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Press review: Russia eyes nixing US contracts and Trump aims to replace US troops in Syria

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, April 18


Kommersant: Russian corporations to cut space, nuclear contracts with foreign companies

The Russian government has ordered Roscosmos (the nation’s space corporation) and Rosatom (the country’s nuclear energy corporation) to impose a temporary ban on signing legally binding documents with foreign companies from those countries that slapped sanctions on Russia or supported the restrictions. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin signed the instructions to this effect last week, Kommersant writes citing several sources in the government and in the relevant industries.

Such agreements can only be inked "if a political decision is made," one of the sources said. According to another government official, these restrictions do not cover existing contracts but will make signing new accords more difficult. "On the other hand, this step will tighten government control," the source stressed.

Kommersant’s sources in the aforementioned industries noted that the move came in the wake of "Washington’s confrontation policy." However, despite a number of bans, the space industry is an example of successful international cooperation in spite of the sanctions. Russia continues to have some vital joint projects with the US and its allies in Europe.

The issue at hand is a contract as part of the Deep Space Gateway Moon-orbiting project, which was expected to be signed by Roscosmos and Boeing.

"The Americans wanted to get their hands on Russia’s entire technical know-how offering about $15 mln for that," the source explained. "After consultations within the government, a decision was made to prevent that due to technological security considerations."

The potential ban on new contracts with the US or EU members can be a sensitive issue for Rosatom. America is critically dependent on Russia’s uranium enrichment services. According to expert estimates, the US imports up to 95% of the required uranium, with Russia and Kazakhstan accounting for nearly half of this amount. The decision to abandon new contracts will not affect these supplies, but in the long term, US consumers will have to replace Russia with other suppliers.


Izvestia: Russian ombudsman to press ahead for release of incarcerated pilot in US

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova will once again ask US President Donald Trump to pardon Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko who is serving out his 20-year prison term in America.

"We are currently analyzing what the legal grounds we have to make sure that prisoners serve out their sentences in their home countries," Moskalkova told Izvestia. "Besides, I will once again ask Donald Trump to pardon Konstantin Yaroshenko. Last year, the White House occupant pardoned two people, because it is a working institution. The letter I received from Trump gives neither an answer nor a refusal regarding any pardon. In my letter, I do not go into legal details of the legal decision in relation to the Russian pilot. I ask for an act of mercy and humanity in the form of a pardon, without assessing the legitimacy and validity of the sentence."

The decision to pardon Yaroshenko will be an act of goodwill on the part of the US leader, she stressed. "I believe Konstantin Yaroshenko deserves this favor, since he has been in jail in another country since 2011. Besides, his relatives and friends have no opportunity to visit him due to the geographical location and the high costs of tickets. Furthermore, his health is also a source of profound concern. Konstantin’s wife, Victoria, whom I met with some time ago, said he is experiencing deep depression," the ombudsperson pointed out.

"Therefore, I call on the US president to take into account these aspects of the Yaroshenko case and I do hope very much that he will heed this appeal," she added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Trump wants Arab force to replace US troops in Syria

The Trump administration has reportedly laid out a plan to replace the US military contingent in northeastern Syria with an Arab one, specifically, Egyptian troops. However, Arab countries are bound not to favor the initiative, Grigory Kosach, Professor of the Modern East Department of History, Political Science and Law at the Russian State University for the Humanities, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"Egypt’s stance is that President Bashar al-Assad was elected by the Syrian people, and it is only up to the Syrian people to determine the fate of its leader. As for Cairo’s point of view, which, as far as I understand, has remained unchanged, one cannot say that Egyptian troops will replace the US contingent in Syria for one simple reason. Here, Egypt would act as a country that opposes the regime."

Referring to other Arab countries’ stance, the expert noted that Saudi Arabia, for one, had never intended to take part in combat operations in other countries using its ground forces. "Yes, there is Saudi aviation, which operates in Yemen and nothing more. The United Arab Emirates has some experience in such operations. The UAE’s special task force was involved in the Libyan events shortly before Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown. However, it is highly unlikely that any of these parties would be ready to resort to such steps," he explained.

According to Yevgeny Zelenev, Head of the Department of Asian and African Studies at the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg, Washington’s decision to withdraw its contingent could have an adverse effect on the situation in the region. "Besides, that means that the US is trying to unload its responsibility for the consequences of what will be happening in Syria after that. As long as the US is present there, it has some obligations, but as soon as it withdraws its troops, they cease to be involved in that conflict," he emphasized.


Kommersant: Opposition fails to derail Armenian PM’s endorsement

Attempts by protesters who tried to prevent former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan from being endorsed by the parliament as the country’s new Prime Minister have turned out to be futile. However, opposition leaders called for continuing demonstrations, announcing the beginning of a nationwide "velvet revolution."

Sargsyan nominated by the ruling Republican Party and its coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), secured the support of 77 out of 105 lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the experts interviewed by Kommersant noted that the initial mass protests after Armenia’s transition to parliamentary rule could turn the country into a new hotbed of tension in the post-Soviet space.

"The opposition wants to flex its muscles for potential voters and encourage more people to take part in the protests," Hrant Mikaelian, a researcher at the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute, told the paper.

"Constitutional reform was actually aimed at preserving the status quo in Armenia’s policy under the guise of reforms with the same actors and the same approaches to all key issues, from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to socio-economic development and foreign relations," said Sergei Oznobishchev, Director of the Institute for Strategic Assessments.

"However, conservatism is appropriate when there is something to conserve. In Armenia’s case, soft authoritarian rule accompanied by the absence of real reforms, led to stagnation and rising poverty among the population, along with society getting tired of seeing no real changes."


Izvestia: Russia to hammer out fitting response to US hikes in aluminum duties

Russia will search for adequate measures in the wake of the US decision to impose 10% duties on aluminum imports and 25% duties on steel imports, Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said in an interview with Izvestia.

"We do not have such a big trade turnover with the US to make prompt decisions on tit-for-tat measures, the way China did, which are of interest primarily to manufacturers in the US," the minister noted. "The volume of annual steel supplies amounts to about $2 bln, and for aluminum it comes to about $1 bln. We purchase ready-made aluminum products, so we will be looking for adequate measures, which are going to affect the interests of American manufacturers but will not harm the interests of Russian industry and consumers. In those sectors where we do not make some products and are dependent on the West, we will definitely not make any decisions, which could harm our manufacturers or consumers. The trade turnover between our two countries is inadequate for us to take tit-for-tat steps by raising customs duties."

When asked why 80% of Russia’s aluminum is exported, Manturov explained that the processing industries countrywide were underdeveloped, adding that anti-Russian sanctions could give a fresh impetus to processing aluminum domestically.

Concerning high-tech import substitution, the minister explained that Russia adopted 22 sectoral plans on import substitution. "For oil and gas companies, which purchase and order new products, we, together with them, develop new designs in accordance with their scope of work. For example, for deep-sea mining operations, we have been carrying out R&D together with Gazprom and other oil and gas companies, which take part in this work in order to have a consolidated order for our machine-building enterprises," Manturov said.


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