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Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, August 21, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Idlib airstrike won't rattle Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria
On August 19, the Syrian Air Force attacked a convoy of Turkish soldiers heading, as Ankara claims, to border checkpoint No. 9 in the Idlib province. Turkey blamed Syria for the deaths of three servicemen and stated that the incident contradicted "agreements and the spirit of cooperation with Russia." Some media outlets are already anticipating an end to Turkish cooperation with Moscow along the lines of the Astana process. The flare-up in Idlib, however, will not affect the joint efforts of Russia and Turkey in Syria and will not lead to the disruption of the Sochi deal, the State Duma told Izvestia. Politicians and experts interviewed by the newspaper believe that Ankara is unlikely to risk aggravating relations with Russia right before the deliveries of the second batch of S-400s.
Chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee Vladimir Shamanov told Izvestia that the clash between the Syrian and Turkish militaries in southern Idlib will not curtail cooperation between Russia and Turkey. "We have disagreements on a number of positions with Turkey, and they need to be resolved. But in general, this incident should not affect the tone of our relations," the politician noted.
According to First Deputy Chairman of the defense committee Andrey Krasov, the joint struggle against extremists in Syria is far more important than the current contradictions, so military cooperation between the two countries will not suffer. "This is not the case when you need to break off relations," he said.
"Cooperation between Moscow and Ankara in the field of military equipment, the purchases of the S-400 and differences over Syria should not be mixed. The escalation in Idlib is unlikely to lead to an acute crisis or a disruption of supplies of the second batch of the Russian missile systems, scheduled for September," Director of the Center for the Study of Modern Turkey Yuri Mavashev told the newspaper.
Izvestia: Moscow to set up new air defense technology in the Arctic
Russia will beef up its air defense the Arctic and the Far East using ultra-long-range anti-aircraft systems. By the end of the year, a missile brigade will be formed in the east of the country. The Russian Ministry of Defense decided to put together air defense units and formations as part of the Eastern Military District, as well as in the Northern Fleet. These new units will be equipped with the S-300B4 anti-aircraft missile system, a source in the Ministry told Izvestia.
The Defense Ministry decided to deploy new air defense units to cover the Arctic and Far Eastern strategic directions, sources in the military department told Izvestia. An anti-aircraft missile brigade will be set up by the end of the year, which will include Russia’s S-300B4 air defense system. This will be at the disposal of the command of the Eastern Military District. The locations of the formations are still unknown.
Former Deputy Commander of the Air Force on the Joint CIS Air Defense System, Lieutenant General Aitech Bizhev told the newspaper that the decision would beef up air defense capabilities in the regions. "The Arctic and the Far East during the Soviet era were considered potentially dangerous areas for an air attack, so they were covered by one of the most powerful air defense armies. Deploying a new brigade would significantly strengthen this area. These track-mounted (continuous track) systems are not deterred by any terrain, so they can be quickly transferred to dangerous areas at any time. Obviously, the brigade is being integrated into the newly created continuous air defense system," the expert told Izvestia.
Kommersant: Moldova seeks gas routes from Russia bypassing Ukraine
On New Year’s Day 2020, Moldova might wake up to a cutoff of Russian gas supplies if transit through Ukraine stops. Therefore, Chisinau is hashing over possible solutions to the problem with Gazprom. One answer may be pumping gas through the TurkStream, but then it would be necessary to agree with Bulgaria, Romania, and also Ukraine, as well as find sources of financing. However, experts told Kommersant that they believe that given the political climate, Gazprom will make every effort to resolve the issue of supplies to Moldova.
Chisinau has started negotiations with its sole gas supplier and the owner of half of Moldovagaz, Gazprom, on gas supplies through the TurkStream. At the moment, Moldova receives about 3 bln cubic meters of gas from Russia along the Trans-Balkan corridor, which passes through Ukraine. However, this transit may end on January 1, 2020, if Moscow and Kiev do not agree on new conditions, and so far, there has been no progress on that score.
Moldova is currently negotiating with the Russian gas giant to conclude a new contract or extend the current one. The price of gas for the country in Q1 2019 was around $240 per 1,000 cubic meters. That said, Chisinau expects to get a 25-30% discount.
A Kommersant source close to the talks, however, doubts that Russia will accept such a large discount, but Gazprom "will continue to supply in one way or another, because this is largely a political issue." A source on the market told the newspaper that they believe that the monopoly may even be forced to bankroll the delivery infrastructure to Moldova via TurkStream.
Executive Director of the Skolkovo Energy Center Vyacheslav Mishchenko told Kommersant he believes that given Moldova’s political instability, it is important for Moscow to keep Chisinau "inside the orbit of Russian interests." There is no obvious route to bypass Ukraine, the expert added, and problems with gas supplies will cause "serious destabilization in the region." At the same time, even a substantial discount for Moldova will not be a problem for Gazprom, given the small volume of supplies, he added.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iraq looks into purchasing missiles from Russia
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that Israel is behind the recent elimination of Iranian targets inside Iraq. In a conversation with reporters in Kiev, he did not deny that the Jewish state was expanding the geography of its air raids. Against this background, Baghdad has hinted at its readiness to acquire Russian S-400 missile systems, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.
The last time Iraq spoke about acquiring Russia’s S-400 systems was this past spring, the newspaper noted. However, few people seriously considered their statements because the United States is running the show in Iraq. Washington opposes any attempts by its partners to acquire this type of weapon. The Russian Foreign Ministry did not respond to Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s question about the current stage of talks on the S-400s.
"The Iraqi government is trying to demonstrate some sort of political independence and return the country to a diplomatic framework," expert from the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs Anton Mardasov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Manifesting independence is a positive factor for the Iraqi government that contributes to stabilization within the country, where the Islamic State (terrorist group, banned in Russia) is a strong underground, where corruption is at its peak, and so on," the expert told the newspaper.
The expert noted that some actions of the Iraqi authorities are in line with Tehran’s policy to limit US influence in the country. A similar situation can hypothetically be with the S-400: formally, Baghdad needs air defense systems to protect its sovereignty. However, in this case, the purchased systems would cover pro-Iranian facilities, the expert said.
Kommersant: Tomahawk tests ax any hopes for INF revival
Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the Pentagon’s move to test medium-range Tomahawk cruise missiles indicate that Washington could have been scheming to undermine the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF-Treaty) from the very beginning. The US Defense Department just recently tested Tomahawk missiles, successfully hitting a target within 500 km. According to Kommersant, for the first time Washington actually enacted its pullout from the treaty, which was in force until August 2.
China backed Russia in condemning the US tests. As far as China is concerned, the Pentagon’s use of new missiles poses a greater threat than even for Russia, Kommersant wrote. US officials are not hiding the fact that after leaving the INF, previously banned weapons will be placed primarily in the Asia-Pacific region.
Meanwhile, experts interviewed by Kommersant, believe that the weapons tested by the Pentagon cannot be called a new type of missile.
"This launch container was simply removed from the ship and installed on a mobile platform, it did not require many years of preparation," Senior Researcher at the UN Institute for Disarmament Pavel Podvig told Kommersant. He added that in the same way it is possible to use the Russian Kalibr missile in a land mobile version. This was the option - the ground-based Kalibr - officially proposed by the Russian Defense Ministry as a response to the US withdrawal from the INF. And since the missile was already sufficiently tested on ships, creating its ground version would not require much time or cost from its developers and the military.