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Press review: Why Iran admitted its plane crash guilt and Moscow awaits Libyan rivals

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, January 13


Vedomosti: Why Iran unexpectedly admitted guilt to the Ukrainian plane crash

On Saturday, Iran officially admitted that a Ukrainian plane leaving Tehran on January 8 was unintentionally shot down. A Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800, flying to Kiev, crashed on Wednesday morning shortly after takeoff. All 176 people on board were killed. The catastrophe occurred a few hours after the forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) fired 22 missiles at US bases in Iraq in response to the assassination of the IRGC's elite Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani. According to Vedomosti, Tehran admitted guilt in an attempt to prevent the country’s complete isolation.

Iran’s statement came on the second day after a speech of US President Donald Trump, who, contrary to expectations, did not announce new military measures in response to the missile bombardment of the bases in Iraq, although he threatened Tehran with a "very quick and very strong" strike on 52 targets a few days earlier. Instead, Trump promised new economic sanctions (they were imposed on Friday, in particular with regard to Iran’s construction, textile and mining sectors), and once again called on the Iranian leadership to change its policy and even invited it to join forces to fight IS (terrorist organization banned in Russia).

Tehran’s decision to openly admit guilt was aimed at a de-escalation of tensions in the region and at the same time is absolutely rational, Associate Professor at the Higher School of Economics Leonid Isaev told Vedomosti. "Iran is interested in this incident and that the whole situation following Soleimani’s killing should be settled as soon as possible," he said. By Saturday, it was already clear that there was enough evidence of the Iranian military’s guilt, the expert pointed out. "You could, of course … try to drag out the investigation so that the incident would be forgotten. But then it would be highly probable that the global community would deem the Iranian regime an absolute political outcast, given that it could be shooting down passenger planes intentionally, and not admitting any guilt," the expert added.

Iran is not interested in intensifying its isolation, it was necessary to leave room to continue the dialogue, Isaev said. "Therefore, they preferred to admit it right away. After all, many countries have shot down planes, the USSR, the US, and Ukraine. However, not everyone had the courage to admit it, and for Iran it was the most rational decision," the expert told Vedomosti.


Kommersant: Moscow awaits warring sides in Libyan conflict

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and defense chief Hulusi Akar are visiting Moscow to discuss the Russian-Turkish ceasefire initiative in Libya. According to Kommersant, senior representatives of both sides of the Libyan conflict are also expected to arrive in the Russian capital. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to hold bilateral consultations in Moscow on Libya last week, when they held negotiations in Istanbul, where they also proposed a ceasefire in Libya and offered to act as mediators in settling the conflict.

It is important that the talks on Libya in Moscow and the Turkish-Russian ceasefire initiative get support from the international community, primarily from the Arab League and the EU, Kommersant wrote. Although earlier, many countries had been quite critical of military cooperation agreements between Ankara and Tripoli. However, this time Turkey secured the support of Russia.

"Russia believes that the settlement of the conflict in Libya is possible only by taking into account the views of all parties, as suggested by the plan of Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya Ghassan Salame. Given that a military victory by one side could lead to a new escalation of the conflict, which will increase risks for the entire region," Head of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies Vasily Kuznetsov told the newspaper. According to him, in Syria, Russia and Turkey have already demonstrated that they can act as a united diplomatic front, despite their differences, and this experience may be useful for resolving the Libyan conflict. In addition, Moscow has good relations with all regional players, which are much more influential in Libya than the extra-regional forces. In any case, the expert added, Moscow will not lose anything.

According to the commentator interviewed by Kommersant, the lack of any serious ambitions from Russian business in Libya makes Moscow a convenient intermediary. Putin can take the liberty of acting as a pure arbiter.


Kommersant: Belarus pulling all stops to boost revenues from Russian oil

Amid its economic discord with Russia, Belarus slapped an environmental tax on the transit of oil and petroleum products through its territory. This is a continuation of Minsk’s efforts to increase the transit tariff for Russian oil by 23%, which began a year ago, Kommersant wrote. However, Belarus cannot carry out a unilateral hike, and so negotiations on the issue are scheduled for January 13. Right now, oil supplies to Europe are not affected, and the newspaper’s sources do not see an immediate danger.

The introduction of an environmental tax on the transit of oil and petroleum products on the market is considered an attempt to crank up the heat on Moscow over the negotiations of oil supplies. Minsk is pressing Russian oil companies to abandon premiums for deliveries to the country, which they are not ready for. According to Belarus, the price of oil in 2020 will increase due to the tax maneuver by $20 per tonne (5% compared to 2019).

At the moment, the current tug-of-war is not affecting transit, Deputy Energy Minister Pavel Sorokin said. Kommersant’s sources in the industry noted that if and when it comes to a real increase in the transit tariff, some companies may redirect oil export flows to Russia’s Baltic ports. At the same time, Rosneft and Lukoil have long-term contracts for the supply of oil to refineries in Germany and Hungary, where it is problematic to deliver it in a different way than through Druzhba. The largest oil companies declined to comment.

Raiffeisenbank’s Sergey Garamita told Kommersant that it is too early to talk about any negative effects for Transneft from the actions of Belarus, since the process to agree on a new transit tariff would probably be lengthy. Kommersant’s sources in the industry currently believe that there are no serious risks of the transit being interrupted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian space industry plagued by systemic pitfalls

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov once again criticized the country's space industry. According to him, Russia has already lost the ability to manufacture mass-produced rocketry. Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists website states that to date, in the structure of satellites in low Earth orbit, only every tenth device belongs to Russia. During Soviet times, this figure was close to 50-60%. For almost three years now, the Strategy for the Development of the Rocket and Space Industry, approved by the president, has been in effect, but the document has not yet affected the development of the space industry, including the military sphere, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

Russian Air Force officer and cosmonaut Gennady Padalka also believes that the space industry "has really broken down significantly over the past two decades". There are several reasons, he said, the first is a technological lag. The second, according to Padalka, is the "inefficient and inappropriate use of budget and commercial funds in the industry." "The third is the lack of qualified specialists. There was a significant bias towards managers, lawyers, economists, and financiers. Top management in foreign space agencies and companies are generally industry professionals with excellent engineering and technical training, members of the scientific communities, and experts in the field of applied physics. By the way, this is what happened in our space bureaus and teams in the 1960-1970s with our outstanding designers Korolev, Glushko, and Chelomei," Padalka added.

Systemic failures in developing one of the most technologically advanced and prestigious sectors of the Russian economy are clearly identified, the newspaper wrote. Summing up the results of 2019, Borisov said that Russia completed only a little more than half of the planned space launches in a year - 45 launches were planned, and only 25 were carried out, most of which were prepared for military purposes. Experts blame this on the high level of corruption in the country, and in particular in Roscosmos.


Izvestia: Only 25% of cybercrimes solved in Russia

By 2023, the share of cybercrime may grow from 14% - 30%, say analysts at the Internet Search firm. This is due to a low rate in solving cases and a poor ability to identify online attackers. New technologies are necessary that will make it possible to pinpoint lawbreakers through an electronic-digital trail, experts told Izvestia. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, however, argues that the number of solved IT crimes for 2018-2019 almost doubled.

Around 80% of cybercrime victims suffer little damage, roughly less than 5,000 rubles ($81.87). Such cases are not subject to criminal law, and every fifth victim does not even report the incident to the police, Izvestia wrote.

According to statistics from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, In January – November 2019, law enforcement agencies registered 261,208 cybercrimes, or 67.1% more than in 2018.

Meanwhile, experts at the cyber security company Internet Search say the rate of solving crimes in the field of computer information declined from 36% in 2016 to 23% in 2019.

Experts see a solution to the current problem with cybercrime in Russia by creating a fundamentally new system of forensic accounting and identification based on the electronic digital trace of various gadgets. In turn, the Ministry of Communications noted that within the framework of the federal project Information Security measures are being taken aimed at combating cybercrimes. For example, an industry center for detecting, preventing and eliminating the consequences of computer attacks is underway.


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