Kommersant: Moscow warns Ankara against encouraging Kiev’s militarism
During a press conference in Cairo on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Ankara against encouraging Kiev’s "militaristic aspirations." This statement came in response to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s trip to Istanbul, Kommersant reports. Meanwhile, Russia and Egypt are on the same page when it comes to the international agenda, as proven by Lavrov’s working visit to the country.
"I will tell you straight away that we urge all responsible countries that we communicate with - and Turkey is one of them - that we strongly recommend they analyze the situation and the Kiev regime’s relentless belligerent statements, and we also warn them against encouraging these militaristic aspirations," Lavrov said during a joint press conference with his Egyptian colleague Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, when asked whether Russia is concerned over the military-technical cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine. This matter arose after Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s visit to Istanbul on Saturday, and the reports of the first launch of Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drone in Donbass.
Lavrov’s statement on Turkey was made only a few hours before the Russian government’s decision to restrict air service with Turkey due to the COVID-19 situation there. The tone of the statement clearly contrasted with the atmosphere of mutual understanding between Moscow and Cairo on foreign policy issues. It should be noted that the minister chose to criticize Turkey in Egypt, which is considered Ankara’s rival in the region, as Cairo has a negative view of Turkish ambitions in Africa and Arab states, the newspaper notes. Their rivalry was highlighted in Libya, where Egypt supported the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the government in eastern Libya, while Turkey aided the Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
As for bilateral relations, Moscow and Cairo are prioritizing two infrastructure projects: the construction of the El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant and the Russian Industrial Zone in the Suez Canal. According to the data that Kommersant has, changes had to be made to the construction plans of both objects. However, on the whole, Russia and Egypt are able to solve the current issues so far. At the same time, there is no progress on the renewal of direct air service between Russia and Egyptian resorts which was halted in 2015 after the Russian airplane disaster above the northern Sinai Peninsula. Experts point out that Russia and Egypt are expected to expand cooperation in the war on terror, as well as work together in areas of mutual interest that have a stabilizing effect on the social-economic situation in Egypt.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: EU warns Russia of potential new sanctions over Donbass
Leader of the European People's Party in the European Parliament Manfred Weber is pushing for tougher sanctions against Russia if tensions in Donbass heighten. Moscow is "playing with fire" with its military buildup near the Ukrainian border, testing the West’s patience, he stated. According to the politician, the EU may exclude Russia from the SWIFT system or freeze the accounts of Russian oligarchs, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
Earlier, a number of European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, expressed concern over the deployment of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine. The Kremlin pointed out in response that the troops are moving on Russian soil and have the full right to do so.
Throughout the years of the Donbass conflict, the positions of the parties have not changed, the newspaper points out in its analysis of the situation. Russia stresses that it is not a warring side and is only forced to react to the activity of "hotheads" in Kiev. For its part, Ukraine claims that all its actions are in response to Russia’s military presence in the region. Western states tend to support Kiev’s stance, and the Normandy Four talks have failed to produce any results, namely due to the general tensions in the relations between Moscow and the West. It is hard to imagine that Russia would retract the troops in fear of sanctions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes, as it would contradict the line of policy typical of Russian President Vladimir Putin: he never acts under pressure or at least avoids moves that can be interpreted as action taken under pressure.
Manfred Weber also noted that the deterioration of Alexey Navalny’s health can also serve as a pretext for toughening sanctions. It seems that Russia would want to avoid creating new hotbeds of tensions in the relations with the West taking into account the current state of affairs, however, Moscow has already set its course when it comes to Ukraine, the newspaper says.
At the same time, the Russian government does not fear the looming sanctions. The ruling elite has already survived several waves of restrictions and gotten used to this new normal. Besides, the security forces seem to benefit from the apparent conflict with the West, as in their opinion, they can rule the country more efficiently in this situation, the newspaper concludes.
Kommersant: Gazprom lays out energy route for China through Mongolia
Gazprom has approved the technical-economic analysis for its construction project called the Soyuz Vostok transit gas pipeline through Mongolia to China. However, so far, it is unclear what the Russian part of the pipeline, Power of Siberia 2, will look like. Gazprom suggests that it is going to be built from the west of the Yamal Peninsula to Krasnoyarsk, and the bulk of the pipeline will be situated in unpopulated areas of the taiga, Kommersant reports. According to experts, the conduit may cover over 2,000 km, and the difficulty and costs of construction are comparable to the Power of Siberia pipeline, stretching from the Lena River to the Amur River.
According to Gazprom’s plans, the transit pipeline through Mongolia with a capacity of up to 50 bln cubic meters a year should connect the gas transport infrastructure of western and eastern Russia and provide gas to Eastern Siberia that does not have access to mainline gas so far. The project is dubbed Power of Siberia 2 (similar to the already constructed Power of Siberia pipeline to China), and its Mongolian part will be named Soyuz Vostok.
Fitch’s Dmitry Marinchenko told Kommersant that at this stage, it is hard to estimate the cost-effectiveness of the gas pipeline to China through Mongolia. So far, the budget and the volume are unclear, in addition to the gas supply conditions. However, in his opinion, this route may provide Gazprom with more flexibility, since the gas produced in Western Siberia can be exported both to Europe and to China. Gazprom’s desire to expand export to China is clear, given that Europe’s demand for gas may drop in the long-term due to its energy transition.
Media: Russia suspends flights to Turkey over COVID-19 fears
Russia’s decision to restrict regular and charter flights with Turkey and Tanzania from April 15 to June 1 due to increasing COVID-19 infection rate will affect over half a million of Russian tourists. According to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), over 533,000 Russians planned a vacation in Turkey for this period. According to experts, tourists are unlikely to find cheap offers for trips to Turkey until October-November. Meanwhile, Egypt stated that it is ready to offer safe and cheap tours to Russian citizens, Izvestia reports.
The decision made by the Russian government deals a serious blow to the tourism industry comparable to the mass shutdown of borders in March 2020, ATOR says. On the one hand, Turkey formed a major part of the sales, and on the other hand, the delayed tours will pile on more debt to tour operators’ shoulders that have accumulated since the spring of 2020. A Kommersant source informs that about 30% of bookings for May have already been postponed from last year’s corresponding period.
The decision to restrict air service with Turkey will also affect Russian air carriers when it comes to reimbursing plane tickets, Aviaport Executive Director Oleg Panteleev told Kommersant. He noted that the airlines do not have spare funds after the winter period.
Turkey was the only mass charter destination accessible to the majority of Russians due to low prices and a large number of flights from Russian regions, Vladimir Kaganer, Deputy Director General of TEZ TOUR Russia, told Izvestia.
The government’s decision means that the start of the season in Turkey will be postponed by at least six weeks, Aleksan Mkrtchyan, Director General of the Rozovy Slon chain of travel agents, told Izvestia. The commentator pointed out that Russians have three options right now: get their money back, postpone their trip to Turkey or select another destination. This means that Russian resorts, as well as Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and the UAE are likely to profit from this situation.
Vedomosti: Russian travelers ready for digital health IDs
The tourism industry continues to suffer in the conditions of closed borders and unpredictability of the COVID-19 situation, Leonid Marmer, General Director of Amadeus Russia, writes in his op-ed published by Vedomosti. Over the past few months, such initiatives as digital vaccination passports, mobile health apps and express testing in airports have been discussed, which shows that the tourism industry is entering a period of "global reboot" aimed to protect the people’s health and renew regular trips, he notes. These initiatives can alleviate the consequences of the pandemic and have a significant effect on the industry.
While the government and the tourism industry are only discussing the introduction of digital health IDs, Russian travelers have firmly decided that they are in favor of this initiative. According to a poll by Amadeus, over 90% of Russian travelers are ready to use digital health IDs to resume their trips abroad. According to 79% of those polled, this will help them go through check-in and passport control faster, and 77% think that a digital ID can open up more tourism destinations for them. Meanwhile, 76% think that this initiative will help them plan their trips faster.
It turns out that people aged 25 to 39 are more likely to support the use of a digital health passport: 43% are ready to use it if it helps resume regular trips. Meanwhile, people aged 40 to 54 are less likely to use the new document, with only 36% speaking in favor of this idea.
What is more, 52% of Russian travelers noted that they are ready to plan an international trip within six weeks since the lifting of restrictions, the Amadeus head points out. This means that governments, medical organizations, tourism associations and IT developers must agree on the necessary protocols needed to relaunch the tourism industry as soon as possible, as the demand for such a decision is there. Those who end up being the first ones to offer an optimal solution will be able to exit the coronavirus-related crisis and expand their presence on the market, the expert noted.
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