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Press review: Trump blasts ‘Russia bounties hoax’ and EU to reopen to foreign travelers

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, June 29
US President Donald Trump AP Photo/Evan Vucci
US President Donald Trump
© AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Vedomosti: Russia once again takes the spotlight in US presidential race


Another pre-election scandal has erupted in the United States over Russia. The New York Times reported that Russian intelligence agencies allegedly offered money to Taliban militants in Afghanistan as rewards if they killed US troops there. According to the Democrats, US President Donald Trump knew about this and did not take retaliatory measures because of his alleged special relationship with Moscow. The news angered Trump opponents from the Democratic Party, however, voters are now more concerned about other problems, Vedomosti wrote.

The White House denied having ever received any intelligence on the matter. Trump blasted the report as "another fabricated Russia Hoax". The Russian Foreign Ministry also denied the report.

The topic of Russia, of course, will be used in the upcoming elections, political analyst Evgeny Minchenko told the newspaper. "Democrats will spin it more and more vigorously, given that parallel with it, the Ukrainian affair involving Biden has acquired new details. The sole and natural antidote to this story is the topic of Russia," he said. The expert believes that in the coming months one can expect other similar scandals. "The story with the Taliban seems to me to be absolute fake news, because, first, paying a bounty for specific people’s heads is more of an Anglo-Saxon thing, not a Russian-Soviet one, and I don’t remember any such precedents. Second, Russia has no objective interest in achieving a complete Taliban victory, because it would mean more pressure by the Islamists on Central Asia, and this is a threat to our security," Minchenko explained. However, the outcome of the elections will be decided in six battleground states and the issue of relations with Russia are certainly not a priority there, the expert added. "The topic of Russia will affect the general political climate for a long time, but other factors will decide the outcome of the elections," he added.

The report will most likely be used as justification for two already popular ideas, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and former adviser to US Secretary of State Stephen Sestanovich told Vedomosti. However, the issue is unlikely to be of key importance in this election campaign, since Americans are now much more concerned with other important things, like the pandemic, economic problems, racial issues, China, the future world order and our place in it, climate change, and so on, the expert noted.


Izvestia: EU opens despite possible second coronavirus wave, entry of Russians still being debated

The EU hopes that restrictions on its internal borders will be finally lifted by the end of June, the European Commission told Izvestia. As for opening the external borders from July 1, the list of countries will be regularly reviewed taking into account the changing situation. According to media reports, 15 countries will be first, including Canada, Japan, and South Korea. Meanwhile, the WHO warns of the risk of a second wave of coronavirus in Europe. Over the past two weeks, 30 countries have experienced an increase in the incidence of COVID-19.

The press service of the European Commission told the newspaper that the list of countries that can be allowed entry to the EU, is being prepared, given certain criteria. The main one is the epidemiological situation in the country, which should be the same or better than in the EU, the press service said. In response to the question of including Russia in the list, the European Commission emphasized that discussions are still ongoing.

Meanwhile, the threat of a second coronavirus wave looms over the EU. On June 25, the WHO warned of the risk of a surge in the number of coronavirus cases in the region. Over the past two weeks, 30 countries have experienced an increase in the number of cases of COVID-19, in 11 of them, the accelerated spread of the infection has led to its revival.

The press service of the Federal Ministry of Health of Germany told Izvestia that at the regional level, governments are trying to restrain the outbreaks, and it is possible that local restrictions will be tightened again over a period of time.

Italy, one of the first hotbeds of COVID-19 in Europe, has already started preparing hospitals. Antonio Clavenna, an epidemiologist at the Negri Institute of Pharmacological Research, told Izvestia that there is a probability of a second wave and that this time, the Italian healthcare system can deal more effectively with any new outbreaks.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US won’t cede Pacific power to China

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington would redeploy its military units so that they are ready to respond to China's threats to countries such as India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, this warning came at a time when strife between a number of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China has been heating up over the disputed islands in the South China Sea.

According to the newspaper, the recent plans of US President Donald Trump to reduce the US military contingent in Germany were discussed the most. However, the relocation in Europe might be only an element of a broader strategy aimed at concentrating more forces in the main direction of focus which is to restrain China's expansion, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

The confrontation between the two powers is unfolding against China’s attempted expansion in the South China Sea, which provoked protests from several ASEAN countries. Ten ASEAN member countries held a summit on Friday. A document distributed after the meeting expressed disagreement with China’s territorial requirements.

Head of the Southeast Asia department at the Institute of Oriental Studies RAS Dmitry Mosyakov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that ASEAN "has been drawing up a code of conduct for the parties in the South China Sea for a long time, but negotiations have stalled". "ASEAN has always insisted that all issues should be resolved peacefully in accordance with two documents - the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the decision of the Hague Tribunal of 2016. China recognizes the first document, and rejects the second," the expert said, noting that the Asian giant would reject a code of conduct based on these two documents.


Kommersant: Russia working on large-scale visa reform

The Russian State Duma in the first reading adopted a bill drawn up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on introducing a single electronic visa. Citizens of 53 countries entering three pilot regions already have the opportunity to apply for a visa from their homes, and starting January, this practice will spread throughout Russia, Kommersant wrote. The tourism industry is waiting for a simplified visa system, hoping that this will boost the development of tourism.

A simplified visa system will have an effect on member countries of the European Union, China, Japan, India, Turkey, and several other states. Before the pandemic, the new visa arrangement was tested in three regions: the Far East, the Kaliningrad Region, St. Petersburg, and the Leningrad Region.

Deputy Foreign Minister Evgeny Ivanov told Kommersant that foreigners will be able to receive visas no later than within four calendar days from the date of the application on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry and can use such a visa to travel to Russia over the next 60 days. The duration of the trip cannot exceed 16 days, and the visa would cost about $50, but it would be free for children under six years old.

A number of lawmakers and experts expressed their concern that oversimplifying the visa regime could lead to an increase in illegal migration to Russia, which, in their opinion, is extremely undesirable in the context of the economic crisis, Kommersant wrote.

At the same time, many representatives of the tourism industry believe that the process of simplifying the visa process is not fast enough, and strict rules hamper the development of tourism in Russia. According to the Federal Agency for Tourism, the tourism industry in Russia may lose 1.5 trillion rubles ($21.48 bln) or more due to the coronavirus pandemic.


Izvestia: Russia’s funding for National Projects might lose $2 bln in 2021-2022

Financing to cover the entire National Projects in 2021-2022 may decline by 140 bln rubles ($2 bln). The changes are also related to the transfer and redistribution of funds in the coming years, Izvestia reported citing data from preliminary budget drafts of the Russian Finance Ministry. Experts believe that in order to get out of the crisis, it is important to keep the maximum possible investment volume in the National Projects.

According to the newspaper, the funding for the Demographics project will see the most radical adjustments. It will see a drop of 150 bln rubles ($2.15 bln) from its earlier estimated 1.2 trillion rubles ($17.2 bln). Izvestia noted that the reduction in funding will also impact the project’s support for small businesses; it will lose almost 20 bln rubles ($286.5 mln) in 2021-2022. The Finance Ministry attributed the changes to transferring a part of the subsidies to support small businesses to 2020. The press service of the Ministry of Economic Development added that the decision to shift funds from 2021 to 2020 was due to the need to allocate money to the regions to support entrepreneurs during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, significant changes are also in the works to modernize and expand the main infrastructure, the project will add 13 bln rubles ($186.29 mln). Funds for the construction of communications between the centers of economic growth will increase by 12 bln rubles ($171.96 mln). What’s more, the development of the Northern Sea Route will see outlays of 8.7 bln rubles ($124.67 mln), and the program for sea ports will get 5.5 bln rubles ($78.81 mln).

Press service of the Finance Ministry told Izvestia that all adjustments are not final, since the amount of expenses can be further revised when macro-indicators of Russia’s socio-economic development change.

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