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Press review: Iran-EAEU free trade zone and likely US-led strike on Syria on the horizon

Izvestia: Iran-EAEU free trade zone to go into full effect in 2022

A full-fledged agreement on a free trade zone between Iran and the EAEU will be concluded by early 2022, the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade told Izvestia. The agency noted that the interim free trade zone agreement signed in May 2018, which precedes the transition to a full-fledged agreement, covers around 50% of the trade between the parties and will enter into force in early 2019. According to the deal, Iran, which is not a member of the WTO, will assume obligations stipulated by the rules of this organization, which will make its trade with EAEU members more transparent and predictable.

"After the expiration of the three-year period, plans are in store to transition to a full-format agreement on a free trade zone, which will cover commodities in full. Negotiations on the transition to the new agreement should be started no later than a year after the interim agreement enters into force," the Ministry of Industry and Trade told Izvestia

The deal’s main advantages, the ministry noted, is a reduction in import customs duties and the formation of a "transparent and predictable trade environment". This will be because all countries, including Belarus and Iran, which are not members of the WTO, have agreed to commit to adhering to the rules of this organization.

The experts interviewed by Izvestia were upbeat on the prospects of the free trade zone deal between the EAEU and Iran. In their opinion, the zone will be beneficial for all parties, especially given the US sanctions against Moscow and Tehran, which are driving both to trade with each other and economic rapprochement.

"In the context of sanctions, the temporary agreement on the free trade area will partially compensate for Russia's losses in the US market. The Iranian market is an alternative for deliveries of Russian metals, especially since the territorial proximity significantly reduces the cost of transportation," Head of the Center for CIS Countries Studies Vyacheslav Kholodkov told Izvestia.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: New US airbase in Syria to surpass Russia’s Hmeymim

The United States is threatening yet another missile attack on the positions of the Syrian army, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote, noting that the US could strike from a new air base, which is being built in Syria’s northeast, in the Al-Hasakah Governorate. Military and diplomatic sources told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that it could be a military airfield in the city of Shaddadi, which American engineers are upgrading to receive heavy military transport aircraft. The newspaper's sources also noted that this site would surpass the Russian military base in Hmeymim.

According to the newspaper, this air base may become the largest in Syria in terms of volume of transported goods and the number of military transport aircraft stationed.

"It seems that economic sanctions against Russia are not enough for Washington. They also intend to deprive Moscow of the foothold it has gained in Syria. Apparently, the pretext will not be anything new - just the notorious 'chemical attacks' by Assad's troops on militants' positions," Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said earlier that major provocations with the alleged use of chemical weapons are being concocted in Syria with the participation of foreign specialists. "According to the information that the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria received today from the residents of Idlib, foreign (English-speaking) experts arrived in the Hbit settlement located in the south of the Idlib de-escalation zone for staging a ‘chemical attack’ using chlorine-loaded missiles," he said.

"Thus, the disposition of the US and its allies for military actions against Damascus is quite obvious. It is no accident that on Saturday the Russian grouping in the Mediterranean was joined by the Admiral Essen and Admiral Grigorovich frigates, carrying Kalibr-NK cruise missiles aboard. These modern ships are designed for long-distance sea cruises and fighting against ships and submarines of a potential enemy, as well as dealing with air attacks and missile strikes on the ground," the newspaper wrote.

"Now, apparently, Russian frigates have arrived in the Mediterranean Sea to show their might and contain potential aggressors seeking to inflict damage on the Syrian regime," military expert Vladimir Popov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. However, the specialist is not sure that such steps by the Russian Navy can prevent the US-led coalition from launching missile strikes against Syrian targets.


Kommersant: Georgian lawmaker says Russia ‘understands that separatism is toxic’

Leader of the party Democratic Movement-United Georgia Nino Burjanadze has long and openly advocated for the establishment of relations with Russia, for which she has been continually branded as an ‘agent of Moscow’ in her native Georgia, Kommersant wrote. Burjanadze is convinced that Tbilisi can get back Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In an interview with the newspaper, she explained why she believes that, and why she thinks that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not prevent this.

Talking about a possible improvement in relations between Georgians and Ossetians, and Georgians and Abkhazians and Russia’s recognition of the states, Burjanadze said she believe it is necessary to "be friends with Russia". "It should be done…. I know perfectly well that in 2008 at the highest level, not everybody unanimously supported Medvedev's decision to recognize Abkhazia. I do not want to add fuel to the fire, but Russia also has problems. Russia is a federal state. And for Russia to support separatism (or) to support the dismemberment of the state would be toxic," she told the newspaper, adding, "Russia understands that separatism is a contagious disease".

"When I met with Vladimir Putin and he was asked about the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he gave an amazing answer… He said that if Georgians and Abkhazians, and Georgians and Ossetians agree on the form of government they would want to live under, then Russia would not interfere with it," Burjanadze said.

"I have no illusions that this would be easy, I have no illusions that this can be achieved in a year or two, or even if in five years. I have hope that we can move in this direction," she added.

Speaking about restoring diplomatic relations with Russia, Burjanadze noted, "I always believed that breaking (ties) was a stupid and totally erroneous step. Yes, there was a great tragedy in 2008, but it was necessary to maintain relations." "It is necessary to work very seriously on it and to look for ways out of this situation. It is impossible to always stay in this dead end where we have ended up," she added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Lukashenko seeks new meeting with Putin

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced a new meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin just three days after their talks in Sochi. Minsk wants to get new foreign currency loans from Russia and keep preferential supplies of Russian oil, which are actually paid from the Russian budget, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. However, in early August, President Putin approved a program for raising domestic oil prices, which would deprive Belarus of oil subsidies from Russia. According to the newspaper, Moscow is not in a hurry with new foreign currency loans for Belarus either. Moreover, Lukashenko’s economy is growing three times faster than the Russian economy in the midst of Belarusians’ climbing wages.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russia initiated halting the practice of unhindered exports of petroleum products from Russia to Belarus, citing losses to the Russian budget in the face of the rising volume of their exports. In addition, the plan approved by President Putin to abolish export duties for oil, with a substitute for increased production tax, could deprive Belarus of the so-called oil subsidy, which the World Bank estimated at 4.5-10% of GDP. Duty-free oil supplies within the single customs territory of the EAEU led to the shortfall in the Russian budget, the newspaper wrote.

Belarus’ Ministry of Finance will initiate official talks with the Russians on possibly compensating the falling revenues of the Belarusian budget due to the tax maneuver in the Russian oil sector.

At the same time, the newspaper noted that last year, Belarus' GDP grew 2.4%, and is growing at a rate of 4.7% per year, which is 3-4 times better than Russia’s figures. Belarusian industry has increased this year 8.3%, while investments in fixed assets have risen 15%. These indicators are also at least 3-4 times better than Russia’s indicators. "In addition, the Belarusian authorities are pursuing a policy of increasing salaries, which has not been seen in Russia for a long time," Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.


Kommersant: Moscow-based spacecraft maker gets contracts for construction of 12 Angara missiles

The Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center signed contracts for constructing 12 Angara A5 heavy lift launch vehicles, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center Nikolai Sevastyanov said in an interview with Kommersant.

"Currently, 12 contracts for the construction of Angara-A5 missiles have been concluded. However, we must bear in mind that until 2027, about 27 launches of the Angara-A5 will be needed to update the Russian orbital group, "he said.

After 2024, Sevastyanov says, plans are in store to launch eight Angara-A5 missiles and two Angara-1.2 light missiles per year. In addition to the construction site in Omsk, the Moscow Rocket and Space Plant in Fili will manufacture heavy Angara vehicles. "The Moscow platform after the termination of the Proton program will manufacture at least two heavy Angara rockets a year," he said.

Angara is a family of Russian space-launch vehicles of various classes, which was created as a replacement for Proton-M and Rokot missiles. The new family uses environmentally friendly fuel components. So far, only two launches have been carried out - both from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome - the light Angara-1.2PP that was launched in July 2014, and the heavy Angara-A5 in December 2014. The next launch of the Angara-A5 is expected in 2019.

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