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Press review: Geneva set to host Putin-Biden summit and Russia flexes air power muscle

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, May 26th

Vedomosti: Putin-Biden summit to be held in Geneva on June 16

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Joe Biden of the United States will meet in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16. Both leaders will discuss the prospects for Russia-US relations, strategic stability and pressing global issues, including cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and ways to resolve regional conflicts, Vedomosti reports, citing the Russian presidential press service.

The upcoming Geneva tour will mark the Russian president’s first foreign visit since January 2020, when he went to Israel and Palestine. The forthcoming European tour, which will chiefly include the summit with Putin, will also be the first foreign trip for Biden since taking office in January 2021.

Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine Fyodor Lukyanov believes that the Putin-Biden summit will transpire in the end because it would take some extraordinary developments to derail it, which is unlikely to happen, given how little time is left.

The political scientist pointed out that judging by the agenda, the meeting will be similar to the summits that had been held before former US President Donald Trump came to power. Lukyanov noted that the two leaders are mostly likely going to discuss global security issues, namely, the conflict in Ukraine, and the situation around North Korea. As for strategic stability, there is hope that the summit will help launch expert activities aimed at assessing the situation in the field, a diplomatic source told the newspaper.

Putin and Trump held their only full-fledged summit in Helsinki, Finland in 2018. However, instead of improving, Russia-US relations deteriorated after the meeting as Trump’s Democratic opponents accused him of making some supposedly secret agreements with Putin.


Izvestia: EU fails to set out approach to Russia

EU leaders have once again failed to lay out their position on relations with Russia. The issue was overshadowed by the emergency landing of a Ryanair flight in Belarus, and as a result, strategic discussions were put off until late July, when the next EU summit is expected to take place. Until then, Brussels will continue to stick to the principles that have been in effect for five years. Experts interviewed by Izvestia said that even if the discussion does occur, the EU’s Russia policy will still remain the same.

"It’s clear from the European Council’s conclusions that an action plan should fall within the Five Principles," said Nikolai Kaveshnikov, who heads the Department of Integration Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations. "At the same time, it is obvious that any changes in the European Union’s policy will reflect the ongoing downward trend in relations with Russia and EU members’ common belief that Russia’s policies - both domestic and foreign-are becoming increasingly provocative and destructive. So, if there are going to be changes, they will be negative ones," the expert predicted.

The summit’s participants did not make any statements on new sanctions against Moscow since Belarus ended up in the crosshairs for Europe’s restrictions. According to experts, Brussels’ sanctions have become a tool that politicians use to strengthen their position in the eyes of voters.

"In fact, it is clear that these sanctions are pointless. On the contrary, Europe needs the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and it will be completed sooner or later regardless of the EU’s attitude regarding Russia or Belarus," Head of the Department for Social and Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe Vladimir Shveitser noted.

According to the specialist, the fact that the European Union has postponed a statement on Russia confirms that the member states don’t have a unified stance on the matter.


Media: US, NATO can’t hide from Russian strategic bombers

Russia’s Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range strategic bombers have landed at Syria’s Hmeymim air base for the first time since its runway was upgraded. These planes were active in Syria in 2015-2017, striking terrorist targets. As of now, there are few Islamic State units left in Syria for these jets to target, but Moscow seems to have other goals in mind, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Chairman of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Trade Union of Military Servicemen Captain 1st Rank Oleg Shvedkov told the newspaper that the deployment of three Tu-22M3 long-range bombers to the Hmeymim air base serves multiple purposes. "First, Russia uses nearly the entire range of weapons in the Middle East. Now that the air base runway has been upgraded, it’s ready for supersonic bombers," the expert pointed out. "Second, there were plans to equip these bombers with new missiles, including hypersonic ones. Third, the Tu-22M3 jets are capable of controlling not only the Mediterranean region but also all the NATO bases in Northern Europe, as well as North Africa," Shvedkov specified.

Chief Editor of the Arsenal Otechestva (Arsenal of the Fatherland) magazine Viktor Murakhovsky, in turn, told Vedomosti that the arrival of the Tu-22M3 aircraft in Syria had nothing to do with the military and political situation in the country. It is about efforts to implement a plan to create an advanced hub where long-range bombers could be deployed and which could also serve as an advance airfield for long-range radar detection and electronic-warfare aircraft.

The move is aimed at making it clear that the Americans are not the only ones who can deploy their strategic bombers to the United Kingdom and Norway, from where they conduct flights towards Russia’s borders, the expert emphasized.


Izvestia: Belarus could face major losses due to EU aviation boycott

The EU’s new sanctions against Minsk can inflict huge losses on the country, particularly because European air carriers won’t use Belarusian airspace, Izvestia wrote, citing aviation industry experts.

According to Alexander Lanetsky, general director of the Friendly Avia Support consulting company, the national air carrier Belavia and Minsk Airport may lose at least one million passengers. The country’s air navigation company, Belaeronavigatsia, was capable of earning about $80 mln a year by providing services to foreign flights, note economist Andrei Loboda and Senior Analyst at Alpari Eurasia Vadim Iosub. According to the experts, the boycott may cause Belarus to lose some $40-50 mln per year.

Apart from the aviation boycott, Minsk may also face a financial one. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that the European Union has decided to expand its economic sanctions against Belarus.

Alexey Portansky, a Higher School of Economics professor, emphasized that "the EU is one of Belarus’ major trade partners as European nations account for about 30% of Belarusian trade and only Russia’s figure is higher at 49%." "Some of the EU countries have already limited investment into the Belarusian economy and as a result, the country may face serious losses, while Russia will hardly be able to offset them," the expert pointed out.

Nevertheless, Head of the Belarusian Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs Andrei Savinykh stressed that the country was ready to withstand and resist economic pressure.

"The thing to bear in mind is that there is no mechanism to convert external impact into domestic action," Yevgeny Preigerman, who heads the Minsk Dialogue Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out. "The leaders who claim to be the organizers of the protests are out of touch with the people. Some of them are imprisoned and others are based in Vilnius and Warsaw, maintaining contact only with their Western sponsors," he added.


Vedomosti: Russia’s Sakha Region embarks on mandating COVID-19 vaccination

On May 25, Head of Russia’s Sakha Region Aysen Nikolayev announced new measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The region’s chief sanitary doctor earlier issued an ordinance, saying that certain professionals may be banned from work unless they get vaccinated, Vedomosti notes.

The document particularly concerns those involved in food production and the treatment of patients. However, vaccination has also been mandated for all other occupations unless workers manage to explain their refusal to get a vaccine shot or prove they have medical reasons to avoid inoculation. The region’s head ordered local authorities to launch the vaccination of all workers and issue a regulation that would fine employers up to 200,000 rubles ($2,700) if they fail to ensure vaccination.

Political scientist Pyotr Bystrov points out that apart from fines, there is a need to introduce rewards. According to him, fines and the very obligation to get vaccinated may provoke discontent in the region.

"Unlike some other countries such as Brazil, forced vaccinations are illegal in Russia. However, only certain forms of coercion can help achieve high vaccination rates, or at least, measures aimed at motivating people to get inoculated, like it is happening in Germany, where unvaccinated people enjoy a limited set of rights," political scientist Gleb Kuznetsov said.

The move will neither trigger protests nor affect the results of the fall’s parliamentary election, the expert noted. "For instance, Israel organized a mass vaccination campaign before an election and the ruling coalition was able to use the slogan that Israel had won," Kuznetsov pointed out. In his view, as of now, Russians have no reasons to get vaccinated against the coronavirus because there are no restrictions for those who fail to get a jab.

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