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Press review: Putin, Xi to counter Biden and can Moscow slap effective sanctions on West

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, March 23


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Putin and Xi to give joint response to Biden

Talks between the foreign ministers of Russia and China, Sergey Lavrov and Wang Yi, are underway in China's Guilin. The Russian top diplomat's visit to China comes right after a meeting between Chinese and US officials in Alaska, making it clear that Moscow and Beijing seek to coordinate their response to Washington's move to simultaneously challenge both countries, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The goal of Lavrov’s trip is to boost strategic coordination with China, which, however, is not aimed at turning the United States into a permanent enemy. Beijing would like the US to return to the path of mutual respect, and Russia is unwilling to fully cut ties with the US. Meanwhile, China’s Global Times newspaper says that the United States seeks regime change in China and Russia through color revolutions. This is why the two countries need to work together to counter US hegemony and reshape the international political system based on the principle of equality.

Acting Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies Alexei Maslov points out that "the two countries’ Foreign Ministries earlier planned to hold consultations on issues such as cooperation in overcoming the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and interaction for the sake of the global economic recovery." "However, a new problem has emerged. China can see that Biden’s policy will be tougher than that of Trump. China had hopes that Biden will act more reasonably than Trump but these hopes have been dashed, so China is trying to find other ways to strengthen its position. That said, Russia’s role is increasing," the expert emphasized.

There are problems that China can solve only together with Russia. "First, it concerns efforts to reduce the influence of the dollar. It’s no accident that Lavrov mentioned it in his recent statements. China can’t do without Russia here, given that Russian-Chinese trade has exceeded $100 bln. Second, preparations are underway to mark the 20th anniversary of the basic Russian-Chinese agreement, singed on July 16, 2001. Apparently, Russia and China plan large-scale celebrations," Maslov noted.


Izvestia: Russia needs to react to new EU sanctions

The foreign ministers of the European Union's member states held a meeting in Brussels on March 22. One of the key decisions was to introduce sanctions based on the EU’s human rights protection mechanism. This time, two Russian nationals - high-ranking officials from Chechnya - were put on the EU’s blacklist, Izvestia writes.

The EU first employed the mechanism on March 2, designating Russian Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov, head of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin, Federal Penitentiary Service Director Alexander Kalashnikov and National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov, whom the European Union deems guilty of human rights violations as they were involved in the conviction of Alexey Navalny.

Russia views the sanctions issue as the new normal in relations with Western countries. "It is about attempts to impose devastating sanctions on Russia, which worked on the Soviet Union in the past. This is why pressure will mount," First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Dmitry Novikov pointed out.

Experts believe that in the future, countries will step up the use of sanctions to protect human rights. "They don’t harm the economy much, it’s more like a signaling gesture and an attempt to harm certain individuals that leads to political complications," Valdai Discussion Club Program Director Ivan Timofeev said.

According to experts, though sanctions have become routine, it is vital to react to them. "One option is to give a symbolic response. For instance, Russia introduces visa restrictions but refrains from crucial financial ones. The question is whether to stop there or go further," Timofeev noted. Russia could create its own human rights sanctions mechanism and employ it, for instance, when protests are dispersed in some Western country. However, it is unclear what political results it would bring, the expert concluded.


Kommersant: United Russia can win parliamentary election without Putin

The scenario where President Vladimir Putin tops the United Russia party's list in the upcoming parliamentary election is becoming increasingly unlikely, Kommersant writes, citing sources familiar with the Russian Presidential Executive Office’s position. Experts believe that even without the president's support, the election prospects look quite good for the ruling party. However, they aren’t ruling out that Putin may top the party list if the country faces serious economic problems.

The party itself believes that its rating has stabilized but still, it is too early to dismiss the scenario involving Vladimir Putin as the party’s number one list candidate. "We need to wait for the results of the primaries, and figure out what the candidate list, the party’s election priorities and its competitive ability will be like. This is when United Russia will make decisions on top party list contenders," said Head of the Civil Society Development Fund Konstantin Kostin, the coordinator of the United Russia expert council.

Political scientist Gleb Pavlovsky emphasized that the new State Duma would be crucial for the president. Its mandate falls on "the final stage of the transition period" and "it is important to ensure a constitutional majority that may come in handy to pass some decisions through parliament," he explained. At the same time, Putin doesn’t like to be used as "a stop-gap" in political scenarios, the expert warned. In his view, only serious economic problems can make the president take such a step but on the other hand, Putin can decide to join the United Russia party list for his own reasons.

According to Center for Political Technologies President Boris Makarenko, no one can say at the moment how much better United Russia will do in the election with Vladimir Putin at the top of the party list. At the same time, he is confident that United Russia will win the party list election and the vast majority of single-member constituencies.

Experts have no doubts that even without topping the party list, Putin will show his support for United Russia one way or another. "There hasn’t been a single election campaign without him supporting the party," Kostin stressed.


Vedomosti: Gazprom to build two new LNG plants

Russia's Gazprom may build two medium-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants by 2025, according to the long-term LNG production development plans published by the Russian government on March 22, Vedomosti writes.

The gas giant intends to build an LNG plant with an annual capacity of 1.5 mln tonnes near the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok, and another facility on the Black Sea coast, which will have a production capacity ranging between 500,000 and 1.5 mln tonnes. Gazprom currently has only one functioning LNG plant, the Sakhalin-2 facility. The project was launched in 2009 and now expansion plans are under consideration.

Gazprom initially intended to construct a large-capacity plant as part of the Vladivostok LNG project. Its first stage was expected to be launched in 2019 and later, production capacity could be expanded to 15 mln tonnes per year, Research Director at Vygon Consulting Maria Belova noted. However, in her words, the company put the plan on the back burner in 2015, deciding to give priority to expanding the Sakhalin-2 project.

According to Sergei Kapitonov, gas industry analyst at the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO Energy Center, Gazprom needs foreign gas-to-liquids technologies. "Russia currently does not have its own LNG technology, except for Novatek’s Arctic Cascade, which hasn’t been put into operation yet," the expert noted. However, Belova is more optimistic: Gazprom can take advantage of the relatively low capacity of its new projects and implement them on its own, without attracting foreign investment.


Izvestia: Owners can stop household appliances from spying on them

Global production of smart household appliances is booming. These devices are designed to make people's life easier but sometimes they can become a source of problems as they can be used for stealing information about their owners, said experts interviewed by Izvestia.

"Speakers with built-in voice assistants can record conversations and transfer audio data to third-party servers. Devices with built-in cameras are capable of passing on photo and video data, and devices equipped with GPS modules can do the same with geolocation data," Velter company Director General Andrei Fedorov noted.

According to Director General of the Omega IT company Alexey Rybakov, the most dangerous thing is when hackers get access to people’s smartphones, particularly using a spy app, or when owners lose their gadgets and leave them unattended. The expert’s advice is that people should protect their devices with strong passwords and refrain from using the gadgets that any other user, device and program can access. In order to prevent easy access to your smartphone, you should avoid installing apps from unknown sources.

One of the best ways to prevent gadgets from spying is to control them, particularly by turning off smart devices or their spying functions. "Don’t discuss things you want to keep secret near smart devices. If it is impossible, turn off the built-in mic during your conversation," Fedorov recommends.


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