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Press review: What Putin will reveal at BRICS summit and US plays Russian threat narrative

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, July 25


Kommersant: Tenth BRICS summit kicks off amid trade wars

Russian President Vladimir Putin will brief Moscow’s BRICS partners on his talks with US leader Donald Trump at the group’s summit in Johannesburg, which begins on Wednesday. BRICS member-states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will also discuss joint measures against the protectionist trade policy pursued by Trump, Russian Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin informed Kommersant.

"There are disagreements on many issues between BRICS members, but when it comes to general global trade principles, they see eye-to-eye on the issue. We virtually share the same opposition to the aluminum and steel matter and took retaliatory measures against the US under WTO rules," he stressed. The minister added that the BRICS members disagree, specifically, on such issues as eTrading and agriculture.

"Now is a very good time to show that BRICS members and relations between them are an alternative to the format existing in the West," Executive Director of the Russian National Committee for BRICS Research Georgy Toloraya told the paper, adding that "BRICS favors order, compliance with agreements and development."

Plans are in store to expand the group, so the leaders of Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia and some African countries have been invited to the summit.

According to Toloraya, India is currently opposed to expanding BRICS fearing that new members will support China. On the other hand, Moscow argues that "the entrance ticket" to the group is independence and sovereignty, and under no circumstances can potential candidates be called China’s satellites.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Washington seeking confrontation, not cooperation with Moscow

The US Congress seeks to extend a ban on cooperation between the Pentagon and the Russian Defense Ministry, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Washington will also continue to counter Russia, based on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 agreed on by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has reaffirmed Washington’s stance stating that Russia "is never going to be our friend."

Although the US and Russia have stepped up military and military-political contacts to some extent, Washington has so far refrained from being actively involved in efforts to secure refugees’ return to Syria initiated by Russia and backed by the UN. Nor do the Americans have a desire to take part in the operation to demine the territory controlled by the US-led coalition.

According to media reports, the US will attempt to create conditions for its strategic partners to abandon the purchase of Russian-made weapons. For example, the delivery of US F-35 fifth-generation aircraft to Turkey will be delayed because of Ankara’s plans to buy Russia’s S-400 missile systems.

"It’s unclear how Ankara will behave if the delivery of the F-35 aircraft for its armed forces is delayed or cancelled. Although Ankara said in the past it would not give up the contract to purchase the S-400 systems from Russia, the fact that Turkey is a NATO member needs to be taken into account. Despite certain rapprochement with Moscow, it is likely to toe the alliance’s line," military expert Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ovchinnikov told the paper.

Meanwhile, the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act stipulates stipulates other steps aimed at countering Russia, in particular, supplying weapons to Ukraine to the tune of $250 mln. Plans are also in store to earmark $6.3 bln to Europe in order to counter the alleged ‘Russian threat.’

"In light of that, Russia needs to respond with asymmetric measures in order not to be drawn into an arms race, and that’s precisely what is happening. New types of warships, missiles, military equipment based on new physical principles are being supplied to the army and navy. Their production is less expensive, while their combat effectiveness is high," the military expert explained.


Vedomosti: Russia to weigh feasibility of building bridge to Sakhalin

The construction of a bridge to connect Sakhalin Island to mainland Russia is seen as a political project, and it is going to be implemented regardless of whether or not it is economically feasible, Vedomosti quotes a federal government official as saying. Besides, people living on Sakhalin need it, the official noted.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier instructed his cabinet to assess the feasibility of building that bridge. The price tag for its construction would amount to almost 649 bln rubles ($10.3 bln) and it could be completed as early as 2023, Russian Railways said. Putin earlier pointed out that the bridge would help restore the country’s territorial integrity, organize the movement of goods from Asia to Europe, and increase the importance of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Meanwhile, some experts interviewed by the paper noted that the bridge to Sakhalin would be more difficult to construct than the one connecting Russia’s mainland with Crimea. Some lengths are located in permafrost area, and the stretch along the Nevelskoy Strait is located on the continental shelf.

The bridge to Sakhalin is an unfeasible idea, says Alexei Bezborodov, Director General of InfraNews. The total turnover of Sakhalin’s cargo today is about 10 mln tonnes, and it will hardly be possible to increase it. Transporting coal from Mongolia and Kazakhstan via the island is economically illogical as well. Besides, Sakhalin’s trade with mainland Russia remains within the existing container traffic. Moreover, the island’s residents (about 500,000 people) are focused mainly on importing Japanese and Chinese goods. If the authorities want to develop tourism, it would be more useful to subsidize air cargo traffic, the expert stressed.


Kommersant: Armenia gearing up for snap elections

Preparations for early parliamentary elections have begun in Armenia. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan promised to hold them immediately after assuming office. The parliament is considering amendments to the country’s electoral legislation, while analysts churn out forecasts about whether new forces will emerge in the country that had weathered the "Velvet Revolution," Kommersant writes.

According to Stepan Grigoryan, Director of the Yerevan-based Analytical Center on Globalization and Regional Cooperation, the proposed moves are expected to make the process of small parties securing seats in parliament easier. At least six or seven factions should be there, the expert told the paper.

"Prime Minister Pashinyan will step down, after which the parliament will not get enough votes to elect a new premier. According to the law, early elections are declared after that," Alen Simonyan, a lawmaker from the Yelq faction, described the possible scenario. After that, Pashinyan will win a convincing victory and will be elected prime minister, he added.

Meanwhile, Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute, agreed with that forecast (about 80% of the ballots for Pashinyan’s party) and added, "All the rest can be controlled by nationalists, not Dashnaktsutyun (Armenia’s oldest nationalist party) but some new possible project."

Student activist David Petrosyan is certain a pro-Western group will emerge in his country before the elections. "There are many people who have not become government members and see that there are no decisive changes in foreign policy," he said.

For his part, Vladimir Evseev, Director of the Moscow Institute of CIS, has pointed to mistrust in relations between Moscow and Yerevan. "Russia fears Armenia’s movement towards the West will accelerate," he told Kommersant, adding that these qualms stem from the pro-Western views of Pashinyan’s team.


Izvestia: More Russians opting for non-cash transactions

The number of Russians who choose non-cash payments for the goods they purchase has increased eightfold since 2013 reaching 40%. About one-third of Russians use smartphones for the purpose. Consumers see non-cash payments as the most convenient option, Izvestia writes, citing the results of a survey conducted by the NAFI Research Center.

Non-cash payments are used most often by residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg (49%), individuals aged 25-34 years old (52%) and people who have a higher education (46%), the poll revealed.

Russians have begun using cards for payments more often than for withdrawing cash from ATMs, said Timur Nigmatullin, an analyst at the Otkrytiye brokerage firm. The share of non-cash payments approached 40% at the end of 2017, and he confirmed the data provided by the NAFI Research Center. Nevertheless, Russia continues to be a "cash country" by global standards. For example, in Europe the portion of non-cash payments currently exceeds 70%, the expert noted. If this trend persists and the Russian government and Central Bank continue to support banking institutions and retail trade businesses, we will be able to catch up with the Eurozone within the next five or seven years, the analyst said. The 50-percent level can be reached within the next two or three years, he added.

Non-cash payments are growing about 33% annually, according to Yulia Demenyuk, Deputy Head of Retail Products Department at VTB Bank. This is due to the development of infrastructure and the emergence of products that encourage the transition to non-cash payments along with the public’s improved ‘financial’ literacy. The portion of non-cash payments will accelerate due to the circulation of cards issued earlier and their replacement with new ones, which make it possible to gain even more preferences, the expert emphasized.


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