Izvestia: European Union insists on extending New START
Russia and the United States need to maintain dialogue on the future of the New START Treaty, the European Union’s Lead Spokesman for External Affairs Peter Stano told Izvestia. He stressed that Moscow and Washington should push ahead with efforts to reduce their arsenals, both strategic and tactical, and deployed and non-deployed. Having the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, Russia and the United States shoulder a special responsibility here, he stressed.
In order to prolong New START, it is enough to conduct bilateral consultations to agree on the extension period (up to five years or less). The question is whether the European Union will be able to influence Washington to ensure clarity regarding the future of the accord. According to the experts interviewed by the paper, Brussels has no real levers of pressure on Washington on this score.
"The EU made statements that did not coincide with Washington’s stance in the past, for example, on the Iranian nuclear deal, which they are gradually abandoning. Brussels also followed with great concern the developments involving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty [which became nullified on August 2, 2019 at the initiative of the US], but could not do anything. NATO could change the situation, but there are many conflicting agendas within the alliance, for example, financing. That’s why [Washington’s] allies are unlikely to exert pressure on the US on the issue," Petr Topychkanov, a Senior Researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) stressed to Izvestia.
According to the expert, the collapse of the previous agreements has ushered in an arms race, which could be even more dangerous than the situation during the Cold War era.
"After the Cold War, despite the ‘triumph of democracy,’ the feeling of insecurity persists and even grows. That encourages the parties to build up armaments in accordance with their budgets. Today, more than just two powers - from European countries to China and from India to Pakistan - are involved in that," the expert concluded.
Kommersant: Moscow, Ankara searching for compromise on Idlib
The first day of the Moscow-hosted Russian-Turkish negotiations on Syria’s Idlib held on Monday yielded no results, Kommersant writes. Ankara continues to redeploy its military equipment to northern Syria and demands the immediate withdrawal of the Syrian army from its positions. Moscow believes that Ankara has failed to ensure the disengagement of terrorists from the armed opposition, but assures that there is a mutual understanding between the Russian and Turkish troops.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed once again that disengagement was the key to resolving the Idlib issue.
"The actual disengagement has taken place a long time ago. Now two forces are operating in Idlib. These are the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terror group [outlawed in Russia] and the armed opposition, united, with Turkey’s assistance, into a single unit - the Syrian National Army," Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov explained to Kommersant.
According to the expert, the opposition and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham have approximately the same number of fighters in Idlib, about 20,000 people each. On the other hand, the territory controlled by terrorists accounts for 75-80% of the Idlib de-escalation zone. There seems to be an agreement between Moscow and Ankara, he noted. It is no coincidence that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave Damascus time until late February to withdraw its forces. Besides, Turkey is not impeding the Syrian army’s advance in the Aleppo area where mainly Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s positions were located.
"For a long time, Ankara did not interfere with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in idlib, because it viewed that group as a force containing Assad. Now that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was unable to stop the advance of the Syrian army, nobody needs it," Semenov added.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Libya’s Sarraj becoming source of concern for Europe
The international community continues to step up efforts to revive the peace process in Libya, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. One of the events on resolving the Libyan crisis occurred on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on February 16. Taking part in it were delegates from the countries that were represented at the Berlin forum. However, neither representatives of the interim government backed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libya National Army nor delegates from the Government of National Accord under Fayez al-Sarraj were present at the meeting.
The participants agreed to set up the International Committee on Libya brokered by the UN, which will hold regular meetings to promote the decisions of the Berlin conference. Strange as it may seem, there are no delegates from Saudi Arabia among its members.
It is not improbable that this is due to difficult relations between Ankara and Riyadh, the paper quotes Alexander Frolov, a leading research fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as saying. The expert noted that Turkey could use all the leverage it had, including blackmail, in order to prevent the presence of influential Saudis. He recalled that Riyadh greenlighted the Arab militia, which is expected to operate in northeastern Syria to contain Iran on the one hand and Turkey on the other.
Meanwhile, there is a growing understanding in the West that the 2015 agreements, recognizing the Sarraj government, which holds neither confidence nor prominence among the Libyans, turned out to be a mistake. According to Mustafa al-Fitouri, a US scholar of Libyan origin, the Sarraj-led government first turned into a hostage of Libyan Islamists and then into Erdogan’s obedient and blind tool, who is elbowing the Europeans out of the giant gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Izvestia: Every sixth smartphone in Russia sold online
The number of smartphones in Russia sold via the Internet is growing. In 2019, the share of their online sales grew by 3 percentage points up to 17% individually and up to 20% in monetary terms, Izvestia writes citing data provided by GfK company. In addition to the fact that the same smartphone models can cost significantly less than in offline stores, consumers are less in need of salespersons’ services and advice, experts explain. However, in general, the share of online smartphone sales is low due to the inertia of consumers and their cautiousness towards expensive online purchases.
"Today, online shopping has become more convenient. In just a few clicks, a user can find a suitable model, compare prices, arrange payment by instalments and order a smartphone and home delivery. In addition, retailers are constantly working to improve the logistics infrastructure, which reduces delivery time substantially," David Borzilov of Svyaznoy told the paper.
Russians appreciate the opportunity to save time and effort, ordering not only smartphones online but also household appliances, food, clothes, household goods and more, the paper quotes TelecomDaily CEO Denis Kuskov as saying. According to his estimates, Russians will purchase about 35% of smartphones online by 2024.
At the same time, most smartphones are still sold in physical retail, because people are accustomed to seeing everything with their own eyes, says Sergei Polovnikov from Content Review. Online shopping is often uncomfortable for the older generation, he went on to say. A certain distrust of online stores plays its role as well. Many potential customers are worried that they could purchase faulty goods or the seller could disappear, the expert explained.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev demands more money from Moscow
In May, The Hague will host hearings on the amount of compensation that Ukraine’s Naftogaz demands from Russia in return for assets lost in Crimea. Ukraine expects the final decision on a specific amount to be handed down by mid-2021, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The Ukrainian company said on Monday that the amount of losses plus interest were estimated at about $8 bln.
At the end of last year, Russia’s energy giant Gazprom paid $2.9 bln awarded to Naftogaz by a Stockholm arbitration ruling. In late 2017-early 2018, the Stockholm Arbitration ruled on disputes between Gazprom and Naftogaz over gas supplies and transit contracts. Naftogaz was supposed to pay about $2 bln to Gazprom, while Gazprom was expected to pay about $4.6 bln to Naftogaz.
Meanwhile, Ukraine itself owes a debt to Russia, better known as the so-called "Yanukovich debt," which has grown from $3 bln to $4.5 bln (taking into account penalty fees). The return of this money is questioned because of the ongoing discussion regarding the procedure, according to which a decision on paying down that debt should be made.
"There are several scenarios regarding Naftogaz’s requirements on assets in Crimea," the paper quotes Anna Bodrova, a senior analyst at Alpari Center, as saying. "One of them is endless litigation, which can drag on for years and end in nothing. Another option is to find an intermediate compromise. For example, one of the parties can cut the amount of compensation, while the other side can withdraw its claims," she said.
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