Press review: Putin’s surprise offer for New START and Washington’s pipeline clampdown / News / News agency Inforos
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Press review: Putin’s surprise offer for New START and Washington’s pipeline clampdown

Press review: Putin’s surprise offer for New START and Washington’s pipeline clampdown

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, October 21, prepared by TASS

Izvestia: Azerbaijan, Armenia continue hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh despite claiming they are ready for talks

Yerevan and Baku are carrying on hostilities in the south of Nagorno-Karabakh, Izvestia reports. On October 20, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev made an address to the nation, in which he stated that Azerbaijan had taken control of 24 settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, including the town of Zangilan near the border with Armenia. Yerevan denied those reports.

On October 19, the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia expressed their readiness to hold a personal meeting mediated by Russia in Moscow in two parallel interviews. President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan noted that so far, he had not been invited to Moscow, however, he is ready for contacts at any level. Likewise, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stressed that he is ready "to make every necessary effort" to resolve the Karabakh conflict via peaceful means.

A meeting between the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders in Moscow may not produce any results if the sides do not find common ground on the territorial issue, Chairman of the Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) Media Policy Commission Alexey Pushkov told Izvestia.

"The point of the meeting between two leaders in Moscow is to show readiness for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and to show that there are no ardent supporters of war. However, both sides have fundamentally opposing stances, which seriously complicate the negotiations. Baku aims to get back the areas around Nagorno-Karabakh, and Armenia thinks that the conflict will not be resolved in that manner. So a quick conflict regulation should not be expected even if there is a personal meeting between both leaders in Moscow," the senator said.

Sources in the Azerbaijani parliament told Izvestia that Baku is open for dialogue and that it gives Yerevan a chance to show readiness to resolve the issue through negotiations.

Kommersant: Russia makes surprise offer on New START

On October 20, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that surprised experts in arms control both in Russia and the United States. The ministry suddenly announced that Moscow is ready to prolong the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for one year, undertaking the political obligation along with Washington to freeze the amount of its nuclear warheads for that period. Earlier, Russian officials dismissed the suggested freezing of Russia’s arsenal as "unacceptable." Kommersant’s sources report that this unexpected decision came from the Kremlin. Experts interviewed by the paper doubt that Mosocw will gain much by this move, while American analysts are unsure that the US will accept the offer.

According to two well-informed Kommersant sources, the decision to change Russia’s stance came from the Kremlin, and the Russian Foreign Ministry simply announced it. The paper’s sources stress that this decision does not demonstrate a radical change in Russia’s stance. "We simply expressed [our] readiness to freeze the arsenal for a year, that is, for the time that New START will be prolonged for so that new agreements can be drafted. If in the stipulated period, our concerns on other aspects are not taken into consideration, this provision will not be prolonged," one of the sources explained.

Another source pointed out that by expressing its readiness to freeze the number of its nuclear warheads, Russia "has clearly set its boundaries." The Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement stresses that the freezing of warheads "will not be accompanied by any extra demands from the United States." This means that Russia is still not ready to expand and toughen verification measures (including the external control over the production of nuclear weapons), which the US has insisted on for the past several months.

Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, was unable to say for sure whether the White House will accept the Kremlin’s offer. Kristensen told Kommersant that the Trump administration would have to abandon several demands presented earlier, such as making changes to New START itself to introducing new strict verification measures and involving China. Nevertheless, the expert did not rule out that the White House could accept the Kremlin’s "gift," as any foreign policy win is crucial for Trump right now.

Kommersant: Washington widens sanctions against Nord Stream 2

On October 20, the US State Department announced a long-awaited expansion of its sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. This time, Washington is prohibiting businesses from providing services, goods or financing to upgrade or install equipment on vessels involved in the project.

The expanded punitive measures are unlikely to impact the project significantly, experts quizzed by Kommersant note. According to them, the most dangerous restrictions, like an insurance ban for pipe-laying vessels or a ban on any certification of the constructed pipeline, weren't included. Meanwhile, the restrictive measures aimed against the "Akademik Cherskiy" pipe-laying vessel are likely to not make much of a difference, as the vessel is currently involved in training exercises and is likely to have all the necessary pipe-laying equipment already.

Special Counsel on Sanctions Law at Pen & Paper Sergey Glandin told Kommersant that in this case, these sanctions are not new, they are merely an expansion of the existing act approved on December 20, 2019. The Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019, or PEESA, stipulates that the US Treasury and the State Department would slap sanctions on companies that refuse to end cooperation with Nord Stream 2 pipe layers and builders within a 30-day period.

The new measures do not include the most dangerous options for the project, Research Director at Vygon Consulting Maria Belova told the paper. She pointed out that this summer, a group of US senators cobbled together a bill that aims to get tougher on Russian export gas pipelines under construction: pipe-laying vessels and companies providing their insurance, maintenance and special equipment installation, as well as specialized organizations certifying the pipeline after its construction is completed were facing punitive measures. "This bill has not left the Senate so far, and today [on October 20], the State Department expanded the sanctions against Nord Stream 2 by clarifying the existing act."

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia, Turkey headed down the road of mistrust in Syria

Turkey will abandon some of its observation posts in the Syrian province of Idlib, which is under the control of insurgent forces and radical units, the Middle East Eye news outlet informed, citing its sources who claim that Ankara has taken this step because Russia is blocking the supply of those observation posts constructed in 2017. Experts questioned by Nezavisimaya Gazeta suggest that a reduction in observation posts may mean that the Erdogan regime is preparing for a potential escalation by Damascus.

Russian International Affairs Council expert Anton Mardasov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that a new surge of tensions in Idlib may be in the cards. "On the one hand, escalation may take place with Russia’s consent, as the areas to the south of the M4 motorway must be handed over to Damascus, after all, in accordance with the latest agreements between Putin and Erdogan," the political commentator explained. According to him, terrorist attacks by little-known militants against the joint Russian-Turkish patrols in the area may serve as a pretext for the operation. "Of course, this can be interpreted and presented differently in the media. Ankara finds it rather difficult to eliminate radical field commanders without causing a wave of refugees and provoking terrorist groups to seize outposts near border crossings," Mardasov said. "On the other hand, Damascus is not abandoning efforts to shake things up in Idlib," the expert stated, adding that the Syrian government has fewer opportunities to pressure the Turkish leadership if Ankara reduces the number of its observation posts. "To my mind, Russia would be at a disadvantage by following Damascus’ policy," Mardasov stated.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russian Security Council predicts serious surge in terrorism

In 2020, the number of terrorist crimes carried out by way of the Internet has gone up by 1.5 times. After the COVID-19 pandemic, a surge in extremist activity is expected, Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Yuri Kokov said in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

When asked whether the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the fight against terrorism, Kokov noted that the pandemic and the social-economic crisis caused by it had exacerbated the existing security threats. "Under the current conditions, terrorists go online more actively. The spread of radical sentiment in society due to the psychological consequences of the widespread lockdowns, namely depression, social isolation, and lost income sources along with other factors, is fueling their propaganda and recruitment activity," he said.

The security expert stressed that a drop in offline terrorist activity due to closed borders is misleading. "With the gradual lifting of the epidemiological restrictions, the return of terrorist cells to considerable activity may be swift," he noted. "It is no coincidence that the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, namely in the sphere of security, has become one of the central topics of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly. This is why Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out the need to gradually adapt international bodies to modern realities, to unite the efforts of the international community to overcome new challenges and threats and to develop different approaches to the solution of global issues."

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