Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, June 18

© Alex StefflerRussian Press - Behind the Headlines, June 18
Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, June 18 - Sputnik International
Parnas Becomes Legal by Merging with Republican Party / Russia Deploys Navy, Air Force to Defend Syrian Naval Base / Helicopters to Be Allowed over Moscow

Moskovsky Komsomolets
Parnas Becomes Legal by Merging with Republican Party

The rumor that the People's Freedom Party (Parnas) will get legal status by joining Vladimir Ryzhkov’s Republican Party of Russia (RPR) appeared after the RPR regained its official registration status. This rumor has now been confirmed at the first convention of the merged party. Moskovsky Komsomolets has obtained a copy of the main liberal opposition party’s program and the list of its potential new members.

The new party’s acronym, RPR-Parnas, may be a bit clumsy but at least it didn’t provoke a dispute. Sources in the merged party said that the old RPR members, many of whom have been advocating liberal ideas since the 1990s, had second thoughts about the merger. Proud of their turbulent political past, they were unwilling to add anything to the legendary political brand, the RPR.

The RPR was established in 1990 and formed part of various parliamentary blocs and coalitions several times, until it was pushed off the official political stage in 2007. Vladimir Ryzhkov joined forces with Mikhail Kasyanov (People's Democratic Union) and Boris Nemtsov (Solidarity), forming the liberal alliance, Parnas. However, Parnas has been denied legal registration status and so when the RPR regained its legal status by decision of the International Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, Parnas saw a sure way to bypass the bureaucratic snares – a merger with the RPR. The Ministry of Justice will soon re-register the two parties under the new name.

During its Saturday convention, the merged party adopted a new political declaration, which highlights early presidential and parliamentary elections and a reform of the Constitution to prevent the usurpation of power. In particular, RPR-Parnas will insist on stripping the president of the right to form a government.

“We are advocating a change in government authority, but only within the framework of the Constitution,” Kasyanov told MK. “Being a responsible opposition party, we plan to hold talks with the authorities on the freedom of political activity and early elections.”

Ryzhkov said at the convention that the institution of co-chairs is an effective and reliable method of consolidation and cooperation. The new party has three co-chairs – Ryzhkov, Nemtsov and Kasyanov, and its political council will have 45 members, including Ilya Yashin (a Solidarity leader), Valentina Melnikova (chair, Committee of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia) and politician Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.

RPR-Parnas hopes it will form the core of unification for the other liberal forces. The co-chairs said they would be happy if Yabloko joined the merged party, but are only discussing cooperation so far. The merged party’s political declaration is similar to the manifesto of the recent March of Millions. Despite the difficulties and differences, the liberal opposition has provided an example of constructive party policy for the other parties and movements that attended the protest rallies at Bolotnaya Square.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta
Russia Deploys Navy, Air Force to Defend Syrian Naval Base

The Russian Air Force is prepared to provide air support for Russian warships bound for Syria. The ships stand ready to set sail, a Defense Ministry source told reporters.

On Sunday, the ministry strongly denied certain U.S. media reports that one of the Black Sea Fleet ships was already on the way to the Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria.

UN military observers announced late last week that their mission in Syria was completed. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed this with international mediator Kofi Annan on Saturday. Since Russia is insisting on the unacceptability of armed interference in the internal conflict and calling for an international conference, its warships’ role in Syria will be to protect and evacuate Russian citizens and possibly defend the naval base if tensions escalate.

Officially, Tartus is referred to as a material resource base. In reality, this base, equipped with floating docks, warehouses, barracks and other facilities, is of crucial strategic importance to Russia. It can provide resources and maintenance to warships performing tasks in the Middle East, the Atlantic, along the African coast, the Persian Gulf and other regions. It is close to the Suez Canal and only 16 miles from the Lebanese border.

A Russian naval task force led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier visited Tartus in January 2012 while on a training mission in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The guided missile destroyer Smetlivy patrolled Syrian shores in April and May. It also visited the port of Tartus to replenish water supplies and reinforce the base’s contingent with marines.

“Russia’s military presence in Syrian waters is indispensable,” said Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems. “It would be good if China, India, Iran and other countries interested in monitoring the military conflict in Syria were to deploy their warships at Tartus, to prevent any unsanctioned action by NATO and the United States.” Russia’s military presence in the region should be balanced with a consistent foreign policy aimed at peace and stabilization in Syria, he added.

“Russian leadership has made many mistakes in the post-Soviet era,” said military expert Vladimir Popov, Doctor of History. “We vacated the naval base in Vietnam. We left Cuba and Yugoslavia and lost the military airport in Pristina. We failed to support the Gaddafi regime in Libya and lost the military base in Tripoli. We should at least try to keep Tartus,” he said.

According to Defense Ministry sources, no military operations are actually planned in Syria. Russia’s policy is non-interference in the internal conflict and political and diplomatic efforts for a settlement. At the same time, Russia cannot rule out the possibility of its warships performing peacekeeping missions as part of UN forces. The ministry is “determined to maintain and develop active military and military-technical cooperation with Syria’s legitimate government, aimed at repelling any external aggression against Syria while supporting Moscow’s geopolitical interests in the region,” a source said.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta
Helicopters to Be Allowed over Moscow

Flights above the Moskva River may be allowed, the Ministry of Transport told Rossiiskaya Gazeta, although it declined to name the exact date when it might start.

“A small adjustment to the radar system will be required for low altitude flights over Moscow,” Deputy Transport Minister Valery Okulov explained. “A few years ago the security services were categorically against flying over the capital within the Moscow Ring Road. Now they don’t object. The new flight route will most likely be used by helicopter services. Following test flights we expect to get approval for air services along this route.”

Okulov also said that not all carriers will be given clearance for such flights. He said: “The government team is likely to be given such a right. The first candidates for helicopters will be those who generally use flashing lights on their cars, and that will be an improvement.”

Alexander Neradko, head of the Federal Agency for Air Transport (Rosaviatsia), sees no problem with flights over Moscow. But he notes that many Muscovites are unlikely to welcome loud aircraft like helicopters flying over their apartment buildings. “We need to carefully consider the decision to allow helicopter services along the river. Perhaps we should conduct a survey,” he suggested.

As a matter of fact, Rossiiskaya Gazeta has already conducted one. The results on its official website show a split opinion. Forty percent of the respondents said they have nothing against flights over Moscow. Just as many are against the idea. The rest agreed but with one condition, that night-time flying be banned.

Meanwhile, the city’s air transport services are growing by 20 percent a year. So the question of who is at the controls is now more important than permitting flights over the capital. Local carriers are trying to meet a shortage of flying personnel themselves:  they have cut their pilots’ vacations, and have relieved the third pilot on long-distance routes. Some experts consider this an unacceptable approach.

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