds of foundations affiliated with the relevant organizations," he explained.
In addition to the US, among those who are trying to actively meddle in Russia’s internal affairs is the UK. However, London, as a rule, plays second fiddle often acting as Washington’s instigator.
"This is also true of the ‘Skripal case’. One can recall the BBC documentary about Vladimir Putin, produced in a distinctly American style. Along with that, one can recall the media support of the Litvinenko poisoning case by Sky News television or the coverage of the MH17 jet crash (downed in the sky over Donbass in 2014)," Andrei Manoilo, member of the scientific advisory board to Russia’s Security Council, told the paper.
He noted that the money allocated and the titles of the programs to this effect could be seen in reports by the US Department of State, which oversees the distribution of funds to the programs to counter "Russian propaganda” or “promote democracy” endorsed by the US Congress.
"It is known that Americans spent a total of $200 mln on influencing election campaigns from 2008 to 2012, that is, $50 mln on the average annually. In my opinion, considerably larger amounts were spent during the 2018 presidential election in Russia," he pointed out.
The European Commission has plans to approve the commitments of Russia’s energy giant, Gazprom, in a long-running antitrust case and close it without a fine. According to media reports, that may happen as early as this month. However, Kommersant’s sources were more cautious in their estimates, considering that the probe was launched back in 2012.
The paper’s sources confirmed that the European Commission’s Antitrust Division had received Gazprom’s amended proposals and was inclined to endorse them. However, the European Commission has not yet sent an official notification on that to Gazprom, and Kommersant’s sources are not sure this is going to happen in April. They added that European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager would face a difficult task to choose the right time to formally close the case, given the rising tensions between Russia and the EU.
According to the information obtained by the paper, Gazprom made some concessions in its new proposals, in particular, on gas supplies to the Baltic states, although its stance has remained basically the same.
For one, Lithuania wanted Gazprom’s obligations to extend both to contracts for four more years and short-term agreements. Also, the Russian energy giant reduced prices for the "virtual" transfer of natural gas through the change of delivery points. It appears that Gazprom will, in actual fact, supply gas to Eastern European countries at prices very close to the quotations of the key gas hubs.
If the European Commission approves Gazprom’s obligations and closes the case, some third parties can challenge that in court, Jonathan Stern and Katya Efimova of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies noted in their review. However, according to analysts, the legal battle is likely to end in the European Commission’s favor.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has allegedly put forward a new framework towards resolving the Korean crisis in a telephone call with US President Donald Trump, which does not presuppose Russian and Japanese involvement. Japan’s media has recently disclosed the details of the conversation that took place on March 9, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
According to Kyodo news agency citing some diplomatic sources, the Chinese president suggested forming a four-party group consisting of China, North Korea, South Korea and the US to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Xi Jinping will try to control the Korean peace process, Konstantin Asmolov, a Leading Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told the paper. "He will try to make sure that China is at least seen as [the one who] came up with this initiative and organized everything. It will be a vexing moment, if the talks are held without Russia. However, the six-party talks were initially planned as four-party ones. At that time, the US demanded that Japan be involved in them, while the then North Korean leader reportedly wanted Russia to take part in them as well."
The expert recalled that the peace treaty that was expected to be signed was to replace the ceasefire agreement signed by the UN, North Korea and Chinese volunteers. "South Korea, by the way, refused to sign it. Because of that, the Americans actually resubordinated the South Korean army to the US command rather than the South Korean president. That was done to prevent the South Korean regime from unleashing a war without their knowledge."
According to Asmolov, the US prefers the four-party treaty rather than the agreement with North Korea. "If this suggestion concerns only a peace treaty, that is not going to affect Russia very much, as the USSR did not formally take part in the war. We need to wait for explanations from Beijing and Pyongyang. If this initiative concerns a settlement in general without Russia, then that’s an alarm bell [for Moscow]. However, if it concerns only a peace treaty, that is admissible,” the expert said.
US President Donald Trump received the leaders of the three Baltic states in Washington to discuss efforts to counter Russia, step up military cooperation and diversify gas supplies, RBC writes.
During the meeting, Trump stressed that hardly any of his predecessors took such a tough stance on Russia. The White House occupant stressed though that he is looking forward to getting along well with Russia in the future.
At that meeting, the Baltic countries were supposed to attempt to bring the anti-Russian agenda to the fore, Ivan Timofeyev, Program Director at the Russian International Affairs Council, noted in an interview with the paper. They are Washington’s most loyal and consistent allies in Europe and they are trying to act as being on "the forefront" of containing Russia, the expert said.
The US summit should not be linked to Russian-Baltic relations, while the Russian issue can only be raised with regard to security, the paper quotes Andis Kudors, Executive Director of the Center for East European Policy Studies, as saying.
Russia is seen by the Baltic political establishment as a revisionist power, which is trying to restore its traditional sphere of influence, Leonid Karabeshkin, a political scientist and Professor at Tallinn Euro Academy, told RBC. On the other hand, the Baltic states are not interested in a direct military confrontation with Russia, and, judging by statements made by high-ranking officials, they do not think the risk of Russia’s attack is feasible, the expert stressed. Cultural and humanitarian ties are high, and tourist exchanges are growing. That said, economic cooperation also continues. However, overall, the basis for Russian-Baltic economic cooperation is gradually being dismantled, and energy cooperation is being scaled down, which means that a scenario to ignore each other is being implemented, Karabeshkin concluded.
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