Russian President Vladimir Putin is heading off to France on an unplanned visit on May 29, informed sources in Moscow and Paris told Kommersant. This will give him an opportunity to personally meet with Emmanuel Macron, the new leader of the country seen as one of Russia's key partners in the EU.
According to Kommersant’s sources, the opening of a new exhibition dedicated to Peter the Great in Versailles will be the basis for the visit. However, a high-ranking source in the Kremlin told the newspaper that "the agenda of the visit will be intense" and will hardly be limited to the official ceremony in Versailles. According to the newspaper’s source in Paris, "It is hard to imagine that Putin would have gone to France without knowing he would meet and get acquainted with the new president."
According to Kommersant, during his election campaign Macron was the only major candidate who neither advocated for rapprochement with Moscow, nor for easing the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the European Union. Unlike other candidates, Macron took a cautious stance towards Moscow, preferring to focus on France’s European and Euro-Atlantic commitments.
During Vladimir Putin’s visit to France, US President Donald Trump will be in Brussels attending a NATO summit. Previously, Kommersant’s sources in Moscow and Washington reported that officials from both countries discussed the possibility of a meeting during Trump’s European tour at the end of the month, furnishing May 28 as the approximate date.
The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), which will be held on June 1-3, attracted more foreign business delegations this year. In 2017, for the first time since the introduction of anti-Russian sanctions, Executive Vice President and head of International Affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce Myron Brilliant plans to visit the forum, according to Marina Larionova, RSPP Vice President for International Relations. The American Chamber of Commerce in Russia (AmCham) confirmed the information.
“Our partners - the US Chamber of Commerce - for the first time in a long period will be represented at the SPIEF,” Larionova said. “There has been a slump since March 2014, because the Chamber worked in Russia under limited interaction. We believe that this is a definite sign that given the new conditions, American companies are no longer constrained by their authorities,” she added. Larionova noted that in recent years American business "had been waiting for certain signals regarding the possibility of working with Russia."
The Russian office of AmCham traditionally attends the SPIEF and over the last three years it has been represented by President Alexis Rodzianko. However, members of the American organization did not participate in the forum.
AmCham CEO Alexis Rodzianko told Izvestia that the organization has been operating in Russia for more than 20 years and "has never ceased its activities here." At the same time, representatives of the US Chamber of Commerce had avoided the forum until 2017.
According to experts interviewed by the newspaper, this indicates a thaw in economic relations between Russia and the United States.
Head of Urus Advisory’s Moscow office, Alexey Panin, believes that the resumption of relations is connected with President Trump’s policy to strengthen the American economy, where “strong business and the availability of any possible channels for promotion is a necessary condition.”
The Advisory Committee for Industry under the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) has looked into proposals on implementing an import substitution program drawn up by Russia for the Eurasian zone. The EEC told Izvestia that a preliminary list of industrial manufacturers - EAEU member states - that are willing to participate in the Russian import substitution program has already been set.
Many Belarusian companies were on the EAEU list of businesses ready to participate in the Russian-sponsored import substitution projects, Izvestia said.
According to the newspaper, 62 commodity titles were selected for the Eurasian import substitution program, covering 17 industries, including machine tool design, consumer goods, chemical, power engineering and others. The list included a variety of projects - from the production of passenger seats for aircraft to medical gauze.
Specific mechanisms enabling EAEU producers to join the import-substituting project have yet to be discussed further at the expert level. Talks on the matter will be continued during consultations at the advisory committee’s upcoming meeting scheduled for late summer-early autumn.
Kiev is trying to ensure that the issue of anti-Russian sanctions is included on the agenda of the G7 summit scheduled for May 27-28 in Sicily. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Pyotr Poroshenko’s team is pitching their scheme by portraying Russia as a purported direct participant in the Donbass conflict, who therefore must comply with the Minsk agreements.
According to Poroshenko, it is necessary to create conditions that would motivate Russia to fulfill what it had promised in the security sphere, specifying that “motivation” would include extending the West’s sanction policy.
A Ukrainian source told the newspaper, "the (Normandy) Quartet’s negotiations have reached a dead-end, even the agreements that were sealed are not being carried out. Russia pretends to be a mediator in the settlement, but in reality is a party to the conflict." At the same time, many political scientists in Kiev note that without the consent of the Russian side it is impossible to expand the talks’ format, Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted.
Vladimir Fesenko, Director of Penta, a Ukraine-based think tank, told the newspaper, that the situation in Donbass would indeed be a convincing argument for Western leaders, indicating that even the initial points of the Minsk agreements are still not being implemented.
Experts in Kiev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the West still does not want to burn all its bridges with Russia, adding that talks on organizing a new meeting between the leaders of the Normandy Four is occurring simultaneously with the sanctions negotiations. That said, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is once again playing the role of the primary initiator.
The Russian side believes that the Minsk agreements should be carried out to the letter, as they were written. Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently recalled that the document itself clearly indicates who should fulfill which conditions, saying there is no place for free interpretations of the Minsk accords.
Russian IT and media giant, Rambler & Co, unlike other large Russian Internet companies was not included in the Ukrainian sanctions list and has launched an information portal, Rambler.ua, aimed at the Ukrainian audience. Users will also be able to create a mail account with an ‘at rambler.ua’ address and forward messages from mailboxes of blocked Russian services.
According to Rambler & Co representative, Matvey Alekseev, the Ukrainian authorities did not contact the company in regard to the recent nationwide ban of several Internet companies and did not challenge the launch of Rambler.ua. "However, we have received eight letters from Ukrainian hosting providers in two days with proposals to ensure uninterrupted operations of the Rambler services in the .ua zone," he told Kommersant.
Last week, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko signed a decree on slapping three-year sanctions on Russian IT, Internet and media companies. Yandex, Mail.ru Group services, social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki were banned in Ukraine, as well as large Russian IT companies - 1C, ABBYY, and others.
The audience of Russian Internet resources in Ukraine has tens of millions of users. Mail.ru Group previously estimated the number of Ukrainians who communicate on blocked platforms, including VKontakte and Odnoklassniki at around 25 mln people. Yandex calculated its Ukrainian audience to be around 11 million users every month before the ban, clarifying that "thousands of Ukrainian organizations were also enjoying the company’s services."
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