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Press review: NASA begs Roscosmos for seats on Soyuz and what’s fueling Kurdish separatism

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, November 1

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US support and oil fuel Kurdish separatism

Kurdish forces continue to confront the Turkish army and its allies in northern Syria, mostly along the territories that Ankara seized during its Operation Peace Spring. As for the areas controlled by Moscow and Damascus, there are no Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) units left, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. However, it doesn’t mean that the Russian-Turkish joint patrol of the safety zone, which is due to begin on November 1, will proceed smoothly, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that he may resume his Syrian operation if Kurdish armed units fail to pull back 30 km away from the Syrian-Turkish border. Erdogan does have grounds for such statements. First, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which include some SDF groups, are conducting a guerrilla war against Turkish troops. Second, the Syrian government has come up with an initiative to include SDF units into government forces. That said, Turkey has reasons not to trust Damascus.

"A situation where the Turkish leader and his allies are fighting against Syrian government troops gives Ankara the advantage as it seeks to find an excuse to combat the Kurds and seize as much of Syria’s land as possible," military expert Lieutenant General Yuri Netkachev told the newspaper. However, in his words, "SDF units and local Kurdish authorities… still have US support." Netkachev pointed out that the SDF had no desire to be disbanded and intended to continue defending its territories under the Syrian army’s flag.

The Americans control all oil fields east of the Euphrates River with the SDF’s assistance, and have no intentions of handing them over to Bashar al-Assad. "By withdrawing troops from northern Syria, US President Donald Trump managed to pit the Turks and the Kurds against each other, as well as the Syrian army and the SDF. The Kurds remain in the country’s north under the protection of the Russian military police. They still have hopes for autonomy - an idea that the US continues to back, denying Damascus access to the rich oil fields on the other side of the Euphrates," military expert Colonel Vladimir Popov pointed out. He believes that unless the issue is resolved, the Syrian Constitutional Committee initiative is bound to fail.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Tajikistan turning into China’s client state

Beijing has issued a $357 mln grant to Tajikistan to reconstruct the Dushanbe-Kulma highway through the Kuhistani Badakhshan Autonomous Region, which connects the country’s central area with China. A Chinese company will build nine bridges in the region and will also develop the Yakchilva silver deposit, Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted.

According to experts, China is becoming Tajikistan’s main economic partner, driving all other investors away. In addition, over the past few years, Tajikistan has found itself heavily indebted to China, which will inevitably lead to changes in Dushanbe’s foreign policy.

"As a result, Tajikistan is putting off a response to Moscow’s proposal to join the Eurasian Economic Union. Right now, regional powers are seeking to divvy up spheres of influence in the region. Russia has been ensuring political and military stability, while China has shouldered responsibility to resolve economic issues," said Director General of the ‘East-West Strategy’ think tank Dmitry Orlov.

According to Deputy Director General of the Moscow Center for Strategic Assessments and Forecasts Igor Pankratenko, Kuhistani Badakhshan is Tajikistan’s troubled region of strategic importance. Since Dushanbe is unable to integrate the region into the national economy, then some other power will fill the void.  So, it’s good that it is China. "Investments into Kuhistani Badakhshan are not a purely economic matter, it’s more like a program to ensure the loyalty of a very complex region in order to prevent the spread of extremist ideas by way of raising the living standards," Pankratenko explained. He pointed out that China was largely involved in efforts to resolve the situation in Afghanistan and expected to gain Dushanbe’s assistance in that regard. "This is why Beijing will pursue a more active policy in its client states. It won’t involve direct pressure, but a clarification of China’s positions on various aspects of Dushanbe’s foreign policy," the expert emphasized.


Izvestia: Moldovan president highlights foreign policy changes

President Igor Dodon of Moldova, in an interview with Izvestia, pointed to a shift in relations with Transnistria and emphasized that half a year after a new government came on board in Chisinau, the country’s foreign policy had gained balance. He also said that Moldova’s Prime Minister Maia Sandu would soon go on an official visit to Moscow.

According to Dodon, "dialogue turned out to be positive" at his recent meeting with the leader of Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselsky. The parties predominantly discussed the operation of their banking systems but refrained from touching upon political issues "since they are not on Chisinau’s nor Tiraspol’s agenda at the moment." "However, we thoroughly addressed current matters, which will make it possible to improve the lives of people on both sides of the Dniester River," Dodon pointed out.

When asked about changes to the country’s foreign policy following the government change, the Moldovan president noted that "its foreign policy is beginning to show signs of balance." "Before the July events, the government and parliament had strongly refused to build dialogue with the East, and Russia in particular. Today, we can already see dialogue between lawmakers. Our speaker recently went on an official visit to Moscow. As for the government, the foreign minister, the economy minister and a deputy prime minister have visited Russia’s capital. The prime minister’s working visit is scheduled for November," Dodon said.

He added that he planned to attend an informal summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in St. Petersburg, Russia, in December and visit Moscow to attend the 75th anniversary celebration of the Soviet Union’s Victory over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War on May 9, 2020.


Vedomosti: America has no alternative in sight to Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft

Administrator of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) James Bridenstine has officially requested that Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s Roscosmos State Space Agency provide additional seats for American astronauts on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft due to delays in efforts to put new US spaceships into operation, Vedomosti wrote.

Rogozin believes that Boeing and SpaceX won’t complete the tests of their spacecraft earlier than in 2021, so Russia will have to cut the size of its crews in order to provide seats to the Americans.

According to a source close to Roscosmos, NASA is being held hostage to politics. The American agency could have reserved additional seats on the Soyuz spacecraft in advance, but was unable to do so due to extraordinary pressure from US government officials.

The situation is now at a stalemate, said a space industry company’s manager, noting that work on both of the new American spacecraft had been underway since 2014 but the tests of SpaceX’s CrewDragon had faced serious technical difficulties, while Boeing’s Starliner still hadn’t been included into a test launch program because a number of systems were not ready. NASA only got around to asking Russia for assistance after a threat had emerged that the US segment of the International Space Station (ISS) would have to go offline.

Now, according to the newspaper’s source, talks will rather focus on NASA’s chances to carry out manned space missions on Soyuz-MS spaceships than on seat purchases. NASA has preliminarily requested seats on spacecraft to be launched to the ISS in the fourth quarter of 2020 and the second quarter of 2021. At the same time, Roscosmos plans to allocate money to build two more Soyuz ships. A source close to the space corporation said they would be constructed as a backup.


Vedomosti: Russians face mounting debt burden

The debt burden of Russians (based on the correlation between debt repayments and disposable incomes) stood at 10.6% as of October 1, the country’s Central Bank said. It is at its highest since July 2012, Vedomosti notes.

According to the Central Bank, more than half of Russia’s employed population (39.5 mln people) have loans to repay. Most people have either a cash loan or a mortgage, but the number of those with several types of loans is growing. The debt burden of all borrowers, particularly the poorest ones, has been increasing, the National Bureau of Credit History pointed out.

A growing debt load poses a significant danger to banks that are focused on unsecured consumer loans, as well as to families that have to take unsecured long-term loans, said Sovcombank First Deputy Chairman of the Board Sergey Khotimsky. The debt burden will continue to grow unless the pattern of loan products changes and interest rates are reduced, he warned.

Since people’s real incomes are hardly rising, taking loans is a reasonable way to purchase goods and services, Director of the Research Center for Financial Technologies and Digital Economy at Skolkovo-New Economic School Oleg Shibanov noted.

Real incomes and consumption fell by ten percent in 2015-2016, but after that, different trends emerged: incomes are not going up but consumption is increasing by two to three percent a year, ING Chief Russia Economist Dmitry Dolgin specified. Consumer loans are the main source of consumption growth. If income growth rates fail to go up, then the debt burden will only get heavier. In the event that no structural measures are taken to boost business activities and improve the revenues of private companies, consumer growth will keep leading to more banking and budget risks, although those are low at the moment, the expert pointed out.

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