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Press review: New Russian government taking shape and Georgia's path to EU gets cloudy

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, May 14th

MOSCOW, May 14. /TASS/. Russian parliament convenes to deliberate on new Cabinet nominees; Georgia's foreign agent bill raises questions about EU candidacy; and EU not sure what to do about Ukrainian draft dodgers. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Media: Russian parliament convenes to review new Cabinet lineup

On Monday, the Federation Council launched consultations to discuss candidates for the posts of ministers and agency chiefs in the new government’s power wing proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday. For the first time since the latest amendments to the Constitution were made in 2020, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament was invited to give its opinion on the nominees, while the president will still have the final say, Vedomosti reported.

At a meeting on Monday, the lower house of parliament approved 10 deputy prime ministers in the new Cabinet in a landmark move. While the bulk of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s deputies were reappointed, former ministers Dmitry Patrushev and Vitaly Saveliev were elevated to the post, and Denis Manturov became the first deputy prime minister.

Sergey Shoigu, who had headed the Defense Ministry since 2012, was dropped from the president’s list as Putin proposed replacing him with Andrey Belousov, who has been a deputy PM in charge of economic issues since 2020.

The expert community roiled on the reshuffle, with Belousov being a civilian lacking any military experience whatsoever. The decision comes in light of Russia’s need to increase the efficiency of its defense industry. As the new defense chief, Belousov will oversee efforts to coordinate innovative changes in both the defense and civilian sectors, political analyst Yury Svetov believes. "I think he, as the defense minister, will ensure that the Ministry in conjunction with the country’s manufacturing industry promptly receives what it needs, namely, effective weapons," he told Izvestia.

Putin signed a decree to appoint Shoigu as the secretary of the Russian Security Council, and the former defense chief attended a meeting with permanent members of the security body in the new role yesterday.

Senators also held consultations to consider a number of reappointed officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the chief of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov, and Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergey Naryshkin.

It’s worth noting that the procedures attended by the State Duma and the Federation Council differ: while the lower house is mandated to approve candidates before they get their appointment, the upper chamber only holds consultations.


Vedomosti: Georgia's EU aspirations hang in balance amid foreign agent bill debate

On May 13, it took the Georgian parliament’s legal committee just one minute to pass the second reading of a bill on foreign agents, after which the controversial draft law will be adopted in its third and final hearing at a plenary meeting, potentially later on Tuesday, the Publika news outlet reported. After that, Georgian President Salome Zurabashvili will have to sign off on the bill within two weeks, but she has made it clear that she has no intention of doing so. That said, Georgia’s legislature, in which the ruling Georgian Dream party and its allies hold 83 out of the 150 seats, can overcome the president's veto by holding another vote.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said in turn that his party will be ready to discuss the details of the bill with European Union officials and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as soon as lawmakers pass the legislation, but that "not a single specific or substantiated comment has been made so far."

The opposition rallied in protest in downtown Tbilisi from the evening of May 12 until Monday morning, and students from 30 Georgian universities have been holding protests, too. Antigovernment protests have been going on in Tbilisi since April 17, when the first reading of the bill on the Transparency of Foreign Influence was passed. Protesters insist that the document will undermine Georgia’s efforts to join the EU. The country was granted candidate status in December 2023.

The loss of candidate status could be a blow to the Georgian government, but no high-ranking EU officials have hinted at such a scenario as of yet, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for International Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Nikolay Silayev explained. The rhetoric that Georgia’s accession to the bloc may be put on hold does not frighten the ruling party too much as even the start of relevant negotiations does not ultimately guarantee European integration, he added. Therefore, the expert said, after winning the candidate status for Georgia, the Georgian Dream party found itself in a win-win situation. On the one hand, the authorities reaffirm their commitment to proceed along the path toward EU membership, and, on the other, they risk little in passing bills that can benefit them, Silayev maintained. A new consensus in the EU will be needed for a decision to revoke Georgia’s candidate status, even if the reversal itself makes Brussels look bad just six months on. Nor do protests themselves pose any real threat to Georgia, given the power it has at its disposal, Silayev concluded.


Izvestia: Ukrainian draft dodger deportation debate divides EU

Slovakia refuses to deport Ukrainian draft dodgers to Kiev. Marian Kery, chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee at the country’s parliament, told Izvestia that any forced deportation of this category of people to Ukraine would violate the norms of humanity and that such a move against people who are reluctant to die for the Kiev regime would be wrong. Earlier, Ukrainian officials stressed that the EU and Kiev had coordinated efforts toward a smooth expulsion. The Finnish Foreign Ministry told Izvestia that Helsinki favors a pan-European solution to the issue. However, experts doubt that EU members will reach any consensus here.

The EU has been actively discussing the deportation of Ukrainian refugees of conscription age against the backdrop of a shortage of soldiers in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Eurostat has estimated that, at present, there are 882,000 men aged over 18 on EU soil.

The number of males who have illegally crossed into Slovakia has increased sharply over the past year. Neighboring Hungary, too, opposes deportation. Romania, which also shares a border with Ukraine, has not formally commented on the potential deportation of draft dodgers.

And Europe lacks any solidarity on the issue. The Czech Republic and other countries state openly that those who are trying to avoid mandatory conscription into the army are not welcome. Poland, which has accommodated around a million Ukrainian refugees, has not taken any steps toward resolving the issue.

Obviously, many European capitals are not ready to solve such a controversial issue on their own. "Finland is closely watching the developments in other EU member countries. Finland finds it important to develop solutions for temporary protection at the EU level," the country’s Foreign Ministry told Izvestia.

Arnaud Dubien, who heads Observo, a French-Russian thinktank, doubts EU countries will agree on a unified policy on expelling Ukrainian draft dodgers. "I don’t think they will develop a common approach, for it is national governments who tackle migration issues, and therefore individual countries will make individual decisions. Nor do I think that anything can happen to refugees who have been staying in Europe for two years already. The majority of them will continue living there," he told Izvestia.


Izvestia: Conservative wave sweeps Europe ahead of elections

Far-right parties are consolidating their positions in the run-up to elections to the European Parliament. Thus, the gap between the French National Rally, led by Jordan Bardella, and the party of French President Emmanuel Macron is widening, and not in favor of the latter. The latest opinion polls in France show that the National Rally, which will challenge the presidential party in the upcoming EU elections, may garner 31% of the vote, while a mere 16% of French voters will support Macron’s Renaissance party.

With less than a month to go before the elections, such trends cannot but worry Macron and his supporters, pushing them to look for ways to regain the trust of the French electorate. On Saturday, the French leader, a big user of social media, decided to take questions from his subscribers as he focused on "the growing popularity of far-right forces across Europe."

Gilbert Collard, a French MEP, said in an interview with Izvestia that the growing popularity of such parties as the National Rally is a "reality" and that those in Europe who prefer to be called "extreme right" actually represent people who are "extremely dissatisfied" with the policies of their national governments.

Like in France, the leaders of far-right parties in Germany are focusing on migration issues, especially amid the influx of refugees from Africa and the Middle East. And the flow of migrants from Eastern Europe has intensified since the conflict in Ukraine erupted as it increased social tensions across EU countries. This adds up to dissatisfaction with the fact that EU leaders have been spending millions of euros on weapons supplies to Kiev instead of using these funds to solve the economic and social issues facing the association.

German political scientist Alexander Rahr believes that right-wing and conservative parties will remain popular in Europe as they offer a real alternative to the current policy course by advocating a return to roots, that is, strong national governments instead of the "European cauldron," preserving traditions and promoting economic feasibility and concern for future generations.

However, "the apparent growth in popularity of right-wing forces at the national level should not be overstated as it is unlikely to have a strong impact on the structure and stance of the European Parliament," argues Yegor Sergeyev, a senior researcher at the Center for European Studies at the Institute of International Studies of MGIMO.


Kommersant: Sanctions prompt move away from Russian aluminum at LME

Aluminum stocks at the London Metals Exchange (LME) have shrunk since the United States imposed sanctions on Russian aluminum imports. In April, traders took 195,000 metric tons of Russian-brand metal from the LME to potentially return it at a later date after reregistering it according to new rules and profit from its storage.

According to the Census Bureau, the US has been buying increasingly less aluminum from Russia since hostilities in Ukraine started and since a 20% tariff was imposed.

In January-February, the US imported a mere $105,000 worth of Russian aluminum, and in May, aluminum stocks at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), according to its own data, stood at 33,000 metric tons. However, until recently, the LME has been a major hub and platform for forming prices that are used in direct transactions.

Sergey Grishunin at the National Rating Agency believes that the US sanctions will eventually strengthen the positions of the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE) as the situation around Russian aluminum shows that the risks of using the Western financial infrastructure are too high. In terms of risk management, he adds, one can no longer expect it to operate uninterrupted. This, the analyst assumes, means that the cost of using it will grow as it will be necessary to build reserves and seek insurance which will contribute to the outflow of contracts to the safer SHFE.

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