Russia: Chemical Weapons Deal A Good Start, But Syria Peace Is Still Far Off (+video)

Russia Enters New Era of Stagnation

Lavrov said. But the idea of using the diplomatic momentum from the chemical weapons deal to drive wider peace negotiations does not look promising. Western and Arab countries who are sponsoring the fractious Syrian rebel coalition appear helpless to get any kind of consensus among their proxies, much less herd them into negotiations with the regime by mid-November, as Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry had agreed to do. “Until recently we have been relying on our Western partners, who pledged to push the opposition to the negotiations table, and we hoped they would manage it quickly. But so far they have not succeeded. And I am not sure they will by mid-November,” Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow Tuesday. Russian experts say that if Western powers are serious about promoting a negotiated peace, they must first abandon the illusion that the growing body of jihadist-linked Syrian rebels can ever unify behind a democratic and secular program for the country. Sergei Markov, a political analyst who’s been a frequent adviser to President Vladimir Putin in the past, says there are groups of moderate rebels who could be induced to negotiate a peace settlement and political transition for Syria. But, he says, the US must first make a firm decision to exclude the jihadists as the common enemy of all, and work for a settlement between regime and moderate rebels. That’s a big leap for Washington, which still sees Assad as the main enemy and believes that the jihadist problem can be dealt with after the regime’s overthrow, Mr. Markov says. “The US and others are still backing militant Syrian oppositionists with arms and diplomatic support, even though Western public opinion more and more recognizes that these rebels are not democrats, but violent radicals aligned with Al Qaeda,” he says. “Because of this the preparations for a Geneva-2 peace conference are still not going well.” One continuing bone of contention, which drives the fundamentally opposing views of Russia and the West about the Syrian war, is the dispute over who used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians in a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21, and on at least three earlier occasions.

Britain, Norway, and France cooperated to design and build SRV1. The U.S. has built a similar system, providing 2 rescue systems to deal with any of the several hundred subs in service. The NATO SRV will be based in Clyde, Scotland and is managed by the UK Ministry of Defense. Back in 2005, an unmanned British minisub arrived by air, and after 6 hours of work, cut free a small Russian rescue sub, allowing it, and its crew of 6, to come to the surface. The Russian sub had gotten snagged in abandoned fishing nets 3 days earlier off the Pacific coast in the Russian northeast. The US also flew out 2 minisubs, but the British got there first and were aided by some American transport troops who had already arrived. The Russians thanked the British and other nations who had rushed assistance to the scene (off the Pacific coast in the Russian Far East). Russia said it would buy 2 of the minisubs that Britain used. These minisubs are used for all sorts of underwater work and cost about a million dollars each. The Russian navy was under tremendous pressure to ask for foreign assistance, after they did not do so in 2000 when the submarine Kursk went down.

Russia Finally Comes To The Rescue

In other words, Russia’s economy might not be growing at all if the government wasn’t pouring oil money into subsidies and infrastructure projects, such as the preparations for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and the soccer World Cup in 2018. The private investment needed to replace the government spending, he wrote, isnt coming, in part because investors have an “understandable lack of trust in public institutions.” Besides, private business has a hard time competing with state-owned behemoths: State-controlled banks, for example, hold 53 percent of the Russian economy’s entire loan portfolio. “We are at a crossroads,” Medvedev wrote. “Russia can continue going forward in slow motion, with economic growth close to zero, or it can take a serious step forward.” The second path “is fraught with risk,” while the first “leads to a precipice.” Few economists would argue with the diagnosis. “The head of the cabinet has largely learned to name the correct reasons for the country’s predicament,” Maxim Blant wrote on the opposition website ej.ru. Sergey Aleksashenko, director of macroeconomic studies at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, agreed : “It’s a good thing that this has at least been said.” The biggest flaw in Medvedev’s lengthy program, critics said, was the paucity of solutions. All he offered was a slowdown in tariff increases at Russia’s state-owned utilities and some small-business support in the form of tax breaks, loans and government contracts. He also expounded on the need to turn Moscow into an international financial center. “And that’s it,” Aleksashenko wrote. “What about safeguarding property rights and the quality of the judicial system, shrinking the state and using government resources effectively, what about privatization and infrastructure?” Medvedev’s article does not contain the word “corruption” or mention capital flight, expected to reach $70 billion this year. It offers no specific measures to foster competition, the focus of the latest World Bank report on Russia. “Every month the Russian Statistics Committee surveys 25,000 entrepreneurs, trying to find out what obstacles they face, and every time they give the same answers: taxes, bureaucratic pressure, corruption,” Igor Nikolaev, head of strategic analysis at the audit firm FBK, told the web site Expert Online. “How long will the government close its eyes to that, merely pretending that it’s doing something?” Some worry that Russia could be entering a new era of stagnation — a term most associated with the tenure of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. “A crisis is a situation you can enter and exit, but stagnation is a situation with unpredictable consequences,” said Economics Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, according to Vedomosti. Both the economy and the bureaucracy seem to be running in place, with the latter unable to take the radical action needed to break the impasse.

Lithuania warns Russia over pressuring its neighbors

Lithuania, which joined the EU in 2004, has had its transport trucks held up at Russian customs for up to 20 days at a time in recent weeks, causing heavy losses for its sizeable trucking industry. Asked whether Vilnius might retaliate, Foreign Minister Linas LinkeviAius said: “We could also apply the same measures.” “As you know, the Kaliningrad region is isolated, geographically isolated, so we could apply some measures also to cut something,” he told Reuters late on Tuesday, adding that no discussions along those lines had taken place. “Transport, we could cut off trains, but not only trains, also the supply of goods, whatever. It is theoretically possible. It was not discussed, it’s not our way of thinking, it’s not our methods,” he said. The Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, with around 430,000 people, is enclosed by Poland to the south and Lithuania to the north and east but it has a large port on the Baltic. Aside from sea shipments, it relies on road and rail links with Russia that cross Lithuania and Belarus. GEORGIA WAR The EU is locked in an increasingly tense stand-off with Russia over its Eastern Partnership policy, which is designed to draw six countries – Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia – more closely into the European fold. At the Vilnius summit on November 28-29, the EU is expected to sign a free trade deal with Ukraine and take further steps towards free trade agreements with Moldova and Georgia. No substantial progress is expected with the other partnership states, which remain more closely aligned with Moscow. Russia, meanwhile, wants several of the countries to sign up to its own customs union, launched with Belarus and Kazakhstan in 2010. Armenia, which relies on Russia for support in a long-standing dispute with Azerbaijan, agreed in September to join the Russian-led trade bloc. The biggest bone of contention between the EU and Russia is Ukraine, a country of 46 million people that is bordered by four EU member states and is determined to move closer to Europe.

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