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Press review: Russia to exit INF, work on new weapons and Maduro reaches out to opposition

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, February 4


Media: Russia to exit INF following Washington’s withdrawal

After the US launched its procedure to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a proportionate response and handed down instructions to begin the development of previously banned types of missiles. The actions taken by Washington and Moscow have buried not only the INF deal but also the entire arms control system that emerged after the Cold War, Kommersant writes.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu suggested that in response to the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Russia should allocate budget funds to develop a land-based version of the Kalibr sea-launched missile and start "working on ground-based complexes of hypersonic medium-range and shorter-range ballistic missiles." High-ranking sources in governmental structures told the newspaper that if the Kalibr-NK missiles were deployed on land, their range would reach 2,600 km.

Although while announcing the suspension of US obligations under the treaty, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that Washington was ready to start new talks with all interested parties, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov is certain that the call will fall on deaf ears. "In the real world, no one will hold talks. Relations between Russia and the US are tense, while China is totally reluctant to even discuss such a possibility, pointing out that its arsenal is incomparable to those of the US and Russia," he said. According to Lukyanov, the current developments stem from the fact that "the world order that emerged in the 1960-1980s has perished" and all institutions established in that period, including the arms control system, are bound to meet the same fate.

"As for the timeframe for implementing the president’s order to deploy the Kalibr missiles on land and create ground-based complexes of hypersonic medium-range and shorter-range ballistic missiles, it can be done rather quickly. Perhaps, in a year’s time, we will have a launcher prototype and we will conduct all necessary tests," military expert Igor Korotchenko told Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

"We need to consider the possibility of returning to Cuba and establishing a Russian naval base there. If the geopolitical situation changes, we will use such methods to deter threats that come from the United States’ plans following its pullout from the INF Treaty," he emphasized.


Izvestia: Maduro makes futile attempt to reach out to opposition

Venezuelan authorities intend to hold dialogue with the opposition led by Juan Guaido but President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents are rejecting talks, Venezuelan Ambassador to Russia Carlos Rafael Faria Tortosa told Izvestia. He added that Caracas was determined to take part in meetings on Venezuela that would be held in the coming months. However, it is unclear if the opposition will participate.

According to Academic Secretary of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Latin American Studies Dmitry Rozental, the opposition is unwilling to enter the talks because it does not trust the Maduro government. "Peace talks would offer a real way out of the situation but the problem is that there is no basis for them," the expert told the newspaper. "The opposition believes Maduro will use talks just to buy time. And anyway, it is obvious that Maduro is not ready to step down," he added.

"The crucial question is who the army will support, this is what the situation will depend on. Maduro, the opposition and the Americans who support Guaido all realize this," Russian Institute for Strategic Studies expert Igor Pshenichnikov told the paper. "The United States is trying to put pressure on certain military officers to get them on its side. Bribery is an easy method to do it. Nevertheless, most of the army personnel still support Maduro, for the military understands that a state coup attempt is underway in the country," he noted.

Political tensions in Venezuela are rising at a time when the country is facing a social and economic catastrophe: there is a complete shortage of goods, wages are extremely low and the inflation rate has hit the 1.3 mln percent mark. In this situation, both Maduro and Guaido have run into financial hurdles. In particular, problems were stirred up by the US that had blocked some of Venezuela’s foreign assets and vowed to hand their control over to the opposition. However, the Venezuelan Supreme Court has ruled to freeze all of Guaido’s accounts within the country so it is now unclear who will get access to the money and how it will be done.

Additionally, Washington has slapped sanctions on the PDVSA state oil company, which is one of the Maduro government’s few sources of income. "Economically, Venezuela has its back against the wall and the US sanctions against the PDVSA are a very heavy blow as oil accounts for 98% of the country’s exports," Rozental explained. "Moreover, Caracas is having issues with selling Venezuela’s gold. This is why Maduro has just as many financial difficulties as the opposition," the expert concluded.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: EU launches sanctions-busting vehicle to trade with Iran

Europe has taken the first step to create a mechanism to trade with Iran that will be safe from Washington’s punitive measures. The goal is to protect European companies from risks and maintain the nuclear deal that Trump had left last year, Rossiyskaya Gazeta notes.

The UK, Germany and France (the European Union signatories of the nuclear deal) have launched a special purpose vehicle (SPV) dubbed the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) in order to facilitate legal trade with Iran, the three countries’ foreign ministers said. France agreed to take the SPV under its jurisdiction, while Iran is expected to establish a similar entity.

EU top diplomat Federica Mogherini said in September 2018 that Brussels would establish a mediator to trade with Iran. However, the idea has not been fully implemented yet. The three countries’ foreign ministers noted that INSTEX was only the first step and the mechanism was open for other counties that had commercial interests in Iran.

This SPV will make it possible for the three nations to preserve a minimal level of trade with Iran, said Leading Researcher at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Alexander Pakhomov. A thing to note is that the three foreign ministers’ statement mentions only humanitarian sectors (concerning medicines, medical equipment and agricultural goods) that their countries are interested in exporting. The US sanctions do not directly apply to this kind of cooperation as they are aimed first and foremost against oil supplies, but INSTEX’s functions may expand in the future, while its launch is a vivid political gesture.

However, this is not a new mechanism as far as trade between the US and Iran goes. In the 2000s, Iran already established such SPVs in a number of EU countries but having faced tightened sanctions, Tehran eventually buckled and agreed to a nuclear deal in 2015.

"It is still unclear how effective the mechanism proposed by the European counties may be, it is vaguely described and there are numerous disclaimers and references to international agreements," Pakhomov pointed out. "In any case, such a vehicle will reduce the effectiveness of trade deals with Iran, whereas violating US sanctions is risky business," he noted.

In November 2018, the US Federal Reserve announced $1.43 bln fines against France’s Societe Generale bank over its violation of US sanctions against Cuba, Iran and Sudan. Based on experience, only small and medium-sized companies that don’t have interests in the US are likely to use the new mechanism to trade with Iran.


Izvestia: No laughing matter as comedian takes lead in Ukraine’s presidential race

With the Ukrainian presidential election set for March 31 only two months away, comedian Vladimir Zelensky has topped the list of the most popular candidates. Leader of the Batkivshchina (or Fatherland) party Yulia Timoshenko moved down to second place for the first time, while incumbent President Pyotr Poroshenko came in third, Izvestia wrote.

A recent poll conducted by the Rating sociological service shows that 19% of the nation’s voters are ready to cast their ballots for the comic, while 18.2% support Timoshenko and 15.1% of those surveyed plan to vote for the incumbent president.

People are willing to give their votes to Zelensky because Ukrainian society is tired of "old" actors and wants to see a new face on the political scene. "The key to the Zelensky puzzle is that we have a disgustingly low level of confidence in all members of the political elite. It is no surprise that a popular actor with a positive reputation is getting a high approval rating. However, such voters often fail to make it to polling stations so Zelensky has few chances to enter the runoff," Director of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology Mikhail Pogrebinsky told the paper.

Verkhovna Rada member from the Opposition Bloc Yevgeny Balitsky told Izvestia that Zelensky’s rise stemmed from the fact that he has no negative ‘baggage’, while other candidates carry high disapproval ratings.

Candidates coming from eastern Ukraine, who were discussing the need to join forces ahead of the presidential election for nearly five years, have finally fallen out with each other. As a result, now at least three of them will compete for the votes of the anti-western electorate: Yuri Boiko from the Opposition Platform - For Life party, Alexander Vilkul from the Opposition Bloc and Yevgeny Murayev, who left the Opposition Platform - For Life party.

According to Pogrebinsky, spin doctors often times deliberately make false statements that Boiko’s rating has dropped and Vilkul’s has risen. All that does not help political forces from eastern Ukraine overcome their differences. If politicians playing the eastern field fail to reach an agreement, they risk falling behind and leaving it to Zelensky, Timoshenko and Poroshenko to battle it out for the presidency.


Kommersant: Most Russians have no desire to emigrate

The number of Russians who "definitely would not want to move abroad" has reached 61%, hitting a seven-year high, as shown in a poll conducted by the Levada Center. Only 17% of those surveyed expressed a wish to leave the country, most of them being younger than 24 years, Kommersant writes.

Leading Researcher at Levada Center’s Social and Political Research Department Natalia Zorkaya told the newspaper "most people consider the idea of emigration as an unachievable dream." "The poverty level is so high that people cannot even think about emigration as a possibility, they don’t have financial resources for that and there is also no such sentiment among those in their immediate circle that could serve as an impetus," she explained. As many as 27% of Russians who "want to live the way average families in Western Europe and the US do" are thinking about moving abroad. At the same time, only 18% of those who say their life is a struggle "even if it is on the most basic level" want to emigrate.

Age is a factor that influences the desire to emigrate the most. A total of 41% of respondents aged between 18 and 24 years said they wanted to move abroad. The young also have a better attitude towards their fellow countrymen who already left Russia: 96% of people from this age group said they were either positive or neutral about emigrants, while older age groups expressed the most negative attitude about those who left the country (23%).

Respondents willing to "take more active part in politics" express a wish to emigrate more often than those preferring to stay away from the political sphere (24% compared to 14%).

"Our research shows that Russian youth do not dream of emigration as much as their peers in Ukraine and Belarus," Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov said. "In this regard, the country’s role and size is important, as well as the fact that many still feel they are part of a great power, the people who do not need anything from others," he explained.


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