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Press review: Iran, Russia accused of ‘meddling’ and Turkey’s Karabakh gamble irks Moscow

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, October 23

Kommersant: US rings election meddling alarm bells, pointing to Iran, Russia

With the US presidential election just less than two weeks away, another election interference bombshell has shaken the presidential race. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said that his department had received information about a scheme to influence the outcome of the November 3 elections involving two external players - Russia and Iran. The accusations against Moscow were not specified, but in the case of Tehran, Ratcliffe described how Iranian hackers allegedly sent threatening letters to Democrat-registered voters in an alleged effort to discredit Donald Trump. Russia and Iran categorically deny the accusations, Kommersant writes. Political commentators interviewed by the newspaper noted that the upcoming presidential race in the US will be crucial for Tehran.

"As far as Russia is concerned, it doesn't really matter who wins, since both candidates - Donald Trump and Joe Biden - will pursue a policy of tightening pressure on Moscow regardless of who emerges victorious, only differing in nuances. For Iran, the situation looks fundamentally different. Tehran considers this US election to be a critically fateful one, given that it will largely predetermine what will happen to the country in the coming years," Director of the Center for Political Research Andrey Fedorov told the newspaper.

Chief Researcher at the Institute of the US and Canada at RAS Vladimir Batyuk agrees. "There are few countries in the world that would be as directly interested in the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election as the Islamic Republic of Iran. A Biden victory would open up new political and economic opportunities for Tehran and would create conditions for bolstering the international positions of this Middle Eastern country," Batyuk told Kommersant.

According to the expert, the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuke deal with Iran isolated the United States from its allies, who did not support this step and pushed Tehran to resume its nuclear program. "Thus, if Biden wins, Tehran will be able to resume diplomatic bargaining with Washington," the political commentator concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Tensions in ties between Minsk, Moscow may grow

The recent visit by Russia’s Director of Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergey Naryshkin to Minsk came as a surprise to experts and observers. Neither the visit itself, nor the joint conference of Russia’s SVR and the KGB of Belarus was announced. This gave local observers reason to believe that the Minsk tour was connected with some more intrigue in the Belarusian crisis, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. According to experts, Moscow assessed the situation and intends to push Lukashenko to resign.

According to the newspaper, the trip may be related to Tikhanovskaya’s recent ultimatum to Lukashenko, when she demanded his resignation and the release of political prisoners.

"Belarusian-Russian relations have always been very complicated," political observer Aleksandr Klaskouski told the newspaper, adding that since Lukashenko became too toxic and agreements on deeper integration with him could be later declared null and void, the Kremlin is starting to push for constitutional reform and look for a probable successor.

According to the expert, Lukashenko has his own view of this problem, but he senses Moscow's position, therefore "the level of mutual distrust has heightened more than before." "I predict that there may be serious friction between Lukashenko and the Kremlin, since their interests do not coincide now," Klaskouski noted. In this regard, the main goal of Naryshkin's visit, in his opinion, is to remind Lukashenko of the promises he has made to the Kremlin in exchange for support.

Klaskouski is convinced that "the Kremlin will use the fact that Lukashenko is in a weak position and will try to put the squeeze on him on a number of issues." Apart from the purchase of strategic assets and a Russian military base in Belarus, this may be Moscow's new interest, generated by the political crisis in Belarus - planned and controlled transit of power through constitutional reform.


Kommersant: Washington has unique chance to negotiate New START deal, says senior Russian diplomat

Russia has recently surprised many by offering to extend the New START Treaty with the United States for a year instead of five years and by expressing its readiness to suspend the buildup of all nuclear warheads for the same period. If the United States confirms its willingness to accept Moscow’s proposal to reach an agreement without any additions, Russia would be ready to immediately start work on formalizing such an understanding, said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who heads the Russian delegation at the talks with the United States on strategic stability, in interview with Kommersant.

"At this stage, we cannot say that we are on the verge of [striking] agreements," the diplomat insisted. "We have to admit that the degree of our differences is very serious, even on some essential points. Therefore, I personally do not see any grounds for particular optimism," he stated.

At the same time, according to Ryabkov, Russia has already shown flexibility, and "now it is America’s turn to take reciprocal steps", including on Russia’s demand to reach an agreement without any additional attachments that could lead the process to a dead end. "Now, Washington has a unique opportunity to come to an agreement on the terms it has been offered. But this should be only and exclusively the extension of the New START Treaty and the prospect of agreeing on the model of freezing nuclear warheads without attachments, and without any more add-ons or demands for Russia," he emphasized, noting that "a rejection would immediately wipe out any possibility of reaching such an agreement."

"Let me stress that the extension of the treaty itself is not critical from our point of view," the diplomat noted, adding that Russia’s security can be reliably guaranteed, even if Washington does not support extending the deal.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow not going to sit by as Turkey conducts ambitious policy in South Caucasus

The backdrop for the visit by Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal to Moscow on October 22 was the harsh statements made in Ankara on Nagorno-Karabakh. On the eve of the trip, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay stressed that his country would not hesitate to send regular troops to the conflict zone if required. The atmosphere of such statements only strengthened the impression of deepening contradictions between Moscow and Ankara, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The tensions in bilateral relations demonstrate the depth of mistrust that has long accompanied Turkish-Russian cooperation, Kerim Has, a Moscow-based Turkish political analyst told the newspaper. According to the expert, Ankara is becoming a problematic partner for Moscow, and it is becoming more and more difficult to interact with it. The emphasis of the Turkish elite on a military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict surely irritates the Kremlin, he believes.

Nagorno-Karabakh is not Syria or Libya, where Moscow tolerates Ankara’s policy, Has said. The Turkish expert believes that Ankara's desire to mediate in the settlement of the Karabakh crisis also looks strange at the very least, since Turkey cannot claim to be objective, as it openly calls Armenia an enemy.

Against the background of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the topic of Syria and Libya has faded somewhat into the background, and important events are taking place there for understanding the future of Turkish-Russian relations, the analyst believes. Thus, a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan may take place soon, the expert believes, otherwise, the rising tide of problems will become unmanageable.


Vedomosti: China buys Russian helicopters to the tune of over $2 bln

Rostec State Corporation's 2019 report published on October 21 states that in the reporting year, Russian Helicopters signed contracts for the supply of sixty-eight Mi-171 helicopters (including the upgraded Mi-171E) to China, as well as eighteen Mi-171SHs (military transport), fourteen Mi-171 helicopters with a VK-2500 engine and 21 Ansat helicopters. A preliminary contract for the supply of Ansat helicopters was signed at the Airshow China exhibition back in November 2018, Vedomosti writes, but the exact figures were not disclosed.

According to Konstantin Makienko, expert at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, the cost of only one hundred Mi-171-type helicopters could exceed $2 bln. These contracts are the largest known deals with China after the completion of the supply of Su-35 fighters and S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems there, Vasily Kashin from the Higher School of Economics told the newspaper.

China operates about five hundred Mi-8/17-type helicopters - second in the world after Russia - and in fact considers it to be its own helicopter, Kashin added. In recent years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of helicopters for the land forces of the People's Liberation Army of China. Perhaps, Chinese industry cannot cope with production, Kashin presumed. Therefore, such huge purchases of Russian helicopters, especially given the growing military and political tensions around Taiwan, are quite logical, the expert concluded.



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