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Press review: Turkey may be using proxies in Syria and Russian envoy chides US visa policy

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, February 12


Media: Turkey may be using proxy forces in Syria

Judging by reports from Ankara, Turkey sent its proxy army into combat in Syria’s Idlib province on Tuesday. Photos available in open sources show joint actions by Turkish troops and militants from the Free Syrian Army, now rebranded as the Syrian National Army (SNA). Izvestia’s sources in the Syrian government army say that SNA groups have moved into Idlib from the country’s north to help jihadists active in the region.

Many experts consider the so-called Free Syrian Army to be Turkey’s proxy forces fighting in Syria and Libya. They previously took part in Ankara’s Operation Olive Branch and Operation Peace Spring against the Kurds. And now, they have been relocated to Idlib to fight Syria’s government troops, military expert Vladislav Shurygin told Izvestia.

"Turkish proxies are better equipped than the Idlib Islamists," the expert explained. "They have been provided not only with advanced weapons and equipment but also with M113 armored personnel carriers. The militants won’t be able to turn the tide unless the Turkish army joins the conflict. The situation may change only if they secure artillery and air support, like when they fought against the Kurds," he added.

With tensions escalating between Russia and Turkey over the situation in Idlib, the question arises if there will be another Astana meeting because half a year has passed since the last summit between Russia, Turkey and Iran that took place in Ankara in September 2019.

Head of the Political Research at the Center for Modern Turkish Studies Yuri Mavashev believes that it will be highly difficult to organize a meeting of the trio under the current circumstances.

However, it is for resolving such issues that the Astana process was launched in January 2017, the expert pointed out.

"Talks on the final status of the Turkish safe zone are the reason for the current rise in tensions in Idlib," Timur Akhmetov, an Ankara-based expert from the Russian International Affairs Council, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Since participants in the political dialogue are interested in stabilizing the situation, there will be only a limited military confrontation," he added.


Izvestia: Russian envoy castigates US visa policy as harmful for United Nations

Washington’s unwillingness to issue visas to some members of delegations to the United Nations undermines important talks and damages the effectiveness of the UN, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said in an interview with Izvestia. He also pointed to the absence of official statements from the US about plans to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies and expressed concern about the prison conditions of Russian nationals jailed in the US.

According to the envoy, "there are a lot of rumors about the United States’ intention to leave the Treaty on Open Skies but there has been no official confirmation yet." "However, we believe that the treaty’s participants need to discuss all issues and concerns at the meetings of the Open Skies Consultative Commission established within the treaty. We still consider the Treaty on Open Skies to be an important tool for ensuring European security, along with the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence-and Security-Building Measures," Antonov stressed.

When speaking about the visa issue, he noted that the situation kept getting worse. "In the fall of 2019, many members of our official delegation to the plenary sessions of the UN General Assembly and its committees failed to receive visas," he said. "UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Washington to resolve the visa problem because apart from Russians, other delegations are also facing the consequences of this visa policy. As a result, it hampers the effectiveness of United Nations’ activities and undermines important negotiating processes," the Russian ambassador emphasized.

He also highlighted concerns about the health and prison conditions of Konstantin Yaroshenko, Viktor Bout and Roman Seleznev - Russian nationals jailed in the United States. "We keep calling on Washington to consider the humanitarian aspect of the issue. Meanwhile, the US authorities haven’t contacted us with any requests concerning Americans jailed in Russia," Antonov pointed out.


Vedomosti: Biden’s presidential hopes hinge on New Hampshire primaries

The New Hampshire primaries are the last chance for former US Vice President Joe Biden to win the presidential nomination after he came in fifth at the Iowa caucuses, Vedomosti writes.

Boris Makarenko who heads the Center for Political Technologies believes that much will depend on independent voters, but it is more difficult to predict where their sympathies will lie. In addition, New Hampshire voters often cast ballots to spite Iowans and let another candidate win, the expert added. "However, this time, all frontrunners except Biden can consider the Iowa results to be a success. Besides, New Hampshire’s neighboring state of Vermont is the state that Bernie Sanders represents in the Senate, so his chances there look better," Makarenko noted.

On top of this, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has gotten a boost in support after her strong performance during Friday’s debate, the expert pointed out. "The moderate ones like her and they think that Bernie Sanders is too much of a leftist candidate to run in the final race, so they are searching for a suitable centrist. Biden used to be their favorite but he has performed poorly so far," the expert explained.

If Biden manages to overcome this defeat, he may be able to achieve more success in other states. The number of African-American voters is the lowest in Iowa and New Hampshire, yet they support Biden the most, the political scientist explained. At the same time, if the former vice president fails to regain his morale, new opportunities will open up for ex-NYC Mayor and tycoon Michael Bloomberg, who is hovering in third place in nationwide polls though he hasn’t participated in the primaries yet.

"When choosing their candidate, the Democrats are mostly focused on his or her ability to defeat Trump. Wise men say that a candidate needs to win over swing centrist voters, though Trump did not bother to do so in 2016 and still clinched a victory," Makarenko pointed out.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Philippine leader terminates troop agreement with US

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has officially terminated the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States. In 180 days, US troops will have to start pulling out of the country unless Washington comes to terms with Manila. However, even if US troops leave the Philippines, it won’t seriously affect the US’ position in Southeast Asia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

Duterte started talking about plans to end the treaty a long time ago. It seems that an incident involving his close ally, Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, whose US visa had been cancelled, prompted the president to move from words to action. Dela Rosa used to be the national police chief and the one who carried out the Duterte-initiated campaign against drug trafficking, which killed thousands of people suspected of links to the drug mafia.

According to Dmitry Mosyakov, who heads the Southeast Asia Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, the fact that Duterte took offense at the sanctions against his close ally is not the only reason behind the move. "The Philippine leader can surely see that US President Donald Trump’s policies are aimed at reducing America’s military presence overseas. The Philippines cannot accept it because the country is involved in a long low-intensity conflict with Islamists," the expert said.

Mosyakov does not rule out that by terminating the treaty, Duterte only seeks to make the United States increase assistance to the Philippines. However, even if it is true, the Americans may not be willing to cooperate. "The Americans tend to rely less on their traditional allies in the region. As for the Philippine bases, they are not that important for the US right now as Singapore provides port access to US Navy ships and there also is a US base on the island of Guam. This is enough to contain China," the expert explained.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Coronavirus may harm Apple more than any other tech giant

China’s Foxconn factories that make gadgets for Apple are gradually restoring their operations as about ten percent of personnel are expected to return to work at Foxconn’s facilities in the Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Zhengzhou. However, at the end of the week, regional authorities plan to once again check out whether the necessary measures have been taken to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, which brought factories to a grinding halt, Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote.

The coronavirus outbreak made Apple and its biggest Chinese rival Xiaomi temporarily close their retail facilities in China. Stores will reopen at the end of the week at best.

"China is not only the largest manufacturer of Apple goods but also the world’s second largest consumer. Meanwhile, the demand for Apple devices has more than halved on the Chinese market," Hi-Tech chief Dmitry Ryabinin pointed out. "If the virus restrictions are extended, it may significantly affect the company’s quarterly revenues," he added.

"As of now, only ten percent of personnel have returned to work, which puts into question the quick release of a batch of 45 mln of AirPods Pro that Apple has placed high hopes on for this year," Ryabinin noted.

Meanwhile, Samsung can take advantage of the situation because the company has a wide network of production facilities and does not depend on China so much in terms of sales. As for Apple, the expert said that it would not face less, but maybe more damage than Chinese tech giants due to its lack of stocks.

"Often, panic poses a bigger threat to the economy that the actual situation. This is why it would be wrong to underestimate the consequences. They will be significant for China and for all market participants," Ryabinin emphasized.


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