If the Russian presidential elections were held this coming Sunday, Putin’s opponents would secure about 25% of the votes across the country, RBC writes citing the results of a recent survey conducted by the Romir research holding. Firebrand politician and leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) Vladimir Zhirinovsky would finish second with 8% of the votes followed by Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov taking 7%.
Opposition figure Alexey Navalny was ranked third among opposition candidates clinching 3%, while socialite and TV host Ksenia Sobchak, along with Yabloko political party founder Grigory Yavlinsky and leader of A Just Russia party Sergey Mironov shared fourth place with 2%.
Sobchak also topped the list of Russia’s least popular potential candidates, with 64% of those polled saying that they would never vote for her. Navalny (33%) and Zhirinovsky (23%) came second and third respectively.
The survey’s primary outcome is that, on the whole, the alignment of forces within the electorate that is not planning to vote for Putin has not undergone any radical changes since the 2016 parliamentary elections, head of the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation, Mikhail Vinogradov, told the paper. He noted that the outcome of the vote for the opposition candidates at the presidential election would depend entirely on the quality of their campaign. "The potential voters are tired of old-timers but, on the other hand, they distrust the new candidates," he stressed.
Washington’s new strategy for the Balkans unveiled last week is aimed at its more active involvement in the region’s affairs, a Balkan state source told Kommersant. "The issue at hand, is actually a return to the Balkans after a decade of a largely intermittent presence here, with the region fully controlled by the EU, which itself faced a crisis. This is also a response to attempts by some extra-regional players, above all Russia, along with China and Turkey, to boost their influence here. The new strategy is sure to accelerate the region’s Euro-Atlantic integration."
The new draft US strategy for the Balkans developed by the US Atlantic Council think tank presented in Washington last week has three key aspects, namely, permanent US presence in the region, reconciliation with Serbia and active mediation in resolving regional disputes.
The newly-announced doctrine has stirred interest in Serbia, with President Aleksandar Vucic calling its presentation "an important issue." Meanwhile, Kommersant’s source close to the Serbian government noted that some of its provisions "recognize Serbia’s importance in the region and meet its leaders’ desire to have relations of partnership with the United States."
The potential scope for implementing the third aspect of the US strategy is obvious - to seek the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo and deal with the standoff between Greece and Macedonia, according to diplomatic sources interviewed by the paper. "The Americans could exert influence on Pristina to encourage it to carry out EU-brokered agreements with Belgrade, above all, those on setting up the Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo, which will speed up the normalization of their relationship," one of the sources explained. "The US is also expected to hammer out a compromise with Greece on settling Macedonia’s name, which will make it possible for Skopje to join NATO within the next two or three years."
Latvian nationalists have come up with a petition calling for legislation, which would designate Russian TV channels broadcasting throughout Latvia as foreign agents, Izvestia writes. The petition also seeks to strip them of the right to show ads of national political parties and state-run enterprises on the air.
"We have already sent a letter with our proposal to the Seim," Raymond Leinieks-Puke, a senior official at the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, which initiated the campaign against Russian media, told Izvestia. "We believe that Russian TV channels are directly linked to the Kremlin and are trying to undermine the unity of the European Union and NATO. A foreign agent status would significantly limit their activities."
On the other hand, Chairman of the Concord Center parliamentary faction Janis Urbanovics noted in an interview with Izvestia that such statements are in line with the general trend of the West’s anti-Russian dogma.
"This trend can be observed not only in the media sphere. It can also be seen, for instance, in sports and the energy sector. All that can only lead to greater tensions between the ‘big West’ (EU-NATO) and Russia," the lawmaker said.
According to Yury Zhuravlev, head of Latvia’s Russian-language PIK radio station, the Latvian government’s plans to restrict instruction in Russian have driven thousands of people to the streets in Riga (on November 16, 2017). In his view, the potential attack on Russian media outlets is bound to whip up even larger protests.
While Russia’s Gazprom energy giant has announced an increase in gas exports to countries in the target region of Turkish Stream, the pipeline currently under construction, the US Department of State has spoken out against the project. Experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta pointed to both the political and economic implications of this move. Washington seems to be clearing the European market for supplies of its liquefied natural gas (LNG), and the US is beginning to beef up its presence in new markets, even in Turkey itself.
According to Valery Nesterov, a Sberbank Investment Research analyst, long before anti-Russian sanctions were imposed, "US representatives constantly visited the Balkans and Greece cranking up political pressure to stop Russian export projects from being implemented." "At that time, the spotlight was on Nabucco vs South Stream. Nabucco has long become history, and other projects have emerged. Still, South Stream has never been implemented either, it was replaced by Turkish Stream. That being said, the policy has not changed substantially here. The US continues to squeeze in on the pipeline projects," he explained.
Nikita Isayev, Director of the Institute for Contemporary Economy, has noted that "for the US, gas deliveries to Europe are a key tool to put pressure on Europe."
Meanwhile, Alexander Sobko, analyst at the Skolkovo Business School Business Center, believes both factors could be behind Washington’s desire to block Turkish Stream. "There are a lot of gas liquefaction projects in the US, which cannot be implemented because of the absence of long-term contracts on purchasing LNG. Given these circumstances, the US is interested in finding new customers," the expert said.
Tensions between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have begun to cool down, as Kazakh officials decided to open the state border with Kyrgyzstan after a month and a half of tightened control. This breakthrough was reached just a week after the inauguration of Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, Kommersant writes.
The diplomatic spat between Astana and Bishkek began in September, when Kyrgyz opposition candidate for president, entrepreneur Omurbek Babanov, who has close ties with Kazakhstan met with President Nursultan Nazarbayev. During the meeting, Nazarbayev noted that the Central Asian neighbor needed "a young president." Then Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev construed this remark as an attempt to meddle in the electoral process.
However, at a meeting in Minsk on November 30, Nazarbayev and Kyrgyzstan’s President-elect Sooronbay Jeenbekov discussed a reconciliation roadmap signed by representatives of the two countries in Astana on December 2.
Russian expert on Central Asia Arkady Dubnov warned in an interview with the paper that, if the parties "fail to implement the roadmap, the border could be tightened again."
Kazakh political scientist Dosym Satpayev likewise stressed that "opening the border is not a solution to the problem." "Rather, it is a manifestation of Astana’s political will," he said.
According to Bishkek-based political analyst Valentin Bogatyrev, "the fact that the issue was resolved so quickly indicates that the heart of the matter was the personal relationship between Atambayev and Nazarbayev." "The fact that Jeenbekov is Atambayev’s successor only confirms this version. Astana wants to stress that Atambayev is so odious that it is much easier to come to terms even with people who are close to him."
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