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Press review: Le Pen-Macron duel and Western-style populism in Russia

April 24, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, April 24

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© AP Photo/Laurent Rebours

 

Kommersant: Le Pen and Macron to go head to head in runoff election

Emmanuel Macron, the centrist En March! candidate, and leader of the far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, will fight to the finish for the French presidency in the country's runoff election scheduled for May 7. Sunday's first round turned out to be a fierce battle amongst the four contenders, with former Prime Minister and candidate from the center-right The Republicans party Francois Fillon and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon from the Unsubmissive France party giving the two favorites a run for their money. However, they had neither the funds, nor the strength to make it to the finish line, Kommersant notes.

After the first round, most French politicians, both right- and left-wing, called on their fellow countrymen to cast their ballots on May 7 for Macron who is now considered the undisputed frontrunner of the presidential race.
If Macron wins the second round, his victory would mean that Paris’ policy towards Russia will not undergo significant changes, Timofey Bordachev, Director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies, told Kommersant.

“The new president will adhere to the Euro-Atlantic course, that is, the policy pursued by the current political mainstream. One should not forget that Emmanuel Macron has very good relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel who sets the tone for the EU's policy of exerting pressure on Russia,” he explained.

A similar opinion was voiced by Sergey Utkin, Head of the Strategic Assessments Department at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations. “Emmanuel Macron’s victory would mean maintaining the existing policy, including the Russian one. However, we need to take into account a very important factor. Macron will have to seek support from leading French political parties, but the France's political environment is far less critical of Russia than some other EU member-countries. Mr. Macron will have to become a representative of this environment,” the expert told the paper.

Izvestia: Putin, Abbas to hash over prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to pay a three-day visit to Russia, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has confirmed in an interview with Izvestia, adding that preparations are underway for top-level Russian-Palestinian contacts.

According to the information obtained by the paper, at a meeting due to be held in Sochi, where Putin and Abbas are expected to discuss prospects for direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Moscow. Prior to his visit to Russia, Abbas is scheduled to meet with US President Donald Trump.

Palestinian Ambassador to Russia, Abdel Hafiz Nofal, has furnished additional information on the Palestinian leader’s upcoming visit to Russia in an interview with Izvestia. "On May 11, Mahmoud Abbas will travel to Sochi where he will hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After that Abbas will meet with some Russian politicians, public and religious figures in Moscow," Nofal said.

According to the envoy, the fact that President Abbas is travelling to Russia after a meeting with the US President is significant. "Palestine wants Russia to be more actively involved in tackling the Palestinian issue. The US has blocked other countries’ efforts for a long time, monopolizing any resolution on the Palestinian issue," he noted. "The two sides will discuss the possibility of a meeting between the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents in Russia. Ramallah is ready to take part in this meeting, but Israel does not want that."

The paper recalls that last year Vladimir Putin proposed to push ahead with efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli issue by arranging a meeting between the two countries’ leaders in Moscow without any preconditions.

Russia’s initiative to hold talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Moscow remains in force, according to Elena Suponina, adviser to the Director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies. "The Palestinians agree with the proposed framework. The only stumbling block is Israel’s position, which received some encouraging signals from the new administration of US President Donald Trump early this year. Apparently, he is not inclined to tackle the Palestinian issue according to the old patterns. That’s quite disturbing, as the new US administration has not come up with any alternatives yet," the expert stressed.

 

RBC: Kremlin experts predict upsurge in Western-style populism in Russia

The economic crisis and new technology have accelerated the rise of populist politicians and political parties with slogans mirroring those of the US, France, Spain and Italy. The growth of populism in Russia is inevitable in the coming six or seven years as well, RBC quotes a report by the Expert Institute for Social Research at the Russian presidential administration set up in 2017 as saying.

Its co-authors Gleb Kuznetsov and Yekaterina Sokolova analyzed the election programs of US President Donald Trump, French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, leader of Italy’s Five Star Movement Beppe Grillo and Spain’s Podemos party. All of them use populist tools and slogans, the report states, and this has ensured their success.

Kuznetsov said in an interview with RBC that “this set of expertise will inevitably be used by Russian politicians in the immediate future.” He noted that the so-called anti-corruption rallies held in Russia on March 26 have shown that Russians need populism, that is, an agenda focusing on the needs or desires of the majority of the population. “That means that we will go along the populist path from its inception to its height much faster than in the US or Europe,” he stressed.
The Russian government will study and employ populist methods, political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko stated. He noted that “not only the Kremlin but also all sober-minded people and politicians” should take this report into account, because “these are new tools we cannot do without.”

On the other hand, when talking to RBC, political strategist Vyacheslav Smirnov said that populism was just a promise of changes. “A populist politician wins (the elections). Later it turns out that he won not because of the ‘change’ slogan but, for example, because of a jump in oil prices. As a result, people elect a new candidate, his opponent, who says exactly the same thing,” the expert noted.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow expects top EU envoy to take reciprocal steps

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini are scheduled to meet in Moscow on Monday. Despite disagreements between Brussels and Moscow on a number of issues, particularly, on the Ukrainian crisis, both parties hope it will be possible to establish a constructive dialogue, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Mogherini’s visit, which will be held at the invitation of Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov, will be the first during her tenure as EU Foreign Policy Chief since she assumed the post in 2014. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry and the European External Action Service, the agenda will include a wide array of issues - from the crisis in Ukraine and economic cooperation to Iran’s nuclear deal and the conflict in Syria.

The success of the dialogue between Russia and the EU depends on other international players as well, Vladislav Belov, Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Europe Institute, informed the paper. "The EU and Russia have many areas of common interest. However, the process of resolving the points of contention could be hindered by third parties," the expert noted. "So far, no one has been able to change Ukraine’s behavior, which, unlike Moscow, refuses to do its part in the implementing the Minsk agreements. Also, it is very difficult to understand how one could change the insurgents’ actions in Syria, who have been unable to reach a consensus."

This being so, the dialogue between Mogherini and Lavrov will be useful, above all, because it will give both parties an opportunity to understand ‘the other side’ better, Belov said, adding that no new agreements may be reached at the talks.

 

Izvestia: Poll shows Russians believe economy is ‘looking up’

The share of Russians who expect the Russian economy to improve as early as this year, grew to 32.5% in March, a poll conducted by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration indicates. In March 2015, merely 24% of the respondents held this view, while last spring only 20% did, with Izvestia citing the poll’s results.

It is noteworthy that at the very start of recession at the beginning of 2015, a sizable part of Russia’s population hoped it would be possible to overcome that negative trend soon, the Academy’s expert noted. However, efforts to deal with the aftermath of the crisis did take some time, with the Russian economy beginning to recover only in the second half of 2016.

According to Elena Grishina, head of the Academy’s Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting, the poverty level will start to improve within the next few years. "The conservative forecast for this year is that the poverty rate will not grow. However, it is premature yet to talk about reduction in the number of those in the below-minimum subsistence group. A few years have to pass, we are not talking about a year or two, considering that the country’s economy will be growing," she emphasized.

The rise in the poverty rate is absolutely clear, it is due to a dramatic drop in real incomes and pensions, the paper quotes Nikita Maslennikov, an economist at the Institute for Contemporary Development, as saying. "Compared to 2013, they lag 8-10%. Now we can see a trend towards narrowing the gap. If we compare the first three months of 2017 to the same period in 2016, we will see a 1.5% increase," the expert noted.

 

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

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