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Press review: Normandy Four summit in peril and Erdogan’s assault against the Kurds

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, October 10
Smoke is seen during bombardment by Turkish forces in northeastern Syria    AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
Smoke is seen during bombardment by Turkish forces in northeastern Syria
© AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

Kommersant: Failure to disengage forces in Donbass puts Normandy Four summit in jeopardy

The scheduled withdrawal of the warring sides’ forces has been disrupted for the second time this week in Donbass. Both Ukrainian troops and armed units of the unrecognized Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics remain at their positions near Petrovskoye and Zolotoye. Their disengagement is the key condition for holding the Normandy Four summit. The Kremlin says that it’s up to the leaders of Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France to make a final decision on the meeting.

The withdrawal of troops from Petrovskoye and Zolotoye and agreeing on the text of the Steinmeier formula were Moscow’s key conditions for holding the summit, Kommersant writes. The formula was endorsed and put on paper on October 1 at the Trilateral Contact Group’s meeting in the Belarusian capital. However, some problems occurred with pulling back the forces: on October 7 this did not happen since shooting had been still underway in the conflict zone. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadim Pristaiko called this a major stumbling block for the scheduled disengagement. According to him, the ceasefire had to last at least seven days. However, a Russian government source told the paper that the parties to the Contact Group had not mentioned this seven-day ceasefire at the talks. The second attempt to disengage forces was expected to take place on October 9, but this failed to occur. The LPR representatives said that the disengagement process in Zolotoye had been disrupted, and blamed Kiev for the failure. The effort to pull back troops from Petrovkoye did not begin either. Thus, the third attempt will be carried out on October 10.

Meanwhile, Moscow continues insisting that the Normandy Four summit will only take place after the disengagement of forces, a source close to the talks with Kiev told the paper.

The events unfolding in Ukraine indicate that the disengagement in Petrovskoye and Zolotoye is already facing some backlash. Ukrainian radical nationalists, veterans, volunteers and the opposition, namely from ex-President Pyotr Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party, have been trying to prevent the withdrawal of forces. They have castigated President Vladimir Zelensky’s plans, branding it capitulation and a betrayal of national interests, the paper writes.


Media: Erdogan’s attack against Kurds could derail fragile peace in Syria

Russia is ready to act as a mediator in the conflict in northeastern Syria where Ankara has launched its Operation Peace Spring against the Kurds. However, Moscow is not planning to interfere in the conflict. The Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army have embarked on destroying what they call "the terror corridor" on Turkey’s southern borders. Experts interviewed by Izvestia say that despite its official withdrawal from Kurdish territory, Washington will continue assisting these armed units with weapons. In a worst-case scenario, this could destabilize the region.

According to Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s (the upper house of parliament) Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev, this clash could ignite further escalation and Washington once again is acting as a major destabilizing factor here. "They always have their own agenda like putting specific forces in power, which are loyal to the Americans and have their own view how this region should develop," the senator said, stressing that this is nothing more than meddling in a nation’s domestic affairs, in addition to being a violation of international law.

Speaking on US President Donald Trump’s threat to "wipe out" the Turkish economy if Ankara’s actions upset Washington, Director of the Center for the Study of Modern Turkey Yuri Mavashev told the paper that this should not be taken seriously. "This is a sort of insurance for the future, in case Ankara goes too far."

Experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta believe that Erdogan’s Syria campaign is a time bomb. Turkish political scientist Kerim Has says that further down the road this could build up rising opposition sentiment inside the army. "The trigger could be the deterioration in Syria, a wave of Jihadi groups entering Turkey and the escalating Kurdish issue," the expert said. Touching on the opposition today, he noted that just the fact that the so-called opposition parties had backed the extension of Turkey’s military presence in Syria for a year indicates that the opposition has huge problems and it reveals their real relationship with the authorities.


Kommersant: Russian legislators freeze trips to US following FBI harassment of MP

Russian lawmakers will refrain from making official trips to the United States in the near future, the State Duma’s council decided on Wednesday. This comes after an MP from the United Russia party, Inga Yumasheva, was detained and questioned by the FBI at a New York airport. Although there won’t be a direct ban on personal trips, the MPs understand that now is not an appropriate time for this, a source in the State Duma told Kommersant. If an urgent necessity arises, for example the funeral of a close relative, no one will prohibit a lawmaker from going to the US, but they should announce these plans in advance.

An aide to the State Duma Speaker, Anastasia Kashevarova, said that visits by Russian MPs to the US would be suspended until American authorities provide official explanations about Yumasheva’s questioning and offer an apology. Yumasheva told reporters on Wednesday that lawmakers must not give into provocations by intelligence agencies but should rather cultivate channels of dialogue and also be prepared for provocations.

A member of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Yevgeny Primakov explained that Yumasheva was traveling to the US with a diplomatic passport, but the visa had been issued in her regular passport. "Obviously, this formally enabled the FBI to talk to her and try to recruit her," he noted. In the future, Russian MPs heading to the US will have to send their documents directly to the Foreign Ministry, which will notify the US State Department, he noted.

Kommersant writes that the US-Russian forum, the Fort Ross Dialogue, has been in the epicenter of a scandal earlier. A group of Russian diplomats failed to attend the event because they had not been issued US visas. This forum is sponsored by the Renova Group, a company belonging to Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch, who was blacklisted by the US. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova highlighted that the US practice of delaying the process to issue visas has become a regular occurrence. With that in mind, US politicians are also sometimes banned from entering Russia, the paper writes.


RBC: Moscow’s move to help China build missile-attack warning system will impact US ties

Russia’s aid to China in creating a missile-attack warning system will affect Beijing’s ties with the United States, rather than Russian-US relations, Andrei Baklitsky, an expert with the PIR Center, wrote in an article for RBC. This system was not a priority for China, but the general deterioration of relations between Beijing and Washington and also the collapse of the arms control system have raised China’s interest in strategic forces, he notes. The October military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China for the first time featured the Dongfeng-41 intercontinental ballistic missile and the Dongfeng-17, a ballistic missile booster and hypersonic glide vehicle.

Russia’s participation in developing China’s missile-attack warning system is an example of how two long-term trends are developing in bilateral relations. On the one hand, China has become a major buyer of Russian weapons, and on the other hand, Beijing and Moscow have been actively cooperating in the military sphere. The development of this system combines these two trends and demonstrates a new level of trust, but not yet a formal military alliance. The next step could be integrating both countries’ missile-attack warning systems and exchanging information about missile launches by third countries, the expert says. Russia and China now practice this cooperation within the framework of annual computer-simulated command and staff exercises devoted to missile defense.

It’s difficult to imagine a situation where the system, which is under development right now, could pose a threat to Russia. It’s logical to think that the new system will be mainly directed against the US. However, in a worst-case scenario for Russian-Chinese ties this system won’t have a key role. The proximity of the two countries implies that in case of military actions shorter- and intermediate-range missiles will be the first ones to be used, rather than intercontinental ballistic missiles, which this system detects.

Meanwhile, the new trend is expected to significantly affect Chinese-US relations: Washington will have to take into account Beijing’s new approaches regarding nukes. The creation of the missile-attack warning system could encourage Beijing to start developing its own national missile defense system, which would accelerate an arms race between China and the US.


Vedomosti: Russian carriers seek shield from European low-cost airlines

Russian airlines have asked the Transport Ministry to let foreign rivals perform flights from St. Petersburg in the open skies regime only to the cities not closer than 200 km from those, where Russian carriers fly from the second-largest city, sources in three airlines and a person close to the ministry told Vedomosti.

The open skies regime, which the government plans to introduce for St. Petersburg, will let any foreign airlines fly to Pulkovo Airport regardless of the country of their registration and at any frequency. Now air traffic in Russia with other states is regulated by bilateral agreements, which stipulate permitted routes between two countries, the number of carriers from each side and the maximum number of flights. So, the airlines may fly to Russia only from the country of their registration. This is considered as a major reason why leading European low-cost airlines — Ireland’s Ryanair, British EasyJet and Norwegian — have not entered the Russian market, the paper writes. The fourth European low-cost airline — Wizz Air — flies to Moscow from Budapest and London.

Northern Capital Gateway LLC (NCG), the management company of Pulkovo Airport, has asked the government to introduce an open skies regime in St. Petersburg for 33 European countries. According to its estimates, this will bring additional 5.9 mln passengers to Pulkovo by 2025.

However, the Russian Transport Ministry is against full liberalization and will favor some restrictions, a source close to the ministry told the paper. The 200 km restriction would seriously frustrate Northern Capital Gateway’s plans. "Such restrictions would significantly reduce the possibilities for low-cost airlines. However, Wizz Air, which has been operating well in Eastern Europe, is still interested in the project," analyst at VTB Capital Elena Sakhnova said. The introduction of the open skies regime without any restrictions would deal a serious blow not only to Rossiya Airlines, but also to Aeroflot, she noted.


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