Press review: Syria's warring sides back Russia's plan and Finland says ‘no’ to NATO

Izvestia: Syrian sides back Russia’s proposal to set up de-escalation zones

Syrian opposition forces are ready to implement Russia’s proposal on establishing four zones for reducing tensions. Most armed opposition groups have already agreed to take part in creating these territories, the leadership of Syria’s opposition delegation, which is heading to Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana for a new round of talks on Wednesday, told Izvestia. Russian armed forces should control the zones, the Syrian parliament said. However, Damascus has refused to accept the participation of UN forces.

High Negotiations Committee (HNC) spokesman Riyad Nassan Agha told the paper that Russia’s proposal deserves attention. "If the international community adheres to a constructive stance, this will enable the establishment of a ceasefire and ensure the return of Syrians back home. At the same time, as Russia acts as a guarantor of the ceasefire, we would like it to show more responsibility in Syria's political transition," he said.

Moscow’s proposal may reduce tensions in Syria and this would be beneficial for all the sides involved in the conflict, the paper writes.

"Russia’s initiative is very important and Syria needs it. Without separating the warring parties it is almost impossible to do this. Moscow has put forward a real option, which can reduce the level of violence in Syria," said Elena Suponina, adviser to the Director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies.

The proposed special zones would be established along the borders of the designated territories to avoid direct confrontation between the conflicting sides. Russia suggests creating checkpoints for free passage of civilians and delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Izvestia: Finland says ‘no’ to joining NATO, doesn’t view Russia as ‘threat’

Helsinki is not going to give up its off-bloc status, a Finnish Defense Ministry representative told Izvestia. Only close to 30% of the county's citizens support Finland’s accession to NATO. Helsinki does not feel that Russia poses a threat to the country’s national security. However, experts say that the West will nevertheless try to twist Finland's arm into joining the North Atlantic alliance.

Juha Martelius, Special Adviser to Finland’s Ministry of Defense, told the paper that the country has never considered any plans to join the military and political bloc. “Some 25-30% of citizens - just that much - support the idea of joining NATO.

Finland has a 1,340-km border with Russia and this factor plays a crucial role for NATO.

“Through NATO’s enlargement, the US continues to tighten a noose around Russia, stationing its military bases and forming positions in strategic areas. Finland’s leadership is aware that after joining NATO the country’s territory will be subjected to serious and large-scale infrastructure changes, which the alliance will start carrying out. Finland is one of few countries, which understands objectively that the deployed bases are a potential target for strikes, in military terms,” said Franz Klintsevich, First Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house) Defense Committee.

However, the recent accession of Montenegro to the alliance shows that NATO officials are indifferent to the opinion of the citizenry, most of whom opposed the move. Therefore, it should not be expected that anti-NATO sentiment in Finnish society could serve as a 100% obstacle for the country’s accession to the alliance, the paper says. In the future, the US may crank up pressure on Helsinki to add another country bordering Russia to NATO, Izvestia writes.

Kommersant: Erdogan to meet Putin in Sochi seeking to balance opportunities

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to arrive in Russia’s Black Sea resort city of Sochi on Wednesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This will be the second meeting between Putin and Erdogan over the past two months, Kommersant writes. After the crisis in bilateral relations over the downed Su-24 fighter jet ended, Erdogan is one of the leaders, with whom Putin has the most intense contacts.

Despite the intense dialogue, the talks are unlikely to be easy, the paper writes. Ankara has resumed its demands that Syrian President Bashar Assad must go. The Turkish president also accused Damascus of last month’s alleged chemical attack in the Idlib Governorate and backed the US missile strike on the Shayrat airbase in the Homs Governorate, which Moscow condemned.  It is also noteworthy that shortly after his visit to Sochi, Erdogan will go to the United States for talks with US President Donald Trump.

Another sign that bilateral relations are unstable is Ankara’s “demarche” in late March when Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned Russia’s Charge d’Affairs Sergey Panov, the paper says. The scandal emerged after Turkish mass media outlets published photos taken in northern Syria picturing Russian military alongside fighters from Kurdish units. Although Russia’s Defense Ministry refuted the allegations that Russian instructors supported Kurdish self-defense forces, the Turkish media accused Russia of “supporting terrorists” and Turkey’s Foreign Ministry demanded that Moscow should shut down a Syrian Kurdish representative office.

Turkish experts interviewed by Kommersant say that Erdogan will try to continue balancing between Moscow and Washington while promoting his own agenda.  “Ankara views the conflict in Syria through the lens of the Kurdish issue, so this predetermines Erdogan’s position. He will try to focus on ensuring Turkey’s integrity and security of its borders,” a professor at the Ankara-based TOBB University of Economics and Technology, Togrul Ismail, said.

Kerim Has of the International Strategic Research Organization shares this viewpoint as well. “The war in Syria and Iraq will become a major issue of negotiations. If Russia and the US continue cooperating with the Kurds, this will create a great risk for Ankara,” he said.

Vedomosti: Putin, Merkel discuss pressing issues in Sochi, without any breakthroughs

Ukraine and Syria were the focus of discussions during Tuesday’s meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Vedomosti writes. The last time Merkel visited Russia two years ago.

The German Chancellor stressed that the priority is Kiev’s access to its borders and holding elections after this, but first a ceasefire should be ensured, before resolving the issue of the status of the eastern Ukrainian territories. Putin insisted that Kiev itself is isolating the country’s east. Both leaders agreed that there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements and they won’t be replaced by any other deals. The Russian president noted that the format has already produced some results.

Merkel admitted that the Minsk deal sometimes falls flat, but noted that there is no better alternative to this format.

Not as much attention was paid to the conflict in Syria by the leaders, Vedomosti writes. Merkel stressed that she discussed the issues of freedom of speech and demonstrations as well as the civil rights of religious and sexual minorities in Russia.

The German Chancellor is currently gearing up for the G20 summit in Hamburg set for July and her goal is to visit as many member-states as possible, several sources on the sidelines of the meeting said. Therefore, no one had expected any breakthroughs.

Merkel’s visit pursued two goals – playing the cards in Germany and Europe, said Stefan Meister, who heads the Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “It is important for Merkel to show Germany that she is trying to reach an agreement with Putin and is working on relations with Russia.”

In his turn, Putin arranged the meeting with Merkel in Sochi a day before his talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan there. Both leaders reached their own goals while realizing that they cannot expect anything more, Meister said. Merkel understands that Putin is satisfied with the current situation in Ukraine and he wants to discuss Syria with US President Donald Trump rather than with her, the expert explained. For both of them, it is important to show that it is up to them to run the show, and there aren’t any conditions for a compromise on key issues now, he said.

Kommersant: Russia to impose flight restrictions during FIFA Confederations Cup

During the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup, Russian authorities may impose tight restrictions on flights by small commercial aircraft and helicopters, Kommersant writes. There are plans to introduce a 110-km radius zone on June 1-July 4 where flights will be limited around Russian cities hosting the tournament, namely Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi.

However, the Interregional Public Organization of Pilots and Owners of Aircraft (AOPA-Russia) has sent letters to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Presidential Aide Igor Levitin asking them to suspend the introduction of these measures. The organization’s head Vladimir Tyurin said the restrictions were “inadvisable and senseless” and would deal a blow to the sector in addition to also hampering any potential search and rescue works. The overall damage due to the measures is assessed at 2 bln rubles ($35 mln), according to the organization.

Kommersant writes that the ban on flights was initiated by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Federation Protective Service (FSO). AOPA-Russia says the restrictions will suspend the work of 156 helicopter aerodromes and 42 airfields, and halt 25,000 flights, including those aimed at monitoring wildfires and conducting search efforts.

Tyurin has called on the authorities to drop the total ban and opt for using “civilized measures of heightened control over flights and ensuring security.” The Transport Ministry’s press service said the planned restrictions wouldn’t affect international and domestic flights from major airports in those cities. It is unlikely that a compromise will be reached, Executive Director of Aviaport information portal Oleg Panteleyev told the paper.