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Press review: Who’s coming to Russia’s 2018 vote and German gurus say China seeks EU rift

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, February 13

Izvestia: Record number of foreign observers expected at Russian presidential election

About 1,500 foreign observers could come to monitor the upcoming presidential election in Russia in March 2018, two Russian diplomatic sources informed Izvestia. This information has also been confirmed by Russia’s Central Election commission.

"One can state with confidence that that more than 1,300 people will come. It is expected, however, that the figure will be higher, about 1,500. Foreign observers will come to Russia from virtually all corners of the globe. They will be working in all Russian regions," one diplomatic source said.

The Russian Central Election Commission earlier said that about 1,000 foreign observers were going to travel to Russia to monitor the election. The commission’s member Vasily Likhachev said in an interview with Izvestia that interest in the presidential election abroad is growing all the time, so the number is likely to be higher than anticipated.

"The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) alone will send about 700 people. Besides, the lower and upper houses of the Russian parliament who invite foreign observers under their own quotas are actively working as well. They too form numerous groups that will include politicians and experts who have election monitoring experience," Likhachev stressed.

Considerable international interest partially stems from the anti-Russian hysteria that began in the West after 2014, Alexey Chepa, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma (lower house) International Affairs Committee, told the paper. "At present, there are quite a few people who want to come to Russia to find any signs of illegitimacy during the upcoming elections. However, the number of people in many countries who want to learn the truth and pass it on to their fellow citizens amid the unjustified Russophobia is growing too. The arrival of 1,500 observers is quite feasible," he pointed out.


Kommersant: German experts accuse Beijing of attempts to split EU

The Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), a German think tank, has published a report, which accused Beijing of attempts to meddle in European politics and split the unity of Europe. Hungary, the Czech Republic and Greece have been named as China’s chief agents in the European Union, while China has been branded as a bigger long-term threat to Europe than Russia.

The publication of this report marks a new stage in "the gradual radicalization of discourse" regarding China in Europe, Ivan Timofeyev, Director of Programs at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), told Kommersant. "China is engaged in lobbying in a bid to secure better attitudes towards itself, but aren’t the United States and the EU doing the same thing in other parts of the world?" he noted. According to the expert, the report is in line with the probes in Australia and New Zealand, where lawmakers and businesspeople were suspected of secretly collaborating with Beijing.

MERICS is sponsored by big European businesses, which see China’s economic expansion as a threat, according to Alexander Gabuev, Chair of Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "I would not call Chinese influence in Europe significant. However, it is growing, and the quantity transforms into quality. Hence, this anxiety is being expressed by part of the population."

Meanwhile, a EU source informed the paper that China’s influence and ties in the EU’s governing bodies are so far inferior to those of Russia. "The desire to seek rapprochement with China expressed by some small EU countries is based, to a large extent, on anticipating large-scale investment, but usually, when Beijing announces the real conditions for cooperation, that makes them come back to earth rather quickly."


RBC: Saakashvili’s deportation from Ukraine buries his political career, experts say

The political career of ex-Georgian President and former Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa Region Mikhail Saakashili has come to an end with his deportation from Ukraine, and his party, the Movement of New Forces, will have to merge with other political parties, said experts interviewed by RBC.

Saakashvili was deported from Kiev to Poland on February 12, since he entered Ukraine illegally from there last year, Ukrainian officials explained.

The politician was deported from Ukraine for violating the country’s migration legislation, Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s Adviser Anton Gerashchenko told the paper. "What does a civilized country do with the individuals who have no right to stay on its soil? Yes, they are deported to the country they arrived from," he noted. Gerashchenko added that Saakashvili’s extradition to Georgia is still not under discussion.

The decision to deport Saakashvili now is partly linked to the events of recent days, says Ukrainian political scientist, Director of the Institute of Global Strategies Vadim Karasyov. "The rally outside the president’s residence on February 11 and plans to hold mass protests on February 18 have forced the authorities to act quickly and harshly," he noted.

Saakashili’s Movement of New Forces is more of a media project than a movement with a standard structure. Without its leader, it can survive and become a project bringing together liberal forces for the time opposed to President Pyotr Poroshenko, according to Ukrainian political analyst Anatoly Oktisyuk. Although Saakashvili can declare his intention to return to Ukraine, his political career in the country is nevertheless over, the expert noted.

Without a charismatic leader like Saakashvili, his movement is unlikely to be preserved as a separate independent political movement and will have to seek an alliance with other opposition forces, said Mikhail Pogrebinsky, Director of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology. "Other opposition forces will be happy with Saakashvili’s removal from politics. His deportation frees up space for other political players who, moreover, will be able to use his team and resources. That primarily concerns Yuliya Timoshenko," he noted.


Vedomosti: Why is China returning to Syria?

Syria’s transition from armed conflict to political settlement raises the issue of who will take part in rebuilding the country’s war-torn economy. China’s interest in participating in this process partially removes risks for Russia from getting entangled in Syria’s economic sponsorship and politics, but may result in a loss of some markets, Vedomosti writes.

China has recently beefed up assistance to Syria in implementing humanitarian projects, namely, the construction of hospitals and food aid to refugees, Xinhua reported. Rebuilding hospitals is part of both humanitarian and technological expansion being carried out by Beijing, as there is every likelihood that the restored hospitals will use Chinese medical equipment in the future.

China is Damascus’ long-standing partner. Prior to the war, it supplied technologies and telecommunication equipment to Syria, while China’s national oil company owns shares in Syria’s oil producers. Restoration of the war-torn nation's oil industry and infrastructure remains on the Chinese agenda, according to Vasily Kashin, Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

The fact that the civil war is actually raging on in Syria cannot be seen as an insurmountable barrier, because China has experience of working in some countries with possible outbreaks of insurgency and political instability, in particular, in the Sudan and Nigeria, the expert stressed.

What is more important is political instability, according to Vladimir Frolov, an expert on international relations. Beijing is very pragmatic and will be careful with its investment in a politically unstable country. On the other hand, the intensification of China’s efforts makes it possible for Russia to reduce its own burden. For Moscow, this is yet another reason to accelerate the political dialogue between President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition.


Kommersant: Russian airlines to report on emissions during international flights

Russian air carriers will have to account for greenhouse gas emissions during international flights and compensate for them. Attempts to draft a national system in line with global practice have been made over the past three years, but now this requirement is being put forward by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). However, these problems can turn into a benefit for some players. According to Kommersant’s sources, Aeroflot has already asked the Russian Ministry of Transport to oblige foreign air carriers to pay for emissions during flights over Russia.

The Russian Transport Ministry is working to hammer out a model of compensation measures for Russian airlines for carbon emissions into the atmosphere during international flights, a source in the ministry informed the paper.

Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources sees no point in introducing the carbon reporting system in aviation only. "It would be more reasonable to introduce a national system for all major emitters," Larisa Korepanova, Deputy Director of the Department of State Policy and Regulation in Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring at the Ministry of Natural Resources, told the paper.

"It would be advisable to launch the system specifically in aviation and use this experience in the future in other sectors, which are particularly sensitive to international emission control requirements," said Oleg Pluzhnikov, head of the climate desk at Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia). According to the expert, such systems have already been launched in most developed countries and in some developing nations.


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