MOSCOW, September 12. /TASS/. The ruling United Russia party scored a confident comeback in last weekend’s regional legislative elections across a wide swathe of Russia’s regions; Germany’s top diplomat talks Taurus missile supplies on her trip to Kiev; and experts weigh in on the EU’s latest move to bar Russians from bringing everyday personal items into the bloc. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.
Media: Russia’s ruling party wins supermajority in 20 regional legislatures nationwide
The United Russia party has made a confident comeback in elections across the country to legislative assemblies in 20 of Russia’s 89 regions. Five years ago, the ruling party had failed to score a simple majority (more than half of the vote) in every third region that voted for local lawmakers. In contrast, as Kommersant reports, this year the party garnered two-thirds of the vote literally in all regions where voters selected local legislators. In summing up the preliminary results of voting in 16 so-called “old” regions and in Russia’s four new regions on Monday, the federal Central Election Commission reported that United Russia had garnered enough votes to obtain a qualified majority, or supermajority, across all 20 regional legislative assemblies.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) lost its long-held second place spot to the opposition stalwart Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) in three of the four new regions (Lugansk People’s Republic, or LPR; Kherson Region; Zaporozhye Region), while the KPRF and LDPR posted a virtual vote tie in the fourth, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Meanwhile, the New People Party won seats only in the DPR, but did not run candidates at all in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions.
Communist Party Spokesman Alexander Yushchenko, a State Duma member, told Vedomosti that the very fact that the legislative elections took place at all in the four new regions is what mattered the most. "Given that most areas in those regions are not controlled by Russia and many cities are located directly along the line of engagement, with sporadic shelling taking place from dawn till dust, the figures there have a certain margin of error, in light of these circumstances," he said.
According to political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko, the rather high voter turnout in the new Russian regions resulted from multi-day balloting and mobile, house-to-house voting, thus enabling reaching out to as many voters as possible.
Another political analyst, Alexander Nemtsev, noted that the people who voted in the DPR and LPR and the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions last weekend had also taken part in last year’s referendums on joining Russia, and the level of activity they demonstrated shows that "they are ready to play by Russia’s rules." By voting, locals showed they are seeking order and more stability, he said. "The overwhelming majority of legislative candidates were local residents, which indicates that a full-fledged regional government is currently being formed with local support," the expert added.
On September 11, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock arrived in Kiev on an unexpected visit. That was her fourth trip to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s special military operation. This time around, Baerbock gave a promise to Ukrainian political figures that Berlin would provide another humanitarian aid package to Kiev worth 20 mln euros. Baerbock and her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmitry Kuleba, discussed the prospects of Berlin supplying the Taurus long-range cruise missiles to Kiev. Kuleba emphasized that his country was ready to go to any length to obtain these missiles from Germany as soon as possible.
Sending Taurus missiles was perhaps the focal point of Baerbock’s talks in Ukraine. While the German government says that no final decision on Taurus supplies has been made yet, Berlin has repeatedly emphasized that they fear a harsh response from Russia, as the missile has a maximum range of about 500 km. German lawmaker Jan Nolte told Izvestia that Berlin is working toward reprogramming the missile to shorten its range limit. "Obviously, they don’t want Ukraine to use those to hit targets in Russia. Reprogramming is possible in theory, and then, perhaps, several cruise missiles will be delivered. But the majority of Germans are still against sending Tauruses," the Bundestag member noted.
In general, Germany is currently seeking to strike a balance between hawks and doves on the issue, and one of the reasons why Baerbock revisited Ukraine is that she was attempting to smooth things over with respect to the delay in Taurus supplies, Maria Khorolskaya, researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), told Izvestia. "As you know, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has postponed sending Taurus missiles [to Ukraine] and he is being criticized for that by both his Western allies and Ukraine. So, [the hawkish] Baerbock’s visit was an attempt to create a balance with Scholz’s more moderate position," she believes.
However, Baerbock also focused on support for Ukraine’s EU membership bid during her visit. German political analyst Alexander Rahr believes that promoting Kiev’s ambitions to join the bloc stands high on the political agenda of both Baerbock and the Greens overall, of which the foreign minister is a leading member. "She is fully committed to incorporating Ukraine into Western structures and she will fight for that throughout her entire career, as this matters a great deal to her," Rahr told Izvestia. "Baerbock is a champion [of Ukraine] here, along with political figures from Poland and the Baltic states: she fully shares their vision. To this end, she must talk about corruption, however, because she understands that when she returns to Europe she will be asked about it. And she will say that she is aware of that and that Ukraine should combat corruption before it can make it into the EU," he explained.
The Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, the arm of the European Commission responsible for EU policy on financial services, has stirred heated debate in Russia with its release of a document barring Russian nationals from bringing their private automobiles or personal items, such as mobile phones, laptops and even shampoo and toothpaste, into the EU even if entering the bloc for a short-term stay. Earlier, German customs authorities had seized cars bearing Russian license plates from some visitors coming from Russia, citing the bloc’s sanctions rules, but the officials had interpreted the document too broadly and thus were ultimately unable to confiscate the Russian visitors’ property.
The EU office in Moscow advised Kommersant to seek clarification from the EU’s executive arm. The new EU import restrictions have stirred up heated debate on social media and provoked harsh criticism from senior Russian officials. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, for one, slammed the restrictions as "simply racist."
Lawyers interviewed by Kommersant said that the EU’s latest guidelines are legally void. "They are not a norm, but rather a Q&A from various officials, which has resulted in contradictory answers," said Yury Fedyukin, managing partner with Enterprise Legal Solutions.
"From a legal point of view, nothing has yet happened. The document is advisory and, evidently, politicized. However, the explanations may make flights to the EU from Russia more troublesome," Stefan Bozo, a lawyer with Guskov & Associates, told Kommersant. He did not rule out that the EC’s explanatory note "will give customs officers a free hand for local abuse, especially in countries that are the most hostile to Russia," he added.
Lawyer Artyom Kasumyan at Delcredere pointed out that, under the EU’s explanatory note to its sanctions rules, "only EU courts are authorized to interpret EU law," while "authorized agencies in EU member countries and EU officials can, but are not obliged to, follow the recommendations." When enforcing the law, officials in the EU will be guided by their core beliefs albeit using the political will and resources at their disposal, said Marat Samarsky, an advisor at Verba Legal.
While visiting Hanoi on Monday, US President Joe Biden announced the upgrade of relations between the United States and Vietnam to a comprehensive strategic partnership. "This is a new elevated status that will be a force for prosperity and security in one of the most consequential regions in the world," the US leader said at a news conference after a meeting with Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
The United States is seeking to pull Vietnam away from China and mount some barriers for Beijing in the region, given that Vietnam is the only country capable of causing "real troubles" for China in Southeast Asia as it has territorial disputes with its neighbor, said Dmitry Mosyakov, head of the Center of Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania at the Institute of Asian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. However, Washington should not be deceived into thinking that the upgraded partnership is exclusive, as Hanoi maintains a similar relationship with Beijing, New Delhi and Moscow, nor will the US be able to outweigh China in trade any time soon, Mosyakov argues.
Hanoi basically prefers to carefully use the benefits of its variegated foreign policy without getting too close to anyone, Mikhail Terskikh, a researcher at the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), told Vedomosti. "One should hardly expect any real fundamental changes in relations as yet. But the relationship between the US and Vietnam is on the rise indeed, as Hanoi is seeking to counterbalance contacts with its northern neighbor," Terskikh said.
His colleague Fyodor Voitolovsky agreed: "Vietnam needs the United States for technology and investment, while US manufacturers are interested in the Vietnamese labor force," he explained. That said, however, Vietnam is certainly not going to become for China the type of hostile pawn that Ukraine has become for Russia in its relations with the United States, an official close to the Russian Defense Ministry told Vedomosti.
Participants in this year’s Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), taking place in Vladivostok on September 10-13, have been more actively discussing changing logistics needs and toughening climate regulations than in previous years. Russia’s eastward pivot has necessitated developing infrastructure at ports and removing administrative barriers along congested routes, while changes underway overseas, mostly in China, have forced major manufacturers and exporters to embrace stricter environmental rules and competition, taking into account a range of new parameters, including emission costs and carbon footprints.
Russian Railways CEO Oleg Belozerov reported that, in the latter half of 2022, the volume of eastbound export shipments exceeded westbound exports for the first time ever, accounting for 81 mln metric tons and 76 mln metric tons, respectively. To expedite and facilitate cargo deliveries, the Federal Customs Service and the Russian Exports Center proposed making all accompanying documents digital, a process that acting customs chief Ruslan Davydov said may take a couple of years.
Apart from logistics, exporters are worried about climate regulations, and the lower level of exports to the EU, which has imposed a carbon tax on its borders, does not necessarily make the issue any less relevant. Jurisdictions outside of the EU, in particular China, are adopting environmental regulations, and large Russian lenders and manufacturers have been analyzing the effect the new norms may have on Russian exports.
Thus far, Asian customers have not placed any stringent climate demands on Russian exporters, but this will not last long, participants in a relevant session at the EEF concluded. Any change in the situation will require mutual recognition of carbon units, Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov said. Russia expects to expedite the process through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS, while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuk expressed his hope that the imposition of similar rules should not create barriers within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) either.
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