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Press review: Putin embarks on state visit to China and assassination attempt on Slovak PM

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, May 16th
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping  Sergey Bobylev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping
© Sergey Bobylev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

MOSCOW, May 16. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Xi Jinping in China in first post-inauguration trip; assassination attempt on Slovak Prime Minister; and Russia's thriving economic relations with Muslim world. These stories topped Thursday's newspaper headlines across Russia.


Media: Putin's first post-inauguration visit to set tone for Russia-China ties moving forward

Late on May 15, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing on his first foreign visit after inauguration. The trip will kick off with negotiations with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday. Accompanying Putin in the Russian delegation are the country’s new defense minister, Andrey Belousov, and reappointed Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as Sergey Shoigu who is visiting in the role of the secretary of the Russian Security Council. Over the past month, Xi has received French President Emmanuel Macron, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Naturally, Ukraine was a topic of discussion with all of them, an issue Xi and the Russian leader will also focus on.

Putin’s visit comes on the 75th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. The Soviet Union was the first country to recognize the PRC on October 2, 1949, a day after the Proclamation of the People’s Republic. It’s also noteworthy that Putin’s visit to China comes nine days after he was sworn in for a fifth term as Russia’s president. It took Xi almost the same amount of time to arrange his trip to Russia last year, when he flew to Moscow 10 days after he was re-elected as China’s leader. In 2013 Russia was also the first country on Xi’s itinerary as head of China.

"First of all, this is a state visit that comes at the highest level. Secondly, we maintain strategic relations with China as we pivot eastwards. And this gives [the two countries] a nice pretext to outline promising spheres of cooperation for the next six years," Andrey Vinogradov, head of the Center for Modern China Studies at the Institute of Eastern Studies, told Izvestia.

"Amid major global changes, especially as the United States and the West use the sanctions toolkit while pursuing the conservative policy of protectionism <…>, the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Russia serves as a new model of international relations and a stabilizer of the current global situation," Li Xin, Director for Russian and Central Asian Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said in an interview with Izvestia.

The New York Times reported that Xi and Putin have met either in person or via video link more than 40 times. They often exchange birthday greetings, but more importantly they consider themselves to be the leaders of an alternative world system that is getting rid of American dictates. Thus, it comes as no surprise that during his meeting with senior European politicians Xi made no promises to use his influence on Russia to coax concessions on Ukraine.

In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Alexander Lukin, research director at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of China and Contemporary Asia, said that China had formulated its position on Ukraine in a 12-point peace plan. "As regards the coming summit [on Ukraine] in Switzerland, he has not decided yet whether to send his delegate there or not. And if you ask him what he thinks, he will say that Russia’s concerns should be taken into account at the negotiations," he concluded.


Vedomosti: Slovak PM Fico shot by 71-year-old poet

An attempt on the life of the premier of Slovakia, Robert Fico, who represents the Direction - Social Democracy party, or Smer, was made on Wednesday after he chaired a government meeting in the city of Handlova, about 150 km northeast of the country's capital Bratislava, the Plus TV channel reported. The detained gunman was a 71-year-old resident of the town of Levice in western Slovakia, who lawfully owned his weapon, writes Aktuality. According to the privately-owned TV channel Ta3, the attacker is writer Juraj Cintula. Other as yet unconfirmed reports say he sympathized with the Progressive Slovakia opposition party. In the attack, the Slovak PM was wounded in the chest, abdomen and shoulder.

After the incident, Fico, 59, was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Banska Bystrica. The attack was condemned by outgoing Slovak President Zuzana Caputova from the Progressive Slovakia party as she wished the prime minister the soonest recovery. In a telegram to Caputova, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he "was outraged to learn" about what happened as he called the attack "a hideous crime" that "cannot be justified."

The assassination attempt provoked a strong reaction from the leaders of neighboring countries, too. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban harshly condemned the incident, as did Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who called Fico a friend of his country as well as a personal one.

The attack was also condemned by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. US President Joe Biden said that he was "alarmed to hear reports" of the attack and that he was praying with his wife for Fico's swift recovery. The US Embassy, he said, is in close touch with the Slovak government and is ready to assist.

The attempt on the life of Fico roiled the political situation in Europe and is sure to be a hot topic ahead of the elections to the European Parliament scheduled for June 6-9, Artyom Sokolov, a researcher with the European Studies Institute at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), points out. Fico is a staunch opponent of the policy being pursued by Brussels and all political forces, Sokolov believes, will use the incident to further their own agendas. Populists will blame it on forces that represent mainstream EU politicians. And the latter will blame their opponents for a very aggressive political climate in Europe, the expert concluded.


Izvestia: Russian goods make waves in Gulf markets, spurring economic cooperation with Islamic nations

Russian products have gained a solid reputation in the Persian Gulf, posing stiff competition to local offerings, the Gulf Cooperation Union told Izvestia. With this in mind, Moscow intends to increase trade and accelerate the development of joint projects with Islamic countries, a subject that will be the focus of an economic forum that kicked off in Kazan on May 15. In recent years, Russia has reoriented part of its efforts towards Muslim countries as it aims to build a multipolar world.

Over 11,000 delegates representing 79 countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia, are taking part in the KazanForum Russia - Islamic World in the capital of Tatarstan. They are discussing tourism, investment, technology and Islamic finance. According to Tatarstan’s Premier Alexey Pesoshin, over the last three years alone, trade between Russia and member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has grown 37% to around $156 billion.

"Trade between Russia and Persian Gulf countries has grown substantially. Russian products are giving Chinese and Western goods a run for their money," Moteb Al-Mezani, director general of the GAC Accreditation Center, told Izvestia.

While the forum is already fifteen years old, Russia and countries of the Islamic world were able to achieve buoyant trade only recently. Amid global changes with the world transitioning to a multipolar world order, many economies are moving to cooperate with each other, and Russia is playing a key role in that process, said Igor Matveyev, an assistant professor at the Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy at MGIMO. Russia’s readiness to hold a detailed dialogue with all partners, something the West will not do, attracts global players, he argues.

"Unlike the West, Russia offers truly equal cooperation with mutual respect taking into account everyone’s interests. This is a very important aspect of this new paradigm in relations between Russia and the Islamic world as it pivots to the east while searching for new partners," he added.


Izvestia: Russian expedition to drill in Antarctica in search of clues to Earth's past

Scientists have developed a project for ultra-deep drilling in Antarctica, planning to create two wells there. The first of them will be drilled near Lake Vostok where it will reach the surface of the subglacial lake to ensure constant access to it. The other well will be drilled in Dome B, one of the highest points on the ice sheet where scientists believe 1.5 million years of sediment may have been preserved in chronological order. Their research aims to shed light on the origins of life on Earth and the reasons behind climate change.

"The lake has been isolated from the outside world for millions of years. Therefore, it may contain important information about planet Earth’s prehistoric past, including sediment samples, if any can be obtained, that will enable us to learn more about the geology of Antarctica, changes in its climate and glaciation over the past 3 million to 5 million years. Or even more. Also, an in-depth study of the lake will make it possible to identify microorganisms that are believed to inhabit it and its surroundings," Vladimir Lipenkov, who helped spearhead the project and is a leading researcher who heads the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Change at the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI), told Izvestia.

"Actually, in the lake, we will be able to observe the extreme conditions in which life can still exist and evolve. This is of great interest to researchers - seeing the world on the tightrope between the living and the nonliving and observing whether that line has been crossed or not," Lipenkov explained. The scientist added that efforts to access Lake Vostok will involve a wide range of new discoveries and innovative solutions.

Researchers propose drilling the other well near Dome B. By drilling there, experts can obtain materials to reconstruct the continuous history of the Earth's climate over the past 1.3-1.5 million years and determine what caused the so-called Mid-Pleistocene transition, which saw wholesale changes in the Earth's climate system approximately 1 million years ago.

"Other countries, too, are drilling for ancient ice in Antarctica. All ice areas on the mainland are divided between research projects. Dome B, assigned to Russia, is the most promising area for studying paleoclimate, as research in Lake Vostok produced evidence of the presence of ancient ice there," Lipenkov added. In his opinion, studying climate on a large historical scale is of practical importance. In particular, it will help to understand the causes and predict the consequences of present-date global warming, he concluded.


Media: EC upgrades 2024 outlook for global economic growth

In 2024, the global economy could grow as much as 3.2%, according to the Spring Forecast released by the European Commission (EC). This is an upward revision compared to its Fall Forecast of a 2.9% growth, mostly due to the United States which is expected to grow by 2.4% this year rather than 1.4% as was predicted previously. EC economists project GDP growth in the euro area at 0.8% as they explain this slight uptick by risks associated with rising inflation in the United States and growing uncertainty over the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, Kommersant reported.

The EC also revised up its 2024 forecast of Russia’s GDP growth, from 1.6% to 2.9%, as it now expects the Russian economy to grow 1.7% rather than 1.6% in 2025.

A number of European economies have recovered from a recession, indeed, agrees Boris Kopeikin, first deputy director general of the Center for Strategic Developments, as he predicts that the EU and the euro area will perhaps see very modest growth figures that cannot be compared to those not only in India and China but also in the United States. In the longer term, the role of the region in the global economy will continue to decline rapidly, mostly due to demographics, the labor market, a quite high tax burden and the increasing restrictions on trade with Russia and China, he told Vedomosti. Nor will the extra costs associated with the energy transition and the weaning off from Russian energy give the region any competitive advantage, he added.

Oksana Kholodenko at BCS World of Investments agrees that geopolitics and the mutual exchange of sanctions remain the key risks for the coming years. While contradictions in foreign trade have subsided, problems of competition and other sources of conflict are still relevant, she notes. Besides, there is industrial stagnation, and this segment has been dragging the economy down, she added.

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