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Press review: NATO's anti-terror Trump card and US' Syrian civilian body count

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, May 26

Kommersant: US leader foists his agenda on NATO

NATO’s summit in Brussels on Thursday showed that the alliance backs the agenda of US President Donald Trump, who had demanded shifting the focus from countering Russia to the war on terror, Kommersant writes. This goal may be attained by beefing up NATO’s Afghan contingent as the current presence of Western forces is insufficient for stabilizing the situation in the country. Besides, NATO will officially join the fight against terror in Iraq, sending a “political signal” to Baghdad and helping to better coordinate moves by the allies, the paper says.
Over the past four months, the US leader has apparently managed to foist his program on NATO, focusing on the war on terror and calling for hikes in defense spending among the alliance’s members. The so-called “threat from the east,” which used to be the prime focus of NATO’s agenda since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, has taken a back seat, Kommersant writes.

Afghanistan remains the alliance’s chief headache, according to the paper. NATO’s operation there has become the longest-running one in its history. Starting back in 2001, the multinational contingent’s number fluctuated over the years, at times surpassing 130,000.
When asked if the move to beef up its presence means that the alliance’s strategy in Afghanistan has failed, a top NATO representative replied equivocally: “Every six months we review the situation in the country and during the last round we came to the conclusion that this hike would be suitable.”


Izvestia: US kills more civilians than terrorists in Syria

Human rights activists report that the death toll among civilians as a result of the US-led coalition’s operation in the Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor provinces has skyrocketed, Izvestia writes. The United Nations remains mum on who is responsible for the deaths. Experts note that the information vacuum about the areas controlled by terrorists enables Washington to turn a blind eye to the humanitarian aspects of carrying out the air campaign.

It is noteworthy that the spike in the civilian death toll almost coincided with the mounting intensity of fighting near Raqqa, Izvestia writes. "It is important for the US to fulfill its goal. It does not care much if there are dozens or even hundreds of victims among the civilian population. What’s most important (or them) is to avoid deaths among the Americans," said Oleg Glazunov, expert at the Association of Military Political Scientists. "In this case, it is illustrative that these crimes are not reflected in the mass media. However, if there was a hint that Russia could have been behind the deaths of civilians, this would go viral worldwide," he stressed.

The active phase of storming Raqqa is imminent and if now there are hundreds of dead, one can only guess the death toll in the coming months, the paper says.


RBC: Russia between the two Koreas in its ‘turn to the East’

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the new South Korean Presidential Special Envoy Song Young-gil on Thursday to discuss security on the Korean Peninsula and the development of trade and economic ties, RBC writes. The chief aim of the senior South Korean envoy’s visit was to ascertain Moscow’s stance on the North Korean nuclear program, while the bilateral trade relationship was a back-burner issue, former Russian Ambassador to South Korea and Japan Alexander Panov told the paper. Russia’s Foreign Ministry had earlier condemned Pyongyang’s missile tests, calling them a provocation.

Director of the Russian Strategy for Asia Center of the Institute of Economics at Russia’s Academy of Sciences Georgy Toloraya said ties between Moscow and Seoul are expected to get a boost under the country’s new President Moon Jae-in, who is more open to economic cooperation. If Moscow manages to strengthen its positions, this may become a real step in the "turn to the East," which Russia declared several years ago. Until recently, this has been only about developing relations with China, the expert said.

Seoul did not back sanctions introduced by Washington and its allies against Moscow after Crimea joined Russia, the paper notes. However, South Korea partly refused to supply dual-purpose goods to Russia used in the military industry and this explains the drop in bilateral trade. Seoul is obliged to listen to the advice of its Western partners even at the expense of its own interests and "due to this reason the implementation of most Russian-Korean projects last year was put on hold," said Stanislav Kochkin, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Economic Cooperation with South Korean Partners under the Moscow Chamber of Commerce.

South Korean entrepreneurs are seeking Seoul’s participation in the Eurasian Economic Union, Chief Economist at the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) and Program Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club Yaroslav Lisovolik emphasized. South Korean businesses are interested in investing in Russia’s Far East and Siberia and taking part in industrial alliances, he said.

The Kremlin may expand energy cooperation with South Korea by creating favorable conditions for investing in Russia’s fuel and energy sector, the expert noted. Now, strategically important mineral companies and deposits in the country are under tight government control and this intimidates investors, the paper writes. The South Korean side could take part in developing these deposits and this should be discussed, Lisovolik stressed.


RBC: Gazprom sizes up pipeline route to South Asia

Russia’s energy giant Gazprom and its Indian partners have assessed possible routes for a new pipeline to supply Russian or Iranian natural gas to India, RBC says. During the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in early June, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak plans to seal a multilateral agreement on carrying out the project along with Iranian, Pakistani and Indian Oil Ministers, the paper says, citing the ministry’s official spokesman.

In March, together with its Indian partners, Gazprom considered possible various alternatives for bankrolling the construction and chose two priority routes, with the costs estimated between $5.7 bln and $16.5 bln, according to the company.

The idea for building a pipeline to India through Pakistan emerged in Iran in 1996. However, the project was stonewalled due to political strife between the participants and tensions with the US, which slapped sanctions on Iran in 2008 over the country’s nuclear program. However, the lifting of the restrictions reignited interest in the project, the paper writes.

Alexey Grivach, Deputy Head of the Moscow-based National Energy Security Fund, said both options of building the pipeline to India counteract each other. Russia may act as a mediator and guarantor of easing tensions between all transit countries in the project, but political risks are too high to expect its implementation in the near future, the expert warned.


Kommersant: Human rights council calls for ‘October Revolution centennial’ amnesty

Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights has called on the authorities to enact a sweeping administrative policy of amnesty in honor of the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, the Council’s Chairman Mikhail Fedotov told Kommersant.

“Our Code of Administrative Offenses envisages a possible respite from punishment due to amnesty, but such clemency hasn’t been recorded in our history so far,” Fedotov said. 
The authors of the proposal say amnesty may apply to millions of people, for example, drivers who have had licenses revoked, those who violated economic or migration legislation and also breached rules on holding rallies. Fedotov said he had already sent a note to the Russian presidential administration, outlining the concept. 
The Council is ready to draft the document to submit it to the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, he said. 
Kommersant writes that last year, 6.4 million people in Russia were punished for administrative offences. Some 1.1 million of them were placed under administrative arrest for up to 15 days, and 496,000 drivers were stripped off their licenses.


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