Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, October 4, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: London no longer insists Syria’s Assad must go
The UK has stopped insisting on regime change in Damascus and the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, Izvestia’s sources in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said. They stressed that the UK approved efforts to release political prisoners and create a safe and neutral environment that would allow Syrians to hold a free, honest, and credible election under UN supervision.
An informed source in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office noted that London did not rule out that the current leadership could stay in office. At the same time, he highlighted the need for real changes in Syria, calling for an end to arbitrary arrests. He also urged Damascus to adhere to OPCW provisions on the non-use of chemical weapons and allow refugees to return home.
For its part, officials in Damascus are certain that Western countries are not really interested in a political solution to the crisis.
"The West blocked the launch of the Constitutional Committee fearing that it would help achieve a political settlement and, hence, steer Syria out of the crisis," senior Syrian lawmaker Ammar al-Assad stressed to Izvestia.
The fact that the West has abandoned its previous rhetoric means that the balance of power in Syria has changed, member of the Russian Federation Council (upper house) Alexei Pushkov told the paper. "When the Islamic State [IS, outlawed in Russia — TASS] had Damascus surrounded, the West insisted on Assad’s ouster. They [Western countries] understand that it is impossible to make him step down now given that he controls about 80% of the country’s territory. Raising the issue of his resignation under these circumstances would be tantamount to demonstrating a complete misunderstanding of the situation," he emphasized.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia to help the Philippines stamp out terrorism
During the latest Valdai Discussion Club conference, the Kremlin reaffirmed that its turn towards the East is not merely a slogan but a real strategy. That concerns not only close friends but also distant partners such as the Philippines, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. While Southeast Asia is dominated by the US and China, Russia’s competitive edge is that its reputation is strong and it has not waged any wars of aggression in the region. That opens up new prospects for successful cooperation between Moscow and Manila, especially in the defense and security fields.
Taking part in the Valdai Club’s session, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, were Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Philippines was one of the few Southeast Asian countries, with which Russia had complicated relations, says Dmitry Mosyakov, head of the Southeast Asian Department at the Institute of Oriental Studies. "Russia has cultivated cooperation primarily with Vietnam, the countries of Indochina and Singapore. Today, the Philippines is becoming one of our important partners in the region," he explained.
The Philippines is facing a serious challenge on Mindanao island where radical Islamic groups are active. That’s why Russia’s experience in battling extremist groups can be useful on that score. What’s more, the Philippines is currently modernizing its army, and weapons that Russia could offer it, including transport aircraft, helicopters, drones and tanks, would come in handy. The country imported weapons from the United States for a long time, and they were often outdated.
Another issue that could be discussed in Sochi is the fate of Filipino migrants in Russia, Mosyakov went on to say. "I hope that some documents, in which the rights of Filipino citizens who come to work in Russia are enshrined, will be approved," the expert concluded.
Izvestia: ‘Green’ red tape behind Denmark’s pipeline delay
Copenhagen no longer has politically motivated questions regarding the laying of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in its exclusive economic zone. The approval of its construction is currently being delayed at the administrative level, several sources familiar with the project’s implementation informed Izvestia.
"There were political issues when the application concerned [the pipeline’s] passage through Danish territorial waters. It was withdrawn in late June. As for the applications that were filed in late July, the issue at hand is the route passing through Denmark’s exclusive economic zone, which is regulated by the [UN] Convention on the Law of the Sea. Now this is a purely administrative process, which is nearing completion," an informed source said.
According to the Danish Energy Agency, the process will be completed as soon as the impact and safety assessment is over. For its part, Nord Stream 2 AG assured Izvestia that the construction was proceeding according to schedule.
In mid-September, Denmark suspended production in its largest Tyra field, which accounts for 90% of gas production in the country, due to repair work. Now, Copenhagen will have to replace these volumes with Norwegian and Russian sources.
One of Izvestia’s interlocutors in European agencies noted that this factor could not be disregarded altogether. "They understand that they cannot do without cooperation with Germany [a major participant in the Nord Stream 2 project]. However, for Denmark, focusing on climate change issues is a more important aspect. Only gas can help resolve the issue of reducing CO2 levels easily and cheaply, in contrast to renewable energy," he stressed.
The Nord Stream 2 project to deliver Russian gas to Europe through Germany triggered political fears in Europe from the very beginning. The political factor played an important role in Denmark’s stance as well. In early summer, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is currently Chairman of the Nord Stream 2 AG Board of Directors, said that the key reason for the delay in the construction was Washington’s political pressure on Copenhagen.
Kommersant: US launches trade war with EU
The United States will impose 10% tariffs on Airbus aircraft and 25% duties on certain types of food and industrial products from the European Union to the tune of $7.5 bln, Kommersant writes.
The World Trade Organization earlier said Washington could hit the EU with $7.5 bln in tariffs to counteract illegal subsidies to Airbus. Brussels is gearing up for retaliatory measures on American goods if a similar lawsuit against Boeing is won.
Most of Washington’s duties will impact France, Germany, Spain and the UK, which the Trump administration holds responsible for illicitly supporting Airbus. The EU noted that the hike in tariffs would hit, first and foremost, American consumers and make bilateral agreements more difficult to achieve.
The WTO decision in favor of the US was unpleasant but quite predictable, the paper quotes Dmitry Polevoy, Chief Economist at the Russian Direct investment Fund, as saying. However, the scale of the problems could only widen at the beginning of next year, when the WTO provides its opinion on the EU’s complaint against Boeing, the expert emphasized. In other words, the US-Chinese trade standoff could be supplemented by another "theater of operations," this time between the US and the EU, he concluded.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US may strike Iran from Afghanistan
Washington is discussing with Central Asian states the possibility of transit flights by US combat, reconnaissance and other aircraft through their airspace, the US Transportation Command has said. There is every likelihood that these issues are being discussed with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, although neither Ashgabat nor Tashkent have officially confirmed this, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Experts interviewed by the paper agree that the Pentagon needed the transport corridor over post-Soviet space to enhance its military capability in Central Asia. That will pose a threat to Russia’s interests and could be related to a potential attack on Iran, they emphasized.
Despite worsening relations with Pakistan and the suspension of US negotiations with the Taliban (outlawed in Russia), Islamabad is not hindering the transportation of military cargo to Afghanistan. On the other hand, no large-scale NATO operations in Afghanistan are planned. Why then are flights through CIS airspace, in close proximity to Russia’s borders, needed?
"They [the Americans] seek to create an additional supply channel and a channel of influence in Afghanistan without risks from Islamabad’s actions. That’s why the Pentagon wants US combat aircraft to fly over post-Soviet space," military expert Colonel Vladimir Popov stressed to Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He also did not rule out that the US is preparing an additional foothold for a potential surprise attack against Iran.
In October 2017, Afghanistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia signed an agreement on the Lapis Lazuli transport corridor worth $2 bln. The US and NATO attach high importance to that commercial project. "Lapis Lazuli could be a shorter route to connect Afghanistan and Europe. However, this is not something Washington wants. With the help of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, the US and its allies can use this corridor for military-strategic purposes not only to achieve its goals in Afghanistan, but also use it against Russia and Iran," the paper quotes military expert Shamil Gareyev as saying.