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Press review: Russia's response to jet downing in Syria and Korean sanctions stalemate

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday
Il-20 military jet AP Photo
Il-20 military jet
© AP Photo

Media: Russia faults Israel over military jet’s downing in Syria, vows response

The tragic incident with Russia’s Il-20 military jet, which was downed by Syrian air defenses over the Mediterranean while repelling an Israeli attack, dominated headlines in the Russian press on Wednesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin described the incident as "a chain of tragic accidental consequences." The Russian Defense Ministry blamed Israel saying that the Syrian air defenses shot down the Russian jet while trying to target Israeli fighter jets, which were carrying out a strike on Syria’s military facilities. Israel denied its responsibility, but offered condolences over the death of 15 Russian servicemen. The Russian president’s statement and his phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu somewhat eased tensions, but Putin vowed that ‘everyone would notice’ Russia’s tit-for-tat steps, Kommersant writes. The Israelis fear that Moscow will now be providing a harsher response to their strikes on Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry stressed that it views Israel’s actions as "hostile" and Moscow reserves the right to an adequate response, without specifying particular measures. Kommersant’s source familiar with the situation explained that the Russian military did not mean any attacks on the Israeli jets. "Most likely, they meant absolute inaction in the future regarding the issues where they were ready to help Israel earlier." In particular, Moscow may refuse to hold talks between Iran and Hezbollah.

Leonid Ivashov, ex-head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Department of International Military Cooperation, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Russia may start shooting down any Israeli jet intruding Syria’s airspace. Moscow could also supply defensive armaments to Hezbollah, a Shia group, which is deemed to be terrorist by Israel. Ivashov noted that Russia should help upgrade Syrian troops’ skills and supply state-of-the-art air defense systems to Syria.

Lieutenant-General Yuri Netkachev, a military expert, called the Il-20 tragedy "a deliberate provocation," which may worsen ties with both Israel and the US-led coalition. "No one noticed the fact that a French frigate also delivered missile strikes on Syria. On what grounds?" he said. Amid these circumstances there is an increasing risk that Russian forces may directly clash with the US military and its allies, Netkachev stressed.


Kommersant: Russia, US in deadlock at UN over North Korea sanctions

The United Nations Security Council 1718 Sanctions Committee’s report on progress in implementing sanctions against North Korea may not be adopted as Washington suddenly changed its position. The situation has reached an impasse: Moscow insists on including its stance in the report, while the US refuses to allow this, Kommersant writes. Sources in the international organization call this situation unprecedented.

At the last minute, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley blocked the release of the report saying that it did not contain evidence of alleged "multiple violations" of the North Korean sanctions by Russia. The diplomat also accused Moscow of exerting pressure on the sanctions committee since Russia had earlier insisted on including its stance in the text, which runs counter to that of the US.

A Russian diplomatic source noted that now all sides are in a deadlock: the report cannot be released without Russia’s comments, while the US opposes the publication of this text. The issue may be mentioned by US officials during the September 25 high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly.

A source in the UN told the paper that while drawing up the final text of the report Russia insisted on not revealing to the public a list of 30 Russian-North Korean enterprises, which are allegedly involved in illegal trade with Pyongyang. Russian representatives insist that Moscow needs to conduct its own investigation first.

According to Kommersant, the issue on North Korean sanctions used to be one of the rare ones where Russia and the US worked in tandem.


Izvestia: Germany remains loyal to Russia’s natural gas

Qatar’s attempts to launch liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies to Germany won’t affect Berlin’s participation in building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Klaus Ernst, who chairs the Bundestag’s Committee on Economic Affairs and Energy, told Izvestia.

Qatar Petroleum earlier offered German Chancellor Angela Merkel to build an LNG terminal in Germany. Some German media reports claimed that this proposal could throw into question Germany’s participation in the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia. However, a high-ranking representative in Germany’s gas industry told Izvestia that it’s more advantageous for Berlin to buy Russian gas, which is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

The project, offered by the state-owned Qatari company, will be much more expensive than direct Russian gas supplies, Klaus Ernst told the paper on the sidelines of the 11th Russian-German Economic Congress in Berlin.

"In this issue, the market should defend its positions. Over the past decades of Russian-German energy cooperation, natural gas from Russia has proven to be the best in terms of the quality-to-price ratio," the German MP said. From the environmental perspective, LNG is more harmful than natural gas. "If Russian gas is cleaner and cheaper, why should we search for something else?"

According to Klaus Ernst, cooperation as part of the Nord Stream-2 project will become a vital stabilizing factor for Russian-German relations.

A high-ranking representative in Germany’s gas industry believes it is likely that US interests are behind the Qatari proposal, explaining that Qatar’s company is one of the major investors in US LNG facilities.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Mop-up operation in Syria’s Idlib to start in November

The breakthrough and landmark agreements between Russia and Turkey on Syria’s Idlib, announced by the Kremlin, can be hardly called final, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra (outlawed in Russia) to remain in northern Syria. Experts are convinced that after a demilitarized zone is created around Idlib, irreconcilable militants will be eliminated by the Turkish and Syrian forces with Russia’s support, the paper says.

So, the Russian-Turkish agreements on Syria, which were reached in Sochi on Monday, may be considered as intermediate. Turkish political scientist and expert in Eurasian policy with the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization, Kerim Has, believes that "Turkey may keep stonewalling the Idlib military operation until November at maximum." At that moment, Ankara’s ties with Washington are expected to sharply deteriorate. Turkey, a major importer of Iranian oil, won’t back sanctions against Tehran and will counter the US, which is interested in keeping terrorists in Idlib, the expert said.

Turkey will have another impetus to endorse Moscow’s drive to conduct a mop-up operation in Idlib, Has said. "The delay in the key phase of the military operation creates risks for Turkey itself. The groups from Idlib may infiltrate its sphere of influence."

So, the military operation in Idlib on eliminating illegal armed groups by Damascus and its allies may take place soon. It’s highly likely that Syria will be finally rid of terrorists and this will certainly be a triumph for Moscow, the paper says. However, there are grounds to think that its opponents in the Middle East may prevent this. Apparently, the war by Syrian President Bashar Assad against terrorists may soon grow into confrontation with influential players. While Moscow was engaged in peacekeeping operations, it did not notice significant threats coming from the United States and Israel. Of late, these countries have violated their agreements with Moscow on ensuring the security of the Russian military, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.


Vedomosti: US is helping stir up China’s interest in Russian gas projects

Beijing has slapped a 10% tariff on US liquefied natural gas (LNG) from September 24 in response to Washington’s move to impose a 10% tariff on about $200 bln in Chinese goods. Washington threatens to increase the tariff to 25% in January, while Beijing vowed to respond tit-for-tat, Vedomosti writes.

The ongoing trade war will trigger uncertainty on the LNG market leading to increasing costs, and this will harm all participants of the global market, said Andree Stracke, Chief Commercial Officer at RWE Supply & Trading.

The trade war’s escalation may have far-reaching consequences, Fitch Corporation’s Department Director Dmitry Marinchenko warned. "In particular, the Alaska LNG project may be cast aside - China showed some interest in it, but it will hardly manage to finance it competitively due to its high price," he noted.

According to the expert, Russia and Qatar, which plan to significantly boost their LNG production, may fill the niche. It’s highly likely China will join Novatek’s project Arctic LNG 2. The resumption of talks on the Power of Siberia 2 pipeline is not a coincidence either - this project’s revival is the result of a crisis between the US and China, Marinchenko said.

"Now Russia should do its utmost to lobby promising gas projects and sign legally binding agreements on beneficial terms, the moment is ideal," he noted.


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