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Press review: Pentagon’s Trojan Horse for Syria and Moscow open to Venezuela talks with US

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, March 4

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Pentagon eyes ‘Trojan Horse’ intervention scheme for Syria

Although Washington is bracing to pull out its forces from Syria, it still is conducting a hard line there against humanitarian plans by Damascus and Moscow, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Experts believe that this policy is part and parcel of the Pentagon’s new strategy dubbed the Trojan Horse.

According to Chief of Russia’s General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov, this strategy is designed to actively use the protest potential of a "fifth column" in order to destabilize the situation and simultaneously deliver strikes using high-precision weapons against the critical facilities of a country that Washington is planning to focus its aggression on. Military expert Yuri Netkachev said all this is now seen in Syria, where militants of the irreconcilable opposition backed by the US constitute a "fifth column." "Both the Pentagon and its allies, including Israel, have delivered high-precision strikes on terrorists’ targets and the Syrian government forces’ positions with the goal of destabilizing the situation and reducing the military capability of the forces subordinated to Damascus," he noted.

The general is sure that the Pentagon is demonstrating these elements of its strategy around the Rukban refugee camp, where some 40,000 Syrian refugees are staying in the illegally occupied 55-km Al Tanf zone in Syria.

Head of the National Defense Management Center Mikhail Mizintsev told the paper that the refugees’ situation at the camp is intolerable and continues deteriorating. The US earlier had rejected a request by Russia and Syria to let transport into Al Tanf to evacuate refugees.

Military expert Shamil Gareyev believes that if the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia) steps up its activity, this may become a reason for a long-term presence of the US-led coalition members in Syria. Here it’s unlikely that the territories occupied by them will be handed over to Bashar Assad’s regime soon." According to him, the threat of destabilization is looming in Syria since IS and other terrorist groups have infiltrated the west bank of the Euphrates controlled by Damascus and also got a foothold in the Idlib de-escalation zone, which is home to nearly 3 mln people. "The terrorists are carrying out provocations against government troops every day. The Russian Defense Ministry has stated many times that the militants could use chemical weapons in the zone in order to blame Assad’s government. This would serve as a reason for the US to again start shelling Syrian military facilities with high-precision airstrikes," Gareyev said.


Media: Moscow set for talks with US on Venezuela

Amid Washington’s growing threats against incumbent Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Moscow says that it would do its utmost to prevent any US intervention in the Bolivarian Republic, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. At the same time, Moscow noted that it is ready to hold talks with Washington regarding Venezuela provided that the US complies with the United Nations’ Charter.

Andrei Pyatakov, a senior research fellow with the Political Research Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Latin American Studies, doubts that Washington will agree on an open dialogue on Venezuela with Russia, noting that this step would run counter to its policy. "It’s difficult for me to imagine these talks since the US and Russian positions are polar opposite. Whereas the US imposes sanctions and freezes Venezuela’s oil assets, Moscow announces it is hosting a European office of the PDVSA oil company. The US is shutting its doors to Venezuela, while on the contrary, Russia is opening them," the expert told the paper. "Although, it is possible that some backstage negotiations are being held."

In an interview with RBC daily, Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting Venezuelan president, said Moscow and Beijing could help ensure power transition in Venezuela in case "there was no more illusion that they support [Venezuelan incumbent President Nicolas Maduro]." "The governments of Russia and China know that they won’t get their investments into Venezuela back while Maduro continues to usurp power."

"Instead, we would guarantee that the debt obligations legally concluded by my country won’t be terminated since our goal is to restore the rule of law and Venezuela’s economy," he told the paper.

Speaking about potential American military interference, Guaido said: "We have not asked the US about military intervention and we are not seeking it."


Izvestia: India rejects helping hand to iron out Kashmir standoff

New Delhi does not believe it is necessary for a third party to be involved in ironing out the Kashmir conflict, a spokesman for the Indian Foreign Ministry told Izvestia. India’s position is clear: if Pakistan wants dialogue, it should take genuine steps to eradicate terrorism, otherwise there is nothing to talk about, the spokesman stressed.

This contradicts Pakistan’s stance, whose foreign minister earlier expressed willingness to accept mediation, even from Russia. The apparent reluctance of New Delhi to get any other party involved in settling the conflict has not stopped other countries from their attempts to help resolve the crisis. In the coming days Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister will pay visits to India and Pakistan, and China will also send its envoy to New Delhi and Islamabad, the paper says. Meanwhile, despite Saturday’s border shooting from both sides, tensions around Kashmir have begun to gradually die down.

Despite Saturday’s events, a new escalation is not beneficial to any conflicting party, expert in the South Asian region and senior lecturer at the Institute of Asian and African Countries Boris Volkhonsky said. "Both sides have demonstrated their hardline attitudes, using the role of PR to the maximum extent. However, a further escalation is neither in the interests of India nor Pakistan. That’s why after exchanging rather harsh steps, each side backpedaled. Islamabad handed over the captured Indian pilot while India said the strike was only against terrorists," the expert told the paper.

The election campaign’s factor is also no more relevant now, he noted. Ahead of the May parliamentary polls it was important for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government has started losing ground over the past year, to show that he is a tough leader defending national interests. In fact, Volkhonsky pointed out, Modi has really shown this.


Izvestia: US to use ‘Russian meddling’ frenzy to beef up its propaganda efforts worldwide

The United States has drawn up an initiative of creating a global system to counter Russian information influence abroad in 2019-2020, two sources familiar with the plans told Izvestia. Washington plans to open a network of national centers of digital researches around the world with participation of local media and NGOs. Three pilot projects will be launched in Georgia, in the Baltics and in the Balkans. "The major goal of these offices is to pinpoint and hinder Moscow’s influence on the public opinion in these countries. In many states, where the centers will be opened, there is a certain number of citizens who sympathize with Russia and its leadership. The network, which is being set up, will combat these trends," a source in US political circles told Izvestia.

In other words, Washington plans on fighting for the public opinion in other countries by peddling an image of Russia beneficial for the US.

Besides, special "monitoring missions" will be tasked with sniffing out "evidence of Moscow’s meddling in electoral processes." The Americans plan on testing their work during the March 31 presidential election in Ukraine and the May vote in the European Parliament.

Washington has ambitious plans for 2020. The US seeks to monitor presidential elections in Kazakhstan, Moldova, Taiwan and Sri Lanka and also parliamentary polls in Venezuela, Georgia, Lithuania and Montenegro. The headquarters, which will coordinate the work of this global network, will be based in Washington.

Major IT companies, namely Facebook, Twitter and Google, will join the effort. "Millions of dollars will be earmarked for these plans. This is part of a program on countering Russian influence in the countries, which are US allies, and also in other states, in which Washington shows interest," a source in US political circles said.


Amid growing deficit, Russia mulls buying Chinese-made US rail equipment

US-Chinese joint venture Xinyang Amsted has offered to start supplying to Russia cast wheels, which are used in the United States, amid the growing deficit, Kommersant business daily writes. Now Russia is only using solid-rolled wheels, but the new state standards for cast wheels may be approved by this July. The plant in Xinyang is ready to deliver between 40,000 and 50,000 cast wheels to Russia in 2019 in full compliance with Russia’s state standards, the paper says. The Russian Transport Ministry argues that using cast wheels in Russia’s harsh climate may be dangerous.

Russia is facing a sharp deficit of rail wheels now, and the price has significantly grown over the past two years, the paper says. The situation worsened amid the restrictions on Ukraine’s producer Interpipe Group and the increased demand in new train cars.

In order to meet the growing deficit, the Transport Ministry and the Ministry of Industry and Trade have greenlighted the use of Chinese solid-rolled wheels, which may be supplied to Russia in April.

According to Head of SG-Trans and Vice President of the Union of Industries of Railway Equipment Sergey Kaletin, the current deficit of nearly 200,000 wheels may naturally end by 2021, when the production of new train cars slows down.

A source in the sector welcomes the supplies of cast wheels if they are exploitable. "The issue of bad security of cast wheels is far-fetched, these are just wars between rivals," another source said. The cost of manufacturing cast wheels is less than of solid-rolled wheels because their technology is easier and two monopolists, the United Metallurgical Company and Evraz, are apparently not enthusiastic about this.


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