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Press review: Who’s keeping OPCW experts out of Douma and Kiev eyes Georgia-style CIS exit

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, April 19


Kommersant: UN prohibits OPCW experts from visiting Douma

Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) cannot launch their investigation into the events in the Syrian city of Douma, where chemical weapons were allegedly used on April 7. According to the UN, the situation in the city is too dangerous. Just on Tuesday, during an attack on the UN convoy in Douma, a member of one of the Syrian security structures was wounded. According to Kommersant, the US still blames Russia for dragging out the incident’s investigation.

On Monday, the US accused Russia of not allowing international experts to enter Douma, and reported that Moscow or Damascus could have manipulated evidence regarding the alleged attack.

Anton Utkin, an expert on chemical weapons, and former UN inspector for Iraq, told Kommersant "If chemical weapons are used in urban conditions, in particular in a bomb strike, then 20-30% of the toxic substances are driven into the ground, while the rest settles on the walls of houses and building structures." "Traces in building structures can be found several months after the incident, if not years. In the soil, if a high concentration of the toxic agent was used, traces would be found within two to three months if there wasn’t any rainfall. To eliminate the traces, you need to destroy dozens of buildings and remove a meter or two of soil. To do this in a couple of weeks is unrealistic," the expert stressed. According to him, the most important thing in such situations is to find the victims, examine their bodies and interview the witnesses.

Meanwhile, an informed source in Damascus told Kommersant, that the Russian military is doing everything possible to ensure the safety of the inspectors’ work. The OPCW mission was supposed to have arrived in Douma this past Monday. As for any shelling, a repetition of the incidents cannot be completely ruled out, because not all the militants from the armed Islamist group, Jaysh al-Islam, have left the city, some chose to stay and keep up their resistance, the source said.


Izvestia: Ukraine seeks to profit from leaving CIS

Kiev intends to pull off the "Georgian scenario" in relation to the CIS. This means it will withdraw from the Commonwealth, while remaining a party to a number of important agreements, two sources in Kiev’s political circles told Izvestia. A high-level official in the CIS executive committee relayed to the newspaper that until Ukraine officially leaves the organization, it will continue to be considered a full member of the Commonwealth. Russia's envoy to the CIS Andrey Shvedov confirmed in his interview with Izvestia that there are agreements in which Ukraine can remain. However, first, Kiev should lay out its vision for further relations with the Commonwealth.

According to a high-level official in the CIS executive committee, Kiev is trying to provoke the organization into certain political gestures in order to subsequently explain its withdrawal from the Commonwealth. Thus, before the recent Council of CIS Foreign Ministers, the Ukrainian side demanded to remove the flag and the nameplate of the country, but the organizers did not do it.

According to the newspaper, simultaneously with attempts to provoke the CIS, the Ukrainian leadership is working on a "Georgian scenario" for exiting from the Commonwealth. The authorities in Kiev intend to officially leave the organization, but to remain participants of some agreements, where it is not necessary to be members of the CIS, like with Georgia, according to two sources in Kiev’s political circles. After the withdrawal from the CIS, Tbilisi remained a party to 34 documents within the framework of the Commonwealth.

"From a rhetorical point of view, the Ukrainian authorities need a harsh exit scenario from the CIS. However, they are actually faced with the task of developing a ‘soft plan’ in order to minimize Kiev's losses, which will inevitably follow such a step. We must understand that politics is behind this decision," one of the sources told Izvestia.

According to Kiev’s official statements, Ukraine intends to remain a party only to those treaties that are "necessary" for the country. President Poroshenko’s representative in the Verkhovna Rada Irina Lutsenko clarified that it is about retaining agreements on the recognition of diplomas, employment and transit, as well as on other contracts "necessary for the economy’s functions."


Izvestia: EU lawmaker sees bright future for Crimea

The attitude towards Crimea is gradually changing in the European Union, Member of the European Parliament Jaromir Kohlicek, who leads the Czech delegation at the 4th Yalta International Economic Forum, told Izvestia. On the eve of the Forum, Kohlicek talked to Izvestia lambasting the shortsightedness of the West’s stance on Syria, the Skripal case, the negative impact of anti-Russian sanctions on EU countries, and the future of the Nord Stream-2.

Talking about Brussels changing its position on the status of Crimea, Kohlicek noted that the question is whether the EU as a whole intends to recognize the referendum as one of the legitimate ways of solving problems. By the same token, he notes more and more European politicians and entrepreneurs are beginning to come to Crimea. In particular, this major forum shows their desire to cooperate with the peninsula. Kohlicek believs that Crimea has a bright future because of the tourism industry. Given the high concentration of skilled labor and modernization of infrastructure, the peninsula will "continue to attract foreign investment," he added.

Similarly, Kohlicek believes that the attacks on Syria were a disgrace for the US and its allies, such actions should not have been taken without the permission of the UN Security Council.

Regarding chemical weapons, the lawmaker noted that the "Skripal saga", might have had two goals - this could have been another provocation on the eve of the presidential elections in Russia, and an attempt by British Prime Minister Theresa May to deflect attention away from the UK’s domestic political problems.

Last but not least, the implementation of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project should not be sidelined by Baltic Russophobia, or anti-Russian sentiment from other countries, he added. According to him, many agreements have already been concluded. If any country suddenly refuses to implement the project, they will have to pay high fines, just like it happened, after Paris had refused to supply Mistral-class helicopter carriers to the Russian army, Kohlicek added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: UK Ambassador to Russia believes in more bilateral dialogue

The recent strike on Syria by the US, UK and France has led to a new round of strained relations between Russia and the West. At the same time, the permanent members of the UN Security Council have not been able to agree on an independent investigation into the alleged chemical attacks in the Syrian city of Douma, which was the reason behind the strike. UK Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow talked to Nezavisimaya Gazeta about the moral inadmissibility of using chemical weapons and the possibility of preventing its use in the future.

According to the Ambassador, the goal of the strike was to prevent the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons against its own citizens in the future, which is contrary not only to existing laws, but also to the moral norms of the international community.

Similarly, the UK has repeatedly turned to Russia with a proposal to cooperate with the West on the official investigation into the chemical attacks, Bristow told the newspaper, however, Moscow blocked six of the UK resolutions in the UN Security Council on creating an independent investigation mechanism. At the same time, the diplomat noted that despite this, the UK is still open to negotiations. According to Bristow, London has reliable information pointing to the involvement of Damascus in the alleged chemical attack in Douma.

Bristow told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that London remains committed to finding a peaceful solution to the civil war in Syria through UN Security Council mechanisms recognized by the international community. The Security Council has already proposed several resolutions, and the UK would be willing to work on their implementation, using measures such as dialogue with Russia.

According to the diplomat, a stable political process is needed, which can be used to form a new government recognized by all Syrians in the war-torn country. Syrian citizens themselves with the support of the global community will determine whether Assad can become a part of it, he added. However, given the events of recent years Assad cannot remain in power, Bristow told the newspaper.


Kommersant: Blocking Telegram is technically impossible

The failure of current efforts to block Telegram, a cloud-based instant messaging service, forces Russia’s telecom watchdog, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, to look for new avenues to meet its goal. Blacklisting millions of IP addresses did not stop the messenger, but overloaded the equipment of regional providers. Sources told Kommersant that on April 18 the watchdog gathered representatives of Russian telecom operators to discuss a further strategy. So far, no solutions have been found. However, the telecom watchdog sharply reduced its blocking activity, although according to the agency's own estimates it does not require additional resources.

According to the newspaper’s sources in the telecom industry, at the recent meeting, representatives of Russia’s largest telecom operators and the federal watchdog discussed more effective ways to battle Telegram, although no decisions were made as a result.

A major federal official confirmed to Kommersant that it was a working meeting. The telecom watchdog’s press service, however, insisted that information about holding a meeting with telecom operators on hashing over the ban on Telegram "is not true."

Developers of traffic filtering systems confirmed technical difficulties with blocking Telegram. "Some providers using our solution for filtering sites following the Roskomnadzor list called the technical support service on Wednesday," Deputy Director for development of Ideco Dmitry Khomutov told the newspaper. For example, the telecom watchdog’s own website stopped working for some time.

The problem is that a number of large Russian operators are using an outdated method of filtering, CEO Sergei Nikulin told Kommersant. "In order to avoid failures, providers manually limit the number of filtered subnets, which does not have the best effect on the quality of the filter," Nikulin said.

The efforts to ban Telegram began on April 16, but the messaging service changed IP addresses of the mobile version and hosting providers. Thus, on April 16-17, almost 20 million IP-addresses of Amazon and Google cloud services, used by Telegram, were blocked. Among other things, this caused the failure of random websites.



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