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Press review: Who is Washington’s new boogeyman and Moscow steps up North Korean diplomacy

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, October 9


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Who is Washington's new enemy?

Washington has interpreted India’s decision to purchase the S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia as its own failure given that the US seeks to dominate the arms market. New Delhi said it would continue defense cooperation with Moscow despite the US sanctions threat. The Russian-Indian deal comes as a challenge for the US at a time when Washington is transforming its military strategy. It used to be focused on Islamic extremists but now it's shifted to containing Russia and China, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The Pentagon is changing its priorities in several fields simultaneously. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford has recommended that troops and military equipment abroad be redeployed so that emphasis is placed on deterring Russia and China. In the past, the US strategy was almost exclusively focused on the fight against terrorism in the Middle East. The new trend may mean that the future holds battles involving armored forces instead of counter-terrorism operations that require smaller units. A Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity that the goal was to exert pressure on Beijing and Moscow.

So what conclusions should Russia draw from America's rehashed military strategy? TASS expert, retired Colonel Viktor Litovkin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that "nothing has changed for Russia as it has always been one of America’s biggest enemies." "The fact that China too is now on the list is only natural. Russia and China are sovereign states unwilling to yield to American pressure. The US has abandoned the war on terror because it is very difficult to profit handsomely from it. Combatting terrorists requires missiles, bombers and ground troops. In contrast, building space systems, missile and nuclear complexes, submarine fleets and carrier strike groups would be required to deter Russia and China. Little money is needed to fight terrorists but to confront Russia and China, a country needs huge investment, which is beneficial for the US defense industry," the expert noted.

Russia has to react to that. The Vostok-2018 military drills, which also involved Chinese troops, are one of Russia’s responses. However, Moscow is not going to get involved in an arms race since it believes it is sufficient to have armed forces capable of discouraging the US from carrying out aggression. Russia realizes that both countries’ economic capabilities are incomparable. The US spends $716 bln a year on defense, while Russia’s annual defense expenditures amount only to $60 bln, Litovkin concluded.


Kommersant: Moscow intensifies diplomacy on the North Korean front

Russia and the US have been working diligently to ensure progress in resolving the North Korean question almost simultaneously. Consultations on the issue were held in Moscow yesterday, right on the heels of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov held meetings with his counterparts from China and North Korea. Today, they will hold trilateral talks. Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said yesterday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would soon visit Moscow, Kommersant points out.

According to the newspaper’s sources, Morgulov and his North Korean counterpart Choe Son Hui discussed the second imminent Trump-Kim summit. The exact date and place of the top-level North Korean-US conference have not been agreed on yet, but it is supposed to take place in late October or early November. Presumably, the time frame has been chosen based on the US president’s wish to polish up his image ahead of the mid-term elections scheduled for November 8. Consultations on North Korea will continue in Moscow today. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, who held a separate meeting with Morgulov yesterday, will join the Russian and North Korean diplomats. Kommersant’s sources say that the parties are particularly expected to discuss a new United Nations Security Council draft resolution, which implies easing sanctions on Pyongyang. An important point to note is that Moscow and Beijing have been insisting for about six months that such a measure needs to be taken in response to Pyongyang’s suspension of nuclear and missile tests, its move to step up diplomatic contacts, its dismantling of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site and partly disassembling the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. At a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council in late June, Russia and China suggested easing sanctions against North Korea but faced strong US opposition. The new draft resolution is also unlikely to be adopted.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in suddenly announced that Kim Jong-un planned to visit Russia, while Chinese President Xi Jinping intended to go to Pyongyang. Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in turn, said that consultations on the date, place and format of the visit were underway but no final decision had been made yet.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Despite foreign pressure, Russia will keep bolstering the economy, PM vows

Russia will continue to cultivate its economy and social sector despite external political pressure and trade wars, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote in an article for the October issue of Voprosy Ekonomiki (Economic Issues) magazine, a brief version of which has been published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

"We have to boost the national economy, the social sector and foreign ties given that protectionist barriers are mounting, trade wars are being waged, commercial projects are becoming politicized and external political pressure is not only openly but cynically being exerted," Medvedev emphasized.

According to him, the cabinet’s efforts over the next six years will in many respects determine Russia’s future, as well as "the country’s potential and its place and role in the global economic and political system."

Medvedev went on to write that the authorities had learned a lesson from their past experiences and managed to overcome the country’s dependence on commodity markets. They also learned to achieve their desired goals without waiting for the geopolitical climate to improve.

"We need to abide by two important principles regarding our short and mid-term development strategy, aimed at adequately responding to challenges, and the advancement of new mechanisms of growth attuned to reality," Medvedev pointed out. "They include stability, which means following the defined ‘rules of the game’ as a foundation of trust between society, the state and business circles. There is also the principle of mobility, which refers to the ability to timely respond to the rapidly changing situation and emerging risks," he added.

According to the prime minister, Russia has the capacity to implement the biggest national projects and achieve the desired goals, particularly entering the top five global economies by 2024. Medvedev noted that it was not a goal in itself but an important tool to guarantee Russians’ prosperity and an enhanced quality of life.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kremlin seeks to mediate between Iran, Israel

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expect to hold a meeting in the near future to discuss security coordination, negatively affected by friction, which resulted from the unanticipated downing of Russia’s Il-20 aircraft. Meanwhile, Arabic media has reported on a Russian initiative to establish a communication channel between Israel and Iran, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

The potential meeting between Putin and Netanyahu would be their first after Russia’s Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft was downed over the Mediterranean Sea on September 17. Moscow believes that the fault lies with Israel, whose four fighter jets attacked Syria’s Latakia province and actually used the Russian plane as cover to escape return fire by Syrian missile defenses. Israel, in turn, blamed Damascus and Tehran for the incident. According to official information, following the tragedy, Russian handed 49 pieces of military equipment over to Syria within a shipment of the S-300 air defense systems, intended to be used to ensure the security of Russian military personnel in Syria.

However, experts believe that the delivery of the missile systems to Syria is unlikely to prevent Israel from carrying out attacks in case it records any threats near its borders.

Russia has been on the same side as Iran in Syria and sought to maintain good relations with Israel until recently, so the country is hardly happy with the current level of confrontation. The Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper wrote yesterday, citing sources in Russia, that the Kremlin planned to bring the two irreconcilable opponents closer together. According to the sources, Russia intends to establish a communication channel between Israel and Iran.

"But it will hardly influence relations between Russia and Israel," head of the Islamic Studies Center at the Institute of Innovation Development and Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "I don’t think that there will be any issues. In fact, the S-300 delivery was a symbolic move and it is hard to say whether Syrians are free to use these systems. Four launchers have been delivered, which amounts to half a division - so it is not the four or even two divisions that the Russian media were talking about," the expert added. At the same time, he was not surprised at media reports about plans to create a communication channel to connect Israel and Iran. "There have already been reports claiming that such a channel does exist and was used by the Israeli and Iranian missions to Amman during consultations on the situation in southern Syria," Semenov said.


Izvestia: Russia to fine-tune tests for HIV patients

The Russian consumer watchdog’s Central Research Institute of Epidemiology has started developing new tests for determining the number of virus-infected cells of HIV patients, the institute’s sources told Izvestia. The new tests are expected to be ten times more precise than the current ones available. Improved diagnostic methods will make it possible to better assess the efficiency of antiretroviral therapy and may help create drugs to eliminate AIDS. The new tests may enter the Russian market in two years, said Dmitry Kireev, the head of the Center’s team developing new diagnostic methods for HIV and viral hepatitis.

More precise diagnostics will make it possible to improve patients’ quality of life, Program Manager at the Shagi (Steps) Charity Fund Kirill Barsky noted, adding that it would primarily reduce the degree of uncertainty of those receiving antiretroviral treatment.

HIV-positive people’s partners will feel safer if they know that the viral load is at a minimum level, said human rights activist Alexander Yezdakov, who helps people living with HIV. In his view, it gives them more chances to live a normal life.

According to the Health Ministry, 28% of HIV-positive Russians (229,200 patients) showed their viral load declining to undetectable levels in 2017. The ministry expects that 90% of HIV patients will have the lowest virus activity level by 2020.

An undetectable level does not mean there is no virus at all, but it greatly reduces another person’s chances of contracting HIV. Some patients taking antiretroviral medicines may need up to six months to reduce the viral load, while it will take others four to 12 weeks.

According to the consumer watchdog, about one million Russians live with HIV.


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