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Press review: India, Pakistan teeter towards war over Kashmir and how Trump-Kim 2.0 ends

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday
North Korean leader Kim Jong and US President Donald Trump AP Photo/Evan Vucci
North Korean leader Kim Jong and US President Donald Trump
© AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Media: India, Pakistan teetering on the brink of war

India and Pakistan were involved in a direct military standoff on Wednesday. During a skirmish in the skies, Pakistan lost its F-16 fighter jet, while India said its MiG-21 aircraft was shot down, and an Indian pilot, who ejected, was taken hostage. The incident over Kashmir posed a real threat of a new war in Asia, Kommersant writes. Islamabad's actions, which violated India’s airspace and the capture of the Indian pilot, put Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the hot seat. In the run-up to the April general election, he will be forced to live up to his image of a strong leader through decisive steps, the paper says.

India and Pakistan, which had fought four times in their history, reminded the entire world that their unresolved bilateral conflict, which has lasted for more than 70 years, is the oldest conflict on the United Nations agenda and remains a serious destabilization factor that could blow up in the global community's face at any moment.

The latest escalation near the disputed region of Kashmir is between South Asia's two nuclear powers, not to mention major buyers of Russian weapons, Izvestia says. For many years, India has imported up to 70% of its weapons from Moscow. The supplies for Pakistan are significantly smaller, but after a long pause in direct contracts, military and technical cooperation with Islamabad is again gaining steam, especially in aviation and air defense. Both countries possess old short-range air defense systems, which cannot protect the vast border they share and do not constitute a single system. This forces Pakistan and India to rely mainly on air power to control the airspace. The situation should change after Russia supplies its S-400s to New Delhi, the paper says.

According to the Federation of US scientists conducting research on control over nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, as of November 2018, India had 140 nuclear warheads, while Pakistan had up to 150, RBC writes. An expert at the Russian International Affairs Council Alexei Kupriyanov told the paper there are still no prerequisites for the beginning of a full-scale war. "There was just one air skirmish, that’s all. Yes, this is an unusual incident, but there have been more tense moments in the countries’ relations," he noted, recalling the 1999 Kargil War, when the situation was far worse. The expert admits that the Indian Fleet could get involved and conduct a showcase operation near Pakistan’s borders. In general, now is an ideal moment for Islamabad to bring the escalation to a halt. It responded strike-for-strike and there is no need to escalate the conflict.


Izvestia: Second Trump-Kim summit expected to yield results, third meeting possible

US President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un forced the international community to hold their breath until Thursday, opening their second summit with a 10 minute-long meeting, Izvestia writes. The two leaders arrived in Hanoi to discuss the prospects for the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization. The White House occupant vowed to talk the North Korean leader into giving up his nuclear weapons promising economic prosperity in return. Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that the meeting in Vietnam should not culminate in vague statements like in Singapore but should rather yield concrete results. After the talks between the two leaders, the White House stated that a joint document was expected to be signed on February 28. Meanwhile, it is not ruled out that the sides will need a third meeting to sort out all the issues.

The summit in Hanoi should probably bring about a peace declaration, which may later lead to an all-encompassing peace treaty and a communications bureau should be opened in order to bring mutual diplomatic contacts to another level, Director of the Center for Military-Political Studies at the Hudson Institute Richard Weitz told the paper. In the best-case scenario, the parties will agree on particular steps towards North Korea’s denuclearization in return for a certain schedule on lifting US sanctions. But now this will be a challenging task, and most likely, a third summit will be needed, the expert said.

Director of the Franklin Roosevelt US Policy Studies Center at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev believes that Donald Trump would like to solve the peace treaty issue with North Korea. "The US was at war with North Korea, and not very successfully. As a result of that campaign [the 1950-1953 Korean War] an armistice agreement was signed, but formally the conflict has not been resolved so far. In this sense, this is a tinderbox. An escalation could erupt at any moment," the political scientist said. "By the way, the Americans have a major force grouping on the peninsula. Given that North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles over the past years, which in theory can fly to Hawaii or Guam, the situation is very serious."

Another problem is that President Trump is a person who likes "quick solutions," Rogulev stressed. When he fails to solve any problem at once, he may behave in a very unpredictable way. Anyway, both leaders will try to portray the summit as their "giant victory."


Izvestia: NATO slams INF collapse, says not seeking arms race

NATO is thrashing over all scenarios of how things will unfold after the breakdown of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. However, the alliance is not seeking a new arms race or increasing confrontation, and would rather want to salvage the accord, Senior Officer for Russia and the Western Balkans Robert Pszczel told Izvestia. The alliance is not planning to hype up the situation under the model "tank-for-tank" or "aircraft-for-aircraft," and no one is talking about the Caribbean Crisis here, he said.

Russian Federation Council (the upper house of parliament) Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev told Izvestia that Russia believes that Washington is fully to blame for the treaty’s collapse and it’s up to its NATO allies to convince the US to rescue the deal.

"If they [the NATO allies] had developed a consolidated position on saving the treaty with condemning the US steps, the document would have been saved," the senator said. "However, now they are defending an absolutely opposite stance because for them the ideas of trans-Atlantic solidarity are beyond common sense."

In comments to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s State of the Nation Address to the Federal Assembly on February 20, Kosachev stressed that Moscow is not planning to renege on its commitments under the INF Treaty after its termination until the US starts deploying banned missiles close to Russia’s borders.

"Russia has confirmed that it won’t be the first to take steps that run counter to its commitments under the treaty even after its termination," the senator specified. "If the US makes similar statements, then possibly after the full collapse of the INF, we won’t face a situation of military confrontation at the level of certain weapons systems," he told the paper.


Vedomosti: New US sanctions to target Russia’s oil sector

The United States Congress published a bill on new sanctions against Russia on February 27. Vedomosti writes that should the bill be passed, Russia won’t be able to produce as much oil as it does now. Russian oil producers will be barred from buying, renting or acquiring goods, services, technologies and financing, used for producing oil to the tune of more than $1 mln or $5 mln annually. The sanctions won’t target current projects. The list of banned goods and services will be unveiled within 90 days after the bill is adopted.

Last year, Russia accounted for 11.5% of production and 13% of oil exports worldwide. In 2014, the EU and US slapped similar sanctions on Moscow, but they covered only those projects on the Arctic shelf, deep-water projects and deposits with hard-to-reach reserves. Those sanctions seriously harmed the oil sector, a source from a major oil company told Vedomosti. The new restrictions won’t have the same devastating effect since Russia has managed to replace critically important production technologies on the ground. "As far as the other cases go, we are working on the issue," the source said. "Oil companies have adapted to US sanctions and now they (the restrictions) are not affecting the oil sector," a representative from the Energy Ministry said, voicing confidence that the new package of restrictive measures won’t be harmful.

Meanwhile, experts gave gloomy predictions. The sanctions stipulated in the bill jeopardize Russia’s oil sector, Partner at BMS Law Firm Denis Frolov said, although a lot depends on the interpretation. Right now, the sanctions can refer to everything ranging from software to equipment and pipelines.

Unlike the 2014 sanctions, the new measures will target all Russian oil projects, and this will affect production, Moody’s Vice President Denis Perevezentsev told the paper. "This may lead to technological inadequacy, growing spending and complicated development and replacement of reserves in the mid-term and long-term positions.

The new restrictions may create big problems both for companies and international subcontractors, Corporations Department Director at Fitch Dmitry Marinchenko warned.


Kommersant: Netanyahu’s domestic troubles cut short amicable Russia visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to cut his visit to Russia short due to litigation at home on possible corruption charges. However, the key event, namely the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was held, Kommersant writes. As expected, the meeting focused on the situation in Syria and "the Iranian threat." The parties to the talks still view it differently.

This was the 11th meeting between Putin and Netanyahu since Russia launched its Syria campaign in 2015. After the talks, a high-ranking source in the Israeli government told reporters that Israel would continue its steps in Syria against "Iranian aggression." Actually, at the talks with Putin Netanyahu vowed to further attack Iranian facilities in Syria, the paper says.

According to the Ynet website, later Netanyahu told Israeli journalists at a briefing that the Iranian forces’ pullout from Syria is a goal both for Israel and Russia. He said that at the meeting both parties had come to terms on creating a joint group aimed at ensuring the conditions for withdrawing foreign forces from Syria.

Netanyahu is now using any visit for propaganda purposes, and the trip to Moscow is not an exception, although certainly this meeting is important and timely, said Ksenia Svetlova, an MP from the opposition bloc, the Zionist Camp. According to her, it is advantageous for the prime minister to describe himself as an experienced statesman, compared with his key rival former Chief of Israel’s General Staff Benny Gantz. In mid-February, Netanyahu met with Arab ministers in Warsaw and is also planning to visit Morocco and the United States, she noted. "All this is at the height of the election campaign, amid judicial troubles, when he should better pay more attention to domestic affairs," the expert stressed.

These judicial troubles, namely possible corruption charges, forced Netanyahu to cut short his visit to Moscow and cancel his meeting with the local Jewish community.


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