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Press review: Sanctions fail to curb Russian arms demand and Moldovan president fights on

Top stories in the Russia press on Wednesday


Kommersant: Sanctions fail to slow down Russian weapons exports, presidential aide says

Russia’s export of weapons totaled roughly $15 bln in 2017, in line with targets, and new contracts on supplies of military hardware and arms were inked to the tune of more than $16 bln, Presidential Aide for Military and Technical Cooperation Vladimir Kozhin said in an interview with Kommersant. "In 2017, the geography of Russia’s potential partners changed substantially. Not only did we start talks, but we also entered into contracts, got involved in serious pre-contract work with countries with either a very small amount of purchases from Russia, or no purchases at all, for example, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Niger," Kozhin said. According to the aide, weapons produced in Russia have turned out to be effective.

"Military and technical cooperation is being established in regions where countries need to insure [their] territorial integrity and sovereignty, which occurs in various parts of the world," he said. "It’s no wonder Middle Eastern countries want to buy Russian weapons that have proven to be effective," he added.

"The Syrian [civil] war, what is unfolding in Egypt, on the Sinai peninsula, in Libya and neighboring countries is spurring on huge demand for modern weapons, which is why we are present on those markets. However, even countries with static situation - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar - have also started serious upgrades to fortify their defense capacity and diversify it. And if previously the United States firmly dominated those markets, today’s situation is different," Kozhin told the newspaper. Asked about the implications of the latest package of US sanctions against Russia’s military exports, he acknowledged that "it would not be correct to say there isn’t any impact of the new list."

"Of course, it does not make our work more pleasant, but we have been living under those conditions for all these years, and we will keep developing," he said, adding however that he expects Washington to impose even more sanctions against particular organizations and persons.

"We are particularly concerned about the item, in which our US colleagues are trying to extend their jurisdiction over third parties - countries and their governments. They claim a monopoly of absolute truth, saying who can do what and what they can purchase. We are aware of the fact that undue pressure has been already put on heads of states that are willing to cooperate with Russia in the defense industry," the presidential aide said. "The thing is that the world has changed, each country has its interests, all want to obtain the best, the most up-to-date and efficient weapons, which is why many partners stick to cooperation with Russia, despite this unconcealed, massive and sometimes even cynical pressure," he added.


Izvestia: Moldovan president warns against amending constitution

A few proposal to add an item on European integration to the Moldovan constitution could saddle Chisinau with more challenges to solving the Transnistrian issue, Moldova’s President Igor Dodon who is critical of the EU Association Agreement cautioned in an interview with Izvestia. This comes after the country’s government approved the initiative to amend the constitution. "The declaration on adding an item on European integration to the constitution is part of the election campaign, since 2018 is when parliamentary election is scheduled," he said. According to Dodon, pro-western forces are using this strategy to reel in undecided voters. He also mentioned those surveys that say half of the country’s population seek to cooperate with Russia, whereas 35-40% are "for Europe", while 5-10% are on the fence.

However, the odds by the ruling majority of reaching successful talks with Tiraspol are next to zero, Dodon believes. "As with any declarations, the ruling majority is not interested in solving the Transnistrian problem. Despite their announcements, they have no wish to hasten progress for various reasons. They realize that Transnistrian integration means more than 300,000 additional votes in Moldova’s constitutional field, which will not be for them. So they block any attempts to reach any agreements, apart from their business interests on both banks of the Dniester," President Dodon said, adding that he would use all avenues to block the latest initiative before the election.

As TASS reported earlier, a survey commissioned by the International Institute for Monitoring Democracy Development, Parliamentarism and Observance of Suffrage of the CIS Member-Countries' Citizens in 91 inhabited communities in Moldova (excluding the Transnistrian region) in January, showed that most Moldovan citizens are in favor of integration into the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). According to the results of the survey, 52% of those polled trust Moldova’s President Igor Dodon. He is followed by leader of the Party of Action and Solidarity, Maia Sandu, who represents the pro-European opposition (19.3%). Prime Minister Pavel Filip and leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Moldova Vladimir Plahotniuc are backed by 4.5% and 3.7% respectively.


Izvestia: Russians prefer domestic flights to international ones in 2017

Russia’s civil aviation saw record growth in traffic volume last year, as local air carriers provided services to over 105 mln passengers, Izvestia writes with reference to Alexander Neradko, head of the Russian aviation watchdog, the Federal Air Transport Agency.

"Russians have taken much more domestic flights than international ones," he said, adding that "all in all including foreign carriers more than 185 mln passengers used services provided by Russian airports" in 2017. Moreover, its growth has kept on rolling since the beginning of this year, Neradko said.

"In Moscow, this increase has already reached 10%, and we expect flights to FIFA World Cup venues to be a serious trigger for further growth," he added.

Speaking about the agency’s new function to certify aviation equipment, the regulator’s chief said that it adds to its responsibility for the future of Russian civil aviation construction. "In 2016-2017, civil aviation auditors from China and Italy paid visits to Russia to assess the local certification system. This year new visits by representatives of aviation bodies from other countries are planned. Deals have almost been reached with the European Aviation Safety Agency [EASA], and on January 29 (Russia’s) Federal Air Transport Agency and the EASA signed a continued airworthiness agreement," he said. Also, an accord between Russian and Italian aviation authorities has been inked to ensure uninterrupted exports of SSJ aircraft to other countries, Neradko said, adding that the agency also cooperates with India, Japan, Mongolia, Indonesia and South Korea.


Kommersant: Top Russian miners asking for unrestricted access to resources

Russia’s diamond titan Alrosa, mining giant Norilsk Nickel, gold miners Kinross and Polymetal, which are among the country’s biggest mining firms, have applied to the government for unlicensed access to primary depletion of fields, Kommersant writes. In December 2017, the four companies submitted a regulation concept for regional exploration of fields funded by private businesses to Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Khloponin.

The letter obtained by the newspaper says that state funding for geological exploration has been on the decline, which causes "a dangerous reduction of exploration capacity and sites demanded for industrial exploration." Companies suggest that a "go-ahead mechanism" should be allowed for "leading subsoil users" in terms of resources on the books, as well as financial, technical and human resources," Kommersant writes.

Russia’s Natural Resources Minister Sergey Donskoy told the publication that the ministry "welcomes the proposal to attract private investment for primary exploration on the whole," though it has several remarks about this particular offer. "The document does not take into account hydrocarbon fields, and the position of the fuel and energy complex has been ignored," he said, adding that the Natural Resources Ministry is currently drafting "a similar concept in terms of goals, which will be completed by the middle of this year."


RBC: New head of Avtovaz to be taken onboard

Nicolas Maure who has been Chief Executive Officer of Russia’s largest automobile producer since 2016 replacing Bo Andersson who had joined the company in 2013, and is believed to have substantially cut back the company’s debt burden, is about to resign, RBC says. Head of Rostec, one the carmaker’s main shareholder, Sergei Chemezov said on Tuesday that Maure had been appointed head of the regional division of Renault. VTB Capital’s analyst Vladimir Bespalov told the newspaper that the CEO’s exit might be connected with the new appointment in Renault, adding that it would be difficult for Maure to occupy two various positions at once.

"We’ve seen that the company’s financial position had improved significantly with Maure, though efforts to reduce losses was launched with Andersson, who had to literally revive the company amid the crisis," the expert said, adding that he believes is not correct to say that "Maure revived the company from losses."

The Renault-Nissan alliance and Rostec are the main shareholders of the carmaker controlling a 74.5% stake through the joint venture - Alliance Rostec Auto B. V. Rostec owns a blocking stake in the joint venture. Minority shareholders own the remaining 25.5% of shares. In 2015, Avtovaz reported $1.05 bln worth of losses amid rising expenses on launching new models, the falling car market, declining purchasing power and the devaluation of the national currency. The company also posted negative cash flow and stated that without the support of shareholders it might not be able to pay its debt and continue operations.


TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press review