Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, May 23, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Erdogan resisting Washington’s ultimatum
Ankara is ready to face sanctions over the purchase of Russia's S-400 missile systems, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, commenting on the news about Washington’s ultimatum. The United States has given Turkey two weeks to change its mind and buy US-made Patriot systems instead of the S-400s. Otherwise, the production of F-35 components in Turkey will be halted and the country will receive no new aircraft, Kommersant writes.
Ankara signed a contract to purchase the S-400 systems from Russia in September 2017. Four S-400 divisions cost the country $2.5 bln. The Pentagon said that no Russian-made weapons could be deployed to a NATO member state. The US Department of Defense believes that the S-400s will be able to "spy" on the F-35 and pass information about the fifth generation US fighter jets to the Russian military.
According to Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Ruslan Pukhov, it won’t be a problem for the US to move the F-35-related production facilities to another country. "It can be done rather quickly because Turkey doesn’t make anything unique or too complicated," the expert told Kommersant.
Washington’s harsh tone reflects the current foreign policy line of President Donald Trump who relies on force as far as diplomacy is concerned. The S-400 issue is just an excuse for Washington to show its discontent with Turkey’s position on Middle East issues, including Syria, international relations expert Vladimir Frolov pointed out. At the same time, Ankara’s persistence comes from its claims concerning northern Syria and US support for the Kurds.
Washington’s ultimatum drives Erdogan into a corner. If he gives into the United States, it will mean a defeat leading to the loss of support from a part of the Turkish public so perhaps Erdogan won’t compromise his principles, political scientist Alexei Malashenko noted. However, the Turkish president is a rather pragmatic individual and he has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to maneuver. He can see that the deteriorating economic situation and a decline in the lira's exchange rate have already reduced the public support for him, which can be seen from the outcome of the March local elections. Erdogan is concerned that rising tensions with the US could exacerbate domestic problems, which would be hard to offset using rhetoric or calling on people to dump dollars, said head of the Turkish Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Natalya Ulchenko. Under these circumstances, the Turkish leader will try to buy as much time as possible and find a way to make concessions to the US so that Ankara’s image suffers the least possible damage.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Persian Gulf states aim to avoid direct armed conflict with Iran
The situation surrounding Iran raises a question: What can its regional rivals do if the standoff turns into an armed conflict? To find the answer to this question, leading members of the Gulf Cooperation Council plan to hold an emergency meeting in Mecca on May 30. Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s source in the Council ruled out a direct conflict between Iran and its neighbors, saying that a proxy war was looming. According to the source, military activities in Yemen may intensify.
"We think that only talks and discussions can present a real way out," the source noted. However, in his view, the situation around Iran will whip up tensions between Saudi Arabia and Yemen where Houthi rebels are active, and believed to be controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Riyadh and other members of the Saudi-led coalition are directly involved in the hostilities in Yemen and carry out air strikes on Houthi positions.
Tehran, in turn, has made it clear it doesn’t want an armed conflict. "Under no circumstances will we enter a war," said Chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh.
Experts believe that mounting hostilities in Yemen is the only thing that can escalate regional tensions, particularly given the recent Saudi oil pipeline incident. "Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have resources to step up military operations in Yemen using their own military forces," Director of the Islamic Research Center at the Institute of Innovation Development Kirill Semenov told the newspaper. "However, it is fraught with losses. And it can hardly be described as a proxy war because the Houthis aren’t Iran’s proxy group and their defeat will in no way weaken Tehran. On the other hand, this conflict can be used for populist purposes, which means waging a war against the Houthis as if it were a war against Iran but not involving Iran," the expert noted.
Izvestia: Zelensky's party to benefit from Ukraine’s snap election
Ukraine’s snap parliamentary election, expected to be held on July 21, will play into the hands of President Vladimir Zelensky’s Servant of the People party. The "Opposition Platform - For Life," led by Yuri Boiko and Viktor Medvedchuk, currently ranks second but its popularity may grow if the president chooses to pursue the anti-Russian policy course of his predecessor, said experts interviewed by Izvestia.
Zelensky must strive for peace in Donbass, not talk sanctions, says opposition politician
Zelensky started to prepare the Verkhovna Rada for a new election in his very first minutes as president. According to experts, he needs to make sure he controls the parliament as soon as possible in order to implement his initiatives.
Zelensky can take advantage of his popularity and push a large group of Servant of the People's members into parliament, said Institute for Peace Initiatives and Conflict Studies Director Denis Denisov. However, it remains to be seen if the president will have enough votes to ensure a majority. The expert pointed out that up to ten parties were capable of making it into the Verkhovna Rada.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Platform’s rating largely depends on the popularity of Zelensky's party because both political forces rely on voters in Ukraine’s south and southeast. Director of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology Mikhail Pogrebinsky told the paper that the snap election was unlikely to benefit Boiko, but his party could have secured more votes during the then anticipated October election. "If Zelensky sticks to an anti-Russian policy, their rating will grow. He has already gathered people who plan to move in the same direction as before. The more anti-Russian decisions are made, the more people will tend to turn away from Zelensky and support Boiko and Medvedchuk," the Ukrainian political scientist emphasized.
According to Denisov, the Opposition Platform has a lot to do in terms of voter education because up to 50% of the electorate actually support the party’s views but only ten percent back the party itself.
Izvestia: Russian Central Bank head dismisses currency manipulation claims
Russia’s Central Bank chief Elvira Nabiullina says there are no grounds to accuse Moscow of manipulating the ruble exchange rate, as she stated in an interview with Izvestia.
"We have a floating exchange rate. We don’t use currency interventions to support the ruble exchange rate at a certain level. The Central Bank purchases currencies for the Finance Ministry only under a budget rule aimed at ensuring the economy’s independence from oil prices and not at supporting certain exchange rates. There is absolutely no reason to accuse us of manipulating the exchange rate," Nabiullina pointed out.
Bloomberg said earlier, citing sources that the US administration was going to expand the list of countries Washington suspected of currency manipulation. According to the news outlet, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam may be included in the list. US President Donald Trump earlier accused the European Union, China and Russia of manipulating their currency rates.
When speaking about recommendations for Russian banks in the event of a sanctions clampdown, which the Central Bank issued last fall, Nabiullina noted that "they weren’t just recommendations, since we made plans for each bank, depending on its portfolio, assets and liabilities." "We explained in detail what banks and the Central Bank would need to do, as quickly as possible, to resolve the problems banks might face. We maintain contacts and continue updating this information. Depending on what kind of sanctions may be imposed and what activities may be prohibited, we have come up with various options to make sure that bank clients are the least affected," the Russian Central Bank chief emphasized.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Moscow ranked as tourism industry’s ‘Dawning Developers’
Moscow has been included in an international list of cities that may emerge as new attraction points on the global tourism map, as seen from the Destination 2030: Global cities’ readiness for tourism growth rating made by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and the JLL company. Analysts put the Russian capital into the Dawning Developers category, pointing to the city’s up-to-date tourism infrastructure and the relatively small number of foreign guests, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.
Before choosing a category for each of the 50 cities on the list, experts had analyzed data on 70 indicators, including the tourist market’s size, the level of infrastructure development, the cost of living and the municipal authorities’ tourism policy. By placing Moscow in the Dawning Developers category, they pointed to the city’s readiness for a tourism industry boom.
"Moscow needs visa restrictions to be eased to make sure that a tourism boom takes place, otherwise it is hard to persuade travelers from the United States and European countries to visit," Alexei Tsyganov, an aide to the chairman of the Federation Council Committee for Foreign Affairs, told the newspaper. According to him, most American tourists enter Russia through St. Petersburg’s port under the 72-hour visa-free entry rule for cruise ship passengers.
"Given tourists’ interest in Russia, global cruise liners make an exception for St. Petersburg, stopping there for two days instead of one," Tsyganov pointed out. Foreign tourists spend one day in Russia’s cultural capital and on the second day, they take a Sapsan high-speed train to Moscow. "In the first year after visa-free entry was granted to cruise ship passengers, their number rose from 250,000 to 570,000. And since only 25.7 mln travelers in the world choose this kind of tours, it is a good figure," Tsyganov noted.