Foreign Press Review #4 (18.04-24.04)

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Last week Syria once again became the most popular topic in the western media due to a partial withdrawal of the opposition groups from the peace talks in Geneva amid a recent upsurge in fighting in Syria and the government’s reluctance to free detainees or allow humanitarian aid into the country. On Wednesday U.S. officials said Russia had been moving artillery units to northern Syria that may mean that Moscow and Damascus are preparing for full-scale fighting due to the current ceasefire being under threat. Obama has already urged Putin to intervene so as to stop the truce from disintegrating completely but the split in Washington over a necessary response to Russia’s actions in Syria has deepened. In turn, Moscow claims that the attacks by government forces havebeen carried out in response to provocations by the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

The failed oil negotiations in Doha have also received much attention among foreign journalists. According to Russia’s energy minister, a global deal to freeze output levels collapsed because Saudi Arabia tried to make some last minute amendments to the final agreement. As a result, tensions between Moscow, Riyadh and Teheran sharpened, with Saudi Arabia threatening to flood markets with more crude, whereas Russia confirmed its readiness to push oil production to historic highs. Experts asserted the collapse of negotiations is explained in geopolitical rather than economic terms as Riyadh does not want Russia and Iran to strengthen their influence in the region.

Besides, the press has payed a lot of attention to the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in nearly two years, which was held amid recent incidents in the Baltic Sea. Unfortunately, the negotiations ended without any significant agreement including one of the most urgent issues of reducing the risk of close military encounters between Russia and NATO. Nevertheless, experts and diplomats have concluded that the mere fact of Russia and NATO sitting at the negotiating table again was a positive sign and a breakthrough per se.

The Dutch court decision to overturn an arbitral ruling ordering Russia to pay $50 billion to shareholders of the defunct oil company Yukos has also garnered attention in the western media. A number of authors say it is a significant victory for Russia given the country’s withered economy and a series of attempts by the shareholders to enforce the award by seizing Russian state assets in western countries. Moreover, some experts claim that Putin has a personal grudge against the Yukos case since it is connected with one of his key decisions after he came to power in 2000. Moscow has already voiced its pleasure over the ruling on Wednesday pointing out that the previous verdict failed to take into consideration the key principles of international law and saying it is ready to prove Yukos’ engagement in tax fraud in every court and every jurisdiction.

Syrian conflict

Russia Moves Artillery to Northern Syria, U.S. Officials Say

By Adam Entous and Gordon Lubold

The Wall Street Journal


Russia has been moving artillery units to areas of northern Syria where government forces have massed, raising U.S. concern the two allies may be preparing for a return to full-scale fighting as the current cease-fire falters, U.S. officials said

Moscow’s Playbook in Syria

By Andrew J. Tabler

Foreign Affairs


Washington is moving closer to Moscow’s position on Syria, including on drafting a constitution that would allow Assad to remain in power during a “transition.” And if Putin has his way—either at the negotiating table or on the battlefield—Assad will stay in power for years to come.

To Putin or to Pout

By Hisham Melhem



Putin stormed Syria, and like the ancient invaders from the East he scorched the earth, and bled everything standing; men, women, trees and stones. Only the sword will finish the regime in Damascus, or will force it to seek a negotiated outcome that will lead to its political demise. No serious Syrian or outside observer believes that the Obama administration will end its timidity regarding Russian-Iranian-Assad machinations in Syria.

Russia-NATO summit

Nato-Russia Council talks fail to iron out differences

By Julian Borger

The Guardian


Nato and Russian officials held the first meeting for nearly two years of a joint council on Wednesday but failed to make any apparent progress in resolving increasingly dangerous military tensions.

Russia And NATO Meet: Time For Allies To Call Off Mini-Cold War With Moscow

By Doug Bandow



The issue of Moscow’s relations with the West really doesn’t belong with NATO. Only political decisions in the respective capitals can significantly improve ties. And that won’t happen without a reassessment of everyone’s respective national interests. Everyone would benefit from ending the current impasse.

Russia-US relations

Russian jets keep buzzing U.S. ships and planes. What can the U.S. do?

By Ryan Browne and Jim Sciutto



Two separate close encounters between the Russian and U.S. militaries in recent days have left many wondering if future incidents could result in an armed clash.

Russia’s status in the world arena

Thinking the Unthinkable: Russia Has Re-Emerged As a Great Power

By Jonathan Adelman

The Huffington Post


The unthinkable has become a reality. Russia, seemingly finished after its defeat in the Cold War, now is emerging as a prospective great power challenging the West. Russia has done the unthinkable—become a great power filling the void left by other former great powers that have now shrunk in size, power and influence.

Oil prices

Saudi Prince Sets Back Putin’s Middle East Agenda At Doha

By Jeremy Maxie



Russia and Saudi Arabia chose to risk the financial loss and stick to their positions, because the breakdown in Doha talks was over geopolitics, not differences over oil market management.

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Why Do Neo–Cold Warriors Want Another Proxy Fight With Russia?

By Pietro A. Shakarian

The Nation


The recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a case study in how anti-Putin rhetoric obscures what is really going on. The reality is simply that Russian and American interests on global security do overlap, not only in Syria or Iran, but also in Nagorno-Karabakh. No amount of lobbying or “caviar diplomacy” from Ankara or Baku can change that.

Russia senses opportunity in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

By Jack Farchy

The Financial Times


Analysts and diplomats say Moscow’s move to act as peace broker could allow it to increase its already substantial influence in an energy-rich region that is a key focus of EU plans to diversify gas supplies from Russia.

Yukos case

Why a Win in a Dutch Court Is Making Vladimir Putin So Happy

By Simon Shuster

The Time


The stakes were high. If the court had ruled against the Kremlin, bailiffs would be able to continue seizing Russian state property, from real estate and bank accounts to works of art, as part of a global hunt to collect the damages. But for Putin, this saga is about much more than money. The Yukos affair is a personal grudge, one that began soon after he came to power in 2000.

Russia’s Pivot to Asia

Why Did Russia’s Pivot to Asia Fail?

By Catherine Putz

The Diplomat


Russia’s pivot to Asia will continue to underperform as long as the Russian economy is withered and its relations with Europe tense. That said, Russia and China share a number of strategic interests and the failure of this pivot doesn’t necessarily undermine the political sympathy Beijing has for Moscow.

Russia’s political system

The Putin myth: the Russian leader isn’t nearly as powerful as you think

By Mark Galeotti



Putin is indeed the “decider” who has the final word on every major policy issue. He can make or break any minister. He can start a war or end one. Yet for all that, if we think that he can and does control everything Russia does at home and abroad, we dramatically misunderstand how the country really works.

Savchenko case

Trial And Error: Putin’s Savchenko Slip-Up

By Adrian Bonenberger



Whatever his intentions were with the trial of Nadiya Savchenko, the verdict is in: Putin slipped up. When a choice has to be made about Ukraine, one can expect more and worse miscalculations from the Russian leader. This, more than anything, should give the people of Ukraine hope: Savchenko’s sentence means, on a broader level, that Ukraine itself stands a much better chance of pulling through its Russian ordeal stronger and more unified.

Russian propaganda

Putin’s Propaganda Machine Is Meddling With European Elections

By Arne Delfs, Henry Meyer



German officials say the controversy – known as the “Lisa Affair” – was ginned up by President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine to undermine Merkel in the run up to last month’s regional elections, which resulted in stinging losses for her party. The worry now in Berlin, Brussels and beyond is that with Britain poised for a historic referendum on European Union membership and national votes in France and Germany next year, Putin will intensify efforts to divide the 28-member bloc.

George Friedman: Russia is winning the internet

By George Friedman

Business Insider


The encounter in the Baltic Sea was primarily a propaganda ploy that by itself had minimal significance. The US reaction made it seem more significant than it was. The Russians, in turn, tried to magnify its importance by spreading the claim—making Russia appear more militarily imposing than it is. Reality is tenuous on the internet… particularly on Twitter. Managing the internet effectively has the potential to alter perceptions. All countries and corporations use the internet this way, but the Russians are masters of the craft.

Articles also deserving your attention

  1. Foreign Affairs may/june 2016 issue (Volume 95, Number 3) with a series of interesting articles on Russia

  2. Russia Bolsters Its Submarine Fleet, and Tensions With U.S. Rise (20.04.16)

  3. Lawmakers look to get tough on Russia (24.04.16)

  1. The Defense Department made a big gaffe that helps Putin and Assad in Syria (23.04.15)

  2. Russia Pursues Ties With Kurds to Keep Foothold in Region (21.04.16)

  1. Russian Military Buildup Near Aleppo, Syria, Threatens Truce, Kerry Warns (22.04.16)

  1. Commentary: Why Vladimir Putin should rein in his ‘Top Guns’ (21.04.16)

  1. NATO, Russia meeting fails to bridge differences (20.04.16)

  2. Proxy wars and provocations: relations between Russia and the US are chilling (23.04.16)

  1. Revival of diplomacy? Ukraine, Russia make progress on prisoner swap (20.04.16)

  2. Russia’s ‘cold turkey’ approach highlights global divide over drug treatment at UN (18.04.16)

  3. Trump’s Putin Fantasy (19.04.16)

  1. Analysts: Russia Plays Double Game in Afghanistan (18.04.16)

  2. Gay clubbing and stoic activism in Russia’s homophobic heartland (20.04.16)

  1. Fool me once (23.04.16)

  2. Dutch Treat: Russia Dodges a Bullet in the $50 Billion Yukos Case — For Now (20.04.16)

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