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Press review: Russia, Kyrgyzstan to expand ties and comic leads in Ukraine’s election race

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday

Kommersant: Russia, Kyrgyzstan agree to expand military, economic ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin has paid an official visit to Bishkek. According to the information obtained by Kommersant, the Russian leader asked his Kyrgyz counterpart Sooronbay Jeenbekov whether Bishkek had plans to revive an agreement on humanitarian cooperation with the US. Jeenbekov in response made it clear that his country would prioritize military, economic and cultural ties with Russia.

One of the focal points during the talks was Russia’s military presence in Kyrgyzstan. The two countries agreed to amend the 2012 agreement on the status of the Russian military base in the Central Asian country.

The two leaders also vowed to bolster ties with their partners within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), including in such strategic areas as the energy sector and railways. Specifically, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller and Kyrgyzstan’s First Deputy Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov signed a roadmap for the purchase of Kyrgyzneftegaz’s property and assets by the Russian energy giant. That will make it possible to accelerate the country’s gasification bringing it to 60%.

Kyrgyz lawmaker Kanybek Imanaliyev told the paper that Bishkek should be given preferences for the delivery of goods within the EAEU, similar to those provided to Kazakhstan, which will enable Kyrgyzstan to step up its exports.

For his part, Kyrgyzstan-based political scientist Igor Shestakov pointed to the importance of cultivating ties between Bishkek and its closest allies. According to the expert, Kyrgyzstan "is trying not only to reaffirm its commitment to strengthening relations with Russia but also seeks to optimize that important political and economic process."

Everything suggests that Moscow appreciates this approach. Hence, its decision to provide non-repayable aid to Kyrgyzstan to the tune of $30 mln. Prior to that Russia completely wrote off Kyrgyzstan’s state debt, which amounted to $240 mln.


RBC: Three scenarios for Ukraine’s imminent presidential runoff

With the Ukrainian presidential election just a few days away, opinion polls show none of the candidates (there are as many 39 of them) will be able to garner the required number of votes, that is, more than 50%. That said, the next head of state is likely to be elected in the runoff vote to be held on April 21, RBC writes.

The trio of the frontrunners has remained unchanged since the beginning of the presidential race. According to the latest surveys, comic Vladimir Zelensky who may secure 27.7% of the vote leads the race. Leader of the Batkivshchina (Fatherland) party Yulia Timoshenko is expected to garner 16.6% and incumbent President Pyotr Poroshenko - 16.4%.

According to the first scenario, Timoshenko will face off against Zelensky in the presidential runoff. Zelensky has higher chances of winning the election, because he is an anti-establishment candidate, Ukrainian political scientist Ruslan Bortnik told the paper. "Influential Ukrainian entrepreneurs and tycoons will be more afraid of Timoshenko. She has more profound knowledge of economic and financial issues, while he will be less dangerous in the event of his win," he explained.

If the Zelensky-Poroshenko duo makes it to the runoff, Zelensky’s chances will be likewise higher because of Poroshenko’s anti-rating. Meanwhile, another Ukrainian political scientist Vladimir Fesenko believes that these two candidates are most likely to advance to the runoff. "Poroshenko’s team is sure they will be able to defeat Zelensky easily by using debates, mobilizing the opposition, using compromising materials and distracting young people’s attention. Whether or not they will be able to do that is an open issue," he told the paper.

The third scenario is that Timoshenko and Poroshenko will battle for the presidency in the runoff vote. If that is the case, Timoshenko’s win is more likely due to her opposition potential and the fact that she can consolidate voters supporting the opposition, Bortnik pointed out.

According to Fesenko, Timoshenko can be backed by all opponents of the current regime, including Zelensky’s supporters. However, it is premature to disregard the current president altogether, the expert went on to say. "The recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s autonomy is one of Poroshenko’s advantages. It played a decisive role in his presidential ratings in January and February and cemented Poroshenko’s image as a patriotic candidate and the only politician who can counter Russia not just in words but in deeds as well. Opposition candidate Yuri Boiko’s visit to Moscow which reminded voters whom Poroshenko is fighting also contributes to that image," Fesenko noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US imposes humiliating trade terms on China

Beijing is hosting another round of US-Chinese trade negotiations. Contrary to earlier expectations, a meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held in late March did not result in a deal, ending the dispute that cost both parties billions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The most important thing is that the parties failed to agree on the terms of compliance with the deal. Washington insists that if China continues to violate it, America will be able to respond proportionately and raise tariffs unilaterally.

The Global Times daily published by the Chinese Communist Party compared such statements with the Western powers’ ultimatums to China during the 19th century Opium Wars that involved China and the British Empire.

Andrei Ostrovsky, Deputy Director of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted that Washington is openly turning up the heat on China, pressing for a reduction of the trade deficit. However, the underlying cause of the huge deficit in America’s trade with China is Washington’s reluctance to supply high-tech products to the Asian economic giant. "China asks to supply such products saying that the deficit will decrease then. The Americans answer that they cannot do that citing Western-imposed bans back in the 1950s, during the Cold War era. High tech is what the trade spat boils down to," the paper quotes him as saying.

As for Washington’s attempts to establish unequal rules for resolving disputes, the Chinese will not agree with that, Ostrovsky went to say. "The information about the negotiation’s course is fairly scarce, both in China and in the US. Nevertheless, the fact that the yuan took a sudden dive against the US dollar a few days ago, speaks volumes about Beijing’s stance. That dramatically increases the US balance of payments deficit in its trade with China. In China, the Central Committee of the Communist Party deals with such issues rather than the market. When the Chairman of the Chinese People’s Bank gets a phone call from the relevant Central Committee’s department and is told to devaluate the yuan, he will be sure to carry out the instructions," he stressed.


Izvestia: Washington shelled out over $1.3 bln on Ukrainian army

The United States has earmarked more than $1.3 bln since 2014 to boost the Ukrainian army’s defense capacity and improve its interaction with NATO, Pentagon Spokesman Eric Pahon informed Izvestia. He noted that Washington supported Kiev’s aspiration to join the alliance, but unresolved territorial issues, including Crimea, continue to be a key stumbling block.

For his part, Frederic Pearson, Director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University, told the paper he did not expect formal NATO membership to be granted to such Eastern European countries as Ukraine due to the ongoing tensions between Russia and the US. He added that NATO’s expansion was an example of the ill-considered policy, which did not take into account all potential consequences.

Moscow views the alliance’s expansion towards Russia’s borders as a national security threat. Although NATO, and the US in particular, are not yet ready to grant full-fledged membership to Ukraine, the Americans will continue to provide financial assistance to the Ukrainian army, member of the Russian Federation Council’s (upper house) Defense and Security Committee Franz Klintsevich said in an interview with Izvestia.

"They will be doing their utmost to make sure that Ukraine eventually joins NATO. If the current regime in Kiev remains in power, the country is likely to join the alliance sooner or later, perhaps, contrary to all standards and regulations. NATO and the US need Ukraine as an anti-Russian state. In order to turn it into such a state, it is necessary to boost its armed force. That’s why American money is being allocated," he noted.

Klintsevich recalled that at some point, Washington earmarked funds to upgrade Georgia’s armed forces. However, when the state of the Georgian armed forces was "tested" in 2008 all that resulted in the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which prevented Tbilisi from joining the alliance. That was why the US-led NATO alliance switched its focus to Ukraine, the Russian senator added.


Kommersant: Toyota to invest $309 mln in Russia

Toyota has filed an application for signing a special investment contract and plans to invest 200 bln rubles ($309 mln) in Russia over the next decade, Kommersant revealed. The Japanese carmaker was the last big automobile manufacturer to show interest in the contract. The move could stem from the government’s decision to link industrial subsidies to special investment contracts. Without that, the company would have to shut down production.

Under the contract, Toyota, which has a plant in St. Petersburg, promised to localize a number of components and modernize production.

All global manufacturers operating in the Russian market tend to produce low-tech components, whose localization does not require high volumes of production, the paper quotes Sergei Udalov, Executive Director of the Avtostat analytical agency, as saying. He noted that any localization would make Toyota’s departure from the Russian market more difficult.

On the other hand, VTB Capital’s Vladimir Bespalov noted that its sales volumes of roughly 65,000 cars per year were not enough to manufacture engines or gearboxes in Russia.

According to the Association of European Businesses, Toyota Camry sales in 2018 amounted to 33,700, while sales of Toyota RAV4s came to 31,200.



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