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Press review: Pentagon’s recent test proves US guilt on INF and Berlin row to sway EU ties

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, December 16

Kommersant: Pentagon tests ballistic missile previously banned by INF

Russia’s authorities are analyzing the reports about the Pentagon’s test of a ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile late last week. The United States and Russia were banned from possessing these types of weapons under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) that was terminated on August 2. The US missile’s range exceeded 500 km and Pentagon chief Mark Esper said it took less than nine months to go "from concept to launch." However, Moscow did not believe Washington’s fairy tales about "nine months," Kommersant writes.

After analyzing the initial data on the test, specialists concluded that Russia had grounds to find fault with Washington’s non-compliance with the INF. For many years, Russia had been voicing concerns that a short-and-intermediate-range missile could be easily created out of elements of missile targets for a missile defense system. "We warned in advance that [during the tests of missile defense systems] they tested the elements of ground-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles," Vladimir Yermakov, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Department, told the paper. "What we saw late last week is the result of their work over the past years. Our evaluation fully reflected the facts."

According to Andrei Balkitsky, an expert at PIR Center, the fact that the US tested a missile based on old developments, is confirmed by the Strategic Capabilities Office’s participation in the project. The expert noted that this is not a system that is ready for operation but is rather "a demonstration of intentions." "Like with the cruise missile, more advanced products and their launches should be expected," said Dmitry Stefanovich, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council.


Izvestia: Berlin’s diplomatic spat to affect Moscow’s ties with Brussels, EU envoy to Russia says

Germany’s expulsion of two staff members of the Russian Embassy over what Berlin calls "insufficient" cooperation by Russia’s authorities in the murder investigation of a Georgian national could affect ties between Moscow and Brussels, the European Union’s Ambassador to Russia Markus Ederer said in an interview with Izvestia. According to Ederer, it’s early to say whether any real prospects will be seen in 2020 for improving the situation. Although the outgoing year in Russian-EU relations was not marred by any serious incidents like the events in Salisbury or in the Kerch Strait, there was an incident in Berlin when Germany expelled two Russian diplomats, he noted. The EU supports Berlin in its desire to guarantee justice and hold those behind the murder accountable, Ederer emphasized.

The diplomat welcomed Russia’s return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. However, he pointed out that a resolution recommended confirming the Russian delegation’s power in this structure and presenting a report by April 2020 on Moscow’s compliance with its commitments in the Council of Europe. According to the EU ambassador, the report mentions Ukraine’s territorial integrity and a range of other issues, including the MH17 crash in eastern Ukraine in July 2014 and not violating the LGBT community’s rights.

The EU sees progress in Russian-Ukrainian relations that is important for EU-Russian relations, Ederer said. He also emphasized that the Minsk deal’s implementation was number one among five principles defining the EU’s policy on Russia. The diplomat noted that the recent Normandy Four summit in Paris was crucial and given its three-year hiatus, this was a necessary step. Any serious shift in relations between the EU and Russia will depend on progress along the Minsk agreements and their implementation, he said.

Speaking on the gas issue, Ederer pointed out that Russia’s reputation as a reliable gas supplier to Europe depends on whether Moscow will be able to come to terms with Ukraine on gas transit and supplies by the end of this year.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Haftar’s allies counting on Putin to stop Erdogan’s possible Libya incursion

The Persian Gulf states backing the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar have voiced concerns about Turkey’s plans to deploy forces to Libya at the request of the internationally recognized government led by Fayez al-Sarraj. Many sources in Qatar told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that a lot would depend on the outcome of the January talks between the Russian and Turkish presidents.

The Libyan crisis was a top priority issue at the Doha Forum 2019. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed Ankara’s plans to send its contingent to the North African country in the event of a request by the Sarraj-led government. "Russia is already there, in Libya," Cavusoglu said in an interview answering a question why Turkey needed another military campaign abroad. The Turkish top diplomat said the LNA was supported by members of a Russian private military company. Cavusoglu rejected the suggestion that Turkey’s incursion would trigger contention with Russia, which is believed to support Haftar. He stressed that although Turkey could have some differences with Russia in certain areas, this was not rivalry. "Both countries [Russia and Turkey] are important actors in Libya," he said.

The Libyan crisis is complicated by the fact that Haftar is supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, while their neighbor, Qatar has condemned the LNA’s moves and sides with Turkey. Qatari sources told the paper that Turkey’s readiness to send its contingent to North Africa alarmed Ankara’s adversaries in the Persian Gulf, but they would take particular steps only after talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, due in Istanbul on January 8. Saudi Arabia and the UAE expect that the Russian leader could prevent Turkey’s looming intervention, the paper writes.

Experts believe that Erdogan’s remarks on a possible operation in Libya are going to act as a bargaining chip with Arab states on other issues unrelated to Libya. "They believe that Erdogan has floated a trial balloon that could be an invitation for some kind of regional bargaining. At the same time, there are concerns and statements about the readiness to help Haftar in the event of this scenario," said Elena Suponina, Adviser to the Director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies.


Izvestia: Syria urges UN to outlaw Western-backed White Helmets group

Damascus has called on the United Nations Security Council and Moscow to ban the White Helmets organization in order to curb its funding by some Western companies. This is especially vital as the group is planning to stage new provocations, Ammar al-Assad, a member of the Syrian parliament’s international committee, told Izvestia. Syria is asking the UN to acknowledge that the White Helmets organization is directly linked to Jabhat al-Nusra, which was recognized as a terrorist group in 2013. "Unfortunately, the West created this organization in order to use it for propaganda of lies and fake news and that’s why it has been blocking our initiative," the Syrian lawmaker said.

Should the UN Security Council back the initiative of Damascus, the White Helmets’ financial channels would be cut off. This would stymie its film production of staged chemical attacks and its multitude of bogus social media accounts like "the Children of Idlib." Now, is the right time to stage false flags ahead of the January meeting between the Russian and Turkish presidents, who are expected to discuss the delayed settlement in Idlib, the paper says.

The Syrian mission to the UN told Izvestia that every time when the Syrian army and its allies achieve a new victory over the militants, the White Helmets launch a campaign against the Damascus government, accusing it of carrying out an alleged chemical attack. "We know and our Russian friends know who finances, supports and promotes the White Helmets — these are the governments and the intelligence agencies of the US, the UK, France, Turkey and Qatar. Everyone knows the state of affairs of the illegal deployment of hundreds of members of this terror group through Israel and Jordan to some EU countries and Canada. This was done to sweep the truth under the carpet and conceal the close ties between the White Helmets and Nusra," said Ammar al-Arsan, an adviser to the Syrian envoy to the UN.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia, China set to boost trade this year to $110 bln

Sino-Russian trade has grown nearly 3% and is expected to reach $110 bln this year, Chinese officials predict. While the total volume of China’s exports and imports with other countries has been declining, it’s on the rise with Russia. Despite the impressive dynamics, over the past months, bilateral trade has decelerated as China’s economy has seen its slowest pace due to the tariff war with the United States, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The slowdown in foreign trade is a direct consequence of the trade battle that the US is conducting with China and promises to start with Europe.

However, the situation may improve after Beijing and Washington agreed on a trade deal late last week. The deal with the US could improve the business environment and thanks to the expanding domestic market in China, the country’s enterprises could import more high quality and competitive goods and services from various countries, the People's Daily wrote.

Experts note that Russian-Chinese trade is able to counter the general trends and it may grow while Beijing’s trade with other countries, namely with its key partner, the US, is facing hurdles. Despite a certain slowdown in the third quarter, Russian-Chinese trade is still likely to reach $110 bln in late 2019, Head of Analytical Department at AMarkets Artem Deyev said. Trade is expected to grow due to an increase in gas supplies via the Power of Siberia pipeline and a rise in the share of the chemical industry, he said. "In general, fierce competition for the Chinese market between the US, the EU, Asia and Russia should be expected," the expert noted.


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