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Press review: Political storm brewing in Tunisia and Russia eyes duty-free zone for Kurils

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, July 27th

Media: Political storm gathering force in Tunisia

A political crisis is gathering force in Tunisia. On July 26, the country’s President Kais Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament for 30 days, Vedomosti notes.

The move was driven by protests against the poor performance of the government and parliament in handling the coronavirus pandemic and the nation’s socio-economic problems. The main political force in Tunisia’s parliament - the moderate Islamist Ennahda Movement - stood up to Said and the demonstrators. On July 26, Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, an Ennahda leader, accused the president of acting against the constitution. On the same day, Ennahda launched a sit-in protest in front of the parliament building. The president, in turn, ordered government troops to be deployed in the capital.

Back in 2011, it was Tunisia where the so-called Arab Spring started. The current developments in the North African country can be viewed as a continuation of the 2011 events, Research Director at the Dialogue of Civilizations Institution Alexei Malashenko pointed out. According to him, the reason behind popular discontent in the country is that the post-revolutionary government failed to raise the living standards and curb unemployment. At the same time, Tunisia remains the most westernized country of the region, willing to follow the West’s democratic practices. The expert believes that in the long run, the unrest is likely to spread to other countries, including Egypt and Algeria, so we will see a new "Arab Spring."

"Tunisian society is torn apart. A standoff between secular and Islamist forces is what lies on the surface. But religion is not the only thing that matters. The Tunisian people have different views of the country’s future. By freezing the parliament’s activities, the president actually sought to make the people decide how inviolable the 2014 constitution is, which was adopted through nationwide dialogue," Director of the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Vasily Kuznetsov explained to Kommersant.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: US to pull combat troops out of Iraq by end of year

The US will end its combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year, as was announced after talks between US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. Foreign troops involved in the training of the Iraqi military and the maintenance of military equipment are expected to remain in the country. This will be the second time that US troops will leave Iraq in the 21st century, Rossiyskaya Gazeta notes.

About 2,500 American troops are currently deployed to Iraq, most of them being pilots, special forces soldiers, technical staff and military instructors. The pullout of such a small number of personnel will hardly affect Baghdad’s combat capability. It is more like a political gesture that is necessary first and foremost for Washington.

Associate Professor with the Institute of Social Sciences at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Sergei Demidenko points out that "the question is whether radical groups will rise again after the US troop withdrawal." "However, the Americans in fact have little influence over the process. The rise of radicals depends on internal factors. The confrontation between the Sunnis and the Shias is what should be looked at because there are a lot of grievances between them and the developments will largely depend on relations between various religious communities. Most members of Iraq’s regular armed forces, controlled by the Defense Ministry, are Shias. There also are militias who only partially cooperate with the army, and many units maintain tribal ties," the expert noted, adding: "The combat capability of this structure is questionable".

According to him, "the country is very much overheated in ethnic, religious and social terms, and new armed units can emerge at any given moment." "Notably, such organizations always tend to turn into radical movements in the region," Demidenko emphasized.


Media: Russia plans to create free customs zone on Kuril Islands

The move to create a free customs zone on the southern Kuril Islands may come before the end of the year, Izvestia writes, citing a member of the Russian State Duma. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced plans to create such a zone there during his trip to Iturup Island.

The main goal is to boost cooperation with Japan. Moscow is hopeful that Tokyo will abandon its territorial claims and express its willingness to build economic cooperation, said Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Regional Policy and Problems of the North and the Far East Nikolai Kharitonov. First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Economic Policy, Innovative Development Vladimir Gutenev, however, did not rule out that if Japan continued to lay claims to the Kuril Islands, Russia might extend the right to use the free customs zone to other Asian countries, for instance, South Korea and Vietnam.

"Creating competitive conditions in the region is the only correct decision," Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies Alexei Maslov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Attracting investors from neighboring countries to Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands requires extraordinary steps, because they will look for more favorable terms than they have at home," he explained.

Japan does not support the creation of special economic zones at least on two islands that it claims, Tokyo earlier put forward initiatives on joint activities aimed at their development, which were hindered by the impossibility of dual management, the expert went on to say. "However, if a really attractive atmosphere is created on Iturup Island, for example, and investors from various countries start to take advantage of it, boosting competition, then the issue of the area’s status will become less pressing," Maslov said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Washington urges India to counter China’s rising influence

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to India. The official goal of his visit is to boost cooperation in the field of defense, cybersecurity and the war on terror. But in fact, Washington seeks to make India participate more actively in the Quad security dialogue, which also involves Japan and Australia. The union is designed to stifle the rise of China’s influence in the region, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Until recently, many Indian experts believed that the country needed to strengthen cooperation with China to usher in an "Asian century." However, things have changed. One of the reasons is the coronavirus pandemic that originated in China, and clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in the Himalayas are the other. The situation seems to be favorable to the US top diplomat’s mission and Blinken intends to raise the human rights issues, which will hardly make the Indian Foreign Ministry enthusiastic.

Professor Sergei Lunev from Moscow State Institute of International Relations pointed out that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s "government has embarked on a course to comprehensively boost Hinduism and is somewhat infringing on Islam. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution has been revoked, which granted autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, populated mostly by Muslims. The government also banned Muslim illegal immigrants from obtaining Indian passports, though members of other religions still have that right. The US has been expressing frustration on the matter in a bid to maintain its positions in the Muslim world," Lunev noted.

When speaking about the prospects for Blinken’s visit, the expert emphasized that there would be no breakthroughs. The US top diplomat will try to make India abandon its sort of neutral stance, but New Delhi won’t openly take action against China in the near future. However, India is very much disappointed by Russia’s focus on China and Moscow’s efforts to boost defense and political ties with Pakistan. Still, the Americans won’t succeed in weakening Russian-Indian defense cooperation. "It has been going on for 60 years. Most weapons that India receives from abroad come from Russia," Lunev stressed.


Izvestia: Bacteria may help recycle medical face masks

Russian researchers are working on a biological preparation that will help recycle medical face masks quickly and without damaging the environment. Russia has increased the production of medical masks 15-fold during the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said in early summer, so the issue of recycling personal protective equipment is becoming more and more relevant, Izvestia notes.

Researchers at Kuban State University are looking for bacteria capable of effectively recycling polypropylene, the main component that medical face masks are made of. If scientists succeed, they will be able to develop a biological agent that will make it possible to recycle personal protective equipment without damaging the environment.

However, there is a risk that bacteria will get out of control, creating problems for the use of plastic things, said Maxim Shingarkin, a former State Duma member who took part in the development of environmental reform. "Bacteria will start ‘eating’ plastic that people use," he explained. "Plastic is used on a large scale and is irreplaceable in many areas. For instance, if we take medical devices, this material is much safer for people than others," Shingarkin added.

However, "the project is very relevant because face coverings are being manufactured in large numbers and their production is unlikely to decline anytime soon," Head of the Microbiology Department at Moscow State University Elizaveta Bonch-Osmolovskaya pointed out.

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