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Press review: Putin, Erdogan to discuss Syria operation and Russian Superjet's sales drop

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, October 22


Kommersant: Moscow, Ankara to discuss Turkey’s military operation in Syria

Russian and Turkish presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are expected to decide at their meeting in Sochi on Tuesday whether Ankara will continue its military operation in northeastern Syria, and on its potential scale. The talks will be held amid the US troops’ withdrawal from Syria and several hours before Ankara’s deadline for pulling out Kurdish units from the Turkish border expires.

For nearly two years, Moscow has been trying to persuade the Kurds to return the territories under their control to Damascus, considering that this is the only way to protect them from Turkey's actions, Kommersant writes. This was discussed during Ankara’s military operation in Afrin in early 2018, but the Kurds did not listen to Moscow then. Later several attempts were made to establish dialogue between the Kurds and Damascus, but the sides failed to come to terms. However, after it became clear that the US troops would leave northeastern Syria, the talks intensified once again.

According to Kurdish writer and journalist Alan Hasan, a deal reached between Damascus and the Kurds is very fragile. "There is huge uncertainty in the agreements between Damascus and the Kurdish forces and a lot of concerns. We expect some clarification. For example, about the future of the Kurdish armed units and the youth of conscription age…There are many people, who have been dubbed as the regime’s opposition. And their fate and many other issues are unclear," he pointed out. He stressed that both citizens and leaders of the Kurdish administration waited for the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting between Putin and Erdogan and what Ankara would decide upon the end of the 120 hour deadline. The expert also noted that the Kurds continued talks with Washington.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said a final decision on the process of withdrawing forces from Syria had yet to be made and this effort would take several weeks.

Kremlin Aide Yuri Ushakov emphasized on Monday that Moscow’s objective was to achieve long-term stabilization in Syria and in the region through restoring Syria’s unity and taking into account the interests of all ethnic groups.


Izvestia: Protests in Lebanon will not jeopardize Russian companies

The ongoing protests in Lebanon won’t undermine interests of Russian companies in the country and nothing poses a threat to the life of Russian citizens there, Russia’s Embassy in Beirut told Izvestia, stressing that the protests had not spiraled into confrontation and it was safe in the cities. However, experts interviewed by the paper predict that the protests could last for long, turning into the Middle Eastern version of the "yellow vest" movement. Meanwhile, the government’s resignation, a key demand of protesters, is not on the horizon, but the cabinet would still have to make some concessions.

Russia’s interests in the Arab country are mainly focused on energy - sizeable natural gas deposits have been discovered in the republic’s Mediterranean shelf, the paper writes. Major Russian companies operating in Lebanon are Novatek and Rosneft. Moscow and Beirut also cooperate in the field of armaments. "It’s unlikely that Russia’s companies would face any threats in the light of the ongoing mass demonstrations. The Lebanese demand domestic social and economic reforms, and they treat Russia well," the embassy told the paper.

According to Vladimir Fitin from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, regional actors would not seek to disrupt peace in Lebanon and therefore foreign meddling was highly unlikely. The expert explained that Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist group, had strong influence in Lebanon, and it was supported by Iran and its units were better armed than the Lebanese government troops. Hezbollah could use force against protesters, but in this case a civil war could start in the country, Fitin warned.

Leading research fellow at the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Institute for Oriental Studies Alexei Sarabyev expressed hope that the protests would remain peaceful and a fierce bloodshed could be avoided. He noted that the Lebanese government was mobile and capable of making surprise decisions, and its resignation was not in the cards.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US concerned over Afghan people’s choice

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and a US Congress delegation led by Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi paid an urgent and unannounced visit to Afghanistan. It’s clear that they arrived in Kabul to discuss the situation with President Ashraf Ghani as there is a major threat that the presidential elections in Afghanistan could be disrupted, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Ahead of the US delegation’s visit, Afghanistan’s Central Election Commission said it would not declare the outcome of the September 28 presidential vote. The final results were expected to be announced on November 7. This lengthy vote counting process is explained by the fact that most polling stations are located in hard-to-reach areas.

Senior research fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Sotnikov believes that the visits by high-ranking US delegates were linked to the Afghan top election authority’s refusal to declare the vote outcome. He recalled that the Congressmen had held a meeting with both candidates - incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who relies on the support of ethnic Pashtuns and Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is mainly backed by his ethnic Tajik community. "It’s very important for the Americans to make sure that the situation in Afghanistan won’t spiral out of control," Sotnikov explained.

"The objective of the visit to Kabul is to ensure that the current political crisis won’t worsen. And Washington’s efforts will be now focused on this," the expert believes. It’s vital for Washington to iron out the crisis because this could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the incumbent Kabul authorities not only in the eyes of Afghanistan, but also the entire world community.


Izvestia: House of Commons denies Boris Johnson vote on Brexit deal

Some ten days before the United Kingdom’s scheduled withdrawal from the European Union, it’s clear that Brexit would be again delayed, British politicians and experts interviewed by Izvestia said. The British government has again failed to put up a deal for voting in the House of Commons, which it had earlier struck with Brussels. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to carry out Brexit by October 31, 2019, but under the law he has to ask the EU to postpone the "divorce." So, now his goal is to formally request the delay and ensure that the EU rejects it. However, this gimmick is unlikely to yield fruit - the EU has hinted that it is ready for a new compromise. So, Johnson again suffered defeat in this implicit struggle with the legislators, the paper writes.

Member of the European Parliament Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, told Izvestia that a technical delay was highly likely. According to her, it’s preferable to endorse the deal in order to later put up for a referendum a question whether to keep an EU seat or Boris Johnson’s deal.

Expert at the Valdai International Discussion Club and columnist at The Independent Mary Dejevsky believes that the sides still have to settle many technical issues, namely to translate all documents into EU countries’ languages and get the European Parliament support for the deal, but it seems that ten days would just not be enough.

The new deal with the EU is actually an agreement that former UK Prime Minister Theresa May had reached, the paper writes. The key difference is the issue of border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Johnson’s deal does not include the controversial backstop clause. Politicians interviewed by Izvestia, among them members of the opposition’s Liberal Democrats party, believe that Johnson’s deal is worse than Theresa May’s agreement.

Bill Newton Dunn, MEP from the Liberal Democrats party, warned that this deal would separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the country, stressing that this is a move towards Irish reunification. The so-called Boris deal would encourage Scotland to again seek independence and this could even trigger a split of the United Kingdom, he emphasized.


Kommersant: Sukhoi Superjet 100 sales drop amid ‘engine crisis’

The manufacturer of Sukhoi Superjet 100, Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company, sold just one aircraft in January-September 2019, according to its financial documents, Kommersant writes. The company’s revenues dropped 4.5-fold to 6 bln rubles ($94 mln), and the net loss more than doubled.

Experts and market sources interviewed by Kommersant attribute this to the recent "engine crisis," when several engine failures were reported this year. Other possible reasons are protracted talks with Aeroflot on the deliveries of 10 SSJ and also the upcoming rise in subsidies for the buyers of Russian aircraft, due to which it would be more beneficial for airlines to delay the deals.

According to Executive Director of Aviaport agency Oleg Panteleyev, Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot is a major buyer of SSJ100, and the talks on terms of these supplies have been delayed. "In this case we can say that marriages are made in heaven: Aeroflot has no chance to give up the deal, but has an opportunity to discuss its terms," the expert said. The carrier’s board of directors has agreed on buying five aircraft, while the manufacturer expects to deliver ten aircraft by the end of 2019. According to Panteleyev, the manufacturer’s revenues would increase by the end of the year after the supplies for Aeroflot under the second contract begin.

A source in the market notes that next year a subsidized loan interest rate is expected to grow for the buyers of Russian aircraft. Lease companies will take advantage of this and could decrease the lease rate for carriers. This makes the deliveries of aircraft more beneficial for airlines next year compared with this year, the paper concludes.


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