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Press review: What’s the fate of Russian-US arms control and Poroshenko’s gray zone ploy

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, December 28


Kommersant: What's the fate of Russian-US arms control?

Trump's pullout from the INF accord has become one of the most significant international events of the year. The collapse of this agreement (and any chances for its preservation are next to zero) will lead to a new arms race and the deterioration of security in Europe and Asia. If the INF Treaty falls victim to the confrontation between Moscow and Washington, the arms control system might be finished. However, according to Kommersant, the White House warned the Kremlin that everything would likely get much worse before it could get better.

US President Donald Trump announcing his intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty was quite expected, Kommersant wrote. Since 2013, Washington has been accusing Moscow of violating the agreement, which prohibits the parties from producing and testing medium-range and shorter-range missiles, as well as maintaining and manufacturing launchers for them. Kommersant's source in the Russian Foreign Ministry said during the summer that the United States was bound to abandon the INF, but admitted that Moscow did not expect Trump to reveal his intentions so soon.

A source close to the US State Department told Kommersant that US National Security Advisor John Bolton, whose visit to Moscow was scheduled for October 21-23, was expected to notify the Kremlin about the White House’s plans. However, before the trip, the American media, citing sources, leaked Washington's intentions to withdraw from the INF Treaty, and on October 20, Trump publicly confirmed the information.

However, the START Treaty, which expires in 2021, will remain in place. Russia has repeatedly offered the United States to agree in advance on its extension for another five years, but so far Washington is not willing to. In an interview with Kommersant, Bolton made it clear that a decision could be made at the last minute.

If the decision is negative, then essentially nothing would remain from the current arms control system, the newspaper wrote. However, it is possible new agreements would replace the existing ones. According to Kommersant's source close to the US Department of State, at one of the meetings this past spring, Fiona Hill, Adviser to the National Security Council on Russia, told Russia's Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov that everything would likely get much worse before it could become better.


Izvestia: Donbass Republics deride Ukraine’s 'capture of gray zone’ as PR stunt

Kiev's statements about seizing positions in the 'gray zone' is nothing more than a PR stunt aimed at Ukrainian voters in the run-up to the presidential elections on March 31, 2019, sources in the Lugansk (LPR) and Donetsk People's Republics (DPR) told Izvestia.

According to them, in the coming months it is hardly worth waiting for any breakthroughs towards a peace deal. A source in the Verkhovna Rada told the newspaper that there was no alternative to the Minsk agreements, and the current escalation is part of a scheme to boost Poroshenko's ratings in the election campaign.

Kiev claims that the Ukrainian military has taken control of almost the entire 'gray zone', which separates the forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR) and the Ukrainian army.

"This (move) is aimed exclusively at the Ukrainian public, who are sorely lacking any victories. Ukraine lacks any achievements, and especially Poroshenko before the elections," LPR envoy to the contact group Rodion Miroshnik told Izvestia. "Since 2015, the positions of DPR and LPR have not moved a single meter. The ‘gray zone’ is an interposition, constantly being shot through. Ukraine has been using this tactic regularly for the last year. It gets troops into areas where no one has been living for a long time, they then report that it’s under control, and leave," he added.

According to representatives of the DPR operational command, over the past month there have been local positional clashes, but the Ukrainian Armed Forces have not advanced in any direction. Meanwhile, the Verkhovna Rada is urging Kiev to reduce tensions in Donbass and begin moving towards a genuine peaceful settlement to the situation.


Izvestia: Russian trade envoy upbeat on Nord Stream 2, prospects with EU, despite sanctions

The Nord Stream 2 project will be carried out, despite Western countries attempts to undermine and stop it, Trade Representative of Russia in France Alexander Turov said in an interview with Izvestia. He noted that the business and expert community - even in Paris - welcome the construction of the gas pipeline. In addition, the expert explained how the relations between both countries are influenced by politics and why the volume of Moscow’s trade with European countries has increased in recent years despite the sanctions.

"Perhaps, this year’s key upshot is understanding that foreign partners want to cooperate with Russia, despite the grim political climate, despite sanctions and attempts by individual countries to hinder our work," Turov told Izvestia. He added that increasing trade turnover between Russia and European countries is partially due to Russia decreasing its share of oil and gas exports. "Thus, our foreign trade is increasingly focused on industrial exports. It opens up broad opportunities for the development of foreign direct investment," he added.

France is also playing a part in the Nord Stream 2 project. According to Turov, "Novatek and Total are participating in the project, and these companies have long established strong partnerships. The French side said that it would continue to participate in the project. Translating it from diplomatic to business language that means prospects for cooperation in other projects," he told the newspaper.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China challenging America’s hegemony

The past year was marked by intensifying antagonism between the United States, a universally recognized superpower, and China, which itself identifies itself as a developing country, but is actually working to end US hegemony, if not on a global scale, then at least in the Asia-Pacific zone, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. The trade war between Beijing and Washington drove the US to slap a 10% duty on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. In response, China imposed restriction on a number of American goods, primarily on soybeans and other agricultural products, thus taking a swipe at farmers in those states that represented Trump's electoral base.

Beijing fears that the growing scale of the trade war might lead to the closure of industrial enterprises operating in the US market. Meanwhile, the White House is aware that a sharp break in the production chains linking Chinese and US companies, price hikes on iPhones, computers, and home appliances made in China can spark a backlash from American consumers.

According to the newspaper, most importantly, these tensions are not just limited to trade. Vice President Mike Pence formulated the essence of Washington’s claims against Beijing. He accused China of violating international norms and activities against US interests. The tone of his speech was so harsh that observers in the West regarded it as evidence that a confrontation was on the horizon on all fronts between the United States and China, or at least a new cold war, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on December 1. The parties agreed to refrain from introducing new tariffs for 90 days. By March 1, 2019, a document should be signed to settle the dispute.


Kommersant: Russian Internet autonomy might run into technical difficulties

At the end of 2018, Russian lawmakers came up with new legislative initiatives in the field of Internet regulation. A crucial project on an "autonomous Russian Internet" will be adopted, experts told Kommersant, but the authorities are unlikely to be technically able to achieve any ‘isolation’ of the Russian network segment.

In December, several bills regulating the dissemination of information on the Internet were submitted to the State Duma. Experts and users reacted with enormous concern to the initiative to create an infrastructure in Russia that ensures the stability of Russian Internet resources in case they are disconnected from foreign servers.

The December amendments were a logical continuation of the policy to regulate the Internet. Various restrictions were gradually introduced in November 2012, when Russia’s telecom watchdog obtained the right to extra-judicial blocking of sites with child pornography, drug propaganda and other harmful content. Subsequently, a similar procedure was introduced for extremist activities and other categories. "Approximately every six months, a new category of prohibited information appears and a new department is appointed to run it, which can introduce access restrictions," Artem Kozlyuk, Head of Roskomvoboda, an NGO, told Kommersant.

Experts believe that the self-reliant Russian Internet project will be adopted, but its implementation is another question. "The authorities epic failure with Telegram (the service works in Russia, despite efforts to block it) in a certain sense instills optimism in me that isolation of the Russian segment on the Internet will be implemented at the same technological level," lawyer at Agora International Human Rights Group Damir Gainutdinov told the newspaper.


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