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Press review: Will Minsk cross red line with Moscow and Russia, NATO face off over Arctic

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, August 7
Russian Northern Fleet’s drills in the Arctic Sergei Fedyunin/TASS
Russian Northern Fleet’s drills in the Arctic
© Sergei Fedyunin/TASS

Izvestia: Minsk’s move to extradite Russians to Kiev would mean crossing the line

Belarus should soon release the 33 Russians detained outside Minsk, a Russian lawmaker told Izvestia. Experts believe that by extraditing Russian nationals to Ukraine, Belarus would cross the red line, making it impossible to set things right. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said earlier that there was no need to politicize the issue - however, according to experts, politicizing the situation is what he has been doing in the run-up to the presidential election.

Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Leonid Kalashnikov pointed out that only Ukrainian citizens could be extradited to Ukraine, while the detained were Russian citizens. He dismissed as nonsense allegations that some of the detained Russians had participated in military activities in eastern Ukraine. If this was the case, every resident of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, who has been freely traveling to Belarus all this time, should have been detained. "In this case, the Minsk Agreements would have to be scrapped," Kalashnikov added.

According to Institute of CIS Countries expert Vladimir Yevseyev, even if just one Russian national were extradited to any country other than Russia, it would mean crossing the red line, where Russia would take political and economic measures.

"Various measures can be taken towards Belarus. As for economic ones, Moscow can deny loans to Minsk and refuse to refinance Belarusian public debt," the political scientist specified. According to him, restrictions on the import of Belarusian goods could be one of the toughest measures.

However, the expert emphasized that the extradition of at least a few Russians to Kiev is not impossible amid the Belarusian presidential election campaign.


Izvestia: Will Trump actually ban TikTok

The TikTok video app won’t be eventually banned in the United States, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. It would be unreasonable for Donald Trump to alienate 100 mln users of the app - almost all of the country’s youth - ahead of a presidential election.

Trump announced earlier in the week that a deal to purchase the TikTok app from its parent Chinese company, ByteDance, must include a "substantial amount of money" coming to the US Treasury. He added, however, that if TikTok failed to find a US buyer within 45 days, the app would be shut down in the country.

This is an unprecedented situation in US history, Freedom Finance analyst Valery Yemelyanov noted. No US president has ever demanded a Treasury kickback payment based on his own decision. At the same time, Donald Trump’s words may turn out to be a statement that will have no consequences and the business community won’t take it seriously.

If TikTok is forced to comply with the White House’s demands, China may take similar steps against, say, US film distributors, Katkov and Partners owner Pavel Katkov pointed out. In his view, it would be a tangible blow because China remains a lucrative market for the US.

However, Yemelyanov doubts that it would come down to a ban on TikTok. "The conflict was created artificially. It is perfectly clear to the US administration that a database of funny videos that school students share with each other does not pose any significant threat. TikTok just happened to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and became a convenient tool for manipulating public debate. Tensions between the US and China will fade away even before the election," the expert said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Arctic grows as stage for Russia-NATO conflicting interests

Russia's Navy is gearing up for large-scale drills that will take place in the coastal zone along the Northern Sea Route in the near future. Meanwhile, the United States accuses Russia of building up its activities and presence in the Arctic, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

It will be the Russian Northern Fleet’s ninth mission along the Arctic thoroughfare. The Fleet's forces, together with other military units and air forces, earlier practiced landing operations in the Arctic. However, the upcoming mission is not solely military but humanitarian as well, because it will involve members of the Russian Geographical Society who will carry out historical exploration and search activities.

The Russian fleet’s action comes amid the growing activities of NATO countries in the region. US Coordinator for the Arctic Region Jim DeHart has recently said that Washington considered the Arctic to be "NATO’s northern flank." US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said at the Arctic Forum in Finland in May 2019 that the United States would strengthen its presence in the Arctic in order to oppose China and Russia.

"I cannot recall the Northern Fleet’s ships conducting such missions along the Northern Sea Route in the Soviet era. The Russian Navy began to step up its activity in the Arctic several years ago, after the Russian leadership declared the region a zone of special economic interest. In order to protect these kinds of interests, the Northern Fleet is continuously boosting its capacities, and military bases hosting combat weapons and air defense facilities are being set up in the Arctic," Chairman of the Central Committee of All-Russian Trade Union of Military Servicemen Captain 1st Rank Oleg Shvedkov told the newspaper.

"The goal is to demonstrate power and the ability to repel potential enemy aggression and ensure national security," the expert emphasized.


Vedomosti: Trump closing gap on Biden in US presidential race

Business daily Vedomosti has taken time to analyze the current standings in the 2020 US presidential race. The gap in the approval ratings of presumptive US Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and the incumbent president, Republican Donald Trump, slightly narrowed in the past week, the paper wrote Friday, citing a Rasmussen poll published on August 5. According to the survey's results, Biden's rating stands at 48% and Trump's is 45%.

Both are actively engaged in their election campaigns. According to the US media, Trump is set to participate in events organized by the White House in Ohio, one of the so-called battleground states that can decide the outcome of the presidential race. Biden, in turn, seeks to gain the support of as many people of color as possible.

This strategy comes as no surprise, political scientist Israel Marques II told the newspaper. According to him, most people of color have always supported Democrats. Apart from African-Americans and Latin Americans, Biden's target audience also includes big city residents and white people with university degrees.

Trump's voters are quite different. "Trump is mostly supported by the white population in the South who live in the countryside and don’t have university degrees. The trend hasn’t changed on the whole," the expert said.

Suburban population will be crucial for the candidates in the upcoming election because these people will for the most part determine who will occupy the White House in the next four years. The expert pointed out that nationwide, economic figures would be of the most importance. This is why Trump’s situation, which has already been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, will depend on whether his team is capable of showing any economic achievements.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russian air transportation is not all doom and gloom

Russia’s airport traffic exceeded expectations in July. Passenger traffic dropped by only 45% compared to the same month last year, while forecasts had warned of a 65% plunge, according to the International Association of Airports. Tourists have reacted to the lifting of coronavirus restrictions, said experts interviewed by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Data from airports confirms overall figures. A spokesperson for Yekaterinburg’s Koltsovo Airport told the paper that the July passenger traffic had reached 374,300 people, which is 46% less than last year’s figures. A spokesperson for Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, in particular, noted that the airport had served over 73,000 passengers on domestic Russian flights on July 31, exceeding last year’s peak day figures by 18%.

Domestic air traffic is growing particularly because ticket prices are rather low for the summer season, said Fyodor Borisov, chief expert at Higher School of Economics’ Institute for Transport Economics and Transport Policy Studies. However, as a result, air carriers will face difficulties in implementing deferred payments of lease obligations and loans. The resumption of international flights will be highly important, the expert added.

The industry probably won’t see a straight-line recovery, experts point out. Air services are currently driven by Russians’ travels to resorts in the country’s south but growth rates won’t be as high in August, Deputy Director of the Institute of Engineering Economics and Humanitarian Sciences Daniil Kvon said. He stressed that demand in autumn would depend on the recovery of business activities.


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