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Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, January 15, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Moscow wants to boost defense cooperation with Sri Lanka
The recent visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Sri Lanka was clearly facilitated by the fact that he was perhaps the only top foreign diplomat who speaks Sinhala, as well as the fact that Russia is one of the top three importers of the key local product: Ceylon tea, Kommersant wrote.
Relations with countries such as Sri Lanka are of particular importance to Russia, the newspaper noted, because the fate of important Moscow initiatives at international venues, including the UN General Assembly, sometimes depends on the position of numerous small states. This meeting, however, brought new opportunities for Russia. Moscow is ready to provide Sri Lanka with an export loan to purchase a wide range of weapons.
Russia has been promoting its military-industrial complex on the Sri Lankan market. Deliveries under the last contract were completed in 2013. Colombo received 14 Russian Mil Mi-171E helicopters. Under this deal, the Russian authorities allocated an export loan of $146 mln to Sri Lanka. A source in the Russian delegation told Kommersant that now Moscow is ready to provide Colombo with additional funds for the purchase of six Sukhoi Su-30 fighters and a BTR-82A armored personnel carrier on loan.
According to the newspaper’s source, Sri Lanka should now decide on the desired range of supplies. According to Kommersant, the amount of the additional export loan may exceed $500 mln. In addition, the sources noted that the Sri Lankan authorities are ready to provide Russian warships with preferential conditions for calling at Sri Lankan ports.
However, global politics were also discussed during the negotiations. According to Kommersant’s sources, during his meetings with Sri Lankan officials, Lavrov raised the issue of the US-promoted concept of a "free and open Indo-Pacific Region," urging his partners to be skeptical. The idea contradicts the Moscow-backed concept of an Asia-Pacific region, in which China also plays an important role, while the new US initiative is aimed primarily at containing China.
Meanwhile, Moscow supports the existing regional security organizations, such as ASEAN and the SCO, and does not want to see any new US-led structures in the region.
Izvestia: Moscow-hosted Libyan peace talks to continue in Berlin
Commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar may continue the offensive against Tripoli, and force is still his preferred option, experts told Izvestia. On January 14, he flew from Moscow to Jordan, without having signed a settlement agreement. The Russian Ministry of Defense assured that Haftar reacted positively to the Moscow-brokered treaty, but took two days to negotiate with tribal leaders. The ceasefire continues to be in effect. The Berlin conference, scheduled for next Sunday, will decide the fate of the truce.
Almost eight hours of negotiations through the mediation of the Russian and Turkish foreign and defense ministers did not add clarity to Tobruk-Tripoli negotiations. The fate of the agreement is still in limbo, as Haftar took another two days to think it over. He insisted on a clause to withdraw Turkish troops from the country, but he refused to pull troops out of occupied positions near Tripoli.
On January 14, Germany invited both Libyan leaders plus the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Egypt, the UN, and the EU to the Berlin conference. Russian President Vladimir Putin will most likely represent Moscow at the talks.
It’s not yet clear what Haftar will do in the coming days, but it’s quite obvious: he still considers a military solution to be the best option, researcher at the Italian Institute for International Politics (ISPI) Matteo Colombo told Izvestia. According to the expert, he might look for an excuse for resuming a military advance towards Tripoli. If negotiations do not satisfy his interests, he can always try to take the capital by force. Colombo added that the worst scenario would be heavy fighting throughout the streets of the capital, which could lead to the collapse of the entire infrastructure of western Libya.
"Even if Tripoli and Tobruk … would in the end agree to sign the Moscow or Berlin document, we should not expect a quick resolution. The situation is very complicated in Libya, no less complicated than in Syria," Director of the Center for the Study of New Turkey Yuri Mavashev told Izvestia. However, he urged not to consider the situation in Libya exclusively as a confrontation between the two centers of power. According to the expert, it is primarily a battle for the Eastern Mediterranean, for control over freight and migration flows.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: NATO not ready for war in the Middle East
On January 14-15, NATO top brass met in Brussels to hash over key issues on the alliance’s defense and security. At the gathering, ‘Russian aggression’ and the war on terror topped the agenda. The second topic is at the forefront especially after the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani, Commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force in a US strike on January 3. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, right now, there is no solution on this score. NATO has still not hammered out its stance on the situation in the Middle East regarding the ongoing confrontation between the US and Iran.
Some NATO countries have already withdrawn their armed forces from Iraq, fearing that they will be targeted for retaliatory action. The United States, having reduced its military presence in Iraq, refuses to leave the country, urging partners and allies to beef up their military missions in the Middle East and carry on the fight against IS (terrorist organization banned in Russia). An agreement was reached to continue the participation of the alliance’s forces in the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization remains committed to fighting international terrorism, but it seems that in the end, these are all nothing more than just empty slogans, the newspaper wrote.
"Shiite groups still threaten the US with revenge for the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. NATO troops may suffer ... Such a threat can persist for a very long time. This means that if there are no real steps to normalize the situation in the Middle East, then it is unlikely that NATO forces will resume training the Iraqi military in the coming months," military expert Lieutenant General Yuri Netkachev told the newspaper. According to Netkachev, a further exacerbation of the military situation is possible not only in the Middle East, but also near the borders of NATO countries with Russia.
Izvestia: India, Russia moving towards SWIFT payment alternative — ambassador
On January 15, the fifth Raisina Dialogue international conference is scheduled to kick off in New Delhi. Ahead of the international forum, Russian Ambassador to India Nikolay Kudashev spoke to Izvestia about the state of Russian-Indian cooperation in the technical and economic fields. The two countries may soon wean themselves off the SWIFT payment system, as they are moving towards other options, the diplomat told Izvestia.
"We have a favorable situation in this area, despite all the problems," Kudashev said when focusing on switching to settlements in national currencies. "About a third of the turnover is already handled in national currencies. This is a very good indicator. Moreover, the parties also consciously create conditions for it. First, by cultivating interbank cooperation. We are moving towards a transition to alternative payment systems in place of SWIFT. The Russian Bank has such developments. They were proposed to the Indian side through contacts, and the trial payments of these systems has been passed," the ambassador added.
"Of course. India is our friend, and our special and privileged strategic partner. Recently, not without our participation as a friend, an ally, and a partner — India is increasingly expressing itself as an important, dynamic factor in world politics and, of course, in regional politics," Kudashev added.
According to the diplomat, India is interested in the Russian Far East. "Does India show interest? Yes, a lot. The Pacific coast, the Far East, the Russian Arctic are huge open spaces, generally unknown to India," he explained.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia’s car sales struggle amid falling consumer demand
New car sales continue to decline in Russia. Thus, by the end of 2020, the drop will reach 2.1% from 2.3% in 2019, the Association of European Businesses (AEB) forecasted. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the main problems of the market are heavier taxes and narrower consumer demand. However, this spring, car prices may spike due to increasing recycling rates, market participants said.
The sales of new cars and light commercial vehicles in Russia will fall for the second year in a row. In the first half of 2019, the increase in the value added tax was a painful blow. Hopes for a recovery in the second half of 2019 were also not met and car market participants have reached the ceiling of opportunities in stimulating demand, AEB said.
Experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta confirm that the decline will continue, but they diverge in their forecasts of what exactly will be a drop in sales. ""It can be about 2-3%," financial analyst at BCS Premier Sergey Deineka told the newspaper. He believes that the main factor in the failure of the Russian car market in 2019 was weak consumer demand amid a decline and stagnation in real incomes of the population, as well as the Bank of Russia’s measures to cool off the consumer lending market. In 2020, all these trends will continue, the expert added.
"In our opinion, the total growth of car prices in 2020 can be about 7-10%," Deineka said. "Both growing prices and smaller car lineups covered by the state subsidiary lending programs will not act in favor of increasing car sales," he told the newspaper.
There are other forecasts. "We predict a 5% market reduction by the end of 2020," General Director of the Avtospetstsentr dealership Denis Petrunin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "But this also requires large-scale demand stimulation programs covering the entire mass segment of the market, otherwise the decline may be even greater," he added.