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Press review: Can US, Israel pull Russia away from Iran and the Taliban is going to Moscow

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, August 21
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US national security adviser John Bolton AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US national security adviser John Bolton
© AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool

Media: Bolton offers dialogue in return for Russia abandoning Iran


After holding talks in Israel, US National Security Adviser John Bolton is expected to fly to Geneva to meet with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. This will be the first meeting between the two countries senior officials following the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki, Kommersant writes.

While in Israel, Bolton made it clear on numerous occasions that he intended to bargain hard in Geneva. Topping the meeting’s agenda will be Syria, where Iran has been maintaining a significant presence, to the US and Israel's chagrin. Trump's national security adviser also made an intriguing statement in Jerusalem, saying that the US, Israel and Russia had a common goal to contain Iran in Syria. Moreover, Bolton claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him that his interests in Syria did not coincide with those of Iran so he would like to discuss it with the US.

The Iranian issue was the focus of Bolton’s talks in Jerusalem. Trump’s adviser accused Tehran of aggressive military activities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon - through Hezbollah - and Yemen. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in turn, called on all states interested in peace and security in the Middle East to support Washington's campaign to turn the heat up on Iran.

Israeli expert Benny Briskin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that "Israel will be satisfied only with the full withdrawal of the Iranian military from Syria." According to him, Israel "will continue to act tough, carrying out missile strikes on enemy positions, so it will be hard to reach any compromises with Russia."

Given all of this, the US and Israel have actually made a suggestion to Russia ahead of the upcoming meeting between Bolton and Patrushev to stop supporting Tehran, who remains Moscow’s ally of convenience in Syria. However, it is still unclear what Moscow may get in return, apart from resumed contacts between the Russian and US national security councils.


Izvestia: Taliban coming to Moscow

Members of the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) will take part in a meeting on Afghanistan scheduled to be held in Moscow on September 4, Head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asia Department Zamir Kabulov told Izvestia.

Russian diplomats have stressed many times that it is vital to engage the Taliban in the peace process because for one thing the movement controls more than half of Afghanistan. Russia first invited the Taliban to Moscow for talks on the situation in Afghanistan last year. The movement rejected that invitation but accepted the new one.

Having agreed to participate in the Moscow talks, which involve Russia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the Taliban also stepped up contacts with other countries. In particular, in July, US envoy for South Asia Alice Wells met with Qatari-based Taliban members for the first time in seven years.

Moscow showed mixed reaction to contacts between the Taliban and the US. A diplomatic source told Izvestia that though both countries consider ensuring a sustainable peace in Afghanistan to be the common goal, Washington had been lobbying that the objective was to be achieved on its conditions. "They dislike our conditions a lot so I am afraid they will try to deter us," the diplomat added.

When Russia launched efforts to engage the Taliban in the peace process and assemble regional players, the Americans were observing it all with dismay, even trying to stymie these activities, Center for Modern Afghanistan Studies Director Omar Nessar told Izvestia. "The reason is that any peaceful solution for Afghanistan will call the US military presence into question, while the US needs it to ensure its control of the region and implement some future projects that we don’t know about yet," the expert explained. "This is piled on to the major standoff between Russia and the United States - their geopolitical fight," Nessar said.


Vedomosti: China to take part in Vostok-2018 strategic drills for first time

A sudden combat readiness check in the Central and Eastern Military Districts marked the beginning of the Vostok-2018 (or East-2018) strategic drills, Vedomosti reports. Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said in a statement, "it is the biggest military exercise since the Zapad-81 drills, which has acquired the status of international military drills and is unprecedented in its scale and the number of commanding units and troops involved." According to the defense chief, apart from the Central and Eastern Military Districts, the drills also involve the Northern Fleet, the airborne forces, long-range and cargo aircraft, as well as "the commanding units and troops of the Chinese People's Liberation Army and Mongolia’s Armed Forces."

According to the Arsenal Otechestva (Arsenal of the Fatherland) magazine’s Chief Editor Viktor Murakhovsky, until now, only Russia’s allies from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) fully participated in these drills and it is the first time that the Chinese military has been invited.

Vasily Kashin from the Higher School of Economics noted that this was a landmark event. According to him, all previous joint Russian-Chinese military exercises (the Peace Mission, the Naval Interaction and missile defense drills) were limited in their scope, relating to local issues like counter-terrorism training in Central Asia, for instance. Now, the Chinese military is participating in strategic drills and will have access to strategic planning issues, which will raise its status to that of Russia’s partners such as its ally Belarus. Besides, the Russian military is highly likely to be invited to take part in similar Chinese drills, the expert added. In his view, since there are no decisions on creating a military alliance between Russia and China, the two countries will take advantage of such military exercises to work on technical issues so that both Moscow and Beijing can be ready to agree on establishing a military alliance.


Izvestia: Crimea to serve as trade route to Iran, Syria

Crimean ports will trade with Iran through a Caspian Sea route, Russian Presidential Envoy to Crimea Georgy Muradov told Izvestia. According to him, several Iranian businessmen have already expressed readiness to develop a trade route between Crimean ports and Iran via the Volga River and the Caspian Sea. "This will be the shortest route, and the most cost-effective," Muradov explained.

"It will be easier to trade once rail service is launched. The route will start in Crimea, pass through the North Caucasus and Azerbaijan and end in Iran," the presidential envoy said, adding that there were plans to develop rail and road transport, which became possible with the unveiling of the Kerch Strait Bridge.

Muradov also said that on September 6, Crimean lawmakers intended to discuss bilateral trade with Syrian authorities on the sidelines of the Damascus International Fair. "In September, our delegation will visit Syria and we will establish a joint Crimean-Syrian working group. We plan to create a joint shipping company. Besides, Syria has expressed its desire to open a trading house in Crimea, so it will be one of the things we will discuss at the Damascus meeting," the presidential envoy said, adding that Syrian goods planned to be provided to the Crimean Peninsula would be destined for all of Russia’s regions.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Military personnel on duty may be sacked for selfies

The Government Commission on Legislative Activities has considered a bill prohibiting military personnel from posting certain information on social media, Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported.

The ban applies to photos and videos taken at duty stations, geolocation data, group photos in front of military equipment, photos of fellow military servicemen on combat missions and some other things. Those who are not cautious enough on social media will face strict penalties, right down to dismissal.

"Personal social media pages are not private like family photo albums used to be in the old days," Commission on Legislative Activities member and Law Association Board of Directors Chairman Vladimir Gruzdev pointed out. "However, many military personnel post sensitive information - apparently forgetting that the Internet is a space open to the public. Selfies taken in front of military hardware during drills would be acceptable if put in a family photo album but under no circumstances should they be posted on social media," he added.

Chances are slim that a foreign spy will overhear a restaurant conversation between military servicemen, but foreign intelligence agencies are sure to find and carefully study a soldier’s social media page.

"It happens that military personnel active on social media have made it easier for foreign intelligence agencies," Gruzdev emphasized. "A military serviceman can definitely have a social media account as a private person but the page should not identify him as part of the army and should not contain anything that could leak state and military secrets," the expert stressed.


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