Putin Allows Foreigners to Join Army for International Missions


Moscow – Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an amendment to the military service law that allows foreigners to serve in the Russian army.

The foreigners, serving on a contractual basis, would be allowed to take part in international security missions, said the RBK newspaper.

The daily said that the amendment does not indicate if the fighters would be engaged in missions on Russian territory, meaning that they would be contracted for foreign assignments.

Observers said that Putin’s decision primarily stemmed from the developments in Syria.

A source in Moscow said on condition of anonymity: “The current amendments are aimed at bolstering the Russian military presence in Syria and other regions in the future if the need arises.”

The measure also avoids the deployment of large numbers of Russian troops for fear of a large number of casualties in their ranks in combat missions, it explained.

RBK reported that Russian contractual military personnel are currently deployed in Russia, but the Defense Ministry did not reveal any information about the deployment of foreigners in the war-torn country.

In a related development, the Russian spy Yantar ship sailed to the eastern Mediterranean after crossing the Black Sea straits, reported Turkish sites that monitor the passage of vessels through the Bosphorus strait. It was said that the ship was headed to Victoria Port, but observers stated that that is just a ploy to cover its actual destination.

In 2015, US forces detected the Yantar while marines were carrying out drills at Kings Bay base. The Pentagon said at the time that the vessel was on a spying mission through the use of submersibles.

Russia has meanwhile not yet commented on the Turkish military operation in Syria’s Idlib province even though Turkish officials have stressed that Ankara is coordinating its operations with Moscow.

An informed source in Moscow described Russia’s silence over the issue as “strange.”

Anton Mardasov of the Russian International Affairs Council told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The official authorities do not know how to explain this issue to the public after they had previously said that Russia would counter any foreign force on Syrian territory.”

A Must-Have Man

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Red Square, Moscow, Russia with St. Basil’s in the background.

In Moscow, you cannot miss visiting the Red Square. It will be a coincidence if you go there in October. This month marks the centennial anniversary of the “October Revolution”, which shook the last century and the world. The orchestrator of that revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, is still lying there. If you happen to be there on the seventh of the month, you must remember that the Master of the Kremlin is turning 65 on that day. One can say that a part of history meets at this specific moment.

Lenin’s tomb is only hundreds of meters away from Vladimir Putin’s office on the other side of the square. Lenin certainly believed that Russia would live under the “comrades” party forever. Great victors have this habitude. They imagine that their successes are capable of fighting time and that their ideas cannot be killed or assassinated.

The mighty do not learn that history is addicted to destroying convoys. Perhaps it did not occur to Lenin that those who had grown up under his cloak would one day repress his victories through their indolence and obstinacy.

The clock does not turn back. Putin originally emerged from the Lenin party and from the ingenuity of the KGB. But Putin’s Russia keeps the vestige of the founding father only in his shrine.

The current Russian president has words that reflect the cruelty of the fate of the October Revolution. He sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century.” He even stated more expressive words: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.”

Before I go to the Square, I asked a Russian academic, joking: “Who will be the next president following the upcoming March elections?”

“We both know the answer”, he replied, smiling.

He meant that there was no president except The President. When I asked for an explanation, he said: “Russia cannot live without a strong state and a strong leader. It is the size of a continent and consists of 83 federal entities and includes 160 ethnic groups that speak about 100 languages. It includes Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and areas of fluctuating growth. It neighbors 14 countries. Only a strong man can convince this wondrous mixture to co-exist or force them when needed.”

He continues: “At historical turning points, a strong man appears armed with will and vision. He advances, and everyone believes that the country has summoned him to stop its slide towards suicide. This is what happened with Putin.

The Russian Federation was on the brink of disintegration when he entered the Kremlin at the beginning of this century. He managed to speak to the ordinary Russian people and to repress all those who were preparing to leave or blow up the train. He restored the Russian sense of dignity. Russia was re-instated as a major international player. Look at Syria, where the Russian solution is the only proposed solution.”

Russia got tired of the indolence of the Communist Party’s cardinals. Then it feared the mess of Yeltsin era. Moscow has receded and the lost provinces were preparing to fight for the legacy. A man was waiting the day he will enter the Palace and History. At the right moment, he struck.

Perhaps Lenin imagined that he would run the country from his tomb after his death. This did not happen. The master of the palace does not listen to the late man’s advice. He only defended him when many called for removing his body from his symbolic stronghold off the Kremlin and laying him to rest next to his mother, like any ordinary citizen sliding into oblivion.

It is a different Russia, which is ruled by Putin today. In the Red Square, I remembered that Asharq al-Awsat has sent me to this land in 1992, one year after the fall of the Soviet Union. I went to Arbat Pedestrian Street. Suddenly I heard a Russian man shouting loudly. I asked my colleague, Sami Amara, what he was saying. He replied: “He says that the uniform of the colonel is on sale for $25 with its decorations. I approached a pile of uniforms of the Red Army officers for sale in a humiliating sight for that old army and its majestic country.”

When I returned to London, I wrote about the sick Russia under Boris Yeltsin, the colonel uniform on sale for $25, and Lenin, who is left to tourists.

Vladimir Putin was close to the Berlin Wall when it collapsed. He saw scenes of humiliation in the streets of Russia. He made his decision and made his way. He made his story and changed the fate of his country.

At first sight, Russia seemed far away, groaning under the snow and longing for its Soviet clothes. Putin launched his war. He reformed the Red Army’s spirit, budget and arsenal. He domesticated the governors of the provinces and barons, who came to the country with their wealth from Soviet rubble. He sought a truce with the West until he gathered his strength. He responded to NATO’s drawing near his country’s borders and began settling his scores. He took advantage of Barack Obama’s hesitation and struck. He intervened militarily in Syria and rescued the regime “whose fall was likely within two months.” And here is the Russian solution ahead of everything else.

The Syria crisis was his chance to respond to what he considered to be Western “treason” in Libya… his opportunity to avenge the colorful revolutions and human rights organizations… his golden opportunity to strike Islamists away from Russian soil… and his chance to remind that Russia is a mandatory and crucial partner.

There is a weakness that the tsar failed to conceal. The decline in oil prices revealed that his era did not achieve the desired economic progress. His country’s economy is still lingering far behind European economies. The US and European sanctions have doubled the sufferings. His hopes for an opportunity to forge a deal with the arrival of Donald Trump have evaporated. This is why the regime today is looking for partners and investors.

At the hotel, I asked the young man who brought the coffee for his favorite candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. “It is Putin because he is strong; whether you like it or not, he is a must-have man. He gives you a feeling of reassurance. We do not want chaos back.”

It is not simple that the exercise of power does not drain the balance of the president-leader. It is not simple that the majority feels that he is a guarantee… that he was able to sail in the midst of storms… It is not simple that the academic, businessman and hotel worker are convinced that a man who changed the fate of his country is a must-have man. While destiny makes most of men, some men make their own destinies.

Saudi King Salman Returns to Riyadh after Successful Russia Trip


Moscow, Riyadh – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz returned to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, concluding a successful trip to Russia where he met President Vladimir Putin and senior officials.

He stressed the importance of the talks with the Russian president, sending him a cable on Sunday in which he thanked him for the warm reception.

“I leave your friendly country by offering my greatest gratitude for the reception the accompanying delegation and I received.”

“The joint talks we held confirm the determination to go ahead and bolster ties between our countries in all fields,” added King Salman.

It confirms a determination to continue coordination and consultations on issues of joint interest in a manner that serves the interest of both friendly nations and peoples and international security and peace, stressed the monarch in his cable.

He also hoped that the Russian people will witness continued prosperity and growth.

Talks between King Salman and Russian officials addressed bilateral ties and strengthening cooperation between Riyadh and Moscow.

The historic trip was crowned with the signing of agreements and Memorandums of Understanding worth billions of dollars. The deals cover the technology, military cooperation, space, trade, communication, investment and cultural sectors.

Saudi King Salman Departs Russia, Thanks Putin for Warm Welcome


Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz concluded on Sunday his official visit to Russia, thanking in a cable President Vladimir Putin for the warm reception, reported the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

He said: “I leave your friendly country by offering my greatest gratitude for the reception the accompanying delegation and I received.”

“The joint talks we held confirm the determination to go ahead and bolster ties between our countries in all fields,” he added.

It confirms a determination to continue coordination and consultations on issues of joint interest in a manner that serves the interest of both friendly nations and peoples and international security and peace, stressed the monarch in his cable.

He also hoped that the Russian people will witness continued prosperity and growth.

Saudi-Russian Military Deals including Air Defense, Anti-Tank Missiles


Moscow — In the framework of boosting the Saudi military capabilities and rehabilitating them with the strongest and latest weapons produced by the world’s major countries, military agreements were signed between Saudi Arabia and Russia during King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit to Moscow.

The deals are a culmination of the efforts exerted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, who visited Moscow in 2015 and met with Russian defense minister.

The visit back then was concluded with signing a number of deals, including the activation of the joint committee for military cooperation, based on the discussions of the Saudi-Russian teams to identify aspects of cooperation in the military field.

This follows a number of agreements and the activation of the joint committee for military cooperation and the supply of these specific weapons and their commitment to the localization of technology and manufacturing of these advanced systems.

Moving from an importer of military systems to a factory by holding joint projects with the best international talent and expertise.

The deals included buying S-400 air defense system that works within five minutes to counter air targets, whether they were air crafts or ballistic missiles.

The agreement was announced on Thursday as Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted King Salman for talks at the Kremlin.

Along with the S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, Saudi Arabia is also set to buy Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems and multiple rocket launchers under the deal.

The parties will also cooperate in setting a plan to localize the manufacturing and sustainment of parts of the S-400 air defense system.

The two countries also agreed on the production in Saudi Arabia of the Kalashnikov automatic rifle and its ammunition as well as educational and training programs for Saudi nationals.

They signed an agreement to procure the TOS-1A, the AGS-30, and the Kalashnikov AK-103.

These agreements are expected to have tangible economic contributions and create hundreds of direct jobs.

It will also transfer cutting-edge technologies that will act as a catalyst for localizing 50 percent of the Kingdom’s military spending as targeted by Vision 2030, which was launched by the Saudi Crown Prince.

Moscow Welcomes Saudi King, Describes Visit As ‘Most Important Event’

Saudi Arabia's King Salman arrives at Vnukovo airport outside Moscow

Moscow, Riyadh- Official and popular Russian circles applauded the historic visit by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to Moscow upon an official invitation by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Adel al-Jubeir said after talks with Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of the State Duma, that King Salman and Putin would sign a package of bilateral agreements of great importance.

He described the visit of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – the first visit of a Saudi king to Russia – as a historic event, stressing that it would contribute to the development of relations between the two countries in various fields.

Matviyenko expressed her hope that King Salman’s visit would be successful and fruitful, and would give a strong impetus to the development of bilateral relations.

She also expressed her gratitude to the Saudi foreign minister for his cooperation with Moscow, especially with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

“We are well aware that the development of cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia serves not only our common interests but also stability in the region because Saudi Arabia is one of the most influential countries in the Middle East and the whole world,” she stated.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov welcomed King Salman’s visit, posting on his Instagram account: “Welcome to Russia.”

“We warmly welcome King Salman and we hope that his visit would contribute to strengthening economic, political, cultural and religious relations between our countries,” he stated.

Alexey Gremov, director of the Energy Department at the Institute for Energy and Finance, described the Saudi King’s visit to Russia as a “very important event”, stressing that discussions over oil-related issues between Russian and OPEC countries came following several visits by Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih.

Saudi King Salman Heads to Russia for Official Visit


Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz traveled to Russia on Wednesday on an official visit, reported the Saudi Press Agency.

The monarch will hold talks there with Russian President Vladimir Putin and a number of senior officials.

They will focus on bilateral ties and ways to bolster them.

Later on Wednesday, King Salman issued a royal decree appointing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as deputy Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques during his time abroad, said SPA.

Wide-ranging Russian Preparations to Receive Saudi King Salman


Moscow – Preparations for the upcoming landmark visit by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Russia are ongoing in Moscow.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks on Thursday with King Salman, who will be on a state visit to Russia,” the Kremlin said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Kremlin is planning to discuss Russian-Saudi relations cooperation. Both Putin and King Salman will discuss joint steps to strengthen bilateral cooperation in trade-economic, investment, cultural and humanitarian fields.

Talks are expected to witness extensive exchange of views on international issues, the Kremlin added.
Specific attention will be given to issues evolving in the Middle East and North Africa, with a focus on settling regional conflicts.

Authorities in Russia and Saudi Arabia are showing political will to foster bilateral economic ties, and their potential is yet to be fulfilled, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.

The presidential spokesman stressed that Russia has long-running ties with Saudi Arabia, which Moscow values. “There are very broad prospects, and the potential is far from being fulfilled. Now both sides are showing political will to contribute to developing business contacts,” he said.

Peskov refused to link developing relations with Saudi Arabia to Russian-Iranian ties. “The relations between Moscow and Riyadh are absolutely self-sufficient and in this case there is no need to draw any parallels, this is a separate vector of our foreign policy, given the important role of Saudi Arabia in the region and in the Arab world in general,” he said.

Media and research circles in Russia have turned a great deal of attention to King Salman’s visit and anticipated talks with Putin, in view of the important position that Saudi Arabia occupies in the Arab world and among Islamic nations.

Speaking on issues of contrast, Deputy head of the North Africa department at the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry Oleg Ozerov said that although the two states may differ on many topics in the Middle East, namely the Syrian crisis, Moscow and Riyadh are willing to work through matters of conflict.

When it comes to the larger picture, both Saudi Arabia and Russia are willing to set aside their differences for the greater good, said Ozerov.

Meanwhile, head of the media center for Arab-Russian studies Dr. Majed Al-Turki said that the Russians and Saudis both agree that a peaceful solution for the Syrian crisis is the only way to resolve the conflict.

The official hoped that the upcoming visit would focus on matters of common interest, adding that dwelling on problems without a clear solution would be counterproductive for both countries’ aims to boost relations.

On her part, Russian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) affairs expert Elena Melkumian said that issues pertaining to the Syrian and Yemeni crises, the future of the Iraq’s Kurdistan region, developments in the Gulf region and the Middle East peace process will be high on the list of discussions between King Salman and Putin.

Day after his Arrest, Kremlin Warns Navalny Supporters against Protests


A day after he was sentenced to 20 days in jail, the Kremlin warned on Tuesday supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny against holding unsanctioned rallies.

The organizers of such events would be prosecuted, it warned.

Navalny was sentenced on Monday to a third term in jail for calling for an unsanctioned protest.

The ruling would keep him away from a major rally this weekend.

Police detained Navalny on Friday, preventing him from traveling to a rally in a major Russian city that had given its official permission to hold the gathering. Charges brought against the Kremlin’s top rival relate to the upcoming rally in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city and President Vladimir Putin’s hometown, which has not been sanctioned.

After he announced his presidential bid last year, Navalny, arguably Russia’s most popular opposition politician, inspired a grassroots campaign in Russian regions to support his nomination.

“20 days in jail. Old man Putin got so scared of our rallies in the regions and decided to make himself a little present for himself for his birthday,” Navalny tweeted shortly after the ruling Monday evening.

The rally in St. Petersburg was scheduled for Saturday, which is also Putin’s birthday.

Navalny’s campaign late Monday called for rallies to protest his arrest in other Russian cities this Saturday.

The Kremlin warned Navalny’s supporters to refrain from holding any unsanctioned rallies in his absence.

“Public calls for unsanctioned events and rallies run counter to the legislation in force and, certainly, their organizers will be prosecuted,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

A Russian law on public gatherings, which was hastily adopted following massive anti-government rallies in 2011-2012, carries 30 days in jail for repeated violations.

In another Moscow courthouse, a judge is expected to hand down a ruling later Monday in the case of Navalny’s campaign chief, Leonid Volkov, who faces similar charges.

The Kremlin has dismissed Navalny, who has faced repeated jailings and criminal cases, as an urbanite out of touch with people living in Russia’s 11 time zones where Putin draws his support from.

Yet that began to change earlier this year when Navalny, a 41-year-old lawyer, opened campaign offices in 80 cities and towns. Most of those places had not seen a diverse political life for decades, and Navalny attracted thousands of supporters.

New US Ambassador Presents Credentials to Russian President


The new US ambassador to Russia presented on Tuesday his credentials to President Vladimir Putin in what the Kremlin hoped would pave the way for a new phase of ties between Washington and Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comments to reporters in a conference call ahead of Jon Huntsman presenting his diplomatic credentials to Putin.

“We hope that, headed by the new ambassador, the US diplomatic mission to Russia will be able to significantly contribute to repairing the damage done by Washington’s actions to our relations,” said Peskov.

Huntsman, a former Utah governor, has twice served as ambassador.

He was the nation’s top diplomat to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and ambassador to China under President Barack Obama before returning to the US to run for president in 2012.

He was confirmed as ambassador to Russia by the US Senate at the end of last month.

Huntsman takes on the post in Moscow as congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller investigate allegations that Russia sought to influence the 2016 US presidential election on Trump’s behalf, as well as potential collusion with Moscow by Trump associates.

Moscow denies such activity and Trump dismisses any talk of collusion.

Huntsman said at his confirmation hearing that there was no question Russia interfered during the 2016 campaign.

The latest chapter in the tense American-Russian ties emerged on Monday when the foreign ministry in Moscow threatened retaliation over the “hostile and illegal” break in of US officials into residences at Russia’s consulate in San Francisco.

Russian staff had left the consulate last month, after Washington ordered Moscow to vacate some of its diplomatic properties.

Since then, US officials had occupied administrative parts of the compound but on Monday they entered residential areas that the departing staff had locked, the ministry said in a statement.

“Despite our warnings, the US authorities did not listen to reason and did not give up their illegal intentions,” it said.

“…We reserve the right to respond. The principle of reciprocity has always been and remains the cornerstone of diplomacy.”

Footage aired repeatedly on Russian state television showed what the broadcaster said were US officials breaking locks that had sealed off parts of the compound and entering the buildings.

The “intruders” had taken over the whole premises including the consul general’s residence, the ministry said.

“Therefore, we understand that Americans, breaking into our diplomatic buildings, have de facto agreed that their missions in Russia may be treated likewise.”

Putin last month accused Washington of “boorish” treatment of Russia’s diplomatic premises on US soil, ordering the foreign ministry to take legal action over alleged violations of Russia’s property rights.