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Press Review: Syria drafts civil servants into army and Russia-Ukraine-EU gas talks

Press Review: Syria drafts civil servants into army and Russia-Ukraine-EU gas talks


Izvestia: Syria to draft civil servants into army

The shortage of manpower has prompted the Syrian government to call up state employees for military service, promising to double their salaries and provide various benefits, Izvestia writes on Monday. The Syrian armed forces have announced that a new volunteer unit - the Fifth Assault Corps - will be formed, which will be later used in the fight against the Islamic State (terrorist group, outlawed in Russia) and other illegal armed groups.

Syrian expert, Hassan Hassan, told the paper that the creation of the new unit is aimed at using all available manpower to defend the country from external aggression. "It is planned to attract, first and foremost, those who served in the army and have experience. After accelerated training these people will be able to take part in combat operations against terrorists," he said. The paper notes that financial incentives can prove to be very effective, because throughout the war the Syrian national currency has depreciated substantially, while the prices have increased and wages stagnated.

However, Russian military expert Viktor Murakhovsky who is Editor-in-Chief of the Arsenal Otechestva magazine, noted talking to Izvestia that it would be wiser to use the volunteers that would be recruited to replenish regular army units. "The approach to setting up such units was incorrect from the very beginning. Russian military experts offered to pay particular attention to well-equipped tactical battalion groups trained under the supervision of our advisors." He added that prior to that, "there was the Fourth Assault Corps, which was to liberate the Latakia province from militants and then operate in Idlib but did not achieve much success."


Kommersant: Russia, Ukraine and EU to hold talks on gas purchases in December

Russia and the European Commission have agreed to revive trilateral talks on the Ukrainian gas issue after a one-year hiatus, which may be held in Brussels in mid-December, Kommersant writes. The European Commission wants to persuade Ukraine to stock up on Russian gas this winter. Until recently the positions of Russia’s energy giant Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftogaz on this deal were irreconcilable.

Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission’s Vice President in charge of Energy Union, visited Moscow on Friday for the first time in two years. He travelled to the Russian capital from Kiev where he discussed the possible purchases of Russian gas by Ukraine. After Friday’s talks, Moscow agreed to take part in the trilateral negotiations in Brussels similar to the ones held back in 2014.

According to information obtained by the paper, the hearings in the Stockholm Arbitration Institute on the two companies’ counter claims are now over, which paves way for mutual concessions by Moscow and Kiev. "If that is the case, the arbitrators are unlikely to consider new circumstances," Maxim Kulkov from Kulkov, Kolotilov & Partners said commenting on the issue.

From a commercial point of view, the deal is more advantageous to Naftogaz, given that under the Gazprom contract, the current price for a thousand cubic meters is about $25 lower than the prices at which Ukraine buys gas in Europe.


Vedomosti: Rights advocates fear Yarovaya package will lead to legalized spying on activists

According to a report by experts of the Club of NGO Lawyers, entitled "Impact of the Yarovaya Package on Civic Activities" to be publicized Monday, the so-called Yarovaya package of anti-terrorism laws bolsters the practice of spying on civic activists, Vedomosti writes. The report’s authors say that, although officially dubbed anti-terrorism laws, they are aimed at curbing citizens’ rights and freedoms.

They pointed out that the Yarovaya package not only reinforces the powers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in exerting control over citizens by enhancing the intelligence service’s access to e-mail correspondence but also introduces new obligations for them. Rights activists suggested that the law will be applied arbitrarily, as law enforcement agencies would be able to use information against civic activists, for example, and possibly prevent them from travelling abroad. "Since the FSB will get almost unlimited information on citizens, it will be able, for example, to find out when an individual is planning to travel abroad and block this visit," Maxim Olenichev, head of the NGO’s legal department, explained.

However, member of Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament) Security Committee, Anatoly Vyborny, noted that, if the law is passed for the sake of people’s safety, law-abiding citizens have nothing to hide and nothing to worry about. "For the sake of the common good and safety, as a citizen, I will be open and transparent," he said. The legislator reiterated that the law steps up security officials’ responsibility and control on the part of the civil society.


Izvestia: Russian Paralympians hope for assistance from IOC

The Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) is counting on assistance from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to restore its membership in the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the committee’s Vice President and member of Russia’s State Duma, Oleg Smolin, told Izvestia.

"According to our information, the International Olympic Committee is not particularly enthusiastic about the IPC’s actions with regard to Russia," he said." Since the IOC is the IPC’s major sponsor, we hope that the situation will return to normal, sooner or later." Smolin emphasized that the bulk of the criteria for restoring Russia’s membership to the IPC needs to be clarified and discussed, dismissing some of them as "absurd."

Meanwhile, a source familiar with the situation informed the paper that the IOC’s high-ranking members do not approve of the IPC’s actions towards Russia’s Paralympic Committee, which have seriously damaged relations between the two organizations. "Representatives of the International Olympic Committee will probably attend the meeting between IPC and RPC members. There is a possibility that the IOC’s influence will help establish a more constructive dialogue between the two organizations, which will lead to mitigating some of the criteria for restoring Russia’s membership in the IPC system."


Vedomosti: Yabloko to have day in court to contend parliamentary election results

Russia’s Supreme Court will be reviewing a lawsuit filed by the Yabloko Russian United Democratic Party on cancelling the results of the elections to the State Duma (lower house of parliament) on Tuesday, Vedomosti writes. According to Yabloko, none of the basic conditions for free elections had been observed during the election campaign that ended in September. These included providing guarantees for candidates’ equal access, equal opportunities for pre-election campaigning and impartial and transparent work of the election commissions.

Member of Russia’s Central Election Commission, Alexander Kinev, noted that the party’s arguments are similar to those outlined in its complaint to the commission. Last week, the Central Election Commission concluded that most of the electoral fraud cases mentioned in the document have not been confirmed. Out of 26 episodes, it was possible to establish violations in only four cases. However, none of them affected the outcome of the voting.

Yabloko has no chance of winning the lawsuit, said Vladimir Solovyov, head of the Russian Communist Party’s legal department. He noted that it is necessary to prove every case of discrepancy of voting results at a large number of polling stations. Solovyov added that the Russian Communist Party is likewise studying the outcome of the parliamentary elections, but so far there is not enough evidence to take legal action.


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