Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping emphasized after their meeting on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok that the two powers could consolidate economic and cultural ties as well as their trajectory in global politics. Meanwhile, foreign media outlets have been focusing on the military aspect of this bilateral cooperation noting that China is taking part in Russia’s military drills. According to news analysts, Washington has pushed Moscow and Beijing closer together by imposing sanctions on them. Nevertheless, despite growing trade turnover, Russia lags behind other countries in terms of Chinese investment, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Andrei Ostrovsky, Deputy Director of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, stressed in an interview with the paper that the view about Russia becoming more dependent on China economically is erroneous. "For example, to date, Russia is actually not involved in any way in the One Belt, One Road initiative. Back in 2014, we signed a document with China that we would build the Moscow-Beijing high-speed railway. However, this route has been steadily cut back. First, a Moscow-Yekaterinburg line (was proposed), then a Moscow-Kazan one, eventually ending up with the Moscow-Vladimir railway," the expert recalled.
Besides, there are the Primorye-1 and Primorye-2 transport corridors, which are crucial to China, since they would open transit through Russia’s territory for Chinese goods, Ostrovsky explained. "The Primorye projects would make it possible to transport Chinese goods from one part of China to another. To that end, bridges across the Amur River are needed. China has already built its share of bridges with its own money, while Russia has not done that yet."
Small wonder that the volume of Chinese investment in Russia is currently insignificant. For example, the share of Chinese investment in Russia’s Far East accounts for just 7% of the total investment volume.
"The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or the Silk Road Fund allocates loans for the Silk Road project. This project is being implemented in Pakistan, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and even in Belarus. However, I haven’t heard anything about such projects in Russia," the expert concluded.
The Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok currently in progress coincides with Russia’s Vostok 2018 exercise, Vedomosti writes. On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced the beginning of the largest military drills in Russia’s Eastern Military District since 1981. Taking part in them are more than 300,000 troops, 36,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles, over 1,000 aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles and 80 ships.
Unlike the European part of Russia where the number of troops and military equipment that can be involved in an exercise is limited by agreements with NATO, the drills in the Far East make it possible not to limit its scale and hone combat training skills in the event of a major war, the paper quotes Vasily Kashin, senior research fellow at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, as saying. Therefore, despite the place where the drills are being held, this is, first and foremost, a signal to the West indicating the Kremlin’s willingness to push ahead with its foreign policy.
On the other hand, Alexander Konovalov, President of the Institute for Strategic Assessments, believes that the issue of the expediency of such expensive drills and the probability of a major war scenario and preparations for it remains open.
The fact that the Vostok 2018 exercise coincides with the Eastern Economic Forum will hardly puzzle Chinese leader Xi Jinping. On the other hand, it is unlikely to inspire other potential investors, particularly Japan, which was dissatisfied with the deployment of additional Russian Air Force units to Sakhalin and the southern Kuril Islands.
It is not implausible that Kremlin is sending yet another signal to Tokyo meaning that no concessions on the Kurils should be expected, but such a hint can hardly be considered timely, the paper writes.
Now that Russia has begun its Vostok 2018 exercise, with its major strategic forces concentrated in the Far Eastern Region, the US and its allies can deal a real blow to Russia’s interests in the Middle East, specifically, in Syria, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The West claims that the Assad regime is about to use chemical weapons, and the US-led coalition will deliver a strike on Syria in response.
So now, this begs the question: Will Russia be able to protect Syria and back Assad’s troops during the planned Idlib offensive? The analysis of the current events and expert opinions makes it possible to conclude that these missions could only be accomplished with significant military and material resources. According to the paper’s military sources, Russia will beef up its defense spending in 2019 to support the military campaign in the Middle East and contain NATO near its Western borders and in other regions, such as the Arctic. No specific figures have been disclosed so far.
The need to increase defense spending stems from the escalating tensions with the United States and other NATO members.
However, according to Alexander Kanshin, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Public Council, the price tag for the Vostok 2018 exercise and the military operation in Syria hardly exceeds the funds earmarked from Russia’s military budget. "An important factor, which makes such drills necessary, is those military threats, which have traditionally existed in the Far East and the Arctic Region, in particular along the Northern Sea Route, which passes through Russia’s territory exclusively. However, they do not go beyond the budget," he told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
Constantinople’s attempt to legitimize the Ukrainian schism by providing autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church will result in a dramatic increase in pressure on the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, well-known Russian religious scholar Sergei Khudiyev told Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
"It is noteworthy that the movement in favor of ‘autocephaly for the Ukrainian church’ has been initiated and ignited by the secular authorities. This is a purely political project. Its principal objective is to suppress the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has legal bonds with the Moscow Patriarchate. Nationalism is fundamentally hostile to Orthodox Christianity and the Church. A puppet nationalist church would suit nationalists. The so-called Kiev Patriarchate, which has not been recognized by Orthodox Christianity, and they are trying to gain recognition with the assistance from the patriarch of Constantinople, while Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew whose flock is not so numerous want to increase it. I believe that was why he chose to compromise with Ukrainian nationalists. Their interests have converged," he explained.
When asked why Ukrainian autocephaly was so important for the Constantinople Patriarchate, the expert noted that it seeks to increase the number of parishes, and Ukraine is a "coveted prize" for it.
Khudiyev recalled that currently there are about 100 ethnic Greeks in Istanbul. "It [the Constantinople Partriarchate] also has parishes in the US and Greece. However, it no longer has that grandiose status enjoyed by the Constantinople patriarch during the Byzantine Empire era. Now he is the bishop of a very small neighborhood in Istanbul, which is fully controlled by the Turkish authorities. However, Patriarch Bartholomew, recalling the status of the Constantinople Bishop in the heyday of Constantinople itself, is trying to appeal to it. He believes that he is the head of the Christian Orthodox world in general, and everyone should obey him," the expert stressed.
The deal between China’s Alibaba Group, Russia’s MegaFon telecom operator, the Mail.Ru Group and the Russian Direct Investment Fund announced at the Eastern Economic Forum on Tuesday might become the largest in the history of the Russian Internet, Kommersant writes. Judging by the terms of the agreements, Alibaba will receive 10% of Mail.Ru Group from MegaFon in return for 24% in the new company AliExpress Russia, whose price tag is estimated at about $2.1 bln. Alibaba will get 48% in the new company, while the shares of Mail.Ru Group and the Russian Direct Investment Fund will account for 15% and 13% respectively.
According to Kommersant’s source close to one of the parties to the deal, the Russian Direct Investment Fund will pour about $300 mln into the company.
Sberbank Investment Research analysts have described the deal as "grandiose," stressing that it concerns not only cross-border trade but also the local market and direct sales.
The issue at hand is the potentially biggest player in the Russian e-commerce market and the competitor of the Sberbank and Yandex trading platform, says Data Insight partner Fyodor Virin.
For his part, co-founder and CEO of another large Russian online retailer Lamoda, Florian Jansen, likewise noted that the market has room to grow, recalling that in Russia only 7% of clothing and footwear are sold online, while in the UK this figure stands at 30%.
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