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Press review: Lavrov, Trump hash over boosting business ties and arms control proposals

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, December 12
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
© AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Kommersant: US seeks to boost trade with Russia despite sanctions

US President Donald Trump said at his recent talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that he wished to increase trade with Russia, Kommersant writes, citing a source close to the Russian delegation. The White House occupant did not explain how exactly this could be done amid Washington’s sanctions against Moscow. However, over the past years, Russian-US economic ties have been really improving. Soon, the sides are expected to announce launching a bilateral Business Consultative Council, which is aimed at giving a new impetus to business dialogue between Moscow and Washington.

This autumn, Russia and the United States named persons, who will be responsible for creating this mechanism, which Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Trump establish back in summer 2018, the paper wrote. In particular, President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Shokhin and Head of the US-Russia Business Council Daniel Russell will deal with this issue. They will be tasked with arranging the group’s first meeting during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2020. The launch of the council has not been officially announced.

According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, in 2019 Russia’s foreign trade declined almost with all of its top trade partners (except for China) compared with 2014. Among evident reasons are plunging oil prices, sanctions and Russia’s countersanctions, the ruble’s depreciation and a surge in prices on imported goods as well as an overall decline in consumption. However, despite all geopolitical hurdles, Russia’s trade with the US dropped much less than with European countries — just 11% in the first six months of 2019 against the same period of 2014. Former US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said in his October interview with Kommersant that 90% of bilateral trade was not affected by the sanctions.

Earlier, Moscow and Washington took steps to enhance economic ties at the top level. Thus, during the so-called "reset" a working group as part of the Medvedev-Obama commission was set up to foster business ties and trade and economic relations. A peak in Russian-US trade was recorded at that time, which reached $31 bln in 2011. The sides had ambitious plans, but the US froze this effort amid the Ukrainian crisis. In 2016, trade plunged to $20.3 bln, the paper says.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: ‘Russian cunning’ and China hinder Moscow’s arms control proposal

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a visit to Washington DC this week to meet with US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The talks focused on strategic stability issues and extending the New START arms control deal. It’s highly likely that there won’t be any arms control agreements left after this treaty expires in February 2021. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his addresses to world leaders that Moscow declared a unilateral moratorium on deploying these missiles. Russia is not going to deploy these systems to the regions unless similar US-made missiles emerge there. Lavrov said this offer remained on the table, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Alexei Arbatov, Head of the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, has explained why the West has rejected Russia’s bid to make this moratorium on deploying medium-and shorter-range missiles reciprocal. "The West is confident that Russia has been de facto deploying its 9M729 missiles," the expert told the paper. The Russian leadership insists that this missile has a shorter range than 500 km. However, NATO claims that it was tested at a range of 1,500 km. The feature of these cruise missiles is that they can be fired at different ranges and an important fact is whether it was launched at a longer range than declared. The West has described this as "Russian cunning," claiming that at first Russia tested the missile at a maximum range and then at a shorter range, Arbatov explained.

Meanwhile, Moscow also suspects that offensive Tomahawk missiles could be installed in Poland and Romania.

According to the expert, when beginning talks on nuclear weapons, the sides should clearly understand that they won’t lose but gain strategic and military advantage over what they had before the talks. In its turn, China won’t just agree to confirm that it lags behind the US and Russia in weapons systems, he explained.

"I think that Russia and the US could sign a new bilateral treaty while taking into account the Chinese factor. Any radical reduction of strategic arms now is impossible unless China is bound by any restrictions. And at the next stage, Beijing should become a party to the deal," Arbatov stated.


Izvestia: UK faces new ‘vicious cycle’ of Brexit after parliamentary polls

The United Kingdom is holding a general election on Thursday that will decide whether the country will leave the European Union by January 31, 2020. All opinion polls indicate that the ruling Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson, with its slogan "It’s time to get Brexit done," is likely to win. However, British politicians and experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that after the general election the UK’s House of Commons could be in limbo as the ruling party won’t have an overwhelming majority there. This means that the government’s struggle with legislators for a scenario of the UK’s divorce from the EU could face another go-around.

Six key parties are fighting for seats in the British parliament. According to the YouGov think tank, 43% of Britons support the ruling Conservative Party, which is likely to secure 339 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons. Another 34% back the opposition’s Labour Party that could obtain 231 seats and 12% will vote for the Liberal Democrats, which could win 15 seats.

Experts agree that despite the opinion polls, it’s difficult to predict the election’s outcome. The political elite are sure that there is a high risk that the new House of Commons would be in the same limbo as the previous one. However, this does not mean that the government’s efforts on carrying out Brexit over the past three years will be reduced to zero. Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer, told the paper that if the Tories keep power, they will seek Brexit, but if they lose power, a second plebiscite will take place.

The UK election campaign was also marred by alleged "Russian" meddling, the paper says. Speaking on the future of bilateral relations with Moscow, Yelena Ananyeva, Head of the British Studies Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, noted that a thaw is not on the horizon and London is expected to slap its own sanctions on Russia after Brexit.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iran-Israel tensions mount as Tehran accused of building tunnels in Syria

Iran’s military elite are suspected of building a network of tunnels in eastern Syria, close to the Iraqi border. Given Israel’s combative mood along with preparations for a second election, the conflict over Iran’s presence in Syria is expected to gain steam, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Meanwhile, Russia, which used to turn a blind eye to Israeli operations in Syria, is now apparently set to counter these moves. Media reports said on Wednesday that Su-35 fighter jets thwarted Israeli airstrikes near the Tiyas military airbase. According to independent analysts, this is not the first time when Russia’s Aerospace Defense Forces intercept Israeli jets over Syria’s skies. Neither the Russian Defense Ministry nor the Israel Defense Forces comment on these incidents. However, on December 11, Russia and its partners in the Astana process — Iran and Turkey — condemned Israel’s attacks in Syria in a joint statement.

However, the paper says there are doubts that despite a surging interest in Iran ahead of the polls, due in March 2020, Israel will raise the stakes and decide to carry out a limited operation on the ground, on the border between Syria and Iraq, to eliminate the supposed tunnels. "This significantly raises stakes," military expert Yury Lyamin said. "Most likely, new IDF’s airstrikes are expected to be carried out in order to hinder the construction and operation of these facilities." The analyst notes that Abu Kamal, where the works on creating the tunnels were spotted, has strategic importance for the Islamic Republic because it is located along the route linking Syria with Iraq and Iran.


Vedomosti: Russia nearly catches up with Europe in spending on New Year gifts

The average Russian is going to shell out roughly 19,300 rubles ($304) on celebrating the New Year in 2020, Deloitte said in its new survey published by Vedomosti. This is a record high expenditure. Last year, Russians planned on paying 14% less, but actually splashed out 18,324 rubles ($289).

The bulk of the New Year’s budget will be spent on gifts (46%), food (43%) and the rest on entertainment. The share of outlays on gifts during the festive period has been growing over the past several years in Russia, the survey found out. However, in 2019 Russians nearly caught up with European citizens, who spend nearly half of their New Year’s budget on presents, said Vladimir Biryukov, Head of the Retail, Wholesale and Distribution group at Deloitte CIS.

Apparently, Russians are more upbeat on the current economic situation than last year, Biryukov noted. The key reason behind the surging outlays is rising revenues, some 25% respondents said so, according to Deloitte. Another 21% said they just did not want to think about the economic situation. Over the past year, the share of Russians who think that the domestic economy is in recession has declined from 61% to 57%. Like in the previous year, in 2019 the most desirable gift for both women and men is money, while the second hottest gift is a smartphone for men and perfume for women. However, it turns out that Russians are more likely to get chocolate (45%) and cosmetic goods (44%) as a gift.


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