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Press review: Putin sends signal on INF and Russia, US, Israel to talk Mideast security

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday

Izvestia: Putin’s INF suspension bill to act as signal for global community

Russia reserves the right to resume the implementation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty at any moment despite the bill on suspending the agreement, Russian MPs told Izvestia. According to experts, the draft legislation submitted by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday is a signal for the international community that Moscow is ready to maintain the status quo, but it plans to fully ensure its security giving a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s steps. Meanwhile, the United States has started developing earlier banned types of weapons, the paper says.

The accord was actually voided back in February 2019, when the US announced that it was suspending its provisions, and the next day Russia announced that it would act similarly. In March, Putin signed a decree on suspending the INF Treaty’s implementation and now the decision has been translated into a bill submitted to the State Duma (lower house), which is due to consider it in the first reading on June 18.

The bill says that the INF’s implementation will be put on hold and it’s up to the president to decide on further steps regarding the deal’s resumption. Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Alexey Chepa explained that this is a tit-for-tat measure for Washington’s withdrawal from the treaty. "We did not initiate this. But we reserve the right to restore the deal, if the counter party does this. Unfortunately, the Americans are interested in fueling tensions in Europe so that NATO countries earmark more money for military spending," the lawmaker said. "Besides, there is a powerful lobby in the US consisting of companies and politicians. They want to take advantage of the treaty’s suspension and start manufacturing weapons, and obtaining more funds. This may increase tensions on the international arena."

Amid the INF's suspension, a serious rift among NATO countries can be on the horizon, Chepa noted. Some countries, which are ardent supporters of US foreign policy, such as Poland and the Baltic states, may agree to the deployment of US weapons on their soil, while other European countries are likely to adopt a measured approach and will hardly agree to become "a US foothold," he said.

Russia’s position, in any case, is to comply with the treaty until the status quo is maintained, said Director of the Franklin Roosevelt US Policy Studies Center at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev. "In case of changes we need a Plan B. The treaty was ratified by the parliament and the new bill enables the president to decide independently on what steps to take if needed. This is first of all a signal for Europe. If the US decides to deploy such missiles on the continent, Europe will become vulnerable," he explained.

US President Donald Trump did not hide that the key goal of the INF Treaty’s collapse is to make China and other global players join talks on arms control in the future. Meanwhile, the countries may resume the INF Treaty’s implementation if their leaders show political will. Director of the Center for Military-Political Studies at the Hudson Institute Richard Weitz believes that although the treaty in its current form has been apparently buried, Moscow and Washington are capable of working out a new agreement, which may involve other international players. Putin and Trump are highly likely to hold talks during the G20 summit in Osaka this June and focus on international security.


Media: Israel creates anti-Iranian bloc jointly with Russia and US

Russia, the United States and Israel will hold their first trilateral talks to discuss issues related to regional security. The meeting between Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, US National Security Advisor John Bolton and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat will take place in Jerusalem in June.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose party is once again heading into the parliamentary race, announced that he has been the initiator of these talks. After visits to Washington and Moscow he declared an initiative aimed at making all foreign forces, namely Iranian troops and armed units loyal to Tehran, leave Syria. At the upcoming meeting, the parties are likely to discuss Iran, former member of the Israeli Knesset’s (parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Ksenia Svetlova told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "I think this is quite possible that Israel’s efforts may bring the positions [of Russia and the US] on Syria closer. For Israel, it is very important that the parties find common ground concerning Iran's presence on Syrian territory." Israel is becoming a diplomatic mediator, seeking to derive benefits for itself. "An accord between two great powers is a cornerstone of our security," Svetlova said.

Now the Jewish state is facing a challenging political environment. Its parliament, the Knesset, endorsed a bill on its dissolution and set new parliamentary polls for September 17. This is the first time in Israel’s history when a Knesset race will be held once again. This year, the election was held on April 9, but a coalition government was not created, and now Netanyahu seeks to reset it.

The ex-MP believes that the upcoming Knesset race won’t affect the current format of cooperation with Moscow and Washington, especially on security issues. However, Trump’s peace initiative, which was due to be presented in late June, is expected to fall victim to these surprise elections, Svetlova said.

The political part of Trump’s "deal of the century" will be put off until the new elections, Ariel Bulstein, a member of the central bureau of the Likud party, told Izvestia. According to the politician, Washington will unveil economic proposals for the Middle East peace process in late June as scheduled. However, the major part of its plan on Palestine’s future won’t be presented in order not to create dilemmas for the September parliamentary polls, he explained. Experts interviewed by Izvestia said this delay was explained by the fact that the interim government won’t have powers to pass crucial laws.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow testing nuclear munitions, not violating moratorium

Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency Robert Ashley has accused Russia of carrying out low-yield nuclear tests at its Novaya Zemlya site. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which records supposed nuclear explosions on the planet, has said the general was not right. Experts believe that nuclear weapons tests at Object-700 (the Novaya Zemlya test site) are being carried out, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

"Moscow is carrying out the so-called subcritical tests of nuclear weapons," military expert Viktor Murakhovsky said, explaining that such tests are not banned and are conducted to verify the sustainability, reliability and modernization of nuclear weapons. Such tests also occur in the US, which refused to ratify the CTBT and has a test site in Nevada that is ready for testing nukes.

Russia's Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov said commenting on Ashley’s statement that the US is trying to distract attention from its destructive line on the CTBT. First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma’s (lower house) Defense Committee Alexander Sherin is sure that "this is a continued primitive infowar against Russia." "This step by Washington may signal that the US is laying the groundwork to refuse to abide by the moratorium on nuclear tests, which the US has observed since 1992," Vladimir Batyuk, Chief Research Associate at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for the US and Canadian Studies, said.

"The types of weapons based on new physical principles are being developed," Russian military expert Lt. Gen. Yury Netkachev told the paper. "The country’s nuclear forces are ensuring its strategic parity. Yes, there is a nuclear test site. But it does not mean that it will be used. Russia has sufficient nuclear potential for many dozens of years to come," he said. In the coming months, Russia may conduct military drills of its strategic nuclear forces dubbed Grom (Thunder), which Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu mentioned last year at the Defense Ministry’s board meeting. Russia’s army regularly conducts these maneuvers and last time they were held in October 2018 at Putin’s instruction.


Izvestia: Moscow to double spending on promoting Russian as part of ‘soft power’ concept

Russia is planning to double its spending on promoting the Russian language. In 2019-2025, the officials will allocate 7.4 bln rubles ($113 mln) for these purposes, Izvestia writes, referring to the documents of the Ministry of Education. A previous similar program cost the country’s budget 3.7 bln rubles ($56.5 mln). However, experts interviewed by the paper say this effort has not so far yielded any significant results: the number of Russian speakers across the world remains at around 300 mln.

Over the next six years, the Ministry of Education expects this number to surge. The number of online learners of the Russian language should quadruple by 2025. The program also stipulates that direct participation of foreign citizens in scheduled events will triple from the current figure of 35,000 participants per year. More than 70 new centers for promoting the Russian language across the world will have been created by 2025.

The ministry also plans to set up and support Internet Russian-language schools, free online courses (for studying the Russian language and other subjects in Russian), various games and online exercises. Under the program, 768 educative and cultural events will be organized abroad, and Russian schools there will be provided with textbooks and new methods, and foreigners will be offered the opportunity to study the language in Russian universities. Some 173,000 teachers will be able to undergo further education courses and new textbooks and vocabularies will be published.

The idea of promoting the Russian language is part of a soft power concept, which helps Russia popularize its culture, Dean of Faculty of Sociology and Political Science at the Financial University Alexander Shatilov said. However, he voiced skepticism over this program’s effectiveness, noting that the number of people speaking Russian has remained unchanged over the past five years. Besides traditional work with neighboring countries, the government should consider cooperation with Asian, African and Latin American countries, which interest Russian companies, he noted.

First Vice President of the international public fund, the Russian Peace Foundation, Elena Sutormina believes that it is necessary to expand the network of Russian schools. Learning the Russian language is important not only for fellow countrymen abroad, but also for countries, which are popular destinations for Russian tourists, such as Turkey and Thailand, she said.


Media: European businesses more upbeat on investing in Russia

Optimism among European companies in Russia has been growing. The annual business survey compiled by the Association of European Businesses (AEB) and the GfK company has grown two points compared to the previous year to 140 out of 200 possible points. The poll questioned top managers from 104 companies. Most respondents have improved their evaluations of the macroeconomic situation in the country, the business outlook and short-term expectations for the Russian economy, Kommersant business daily writes.

The key reasons for entering and staying on the Russian market are its great potential and large volume as well as its positive development. More than half of European companies surveyed (66%) said in 2018 that their turnover grew more than the previous year. Some 34% of companies expect that investments would increase this year, and another 52% said that they would remain as before.

The most significant hurdles to finance are the high interest rates, as well as insufficient cash flow/financing capability and restricted access to bank loans. The key barriers to business in Russia are the regulatory restrictions, the lack of qualified personnel and an insufficient reliability of supply chain, according to the survey.

More than half of European businessmen surveyed do not believe that the situation with bureaucracy, taxes and duties and corruption will improve over the next two years. However, the share of pessimistically-minded entrepreneurs, who expect that the situation in these areas will worsen, has decreased 10% on average compared with a similar study in 2014-2016.

Overall, the results of the study say that the situation in Russia’s economy and their own business has not had any bad surprise for European companies, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. This was largely due to macroeconomic stability in the country. Most companies (66%) noted that the general economic situation in early 2019 met their expectations. Meanwhile, the study’s participants say that the situation around Russia still remains challenging. The most negative factors for business are the ruble’s volatility and Washington’s policy towards Russia. More than 70% of companies see economic sanctions as a negative factor.

According to General Director of GfK Rus Alexander Demidov, this year the evaluations of prospects that investments in Russia will increase are as cautious as a year ago. The most die-hard investors are not giving up and are adapting to the current conditions offered by Russian authorities and business climate, the paper writes.

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