Kommersant: Netanyahu to seek success with Putin in talks on Syria
Five days before the snap parliamentary election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to visit Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which are expected to focus on Syria, Kommersant writes. This may be the first time when the Israeli prime minister leaves the country in the run-up to the election, which will be crucial for his political future. According to experts, Netanyahu would not have decided on coming to Moscow if he hadn’t expected success at the talks, which could become an important trump card for him ahead of the polls, TASS reported.
The upcoming election will be challenging and the key struggle will be between Netanyahu’s Likud political party and a new political alliance, dubbed Blue and White, consisting of three former chiefs of General Staff and a former finance minister. The latest opinion polls show that the competitors are running neck and neck, but Netanyahu will have more chances of retaining the prime minister’s post because the government will be led by the head of the party, which will be able to form a parliament majority.
For Netanyahu, who has been recently accused of corruption, this election will be a vote of confidence, the paper says. Amid the corruption scandals and tensions around the Gaza Strip, the prime minister’s foreign policy success, namely the US recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, became his trump card.
Apparently, the Israeli prime minister seeks a breakthrough in Syria, Kommersant writes. Moscow wants an agreement on withdrawing foreign military from Syria, most notably US troops, and is not against Israel’s joining an effort on coordinating this pullout. However, Israel is among the supporters of maintaining the US presence in Syria, including at the Al-Tanf military base, in order to curb Iran’s moves. So, it is unclear whether Israel is ready for the proposed format of cooperation if no exact conditions on the departure of pro-Iranian forces from Syria are agreed on.
Amid the ongoing political struggle in Israel, the news about reaching a consensus on a deconfliction mechanism may be described by Netanyahu as Moscow’s carte blanche for continuing Israeli strikes on Syria, even if Russia does not really mean this. This "gift" ahead of the election may significantly strengthen Netanyahu’s positions, the paper writes.
Izvestia: Erdogan eyes flexing muscles in Syria to boost future presidential bid
Amid the ruling party’s defeat in the March 31 municipal elections in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may soon ramp up the disengagement of the moderate opposition from the militants in Syria’s Idlib, Izvestia writes, citing parliament sources. Experts confirmed that in order to enhance his political bid for the 2023 presidential election, Erdogan will try to make the most of the standoff with the opposition’s Republican People’s Party. Positive moves beyond Turkey's borders may work in his favor, political scientists say. This policy is part and parcel of the Astana agreements: Russia had insisted that Turkey should disarm the militants in Idlib as soon as possible, the paper says.
According to Head of the Political Research at the Center for Modern Turkish Studies Yuri Mavashev, after the ruling party lost the elections in both cities, the Turkish leader will seek to boost his rating, and success in Syria will come in quite handy. "Syria would allow (him) to ‘flex (his) muscles’ and demonstrate consistency in policies. He could try to convince voters that the economy in both cities, controlled by the opposition, is deteriorating, while in Syria the Turkish military is only strengthening its positions," the expert said.
Turkish MP Ozturk Yilmaz told Izvestia that the operation on disengaging the moderate opposition from the militants in Idlib will be carried out with the coordination of the Iranian and Russian forces. For Moscow, Turkey’s desire to step up its effort in Idlib will be a very positive move. After this disengagement is completed, the city may be soon returned under the control of Damascus. Idlib is set to become one of the key issues to be discussed at the talks between Erdogan and Putin in Moscow on April 8.
Turkish political scientist and expert in Russian-Turkish ties Kerim Has told the paper that the loss in the local elections may affect Erdogan’s policy on both the eastern and western fronts. "In the short run, given the economic hurdles, which Turkey is facing now, and in order to retain his seat in the next election in 2023, Erdogan will prefer to normalize relations with his Western partners," he explained. This will mean backing the US plan in Syria, namely refraining from any military operations against the Kurds in Syria’s northeast.
Izvestia: North Macedonia joining NATO may destabilize European security, Russia’s EU envoy says
North Macedonia’s accession to NATO by the year-end will destabilize the Balkans, Russia’s envoy to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov told Izvestia. According to the diplomat, the alliance’s drive to incorporate countries throughout the Balkan Peninsula is affecting Europe’s security in its entirety. The military alliance is trying to respond to 21st century challenges through utilizing the means and mechanisms of the mid-20th century, which had been created in another era and for different goals, Chizhov pointed out.
Leader of the Democratic Party of Serbs in Macedonia Ivan Stoilkovic called the decision to join the military alliance without settling differences in the country a short-sighted move, warning that a negative effect arising from Euro-Atlantic integration may harm neighbors. "The combination of domestic Macedonian problems with external factors may trigger a severe destabilization of the entire Balkan Region. This will probably impact Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Republika Srpska is situated. Besides, the Kosovo dilemma is still acute. So in this situation, joining NATO is a very bad idea," he told the paper.
After North Macedonia’s accession to NATO, there are just two Balkan countries, which have not joined the ranks of the North Atlantic "family" - Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, Izvestia says. If Belgrade, which seeks to become an EU member, is strongly rejecting the idea of joining the military alliance, which most Serbs blame for "destroying their motherland" Yugoslavia, the situation with Bosnia and Herzegovina is different. Republika Srpska is one of key regions of Bosnia, which has been actively resisting NATO’s attempts over the past many years to draw the country into the alliance. Meanwhile, two other peoples of the country, the Bosniaks and Croats, are not against being taken under Brussels’ wing. NATO is not hiding its ambitions: after Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina is coming up next.
So, the noose around Serbia and Serbs is getting tighter, Director of the Progressive Politics Foundation Oleg Bondarenko said. "Serbia is a major goal of the masterminds behind Macedonia’s accession to NATO," and Macedonia is a key to Serbia and Republika Srpska.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Libya braces for military scenario, Moscow seeks to prevent escalation
Commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar, who is affiliated with the House of Representatives in Tobruk and is an opponent of Tripoli’s Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj, has announced that in the next two weeks the years-long crisis in Libya would be sorted out thanks to the creation of the national unity government. Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that Haftar’s statement made amid military preparations for an offensive in Tripoli, looks like a threat to solving the crisis by military means unless Tobruk’s opponents agreed on the conditions, which he plans to outline at the national conference in Ghadames on April 14-16.
In late February, al-Sarraj and Haftar met in the United Arab Emirates, endorsing a plan to launch the process of unifying the state structures of Libya’s east and west and hold elections by the end of this year. However, Tripoli fears that Tobruk could impose its own decision by starting a military operation.
According to the paper, now Haftar is at the height of success, after gaining control over Libya’s southwestern Fezzan region in March. Now the Libyan National Army is deploying its forces to carry out an offensive in Tripoli that could begin shortly after the Libyan national conference, which Haftar sees as a chance to form a new national unity government. However, there are many preconditions here and instead of peace, this conference could trigger another wave of tensions in Libya, the paper writes.
The UN mission has refused to unveil the conference’s agenda and the names of its participants, just announcing that between 120 and 150 people representing all Libyan parties and organizations would attend. Some 150 prominent Libyan politicians and activists have voiced their concerns that the UN-backed national conference would push the country into massive chaos due to the lack of transparency. There are fears that this event will be held only in the interests of Haftar.
Moscow fears that should Haftar’s positions be enhanced too much in Libya, the key beneficiaries here will be the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France, which placed their bets on supporting the Libyan military officer and invested much more funds than Russia did. For Moscow, keeping a certain balance in Libya would be much more advantageous. In this case, Russia would use its own ties, which it has maintained with all parties to the Libyan conflict, including small players. That’s why Moscow could make efforts to prevent a new hot phase in Libya.
Vedomosti: Russia spends more on prisons than any European country, but less on inmates
Russia is holding on to its leading position in Europe in terms of its prison population, according to a new University of Lausanne study prepared for the Council of Europe, Vedomosti writes. In 2017-January 2018, Russia had more than 418 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, or nearly twice as much as its closest neighbors (Georgia and Azerbaijan, with 252 and 235 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, respectively). This figure is nearly four times as much as in Europe on average (102.5 prisoners per 100,000 citizens).
The overall number of people behind bars in Russia in 2018 stood at 602,176 - more than in any country in Europe, and this figure is even on par with Montenegro’s population. At the same time, Russia is among those countries, where the prison population has declined 32.4% over the past 10 years.
The study shows that on average, Europe spends 66.5 euro on each inmate per day, while Russia disburses just 2.5 euro, lagging behind other post Soviet countries - Azerbaijan (6 euro), Moldova (9.4 euro), Armenia (11.4 euro) and Georgia (11.7 euro).
Meanwhile, Russia’s prison authorities have the biggest budget in Europe to the tune of 3.9 bln euro. Germany, which spends 3.1 bln euro on its penal system, comes in second, while Italy and France are in third place (2.7 bln euro).
The mortality rate among Russian prisoners is twice as much as in Europe on average: 51 cases per 10,000, and one in ten inmates commits suicide.