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Press review: Iran threatens to sink Israeli ships and Turkey rattled by Syrian win

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, August 13


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iran threatens to sink Israeli ships in Strait of Hormuz

Tehran has warned about the risks of the Israeli military participating in an international coalition being put together by the United States, which is aimed at boosting navigation security in the Middle East. Iran’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has threatened not only to wage war at sea, but also to seize any foreign vessels, even those under Western naval protection. Experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Iran could assume control over protected merchant vessels.

The Trump administration put forward the idea of establishing a naval coalition in June after a series of attacks on foreign merchant vessels in the Persian Gulf. However, Iran has described the creation of the coalition as a deliberate attempt to deal a blow to its interests. Meanwhile, there is not much confidence that the process of setting up this international alliance, which will deal with the Iranian threat, would be a success. Washington's attempts to ensure the protection of the Strait of Hormuz are facing an obstacle since its European allies are afraid of entering into a direct confrontation with Iran, the paper writes.

Experts believe that a great deal around the navigation issue in the Persian Gulf will depend on the format and details of Israel's participation in the international coalition. "Certainly, the defiant emergence of Israeli vessels near Iran’s territorial waters will inevitably raise tensions in the Persian Gulf region and chances are that armed incidents could flare up, given the hostile relations between Israel and Iran," military expert Yuri Lyamin said.

Speaking about Iran’s prospects for capturing vessels, the analyst noted that despite the presence of British and US ships in the region this was quite possible given that Tehran has an advantage in choosing the location and has many bases there. The key issue is how the sides would react should the situation unfold under an unfavorable scenario. "There will be a serious risk that the situation could quickly spiral into an armed confrontation," the analyst noted.


Kommersant: Turkey up in arms over first major Syrian victory in Idlib

Turkey’s Defense Ministry cautioned its Russian colleagues on Monday about what they called the "immoral and ruthless" steps of Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces. The statement came amid the first serious triumph by the Syrian army in the past four months, during a military operation around the Idlib de-escalation zone, Kommersant writes.

Turkish defense chief Hulusi Akar condemned the shelling and airstrikes carried out by Assad’s forces, backed by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces, claiming that they had killed nearly 400 people in the de-escalation zone since June. Ankara is ready for decisive steps in response to the Syrian army’s shellings of Turkish observers’ positions in this area and has warned Russia about that, he stressed.

The situation around the de-escalation zone deteriorated in late April, according to Kommersant. Syrian aviation, backed by the Russian air power, started carrying out strikes on Idlib, in response to provocations by radical militants who had shelled Hmeymim and the settlements close to the de-escalation zone. This weekend, two communities in the south of the Idlib province, Al Hobeit and Sukeik, were liberated. According to official Syrian sources, the army has blocked the supply route to militants. This was the first major success of the Syrian army since late April. The areas, seized by the military, had been out of Damascus' control for the past seven years. The Syrian army paid a high price for the victory. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, 23 servicemen died and seven were wounded while repelling the terrorists' attacks on the Syrian government forces’ positions on August 10 and August 11.

The fighting in the south of the Idlib de-escalation zone still rages on. According to sources close to the Syrian military, the army vowed not to stop until it was able to ensure control over the M5 highway, which runs through the Idlib province. However, the question is whether Turkey will turn a blind eye to this significant violation of the de-escalation zone’s borders, the paper says. On the other hand, Moscow could agree to the Ankara-backed Syrian opposition taking control of this area provided that it guarantees free traffic along this highway as stipulated by the Sochi memorandum. This option could satisfy Ankara on condition that any combat activity would not affect Turkish observers’ points, which are actually located on the frontline. However, the borders of the de-escalation zone will obviously be moved amid the Syrian army’s offensive.


Izvestia: Russian NGO to send humanitarian aid to Kosovo Serbs this autumn

The Russian Humanitarian Mission jointly with the Serbian Orthodox Church will deliver humanitarian assistance to the Kosovo Serbs this autumn. Nearly a tonne of foodstuffs and essentials will be distributed to 300 families, Branimir Nesic, the executive director of the Russian NGO’s branch in the Balkans, told Izvestia. Experts have explained that after Pristina introduced 100% customs fees on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, many Kosovo Serbs have been unable to buy the basic essentials.

Although there is no armed conflict, the social and economic situation in Kosovo’s Serbian enclaves is still alarming, the paper says. "Under the current situation, the Serbs cannot rely on anyone since inter-ethnic relations in Kosovo remain challenging. The Serbs cannot cooperate with the authorities in Pristina because they are basically living in isolation. That’s why humanitarian assistance is crucial," Senior Researcher with the Institute for Slavic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pyotr Iskenderov said.

Currently, nearly 120,000 Serbs are living in Kosovo, who are subjected to pressure, and most of them are residents of the northern part of the self-proclaimed republic. "The current situation is not that hideous like it was 20 years ago. However, it is very explosive and can boil over into a conflict at any moment," Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija at the Government of the Republic of Serbia Marko Duric said.

According to Director of the Progressive Politics Foundation Oleg Bondarenko, the current situation is at a stalemate. "Belgrade is demonstrating its willingness to hold talks and make certain concessions for the sake of solving the Kosovo issue, but Pristina is sabotaging any initiatives." "Europe has created its own Frankenstein monster in Kosovo, whom it cannot control. The Kosovars are only controlled by the US, although Germany remains a key investor in the self-proclaimed republic’s economy," he noted. However, the US is not seeking to iron out the crisis and therefore Washington is not giving any orders to its Kosovo henchmen, the expert said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia’s raw material output grows, while high-tech declines

An analysis of Russia’s GDP over the past five years shows that the extraction of raw materials and their processing still remains a key driver of Russia’s economy. Meanwhile, Russian high-tech is not just stagnating, it is even declining, according to a study carried out by the Center of Development Institute at the Higher School of Economics, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Experts note that given this background, it’s hard to expect that Russia’s authorities would be able to build up a digital economy.

The center’s specialists have analyzed the developments in different sectors of Russia’s economy over the past five years compared with the first quarter of 2014. The economists noted that the key drivers of growth in Russia were the extraction of raw materials, state management and the transportation sector. These industries contributed to a 2.7-percentage point increase in the GDP.

Production in Russia’s high-tech sectors rose 10% in 2016, year-on-year, but then the growth slowed to 5% in 2017 and even dropped nearly 5% in 2018 and 11.5% in January-June 2019. "In general, by the end of this year, the volume of production in the high-tech sector may decrease 2.7% compared with 2015," the analysts forecasted.

The share of trade in the GDP has declined from 14.1% to 12.8% over the past five years. Such sectors as construction and agriculture have also indicated negative trends. This signals that Russia’s economy is only boosting its dependence on raw materials. Furthermore, this trend can stop only when either raw materials are exhausted or the price is less than the production costs, experts told the paper. "Until that moment, all public discourse about the digital economy is merely populism, aimed at pretending that there are some changes," analyst at Alor company Alexei Antonov said.


Izvestia: Georgia unlikely to see direct Russian flights before October 2020 election

The flow of Russian tourists traveling to Georgia has plunged 70% since the July 8 decree issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin on suspending flights to the post-Soviet Caucasian nation following a surge in anti-Russian hysteria, Vice President of the Russian Union of Travel Industry Yuri Barzykin told Izvestia. According to him, Russian citizens continue arriving in Georgia by ground transport or via third countries. No preconditions for resuming flights between the two countries are on the horizon, he added. Meanwhile, Russian diplomatic sources said flights to Georgia would be banned at least until the parliamentary elections there in October 2020 unless drastic changes occur there.

It’s highly likely that Georgia will have to wait for planes coming from Russia for more than a year, a source in diplomatic circles told Izvestia. The current authorities in Tbilisi have ignored Moscow’s demands to guarantee the safety and security of Russian travelers and the surge in Russophobic hysteria has not been stopped, he explained.

Another diplomatic source stressed that after the uproar in the Georgian parliament over Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov, who had been invited to the session at the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy in Tbilisi, the Georgian leadership only stoked the fire even more. A remark by Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili about the incident triggered a new wave of confrontation, the source said.

According to Georgian MP from the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia party, Georgy Lomya, as soon as Tbilisi takes steps to reduce Russophobia on the streets, positives steps by Moscow won’t be long in coming. Only dialogue between the two countries’ leadership could help normalize relations, but so far the Georgian authorities have been reluctant to hold it, he noted.

The Georgian government cannot quickly solve the problem of Russophobia in society since it had whipped up the mounting tensions on its own, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots, Leonid Kalashnikov told the paper.


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