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Press review: Russian passenger jet tragedy and Israel-Iran clash in Syria

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, February 12
Russian fire fighters at the site of plane crash near Argunovo, Moscow region EPA-EFE/MAXIM SHIPENKOV
Russian fire fighters at the site of plane crash near Argunovo, Moscow region

Media: Passenger jet crash takes lives of 71 people

Sunday’s plane crash involving an An-148 passenger plane from Saratov Airlines near Moscow’s Domodedovo airport is topping Monday’s headlines in the Russian press. Radio contact with flight 703 bound for Orsk in Russia’s Orenburg Region that took off from the airport at 14:24 Moscow time on Sunday was lost just four minutes after takeoff. Fragments of the plane were found near the village of Stepanovskoye in the Moscow Region. All 65 passengers and six crew members onboard were killed. Izvestia’s sources in the Transport Ministry and the Air Transport Agency confirmed that several causes are being considered, among them pilot error and a technical malfunction. Head of Russia’s transport watchdog Victor Basargin told the newspaper that unscheduled inspections would be performed in Domodedovo airport and at Saratov Airlines.

A source in the air company told Izvestia that the crashed jet was relatively new. "It was only in operation for eight years, and it had undergone all necessary technical checks," he said. A source familiar with the investigation told RBC daily that specialists from Russia’s transport watchdog detected a violation by the Saratov Airlines. The airliner failed to observe the procedure of changing the oil in the gearboxes and washing the air starter filter. Another source told the newspaper that investigators are looking into all possible causes of the crash, including terrorism, though the latest version is unlikely to be a priority one.

A pilot employed by the Defense Ministry told Izvestia that the An-148 jet is simple to operate. "However, there is an issue of frequent technical rejections. There are problems with aircraft electronics," he said, adding that the issues "do not cause incidents, but seriously complicate the work of pilots and nonflying personnel." Monday, February 12, has been declared a day of mourning in Russia’s Orenburg Region following the crash. The regional authorities there said earlier that most of the passengers - about 60 people - were residents of that region.


Kommersant: Israel delivers heaviest strike against Syrian and Iranian facilities since 1982

Israel has virtually opened up a new front in Syria over the past weekend as it delivered a heavy strike against Syria’s air defense and Iranian facilities in Syria, hitting 12 targets in the neighboring country, Kommersant says. This came after an Israeli helicopter shot down an Iranian UAV above the Golan Heights, which had entered Israeli airspace from Syria. In response, Israel launched air strikes against Iranian facilities in Syria and destroyed the Iranian UAV control center. This incident puts Moscow in a delicate position, since it supports Assad’s government on the one hand, and keeps close ties with Israel on the other, the newspaper writes.

Only two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow, where he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin of the ‘Iranian threat’. Sources in Israel told Kommersant that their concerns "strike a chord with Russian authorities." However, the reaction by Russia’s Foreign Ministry ("We consider it necessary to implicitly observe the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and other countries of the region") disappointed Israel, the paper says. "Moscow is perfectly aware of which facilities we strike, and the fact that at this stage Israel is not aiming at destroying or destabilizing the regime of Bashar Assad," a diplomatic source in Israel told Kommersant.

According to Ksenia Svetlova, a lawmaker from the Zionist Union opposition faction in the Knesset, "Israel and Russia obviously have opposite goals in Syria." "Previously, Iran was located 1,200 kilometers away from Israel, whereas now the Iranians have gotten closer and are practically within an arm’s length. For Israel this is an issue of national security, whereas Russia views Iran as a strategic partner," she told the publication, adding that Israel "should do its best to ensure the security of its citizens" and "pursue an independent policy regarding Syria."


Izvestia: Crimea gearing up for Kiev’s likely provocations in run-up to presidential vote

Crimean authorities are beefing up security ahead of Russia’s presidential election on March 18 because of potential terrorist attacks and provocations likely to be organized by Kiev, Izvestia writes. Crimean Head Sergey Aksenov told the newspaper that a special "anti-terror commission discussed measures to ensure security for Russia’s presidential vote back in January, 2018." "The commission comprises representatives of all Crimean power structures," he said. According to Aksenov, "the potential threat may be coming from members of international terrorist organizations, who can try to penetrate the peninsula’s territory through the Ukrainian border, which is why additional security measures will be taken on the border, at the voting stations and throughout the entire republic," he said. Aksenov noted that "provocations are also expected, and any such attempts will be nipped in the bud.

A member of Ukrainian parliament Maksim Burbak, who has assumed the role of the leader of those opposing the election in Crimea, submitted a respective draft decree to the Verkhovna Rada on February 5. The politician claimed that the entire international community should prevent "the so-called presidential election in Crimea," which he says violates the statutes of international law. Meanwhile, the republic’s Deputy Prime Minister and its permanent representative to the Russian President Georgy Muradov told Izvestia that Kiev’s calls and attempts to undermine the election would get nowhere. "Let me remind you of a famous proverb: the dogs bark, but the caravans move on. Since Crimea is part of Russia, Kiev has no ways to influence the polls, even if it has a huge desire to damage the election process," he said. According to Muradov, "this all only demonstrates the aspirations of aggressive anti-Russia forces in the parliament and in Ukrainian bodies of authority, though there is no sense and effect in those statements.”

Meanwhile, Tatyana Bakhteyeva, a member of parliament from the Oppositional Bloc, told the newspaper that such initiatives are only a waste of time. "It is impossible and senseless to undermine the election. I am confident that the voting will go fine and people with Russian citizenship will make their choice, since this is their civil right," she said. "For some reason, each day the Verkhovna Rada solves issues that are not related to Ukraine’s key problems. Anti-reforms are being carried out, which are virtually a genocide of the country’s own population. It is necessary to solve the key issue - end the war and start dialogue - instead of making such claims," the politician added.


Izvestia: Russians still negative towards western countries, survey says

Russian people have become less adverse towards the United States, the European Union and Ukraine over the past several months, though overall negativity towards those areas of the globe remains, Izvestia says with reference to a survey conducted by the Levada Center pollster. The survey conducted on January 19-23, among 1,600 Russians in 137 communities across 48 Russian regions showed that 52% of its respondents were negative towards the US, and only 26% of those interviewed were positive towards the country. A previous poll conducted in December 2017 said that this proportion was 60% to 24%, respectively. The negative attitude of Russians towards Washington has several reasons behind it: the country’s aggressive behavior on the global arena, antagonism against Russia, with only 9% of respondents pointing to anti-Russian sanctions as a reason. Among positive attitudes towards the US - a high level of technological development, the United States being a rich country with a strong economy and good quality of life were noted.

The attitude of Russian people to the EU and Ukraine remains generally negative as well, the paper says. On the other hand, 70% of the respondents said they felt positive towards China, 52% - towards Georgia, and 59% - towards Israel. Levada sociologist Denis Volkov told Izvestia that the survey’s results prove that the peak of conflict with western countries has passed. "The conflict remains, new events add emotions, but people quickly forget about them. However, everyone understands that a sluggish confrontation is still on," he mentioned. Volkov added that the survey was conducted prior to the publication of the so-called ‘Kremlin List’, which is why he expects more negative backlash in further polls.

Speaking about Ukraine, the sociologist said that Russians’ attitude towards this country is likely to improve. "Fewer people are keeping an eye on the conflict. The attitude is becoming better due to the lack of serious news pegs. There is no negative agenda on the TV news," he said. Political consultant Dmitry Fetisov agrees that changing sentiments are connected with the current information agenda, though he expects a surge of negativity in the future due to news coming from the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea that will refocus on the doping scandal, which many think was initiated by Washington.


RBC: Russia’s financial regulator makes expected rate cut decision

The Board of Directors of Russia’s Central Bank made an expected decision at its first meeting this year to lower the key rate by 25 basis points to 7.5%. Macroeconomists polled by RBC anticipated this decision, mentioning instability on global financial markets over the past week as an important factor. Alfa-Capital’s Vladimir Bragin said that inflation keeps slowing rapidly and has already reached 2.2% by the end of January. "High volatility on stock markets is a reason for the Central Bank to be cautious and reduce (the key) by a quarter of a percent," he said. Gazprombank’s Yegor Susin said that "the current market environment demonstrates a negative process as a stock market correction and a decline in oil prices on global markets continue, which can affect the Russian markets in some way," the analyst said.

On the eve of the meeting, most of the analysts interviewed by TASS also said that the regulator would lower the key rate from 7.75% to 7.5%. Among the main factors for such a decision, they named low inflation and a decrease in devaluation risks amid stabilization of oil prices. At the same time, a number of experts note that the volatility that recently emerged on global market as well as the growing expectations of tightening monetary policy in the US and the EU, may force the Bank of Russia to take a more cautious approach to changing rates in the future.

On March 24, 2017, the Central Bank for the first time since 2014 lowered the key rate below 10% - to 9.75% per annum. Then, during the year, the rate was decreased five times: on April 28 (to 9.25%), on June 16 (to 9%), September 15 (8.5%), October 27 (8.25%) and December 15 (7.75 %). The regulator’s Board of Directors will hold its next meeting on the key rate on March 23, 2018.


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