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Press review: Kim Jong-un heads to Russia and Kremlin cautiously welcomes Zelensky's win

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, April 23


Kommersant: Kim Jong-un coming to Vladivostok for talks with Vladimir Putin

According to Kommersant, North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un will arrive in Vladivostok on Wednesday for a meeting with Vladimir Putin. Two sources involved in preparations for Kim Jong-un’s visit have confirmed that he will spend the night of April 23-24 in North Korea’s border city of Rajin and then will head to Russia. The two leaders will hold talks on April 25. After that, Vladimir Putin will depart for Beijing, where the second forum of China’s Belt and Road initiative will take place on April 25-27. Kim Jong-un will remain in Vladivostok to see the sights and the places his father Kim Jong-il visited in 2002. The incumbent North Korean leader will visit Russia for the first time since taking office in late 2011.

Kommersant’s sources say that the talks with Vladimir Putin will be held at the Far Eastern Federal University on Russky Island. University classes have been cancelled for April 23-27.

Moscow State Institute of International Relations Professor Georgy Toloraya told the newspaper that North Korea considered Russia to be a reliable and neutral partner, who, unlike the US and China, was not interested in influencing political processes in the country but sought to stabilize the situation on the peninsula and boost friendly relations. "The North Korea issue is one of the few areas where Russia and the US still maintain constructive cooperation," the expert pointed out. "US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun regularly visits Russia, consultations continue, the Americans listen to what we have to say," he added. Toloraya specified that "North Korea-US denuclearization talks have come to a standstill" and some decisions that would be made at the Vladivostok meeting perhaps could improve the situation.

Kommersant has found out that apart from pressing global issues, the parties will also discuss important trade and economic problems. In particular, Moscow and Pyongyang have for a long time been searching for a way to expand trade but UN sanctions are hampering these efforts. The parties will also discuss the extension of their cooperation program, the construction of a cross-border bridge and the issue of North Korean workers, the last of whom are to leave Russia before the end of 2019 in accordance with sanctions. The two countries continue efforts to find a way to let them stay in Russia without violating UN restrictions but talks on the matter haven't been successful so far.


Vedomosti: Kremlin invites Zelensky to dialogue from a position of strength

The Kremlin is in no rush to congratulate comedian Vladimir Zelensky on winning the Ukrainian presidential election. Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained on Monday that it was too early to congratulate Zelensky because he was to be "judged by specific actions," moreover, the official results of the elections haven’t been announced yet, Vedomosti notes.

The Ukrainian regime - regardless of the president’s name - is rightly expected to be hostile to Russia, political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko pointed out. "This is why it is pointless to put trust in Zelensky in advance, while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has made Russia’s position clear," he added. On Monday morning, Medvedev said he could understand the Ukrainian people’s choice but clarified that he did not expect Zelensky to change the country’s rhetoric.

According to media reports, Russia has plans to simplify the issuance of passports to the residents of the unrecognized Donetsk and Lugansk republics, Minchenko noted. The project is almost ready for implementation, a source close to the Kremlin told the newspaper. "So I think [on the Kremlin's part] it’s kind of an invitation to dialogue from a position of strength," the expert said.

Zelensky can benefit from the Kremlin’s refusal to congratulate him, Minchenko added. "He was accused of being Putin’s puppet, and now it turns out that Putin doesn’t even want to congratulate him though he had congratulated and recognized Poroshenko," the expert emphasized. As for the West, Russia’s reaction to the outcome of the Ukrainian election is of little importance, because the West controls the situation in Ukraine regardless of who is the country’s president, Minchenko said.

"The military operation in eastern Ukraine is perhaps not the only reason behind the Kremlin’s negative attitude towards Poroshenko: a more important reason is that in 2014, he managed to convince [Russia] he was a businessman with money being his top priority so it was possible to make agreements with him. However, things turned out differently: the 'Chocolate King' became commander-in-chief. Now they will watch Zelensky to see what becomes of him," said Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies Alexey Makarkin.


Izvestia: Sri Lanka tragedy points to growing global Islamic radicalism

The masterminds of the Sri Lanka terrorist attacks sought to make the presence of the global jihadist movement in the country clear, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. In their view, these tragic developments don’t mean that the center of Islamic extremism is moving to Southeast Asia but prove that the issue of global Islamic radicalism is growing.

Sri Lanka’s police and intelligence agencies are trying to figure out whether the Jamaat al-Tawhid al-Watania group, which claimed responsibility for Sunday’s explosions, has international support, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters. The deadly attacks in Sri Lanka reminded many about the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, where terrorists had carried out simultaneous explosions in two high-end hotels, a busy bus terminal and a Jewish center. Experts said back then that choice of targets was not because the attacks could have had multiple victims but because those venues were popular with foreigners which would attract the most attention from western politicians and the media.

"All recent terrorist attacks make it clear to us that few safe havens are left in the world. Perhaps, something like this can happen in the Maldives, Singapore or Malaysia," Adviser to the Director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies Elena Suponina said. "However, it is too early to talk about growing religious tensions in the country that has been through a civil war," the expert added.

About a year and a half ago, after terrorists from the Islamic State group (outlawed in Russia) had seized the Philippine city of Marawi, experts started discussing the threat of the entire Southeast Asia turning into a new stronghold of international terrorism. However, in Suponina’s words, the Sri Lanka terrorist attacks don’t mean the center of international terrorism is moving from Syria and Iraq to Southeast Asia, but points to the gradual escalation of this global issue.


Media: US squeeze on Iranian oil exports jeopardizes OPEC+

The United States’ refusal to extend Iranian oil waivers jeopardizes the oil production cut deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia or OPEC+. Saudi Arabia has indicated it will increase oil output to make up for the absence of Iranian oil and Russia will hardly stand idly, Kommersant writes.

Market participants interviewed by the paper said they had expected Iran’s oil exports to decline by the third quarter but now it was likely to happen earlier. However, oil exports from the country are unlikely to stop completely because Iran already faced such a situation before January 2016. One of the experts said that private oil refineries in India and China would continue buying Iranian oil but Tehran would perhaps have to offer them big risk-associated discounts.

However, some experts believe that the US move to tighten sanctions on Iran is actually aimed against China because the trade war between Washington and Beijing is not over yet.

"The US wants to have a tool to put constant pressure on China - a tool China won’t be able to get rid of quickly," Head of the School of Oriental Studies at the Higher School of Economics Alexei Maslov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. According to him, "oil exports offer such a way, given that China was denied access to high technologies in the past year. It will have to expand its economy, which requires new resources, namely oil and gas." The analyst pointed out that it was important for the US authorities to break ties between Iran and China. "Even in the darkest years, when the US imposed sanctions against Tehran, China continued buying small supplies to support Iran," Maslov noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia cautious about implementing China’s Belt and Road

Russian and Chinese authorities have been showing "full mutual understanding and harmony", including in economic matters, yet Russia is cautious about China’s large-scale economic and infrastructural expansion taking place under the One Belt One Road initiative put forward in 2013, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Formally, Russia is not a party to this project, but it is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which signed an agreement on trade and economic cooperation with China in May 2018. Meanwhile, experts point out that the Belt and Road Initiative becomes less clear as it goes global. It seems all cooperation with China can be ascribed to the implementation of this idea.

Russia seems not ready to become part of China’s mega-region or just provide its territory for the transit of Chinese goods to Europe. In contrast, Russia seeks to create its own mega-region in the form of the EAEU.

"Russia needs to increase its status in the project and, what’s most important, it has the capabilities to do it," President of the Russian-Asian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Vitaly Mankevich told the newspaper. "The Chinese initiative’s major land route currently passes through Kazakhstan so as a result, Russia’s Eastern Siberia and Far East are cut off from one of the main transport arteries within the Chinese mega-project. The development of high-speed rail transport across Russia can change the situation. Besides, a direct transit route through Russia would eliminate the need for additional customs procedures in Kazakhstan," the expert noted.

"Importantly, from the political standpoint, Russia participates in the initiative not as a country but as an EAEU member," Mankevich said. "At the same time, there are some differences between these initiatives. In particular, the EAEU seeks to protect the domestic markets of its member states, while the Chinese project is aimed at making wider free trade agreements. However, Russia is a key partner for China in combining the two initiatives," the expert emphasized.


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