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Press review: Trump security aide's resignation and new German president's visit to Russia

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, February 15
Germany’s President-elect Frank-Walter Steinmeier  AP Photo/Michael Sohn
Germany’s President-elect Frank-Walter Steinmeier
© AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Izvestia: Incoming German President sets sights on dialogue with Moscow

Germany’s President-elect Frank-Walter Steinmeier might visit Russia, Izvestia wrote citing sources in German foreign-policy circles. No exact dates for the visit have been set so far, since the president-elect has not yet assumed office. Nonetheless, according to the newspaper, the mere fact is very important given the circumstances: Steinmeier’s predecessor, Joachim Gauck, did not visit Russia, even shrugging off visiting the Sochi Olympics.

"Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s visit to Russia could happen this year. It will be crucial, as the President Joachim Gauck bluntly refused to come to Russia," the source in German diplomatic circles told Izvestia.

The official representative of the German Social Democratic Party (SDP) Philip Geiger told Izvestia that now Steinmeier is a post-partisan politician, so the SPD does not have any information on his specific plans for the future.

German political scientist and Director of the German-Russian Forum, Alexander Rahr talked to the newspaper about the unwillingness of outgoing President Joachim Gauck to come to Russia. According to the expert, Gauck had a very dogmatic view of Russia. Due to his inner convictions, he did not want to bolster relations. Steinmeier, in turn, is a realist. Rahr believes that Steinmeier understands the importance of relations between Moscow and Berlin. The German president does not have wide-ranging powers, yet Steinmeier’s visit could set priorities for the country’s policy and send a signal to Europe, the expert concluded.


Kommersant: Flynn's departure could spell shift in Trump's Russia policy

Donald Trump’s team has lost one of its key members - National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned after he was suspected of misinforming colleagues about his talks with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. Flynn admitted that he had discussed sanctions with the envoy. Flynn’s departure will have far-reaching professional and political consequences for many, including Russia, Kommersant wrote.

Firstly, Flynn was considered to be one of the most favorable to Russia among the members of the new administration, which cannot be said of his potential successors. Secondly, his departure could trigger a series of personnel changes in the National Security Council. According to Kommersant, the selection process for the post of adviser on Russia has already begun.

Former US Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Stanford University professor Michael McFaul told Kommersant that Russophobia has nothing to do with the resignation, Flynn simply lost the confidence of Vice President Mike Pence, and so he had no choice but to step down. However, according to McFaul, even if it turns out that Michael Flynn was acting on behalf of the president, it should not create any serious consequences.

Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, nevertheless believes that Flynn’s resignation can only be viewed in the context of disagreements within the new administration and its opponents on Russia. "Flynn was the target for a variety of reasons, including his contacts with Russia. Many people in the US establishment were unhappy with the fact that Trump had appointed him as his advisor. There were fears that Flynn could influence the president to come to terms with Russia. His resignation is the first major flop of Trump’s administration," Trenin told Kommersant.

According to the newspaper’s sources in US federal agencies, before Monday there were three possible candidates for the post: the former military attache to the US embassy in Moscow, Tim Shea, Executive Director of the Center for the National Interest, Paul Saunders, and Director of the Kennan Institute Director, Matthew Rojansky.


Vedomosti: Construction of Sheremetyevo’s new airport runway soars to $963 mln

Building Sheremetyevo airport’s third runway now requires an additional 20.19 bln rubles ($363.5 mln). The runway project is scheduled to be completed after the 2018 World Cup, Vedomosti wrote citing the Federal Air Transport Agency’s report.

"The hike in cost to 55 bln rubles ($963 mln) is due to inflation during the construction period, changes in a number of technical solutions, the inclusion of the reconstruction of gas pipelines in the process, and preparation works at the construction site," an air agency representative told the newspaper.

According to the report, the cost of the runway jumped almost 60%. However, the necessary funds have already been ferreted out. An additional 20 bln rubles ($350.2 mln) will be reallocated from other Federal Air Transport Agency projects planned for 2017-2020.

Late last year, Chairman of JSC Sheremetyevo International Airport Board, Alexander Ponomarenko, said that the project might be put into operation in a downsized version - without the mainline and a connecting taxiway. Moreover, the construction period has been moved up to 2019. In 2016, the airport had already talked about the need for additional funding.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Tokyo will not argue with Moscow over naming Kuril Islands

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida will be discussing bilateral ties on the sidelines of the G20 ministerial meeting in Bonn. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, joint development of the South Kuril Islands will be an important step towards the signing of a peace treaty, despite recent disagreements on the issue.

In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Valery Kistanov, commented on Tokyo's reaction to the decision by the Russian government to assign names to the Kuril Islands. "Japan's protest does not mean that differences on the territorial issue are insurmountable. It is rather a formality. Japan has always been sensitive about everything that Russia does in regard to the islands," he said.

According to the newspaper, this issue does not undermine the recent developments in the countries’ bilateral relations, mainly due to Shinzo Abe’s efforts. At this point, joint development of the islands is unlikely to be hindered by anything, Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted.

"The biggest problem in the joint development efforts is the question of what legal base should be used for it? Moscow officials prefer the Russian legal basis. However, Abe sees things differently, stating neither Russian, nor the Japanese juridical basis should be used. Some third mechanism needs to be developed not to violate the sovereignty of either Japan or Russia. That is tricky wording. Should it be invented or not?" Kistanov told the newspaper.

The Bonn meeting will also be expected to focus on speeding up joint economic activities, in the areas of fishing, tourism, and healthcare. Progress in these fields should not affect the legal position of both countries on the sovereignty over the islands. The first official talks on the economic development of the South Kuril Islands will be held on March 14.


Izvestia: Russia’s emergency response and truck toll systems to be unified within military-industrial complex

The development of Russia’s ERA-Glonass system of emergency response and the controversial Platon truck tax system will be merged and transferred to the Military-Industrial Commission, Izvestia wrote citing the corresponding document available to the newspaper.

According to the newspaper, the main idea is to ensure that the ERA-Glonass and Platon systems are complementary. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin plans to bring ERA-Glonass to self-sufficiency by 2018, while the state maintains a 100% stake in JSC Glonass (ERA-Glonass operator) over the next two years.

Thus, the plans to transfer Glonass to the ownership of public corporations - Roscosmos and Rostec - have been dashed, although these corporations focus on the field of navigation and information technologies.

Glonass told Izvestia that publicizing the issue of merging the two systems "is still under discussion." "A deep audit of the systems is required," the company’s press-service said.

The ERA-Glonass is a state system, designed to reduce the number of road accidents and to minimize their consequences. The truck toll scheme known as Platon is a system of fees for heavy trucks weighing in excess of 12 tonnes for using federal roads and has been in effect since November 15, 2015.


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