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Press review: Russia-US Arctic barriers and Macron's tough road ahead

May 10, 2017, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, May 10

1 pages in this article
© Mikhail Metzel/TASS

Kommersant: Cold War-like tensions won’t freeze Russian-US cooperation in Arctic

The Arctic remains one of the regions where Moscow and Washington continue to cooperate despite rocky bilateral relations, Kommersant writes. Fairbanks, Alaska, will host a ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council on Thursday. Russia will be represented at the meeting by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who left for Washington on Tuesday to hold talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his way to Alaska. The two top diplomats will discuss the bilateral agenda and pressing international issues, primarily Syria. In Fairbanks, they will focus on the Arctic region. US Deputy Assistant Secretary David Balton noted talking to Kommersant that, in spite of disagreements on other issues, the United States believes cooperation with Russia in the Arctic region has been productive. 

Cooperation within the Arctic Council has not stopped Moscow and Washington from hurling mounting accusations at each other about attempts to militarize the region. Commandant of the US Coast Guard, Admiral Paul Zukunft, said on May 3 that Washington is concerned about Russia’s growing military presence in the Arctic region. In turn, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu noted a few days before that NATO is moving its infrastructure in the region towards Russia’s border.
Nevertheless, experts say that the risk of a serious conflict in the Arctic is rather low now. Paul Berkman, Professor of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, told the paper that the Arctic region will prosper economically if peace persists there, and all Arctic Council member-countries realize that. 
Finland, which will take over the Arctic Council's chairmanship after the Fairbanks meeting, likewise hopes goodwill would prevail in relations between Arctic regional countries. “So far, it has been possible to prevent conflicts in other parts of the world from spreading to the Arctic region. Common efforts should be aimed at preserving the Arctic as a low-conflict zone in the future,” a source in the Finnish Foreign Ministry told the paper.


Vedomosti: Macron unlikely to repeat triumph in June’s parliamentary elections

Leader of the En Marche! political party and France’s president-elect, Emmanuel Macron, who will be inaugurated on May 14 after winning the country’s presidential election has already come up against two major problems in the run-up to June’s parliamentary elections, Vedomosti writes. Firstly, his party, which has changed its name and will now be called La Republique en Marche, or the Republic on the Move, is just one year old, and is not represented in the country’s parliament. Secondly, Macron will become president of a divided country, as evidenced by more than one-quarter of voters who did not come to the polls, in addition to the few million spoiled and blank ballot papers.

During the upcoming parliamentary elections, both Marine Le Pen’s National Front and other political parties whose candidates did not make it to the runoff election will do their utmost to beat the new president’s young political party, according to Antoine Jardin, a researcher at Sciences Po university. Le Pen achieved historic results, with 11 million French citizens voting for her, and she will be sure not to waste this chance to boost her representation in parliament, the paper quotes him as saying.
French politicians, including the new president, will have to focus on finding common ground with each other, while foreign policy issues are unlikely to come to the fore, says Yevgeny Osipov, Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World History. Macron is in favor of stronger ties with the European Union and Germany, whereas concerning relations with Russia he favors dialogue, but on tougher terms while upholding the EU’s positions, the expert said. Meanwhile, the parliamentary elections will play a decisive role, because if Macron and his party get the majority of seats, he will appoint a foreign minister, but should The Republicans win, they will control that post, Osipov emphasized.


Izvestia: US to beef up its military presence in Afghanistan

Washington intends to dispatch an additional military contingent to Afghanistan, Izvestia writes citing high-ranking sources in US, Afghan and Russian diplomatic circles. Russian Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov likewise confirmed information on US plans to send additional troops to that country in an interview with the paper. According to the senior diplomat, the issue at hand is some 5,000 military servicemen.

Currently, there are about 9,000 US troops in Afghanistan along with a small number of soldiers from some NATO member-countries. According to the paper’s well-informed sources in US diplomatic sources, discussion is underway on the number of servicemen due to be sent to the war-torn country. One source familiar with the situation noted that the Taliban and the Islamic State (both groups outlawed in Russia) have stepped up their activities announcing a ‘spring offensive.’ In light of this, the US contingent’s command said reinforcements were needed.

Meanwhile, Russian Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov who confirmed these reports noted that Moscow sees no reason to expand its military contingent. According to the Russian diplomat, a decision to beef up the US military presence in Afghanistan "at the request of some generals who are unable to cope with the situation" will not help stabilize the situation in that country.

"I’d like to remind you that there were more than 100,000 US and NATO servicemen quite recently. Even such a great number of the Western coalition’s soldiers had been unable to do anything. What can several thousand more people do?" Kabulov questioned.


Vedomosti: Turkey tops Russians’ May holiday destinations

Turkey was the most popular destination for Russians in early May, with its share of sales amounting to 26% for Level.Travel, about 40% for Onelinetours, roughly 46% for Pegas Touristik and more than 50% for TUI, representatives of these tour operators and travel agencies informed Vedomosti.

According to Anna Podgornaya, Director General of Pegas Touristik, the choice of Turkey stemmed from so-called deferred demand. Russian tourists had been waiting for this destination to be opened for a long time, since sales of travel packages to Turkey had been banned from November 2015 and late August 2016. The destination’s demand was also affected by the stabilization of the ruble exchange rate and a cut in prices by Turkish resort and tour operators. For example, one could purchase a seven-day trip to Antalya for 8,600 rubles ($147) per person, said Yekaterina Bezhanova, Strategic Development Director at Onlinetours.

The tourist market is bouncing back in 2017, says Ellin Tolstov, co-founder of Level.Travel. For example, tour sales have quintupled compared to 2016. Turkey received at least twice as many tourists at the beginning of May, a TUI Travel Russia representative noted.

Last year, many Russians preferred to spend their May holidays, which usually last from May 1 to 10, in Russia. The key factors for choosing domestic tourist destinations were shorter flights and the absence of visas, a TUI representative explained.


Izvestia: Russia mulling bill on supporting large families to boost demographics

Today 6.5% of all Russian families have multiple children and account for bringing up nearly 20% of the nation’s children. To support them, Director of the Russian Institute for Demography, Migration and Regional Development, Yury Krupnov, has sent Russian President Vladimir Putin a draft federal law ‘On the Status of Large Families’ hammered out jointly with the expert community, Izvestia writes.

Krupnov informed the paper that the new legislation’s objective is to drastically change the status of multi-child families (there are 1.5 million of them in Russia), which will make it possible to solve demographic problems by 2030.

"The concept of the federal law On the status of Large Families has been developed in compliance with the presidential decree of May 7, 2012, On Measures to Implement the Demographic Policy of the Russian Federation. We discussed the document with associations of large families in various regions of Russia, and all of them supported it," he said.

To implement the proposed law, a state-controlled fund to support large families, called the Foundation of the Future, is to be established. Financing for the program will come from the federal and regional budgets, contributions from raw material sales and "the tax in favor of the future." In addition, a tax on small families is planned to be implemented.

However, Andrey Korotayev, Head of the Laboratory for Monitoring the Risks of Socio-Political Destabilization at the Higher School of Economics, believes that the small-family tax will not become a popular measure, adding that it is practically impossible to implement this idea.

"It will be better to resort to well-proven methods, for example, solving the housing problem, since this works. A small-family tax could be imposed as a pilot project in one Russian region. If the results are positive, the initiative can be considered at the federal level. However, imposing this tax across Russia simultaneously is impossible," the expert emphasized.


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