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Press review: Pentagon eyes arms buildup in Asia and Moscow wary of Normandy summit bid

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, August 5
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper AP Photo/Rick Rycroft
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper
© AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Pentagon all set for military buildup in Asia following INF pullout

New US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, while talking about the Pentagon’s plans following the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, highlighted the importance of deploying new missiles to Asia. He declined to say where and when such missiles may be deployed but was hopeful that the process would begin in the next few months, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Given the location of the United States’ foreign military bases, it is easy to assume that missiles will most likely be deployed to South Korea, Japan and probably Afghanistan. The Far Eastern countries that support Washington have sought for a long time to beef up their military security, particularly against China. As for Afghanistan, it is the perfect place for the Pentagon, since any military buildup there may be attributed to the war on terror.

"If the US missiles that the INF used to cover are deployed to Japan, it will create threats not only to China but also to Russia’s strategic military facilities and bases in the Far East," military expert, Lieutenant General Yuri Netkachev told the newspaper. He pointed out that the US intermediate-range missile would probably be targeted at the Pacific Fleet’s facilities and bases where Russian strategic nuclear forces are stationed. "Missiles that the US may deploy to Afghanistan will pose a special threat to our permanent military garrisons and strategic facilities in the southern Urals and Western Siberia," the expert added.

"Our military experts and the public in NATO countries were concerned about European security in light of the INF’s collapse. And now it turns out that Russia will face US military threats in the Middle East and in Central Asia as well," said military expert, Colonel Vladimir Popov. He emphasized that following the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the United States had set up military bases in Uzbekistan’s Khanabad and Kyrgyzstan’s Manas. "Thank God, they were shut down. However, the Americans may have plans to establish new bases in other former Soviet countries, particularly Georgia and Azerbaijan, and in former members of the Warsaw Pact," the expert noted.


Izvestia: Russia unwilling to rush into Normandy Four summit

Moscow sees no reason to hold a Normandy Four summit though Kiev, supported by Paris and Berlin, has been insisting on it, a high-ranking Russian diplomatic source told Izvestia.

In his first two months as President of Ukraine, Vladimir Zelensky managed to convince the French and German leaders that there was a need to arrange a Normandy Four summit. Paris and Berlin have expressed their support for Kiev on the matter. Nevertheless, Russia is not ready to take part in such a summit because Ukraine still hasn’t implemented its obligations under the Minsk Agreements, the Russian diplomatic source said. "There is a risk that talks will turn out to be a waste of time due to the lack of a specific agenda," he pointed out.

Federation Council (upper house) Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev explained that "unfortunately, while talking about his commitment to resolving the conflict in Donbass and establishing peace there, Zelensky has also made statements that run counter to the Minsk Agreements." "He said he didn’t think it was necessary to adopt an amnesty law and grant special status to the southeastern regions," the senator specified.

According to Russian Institute for Strategic Studies expert Oleg Nemensky, Kiev hasn’t yet put forward any meaningful initiatives that would be worth discussing at the Normandy Four level. "We are dealing with the country’s new and inexperienced authorities who believe that such meetings can be held just for the sake of meeting, though they are unable even to forge specific proposals," the expert noted. He also said that in such a situation, the Normandy Four leaders would hardly reach any agreements, while Ukraine would take advantage of the summit for domestic propaganda purposes and would also seek to blame Moscow for the lack of progress in resolving the Donbass issue.


Izvestia: US sanctions won’t affect Nord Stream 2

The sanctions backed by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee won’t hinder the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. A bill approved by the Senate committee sanctions individuals and companies that sell or lease vessels for the construction of deep-water pipelines. That said, Switzerland’s Allseas and Italy’s Saipem that are constructing the offshore segment of Nord Stream are in jeopardy.

"It is too early to comment on the possible consequences of the bill," a source in Nord Stream 2 AG told the newspaper. According to the source, "energy companies from Austria, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and France have made a commitment to investing one billion euro each in the project, while over 1,000 companies from 25 countries are involved in the work and are determined to carry it through."

Now, the US Congress will need to approve the bill and President Donald Trump will need to sign it. Experts agree that in light of the future US presidential election, the Nord Stream 2 issue will be one of the most used tools in the domestic political struggle.

"If the president signs this sort of legislation and the Nord Stream 2 project is eventually implemented — and there is no doubt that it will be the case — then Trump will lose. In this situation, he needs to save face," said Head of the Analytical Department at the National Energy Security Foundation Alexander Pasechnik.

According to National Energy Institute Director Sergei Pravosudov, if the companies that are facing the threat of US sanctions will abandon their obligations towards the end of the construction, they may have to face fines from their partners. "The United States understands that there is no stopping the project at this point. If the actual goal was to stop it, then the sanctions should have been approved when contracts were being signed with the pipe-laying companies and the construction was just beginning," he said.


Media: Protests may heat up once summer vacation season ends

Saturday’s unauthorized rally in support of candidates barred from running for the Moscow City Council, which took place in downtown Moscow, met a tough response from police. Since July 14, four demonstrations have occurred, only one of them, held on July 20, being authorized by the Mayor’s Office.

According to the Interior Ministry, a total of 600 people were detained as of Saturday evening, while the police estimated the number of marchers at 1,500. On July 27, the Interior Ministry put the number of protesters at 3,500 with over 1,000 being detained. Russia’s Investigative Committee opened a criminal investigation into the mass unrest following the July 27 rally.

The authorities are trying to teach protesters to coordinate their activities with them, political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko said. "If an event is sanctioned, you are welcome, but if it is not, you will face tough measures," he noted. The Moscow Mayor’s Office said that two protest rallies involving up to 100,000 people had been authorized for August 10 and 11.

Even though the summer vacation season is at its peak, people are joining unauthorized demonstrations, political scientist Alexei Makarkin noted, adding that protest activities might increase as the September 8 Moscow City Council election draws closer. According to him, these activities can take various forms, from influencing people’s involvement in unauthorized demonstrations to the vote itself. "People who don’t want to come near an unsanctioned rally and are not ready to take part in the opposition’s authorized activity, may vote against the authorities when they face a ballot box," he explained.

According to Civil Society Development Fund’s Chairman of the Board Konstantin Kostin, there is a feeling that the level of violence is rising "because it has been a long time since unauthorized political activities took place." "Protesters haven’t been that aggressive towards police in a long while," Kostin told Kommersant. At the same time, he pointed out that under the circumstances, the Moscow City Council election took a back seat. "Even if all the controversial candidates were registered tomorrow, many protesters would still be disappointed and would call for more street demonstrations," the expert noted. Political scientist Abbas Gallyamov agrees that the upcoming election is only an excuse for demonstrations, but fewer people are expected to join in following the July 27 and August 3 detentions.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: ‘Black August’ hovering over Russia

The escalating trade conflict between the United States and China is creating more problems for Russia than the second round of the chemical weapons sanctions. A slowdown in the Chinese economy is fraught with a decline in oil prices and a depreciation of the ruble, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Beijing has emphasized its readiness to face rising trade tensions and has no plans to sacrifice its national interests. US President Donald Trump will now have either to admit that his threats were just a bluff or to start a large-scale war. The second scenario would slow the global economy, paving the way for a decline in the demand for energy commodities and other Russian export goods.

The ruble’s devaluation is the main adaptation mechanism that the Russian authorities are talking about. On Friday, the ruble dropped to its lowest level in weeks, and the stock market along with the national debt market are also in the red.

Meanwhile, the new US sanctions over the Skripal case may complicate Russia’s placement of dollar-denominated Eurobonds, the Prime news agency quoted Senior Manager at the NCR Rating Agency Alexander Proklov as saying.

"Tactically, the chemical weapons sanctions have already played their role. And since they don’t apply to state companies’ loans, they will have a limited effect," said President of the Banking Experts Club Kirill Parfenov. The strategic effect of rising trade tensions between the US and China may be more important for Russia than the consequences of the Skripal sanctions, he noted. Even if oil producing countries managed to keep oil prices stable, Russia’s economy would suffer from a possible decline in exports, the expert warned.


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