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Press review: Putin, Erdogan hash over Syria and US meddles in Venezuelan presidency

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, January 24
Turkish and Russian Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin  Mikhail Metzel/TASS
Turkish and Russian Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin
© Mikhail Metzel/TASS


Kommersant: Putin, Erdogan talk Syria in Kremlin

Wednesday's talks in the Kremlin between Turkish and Russian Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin confirmed that Moscow and Ankara are determined to play a crucial role in achieving peace in Syria amid Washington’s decision to scale down its presence there. That said, Iran should become the third guarantor of the Syrian settlement, Kommersant writes. At the talks, the two leaders agreed on holding a new summit in the Astana format (Russia, Turkey and Iran) and also try to step up cooperation with Western partners, which are taking steps to sabotage the Astana group’s efforts, as Putin noted. The Turkish leader focused on the role of Russia and Turkey in ensuring security in Syria, calling the US planned withdrawal from Syria "a positive step."

However, Head of the Political Research at the Center for Modern Turkish Studies Yuri Mavashev told Kommersant that Washington’s exit from Syria would stonewall the efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran as part of the Astana trio. "From the very beginning, the war in Syria has been a story of shifting responsibility onto others. Now the sides won’t be able to share responsibility with anyone and this is a very important moment. Cooperation between Russia, Turkey and Iran will be complicated. If earlier they were allied against someone, now they will have to make efforts in order not to ruin this format," Mavashev said. Meanwhile, the two leaders signaled that there is no such threat at Wednesday's talks.

One of the intrigues at the Kremlin-hosted negotiations was whether the two sides could agree on a possible military operation against terrorists in Idlib, the paper says. After the talks, Putin praised his counterpart for Turkey’s major efforts to eliminate the terrorist threat in Idlib. At the same time, he signaled that no terms have been outlined for a military operation, which Russia seeks to carry out jointly with Assad's forces. The Russian and Turkish defense ministers will continue drawing up additional joint measures, he said.

Another important issue at the talks was related to political settlement in Syria, which is facing certain hurdles. The Constitutional Committee, which is expected to map out a future political system in the country, has not yet been set up. The Russian leader unequivocally said who is to blame for that, noting that the work by Russia and Turkey on putting together the lists of the committee’s participants had been finished. However, at the final stage, Western envoys in Geneva undermined this effort. Putin cited a letter from the French, German and British ambassadors to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, which said that former UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura must not approve any statement on the Constitutional Committee. The Russian leader said he was surprised by this position, but stressed that Moscow would be patient and would continue its work with Western partners. He called on all parties to show more political will and a sincere wish to reach a result.


Izvestia: Installed coup d’etat? How Venezuela got a second president

National Assembly President and opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself the country’s new head of state, and has been recognized by US President Donald Trump. Legitimate President Nicolas Maduro rushed to announce that he was severing diplomatic and political ties with the US, accusing Washington of trying to carry out a coup d’etat. A possible power change in Venezuela could result in a civil war and a deployment of peacekeeping forces there, experts questioned by Izvestia warned.

Russian Institute for Strategic Studies expert Igor Pshenichnikov believes that this scenario was not spontaneous and had been drawn up by the United States in advance. Washington at different levels has earlier declared its support for the opposition leader, he said. "Probably, in order to avoid excessive spending and bloodshed, Maduro will be offered to leave the country. In case he refuses, Venezuela could face a civil war and a further deployment of peacekeeping forces," the expert said.

"Washington is arrogantly meddling in other countries’ affairs," Chairman of the Russian Federation Council's Committee on Foreign Affairs Konstantin Kosachev told Izvestia. "They have done this in Middle Eastern countries such as Libya and Iraq. Now the same scenario is being played out in Venezuela."

According to political scientist Alexander Vedrussov, the developments offer nothing good for Venezuela. "More deliberate chaos created by the efforts of the Americans is destabilizing the country further and transforming its political processes from relative legitimacy to uncertainty," the expert said. "The US is using the genuine social difficulties of Venezuelans in a dastardly manner for its own geopolitical goals, thus deteriorating the situation in the country even further. But the US isn't concerned about Venezuelans’ problems." Washington has earlier ousted all troublesome Latin American leaders employing the same methods, he noted.

Pshenichnikov notes that the US has used an array of tools for exerting pressure on Venezuela. Meanwhile, many regional states have backed Washington's policy. Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia followed suit to recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s president.

"In case another color revolution in Venezuela fails to bear fruit for the US, serious military provocations against Caracas by its two neighbors - Colombia and Brazil - cannot be ruled out," the expert said. Washington could force these two countries into sparking a military clash with Venezuela, which would oust Maduro and change the country’s domestic and foreign policy.


Izvestia: Russia shows off its cruise missile to save landmark INF Treaty

Russia will fight until the end to save the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but Washington’s stance and its ultimatum to Moscow question any chance of reaching a compromise, politicians and experts told Izvestia commenting on Wednesday's briefing by the Russian Defense and Foreign Ministry on the 9M729 cruise missile. The United States claims that its tests violate the INF Treaty.

Russia’s new 9M729 missile system, presented at the briefing, has been codenamed Iskander-M1, the paper says. Today, it is in service in only one experimental division. At the briefing for military attaches as well as for Russian and foreign journalists Russia presented evidence that the new cruise missile is not in breach of the INF Treaty.

Meanwhile, many experts voiced serious concerns over the fate of another strategic deal, the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which expires in 2021. "Destroying a crucial arms control treaty will be on the conscience of both Washington and its allies, who back its intentions. While the treaty is alive, Russia will fight for it," Senator Konstantin Kosachev told the paper.

The Americans have taken a dangerous stance. By alleging that Russia is in violation of the INF, they jeopardize any prospects of extending the New START Treaty. Apparently, high-ranking hawks in Washington are not planning to hold any dialogue on arms control, Kosachev noted.

According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, the real reason for the US exit from the INF Treaty is Washington's desire to have a free hand to counter its geopolitical rivals. Under the guise of missile tests, the US is testing the potential of shorter-and intermediate-range missiles, the diplomat explained.

"This step is another move towards eliminating and ruining the strategic stability system, which was founded in the 1960s," Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs Fyodor Lukyanov told the newspaper. "This model is apparently coming to an end. The INF accord will end this year. And then the New START - I don’t think someone will withdraw from it as it expires in 2021. This creates a situation of further uncertainty and unpredictability, he noted.

Meanwhile, the expert noted that the strategic stability model, outlined in the second half of the 20th century, does not comply with the current reality and geopolitical atmosphere. Moscow and Washington are no longer its pillars of security. "On the one hand, China has emerged, which has been boosting its nuclear capabilities. On the other hand, there is a certain number of nuclear powers, and newcomers are not ruled out. The problem is that the previous strategic stability model is disappearing (to be precise, the Americans are pushing for this) and no one is planning to develop new ones. This will be a key problem for years and years to come," Lukyanov said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Trump may pull military out of South Korea to reach nuke deal with Kim

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has predicted that progress would be reached at the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late February. However, a huge effort should be made towards denuclearization although North Korea has halted its missile and nuclear tests, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

As soon as sanctions against North Korea are lifted, both South Korean and US firms would seek to take part in restoring the country. However, opponents to any of Trump’s negotiations with Pyongyang are not sitting idle, the paper says. Shortly after the White House announced plans to hold its second summit with Kim, a Washington think tank found a secret base of North Korean ballistic missiles that allegedly serves as a headquarters for strategic missile forces. The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies claims that this is one of the nearly 20 missile bases, which have not been declared. Trump earlier said he wanted to withdraw US troops from South Korea in exchange for North Korea’s dismantling of its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Leading Researcher at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Konstantin Asmolov told the newspaper that the talks would be successful if a consensus was reached. But the US and North Korea have different stances on what success means. "For the majority of the US establishment, this is fully abandoning the missile and nuclear program. Kim has clearly signaled that he would not agree on unilateral steps," the expert said.

So, the US leadership will have a tough nut to crack. Pondering what step to take in order for North Korea to consider it a concession, without the US public seeing it as such, he noted. "An example for Washington could be Vietnam. Earlier it was an enemy for the US. However, this has not prevented both states from fostering ties today. That’s why the White House and Pyongyang are looking for a solution, which would enable them to make progress and no one will lose face."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia to skip ‘anti-Iranian conference’ in Poland

Russia’s envoy to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya has announced that Moscow would not send its representatives to Warsaw’s upcoming Middle East security conference. According to him, the meeting is scheduled for February 13-14 and won’t be a success since it will be held without Iran and the agenda does not include any discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The United States, with Poland as its co-chair, will hold the ministerial meeting to promote peace and security in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has labelled it as a political project, viewing the event as an attempt by the US to impose its unilateral geopolitical interests.

Tehran voiced its discontent over this forthcoming Middle East summit in Poland, which some media reports have dubbed as anti-Iranian. Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned its charge d’affaires in Poland to issue a protest to the Polish government over Warsaw’s cooperation with Washington on holding an international conference, which it called "a hostile act."

Poland’s agreement to hold a Middle East summit at the US initiative without Iran’s participation also surprised EU countries and even inside Poland itself. Experts called this gesture a reckless move, which is unlikely to benefit the country. "We are in a situation that (makes) us as a subcontractor of America’s policy, after Polish officials rushed to fulfill the American initiative shortly after listening to Pompeo’s interview," political scientist Marcin Zaborowski of the Warsaw-based think tank Visegrad Insight said. "Iran is a potential source of our energy, which is independent from Russia. Now everything has been ruined."

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told Rzeczpospolita newspaper that Iran poses a serious security threat and its steps trigger destabilization of the entire Middle East region, in Syria and Yemen. According to him, both the US and the European Union share this assessment. “We want to launch a process and set up working groups, which will deal with such issues as the war on terror, refugees, humanitarian aid or countering cyber security threats. These are very difficult issues and that’s why I don’t expect that any strategy could be agreed on in Warsaw. But at the same time, we are interested in enhancing ties with the US and this initiative is aimed at this."

Apparently, the goal of the upcoming conference is to strengthen the US-Polish alliance and it’s important for Washington to have its ally in Europe when putting together a front against Iran, the paper writes.


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