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Press review: Manchester terror attack's call to arms and US' push for Assad's ouster

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, May 24
A British flag is seen next to flowers after a vigil in Albert Square, Manchester after the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert that left 22 people dead  AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
A British flag is seen next to flowers after a vigil in Albert Square, Manchester after the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert that left 22 people dead
© AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti


Kommersant: Manchester blast sparks discussion on anti-terror coalition

Monday’s terror attack at the Manchester Arena, which killed 22 people, has again forced world leaders to discuss the need for international cooperation in the war on terror, Kommersant business daily writes. Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders are willing to step up cooperation with the United Kingdom both on a bilateral basis and in the framework of international efforts. However, it is difficult to implement this as cooperation between the intelligence services of Russia and the West is still at a minimum and the parties have differences over the source of major terrorist threats, the paper says.

Practical cooperation between Russian and British intelligence services was frozen at the initiative of the UK after a former officer of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in 2006 in London. Since then, any particular plans for cooperation between Russian and British intelligence services were on the table only once – during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, according to the paper. 

“The British were the first who refused to hold any contacts with our special services. But the latest events in the world should somehow throw cold water on those (Western) politicians. Now their actions lack any common sense: North Korea, Iran and Russian hackers are labeled major foes of mankind. Meanwhile, the war on terror is underway worldwide and we know where are the key ideological centers and sponsors – in Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” said Vladimir Lutsenko, a retired FSB Colonel and former head of the KGB’s unit on fighting terrorism.

Martin Bentham, editor of the London Evening Standard, told Kommersant that broad cooperation between Russian and Western intelligence services should not be expected, namely due to the remaining differences over Syria.

  However, the paper says that this is not only about the dispute over the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Russia and the West have different stances on many issues related to the Middle East. During his visit to Saudi Arabia, US President Donald Trump said that the source of evil is Shiite Iran, rather than Sunni radicals, who claimed responsibility for the Manchester terror attack and are an essential part of the Islamic State terrorist group (outlawed in Russia). Russia considers Iran as its ally, the paper says.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Washington pushes Abbas towards making concessions

US President Donald Trump has wrapped up his tour to the epicenter of the Middle East conflict, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that the US leader’s predecessors had also tried to revive the peace process, but failed after facing Tel Aviv’s refusal to ease control over the occupied territories. Experts have different views on the prospects of a settlement, while noting that Israel’s relations with Arab countries have improved.

Elena Suponina, adviser to the Director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, told the paper that "Trump’s statements in Saudi Arabia and Israel have already sparked tensions with Iran. If words are followed by deeds of the same character, escalation of tensions in the Middle East is inevitable." Iran has contradictions with Israel and Saudi Arabia and that’s why there can be no talk about any prospects for resolving the current conflicts in the region, she said. "On the contrary, what the US president is doing will exacerbate the current conflicts and provoke the new ones," the expert said.

Speaking about Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, it is impossible to achieve progress here without taking into consideration Tehran’s interests, she said. Besides, Israeli-Palestinian relations are so tense that it is impossible to resolve the conflict without giving it a second thought, as Trump likes to do, Suponina said.

Leading research fellow Irina Zvyagelskaya, from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Oriental Studies Institute, said it is possible to get closer to a Middle East peace deal. Certain changes are occurring in the region and everyone understands that the resumption of any military actions between Israel and the Arab states is impossible. "In any case, speaking about the revival of peace process, here America will be unable to act alone. There should be coordination with Russia, taking into consideration our common experience in settlements," she said, noting that cooperation here may be useful for improving Russian-US relations.


Izvestia: US strike hints at Washington’s unwavering drive to oust Assad

Washington’s stance on Bashar Assad’s political fate remains unchanged despite campaign promises by US President Donald Trump, who had admitted that cooperation with the Syrian leader in fighting the Islamic State (terrorist group, outlawed in Russia) was possible. Diplomatic sources told Izvestia that at closed-door meetings, Moscow had repeatedly suggested holding elections in Syria. However, each time the US stonewalled these initiatives.

Another diplomatic source said Washington is tipping off Moscow that it still seeks the Syrian leader’s removal. Experts noted that hopes for a change in Washington’s Middle East policy under Trump are slowly fading away. This means that strife in Syria will linger on indefinitely.

Russia believes that holding presidential elections in Syria could clearly demonstrate public support for Assad or its lack thereof, a source in diplomatic circles told Izvestia. However, the West understands that transparent and democratic elections will corroborate that the citizens are opposed to replacing the current leadership.

Another source said the US strikes on the pro-government forces in At Tanf, near the border with Jordan, on May 18 demonstrated that Washington will not agree to Assad staying in power. "The Americans want us to understand that they will seek the Syrian president’s departure," the source said.

Syrian political analyst Taleb Zaifa told Izvestia that Washington’s steps are aimed at breaking up the country.

According to Middle Eastern specialist and former diplomat Vyacheslav Matuzov, Trump’s stance has seriously changed. "Earlier, Bashar Assad’s exodus was not a condition for a Syrian peace deal. Now, logically, it will gain ground, especially after the US president’s visit to Saudi Arabia. But this approach does not coincide with reality. The US will have to take into consideration our stance. But it will try to get Russia’s consent on the Syrian president’s exit," he said.

This means that chances are slim and even next to none for a settlement on Syria. The approaches by Moscow and Washington are complete polar opposites and until common ground is reached, violence in the country will drag on, according to the paper.


Vedomosti: Turkey slaps new restrictions on Russian grain imports

Turkish and Russian grain dealers report that Ankara has imposed new restrictions on imports of Russian wheat. Now, Russia should account for 20-25% of all import licenses, the SovEcon analytical center says. Top managers of two Russian exporters, specializing in supplies to Turkey, have confirmed this information to Vedomosti. A representative from the Russian Ministry of Agriculture said the Turkish side has not announced this officially.

Regarding foreign importers, Turkey employs a protectionist mechanism to shield its domestic market. Grain dealers need to get a license for importing their supplies into the country for processing and further exports without duties, the paper writes. Since March 15, Turkey has stopped issuing licenses for supplies of Russian agricultural goods under this system. The supplies were halted as the duties for wheat shot up to 130%. This was a response to Russia’s continuing ban on imports of Turkish tomatoes and some other vegetables. The embargo on tomatoes may last for at least three or five years, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich warned earlier.

Ankara has decided to set quotas on supplies of Russian wheat, says SovEcon CEO Andrey Sizov. Besides, the Turkish commission has not included Russia in the list of country-suppliers of corn during the May tender, he said. "It would be naive to think that the Turks will easily give up the idea to regain the right to supply tomatoes," one of the Russian grain dealers told the paper.

Turkey’s new restrictions may create many problems for importers as they will have to change logistics and come up with new arrangements for their supplies. Small flour millers may also suffer as they will be forced to give up imports from Russia, another Russian exporter said. If Turkey continues limiting the imports of Russian grain, excessive amounts will spill over into the market and drive down prices, he noted.


Izvestia: Runet may shift to domestic encryption

An inter-departmental commission of Russia’s Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications has suggested persuading web developers to support Russian certificates of security, Izvestia writes. Under a draft state program entitled "Digital Economy" drawn up by the ministry, by 2021 most IT participants in the digital economy will use domestic encryption.

"There are two schools of encryption in the world - in Russia and the United States, and now China has started looking into this issue. Our algorithms are very secure and they are approved by a special committee of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). But major global IT corporations do not want to include them into their browsers. We have laid out this mission in the state program," said Ilya Massukh, President at Foundation for Information Democracy, who heads a working group responsible for IT security.

He noted that now the Internet uses only US security certificates and if Washington imposes new sanctions on Russia, the owners of those certificates may revoke them. "If they rescind a certificate used by a state services’ website, the public’s personal data may come under threat," he said.

Another problem is that more than 60% of Internet traffic within Russia goes through other states, and this poses certain risks, according to the "Digital Economy" program. "Enciphered information may become accessible for reading," President of infoWatch holding Natalya Kaspersky said.

Dmitry Belyavsky, a leading developer of the Technical Center of Internet, said the shift towards domestic encryption by 2021 is unlikely.


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