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Press review: Russia to set up Caribbean base and meet Israeli brass to discuss Iran

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, December 12
Tu-160 strategic bomber Marina Lystseva/TASS
Tu-160 strategic bomber
© Marina Lystseva/TASS


Media: Russia to set up military base in the Caribbean

Moscow is gearing up to establish a long-term military presence in Latin America and the current mission of the Tu-160 strategic bombers to Venezuela is part of this plan, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

According to military envoys, Russian authorities have made a decision (and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro did not object) to deploy strategic aircraft to one of Venezuela’s islands in the Caribbean Sea, which has a naval base and a military airfield. Ten years ago, Russian experts and Armed Forces commanders had already visited the island of La Orchila, located 200 kilometers northeast of Caracas. Venezuelan laws prohibit the setup of military bases in the country, but a temporary deployment of warplanes is possible.

"It is the right idea to include Venezuela in long-range aviation missions," military expert Colonel Shamil Gareyev told the newspaper, adding that it was also economically reasonable. "Our strategic bombers will not only not have to return to Russia every time, but also won't perform aerial refueling while on a patrol mission in the Americas. Our Tu-160 aircraft arrive to their base in Venezuela, conduct flights, execute their missions and are then replaced on a rotating basis. This is how it should be done," he said.

Colonel Eduard Rodyukov, a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Military Sciences, in turn, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that "the arrival of Russia’s Tu-160 strategic bombers to Central America is kind of a signal to Trump to make him realize that abandoning nuclear disarmament treaties will have a boomerang effect."

According to Kommersant’s sources in Russian military management agencies, the Russian-Venezuelan agreement on the flight of two Tu-160 strategic bombers is mutually beneficial, since Caracas got a chance to exhibit its independent military policy and Russian pilots performed not just a simple training flight but covered a distance of more than 10,000 kilometers over the Atlantic Ocean, the Barents, the Norwegian and the Caribbean Seas.

We are clearly helping the Venezuelan government stay afloat, Research Fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Emil Dabagyan told Kommersant. "Since Russia benefits from oil exploration, it wants the Venezuelan regime to stay in place," he added. As for Caracas, joint military drills with Russia and other activities of this kind are very important for it at the moment. According to the expert, Venezuelan authorities "seek to show their determination to protect the country from the potential aggression of the United States, who has been labeling the Maduro regime as illegitimate."


Kommersant: Russia and Israel to debate Iran's role in Syria

Russian and Israeli military brass will discuss the situation in Syria and the Middle East at talks in Moscow on Wednesday. This will be the first such meeting in months, which is designed to restore contacts between the two countries’ militaries, suspended after the downing of Russia’s Il-20 aircraft in September. It won’t be an easy dialogue as the Israelis seek to convince their Russian counterparts of Iran’s destructive role in the region and in fact gain a free hand to carry out new attacks in Syria, Kommersant notes.

An Israeli military delegation headed by chief of the Israel Defense Forces Operations Directorate Major General Aharon Haliva will hold a meeting with Russian military officers led by Deputy Head of the Russian General Staff's Main Operations Directorate Major General Vasily Trushin.

Israel still hopes that Russia will manage to make Iran and its allies leave Syria but the most that the Russian military has so far only been able to do is ensure the withdrawal of pro-Iranian units from areas adjacent to the Israeli border. Following the Il-20M incident, Israel tried to convince Moscow that Iran uses Russian troops in Syria as cover for its own purposes, but Moscow offered no official response to that, as it continued to highlight the benefits from cooperating with Iran in Syria.

Right before the Moscow talks between the two countries’ military delegations, the Israeli media said, citing the Syrian opposition, that convoys of Hezbollah and other Shia groups had used Russian flags while advancing through the Syrian provinces of Idlib, Homs and Hama at the end of last week in order to escape Israeli and US airstrikes.

Kommersant’s sources in the Syrian opposition confirmed that pro-Iranian units had flown the Russian flag on most of their facilities in several districts in the Hama province. "It was done to provide protection from Israeli attacks in accordance with an agreement with the Russian military. In return, the pro-Iranian groups committed themselves to obey orders coming from the operating headquarters set up together with the Russians," one of the Syrian armed opposition leaders Colonel Fateh Hassoun said.

A source close to the Russian Defense Ministry told Kommersant that at the Wednesday meeting, Russia and Israel would focus on Israeli military activities in Syria. "Our position remains unchanged: We cannot be positive about the Israeli Air Force’s indiscriminate attacks on Syrian infrastructure facilities under the flimsy excuse of an Iranian threat," the source said, adding that "this is the message that will be conveyed to our partners."


Izvestia: Moldovan president rejects Russian election meddling allegations

Russia is not interfering in the domestic affairs of Moldova whatsoever, the country’s President Igor Dodon told Izvestia, commenting on a remark made by Prime Minister Pavel Filip alleging that Moscow has ‘attempted’ to influence the February 2019 parliamentary election. The statement was based on reports about Moscow’s consent to allow about 160,000 Moldovan nationals who violated migration laws to leave the country, which will make it possible for them to cast their votes in the February 24 election. According to Dodon, given the West’s attempts to influence the vote’s outcome, Moscow’s decision is nothing but a gesture of goodwill.

"It has nothing to do with interference in Moldova’s internal affairs on the part of Russia particularly because our government cannot establish enough polling stations in Russia," the Moldovan president told the paper. "I would like to point out that eight polling stations were open in Russia during the past election, as about 600,000 our citizens work here. Another 300,000 Moldovans work in Europe, where 100 polling stations were set up. This means that Moldova’s government is unable not create conditions for the country’s citizens working in Russia to participate in the election," Dodon noted.

Russian election meddling allegations come as no surprise, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Viktor Volodatsky told Izvestia. According to him, such allegations have become the principal element that anti-Russian forces try to take advantage of whenever possible, so there is no need to do anything special to respond to this rhetoric. The lawmaker also stressed that Russia had always respected the choices of citizens of other nations.

"Today, the ‘Russian threat’ card is being played in many countries whose authorities are actually controlled by the US. Such an example can even be found regarding the Yellow Vest protests since a quest is underway to dig up a Russian trace there, too," Volodatsky said. "This is why Vladimir Plakhotnyuk [a Moldovan oligarch, the leader of the ruling Democratic Party], who hinges on his Western colleagues, is trying to convince them that the February election in Moldova is in danger," the Russian lawmaker explained.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russia celebrates 25th anniversary of its constitution

December 12 marks the 25th anniversary of the Russian Constitution. On this occasion, Federation Council Chairperson Valentina Matviyenko told Rossiyskaya Gazeta what the Constitution means to the country.

According to Matviyenko, the 1993 constitutional referendum paved the way for social accord. "The country was trudging through a severe political crisis back then, so the adoption of a constitution - which clarified development goals and principles of state building-eased society’s tensions," the senate speaker said. "Everyone dreamed of Russia once again becoming a strong, powerful and respected nation, where human rights and freedoms are protected, where law rules and the government reports to the people, where defense capabilities and national security are guaranteed. Everyone wanted our country to have respect and credibility worldwide, pursue an independent foreign policy and so on. And surely, everybody wanted Russia to be a social welfare state," the Federation Council chairperson noted. In her view, the Constitution "provides clear and understandable responses" to society’s demands.

"As 25 years have passed, we can say with a high degree of confidence that the Constitution is an expertly composed document and its provisions do work. I don’t see any serious reason to review them in any foreseeable future," Matviyenko noted.

"I think a huge positive aspect is that it enshrines the federal structure of our country. It is a matter of concept because we are a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation," she added.

"Our Constitution says that Russia is a social welfare state. I am confident that at no point in our country’s history - never will this fundamental provision be changed. If a state cannot protect its people than it is not a state at all," the senate speaker stressed.

According to Matviyenko, it is very important that Constitution Day is a public holiday. She believes that there is a need to teach respect for the Constitution so that people know what their rights and obligations are. "Certainly, the Constitution should be taught at schools and universities," Matviyenko said, adding, however, that "respect for the Constitution first and foremost comes from the way those who have power implement the Constitution and laws."


Izvestia: EAEU to create common currency

The member states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) - Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia - may introduce a common currency into their transaction system. The Russian Finance Ministry has upheld a relevant initiative put forward by the National Payment Council, Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseyev told Izvestia.

The EAEU currency is supposed to be a digital one, National Payment Council Board Chairperson Alma Obayeva told the newspaper. According to her, the new payment tool will consist of payment obligations that EAEU countries owe each other concerning goods supplies.

The common currency’s exchange rate will depend on the mutual exchange rates of EAEU member states’ national currencies, as well as on each country’s contribution to the Union’s overall trade, Obayeva explained. She noted that a number of big Russian banks and corporations have expressed interest in the creation of a unified means of payment.

Today, a significant part of transactions within the EAEU are made in dollars, while political and economic interests of the Union’s members hinder the use of national currencies, said Leading Expert of the Center of Development Institute at the Higher School of Economics Sergei Pukhov. In particular, as the ruble’s role in the Union increases, the importance of other national currencies will decline, which will have a negative impact on those countries’ investment capabilities. That said, the creation of a common currency is an option that all parties would welcome, the expert explained.

Given the risk of new sanctions, Moscow needs to pull its trade transactions out of the US Federal Reserve System’s range of influence, said Associate Professor with the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Sergei Khestanov. He did not rule out that a common currency might be created only in order to test such a tool so that EAEU countries could use it at the national level in the future.

Meanwhile, the prospects for a common EAEU currency look slim as the economies and ambitions of member states are way too different, Khestanov pointed out.


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