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Press review: Russia slams US for junking arms control and Yemen’s fate hinges on Saudis

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, March 15
Yemeni soldiers at the outskirts of Sanaa AP Photo/Jon Gambrell
Yemeni soldiers at the outskirts of Sanaa
© AP Photo/Jon Gambrell


Media: Russia blames US for dismantling arms control deals

Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov at a meeting with his CIS counterparts accused the US of ripping up nuclear arms control agreements. This primarily concerns the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) that will expire in 2021, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

"We have on numerous occasions suggested initiating expert discussions on this treaty but the other party keeps mum," military expert Viktor Murakhovsky told the newspaper.

According to him, the Americans may refuse to extend the New START, citing alleged Russian violations. Murakhovsky supposed that Washington had suspended all contacts concerning the treaty because the US was actively working on the Prompt Global Strike system.

The US has already hinted at the system’s possible targets, which include China, North Korea, Iran and international terrorism. Although Moscow is not on the list, the expert is confident that the concept will also apply to Russia. Mobile and fixed ballistic missile launchers and command posts will be targeted first and foremost.

Russian Council on International Affairs expert Dmitry Stefanovich believes there are three options that will allow the US to test a relatively new ballistic missile as early as November. "First, they may increase the range of their newest Precision Strike Missile, which had a range of 499 kilometers prior to the INF withdrawal," he told Kommersant. "Second, there is a possibility that the second stage of the Polaris missile will be tested. And the third option is to develop missiles from scratch because the US worked on some pilot projects despite the INF Treaty’s restrictions."

According to the expert, the target missiles the United States used were similar to those banned by the document, which means their components can be helpful in the creation of new weapons. Notably, Washington’s use of such target missiles was one of the Russian Defense Ministry’s grievances concerning the Pentagon’s compliance with the INF Treaty.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Yemen's fate in Saudi hands

A resolution emphasizing the need to stop providing assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has passed the US Senate and will now be submitted to the House. However, there is not much chance that the White House will approve the bid. Experts point out that the armed conflict in Yemen, where Saudi forces are playing one of the leading roles, has been left at Riyadh’s mercy, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

According to Washington, it is only providing logistics support to Riyadh but Trump’s opponents believe the United States is actually present in Yemen, sharing intelligence data with its allies and supplying them with weapons.

Experts think that even if the US stops supporting the Saudi-led coalition, it will not make it possible to end the Yemeni campaign. "I don’t think it will affect the Yemeni operation military-wise," said Leonid Isayev, a senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg.

"The Americans are not actively involved. They are supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia but this is not what the Saudi army’s combat capability in this war depends on. Saudi Arabia already has enough weapons," the expert said.

"The problems is in the ability to conduct military operations while the war is taking place in harsh weather and tough terrain conditions. US diplomatic support, particularly at the UN Security Council, is more important. Will Saudi Arabia abandon military activities in Yemen? No, it won’t. Does it mean that Trump and State Secretary Pompeo will put pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the war in Yemen? No, they won’t. The Yemeni operation has been left at the Saudis’ mercy. I don’t see any reason why the US administration would try to change it," Isayev concluded.


Vedomosti: Russian government suggests lowcoster Pobeda buy MC-21s instead of Boeing 737s

The government subcommission on the defense industry, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, has recommended that the Pobeda budget airline consider purchasing 30 Russian-made MC-21 planes instead of Boeing 737s, Vedomosti reported.

According to the newspaper, the lowcoster earlier requested the government commission on import substitution to approve a purchase order for 50 Boeing 737 MAX airliners. The commission eventually approved the purchase of 20 aircraft, scheduled to be delivered in 2019-2021. At the same time, according to the paper, in December 2018, Borisov instructed the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the United Aircraft Corporation to consider the possibility of replacing those planes with Russian-made ones.

"No one wants to disrupt Pobeda’s purchase. There is a goal to combine state companies’ investment programs with Russian producers’ plans," the paper quoted Borisov’s spokesperson as saying.

The lowcoster currently has 24 Boeing 737 NG airliners and expects another six to be delivered before the summer begins. With the addition of the 20 approved Boeing 737 MAXs, Pobeda’s fleet will reach 50 planes by the end of 2021. Pobeda’s parent company Aeroflot plans in its renewed strategy that the low-cost carrier’s passenger traffic will reach 25-30 mln by 2023. In 2018, the airline carried 7.2 mln passengers.

"Any budget airline builds its business model on ensuring a high air time of its fleet. This is why it is reasonable for low-cost carriers to purchase time-tested aircraft, which have been operated by other airlines so their ‘teething’ problems have been already addressed," said Aviaport agency Director Oleg Panteleyev.

"It is impossible to reach a high air time with new aircraft," Infomost Agency Director General Boris Rybak said with confidence. Ensuring the effective operation of the MC-21 requires a strong system of technical support, involving a network of spare parts stores and maintenance providers, but it will take years to establish such a system, Rybak added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US in head-to-head competition with Russia for Indian nuclear market

Washington and New Delhi have agreed that a US company, most likely Westinghouse, will construct six nuclear power plants in India. Consequently, the media is buzzing about mounting competition between Russia and the West. However, a Russian expert pointed out that Russia currently was the only country building nuclear reactors in South Asia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

Russia and India struck an agreement during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi in October 2018 that Russia would build six reactors at a new facility. At the same time, Moscow and New Delhi are expected to cooperate on constructing nuclear power plants and developing nuclear industries in third countries.

So what is the actual situation in India’s peaceful nuclear industry? Moscow State Institute of International Relations Professor Sergei Lunev told the newspaper that "India planned to greatly increase nuclear power generation but the program stalled following the Fukushima disaster and a rise in anti-nuclear sentiment." "As for now, only Russia is involved in these activities. However, the United States and France are also ready to join the game. There are a lot of opportunities, so the Indian-US deal will not strike a blow to Russia," he added.

According to the expert, "Russia is unable to gobble up India’s nuclear pie alone. Given the ambitious program to build nuclear power plants in our country and abroad, including South Asia, it will do Russia no harm if the Americans and the French start constructing NPPs."

New Delhi and Washington signed a nuclear cooperation agreement back in 2005. US legislators easily passed the document though India has a military nuclear program as well. However, it took much effort to push the document through the Indian parliament, Lunev emphasized. In particular, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and center-leftists said it was unwise to pass control over the nuclear industry to foreigners.

"Moscow also was unhappy for some time but eventually it realized that the deal gave it a free hand in peaceful nuclear cooperation with India. New Delhi’s agreement with Washington stipulated that India should separate its peaceful nuclear program from its military one and put the latter under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s control. However, the Americans haven’t fulfilled any of their plans since 2005. The French also have done nothing although they had been given an area for construction ten years ago," Lunev pointed out.


Kommersant: Russians turning away from shopping malls

The most recent holiday, International Women’s Day, failed to stimulate Russians to head to local shopping malls. The weekly shopping index was negative in Moscow and St. Petersburg though it grew in Yekaterinburg and Kazan. Muscovites and St. Petersburg residents now tend to spend their free time at restaurants and food courts and go shopping online, said analysts cited by Kommersant.

Watcom Group Director General Roman Skorokhodov attributes the drop in the shopping index in Moscow and St. Petersburg to fierce competition. "Customers who used to view shopping malls as places of leisure, are now choosing new food markets and restaurants," he noted. However, in his words, the number of competing facilities is much less in Russia’s regions.

According to the OFD Platform fiscal operator, the number of restaurant transactions rose by 12% on March 8 year on year. At the same time, there was a decline in the number of purchases for jewelry (12%), sports equipment (13%) and fragrances (9%).

Managing Partner at Vanchugor and Partners Alexei Vanchugov believes shopping mall traffic has been to a large extent impacted by rising online trade. "This market has been showing double-digit growth, which means customers are not buying less, they are just making purchases in a different way," he noted. According to the Association of Online Trading Companies, Russia’s online trade grew to 1.25 trillion rubles ($19.1 bln) in 2018.

Meanwhile, not all shopping malls are facing declining customer traffic. Sources at Moscow’s Aviapark mall told Kommersant that on March 1-7, its traffic increased by 28% year on year, while the March 8 figure rose by 8%. The mall’s managers think this was made possible thanks to the holiday promotion campaigns and the facility’s improved transport accessibility following the unveiling of new subway stations. Managers at Moscow’s Riviera shopping mall, in turn, said that its customer traffic had increased by 8% year on year on March 4-10.


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