Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual televised Q&A session, officially known as "The Direct Line with Vladimir Putin," is likely to be held this coming June, Kommersant writes citing two sources close to the Russian presidential administration. It could coincide with one of the following holidays - Russia Day celebrated on June 12 or Children’s Day, which falls on June 1. While some experts tend to link the proposed move to the recent unauthorized protests in Russia, others believe Putin’s Q&A session could "set the agenda" for next year’s presidential campaign.
Russian Presidential Spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said on March 20 that Putin’s "Direct Line" would be put off, chalking it up to the president’s schedule.
Meanwhile, political scientist Konstantin Kalachev noted in an interview with the paper that, if held in June, Putin’s Q&A session "could be the starting point for the beginning of the presidential campaign. " "It’s not because it is a disadvantage to hold a direct line because of the protests. The fact is the date for it should be set when the presidential campaign is already on track. Perhaps, the presidential administration does not have enough time to hammer out the campaign’s agenda and outline its strategy," the expert said.
The president's first Q&A session held in 2001, which lasted two-and-half hours, turned out to be the most popular with TV viewers, capturing 72% of the audience. A new surge in its popularity occurred in 2014 following Crimea’s reunification with Russia.
By joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) Armenia, a country with a population of three million, has become a member of a market with a population of almost 183 million people, Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan said in an interview with Izvestia. "The EAEU’s logic is fully pragmatic for us. We are becoming a group of five countries united by a huge market. Armenia has every chance to be successful in it, and I don’t see any reasons why we can’t be," he said.
Karapetyan who used to work for Russia’s energy giant, Gazprom, was confident that the potential offered by the EAEU has not been utilized to the full extent yet, adding that Yerevan is determined to push ahead with its efforts along this line. "Armenia is also determined to become a bridge between the EAEU and other economic blocs, for example, EU member-states, the countries that signed an association agreement with the European Union as well as Iran and Middle East countries. We realize that the further the opportunities and advantages of the EAEU membership expand, the better it is for both Armenia and other member-countries of the association."
When asked about the prospects for Russian-Armenian relations, the prime minister noted that Moscow is Armenia’s most important trading partner and its biggest investor. "Although the level of relations between us is quite high, our joint potential is much greater, and we offer a number of directions, which will help diversify and expand the scope of our cooperation," he noted.
"We would like our Russian partners to find new reasons and programs for investment. We have a lot to offer our investors, and create all necessary conditions for them for doing normal business, making money and paying taxes," the Armenian prime minister stressed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, in St. Petersburg on Monday. The general public expects the two leaders to resolve the oil and gas dispute. However, political analysts note that by dispersing protests Lukashenko may have again tarnished his image in the eyes of the West and has to seek support from an old ally, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
"There have been signs recently that the protracted standoff is nearing a peaceful resolution," said Belarusian political scientist Valery Karbalevich. In his view, the reason for such hope is a U-turn in Alexander Lukashenko’s rhetoric. "Upon returning from Sochi he hinted that Russia may be behind the protests, on March 21 he stated that Western special services and NGOs were behind this plot," the expert said. He suggested that Lukashenko "had received some signal from Moscow." Some other members of the Belarusian expert community likewise expressed the view that the near simultaneous dispersion of protesters in Moscow and Minsk made it possible for the two allied countries’ leaders to express solidarity, which can be reflected in some concessions by Russia.
The paper recalls, however, that Moscow expects Minsk, who feels let down by the West, to meet their Russian partners halfway.
The two presidents’ meeting takes place immediately after the Day of Unity of Peoples of Russia and Belarus celebrated on April 2. Putin and Lukashenko exchanged greetings on the occasion, hoping that "Minsk and Moscow will continue the development of integration processes on the principles of equality and mutual trust."
The authorities of Iraqi Kurdistan plan to hold a referendum on independence from Baghdad later this year, Spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government Safeen Dizayee told Izvestia.
"We had planned this referendum back in 2014, but the operation against the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia) made us postpone the vote. The question we are going to put to the plebiscite is as follows: ‘Do you want an independent state to be established in Iraqi Kurdistan?’ The referendum is expected to be held in 2017," Dizayee explained. He noted that Kurds’ rights in the political, economic, social, cultural and other areas must be realized, adding that this should be done "on the basis of maintaining stability in the region and constructive dialogue."
However, according to Iqbal al-Mazi, member of the Iraqi parliament’s International Affairs Committee, Baghdad sees things differently, believing that the referendum and any subsequent talks on Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence are inappropriate.
"Erbil (the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan) is trying to provoke a new crisis at a time when the country badly needs unity and concerted efforts by all political forces to defeat terrorism. The Kurds are just trying to take advantage of the situation. One could talk about the referendum if there were no Islamic State and the situation in the country was stable. However, 2017 is an absolutely inappropriate time for the vote," the lawmaker said talking to Izvestia.
The situation in Iraq has remained permanently unstable since the US invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. News of the imminent defeat of the Islamic State did offer some hope that the situation would improve. It seems, however, that the problem of separatism will soon take center stage rather than the war on terror. One cannot expect the process of Iraqi Kurdistan’s separation to be smooth and bloodless, Izvestia notes.
Rostelecom, Russia’s leading national telecommunications operator, announced it would purchase unmanned aerial vehicles for its branch in Belgorod (western Russia) for a total amount of 19.6 mln rubles ($350,000), the company said on its website. The aircraft-type drones the company is planning to buy are necessary to catalogue agricultural lands, compiling electronic maps and monitoring the equipment, Vedomosti writes. They can also be used for environmental monitoring, geodesy and for surveillance of forest areas.
A source close to Rostelecom explained that in the future, the company plans to sell the collected data to state-owned and private companies. If the project is successful, its experience will be used in other regions, the paper quotes him as saying.
One of Rostelecom’s strategic development directions is focused on the industrial Internet and working with large datasets, said Andrei Polyakov, a Rostelecom spokesman. He noted that the company plans to establish a pilot zone to process data for the housing and communal services, agriculture, road construction and forestry. The results that are to be obtained will make it possible to decide on the expediency of expanding the project to other regions, Polyakov added.
Meanwhile, Alexander Ryzhov, Vice President of TraceAir, confirmed that there is demand for data obtained from unmanned vehicles. They are sought after in the oil and gas industry as well as in agriculture, but so far this market is in its infancy. On the other hand, it has huge prospects, Ryzhov stated. In the US, for example, drones are actively used in various fields, with more than 4,000 companies obtaining licenses for their flights, Vedomosti quotes him as saying.
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