Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, December 24, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Russia looks at Idlib through the eyes of Turkey and Syria
On Monday, Moscow hosted government delegations from Turkey and Syria, which have been teetering on the brink of an armed conflict for the past several years. Each party sought to make its point to Russian diplomats as far as the cause of escalating tensions in Syria’s Idlib province is concerned. Over the past weekend, Syrian government forces took control of dozens of settlements in the region, triggering another wave of refugees to Turkey. However, according to experts interviewed by Kommersant, all parties have generally agreed that Damascus will take control of Idlib and only some details are still being disputed.
As of Monday night, there were no reports about any agreements that the Turkish delegation managed to reach in Moscow. However, Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov believes that the talks should be viewed as part of preparations for the upcoming meeting between the presidents of Russia and Turkeys scheduled for January 8.
"I don’t think that Damascus would have launched an offensive against Idlib if it hadn’t been agreed on between Moscow and Ankara," the expert pointed out. "A plan for Damascus to gradually take control of Idlib was drawn up during the Astana talks, which was when the de-escalation zone was set up in the region. However, the Turks may accelerate or decelerate the process in order to get better terms in the future," he added. According to Semenov, a future solution for Idlib will resemble the solution to the situation in Syria’s northeast, which involved Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring and a subsequent meeting between the Russian and Turkish presidents.
One of the most important aspects of that agreement concerned the return of the M4 highway under Damascus’ control, while Turkish troops remained north of the road. "As for Idlib, the question will be about the M4 and M5 highways. As long as opposition members continue to block them, there is no direct link between Damascus and Aleppo, which impedes the city’s reconstruction," the expert emphasized.
Media: US sanctions ‘unfair trade’ tool to delay launch of Nord Stream 2
Washington’s sanctions may delay the launch of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline by up to six months, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. Switzerland’s Allseas has withdrawn its pipelaying vessels from the construction area. Russia has stated that the main goal currently is to complete the construction work. A segment that stretches out over 160 kilometers remains to be built, but according to experts, a new contractor or a new vessel would be required to cover it.
AMarkets Analytics Department Chief Artem Deyev believes that by imposing new sanctions, Washington is chiefly pursuing its own interests, rather than Europe’s needs. "Russian gas supplies to Europe are not on the United States’ agenda. Gas production in Europe is declining and the European market is very attractive to major energy producers. The US is trying to pull all stops to either drive Russia out of the European market or significantly reduce its share in gas supplies," the expert pointed out. In his view, if Allseas had continued laying pipes, the maritime segment of Nord Stream 2 would have been completed by the end of January. And now, the gas pipeline’s launch will be delayed by three to six months, Deyev said.
"The much-hyped ‘free market’ and ‘free trade’ rules have been stuck in a rut for many years. It became glaringly obvious in the ten years that had followed the 2008 crisis," Fuel and Energy Industry Development Institute expert Sergei Alikhashkin told Rossiyskaya Gazeta. "When Trump came to power in 2016, the United States transformed into a trailblazer for protectionist sentiment as far as international free trade went. Fair trade was proclaimed instead of free trade," the expert explained.
"Given the current state of the economy, the Americans tend to view the free market as a market free for them, and chiefly for them, in order to protect their own trade interests," Alikhashkin added.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: India being tested to the limit
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeks to mitigate the backlash from amendments to its citizenship law as many in the country believe that they are aimed against Muslims, impinge on the economic interests of the country’s citizens in favor of immigrants and facilitate the central government’s domination over regional authorities. However, the BJP has so far been getting the opposite results, because protests across India are gaining momentum, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
On December 11, India’s parliament passed amendments to the citizenship law, which ease Indian citizenship for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and Parsis who illegally entered the country before 2015. However, Muslims are not on the list. In addition, a law is under discussion that concerns plans to create a nationwide register of citizens in order to identify illegal immigrants. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s opponents have accused him of intending to carry out a mass deportation on religious grounds.
According to Institute of Asian and African Countries Associate Professor Boris Volkhonsky, Modi has made a mistake. "The amendments to the citizenship law have evoked this type of response because they were passed at a very bad time, given the mounting contradictions between the ruling party and various groups of the population. It is no coincidence that students and professors with a liberal bent are at the forefront of the protests. The BJP has had very complicated relations with universities lately," the expert told the newspaper.
The greatest danger to India’s future is that the citizenship amendments have raised tensions between the central government and regional authorities. "An alarming signal for the ruling party came in the spring. It was when the National Democratic Alliance, of which the BJP is a part, won a landslide victory in parliamentary and local elections but a dangerous trend emerged at the same time. The victory came from voters in the central part of the country, who share the values of Hindu nationalism that the BJP defends," Volkhonsky emphasized. India’s southern and eastern regions remained mostly in the opposition. All of this may put the country’s unity in question, if not now then in the future, which is not so far away, the expert said.
Izvestia: Kiev, Donbass agree to carry out prisoner swap
Kiev and Donbass plan to wrap up the verification of individuals meant for a detainee exchange by the end of the week, Izvestia wrote, citing Human Rights Ombudsperson in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) Olga Kobtseva. On December 23, Kiev and the Donbass republics managed to hammer out an agreement to exchange "all identified for all identified" prisoners. The swap is set to take place by December 31.
LPR Envoy to the Political Subgroup of the Contact Group on resolving the situation in eastern Ukraine Rodion Miroshnik explained to the paper that the key outcome of the recent talks was that Ukraine had agreed to clear those on the exchange list of any criminal charges. "Ukraine has to assure us that it has no claims against the people who are being swapped," the Lugansk politician pointed out.
The remaining formalities and the final lists would be agreed online. According to Miroshnik, Kiev has confirmed the political deal to exchange all identified for all identified detainees.
Human Rights Ombudsperson in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Daria Morozova, in turn, told the newspaper that Donbass was determined to continue talks in order to make sure that all of its unfairly convicted supporters were released as soon as possible. According to Director of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology Mikhail Pogrebinsky, this time it was Ukraine that made major concessions. "I don’t think that Kiev decided to make concessions under the pressure of France and Germany. There were domestic reasons behind the decision, since President Zelensky’s approval rating dropped two weeks ago, giving him some worries. He managed to improve things by taking part in the Normandy Four talks and now he seeks to achieve more success by carrying out a prisoner exchange," the political scientist pointed out. However, he doubts that it will have a large positive impact on Zelensky’s rating because "the euphoria" that followed his rise to power is coming to an end.
Kommersant: Russia seeks to sell 5G equipment to Africa
Rostec seeks to sell Russian-made 5G equipment not only to Russian companies but to foreign ones as well, including those in African countries, as is seen from a roadmap on 5G technology development. However, compensatory measures will have to be taken to ensure Russia’s competitiveness in Africa, said experts interviewed by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Russia’s government and Rostec will conclude intergovernmental agreements with other countries by 2022, in a bid to introduce Russian 5G solutions to foreign mobile networks, the roadmap says. In particular, framework agreements on providing the technology to African countries are being put together for the 2020 Russia-Africa Economic Forum. In all, 169.4 bln rubles ($2.7 bln) will be earmarked for the project’s implementation. Moreover, extra-budget funds to the tune of 71 bln rubles ($1.1 bln) are also planned to be allocated.
As part of cultivating Russia’s partnership with Africa, it is indeed possible to export technological solutions, Head of Technology, Media & Telecommunications at KPMG in Russia and CIS Yerkozha Akylbek said.
Some niche solutions are most likely to be exported, including antennas for cell towers and radio relay systems for transport networks, Head of Wireless Department at J'son & Partners Consulting Viltaly Solonin pointed out. "Unfortunately, Russia does not have comprehensive solutions like the ones that global 5G vendors offer, and they will hardly be created in the next two to three years," he explained.
Senior Vice President at ZTE Russia Tigran Pogosyan, in turn, noted that as for exports of equipment to African countries and other markets where global vendors are already active, it is only possible to ensure competitiveness through additional compensatory measures at the government level.