Izvestia: Potential US exit from Open Skies won’t cloud Russia’s stance to stay on
Despite Washington’s threats to pull out of the Treaty on Open Skies, Moscow is not sure that the US really plans to do it, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Izvestia. According to him, the treaty is very important for all parties and if the Americans withdraw, Moscow will have to seriously work on a response because tit-for-tat measures are unacceptable in this case. Experts believe that Washington’s potential exit would not nix the document because 33 countries will remain in the treaty, but the question is what the US’ European allies will do in that regard.
"The treaty was made after the Cold War had ended and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe had been signed," Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev explained. "That said, the document sought to facilitate confidence-building measures in Europe. It helped launch flights over participating countries to monitor their military activities within the agreed boundaries," he added.
"This treaty is the result of the ‘romantic period’ in Russia’s relations with the US and NATO, when elements of trust were still there," Russian Academy of Military Science Corresponding Member Vladimir Kozin said. "However, Washington’s current grievances against Russia are groundless. In particular, air traffic is quite heavy in the Kaliningrad Region, where numerous passenger flights operate every day, so this route cannot be crossed," he added.
Since the treaty is multilateral, it would be wrong to speak of its collapse following a US withdrawal because there are 33 other members. However, as for Russia-US relations, it would mark the loss of another element of trust. Washington’s possible pullout from the treaty is a symbolic step rather that a move causing real damage, Rogulev pointed out. At the same time, it adds to the number of agreements that the US destroyed without proposing anything in return.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow at fault for Iran’s expansion in Syria, says UK think tank
Russia’s participation in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria helped Iran strengthen its influence in the country, says a recent report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). According to the think tank’s information, Moscow has enhanced its reputation as Iran’s partner by its willingness to sell weapons and nuclear technologies to the Islamic Republic, and offer diplomatic support within the UN Security Council and assistance in hammering out a nuclear deal, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
Meanwhile, Russian experts say there is no need to overstate the importance of Russia-Iran relations. "Often, they have a populist aspect. However, apart from Syria, Moscow and Tehran interact in Afghanistan and the Caspian region, and maintain defense cooperation," Russian International Affairs Council expert Anton Mardasov said. "Clearly, Russia and Iran have different views on Syria’s post-war order, but even if the Syria issue sours relations, it is not bound to have a fundamental impact on ties between the two countries," he added. According to the expert, Moscow is looking forward to some kind of a compromise in light of the need to invest in Syria and Damascus’ inability to carry out serious operations without comprehensive air support and constant Russian-Turkish deals.
The analyst also pointed out that at the same time, it is important for Moscow to keep Iran from crossing "a red line" and making sure certain Syrian regions won’t become targeted for Israeli attacks.
"If the [Kurdish-led] Syrian Democratic Forces continue to lose strength, Russia will face a choice on how to fill the vacuum in eastern Syria: whether to enter the area and use local forces to create a buffer with the assistance of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, allow Turkish intelligence agencies to step up their activities there or let Iran further beef up its influence," Mardasov noted. "A compromise is possible, but I think that Damascus may take advantage of the situation because it tends to describe the divvying-up of the country’s resources and spheres of influence as a result of the contradictions between Russia and Iran," the expert emphasized.
Media: Russia may designate bloggers as foreign agents
A legal opportunity to designate individuals as media outlets acting as foreign agents will arise in Russia in 2020, head of the Federation Council Commission for the Protection of State Sovereignty Andrei Klimov said. However, it is yet unclear how many Russians would be labelled as foreign agents, Rossiyskaya Gazeta notes.
According to the relevant amendments, not only resource owners may be designated as foreign agents, "but also those who spread information to an unlimited audience, particularly on the Internet, and receive funds from abroad." "In this case, the source of funds is not important — it could be a state agency, a non-government organization, individuals and even stateless persons. The fact that funds come from a foreign country is crucial," Klimov specified.
Meanwhile, member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights Alexander Verkhovsky told RBC that if definitions the amendments would contain would be similar to those in the law on non-profit organizations acting as foreign agents, then one in two Russians might be designated as a foreign agent. "The law enforcement practice does not suggest that there should be a cause-and-effect link between a statement and funds coming from abroad," he pointed out. "Any assessment of state agencies’ activities may be considered as a statement, even if there is no criticism in it, while money could come not from the US Department of State but from someone’s aunt in Minsk, and all the same, it would be viewed as foreign funding," Verkhovsky explained.
However, Klimov emphasized that "the law will not concern people who exchange messages on social media." "It will concern a small number of individuals, far less than thousands or hundreds. It has nothing to do with actual censorship. No one will be made to rewrite their works and delete anything. Just be so kind as to call yourself who you really are. I would like to reiterate that in many aspects, it mirrors the situation that exists in other countries," the senator told Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia will create third military base in Syria
Media reports say that Russia may rent an airfield in the Syrian city of Qamishli located several kilometers from the Turkish border, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.
The city of Qamishli and its large dual-use airfield have strategic importance in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah province. Even during the most challenging years of the war against the Islamic State terror group, the city remained under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s control, and Russian warplanes along with cargo aircraft participating in the war on terror landed there on numerous occasions.
Russia’s permanent presence in Qamishli could help the Assad government regain control of the region. If Moscow establishes a presence there, it will allow neither the Americans nor the Turks to enter the city. However, there is also a third aspect that concerns the West a lot. By withdrawing troops from northern Syria, the United States missed an opportunity on some strategically important areas that Russia now controls.
A Russian missile and space defense expert told the newspaper on condition of anonymity that Moscow had no need to deploy land-based radar stations near the Turkish border in Qamishli. "It is a story concocted by journalists and Western intelligence agencies," he noted. "Although the S-400 missile systems could come in handy to ensure air safety in the country’s northeast. They could control the skies above Syria, Turkey and Iraq," the expert specified.
Russia currently has the Hmeymim air base in Syria and a naval facility in Tartus, which Moscow has rented for 49 years and plans to turn into a bona-fide naval base.
RBC: Russians still clinging to cash
Cash remains the most widespread payment method in Russia as 89% of the country’s population use it. Only two percent of Russians have fully abandoned cash, RBC wrote, citing a poll by the Levada Center. Debit cards are the second most popular payment tool, and 58% of those polled said they used cards on a regular basis. However, older age groups tend to use cash more.
Most people cannot discontinue using cash for two reasons, said National Payment Council Board Chairperson Alma Obayeva. First, there is no access to the Internet in remote areas, and second, small shops don’t have card payment terminals. Other obstacles include terminal failures that may come from businesses’ unwillingness to accept cards due to high acquiring fees, Director of Consulting Services Proposition for Financial Service at Deloitte CIS Maxim Nalyutin added.
People haven’t got used to non-cash payments yet, Project Manager at Levada Center’s Socio-Economic Research Department Olga Karayeva pointed out. "People find it more difficult to control their expenditures because they can’t feel how much money they spend," she added.
The share of Russians who use only non-cash payment methods may grow to reach four percent in the next two years, Obayeva believes. The increase will become possible thanks to young people who haven’t started to actively use credit cards yet but are already used to technology in all areas of life, the expert emphasized.
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