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

Russia Enters New Era of Stagnation

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. The West appears certain the Assad regime is to blame, while Russia argues that the rebels seeking to trigger US intervention on their side may be responsible . Russia claims it has filed a 100-page report with the UN detailing the use of deadly sarin gas by rebel forces in Aleppo last March, but the US has been blocking investigation into the case. “We have information that the tragic incident on Aug. 21, where chemical weapons were used according to confirmed reports, involved sarin of the same origin as the chemical toxin fired on March 19 [in Aleppo], although it was far stronger. We have submitted these findings to our US partners and to the UN Secretariat,” Lavrov told Russian news agencies last week. Speaking to Kommersant, Lavrov said Russia will continue to investigate the matter on its own and submit its findings to the UN, because it fears that such “rebel provocations” aimed at derailing the peace process are likely to continue. “The US is still blocking investigation of the March chemical attack in Aleppo, and Washington continues to deny that the opposition has access to chemical weapons and has used them,” says Markov.

Russia urges Syrian president to meet with moderate rebels

I do not rule out that the armed opposition, if it does not stand for extremist or terrorist views, could very well be represented, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters. By the way, this is something that President Assad has said as well. World powers agreed last month to schedule the first direct negotiations between Assads regime and the rebels in Geneva in mid-November. The so-called Geneva 2 talks follow a failed round of negotiations between world powers over the crisis in the same city in June 2012. Russia has backed Assads government throughout the 30-month conflict and is the chief architect of a Syrian chemical weapons disarmament plan that was backed by the United Nations Security Council following the August 21 nerve agent attack near Damascus. This years Geneva meeting has been repeatedly delayed because of disagreements between Moscow and the West about who should be party to the talks. Lavrov stressed that it was up to Western and Arab governments to make sure that representatives of the armed opposition agreed to attend the Geneva meeting despite growing differences among their ranks. But he questioned whether the West could manage to do this by November. Until recently, we expected our Western partners, who committed themselves to bring the opposition to the conference, that they would be able to do this fairly quickly, Lavrov said. But they did not manage to do it quickly. I do not know if they will manage to do it by the middle of November. [Image via Agence France-Presse]

“Output growth is supported almost exclusively by large investment projects financed by the government and state-owned companies, salary raises in the public sector, an expansion of subsidies to agriculture and other sectors fueled by the high oil price,” Medvedev wrote. 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.

Ex-Miss Russia’s NY Drug Case Dropped After Rehab

“I’ve learned my lesson,” said Anna Malova as she left a Manhattan court, wearing a black suit, black stockings and spiked-heel ankle boots. “I look at the world with clear eyes.” Malova, who finished in the top 10 in the 1998 Miss Universe pageant, was accused of stealing prescription pads from doctors, writing herself prescriptions for pain and anti-anxiety drugs, and filling or trying to fill them at pharmacies 14 times, sometimes even after initial arrests in February 2010 and May 2010. Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Richard Weinberg on Tuesday dropped all those charges, plus a clothing-store shoplifting case. Malova’s lawyer said the theft also stemmed from drug addiction. The city special narcotics prosecutor’s office wanted Malova’s treatment extended another three months. But the judge decided Malova had met requirements to get the charges dismissed by going through rehabilitation. “You can be very proud of yourself in getting your life back,” Weinberg said but warned: “If you find yourself failing, you’ll be back before me.” Malova, 42, went into inpatient drug rehabilitation in June 2011, in a process courts call “diversion” to treatment. She was initially supposed to be there for about a year. But she was jailed for about a month in late 2011 after authorities said she caused problems at the rehab center. Then she got into trouble again in March 2012, when prosecutors said she had been hoarding pills to try to get high while in treatment. Her lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, has said those problems stemmed from Malova’s drug dependency. In arguing Tuesday that she needed more time in treatment, prosecutors noted that she still takes an anti-anxiety drug and doesn’t have a job, normally a requirement for completing a rehab program. Gottlieb said doctors have prescribed the medication for her, and she is volunteering at a music company. The publicity surrounding her case, she said, has made it difficult to find a paying job.