Some military analysts believe that Washington’s rhetoric about more strikes on Syria may demonstrate a planned escalation, which might motivate terrorists operating on Syrian soil, Izvestia daily writes on Monday.
«Provocations involving chemical weapons are obviously possible in Syria. It is not even necessary to use any chemical weapons, all that is needed is to film a staged video clip like the one on April 7, which will be used as a pretext for a US strike. Generally speaking, the US sometimes does not even need a pretext. A claim can be made that this is an attack against the "bloody regime of Bashar Assad', or Trump will write it on Twitter, and strikes can follow," Russian military expert Viktor Litovkin told the newspaper, adding that Washington is trying to be "a global judge, ignoring international rules."
Meanwhile, Russian and American analysts share the perspective that domestic issues prompted US President Donald Trump to take more aggressive action, Izvestia says. Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute Richard Weitz told the paper that the US-led attack on Syria followed Trump’s statement on US withdrawal from Syrian soil, after which the White House occupant was accused of «encouraging' Assad. This means Trump’s decision was largely connected with domestic problems in the United States, the analyst added. He also believes that a potential second strike by the US or NATO can be more far-reaching if an occasion to blame the Syrian government arises.
Earlier reports said that warplanes and warships of the US, the UK and France conducted a missile strike on Syria’s military and civil infrastructure on Saturday from 03:42 to 05:10 Moscow time as a response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma on April 7. Syria’s air defenses shot down 71 out of 103 cruise missiles. Several sources in Russia’s defense ministry familiar with the matter told Izvestia that Syria’s strong response took the coalition by surprise. The ability to repel the numerous strikes has highlighted that Syria’s anti-aircraft weaponry is capable of fighting against such complicated weapons as cruise missiles, the newspaper emphasized.
As Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament) is about to consider the bill envisioning 16 potential retaliatory measures in response to US sanctions, chances are high the bill will be signed into law soon, RBC writes. Leaders of all parliamentary factions and State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin submitted the bill. A similar mechanism was used for several notable draft bills, which were passed very quickly. "Taking into account the fact that the bill on retaliatory measures was submitted by leaders of all factions, most likely the decision was made at a level higher than the Duma," Yevgeny Minchenko, head of Minchenko Consulting Communication Group, told the publication. He also suggested that the Duma had been chosen as a means of sending the initiative in order to test the waters.
According to Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Expert Group think tank in Moscow, it was the State Duma that put forward the bill this time, not the government or the president, since Putin is to ready to assume such initiatives prior to his inauguration and is unlikely to seek an escalation in tensions with the West. "Moreover, it is easier to amend the Duma’s initiative as there is always room for maneuvering left, and tough proposals can always be adjusted later," he said. The bill will be considered in the State Duma’s first reading on May 8. Volodin said earlier that a procedure for studying the draft law would be discussed on April 16 at a special session of the State Duma Council.
Head of the Center for Strategic Communications Dmitry Abzalov told Izvestia that the bill pursues a potential response and provides the required tools for the president and the government. "The bill has already been approved by all sides and is very likely to be enacted before May 7, meaning (prior to) the presidential inauguration," he noted. Head of the ISEPR Fund Dmitry Badovsky told the newspaper that the document serves as a «political signal for other countries, a declaration that Russia would be taking tit-for-tat measures in response to unfriendly steps."
A bill on retaliatory measures against hostile actions by the United States and other foreign states was put on the State Duma’s (lower parliament house) agenda late last week. The bill provides for restrictions on imports of farming products, raw materials and food, tobacco and alcohol originating from the United States and other unfriendly countries. The ban is applicable to pharmaceuticals, with a reservation that it does not cover medicines with no Russia-manufactured analogues. Russia’s countersanction will cover consulting and audit companies with foreign capital accounting for more than 25% Such companies will be banned from offering their services to Russian state companies. Apart from that, companies in which the US controls more than 25% of authorized capital will be denied access to the privatization of property. Among the proposed measures are also restrictions on entry to Russia for certain US citizens and employment of high-skilled staff. Chief Economist of BCS Financial Group Vladimir Tikhomirov does not expect restrictions in the agriculture area and alcohol products to cause serious economic consequences, though bans on exports in rocket construction and in the titanium industry will deal a blow to the Russian economy. «For the United States, this will be sensitive, though it certainly won’t wreck the American economy, whereas as far as Russia is concerned, the economic impact will be definitely negative, and previously the government tried to avoid this kind of measures," he told RBC.
The concept of a new super heavy-lift launch vehicle is expected to be ready by mid-December, Head of Russia’s Roscocmos Scientific and Technical Council Yuri Koptev said in an interview with Izvestia. "As of today the closest benchmark is the middle of December 2018. By that time, we will have had to specify the concept of the rocket and the level of required resources, work out tasks and define the useful load mass. Further on, by the end of next year, it will be necessary to come up with a detailed design that will fully describe the whole production cooperation and solve the resource issues," he said.
As reported earlier, Russia’s Energia Rocket and Space Corporation is developing a new space rocket complex at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, with the first launch scheduled for 2028. Progress Rocket and Space Center and the Center for Operation of Ground-based Space Infrastructure Facilities are among the contractors. The construction of infrastructure is expected to start in 2026. The whole project is worth an estimated 1.5 trillion rubles ($24.2 bln), Roscosmos said earlier. Meanwhile, the development of a new super-heavy carrier rocket will be 1.5 times cheaper than the reproduction of the Soviet Energiya launch vehicle. The groundwork was laid as part of the Energiya-Buran project that will be used to develop the new rocket.
Speaking about the rumored reform of the rocket-and-space industry, Koptev denied reports that Roscosmos and Rostec have discussed merger options. "At least officially, neither Roscosmos nor Rostec have participated in discussions or the formation of such scenarios," he said, adding that «various organizations have been mentioned in the context of this issue, but obviously none of them have participated in the process.» According to Koptev, "it is necessary to keep working within the existing structure, since any such reform usually "throws off' everyone for at least two years."
Moldova’s Prime Minister Pavel Filip said during a visit to Kiev that Chisinau expects Ukrainian authorities to provide a corridor for the Russian military to be withdrawn from the region. This statement left both Moscow and Kiev bewildered. «Such remarks are reckless and confrontational. In reality, they will do nothing, though they can disrupt an emerging process of resolving particular issues, (and the) normalization of relations between Tiraspol and Chisinau," a source in Russia’s foreign ministry told Kommersant.
Chairman of the State Duma (lower house of parliament) Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Leonid Kalashnikov added that the bulk of Russian military in Transnistria are local citizens. He also suggested that the statement was connected to the upcoming mayoral election in the country’s two biggest cities on May 30 and the parliamentary election in November.
"The parliamentary election will define everything for Moldova, whether President Dodon’s course will be chosen, which will mean better relations with Transnistria, or otherwise, there will be a different result," the lawmaker said, adding that currently there are no conditions for Russian troops' withdrawal. A source in Kiev told the paper that withdrawal of Russian forces through the Ukrainian territory now is out of the question amid the current political climate.
The Transnistrian conflict erupted in March 1992 when initial clashes occurred between Moldovan police and Transnistrian militia near the city of Dubossary, followed by an outbreak of armed hostilities. By the summer, it had morphed into a large-scale conflict in Bendery, where about 1,000 people were killed and tens of thousands were wounded and ended up as refugees. The civil war was brought to an end following a peace agreement signed in Moscow in July 1992 and Russian peacekeepers were brought into the conflict zone. Since then, they have been maintaining peace and calm in the region, together with their Moldovan and Transnistrian colleagues, thus allowing Chisinau and Tiraspol to conduct negotiations on settling the conflict on the breakaway republic.
With Moscow quitting prominent European weapons exhibitions in France and Britain, hopes are high that Russian equipment and weapons will become popular in Southeast Asian countries, Kommersant daily reports. This week a delegation from Russia will hold negotiations with key players in the region, including Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka within the DSA 2018 (Defense Services Asia) weapons exhibition in Kuala Lumpur. As Southeast Asian nations vigorously strive to upgrade their armies, particularly, with the aim of performing counter-terrorist operations, Russia is ready both to export end products and negotiate localized production.
The exhibition is expected to see up to 250 Russian weapons and equipment systems showcased. Russia’s state arms seller Rosoboronexport (part of the hi-tech corporation, Rostec) says aviation is currently the primary focus in the structure of Russia’s exports to Southeast Asian countries. The plan is to use the talks at the exhibition as a starting point for striking new contracts, the newspaper writes with reference to one of its sources. Overall, the geopolitical factor explains the DSA’s high interest. "It is more reasonable to promote Russian products in the region with potential demand for it in place," a source told Kommersant.
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