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Press review: Countdown to Iran’s exit from nuke deal and HK ‘trump’ card in US trade war

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, June 18


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Tehran starts final countdown to nuclear deal’s collapse

Iran has announced a further reduction of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a nuclear deal that Moscow, Beijing, London, Paris, Berlin and Tehran itself still respect. The reason behind Iran’s move is the lack of economic benefits from the deal that the United States left a year ago, making Iran a target for its unilateral sanctions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

After June 27, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will exceed the 300 kilogram limit set in the JPCOA, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on TV. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s later statement made it seem that Tehran is inclined to shift responsibility for the escalating crisis onto the EU leadership. According to Rouhani, the Europeans are running out of time to save the deal. At the same time, he added that the collapse of that international agreement would do no good whatsoever for the region.

"Iran did not announce a totally new reduction of its commitments," military expert Yuri Lyamin explained. "It has just specified its plans announced on May 8, when Iran said it was going to reduce its commitments under the JCPOA in line with the accord’s article 26. As a priority measure, Iran said it no longer felt obliged to abide by the limits for the stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water produced by the country’s nuclear facilities. However, Iran needed time to reach those limits," the expert added.

Lyamin pointed out that Iran’s move came in retaliation to Washington’s actions, who, among other things, started to threaten to slap sanctions on any country purchasing surplus low-enriched uranium and stocking heavy water from Iran. "Unfortunately, in the current situation, the country is not getting any economic benefits from abiding by the JCPOA, while European countries’ statements in support of the deal have been nothing more than words," the expert emphasized.


Media: Hong Kong uproar gives Xi headaches but offers trump card for White House

Washington plans to take advantage of Hong Kong’s turmoil in order to turn up the heat on Beijing in trade talks. China’s problem is that the use of force for quelling the current protests would result in capital flight from Hong Kong, a global financial center. However, the Chinese authorities cannot afford to look weak in the face of foreign pressure, so experts believe Beijing will not make considerable concessions to the Americans, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, President Donald Trump will raise the issue of human rights in Hong Kong at his potential meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during the G20 summit in Japan. This means that the West has no intention of winding down the current massive propaganda campaign against China. Simultaneously with the Hong Kong protests, which, according to various estimates, involved one to two million people on Sunday, rallies in support of Hong Kong citizens took place in New York, Washington and several Western European cities.

Chief Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies Alexander Lomanov told the paper that "rumors about a foreign plot and American interference are being spread in China so that Trump will never be able to prove that his agents seeking to stage a color revolution have nothing to do with the Hong Kong demonstrations." "This is why Xi Jinping can turn the situation the other way around and accuse Trump of attempting to destabilize China in addition to the trade and technology war. I don’t think Trump will get significant benefits from the Hong Kong upheaval," the expert noted.

Meanwhile, tensions in Hong Kong flared up amid the region’s reluctance to give into any pressure from mainland China, Izvestia notes. Beijing cannot show weakness and back down now, Senior Researcher at the Higher School of Economics Vasily Kashin said. In his view, the controversial bill making it possible to extradite those guilty of certain crimes to the mainland will be passed sooner or later in one form or another. A legal environment, albeit imperfect, is better than a complete absence of law that results in the use of illegal methods to resolve issues related to the extradition of criminals, Lomanov echoed.


Izvestia: New Moldovan coalition looking to clean house

The Moldovan coalition government, formed by the pro-West ACUM bloc and the pro-Russia Party of Socialists, will primarily focus on purging the country’s government circles, leaving geopolitical issues for later. According to experts interviewed by Izvestia, the coalition will remain viable as long as domestic political reforms are underway. However, sooner or later the new authorities will have to agree on a foreign policy course, which may spell the end of this marriage of convenience.

Moldovan MP from the Party of Socialists Vladimir Tsurkan explained that the parties had decided during their coalition talks that they would focus on domestic issues and refrain from delving into each other’s foreign policy preferences. "Purging government circles is a priority task. We need a clean-up to address the aftermath of the Democrats’ totalitarian regime," the Moldovan lawmaker pointed out.

The Democratic Party’s attempt to usurp power was so obvious that Russia, the European Union and the United States all supported the new government headed by ACUM leader Maia Sandu. According to Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Leonid Kalashnikov, Moscow welcomed the eagerness of the pro-Russia and pro-EU parties to join forces to fight against the oligarchy.

It is hard to say how strong the coalition will be, particularly given the difficult talks in its formation, said Azhdar Kurtov, an expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. "The problem is that the forces the coalition unites are too different, which means that the government will remain polarized," the expert noted.

It is yet unclear what kind of relations Chisinau will build with Moscow. Sandu openly calls for EU-integration, while Parliament Speaker Zinaida Greceanii, who is the Socialists’ leader, supports bolstering cooperation with Russia. To say nothing of President Igor Dodon, who has been trying to improve relations with Russia for the past three years, in defiance of the former government. Sandu, on the one hand, has stated that the government program stipulates further steps to implement the Moldova-EU Association Agreement but on the other hand, the prime minister has also confirmed the country’s openness "to dialogue with Russia to improve economic and trade cooperation."

Kalashnikov considers the coalition to be capable of purging government circles but it may fracture over foreign policy issues. However, election law reforms will allow Moldovan citizens to resolve such disputes through voting held in a democratic environment.


Vedomosti: Putin eases visa entry to Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has handed down instructions to introduce e-visas for entering the country starting in 2021. E-visas stipulate a fast-track document procedure, when applicants don’t have to visit visa centers. Single-entry e-visas will be valid for a stay of up to 16 days but at the same time, they will be multi-purpose, covering tourist, business, private and humanitarian trips, Vedomosti explained.

Any move to ease visa restrictions would generate almost immediate results, said Executive Director of the Association of Russia’s Tour Operators Maya Lomidze, adding that judging from other countries’ experience, the tourism industry may grow by 30-80% in the first year following the move.

E-visas have already been introduced in Russia’s Far East for about two dozens countries, including Algeria, India, Iran, Qatar, China, North Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Japan. E-visas allow their holders to stay in Russia’s Primorsky, Kamchatka and Sakhalin Regions for up to eight days. As for the Primorsky Region, the tourist inflow increased by 28% in 2018, while the number of Chinese tourists spiked by 134%. Russia’s Kaliningrad is set to be the second region where foreigners will be able to obtain e-visas: on July 1, e-visas for a stay of up to eight days, valid for 30 days, will be introduced there.

The Ministry of Economic Development seeks to increase the tourism industry’s share in the country’s GDP from 3.5% recorded in 2018 to 6% by 2035. In addition, Russia is to enter the UN World Tourism Organization’s top-10 tourist destinations by then, Deputy Economic Development Minister Sergei Galkin said. At the moment, Russia is in 16th place with 24.6 mln tourists recorded in 2018.

The best results are achieved when institutional (the easing of visa restrictions) and strategic (the promotion of tourism and a comprehensive development strategy) factors go hand in hand, said EY expert Ilya Sukharnikov.

It is great news for the tourism industry, Lomidze noted, but there are some important questions to be answered: which countries will be affected by the new rules, what the actual procedure will be and how expensive is it going to be. Comprehensive steps aimed at promoting Russia as a tourist destination should follow the move, she pointed out.


Izvestia: Russian national jailed in US teaches democracy to fellow American inmates

Russian national Maria Butina jailed in the US has started to teach four subjects to her fellow inmates with the permission of the prison authorities in Tallahassee, Florida, Izvestia wrote, citing Maria’s father Valery Butin.

"Masha has been actively involved in teaching, it helps her cope with her difficult situation. She is teaching four subjects to her fellow inmates. The most important thing is that it was not just her initiative, but she received permission from the prison authorities," Butin said, adding that Maria was meant to get a small payment for her teaching.

Butina’s father pointed out that his daughter had been quickly granted permission to teach other inmates because she held a university degree.

According to Valery Butin, Maria teaches math, English, the Theory of Probability and social science, which particularly includes a review of the foundations of the US democratic system.

Meanwhile, Butina’s father denied reports that the process of Maria’s transfer to Russia might begin in the near future. "No talks are planned to be held on the matter," he said, expressing hope that his daughter would be released on parole in November 5.

Valery Butin also said that his daughter had no complaints about her prison conditions, though she did note the extreme humidity in the Tallahassee prison.


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