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Press review: US meddling in Hong Kong devalues democracy and is New START doomed

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, August 15


Media: US meddling in Hong Kong cheapens real struggle for democracy

The current situation in China’s Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong is not a domestic conflict anymore. The United States has been actively supporting the protesters while Hong Kong’s residents have been not only grateful for this 'assistance', but also view the US and the West as the guarantors of securing their democratic freedoms. However, experts interviewed by Izvestia say Washington's interference in these events won’t do anyone any good. This meddling provides grounds for Beijing to label the protesters not as those seeking democracy but as unpatriotic rebels, steered by the West. Therefore, there are fewer chances that the Chinese authorities and Hong Kong’s citizens might come to terms.

The protests in the 7-million strong autonomous enclave have been stirred up not only by a bill on extraditing suspects to mainland China, but also the overall discontent and inability of the local authorities to solve problems such as overpopulation, poverty and skyrocketing housing prices, the paper says.

Professor Jason Buhi from Barry University in Miami, Florida told Izvestia that labeling millions of people who just want effective local self-governance as extremists under the influence of foreigners is increasingly dragging the sides away from a compromise. This narrative about sabotage from abroad could push the Chinese authorities into a corner and then dialogue would be impossible. Should this happen, the riots would certainly continue down the road, he noted.

"China understands that the situation is locked in a stalemate and each step is weakening one party or the other," Director of the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center Alexander Gabuyev told the paper. "But unless the protests subside, China will start tightening the screws by hook or by crook and passing laws, which will limit foreign powers’ possibilities of meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs."

Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies Vasily Kashin told Vedomosti that Chinese laws stipulate that should the riots in Hong Kong spiral out of control and jeopardize the country’s unity, then China is entitled to deploy forces from the mainland at the local authorities’ request. According to Chinese experts, Beijing is planning to cope with the protests by deploying local police. China is betting on such factors as time and the growing fatigue of the public with stifled economic activity. "The academic year will begin soon and most protesters are students. The authorities may weather this protest storm until the demonstration wave subsides and then they can be quashed," he noted.


Izvestia: Moscow urges Washington to extend nuclear arms reduction treaty

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has expressed its bewilderment over Washington’s latest proposal that China should be included in the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), while France and the United Kingdom should be left out. Moscow says this looks like another American excuse, enabling it not to be bound by any restrictions, this time in the strategic nuclear weapons sphere. In a year and a half, for the first time the world might be left without any tools of control over strategic nuclear weapons belonging to Russia and the United States, Izvestia writes. The Foreign Ministry said Moscow would be taking steps to convince Washington to comply with the treaty, which expires in February 2021. However, signals are coming from the United States that its "extension is highly unlikely." The system of arms control built by the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War is now at risk of becoming a relic of history.

Moscow is calling for extending the deal, while the US position remains uncertain. "This [extension] would allow us to prevent any further deterioration of the situation in the sphere of strategic stability and also buy time for considering possible approaches to new weapons emerging in the world now and possible ways of controlling them by certain methods," the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Russia is complaining that Washington has not counted "hundreds of its nukes" and violated a provision stipulating that the parties should verify each other’s warhead counts. The ministry has described this situation as unacceptable, pledging to ensure that the US fully complies with this provision, which is vital for the treaty’s viability.

According to Alexei Arbatov, Head of the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, all signs indicate that the New START is doomed. "Over the past months, Washington has been talking about the need to transform the Russian-US system of arms control into a multilateral mechanism by involving China in it. This proposal concerned both the now-jettisoned Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the existing New START. Moscow views this action by Washington as a reason for terminating the treaties," he said, noting that China has officially rejected the US offer.

"It should be pointed out that the United States has been persistently turning a blind eye to the fact that its allies - the UK and France - possess nuclear warheads. So, we see this as another US excuse to unshackle itself now from the restrictions on strategic nuclear forces," the Foreign Ministry said.


Kommersant: Indian-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir going global

The United Nations Security Council is planning to hold an emergency meeting in the wake of the Indian government’s decision to change the status of the Jammu and Kashmir state bordering Pakistan. Amid the collapse in Indian-Pakistani relations, the global powers are trying to prevent an escalation of conflict between the two countries, which had been at war three times, Kommersant writes.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Moscow Qazi Khalilullah has accused India of having annexed Kashmir, stressing that this unilateral illegal act violates previous agreements. "Kashmir has been cut off from the rest of the world and we cannot ignore this. If aggression against our territory mounts, we will be able to protect ourselves," he told the paper. Should the situation deteriorate on the eastern border, Pakistan would be forced to deploy its forces, Pakistani Ambassador to the US Asad Majeed Khan has warned.

While New Delhi and Islamabad have been actively appealing for the international community’s helping hand, many global and regional players - ranging from the US to Iran - have voiced their position on the new Kashmir crisis. The difference in evaluations signals that there is no single stance: the Kashmir crisis has split the global community and undermined the unity of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Kommersant writes. One of its leaders - China - has accused India of destabilizing the situation by supporting another SCO member, Pakistan. In its turn, Moscow’s reaction was low-key: it called for ironing out the crisis on a bilateral basis, the paper writes. Russia has opted against supporting any party in the conflict, opposing Islamabad’s attempts to turn the problem into an international one.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia faces new demographic crisis

By the end of the first half of 2019, the natural decline in Russia’s population (when the number of deaths exceeds births) has reached nearly 200,000 people, according to data published by the Russian Federal State Statistics Service. This is the worst figure since 2008, according to the statistics agency.

In January-June 2019, some 719,700 people were born in Russia, 8% fewer than in the same period in 2018. Meanwhile, 918,500 people died, or 3% fewer than the previous year. The only positive note is that infant mortality has significantly declined (nearly 8% per year).

The government has already stated that the decline in the population is becoming a disaster for Russia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. "These are indeed record-high figures of a natural decline in Russia’s population and obviously, more record-high numbers are yet to come," Sergei Shulgin, Deputy Head of the International Laboratory of Demography and Human Capital, RANEPA, told the paper. Meanwhile, he noted that this year Russia has seen a jump in migration, and by the end of the year the figures could be not worse than in previous years.

Senior Lecturer at the Russian Economic University Olga Lebedinskaya told the paper several factors were behind the natural decline in the population in Russia. "First, this is the decline in the number of women of child-bearing age, and thus the birth potential is low (38% of the overall number of women)," she said. Second, the age of women giving birth to their first child has increased. Another reason is the high mortality rate among Russians of working age.

These statistics "show that our demographic policy, despite all the efforts, has not produced its anticipated objective," Director General of the Russian Institute of Regional Problems Dmitry Zhuravlev said.


Vedomosti: Russia eyes timber export ban on China unless it helps halt illegal logging

Russia may slap a timber export ban on China unless Beijing provides assistance in stamping out illegal logging, Russian Natural Resources Minister Dmitry Kobylkin said in an interview with Vedomosti published on Thursday.

"Let’s make it clear, unless China joins the effort to tackle this problem, we won’t have any other option than to completely ban timber exports. If we see particular steps by the Chinese, then we will solve this problem," the minister said. According to Kobylkin, he has asked Chinese law enforcement agencies to join the effort to fight illegal loggers.

The top official offered China to build selection and seed-growing facilities jointly with Moscow on Russian territory and grow saplings. "The goal is to restore for our children and grandchildren what these illegal loggers have cut down," Kobylkin emphasized.

In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded action be taken to beef up the fight against illegal logging, which increases the risks of floods. He ordered the government to set up a working group to combat deforestation by using space technologies. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called for looking into a possible link between the raging wildfires in Siberia and the Far East and illegal logging.

Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry is working on a program to prevent and reduce the scale and number of wildfires, Kobylkin said in the interview. According to the top official, the fires have been raging on 0.3% of the country’s entire forest areas. The ministry is also considering plans to make aluminium, coal and metal companies, which contribute to CO2 emissions, shoulder responsibility for protecting Russia’s forests.


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