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Press review: Kiev to test Brussels with ‘Russian question’ and imperils EU-bound gas

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, May 11th

The second part of a questionnaire for Ukraine’s EU candidacy has been submitted to Brussels, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky announced. He expects a positive response in June. Experts argue whether real decisions can be made amid Russia’s special military operation. They also don’t rule out that the "Russian question," which has so far been ignored by both Kiev and Brussels, may create issues in the future, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Center for European Information Director Nikolay Topornin emphasizes the need to understand the difference between obtaining candidacy and joining the EU. The two events may be separated by years. However, Ukraine may be granted candidate status soon enough. According to the analyst, although Ukraine’s prospects look dim amid Russia’s military operation, Kiev seeks to take advantage of the situation. When speaking about Ukraine’s prospects for obtaining candidacy before the operation, Brussels cited the conflict with Donbass, corruption issues and poor progress in judicial reforms. Today, Ukraine’s level of preparedness is even lower, but since Western countries support the country in its conflict with Russia, Kiev has seized the moment and Brussels will find it more difficult to say no under the current circumstances.

It was important for Zelensky to announce the move to apply for the EU’s candidacy questionnaire but no real impact should be expected, Professor at the Higher School of Economics’ Faculty of Law Alexander Domrin noted. In his view, if the EU starts to seriously consider Kiev’s bid, issues will inevitably arise because Ukrainian laws are in no way in line with those of the European Union, particularly in terms of the rights of ethnic minorities and the use of their languages.

Later, Brussels will probably emphasize to Kiev the need to comply with European standards, Topornin said. However, given that many Ukrainian representatives are strongly negative about Russia and the Russian language amid the special military operation, the EU is unlikely to push the issue too hard.


Media: Five Russian regional governors decide to step down

The resignation of the governors of Russia’s Ryazan, Tomsk, Kirov, Saratov and Mari El regions can be viewed as logical, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. According to political scientists, most of the five did not surprise anyone by their decision to step down, as their effectiveness may have come into question.

The current reshuffle raises no questions, political strategist Dmitry Fetisov noted. "The reasons are different. For instance, as for Zhvachkin (the Tomsk region), it is his advanced age, concerning Vasilyev’s case (the Kirov region), there are questions about his governance of the region, while Lyubimov (the Ryazan region) failed to cope with the situation in the region, where he has an extremely low rating and relations within the elite are problematic, there are a lot of questions for his team and a number of criminal cases," the expert specified.

"Most of these names were earlier mentioned in talks about possible changes. The governors who are in their second term probably realize that in the current situation, they are unable to boost regional development," Head of the Civil Society Development Foundation Konstantin Kostin stressed. At the same time, the Kremlin has enough candidates to choose from to replace the governors who have bowed out, said Konstantin Kalachev who heads the Political Expert Group.

Political scientist Rostislav Turovsky told Kommersant that the reshuffle has increased the chances that a fall election campaign would be held in the usual way and there would be no shift to indirect gubernatorial elections. "If the process is back on the usual track, and elections should be held as usual," the expert noted. Elections won’t be difficult in any of the five regions because "given the current situation, any political problems can be solved relatively quickly and easily," regional politics expert Vitaly Ivanov said.


Vedomosti: Ukraine imperils Russian gas transit to Europe

Ukraine’s state gas transmission system operator said on May 10 that it was no longer able to continue the transit of Russian gas to Europe due to force majeure. The company said that it had lost control of the Novopskov compressor station and would stop accepting gas at the Sokhranovka connection point, through which about a quarter of Russian gas was transported. Ukraine suggested that the Sudzha connection point be used instead, Vedomosti writes.

Sokhranovka is located in the north of Russia’s Rostov Region and Novopskov is situated in the part of the Lugansk People’s Republic that used to be controlled by the Ukrainian military before the start of Russia’s special military operation. LPR retained control of Novopskov on March 4. Sudzha is located farther to the north in Russia’s Kursk Region, close to Ukraine’s Sumy Region (Russian troops withdrew from that border area of Ukraine at the end of the first stage of the operation).

There are some technical restrictions that don’t make it possible to quickly redirect gas flows to other routes, Deputy Director General of the National Energy Institute Alexander Frolov noted. He pointed out that Ukraine's gas transmission system had been established in the Soviet era with the aim to gasify the republic based on export capacity. "This is why, apart from consumers in the European Union, the move to halt gas transit will also harm consumers in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and Ukraine," the expert warned.

"In the current situation, Ukraine will have to scrupulously observe its obligations in order to avoid imperiling gas transit to Europe," Deputy Director General of Russia’s National Energy Security Fund Alexey Grivach emphasized, adding that given the political situation, no concessions should be expected to be made in that regard.


Vedomosti: Russian ruble continues to strengthen

Russia’s national currency has been strengthening after plunging to a historic low of 121.5 rubles per dollar and 132.4 rubles per euro in early March. Most experts expect the ruble to continue to strengthen in the short term, Vedomosti writes.

The Russian currency currently depends on trade flows whose balance remains strong, Russia and CIS Economists at the Renaissance Capital investment company Sofya Donets pointed out. The European Union’s potential trade sanctions will affect the market with a lag, so the ruble is likely to remain quite strong at least in the next month or two. The Russian currency may test the 60 rubles per dollar level unless Russia’s Central Bank and Finance Ministry take any radical measures, the expert noted. However, an expansion of trade sanctions may weaken the ruble due to a fall in exports.

The ruble may strengthen to the 60 ruble per dollar mark and even go lower, which is crucial for increasing imports and ensuring export balance, FX and Rates Strategist at SberCIB Investment Research Yury Popov said. According to the analyst, the exchange rate will stabilize around that level until the end of the second quarter of 2022, particularly because exporters will actively sell foreign currency to pay taxes. Still, the Russian national currency is expected to weaken later as imports will probably rise and exports will decline due to possible sanctions. This is the reason why Popov expects the rate to smoothly fall to 75 rubles per dollar by the end of the year.

The exchange rate may rise to 60-65 rubles per dollar in the short term, as long as exports significantly exceed imports, Deputy Head of Investment Analysis at Tinkoff Investment Andrey Oparin stressed. As restrictions are removed and the export-import imbalance stabilizes, the rate will settle at the 70-75 rubles per dollar mark, the expert said.


Kommersant: More Russians rely on social media for information as popularity of TV declines

The share of Russians who watch TV as the most reliable source of information declined in March and April, while people’s confidence in Telegram channels and social media networks has increased, Kommersant writes, citing research by the international advertising group GroupM.

Media consumption always changes during crises, experts point out. According to the results of the research, 33% of those surveyed mentioned television as the most reliable source of information on March 17, but that number fell to 23% on April 27. GroupM points out that the focus on TV news channels remains high, but some of them saw their ratings decline compared to February. At the same time, people’s confidence in social media networks, blogs and Telegram channels increased as the share of those who prefer them as sources of information rose from 19% to 23%.

Overall interest in news content is declining, Research and Strategy Director at OMD OM Group Irina Yedemskaya noted. "The shock has worn off and people have adapted to the situation," she explained. As for TV, it provides "dosed information, which is not always up-to-date," so people turn to the Internet for details, Yedemskaya specified.

Deteriorating trust in television as a source of information is to be expected in crises, said Director of the Moscow office of ECI Media Management Dmitry Kurayev. "The picture was the same at the beginning of the pandemic," he noted.

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