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Press review: Comic gets last laugh in Ukraine’s first round and Russia eyes Africa ties

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, April 1
Vladimir Zelensky  Pyotr Sivkov/TASS
Vladimir Zelensky
© Pyotr Sivkov/TASS


Media: Comedian Vladimir Zelensky wins first round of Ukrainian elections

TV comic Vladimir Zelensky may have the last laugh as he clinched a victory in the first round of Ukraine's presidential elections with over 30% of the vote and will face the current President Pyotr Poroshenko in the runoff on April 21. According to Russian media, the outcome of the political race between the contenders depends on the support of other candidates. Meanwhile, the battle will not end after the election. The parliamentary campaign starts this fall, and could be even far more crucial than the presidential one.

According to Izvestia's source in the Verkhovna Rada, the majority of the Ukrainian opposition plan to support Zelensky in the second round. According to political analyst Alexander Vedrussov, the fact that the current government received around 20% is a death sentence. However, getting into the runoff gives the current president another chance to "mobilize the entire administrative resource." "People like Poroshenko will stop at nothing. In the next two weeks, you can expect any sort of provocations. Meanwhile, in the second round, the remaining political forces are likely to unite against Poroshenko," the expert told Izvestia.

Political analyst Evgeny Minchenko told Vedomosti that Zelensky has more chances to win in the second round, since he has the least anti-rating and a big lead. "The majority of candidates, I think, will most likely support him or not support anyone," he told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, many other experts interviewed by Kommersant believe that Poroshenko could defeat Zelensky in the second round. "Patriotic mobilization is a component of his success. He reduces everything to simple opposition - these elections are a struggle between me and Putin. This is an important factor for many people and it overshadows corruption. In addition, he monopolizes the pro-Western vector," Head of the Kiev-based Institute for Global Strategies Vadim Karasev told Kommersant.

Head of the Ukrainian Politics Foundation Konstantin Bondarenko believes that Poroshenko’s victory in the elections would be fraught with problems for Ukraine. "The country’s militarization would continue, and false flags are possible, such as the one that he organized in the Kerch Strait," he told Kommersant. Meanwhile, Director of Bendukidze Free Market Center Vladimir Fedorin thinks that the relations between Russia and Ukraine will not thaw even if Zelensky becomes President. "The domestic political agenda will not allow him or anyone else to roll over for Putin. Zelensky has good stress tolerance," he told Kommersant.

That said, the parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 27. Given that Ukraine is a parliamentary-presidential republic, control over the Verkhovna Rada is very important – the institution appoints the prime minister, Kommersant wrote.
"The parliament is much more important than the presidency; it has far more genuine power. Therefore, Zelensky and company are going to act according to the principle of - if he wins it’s a success, if he loses, then we win in parliament," Bondarenko told the newspaper.


Izvestia: Russia to focus on Africa ties at upcoming Sochi summit

The October Russia-Africa summit in Sochi promises to be a major event that will consolidate Moscow's presence on the continent in the political, economic, trade and military fields, Izvestia wrote. More than 50 African leaders have been invited to the event, a Kremlin source told the newspaper. Furthermore, the Russian-African Economic Forum will be held at the summit. According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, from 2010 to 2017, the total volume of Russian exports to Africa almost tripled from $5.1 bln to $14.8 bln.

The conference's objective is to boost growth and to further diversify economic cooperation between Moscow and African countries, and it will also help solidify Russia's geopolitical positions on the world stage, the newspaper wrote. A source in the Kremlin familiar with the event's preparations told Izvestia that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to hold a series of meetings with African colleagues on the sidelines of the forum.

Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that the upcoming conference has strategic importance, since relations between Russia and the African continent are on the rise. Head of the Center for the Study of the Russian-African Relations and African States' Foreign Policy Yevgeny Korendyasov puts the volume of Russian investments in Africa's economies at $8-10 bln.

"Such companies as Rusal, Gazprom, Alrosa, Rosneft, and Severstal have successfully entered Africa's market. The Russian banking sector and farmers are active in Africa. We supply up to 30 mln tonnes of wheat to African consumers and are already pushing the French out of the market. At the same time, African countries began to supply more vegetables and fruits to Russia, replacing European competitors that fall under Russia's countersanctions," he told the newspaper.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: New Skripal Case sanctions can destabilize Russia’s banking system

A new round of tougher sanctions over the Skripal saga may tighten the screws on the Russian banking sector. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Washington is drawing up a draft of new sanctions against Russia in connection with the incident in Salisbury. The new restrictions against the banking sector could take the Russian financial system by surprise.

According to experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, if the United States backs up it words by taking action and imposes full-fledged sanctions against the Russian banking sector, not only will abstract financial institutions have problems, but so will the country’s ordinary citizens.

If large state-owned banks are banned from making payments in US dollars, "it will hit imports even harder than just a ban on exporting any goods or services to Russia," managing partner of Veta Group Ilya Zharsky told the newspaper. For purchases abroad, mainly dollar payments are needed, the expert explained. Moreover, according to him, in case of negative developments, the country will not be able to import not only household appliances and equipment, but also medicine, various components, and so forth.

"The impact on the banking sector in the form of restricting payments in dollars or, even worse, disconnecting from the SWIFT system would be a real blow, which can slow the pace of economic growth to 0.5-0.8% per year," Zharsky added.

At the same time, the expert believes that the White House is not interested in exacerbating the conflict that much. "It will rather delay and mitigate the new package of sanctions, which for the Russian currency will become another reason to slide to 70 rubles per dollar and then rebound when the threat is not as terrible," he added.

Director of the Institute of Contemporary Economy Nikita Isaev told the newspaper he believes that state banks will not collapse from the imposition of sanctions thanks to the support of the Ce


Kommersant: Kalashnikov proposes introducing facial recognition system to residential buildings

Residential complexes might be equipped with biometric facial recognition systems. Russia’s defense manufacturing enterprise, Kalashnikov, plans to launch a pilot project for introducing the system. The company’s CEO Vladimir Dmitriev told Izvestia that the initiative is aimed at strengthening public safety.

"The Kalashnikov Concern is currently working on a project to introduce biometric facial recognition system in residential complexes with the Ministry of Construction and is seeking to find interested parties among developers," Dmitriev told the newspaper.

According to him, at the initial stage, the system can be placed on the premises of a site under construction. This will get rid of unnecessary fences and reduce the number of guards. In the future, such cameras can start operating on the territory of a residential complex to identify and recognize people and automobiles.

Izvestia, Kalashnikov is ready to launch an experiment with the participation of a company that would be ready for it to reduce costs associated with the safety of the facility, Izvestia wrote.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Construction told the newspaper, they "support the introduction of advanced technologies that can positively affect people's lives".

According to the market participants interviewed by the newspaper, although the technology is designed for peoples’ comfort and safety, the price of the service and people’s desire to maintain privacy can be an obstacle to its widespread introduction.


Vedomosti: Economic Development Ministry suggests pouring $1.53 bln into developing tourism

The Russian Ministry of Economic Development has laid out a roadmap for developing a strategy for the tourism industry over the next six years, Vedomosti wrote. Funding until 2024 might reach up to 100 bln rubles ($1.53 bln), a federal official told the newspaper. These funds would come from already approved programs, as well as from additional sources.

The contribution of tourism to global GDP is 11%, whereas in Russia it is only 5% of GDP. However, tourism can be one of the fastest growing areas, according to Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin. Together with regional leaders, the Minister has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to introduce an electronic visa mechanism in Moscow and St. Petersburg as a pilot, a federal official told Vedomosti. Representative of the Ministry of Economic Development confirmed the letter’s existence to the newspaper. According to the official, the head of state supported this approach, but only if a specific implementation arrangement is worked out with the regions and security agencies. The goal is to launch the mechanism in 2020.

In additional, to boost tourism in Russia, regions together with business, experts, architects and marketing experts will create a concept for a single brand, a comprehensive development plan, standards of hospitality and quality of services. For compliance with these standards, businesses would receive additional support and would be included in promotional programs on national and international levels.

Maya Lomidze, Executive Director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia told Vedomosti, that details regarding the regulation of the tour operator business remain unclear. According to her, the goal is obviously to restore order, but given the current state of the market, any excessive clampdown could have a boomerang effect, driving down business stability, she noted.


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