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Press review: Budding July thaw in Russian-US ties and glimmer of hope in Nagorno-Karabakh

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, April 16


Izvestia: Summer warming as Russian, US lawmakers may meet in July

A meeting between Russian and American senators may take place on the sidelines of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in early July, Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev told Izvestia. Political sources in Washington confirmed there was no consensus on the exchange of delegations among US lawmakers but meetings in third countries and on international platforms were possible.

Two visits to Moscow by US legislators in the summer of 2018 paved the way for resuming dialogue between Russian and US lawmakers. However, issues concerning any delegation exchange and the establishment of a permanent communication channel haven’t been addressed since then. "If any meetings take place in the near future, it will be on the sidelines of international events. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s session, scheduled for early July, is clearly one of them. A meeting between Russian and American lawmakers is highly likely to be held there," Kosachev told the newspaper. He added, however, that although some members of Congress sought to break the impasse in relations, their efforts didn’t seem to resonate with the majority of legislators.

Meanwhile, former US Secretary of State George Shultz, former Pentagon chief William Perry and former US Senator Sam Nunn have published an open letter in the Wall Street Journal, urging President Donald Trump to reconsider his strategy on Russia. According to the three politicians, who used to actively participate in nuclear disarmament talks, the current US-Russia crisis may lead to a catastrophe.

This is not the first time that these members of the US elite have called on Washington to review its Russia policy, said Director of the Franklin Roosevelt US Policy Studies Center at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev. In his view, politicians are trying to make Trump see that the current situation offers him opportunities. However, in the expert’s words, the current political atmosphere in the US will hardly facilitate positive changes in relations between Moscow and Washington.


Kommersant: Conciliatory signal for Karabakh

For the first time in a long while, there has been a positive shift towards resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Azerbaijani and Armenian top diplomats Elmar Mammadyarov and Zohrab Mnatsakanyan held a meeting in Moscow, which also involved Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, and agreed to give families access to prisoners and boost exchanges in the field of media, Kommersant writes.

The meeting took place against a rather somber background. An Azerbaijan-Armenia summit, sponsored by the OSCE Minsk Group, was held in Vienna two weeks ago and an impasse in the talks became quite clear. Tough talk from both parties followed the summit.

However, both sides managed to achieve some positive changes in Moscow. Following three-hour talks, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to ensure stability along the line of contact "during the farming season" and "to take mutual measures to provide families with access to prisoners." This issue is important for both parties. A source in the Armenian Foreign Ministry indicated that both Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic were ready to allow families to meet with Azerbaijani prisoners.

Mutual visits by media workers were also discussed. When asked by Kommersant if Baku was ready to receive Armenian journalists, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Leila Abdullayeva said yes.

According to Ilgar Velizade, the head of the "South Caucasus" Baku Club of Political Scientists, the agreements reached in Moscow point out that the parties are willing to de-escalate the conflict though it is almost impossible to take serious political steps. "The humanitarian field is the only area where specific steps may be taken. In addition, it creates a good atmosphere for enhancing the negotiation process," he said.

Meanwhile, Director of the Yerevan-based Institute of Caucasus Alexander Iskandaryan seems less optimistic. "I am not sure at all that these agreements will be implemented. Besides, I don’t think such small steps may lead to a breakthrough in resolving the Karabakh issue," he emphasized.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Outgoing NATO brass ‘worried’ about relations with Russia

NATO has grown concerned about a chill in relations between Western countries and Russia. High-ranking NATO officials believe that a lack of active dialogue may result in an armed confrontation. NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe General Curtis Scaparrotti has said that the alliance’s relations with Russia are worse than they used to be during the Cold War. According to the general, even when NATO and the Soviet Union were separated by the Iron Curtain, there still was dialogue, Rossiyskaya Gazeta notes.

Scaparrotti seems particularly concerned about the fact that all contacts between countries had been suspended and NATO knows nothing of Russia’s plans. In his three years as NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, he met with Russian General Staff Chief General Valery Gerasimov only twice and held telephone conversations with him several times. Scaparrotti pointed out that contacts between the militaries were crucial for deterrence because when adversaries were aware of each other’s capabilities and intentions, they were less inclined to start a conflict.

Experts interviewed by the newspaper emphasized that Russia had on numerous occasions tried to boost relations with NATO.

"Invitations were sent to the alliance to participate in an international conference on security and send a delegation to the International Army Games. Informal dialogue could have been built on the sidelines of those events but they either gave no response or rejected our invitations," an expert close to the Russian Defense Ministry said. According to him, for some reason, high-ranking NATO officials tend to highlight the need for a thaw in relations only when they are about to resign or have already stepped down. "A new commander will soon replace Scaparrotti and we’ll see if he talks about the need for a warming in relations," the expert stressed.

Russian Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov told the newspaper that if practical steps followed the US general’s statements, then the tensions of the past several decades would start to ease gradually.


Kommersant: Moscow to send additional troops to Central African Republic

The number of Russian troops in the Central African Republic may increase by 30 servicemen. According to Kommersant, while the first 175-member group of experts deployed to the country in 2018 was tasked to train the military and law enforcement, the new members of the Russian mission will also have to address command and staff activities.

A high-ranking military source told the newspaper that the deployment of additional troops to the CAR stemmed from Russia’s obligations to reconcile the opposing sides. A civil war has been plaguing the African country since 2013, when the mostly Muslim Seleka coalition seized the CAR’s capital of Bangui and overthrew President Francois Bozize. In response, the Christians formed militia units. Over this period, according to the United Nations, more than 6,000 have been killed. In December 2017, Russia stepped in at the request of President Faustin-Archange Touadera. Russian diplomats persuaded the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee to allow the supply of light weapons for the country’s law enforcement agencies and deploy five military and 170 civilian instructors to the CAR to train the army. Russia immediately provided UN experts with a detailed report on the distribution of weapons among law enforcement agencies and the number of training courses.

According to a Kommersant source, about 1,500 servicemen have already been trained but their number may double or triple. However, rather than deal with training, the newly deployed group will need to focus on command and staff activities, the source noted. At the same time, there are plans to send another shipment of small arms to the country, he added. There are no logistics issues but certain countries - primarily, France and the United States - seek to hamper Russian weapon supplies for fear of losing their grip over the region.

Chief Editor of the Arms Export magazine Andrei Frolov, in turn, said that the second shipment of weapons was likely to contain the same types of arms as the first one, particularly small arms, which "are more than enough to meet the Central African Republic’s military needs."


Vedomosti: Apple Books eyeing Russian market

Apple Books representatives have visited Russia and held meetings with major Russian publishers, top managers from three publishing houses told Vedomosti. The US company’s delegation was interested in finding out all the details about the Russian ebook market, including its prospects and the issue of piracy.

However, the sources could not tell the newspaper whether Apple Books planned to enter the Russian ebook market. Right now, customers cannot purchase Russian-language books through the iBooks app because Apple does not have contracts with Russian publishing houses.

Meanwhile, Russian ebook sales increased by 43% in 2018, reaching 5.3 bln rubles ($82.4 mln), the LitRes company - the market’s leader - estimated. However, ebook sales do not exceed an eight percent share of the market, while in the United States, for instance, ebooks make up 41% of total book sales.

As for foreign participants in the Russian ebook market, Google Play has been active here since 2012. "The service’s market share is 10-12%, it has been rapidly progressing but it doesn’t hinder the progress of national players," LitRes Director General Sergei Anuryev said. "Apple’s share of the US ebook market is about 9-10%. If a new company enters the Russian market, it will definitely boost its growth but will hardly change the balance of shares. When Google Play came, it had no influence on the market," he added.

If another big legal ebook seller comes to Russia, the market will gain impetus, co-owner of the Alpina publishing house Alexander Limansky told the newspaper. He thinks the Russian market offers good opportunities for Apple and other ebook sellers because Russian customers are just starting to learn to pay for online content so ebook sales are expected to increase.


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