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Press review: Turkey’s gamble to fill US void in Syria and China’s role in Kim-Trump talks

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, January 10


Media: Will Turkey cross the Rubicon after US troops exit Syria?

Turkey should expect serious changes along the Syrian course. Ankara’s hopes for military and political cooperation with Washington are coming under serious doubt, Izvestia writes. US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria may both change Turkey’s plans on combating the terrorist threat near its borders and its general approaches to settling the Syrian conflict.

Although Washington's Syria pullout means decreasing the level of US cooperation with the Syrian Kurds, Turkey is afraid of "pitfalls." It is seriously alarming that the troop pullout does not fit the US' long-term plans in the region, the paper says.

It may seem that Trump gave Turkey carte blanche to carry out an offensive against the militants of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, whom Washington had armed and trained since 2016. But there is a frightening uncertainty about Turkey’s fight against the Syrian Kurds, Izvestia writes. Even if Erdogan decides to launch a mop-up operation against unfriendly forces on the Syrian border, the scale of this interference will result in losses among Turkish military personnel. The war against the Syrian Kurds may turn into an operation against guerillas and its success may be undermined by possible clashes with Assad's troops.

“It’s difficult to judge about the motives of Trump’s sensational statement, this was either populism that is now running into harsh reality and the stance of the US military and political establishment, or a stunt to step up contacts among the interested players and probe their reaction,” expert at the Russian Council for International Affairs Anton Mardasov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The expert notes that the option of handing the territories over to Turkey is at loggerheads with Damascus’ wish to control the oil deposits in these areas and the Kurds’ desire to stay there. Meanwhile, regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are against the scenario of transferring Syria's northeastern areas over to Turkey’s control, he said.


Kommersant: China may become guarantor of US-North Korea accords

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wrapped up his surprise visit to Beijing on Wednesday, where he held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Kommersant writes. Kim’s trip came on the heels of US President Donald Trump’s statement about preparations for his new meeting with the North Korean leader, which will take place soon.

Ahead of this meeting, Kim seeks to gain the backing of Beijing, and the future of the Korean settlement mainly depends on this. China may become a key mediator and guarantor of the US-North Korea agreements, the paper says.

No official statements were made after the talks in Beijing. Initially, Kim’s visit was expected to last until Thursday, but the famous armored train of the North Korean leader left the Chinese capital two days earlier than expected. Despite the secrecy surrounding Kim’s fourth visit to Beijing of late, a key to understanding its motives was the statement by Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang. Recalling that over the past year important positive changes have occurred on the Korean Peninsula, the Chinese diplomat confirmed Beijing’s readiness to provide assistance to the process of nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula and normalization of ties between Beijing and Washington amid Kim’s readiness for reconciliation with the US.

"Diplomatic activity over the last few days seen in the Washington-Pyongyang-Beijing triangle indicates that the key players are determined to make new progress in the Korean settlement based on last year’s agreements," said Alexander Lomanov, Chief Research Fellow at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

According to the expert, despite positive changes achieved on the Korean Peninsula after the Kim-Trump summit in Singapore, there are many pitfalls on the path to peace in addition to major bumps in the road that lie ahead. "The euphoria over the first summit is gradually giving way to the understanding that for further progress in the negotiation process, both sides will have to make serious mutual concessions. At the same time, Kim Jong-un’s urgent trip to Beijing shows that a lasting settlement cannot be achieved in the narrow format of bilateral negotiations between Seoul and Washington. Does Donald Trump want this or not? He won’t do this without a reputable mediator and guarantor of future agreements with Pyongyang," Lomanov said. "Only China can play this role under the current conditions."


Kommersant: US sanctions may clip MC-21 passenger jet’s composite wings

Washington’s sanctions against Aerocomposit (United Aircraft Corporation) and ONPP Technologia (Rostec) have jeopardized the creation of what the company calls a "black wing" made of composite material for Russia’s key project in civilian aviation sector - the MC-21 jet, Kommersant writes, citing two top managers and a high-ranking official. According to them, some components were delivered from the United States and Japan, but under recent pressure from Washington, their deliveries were halted. This concerns components produced by US-based company Hexcel and Japan’s Toray Industries.

The MC-21 jet was expected to become the first medium-range aircraft created in post-Soviet Russia, and a longer composite wing was seen as its competitive edge. It boosts efficiency and widens the cabin compared with its counterparts from Boeing and Airbus. "The composite reserves will be enough for six planes, and solutions to the problem are being discussed," one of the sources said. There are very few options and given strong US-Japanese ties, so no resumption of supplies should be expected, another source said. "Now, we will have to either use Chinese composites, which are twice as thick and heavier, or wait until Russian enterprises manage to create something similar."

The most radical option is to get rid of the composites for the MC-21, and design a wing and keel in metal, the paper says. This will shorten the delay of the program, but it will "kill the composites, which were portrayed as one of the airliner’s key advantages," a source said. The process of changing the material will also result in difficulties with certification and another cycle of tests will be needed, thus delaying the production.

Meanwhile, Rostec said the problem is "trumped-up." "There are reliable foreign suppliers of composites, and we have our own developments. The aviation sector won’t be left without the necessary materials in any case, and abandoning the use of composites for the MC-21 jet is out of the question."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow plunges deeper into Syrian conflict

Turkish forces may strike the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, at any moment, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. Washington warned Ankara that clashing with units of the Syrian Democratic Forces was undesirable, even near Manbij, which had been recently controlled by Washington. Now Russia’s military police have started controlling this zone, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

It’s clear that there is a conflict of interests, although both Turkey and the US have not condemned Russia’s move. So, for the first time in the history of the Syrian civil war there was a bloodless entry of military police units into the former US de-escalation zone. This happened after a phone conversation between Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Russia’s General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov.

Russia’s military police units will operate near Manbij on a regular basis, state media reports said. From the viewpoint of stabilization there, it is apparently not bad. First, Russia took the Kurdish YPG units loyal to the US under its wing. Second, Russia is now containing a possible offensive by the Turkish army into northern Syria, which Erdogan had announced earlier.

However, since the US departure from Aleppo, Russia has gotten sucked even further into the Syrian conflict without achieving any benefits, the paper says. Moscow continues shelling out significant financial and military resources to support Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Meanwhile, Syria’s domestic political problems remain unsolved despite the defeat of the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia). No political breakthroughs regarding the Syrian peace process are on the horizon. So, the rudiments for new conflicts and continuing the civil war are being created in Syria.

Stanislav Ivanov, a Research Associate at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, believes that "despite victorious reports by a number of foreign statesmen, there are no conditions for restoring the Syrian state now." According to him, Assad has become a hostage of his Alawite clan, the Ba’athist elite and Iranian ayatollahs, who are afraid of any free elections and democratic reforms in the country. "All of them are satisfied by the option of returning to the previous model of a police state and a dictatorship."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: World Bank spoils Russia’s New Year

World Bank experts ruined Russians’ first day back to work in 2019, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Foreign gurus significantly decreased their forecast for Russia’s economic growth, putting the figure only at 1.5%. The previous forecast was more upbeat at 1.8% by the end of 2019. By 2020, Russia’s GDP will grow by 1.8%, the World Bank expects.

Specialists interviewed by the paper said that this modest economic growth forecast for 2019 came as no surprise. "First, in 2018 Russia lived with booming oil prices and also expanding hydrocarbon production. In 2019, the situation on the market may not be that positive due to a general slowdown in global economic growth," said Andrei Kochetkov, a leading analyst at Otkritie Brokerage. "In addition, real incomes of the population still cannot reach the trajectory of sustainable growth, which is a key stumbling block for the domestic economy," he said.

According to Lazar Badalov, a senior lecturer at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, the slowdown in the GDP is attributed to two reasons. "The first is foreign economic sanctions. The second is domestic problems, related to public administration, corruption, rising taxes, and lower business activity," the expert said. "And if the national economy has almost adapted to external shocks, the solution to domestic problems does not have a clear plan."

Russia, which plays the role of a resource provider in the global division of labor, suffers from the slightest change in prices on raw materials, Alor analyst Alexey Antonov told the paper. "The demand for oil directly depends on global economic growth, as well as the stability of trade routes. The US trade war with China leads to a slowdown in Asia and a decline in demand for Russian oil," he stressed.


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