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Press review: Syrian rapprochement takes a timeout and Russia deepens ties with Africa

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, March 17th

MOSCOW, March 17. /TASS/. The Syria reconciliation process may be put on hold until after Turkey's elections, Russia seeks to boost cooperation with Africa, and Iran embarks on a journey to break out of its Middle Eastern isolation. These stories topped Friday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Syria reconciliation process may be put on hold until Turkish elections

A Moscow meeting between Russia, Turkey, Iran and Syria has been canceled for technical reasons, Turkish media reported. A Russian Foreign Ministry official told Vedomosti that the ministry had not confirmed the meeting.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on March 8 that there was hope that the meeting involving deputy foreign ministers would take place in Moscow within a week. On the same day, Turkish top diplomat Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking at a press conference following talks with his Iranian counterpart, confirmed plans to hold consultations in the Russian capital.

Ankara and Damascus haven’t abandoned plans to normalize relations but have taken a break, said Amur Gadzhiyev, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies. Given that the meeting is said to have been canceled for technical reasons as well as the fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration has refrained from lashing out at Syrian President Bashar Assad’s recent statement about the need to withdraw Turkish troops from his country, there is no reason to worry that the parties have put the normalization process on hold.

Gadzhiyev added that the two countries had stepped up ties in the field of humanitarian and relief operations after the recent devastating earthquakes. As for the political normalization process, with Turkish elections on the horizon and no guarantee that Erdogan will win, it can be assumed that the parties have taken a break, particularly to develop new mechanisms for interaction, Gadzhiyev emphasized.

Now is not the right time for either Turkey or Syria to think about normalizing relations, Senior Lecturer at the Higher School of Economics’ School of Asian Studies Andrey Zeltyn noted. Turkey is in the midst of electoral fever, and Erdogan’s chances of re-election look bleak. Since expectations of a reconciliation process are based on his statements, communication with Damascus will continue if he wins the vote. However, if the opposition, which makes no secret of its orientation toward the West and NATO, wins, the format of talks with Assad will change dramatically, the expert concluded.


Izvestia: Russia seeks to boost cooperation with Africa

Russia will try to make sure that the grain deal is implemented correctly in order to prevent a food crisis, Federation Council (the upper house of parliament) Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said during a visit to Algeria. The African nation, in turn, is ready to take part in efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, which has been affecting not only Europe but all other regions of the world, including Africa, Izvestia writes.

The African continent remains a desirable partner for Russia on the international stage. Since the start of the year, Russian delegations have visited about ten African countries. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made trips to South Africa, Angola, Eswatini, Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania and Sudan. Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev paid a visit to Algeria. And now, the country is receiving Matviyenko. The parties agreed to develop an updated declaration on deeper strategic partnership. Although bilateral trade declined in 2022 because of sanctions, the two countries plan to enhance cooperation in the energy sector, transport, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and education. The Federation Council speaker expressed Russia’s readiness to support Algeria’s intention to join the BRICS group, where the country applied for membership in November 2022.

Moscow’s long-term interest may be to facilitate the development of Algeria’s domestic gas market, said Vsevolod Sviridov, an expert at the Higher School of Economics’ Center for African Studies. The country’s growing gas processing and domestic consumption will positively impact its economic development and financial stability, while limiting the oversupply of gas in Europe, the expert said.

"Undoubtedly, Algeria is one of Russia’s friendliest countries in Africa. It has officially proclaimed a strategic partnership with our country. It is one of three African nations to pursue such a policy, along with Egypt and South Africa," the expert noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Tehran embarks on journey out of Middle East isolation

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani visited the United Arab Emirates to discuss the expansion of bilateral ties. The trip came a week after Tehran and Riyadh - Iran’s long-time regional rival - sealed a Chinese-brokered agreement to restore diplomatic relations, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

Other actors in the Arab world who have been at odds with Tehran are supposed to follow the Iran-Saudi pattern of reconciliation. In particular, Bahrain seems to have an interest in this as intensified communication between the two countries’ officials has been reported in recent months. According to some media reports, the Chinese leadership, which had a hand in the reconciliation process between Riyadh and Tehran, would like to implement a plan to hold a major summit involving Iran and Gulf Cooperation Council member states by the end of the year.

In the meantime, Grigory Lukyanov, a senior researcher with the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, points out that the differences that led to a significant confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the past have not gone anywhere. "Willingness to restore diplomatic relations in no way means readiness to give up one’s identity, political rhetoric and the interests that took both Iran and Saudi Arabia a long time to shape," the analyst explained.

"This month’s developments should not be taken as the end of a years-long confrontation," the expert stressed. "Things can quickly go back to where they were. Relations could be downgraded again either because of the situation in any of the countries where the interests of Iran and Saudi Arabia overlap or because of global factors," Lukyanov added.··


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: What is happening to European and US banks

The banking mini-crisis in the United States and the drop in the prices of European banks’ shares have investors talking about another global crisis. The main problem is that the world’s leading central banks - the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank - are unable to bring their key interest rates down to flood the markets with cheap money, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was the largest bank crash in the US since the failure of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The Federal Reserve’s cycle of tightening monetary policy, the fastest in the past 40 years, can be viewed as the main cause, Sovcombank Chief Analyst Mikhail Vasilyev noted. The European financial sector is closely linked to the US, so Europe may suffer the most from problems in the US financial sector. In addition, European banks, which hold a considerable number of European bonds, may also be affected by the European Central Bank’s tightening monetary policy.

Regulators still prefer to describe the current developments as isolated cases, pointing to the stability of the banking sector in the US and the EU. "So far, the weakest links in the system have failed. But it was the weakest links that triggered all previous crises," Macroeconomic Analysis Chief at Finam Olga Belenkaya emphasized.

Vasilyev says that the situation in the US as well as the global financial situation may well be expected to deteriorate further. "The Federal Reserve missed its chance to deal with inflation and is now trying to quickly raise the key rate. However, it is now highly likely that the economy will have to be plunged into recession to beat inflation," the analyst explained. According to him, there is no direct threat to Russian banks. "Russia’s financial system has largely been cut off from the West because of Western sanctions. This is why another potential global financial crisis will probably have less of an impact on the Russian financial system than the 2008-2009 crisis," Vasilyev said.


Izvestia: Russia to resume construction of combat icebreakers

Russia’s Defense Ministry is expected to get the third Project 21180/21180М Ilya Muromets diesel-electric icebreaker. It will be built based on an updated project and will join the Northern Fleet. Two ships of the series were built earlier, after which construction works were suspended. Such icebreakers are designed to act as transport ships, tugboats, logistics vessels and even combat units. Experts say that icebreakers like these are crucial for ensuring national security in the Arctic, Izvestia writes.

Sources in the Defense Ministry told the newspaper that a fundamental decision had been made to resume the construction of Project 21180/21180М icebreakers. An updated project is being developed, according to which the third ship in the series will be built.

Two 21180/21180М Ilya Muromets icebreakers have already been built for the Russian Navy. The first one, the Ilya Muromets, is in operation with the Northern Fleet. The second one, the Yevpaty Kolovrat, is undergoing testing and is supposed to be deployed to the Pacific Ocean after joining the Navy. The third ship will join the Northern Fleet before the end of 2027.

Military historian Dmitry Boltenkov says that the new icebreaker is needed to ensure Russia’s national security in the Arctic, where it will perform a wide range of missions. "The forces of the Northern and Pacific Fleets (in the Kamchatka Region) aren’t stationed in very favorable climate conditions," the expert noted. Northern seas usually freeze in the winter and if ships and submarines need to go out to sea, the ice will have to be broken. Besides, large-scale infrastructure facilities, including military ones, have been established in the Arctic. That is why there is a constant need for transportation. The Ilya Muromets icebreakers will not only guide ship convoys but will also deliver goods. In addition, they will be able to perform rescue missions and conduct patrols along the Northern Sea Route. The ships will be equipped with helicopters and special boats. And if necessary, it will be possible to place weapons, naval infantry and even Arctic motorized infantry personnel on the ships.

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