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Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin, one of the brightest and most charismatic Russian diplomats, died of a heart attack in New York on Monday, a day before his 65th birthday.
Kommersant business daily writes that Churkin was one of the symbols of Russian diplomacy at different times. During the perestroika era in the 1980s, when Eduard Shevardnadze served as top diplomat, the Foreign Ministry started looking to journalists, Vitaly Churkin, who was in charge of communications with mass media at the ministry, was exploring a new role as newsmaker unknown to Soviet officials previously. Late Soviet-era international journalism was becoming more dynamic and Churkin was highly media savvy in communicating with reporters, in fact his efforts played a huge role in the evolution of official Russian public relations. In the early 1990s, Churkin was responsible for endeavors on settling the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. He provided journalists with the latest diplomatic initiatives by Moscow and its partners. During the next stages of Churkin’s diplomatic career, Moscow, which previously sought to become the West’s partner, started turning into its adversary. During these years, Churkin served as Russia’s Ambassador to Brussels and Ottawa. In addition, he had been the country’s Permanent Representative to the UN since 2006.
It is not widely known that as a child, Churkin was featured in three films - The Blue Notebook, Zero Three and A Mother’s Heart. Two of these films were devoted to the biography of Russia’s revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes. This April would have marked 11 years since Churkin started performing his challenging mission as Russia’s envoy to the UN.
Churkin was one of a few Russian diplomats whose face the whole country knew, without any embellishment, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. He defended the honor and ideals of Russia at the most influential and at the same time, the toughest platform of global politics - in the UN Security Council. The period from March 2014 had been the most challenging as Churkin worked in the atmosphere of explicit confrontation, the paper says.
Russia is ready to supply defensive weapons to Iran if it receives such a request, Rostec State Corporation CEO Sergey Chemezov said at the IDEX-2017 exhibition in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani earlier said that Tehran seeks to create a strategic alliance with Russia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Experts interviewed by the paper say Larijani’s comments apparently come in response to Washington’s plans to set up a regional alliance against Tehran.
"This is a response to the recent events around Iran," said Vladimir Sazhin, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Now the Trump administration is working on forming a military and political bloc in the Middle East that will consist of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates. Israel is also ready to provide intelligence and technical assistance but is not expected to become its member. "The major goal of this alliance is the collective containment of Iran," the expert said.
However, the analyst doubts whether the strategic alliance of Russia and Iran could become a reality. "If both parties are on the same side of the fence in Syria, this does not mean that they have a consensus on its future," he stressed, explaining that Iran’s military and politicians envy the success of Russia’s policy in Syria. "Moscow has strengthened its positions in Syria over the past years, although the country has always been the sphere of Iran’s influence. Tehran's clout with Damascus has always been significant and now in the light of Moscow’s military and political success it turns out that it is moving away from the decisions."
The expert notes that Russia and Iran have always had some contradictions. "There cannot be any alliance here. If we speak about relations between Russia and Iran in general, I view it as a pragmatic partnership," he said, adding that Larijani’s statement shows Tehran seeks to pull Russia into the Iranian-US confrontation in the Middle East. "Maybe, there will be some bargaining between Donald Trump’s administration and the Kremlin in regard to Tehran. Iran may become a bargaining chip. In fact, Tehran is doing the same thing. It seeks to use Russia for its interests."
Among the several hundred foreign citizens fighting on the side of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics in eastern Ukraine, dozens have received DPR and LPR passports, Izvestia writes. Individuals from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Romania, Spain, Finland, France and other countries do not want to come back home saying that they are fighting against Nazism and its reincarnation in modern Ukraine.
The foreign volunteers told the paper they need a passport for a life-fulfilling existence in Donbass, and no one plans to use this new document for moving to Russia. "For me, the DPR has become my real home. Many of us have found a reason to live here and started families. Our comrades gave their lives for the freedom of the people of Donbass. We have no reasons to return home. We plan to stay here after the war ends," said Roko, one of volunteers.
The international units were created after the escalation in Donbass in 2014, the paper says. The most famous of them is the 15th international battalion consisting of citizens from Europe and also the United States, South America and Africa. More than 1,500 volunteers from Western Europe fought on the side of Donbass in 2014, and now their numbers have significantly fallen. Most expatriates are united by the goal of assisting the locals in their fight against the Kiev regime, said Gleb Kornilov, who heads a Donbass-based aid fund.
Russia’s 2018 presidential elections will actually be a referendum for supporting Vladimir Putin as no strong rivals are expected to emerge, a source in the Russian presidential administration told Izvestia. Bets will be placed on the balance between voter turnout and the absolute majority of votes. The outcome may break the record set in 2000, the year when Putin was first elected president, the source said.
Although Putin has still not confirmed his plans to run for another term, the presidential administration is already considering options of holding the election campaign, the paper writes. The Kremlin’s domestic political bloc is deciding now how to attract young Russians, streamline the procedures to vote and find a rallying point that will unite citizens on par with that of Crimea’s reunification with Russia.
"It is evident that no one will surface as a real rival for the president, and there is no sense in creating new candidates artificially," the source said. "Now there is a demand for transparent, legitimate elections, honesty, justice and respect for citizens rather than new contenders," he said.
To ensure legitimate elections, there are plans to increase the number of observers at voting stations, equipping all of them with surveillance cameras. One of the key problems now is young people’s lagging interest in the elections, and the administration is looking for a "rallying point" that will make citizens realize their responsibility for the country’s development, the source said. "This sense should be as clear and valuable for voters as, for example, Crimea’s rejoining Russia, what became in fact a new symbol of cohesion and unity for the country," he explained.
Presidential elections conducted in the so-called referendum mode are widely used in the West, especially for a second term, Oleg Matveychev of the Higher School of Economics said. This format was used by France’s Charles de Gaulle and US President Theodore Roosevelt, the expert noted.
Russian tourists’ expenditures while on holidays abroad in January 2017 grew 32.3%, year-on-year, analysts from the UBS group say, according to Vedomosti. In January 2016, Russian tourists cut back spending by 22.7%, according to monthly figures from the tourism shopping tax refund company, Global Blue.
Russians started spending more abroad in October 2016, after an almost three-year slump and January 2017 saw a four-month record high, the survey shows. Analysts say thanks to a stable ruble and the growth in consumers’ trust, Russian tourists shelled out more cash.
A spokesman for Germany’s Kadewe Group told Vedomosti that the number of Russian tourists visiting the country’s shops rose 25% this January compared with the same month last year. The amount of Russians’ average receipt grew 10%, year-on-year. A spokesman from France’s Galeries Lafayette confirmed that Russians are coming back. Gebr. Heinemann, the operator of Duty Free shops, expects a 15-20% increase in turnover in luxury goods purchased by Russian tourists this year.
The surge in spending by tourists, which includes luxury goods, shows that Russia’s tourist sector in general is rebounding, Director General of Pegas Touristic Anna Podgornaya said.
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