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Press review: US pins Douma attack on Russia and Moscow to strike back for Treasury list

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday


Kommersant: Douma chemical attack escalates already toxic Russian-US tensions

In an unprecedentedly categorical form, the US State Department blamed Russia for the alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces in Syria. According to Kommersant, against the backdrop of the deepening crisis in US-Russian relations, Washington is demonstrating its determination to further aggravate the situation, replete with dangers of a direct military clash with Russia in Syria. A source close to the US State Department told the newspaper that this week that the White House would discuss new sanctions against Russia. The main speaker is Trump's adviser John Bolton, known for being radically hawkish, the newspaper wrote.

"We do not make assumptions, we saw the video. People foaming at the mouth, the way their eyes looked, indicate that a chemical attack has been committed in Douma," Yahya al-Aridi, representative for the Syrian Negotiations Commision (SNC), an influential arm of the Syrian opposition, told Kommersant. "The United States has previously said that it would take action if Syria uses chemical weapons," he added. According to him, "Russia holds the most responsibility for the tragedy, who cover for the Syrian regime."

That being said, Damascus and Moscow categorically deny using chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta, calling the materials about a chemical bomb fake.

During the war in Syria, this incident was not the first time when the Syrian opposition and external forces supporting it accused Damascus of using chemical weapons. Kommersant wrote. Meanwhile, the incident in Douma stands out because it occurred against the backdrop of a deepening crisis in Russia's relations with the United States and the West in general, which exacerbated after the Skripal poisoning episode. According to the newspaper, "it is not by chance that the British Foreign Ministry made one of the first accusations against Russia about its alleged involvement in the attack in in Eastern Ghouta."

According to a Kommersant military source, there is no clear evidence that the United States is ready for an immediate missile strike on Syria. However, the US does not need a lot of time to prepare for one. The USS Donald Cook, a destroyer with at least 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles, is stationed not far from Gibraltar. According to the source, the decision on a missile strike can be made early next week, when US President Trump receives reports from his national security advisers. Given that Russian military advisers are stationed in Eastern Ghouta and several other regions, it is vital to prevent their deaths, the source told Kommersant.

Meanwhile, a source close to the US Department of State told Kommersant that this week the White House is going to discuss new sanctions against Russia, which will be presented by John Bolton, President Trump’s well-known hawkish adviser.


Izvestia: Russia’s OSCE envoy says US resisting political solution to Ukrainian crisis

Washington is bucking a political settlement to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich said in an interview with Izvestia. According to the diplomat, powerful resistance to Russia’s approaches for solving the conflict in Ukraine is the main reason for discord, despite the fact the "Russia has a very powerful tool for implementing our solutions through a special OSCE monitoring mission."

"EU member representatives in the OSCE understand that the implementation of the Minsk package of measures is a direct way to normalize the situation in the country, In addition, they have the tools to get the Ukrainians to follow this path. However, the United States has been putting up strong resistance through the administration and their representatives," Lukashevich told the newspaper.

The envoy also highly praised the work of the OSCE mission in Ukraine during the presidential elections in Russia on March 18, 2018. "Despite the arranged blockade, we put forward a request to the mission’s leadership, and it ensured round-the-clock surveillance at all points - at the embassy and at three consulates general. Of course, this did not stop the extremists, though the situation did not sink into violence, because the OSCE flag means a great deal. They also issued a very powerful report, detailing everything as it really happened," he told Izvestia.

Touching upon the bilateral relations with the United Kingdom, Lukashevich noted that they would not want to continue discussing the Skripal case at international venues. "The United Kingdom is trying to spoil the already unhealthy atmosphere not only in the OSCE, but also at other international venues. Of course, the British tried to get this topic on the agenda of the [OSCE] Permanent Council. However, it was very difficult to argue with our statements. An attempt to politicize this topic and put it on the OSCE platform has not been successful. Moreover, right now the developments are taking a completely different turn. I think after a while, London won’t want to spin this topic at international venues," he said.

The diplomat added that it was a "purely formal gesture from the United Kingdom, although certainly unpleasant." In the meantime, Lukashevich noted that despite the recent developments, the Ukrainian conflict remains the hottest topic on the OSCE’s site.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia’s UK envoy believes discord in Moscow-London relations can be overcome

Russia's Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador to the United Kingdom Alexander Yakovenko believes that the bilateral relations between Russia and the United Kingdom can still be salvaged and the countries could return to partnership after some time, he said in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He told the newspaper that Russia is hoping that truth about the poisoning incident in Salisbury will come out..

"Relations between our countries are much broader than the Skripal case. Even if the British side has suspended communications with us at the official level and stated that it does not plan to hold high-level meetings, this does not mean that economic cooperation is frozen. We remain open to all opportunities in terms of culture, and what we call communication between people. As for foreign policy, we will exert the necessary pressure on the British side in order to persuade them to cooperate with us. This must be done, using international obligations among other tools, in particular, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 and the Consular Convention of 1968, which Britain must fulfill," the diplomat said.

Yakovenko added that so far he does not see any changes in Russian energy exports to the UK.

According to the diplomat, at the last meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on April 4, Russia presented its draft decision - according to it, the United Kingdom must cooperate with Russia on the Salisbury incident, and the organization should provide all possible assistance. "Fifteen Western countries, mostly members of the European Union and NATO, spoke out against this decision, while six countries favored this decision, and 17 abstained, which means that they did not associate their position with those who voted against it. Therefore, we are satisfied with the results of this vote. This means that virtually all countries in Latin America, all Asian countries, with the exception of two, and all the countries of Africa, share our position," he said.

Yakovenko noted that the Russian Embassy in London is facing difficulties after the expulsion of its 23 diplomats. "We were cut by 40%, so the activity in the department that issues visas has declined, and the main activities of the embassy declined. In addition, of course, the representation of the military attache was reduced," he said.


Izvestia: Moscow plans retaliatory measures against latest US Treasury sanctions move

Moscow plans to examine the new sanction package imposed by the US Treasury, and then begin hammering out a response, sources in Russian diplomatic circles told Izvestia. The Federation Council is confident that a well-considered decision will be taken, believing that the main goal of introducing the new restrictions is to contain Russia.

The new restrictions were slapped on 24 individuals and 14 companies. The list included, heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Russia’s National Guard, heads of Gazprom and VTB, as well as several businessmen who are labelled "oligarchs" in the US Treasury document. According to Izvestia, a number of people on the list are not pessimistic about the situation.

Alexander Zharov, head of Russia’s mass media and communications watchdog, shrugged off being included in the sanctions list as a recognition of the effectiveness of his work. "I take it as a recognition of the effectiveness of Roskomnadzor's work," he told Izvestia.

Gazprom’s Press Secretary to Chairman of the Management Committee Sergey Kupriyanov, in turn, told Izvestia that the company first plans to study the limitations that Alexey Miller's inclusion puts on the company before commenting on it. Industrial group Basic Element and carmaker GAZ Group, controlled by Oleg Deripaska, told Izvestia that they regret being put on the list.

Washington's actions indicate a complete lack of understanding of Russia's position among the American elite, First Deputy Chairman of the International Committee of the Federation Council Vladimir Dzhabarov told the newspaper. According to him, this is an unfriendly step, to which Russia’s leadership will provide a timely and precise answer. "The US actions speak about their main goal - to restrain Russia politically and economically. Moscow never takes hasty steps. We will think it through and make the appropriate decisions. It is strange that the US does not understand that nothing can be achieved by sanctions against Russia," he told Izvestia.

Member of the Federation Council Andrei Klimov told Izvestia that he hopes to see a response from Moscow. According to the senator, the new sanctions list demonstrates the low quality of Washington’s political and expert community.

"If you look closely at the document, you can be sure that it contradicts itself. They do not understand Russia. We are expecting new tides of hatred from the United States. They will expand existing lists, making their "partners" in Europe press Moscow. We will respond in a balanced manner, but in a way that our counterparts will put an end to these hysterics," Klimov told Izvestia.


Kommersant: Russia’s smartphone sales see increase in revenue

The number of smartphones sold in Russia in Q1 2018 remained at last year’s levels, and revenue from sales increased by 23%, Kommersant wrote citing the study of the handset retailer Svyaznoy. According to the study, Russians are more actively buying flagship devices, including Chinese brands, thus raising the average price of the devices. The increase in revenue could also be due to the reassessment of smartphones due to depreciation of the ruble, analysts told the newspaper.

In Q1 2018, Russia sold over 6 mln smartphones worth more than 92 bln rubles ($1.58 bln), Svyaznoy told Kommersant. The revenue from sales of smartphones exceeded figures for Q1 2017 by 23%, but the quantity remained at the same level, the company explained. According to electronics retailers Euroset and M.Video, smartphone sales in Russia amounted to 93.6 bln rubles ($1.6 bln) and 95 bln rubles ($1.63 bln), with the sales reaching 6.1 mln and 6.3 mln units, respectively.

The top three brands in the number of smartphones sold, include Samsung, leading with a 25% market share, Huawei with 17% and Honor for the first time, pushing Apple (15%) to third place. As for revenue from sales, Apple and Samsung retained the first and second places with 38% and 27% market shares respectively, and Huawei and Honor (14%) came third, Svyaznoy reported.

Consumers began to choose better and more expensive devices that will last longer than cheaper models, TelcomDaily CEO Denis Kuskov told Kommersant. For example, flagship Huawei phones are on par with Samsung and Apple in terms of quality and performance, however Apple is unlikely to lose its audience in the near future, the expert said.

Analyst at Otkritie, Timur Nigmatullin told the newspaper that the increase in the average smartphone price might have been triggered by currency revaluation - in Q1 2018, the ruble weakened against the main currencies by almost 4% year-on-year.


TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press review