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Press review: Macron, Le Pen to square off in runoff and why Pakistan’s PM was ousted

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, April 11th

Media: Macron, Le Pen to square off in French presidential runoff

France held the first round of its presidential election on Sunday. Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and leader of the National Rally movement Marine Le Pen will meet in the runoff, while left-wing candidate from the La France Insoumise Jean-Luc Melenchon came in third, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.

Political scientist and writer Dominique Jamet believes that if Macron is re-elected, nothing will change radically because he will continue to pursue the path of further European integration and will unlikely change his attitude to Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. According to Jamet, however, if Le Pen wins, France’s policies will change. She intends to withdraw the country from NATO’s military command structures and has announced plans to reform the European Union. Besides, Le Pen would certainly tighten immigration policy. Meanwhile, Jamet points out that no matter who wins, he or she won’t be elected by the majority of the French people because a record number of voters ignored the election as they had been increasingly losing interest in elections per se and in the ruling elites in general.

"The identity and transformation of French society is one of the key issues for voters. It is closely connected with the problem of migration but no one can say that it is Macron’s priority," Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations’ Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy Yevgenia Obichkina told Izvestia. "Both Le Pen and Melenchon are the candidates of unsatisfied voters, each on their side of the political spectrum," she added.

According to APCO Worldwide Special Advisor Jean Bizet, Macron will once again win the runoff election but he is going to face real difficulties some time later. The expert said that he was concerned about "the third round," "the social round" that would begin in several months. The issue of purchasing power, exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, is getting tougher.


Izvestia: Removing Russia from UNSC impossible even in theory, deputy envoy says

No one will be able to remove Russia from the United Nations Security Council and the UN in general, and in fact, this is impossible even in theory, Russian First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyansky said in an interview with Izvestia.

"Such a decision would have to be approved by the UN Security Council where we hold veto power. The same goes for the possibility of excluding Russia from the United Nations. It would mean the collapse of the entire system based on international law and the UN Charter," he pointed out. "This is why no one will be able to implement such a scenario unless the UN ceases to exist as an organization. In fact, the Americans admit that too, albeit reluctantly," Polyansky added.

When asked if Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council meant that Moscow would stop complying with UN human rights resolutions, the deputy envoy noted: "Russia’s suspension from the Human Rights Council, or, more correctly, its withdrawal from the body (we filed a notification of withdrawal before our mandate expires in 2022 as soon as our membership had been suspended), does not mean that we will stop participating in international human rights activities. We remain part of all the relevant solutions."

When speaking about the possible formation of some UN-led international group to investigate the Bucha events, the diplomat noted that the issue was not currently under consideration. "We ultimately don’t believe in any ‘independent’ investigations involving Western countries and Ukraine," Polyansky added. "International bodies that deal with such things have recently been facing very strong pressure from the West so their conclusions can hardly be described as unbiased. It’s enough to mention the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which acts in a very unbalanced manner, in isolation from facts, and is set against Syria," the Russian deputy UN envoy stressed.


Kommersant: Russia retains key role in resolving situation in South Caucasus

Russian President Vladimir Putin has held telephone talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The first round of diplomacy since the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine took place after a Brussels meeting between Pashinyan and Aliyev, where the two had announced a decision to launch peace treaty talks. The work on the document won’t involve the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group because its two co-chairs, the US and France, refused to interact with Russia. The breakup of the three-member team means that Russia now has all the initiative in resolving the situation in the South Caucasus, Kommersant notes.

International Crisis Group analyst for the South Caucasus Olesya Vartanyan expects that Armenia will try to insist on maintaining the role of the OSCE Minsk Group because its documents and statements highlight the importance of Nagorno-Karabakh’s identity and the recognition of its claims to self-determination. It is the only platform where the authorities of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic were able to convey their position to the international community. However, the demarche of the OSCE Minsk Group’s co-chairs forced Moscow make it clear once again that it had no plans to cede the initiative in resolving the Karabakh issue to the West.

"The parties have informed Moscow of their agreements with Brussels. The European Union itself cites the decisions made with Russia’s participation. Russian peacekeepers are deployed to Karabakh, while the Russian General Staff’s maps are crucial for the delimitation of the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan," Azerbaijani political scientist Ilgar Velizade emphasized.

"For the past ten years, Russia remained the main mediator among the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. France and the United States agreed with Moscow’s leading role as Russia has far more leverages to change the situation on the ground. Things are still the same," Vartanyan added.


Vedomosti: Pakistani PM Imran Khan gone after losing non-confidence vote

Pakistan’s parliament has passed a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan. According to the latter, foreign countries are behind his removal from power, Vedomosti writes.

The army, which used to support the prime minister, played a key role in his ousting, said Gleb Makarevish, an expert with the South Asia and Pacific Region group at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations. The armed forces declared their neutrality in the political crisis, giving free rein to the opposition. Khan’s opponents, including those in the military, were dissatisfied with a foreign policy imbalance towards China. However, according to the expert, Pakistan cannot become "less pro-Chinese," it is only capable of becoming "less anti-American." The new Pakistani authorities also won’t forget about boosting relations with Russia.

There were many factors that influenced the prime minister’s removal from power, which include Khan’s damaged relations with the army and domestic clans, a paralyzed economy and declining living standards, Associate Professor at Moscow State University’s Institute of Asian and African Studies Boris Volkhonsky explained. Foreign policy issues also played their role. Volkhonsky pointed out that Pakistan had always been maneuvering between the United States, China and Saudi Arabia, but Khan got too close to China, raising alarm in Washington. The final straw was Khan’s visit to Russia in late February. The US recommended he cancel the trip, but the Pakistani prime minister did not do that. In addition, Pakistan’s representative to the United Nations abstained from voting for an anti-Russian resolution at the UN General Assembly.

The situation in the region is unlikely to significantly change following Khan’s ousting. According to Volkhonsky, Pakistan has nowhere to go from its permanent foreign policy aspects, which include cooperation with China and icy relations with India.


Izvestia: Russia to go to court if forced into default by West, finance minister says

Russia will take legal action if the West forces it to default for failure to meet its obligations on Eurobonds, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in an interview with Izvestia.

"We will certainly go to court because we have taken all the necessary measures to make sure that investors get their payment. We will provide our payment documents to the court, confirming our efforts to make payments both in foreign currency and in rubles. It won’t be an easy process. We will have to work hard to prove our point despite all the difficulties," Siluanov pointed out. According to him, "the current crisis has made it clear that all the basic Western principles based on democracy, the inviolability of private property and other Western values are collapsing, so we view the impartiality of their judicial system as highly questionable."

The Russian Finance Ministry so far has no plans to enter the domestic or external debt markets, Siluanov went on to say. "We have changed our budget policy so now, all budget revenues, including those from oil and gas exports and others, are the source of our spending and a resource for discharging both domestic and external obligations. We don’t plan to enter either the domestic market or external markets this year. It is pointless because borrowing costs would be sky-high," the minister noted.

According to him, Russia’s confidence in external borrowings, including the euro and the dollar, has been undermined. The finance minister specified that the country’s overall public debt amounted to about 21 trillion rubles ($263.6 bln), and 20% of it had been external obligations, which were already calculated in rubles. Siluanov expects the share of external debt to decline.

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