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Press Review: Scenarios for possible US-North Korean war and Flanders may follow Catalonia

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday
North Korean soldiers goose-step across Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang AP Photo/Wong Maye-E
North Korean soldiers goose-step across Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang
© AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: First stage of possible US-North Korea war to be non-nuclear

US President Donald Trump’s statement that "only one thing will work" with North Korea has heightened fears that a military solution to the conflict is on the horizon, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote on Wednesday. Amid this threat, media reports said Seoul was gearing up to use a graphite bomb against the North. Experts believe the danger of a military standoff is growing, but the sides won’t use nuclear weapons at its first stage. Pyongyang is not taking any steps to reduce tensions.

Military expert Vladimir Yevseyev told the paper Washington would not hold preliminary consultations with its allies if it took a decision on delivering a "disarming strike." Most likely, the South Korean leadership and Japan would be just notified before the attack, he noted. "Such a strike would be carried out against detected targets with the goal of destroying the missile and nuclear structure, including ballistic missile bases, as well as dismantling airfields, command posts and naval bases."

This would be a non-nuclear strike with the use of several thousand Tomahawk cruise missiles, the analyst said. The strike cannot be concealed and Washington would have to deploy an above water task force of its fleet. North Korea would apparently expect that, he added.

"A response would be an artillery strike on Seoul, that means launching ballistic missiles into South Korean territory," Yevseyev stressed. "Possibly, a strike would be also carried out against Guam. If North Korea has wrapped up its work on the Hwasong-14 missile, a strike against Honolulu is possible."

The stage of a non-nuclear standoff is most likely, he said. However, if the mere existence of the North Korean leadership is in jeopardy, Pyongyang could use nuclear weapons, the expert noted. "This is the most severe scenario," Yevseyev said. "South Korea would be the most affected side. It would experience the most significant damage. Seoul would be hardest hit."


Izvestia: Catalonia inspires potential Flemish independence referendum

The recent Catalan independence referendum has sparked the rise of national identity movements and certain regions of Europe are gearing up to seek sovereignty, Thomas Van Grieken, the leader of Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), the pro-Flanders independence party, which is represented in both chambers of the Belgian parliament, told Izvestia. According to the politician, the plebiscite in the Spanish region won’t be the last one in Europe. Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region in northern Belgium, which has been fighting for national identity for centuries, is ready to go down the Catalan path, he said. The situation in Flanders is similar to the one in Catalonia, the politician noted.

Most citizens of Belgium support the referendum on Catalonia’s independence, and Flanders plans to hold its plebiscite in the future, the politician said. The referendum in Catalonia "will trigger a domino effect in other European countries," he stressed. "The events in Spain will give impetus to all separatist-minded regions in Europe and bolster the work of Eurosceptic parties," Van Grieken said.

Over the past 30 years, many independent states have emerged in Europe and this process is set to continue. "In many regions, national identity and the drive for independence are growing. In the near future, we will see new independence referendums," the politician said.

The party leader also condemned the use of force by Spanish authorities against protesters in Catalonia, stressing that people have the right to protest and may freely express their opinion. "The hypocritical position of Spanish and European authorities signals a crisis, in which Europe finds itself."


RBC: Russia, US edging closer to clashing in Syria

While Russian and US armed forces are fulfilling their own tasks in Syria, no lines of emergency communication may safeguard them from a potential head-on clash, editor of Al-Monitor's Russia-Mideast coverage Maxim Suchkov told RBC.

In September-October, according to the assessments of several UN humanitarian missions, the intensity of fighting in Syria reached last autumn levels during the storming of Aleppo, the paper writes. September marked a record-high civilian death toll for 2017. Crucial events are happening in several Syrian areas, namely Idlib and Deir ez-Zor, which may decide the final outcome of the years-long armed conflict.

Harsh remarks by Moscow and Washington castigating each other’s steps in Syria signal that an escalation is brewing. This characterizes the dynamics of Russian-US relations in the Arab republic since the beginning of autumn, said Suchkov, who is also an expert at the Valdai International Discussion Club.

The mounting deaths among Russian and US forces are an "alarming symptom that the sides cannot find a full-fledged political solution to the conflict." Therefore, stakes are being placed on creating "ad hoc alliances" with local players - the Kurds, Turkey and Iran, and searching for options to agree with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, terror group outlawed in Russia), he said.

"The threat of a head-on clash will remain as long as Russian and US militaries fulfill their own combat missions in Syria. It seems that both sides have an understanding on this, but this is not enough now. Without new serious political agreements between Moscow and Washington, both sides will be drawn into unnecessary and dangerous clashes," the expert warned.


Vedomosti: Moscow points to Western funding of NGOs in Russia as bigger threat than IS

The West’s support for political NGOs, foreign educational projects and smear campaigns against Moscow in the mass media and over social networks are major threats to Russia’s sovereignty, the Federation Council (upper house of parliament) commission on protecting sovereignty and preventing meddling in domestic affairs said in its report presented on Tuesday.

The senators say NGOs use illegal schemes for financing and many Russian politicians undergo training abroad, according to Vedomosti. The US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) was named among mass media outlets accused of defaming Russia. The organization was earlier notified by the Justice Ministry that its activity could be limited in the country.

Among other types of meddling is defaming the Russian Orthodox Church, inciting ethnic conflicts, encouraging protests involving young people and anti-Russian sanctions. The commission also found signs of meddling in Russia’s upcoming elections, saying that the Open Russia organization, founded by former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, had shelled out $1 mln for election campaigns last year. Meanwhile, the Islamic State (terror group outlawed in Russia) is not listed among nine key threats and is mentioned only among other potential threats, the paper explained.

As a response to these dangers, senators suggest banning foreigners from any participation in elections (except for official monitoring), scrapping programs by foreign countries in Russia, which are not backed by the government, and dealing with individuals who carry out "undesirable activity" without being formally linked to NGOs.

In comments to the report, a former federal official told the paper the commission was devised as a tit-for-tat measure. "Now this is mostly a negotiating position - if the West does not whip up tensions, Russia won’t do this either, but if necessary the commission will have certain powers."

In the run-up to the election, talk on foreign meddling in this political process will mount, Co-Chairman of the Movement for Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos" (Voice), Grigory Melkonyants, said.


Kommersant: Hackers come up with new schemes to attack Russian banks

Over the past year, the amount of funds hackers stole from Russian banks declined 35%, but the offenders have been working hard to bolster the efficiency of their attacks, Kommersant business daily writes.

If last year most hacker attacks were carried out when data was transferred from a bank to the Central Bank, now hackers are more often getting access to the accounts by hacking a bank’s infrastructure and through managers’ correspondence, the paper says.

The latest trend is misappropriation of funds by taking advantage of the vulnerability of a bank’s software (mostly Microsoft Office) and also through a legal program called Cobalt Strike, which is used to penetrate a bank’s infrastructure. The hackers later gain control over the card processing and steal money.

A source close to Russia’s law enforcement agencies said hackers stole some 400 million rubles ($6.9 mln) from the Soyuz bank this summer. They penetrated the bank’s system using phishing letters and changed debit cards to credit cards with no limit.

According to Kommersant sources, this year a dozen of these successful attacks on the Russian banks were carried out and similar attempts are registered twice a week. However, unlike their Western counterparts, Russian banks do not report all the incidents. "That’s why it is difficult to assess the real amount of the stolen funds," said Alexey Novikov, who heads the Positive Technologies expert security center.

Another new trend is attacks aimed at sabotaging a bank’s operations, said Dmitry Volkov, who heads the department for cyber intelligence investigations and service at the Group-IB company. As a rule, these attacks are not aimed at stealing funds. The goal is to break down the bank system’s operations and the perpetrators also spread disinformation that the organization will be allegedly stripped of its license soon to soil the bank’s image. These attacks are often carried out due to political motives and from abroad. They may affect the national economy, the stability of the country’s financial system and the ruble rate, Volkov said.

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