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Press review: Tillerson's Moscow visit wrap-up and Kazakhstan's alphabet swap

April 13, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, April 13

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

© AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev

Media: Tillerson visits Moscow amid rising tensions over Syria

The outcome of the first official visit by the new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Moscow was widely discussed in Thursday’s press. The event, which was expected to become a prologue to the meeting of both countries’ leaders, was held in a rather tense atmosphere.

According to Kommersant, the night before the meeting the White House and the Kremlin had been showing signs of Cold-War era confrontation, the meeting between Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin was not officially announced until the last moment. The talks were eventually held in Kremlin and judging by the final statements of the two delegations, they did not help bilateral rapprochement, but the parties at least agreed to begin moving in this direction.

The results of Tillerson’s visit could be judged by the joint press conference, where Tillerson and his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov presented “just the tip of the iceberg” to the press, Kommersant wrote.

Naturally, Syria topped the agenda and judging by the joint statements, Moscow and Washington are still looking at the issue from different angles, Izvestia wrote.

“Perhaps the most important thing about the Syrian question is the fact that, according to Lavrov, President Putin told Tillerson that Russia was ready to return to the memorandum on flight safety over Syria. To do this, both countries should set their sights on combatting terrorism,” the newspaper wrote.

According to Kommersant, the top diplomats wanted to minimize the negative fallout to bilateral ties caused by Donald Trump’s strike on Syria. “And it generally worked. In their introductory speeches, neither Lavrov nor Tillerson focused on disagreements over Syria,” the newspaper wrote.

Another success, according to Kommersant, was the fact that the word "sanctions", which were urgently demanded by some US partners in the G7, were not used at all, Kommersant wrote. “Tillerson, who had studied Vladimir Putin's psychology well in his "past life" as a businessman, did not begin the dialogue with the Kremlin using threats and ultimatums,” Kommersant noted.

Lavrov and Tillerson admitted that there are many problems between the two countries, but there are also many opportunities for joint efforts. "We agree there needs to be a more senior level of communication between our two countries both at the diplomatic and military level," Tillerson said at the press conference.

“The very fact that Tillerson's visit to Moscow took place is crucial. I was under the impression that both sides were trying to find common ground. It is clear that there are more stumbling blocks right now. So far, it doesn’t feel like our positions on some issues have moved any closer. However, the parties agreed to continue working on aligning their positions. This in and of itself is already a good and significant outcome," Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev told Izvestia.

A source close to the Russian Defense Ministry told Vedomosti, it is obvious that Moscow has not closed the door on dialogue with Trump’s administration and does not think that a dangerous confrontation with the United States is inevitable. At the same time, Moscow has been demonstrating its readiness to strengthen its military positions in Syria, the source told the newspaper.

Obviously, Tillerson and a number of other members of the administration are not in favor of a full-fledged war for regime change in Damascus, like Trump himself, judging by his latest statement about the reluctance to send soldiers to Syria, a source close to the government of one of the US-allied countries told Vedomosti.

“Most importantly, during this short but very intense visit, the parties managed to agree on further steps to overcome the crisis in their bilateral ties. A signal was sent to the world: the first attempt to "get along" might not be considered successful, but at least it was productive,” Izvestia wrote.

 

Vedomosti: Tax reform talks postponed

The much-publicized tax maneuver - increasing value added tax (VAT) to 22% and reducing insurance premiums to 22% - will not be discussed for another year, three federal officials and one high-ranking representative told Vedomosti. The decision was made at a Wednesday meeting with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

According to the newspaper, there will not be any bills on the issue this year. Nevertheless, according to one of the officials, it has not been taken off the agenda. Another source told the newspaper that the talks on the tax maneuver still continue - there was a general consensus on breathing life into the reform at the meeting with the prime minister, however, so far there have been no direct instructions.

The tax maneuver was included in the target version of the economic development forecast for 2018-2020, the sources told Vedomosti. However, according to the newspaper’s source, the topic was not even discussed informally with the president, so it is not necessarily the case that he would put his stamp of approval on the initiative.

The newspaper’s sources agree, saying the tax reform should be conducted within the context of other measures, since now it would be better not to even spend time on the issue.

Experts and officials still disagree about the assessments of the tax maneuver. According to the Finance Ministry’s estimations, the Russian budget should gain 186bln rubles ($3.3bln) from the measure.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kazakhstan spells out Latin alphabet swap, while Russians read into policy course

Kazakhstan plans to completely switch to the Latin alphabet in 2025, according to the country’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that the measure will contribute to better integrating the Central Asian country into the Turkic world. However, the population fears that linguistic innovations will lead to a plunge in the use of the Russian language and a possible mass departure of ethnic Russians from Kazakhstan.

According to the newspaper, this linguistic strategy could spark a wave of emigration by the Russian-speaking population from Kazakhstan even as early as this year. The reasons for the transition to the Latin alphabet lie in the country’s foreign policy course. This is a signal for Russia to be more compliant in matters relating to general economic interests, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

Director for International Programs of the Russian National Strategy Institute, political scientist Yuri Solozobov told the newspaper about possible pros and minuses of the upcoming reform. The expert believes that it will simplify Kazakhstan’s international communications. "Transitioning to the Latin alphabet means a bigger presence of Kazakhstan in the Turkic world, in addition to joining the Turkic project," he told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. There are cons - in time, the country’s geopolitical preferences will change. "The consequences of switching to the Latin alphabet may be seen in the next 10-15 years, with the new generation of politicians. At present, while Nazarbayev is in power, Kazakhstan will not make any sudden shifts away from Russia. We have the Eurasian Union. However, this is a signal to Moscow," the expert believes.

Nazarbayev suggested not tying the switch to the Latin alphabet to politics. The president argues that the transition is a logical one and due to the peculiarities of using modern technologies and communications, scientific and educational processes in the 21st century.

 

Kommersant: Losses from financial crimes on the rise

According to the official information on the volume of financial crime, losses racked up by solved financial crimes amounted to 201.2 bln rubles ($3.5 bln), which accounts for 76% of the aggregate criminal damage (263 bln rubles – $4.6 bln), according to Kommersant.

At the same time, the newspaper wrote the volume and share of financial crimes in total losses only continued to grow. Thus, in 2015, financial crimes accounted for 72.3% or 125.5 bln rubles ($2.2 bln) in aggregate damage, while in 2014 it came to 53.8 bln rubles ($948 mln).
Law enforcement agencies believe that the Central Bank is dragging its feet, allowing unscrupulous bankers to hide, or withdraw assets.

"The lack of timely information from the authorized regulator in the financial and credit sphere on the processes threatening stability and possible violations committed by the management of credit organizations, does not enable law enforcement bodies to take precautionary measures," the Internal Affairs Ministry's press center told Kommersant.

However, according to experts interviewed by Kommersant, the Central Bank’s hands are virtually tied. According to them, the situation can be remedied by legislative changes, which would significantly expand the authority of the Central Bank. The regulator also noted the need to improve criminal legislation and law enforcement practices.

 

Izvestia: Russia to expand its presence in space

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with government officials on Cosmonautics Day, where Roscosmos State Corporation CEO Igor Komarov talked about the prospects for the development of the space industry, promising to put more than 200 satellite vehicles into orbit by 2030, Izvestia wrote.

“In accordance with the approved Development Strategy until 2025 and for the long term until 2030, we are faced with the task of bringing the composition of the orbit group to meet the standards set for each system and complex - up to 164 satellite vehicles in 2025, more than 200 - in 2030,”  Komarov said, noting that currently Russia has 141 satellites in orbit.

Roscosmos also plans to bring the number of successful launches to 99% by 2025. “We plan to increase revenues by almost half and ramp up the share of commercial revenues in the global affordable space services market, which now stands at 4.8%. We expect this share to rise to 10%. Achieving these figures would be impossible without the active development of the rocket and space industry,” Komarov said.

According to Head of Roscosmos, the corporation intends to get significant funds from participating in the International Space Station project through tourism and commercial experiments. In order to maintain the positions on the market, "the corporation plans to develop light modifications of the Proton and Angara launch vehicles and to develop projects for creating space communication and remote Earth sensing satellites.”

 

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press reviews

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