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Press review: Opposition wins big in Hong Kong and EU mulls backing Palestinian state

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, November 26
Supporters of pro-democracy candidate celebrating victory in district council elections in Hong Kong AP Photo/Vincent Yu
Supporters of pro-democracy candidate celebrating victory in district council elections in Hong Kong
© AP Photo/Vincent Yu


Kommersant: Opposition wins landslide victory in Hong Kong local elections

The Hong Kong District Council elections, which saw a record high voter turnout (71% compared to 74% in 2015), have actually become a referendum, which was supposed to show whether the public was ready to rally around the authorities or vote for the opposition, Kommersant writes.

The local elections were also a prologue to the key political event of the coming year, that is, elections to the local parliament consisting of 1,200 seats and electing the head of the Hong Kong administration. In the event of a victory in this year’s local elections, the opposition could hope that it would be able to control more seats in parliament next year and oppose the authorities more vigorously.

While the Hong Kong administration had to acknowledge the defeat of the forces supporting it and called for respecting the people’s choice, Beijing’s response was much harsher. The Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed that Hong Kong was part of China, adding that Beijing would not tolerate those who were trying to destroy its stability and prosperity.

The victory of the opposition so far has rather symbolic significance, since the activity of local councils is limited to tackling current issues related to the functioning of the metropolis, Brian Yeung, an independent Hong Kong expert and founder of Brianstorm Content Solutions, told the paper. On the other hand, the expert noted that the smashing success of the anti-government forces showed the degree of the population’s rejection of the authorities and their policies.


Izvestia: European Union mulls recognizing Palestinian state

The European Union will consider the recognition of Palestine as an independent state, but that will happen at the right time, the European Commission’s press service informed Izvestia. It also reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to resolving the Middle East conflict based on the "two states for two peoples" formula.

According to the press service, the recognition of Palestine is an important issue for EU members. It also stressed that the creation of two states was the only way of bringing peace and security, which both Israelis and Palestinians deserved, to the region.

On November 24, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn urged the European Union to recognize Palestine as an independent state. He stressed that this step could be a response to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement on the legitimacy of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Palestine is demanding that Brussels show more independence in this matter, Palestinian Ambassador to Russia Abdel Hafiz Nofal told the paper.

"We ask the Europeans to transform this discussion into practical deeds and back the UN principle of creating two states, as well as speak out against the construction of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian soil. We ask the EU to recognize a Palestinian state within the borders of June 4, 1967, with a capital in East Jerusalem. That would be the best message to the Americans and the entire global community, and a clear signal of the independence of European policies," the ambassador stressed.

According to Sergei Melkonyan, an employee of the Institute for Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, if the EU recognizes Palestine, relations between Israel and Brussels will not change radically.

"In general, the EU cannot recognize any state independently. This is the prerogative right of its members, most of which will not back that initiative," the expert explained.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Syria civil war shifting towards oil and economics

As of late, increasingly louder demands from Damascus and pro-Syria allies have been voiced against Washington, calling on the US to hand over the control of oil and gas fields to Assad’s forces. Stanislav Ivanov, Leading Research Fellow at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, reported on this in his article published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta. They seem quite natural, but if one takes an unbiased look at them, this could be fraught with many pitfalls.

"To begin with, the eastern bank of the Euphrates River rich in oil and gas was freed from the Islamic State (IS, terror group, outlawed in Russia) by Kurdish militias backed by the US-led international coalition. Russia’s Aerospace Forces likewise contributed to vanquishing IS units, while government troops took no active part in hostilities," he recalled.

"The Kurds and Sunni Arabs in eastern Syria believe that they should not hand over their territories and resources under Damascus’ control until a new Constitution is approved and a coalition government is formed. Besides, there was no proposal to them on the joint use of these fields from [Syrian President Bashar] Assad," the expert stressed.

He noted that, despite Assad’s appeals to Syria’s domestic business community and the global community "to invest in rebuilding Syria’s economy and infrastructure, the country has so far received no substantial financial resources."

"It looks as if the ‘neither peace nor war’ scenario, when the approval of a new Constitution and the formation of the coalition government have been delayed indefinitely, suits Assad, his entourage and Damascus’ main sponsors. <…> That’s why the current Syrian establishment and its allies in Tehran are trying to avoid any financial investment in Syria’s future and are trying to compensate for their expenses wherever possible seeking only immediate benefits," the expert added.


Kommersant: Russian oil titan asks for tax exemptions

Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin is seeking tax exemptions on importing foreign-made equipment for oil and gas projects in territorial and inland waters, Kommersant has found out.

Sechin sent a letter on the issue to Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov. According to the Rosneft CEO, a special customs procedure is required, which is already in place in offshore areas. Although the issue has been discussed since 2014, no progress has been made because of the stance of the Russian Industry and Trade Ministry, according to which, zero duties should be linked to import substitution objectives.

A source in the Finance Ministry informed the paper that the proposal on a special customs procedure had been presented in 2017. "Since then, due to disagreements between the Ministry of Industry and Trade and Rosneft, the draft decision has not been forwarded to the Eurasian Economic Commission yet," the source said.

Rosneft’s interest in the issue could stem from the fact that Western sanctions affecting the Arctic region are probably not applicable to these territorial waters.

As for inland sea waters, Rosneft only has the Khatanga area, which occupies most of Khatanga Bay. This area crosses the territorial sea and reaches the continental shelf of the Laptev Sea, the paper quotes Mikhail Grigoryev, Director of GECON Consulting, as saying. Any cuts in taxes and duties help boost the profitability of projects and will come in handy, he added.


Izvestia: Over 30% of Russian companies use artificial intelligence

As many as one-third of large companies in Russia use artificial intelligence, Izvestia writes citing a survey conducted by the NAFI analytical center and the Mains Group insurance company.

"Only 7% of enterprises used this technology just one or two years ago," the paper quotes Mains Group CEO Sergey Khudyakov as saying.

In Russia, artificial intelligence is used in public administration, trade, industry and the energy sector, the survey indicates. Digital technology, which is becoming more widespread, enables companies to boost their efficiency and competitiveness, according to Vsevolod Khomenko, Head of Research Projects at NAFI.

According to Dmitry Katalevsky, Director of the Industrial Programs Department at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, artificial intelligence will affect all economic and business sectors across the board in the near future. So far, banks, HR agencies and the entertainment industry have succeeded in using it. In the public sector, new technologies are widespread in safety control systems, road traffic control and vehicle number plate detection.

The level of introducing computer-aided instruction in Russia, as well as throughout the world, is currently low, in spite the potential of that area, Timur Sadykov, Head of the Artificial Intelligence, Neurotechnologies and Business Analysis Laboratory at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, told Izvestia. This technology is prevalent in IT companies, the expert said, adding that they should become the locomotive of introducing it to other industries.

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