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Press review: Takeaways from Putin’s 17th address and US embassy loses Russian staff

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, April 22
US Embassy in Russia Vladimir Gerdo/TASS
US Embassy in Russia
© Vladimir Gerdo/TASS

Media: Takeaways from Putin’s 17th address and ‘red lines’

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday delivered his 17th annual State of the Nation Address to the Federal Assembly. The Russian leader announced new measures to support citizens and spoke about Moscow’s "red lines" in foreign policy. Putin’s address to the parliament was without harsh foreign policy rhetoric and was focused on domestic issues - social support and assistance for the regions, RBC writes. Economists estimate that the price tag of these measures will come to 1.2 trln rubles ($15.6 bln). Investors earlier worried that the president was going to lay out a tough foreign policy agenda, which could seriously increase sanctions and geopolitical risks, but these expectations were not fulfilled, said Natalya Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank. In particular, there were fears that the president was going to voice crucial steps on Belarus and Ukraine or announce confrontational rhetoric against the United States. Russian markets positively absorbed the fact that the foreign policy part of Putin’s speech was short and did not take the spotlight, said Dmitry Dolgin, chief economist at ING in Russia and the CIS.

According to Kommersant, the expectations about Putin’s address were higher than its effect. Putin’s decrees will be clearly focused on social issues rather than on economics, and their implementation won’t require changing budget priorities or adjusting the economic course: the budget revenues in 2021 will be enough to cover the costs. The key focus of the address were Russian regions and poor families with children, and the top goal that was declared was overcoming the aftermath of the coronavirus epidemic. The main foe for the first time in years has not been designated. The government of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has been tasked with presenting more effective socio-economic development initiatives by July 1.

On the foreign policy track, Putin focused on the usual confrontation with Western countries and stood up for his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, Izvestia writes. Putin warned that the common practice of slapping sanctions was turning into "something more dangerous." Deputy Speaker of the Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) Konstantin Kosachev told the newspaper that the key message of this part of the address was that Russia sought good relations with all foreign partners, even those who use other approaches with Russia and even try to burn bridges. "We will hold the positions of common sense but certainly we will respond if our partners cross red lines."

In general, Russia is a welcoming country, which is open to friendship. According to Putin, the major goal is that citizens of most foreign states could get a digital visa for trips to Russia within four days. The president confirmed that Moscow would remove entry restrictions on foreigners as soon as the epidemiological situation allowed.


Kommersant: Moscow recalls Russian employees from US embassy

Russian officials have started implementing a package of sanctions against the United States declared last week. The Foreign Ministry summoned Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman, who received a note on expelling ten staff members from the US mission. The diplomats, who were declared personae non gratae, must leave Russia by May 21. This is a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s hostile steps, the Foreign Ministry explained. On April 15, US officials introduced a package of sanctions, including expelling ten Russian diplomats.

By giving the US diplomats a month to leave the country, Moscow also acted in a tit-for-tat fashion. According to Kommersant’s sources, the American authorities imposed the same deadline for Russian diplomats. Under the two previous presidential administrations - Barack Obama and Donald Trump - the Russian diplomats who were expelled from Russia's missions had only two days.

The most vulnerable measure among Russia’s counter-sanctions announced on April 16 will be the ban on hiring Russians for the US diplomatic mission. According to Kommersant’s sources in the Foreign Ministry, a legal mechanism is being worked out that will put an end to the US embassy’s practice of hiring citizens of Russia and third countries as administrative and technical staff. Russia already introduced such restrictions back in 1986 and then the US ambassador had to go to work himself, while his wife had to serve guests at receptions.

Many Russians are working for the US embassy in Moscow now. In the current situation, the American embassy will find it hard to replace Russians with US specialists. Basically, the diplomatic mission will have to look for staff among very few US citizens, who are in Russia or to study the experience of 1986, when the Soviet authorities introduced similar measures, the paper writes.


Izvestia: US fighter jets arrive in Poland for military drills

The US has deployed F-15 and F-16 fighter jets to Poland. The Pentagon claims that these warplanes will be used only for drills, which are not related to the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Despite these statements by US defense officials, Russia views this step as unfriendly. Experts are sure that Washington is sending a signal to Moscow, Izvestia writes.

The Polish authorities are interested in having many US soldiers on their soil and this is not just attributed to security issues and providing more jobs in the country, Senior Researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) with the Russian Academy of Sciences and expert at the Russian International Affairs Council Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky notes. "Cooperation with the US gives Poland far greater weight in the EU. The authorities seek to demonstrate that this is not just a small and hard-nosed Eastern European country but a key US partner in Europe and what’s more a NATO member," the expert said.

According to him, the US is interested in keeping the contingent in Poland given its geopolitical interests. "In a certain sense, the US now needs Poland more than Poland needs the US. As for the deployment of American F-16 and F-15 fighter jets, I see a political dimension here - first of all by getting ready for the talks between Biden and Putin. If such a meeting takes place, the Americans are trying to tighten the screws now. The talks are expected to be tough. By the way, the US is seeking to show that NATO is united like never before and the Trump presidency is a thing of the past," the expert said.

Senior Researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Kislitsyn also notes that Warsaw is one of Washington’s key partners. "Poland is an important US strategic ally, which holds a certain niche in US foreign policy because it is located in the direction of Russia," the expert pointed out.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Putin mum on Ukraine, but Zelensky up in arms

Two years ago, Vladimir Zelensky won Ukraine’s presidential election by campaigning to end the war in Donbass. However, his efforts have not succeeded and now the Ukrainian leader is inviting his Russian counterpart to meet on the line of contact. Kiev notes that Vladimir Putin did not mention Ukraine in his State of the Nation Address on Wednesday. However, he appealed to those who support Ukraine, stressing that Russia would not respond to unfriendly steps and obnoxious behavior. Putin also warned against crossing what he stated were "red lines."

Former Deputy Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Suslov notes that the crisis in US, Russian and EU relations is unlikely to trigger a war, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. They sides are flexing their muscles with the goal of encouraging a long-awaited "big deal" or a new global agreement between the great powers on geopolitical division of the world. Ukraine is a focus of these agreements, according to the expert.

Ukrainian political scientist Dmitry Raimov wrote a post on social media noting that Zelensky’s address to his people was justified since everyone in Ukraine should be prepared for any development. "Not by panicking, but by planning, we are getting ready for mobilization and guerilla warfare." According to him, it’s dangerous if the two presidents fail to hold talks. "If the heads of state do not agree in person, then this is war. They won’t come to terms, judging by the rhetoric."

On Wednesday, Zelensky signed a bill adopted by the Verkhovna Rada last week to call up reservists for military service. However, the opposition believes this is not enough given the current situation. Oleg Tyagnibok, leader of the Svoboda party, called on Zelensky’s team to seriously consider the scenario of Russia’s possible military incursion.


Vedomosti: US climate summit likely to unleash war on coal, struggle for gas markets

Ahead of the Biden-hosted virtual climate summit scheduled for Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced plans to lead the renewable energy revolution in order to triumph in the long-term strategic rivalry with China. The latest US remark on the green agenda is nothing but blackmail and an attempt to create an environmental and climate screen, and use foreign economic levers to force its partners and clients to pay for modernizing its energy complex, Head of the Center for Energy Security Problems at the Russian Academy of Sciences Andrei Korneyev said. Meanwhile, the US is unlikely to be seriously determined to take a lead in the area of green energy, Russian experts told Vedomosti.

Artem Deev, who heads the analytical department at AMarkets, notes that now a global struggle for metals needed for producing green energy is underway in the world. China is a key producer of rare metals, which are used for developing alternative energy and Beijing has huge chances of becoming a global leader in the green race. However, China has a weak spot - its remaining dependence on coal. So, at the climate summit, Washington seeks to demand closing all coal-fired power stations across the world, Blinken said. Basically, the idea is to force regional states to buy US LNG and use it instead of coal.

"Given the current plans on building new LNG plants as well as resource and export gas potential, the US has capabilities to significantly boost LNG supplies to external markets. However, in terms of the economy of supplies, Russian LNG producers look more attractive for Asian consumers," Research Director at Vygon Consulting Maria Belova said. So, the struggle that the US is going to unleash against coal could turn out to be beneficial for Russia.


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