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Press review: Putin, Abe talk Kurils and Kiev to call Crimea, Donbass 'Russian-occupied'

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, April 28



Izvestia: Putin, Abe agree to bolster confidence and cooperation between Moscow and Tokyo

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held high-level talks in the Kremlin, stating their intention to boost confidence between the countries and sign a peace treaty in the future. According to Izvestia, the parties have also hammered out several decisions regarding the South Kuril Islands.

Muneo Suzuki, adviser to Shinzo Abe on Russian affairs, told Izvestia earlier that the Prime Minister was intent on discussing joint economic activities in the South Kurils in detail, which include dozens of projects in tourism, fishery, medicine and construction of wind power plants.

The parties agreed to continue working together and compose a list of priority projects in the near future. According to Putin, a Japanese delegation of officials and businessmen will visit the islands this summer to explore joint economic opportunities. The Japanese Prime Minister added that the delegation might visit the South Kuril Islands in May. Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East Alexander Galushka told Izvestia that Russian officials will meet the Japanese visitors, but the session will not be a high-level one.

Charter flights to the South Kuril Islands will be launched for Japan’s citizens from Hokkaido, as the topic was actively lobbied for by Tokyo. This would allow former Japanese islanders to visit the graves of their ancestors; currently such visa-free travel is only available by sea. According to President Putin, the parties “expect that this will contribute to creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding between the states.” 
Following the talks, Putin said that the parties had also discussed the construction of the Sakhalin-Hokkaido gas pipeline. However, most of the meeting between Putin and Abe was focused on tensions escalating on the Korean peninsula. The President called for “refraining from militant rhetoric and striving for a calm, constructive dialogue.”

Commercial cooperation between the two countries is also on the rise, Izvestia wrote. According to Alexey Repik, President of Delovaya Rossiya, the two countries’ business communities also stepped up interaction. “It is developing well. However, in order to convert political rapprochement to successful business contacts, we need to see meticulous efforts from companies, both private and public,” Repik told the newspaper.
Russian businessmen will be able to meet with Japanese partners at the Eastern Economic Forum in September, which the Japanese Prime Minister also plans to visit.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev plans to brand Crimea and Donbass “temporarily Russian-occupied territories”

Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada is planning to discuss a bill called "On Ukrainian territory temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation". Earlier, President Pyotr Poroshenko’s team opposed the bill, believing it would forever cut off those territories from Ukraine. However, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, this winter the situation changed after the blockade of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk People's Republic (LPR). According to the current bill, Ukraine recognizes Crimea and part of Donbass as temporarily occupied territories, "transferring full responsibility for them to Russia," the paper writes.

According to the newspaper, in the bill, Russia is labelled an "aggressor state", and the authorities of Crimea, DPR and LPR are dubbed "puppets”, shielding the Russian Federation from taking any responsibility. “The main problem is that Russia does not recognize itself as involved in either the decision of the Crimean residents at the March 2014 referendum, nor the subsequent events in Donbass,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

Ukrainian political scientist, Head of the International Institute for Democracy Sergey Taran told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that nobody in Ukraine doubts Russia’s aggression. “At the international level, this fact was recognized from the moment when in October of last year the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted for two resolutions on the Ukrainian issue. In line with international law, Russia, which exercises de facto control over these territories, is responsible for protecting the local population. Therefore, Russia must guarantee the rights of all Crimean inhabitants, as well as people in the territory controlled by the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic," the expert told the newspaper.
The “temporarily occupied territories” bill in its current form only focuses on the legal status of these areas and the consequences arising from it. Taran told the newspaper that the main issue is not how the global community is going to assess the situation, but how Kiev is going to build relations with the territories, which it now considers "temporarily-occupied" and whether it would cook up a strategy to get them back.

Izvestia: European politicans mulling EU-Russia free trade zone

The European Union could be transformed into a free trade zone (FTA) with Russia’s participation in the future, European politicians told Izvestia. Following Brexit, Brussels' position is becoming less and less understood by the member countries, and therefore the bloc’s decentralization is beginning to be considered as one of the most preferable solutions to any internal discord, the newspaper wrote.

Boris Titov, Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs' Rights, told Izvestia that the establishment of the FTA is a step in the right direction, and negotiations on this issue are already underway with EU partners.

“This direction is absolutely right. We should create a single space. Russia is a European country, complementing the EU states. If European countries trust us as a supplier of raw materials, agricultural products or invest in our machine-building enterprises, this is only a plus. This is what the free trade zone is needed for,” he told the newspaper. “It is essential to remember that at the moment our competitiveness has not fully reached a sufficient level. We need some time for development. Therefore, the rules of softer customs regulations at first would enable our economic sectors to develop. After this, there will be a gradual removal of tariffs and entry into the free trade zone,” Titov added.

According to the newspaper, parliamentary parties in Italy, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Austria and other countries support establishing relations with Russia and decentralizing the European Union.
“Countries should preserve their national sovereignty; therefore it is necessary to transform the current EU into a strong economic organization that will exist on a free trade zone principle. Russia should enter the common economic space, as it is an integral part of Europe in cultural, political and historical terms," Senator Hans-Joerg Jenewein from the Freedom Party of Austria told Izvestia.

“Against the backdrop of increased disagreements between Brussels and individual EU member states, decentralization becomes an inevitable consequence of this crisis,” Izvestia wrote. According to the newspaper, if the EU goes down the path of tighter control, this could lead to a complete disintegration of the bloc. “Apparently, the idea of ​​returning to the basics of the integration project and cooperation in a purely economic sphere has all the grounds and is quite real. The free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok could become a solid foundation for a truly peaceful Europe,” Izvestia wrote.


Kommersant: Moscow wants to hash over cybersecurity with Washington


Cybersecurity could become one of the priorities on the agenda of the first meeting between the presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, Special Representative of the Russian President for International Cooperation in Information Security Andrey Krutskikh said at an international conference in Germany. Attempts to agree on cyberspace norms, however, at least at the intergovernmental level have been conducted for several years with little or no results, Kommersant wrote.

According to Krutskikh, Moscow also gave Washington "a detailed official response to all questions" about the alleged interference by Russia’s special services in the recent US presidential elections. Moreover, according to the envoy, Moscow  suggested establishing measures to prevent incidents in cyberspace. The US Embassy in Moscow, was unable to promptly comment on the statements by the Russian diplomat for Kommersant.
Meanwhile, according to Krutskikh, Russia offered the new administration "a serious and informative agenda for negotiations on information security." According to his speech, Moscow expects to reach specific agreements with the Americans on preventing inappropriate cyber incidents.

Experts, interviewed by the newspaper, are hesitant in assessing the real impact of the proposals. The conference participant, US National Defense University Professor Charles Barry, in an interview with Kommersant did not rule out that the new US administration would be interested in the Russian proposal.

However, other factors, including their differences over Syria and Ukraine, will influence Washington’s willingness to deepen cooperation with Moscow in this sphere.
According to Senior Fellow for the Hague Cyber Norms Program at Leiden University Eneken Tikk, the idea of ​​signing a legally binding document on the norms of behavior of states in cyberspace could be implemented in the future, “but will require a lot of time” and effort.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian retail trade continues slump

Russia’s current volumes of retail trade are still lingering below the last year’s figures - in Q1, retail turnover was 1.8% less than a year ago. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, in order to somehow support sales in the current economic environment, stores are advertising discounts and promotions more than ever, filling shelves with products of their own brands at minimum prices.

According to sociologists interviewed by the newspaper, 34% of Russian consumers have gone for only the cheapest brands. On the other hand, experts noted that stores are forced to sell goods at discount prices and resort to marketing gimmicks to boost demand.

"The share of price promotions in the food category increased," 2K auditing company Managing Partner Tamara Kasyanova told the newspaper. "Because there is a struggle to reach sales growth, the number of various tricks increased - there are fake discounts, price cuts on low-quality products, "buy one - get one free" promos," she added.

"Some retail chains prefer to regularly vary the products being discounted, relying on regular customers - holders of discount cards. At the same time, despite the decline of the population’s purchasing power, retail chains are not ready to reduce prices through discounts, as a difficult economic situation leads to a deterioration in their performance and results," Finam analyst Bogdan Zvarych told Izvestia.

According to the newspaper, the methods of attracting buyers have become more flexible and sophisticated. Thus, analysts at Romir, the largest private research holding company in Russia, believe that long before the crisis, there was an increase in the share of promotional items, which undermined customer loyalty to brands and retail chains. Today, however, the number promos and all sorts of discounts have reached such a point that in some categories it is simply impossible to purchase goods outside of such promo campaigns.


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