All news

Press review: Highlights from Putin's Q&A and Xi's hunt for sanction loopholes with Kim

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, June 21


Media: How this year's Q&A differed from Putin's previous sessions

Increasing household incomes and solving social problems for Russians took the spotlight at the annual televised Q&A session with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 20. In 4 hours and 8 minutes, the head of state managed to answer more than 70 questions from 23 regions. Even DDoS attacks detected during the broadcast could not stop the president. What's more, some issues were sorted out during the Q&A marathon.

Putin stressed that the main conditions for bolstering living standards was increasing the nation's labor productivity and economic development. By 2024, this will allow the GDP to surge by 3 trillion rubles ($47.69 bln) and will have a positive effect on people's well-being, General Director of the Federal Center of Competences in Labor Efficiency Nikolay Solomon told Izvestia.

According to Putin, genuine market or pure command economies simply do not exist, and "as soon as the economy has certain failures, or some problems, the role of the state immediately increases". "Economic theory assumes that the state can act better than the market. Especially in the public sector. But the question concerns the state’s share in the economy and the extent to which the state controls operations in the market," Director of the Center for Development at HSE Natalia Akindinova explained to Izvestia.

Some experts interviewed by Vedomosti believe that the Q&A marathon was not successful, while others were satisfied with the event.

"I do not rule out that the authorities were afraid to make concessions, not wanting to create a precedent and give people extra hope. The result was an extremely strange Q&A session, where the authorities seemed to show that they were aware of what was happening and understood everything, but were not going to change anything," Associate Professor of the Higher School of Economics Alexander Kynev told Vedomosti.

"There is still no direct connection between the Q&A session and the well-being of citizens. The session has two goals. First, setting up the public administration system…. Second, clarifying the problem field, the level of sensitivity of society to various solutions, and social well-being," Chairman of the Board of the Civil Society Development Fund Konstantin Kostin told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, political scientist Abbas Gallyamov believes, "The president conducted an effective event within the framework of the traditional ‘manual control’ paradigm. The event was well organized and Putin himself showed good form."

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, viewers' attention was distracted from the main topics to the "whale prison", where killer whales and white whales were moved from one reservoir to another right before the eyes of the Russian president and millions of viewers.

There were fewer messages to Vladimir Putin this year than in the past, Kommersant write. "Either citizens lost faith in the fact that … the appeals could reach their destination, or they finally believed in themselves, and not in Vladimir Putin, or they were simply tired of everything," the newspaper wrote.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China, North Korea hunt for loopholes in sanctions

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in North Korea on a two-day visit to strengthen Pyongyang’s position in negotiations with the United States, and also to remind Washington that the denuclearization of Korea is impossible without Beijing. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, China wants to expand economic cooperation with North Korea, which proves to be difficult to do given the ongoing sanctions.

"Nuclear missile tests in North Korea and threats to use them in a conflict with the US has alarmed Beijing and Moscow. China supported the UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea," the newspaper wrote. However, after the meetings between Trump, Kim and the South Korean president, tensions subsided, and for Washington, the sanctions card became a means of forcing Pyongyang to make concessions. Xi's visit serves as a signal that the period of alienation in Sino-North Korean relations is over and that Kim can count on China’s support in the diplomatic confrontation with the US, the newspaper wrote.

"The Chinese guest is behaving very well. In an article in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, he makes it clear that he is not going to teach the North Koreans how to live. In terms of the economy, the parties will discuss finding a loophole in the sanctions' fence. That is, it would be necessary to agree on what does not fall under the restrictions, and promote economic cooperation," Leading researcher at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Konstantin Asmolov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: EU at a ‘democratic’ fork in the road

At a Brussels-hosted meeting that began on June 20, the leaders of EU countries haggled over candidates for the post of President of the European Commission (EC). However, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the most intriguing question within the expert community is whether the European Union is going to move towards the creation of a "United States of Europe" or it will it continue to be managed by heads of states.

Observers doubt that the distribution of key political roles in the EU will be easy, noting that the outcome of bargaining for one of the main posts in the EU is unpredictable, the newspaper wrote.

According to German political scientist, and scientific director of the German-Russian Forum, Alexander Rahr, the main intrigue for Europe now is whether it should have democratic institutions and become some kind of "United States of Europe". According to him, the forces that want Europe to elect their leaders democratically could achieve this if the large factions of the European Parliament, for example, Christian Democrats, socialists, and liberals formed a big coalition and put forward their single candidate for head of the EC.

Proponents of this approach believe that this would probably pave the way for further strengthening of power in Brussels, which would be based on people, not on state leaders, he added. The expert told the newspaper he would be very surprised if European leaders decided to choose the future EC leader among several candidates, as it would be a sign that the states are handing power over Europe to Brussels.


Kommersant: Lukoil sets sights on Africa for LNG projects

Lukoil may create gas liquefaction facilities at its fields in Africa and start trading in LNG, Kommersant wrote. The first sites could include Congo, where the company is buying a stake in the existing unit, and Cameroon. Experts believe the LNG market is a good option for Lukoil, taking into account its own well-developed trading, but believe that the company needs a clear strategy for the development of foreign projects.

The current legislation does not allow Lukoil to engage in similar projects within Russia, because only Gazprom and Novatek have the rights to export LNG. "This is why we are looking at projects in Congo and, most likely, Cameroon. And in other parts of the world where we have discoveries of gas assets," the company’s CEO Vagit Alekperov said. He hopes that the restriction on the access of private companies to the Russian shelf will be lifted in the medium term.

Executive Director of the Skolkovo Energy Center Vyacheslav Mischenko told Kommersant he believes that at the moment, Lukoil’s long-term strategy does not include LNG projects and it has no structures that would lead in this direction. However, the expert added that the company has a great advantage in this area: a developed segment of international trading, which other Russian players do not have.


Kommersant: Putin decides to subsidize jet fuel prices

A year after the sharp rise in jet fuel prices, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that the government hammer out compensation mechanisms, similar to those for gasoline and diesel fuel. The head of state also instructed officials to reduce prices for bitumen. According to Kommersant, both decisions came as a complete surprise for the government, which now, according to experts, has to scrape together around 50 bln rubles ($792.31 mln) per year of compensation for jet fuel and 7-8 bln rubles ($110.9-126.77 mln) for bitumen. The National Wealth Fund might provide the funding.

According to a Kommersant source in the industry, the mechanism for containing prices for aviation fuel following Putin’s statement at his annual Q&A session is not clear. "So far there’s nothing to discuss," the source said. Another source in the Federal Air Transport Agency added that the damper has not yet been discussed in the department. In turn, the Ministry of Transport offered the government to earmark 22.5 bln rubles ($356.58 mln) from the budget to cover airline losses from rising jet fuel prices. The Ministry of Transport told Kommersant that the proposal is still being reviewed.

The measures were designed to support road construction and aviation markets, where the financial situation is approaching a critical state, Kommersant wrote. The question is who exactly will receive the funds - oil companies so that they lower prices, or consumers directly. According to one of Kommersant’s sources, the second option is more probable - a tax deduction is likely to be increased for airlines.


TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in these press reviews