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Press review: Who is vying for Africa and Trump’s belligerence brings two Koreas closer

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, March 6

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian, Chinese, and US interests collide in Africa

African states have been showing interest in expanding Russia’s role on the continent, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said ahead of his African tour that kicked off on March 5. Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that on Tuesday US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also expected to travel there on the heels of Lavrov. Probably, the two powers will be engaged in a struggle for influence there. Meanwhile, the presence of a power such as China should not be disregarded, the paper writes.

Lavrov is scheduled to visit five countries to the south of the Sahara - Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Ethiopia. The Russian foreign minister expects that in the coming decades, Africa will emerge as a major market due to its growing population and rich natural resources.

Tillerson will have different itinerary covering Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria. Given that Ethiopia is also part of Lavrov’s schedule, the Russian side suggested that the two ministers could have talks in that country.

According to Alexey Maslov, Head of the School of Asian Studies at the Higher School of Economics, "Tillerson’s visit is 100% linked to China’s clout." Beijing has been taking steps to lure African states into its One Belt One Road project. China has been pouring more money into Africa than any other international player. However, there is no rivalry between Russia and China in Africa, he pointed out.

South African analysts say the continent is a strategically important direction.

Patrick Bond, professor of political economy at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, told the paper that African countries have 54 votes in the United Nations, which will become crucial in geopolitical battles in the coming years. Diplomats from rival countries will make every effort to restore old alliances and create new ones, he stressed.


Kommersant: Two Koreas seeking to thwart Trump’s strike

For the first time in the past decade, South Korea has sent its negotiator to North Korea. Kommersant business daily writes that this is a key outcome of the Olympic truce unofficially hammered out by the two adversaries during the PyeongChang Games. Its key goal is to prepare for direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang. The South Korean leadership has grounds to fear that should the talks fail to be launched soon, US President Donald Trump could start a war on the peninsula. Meanwhile, the window for progress is gradually closing, given that US-South Korean military drills are scheduled for early April.

Both Russian and Korean analysts and sources in Seoul told the paper that the South Korean leadership is indeed afraid that Trump could launch military action against North Korea and seeks to convince Washington that Pyongyang is capable of holding talks.

"Surprisingly, the goals of Pyongyang and Seoul suddenly coincide: buy time and not let Donald Trump deliver a strike," Andrei Lankov, a respected North Korean scholar at South Korea’s Kookmin University, told the paper. "If Donald Trump believes that North Korea is about to get a missile that can reach Los Angeles, he may carry out a preventive strike turning a blind eye to the fact that North Korea will destroy Seoul by return fire."

South Korea has persuaded Washington to remove the most notorious parts from the drills, namely preparations for destroying the North Korean leadership, Director of the Russian Strategy for Asia Center of the Institute of Economics at Russia’s Academy of Sciences Georgy Toloraya said.

However, Pyongyang demands the full cancellation of the drills and has already vowed to respond by using "decisive measures." Now the goal is to hold substantive talks between the sides before the maneuvers begin.

The North Korean leadership wants the talks to be held between Washington and Pyongyang, but this would mean the recognition of North Korea as an equal partner for the leading nuclear power, the paper says. However the US refuses to start direct high-level talks with North Korea until the country halts its missile and nuclear program, but this is unacceptable for its leader Kim Jong-un.


Izvestia: Washington gearing up for Russia’s presidential election

In the run-up to the Russian presidential election, the United States launched a study of public opinion in the Russian regions towards the federal center with the goal of further meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs, Head of the Federation Council (upper house) Temporary Commission on Defending State Sovereignty Andrey Klimov told Izvestia. The senator stressed that several organizations are involved in this activity under the Pentagon’s order.

Parliamentary sources told Izvestia that this endeavor is being carried out in 15 Russian regions. Many American think tanks, foundations, NGOs and even the US embassy are taking part in this effort. Nevertheless, the US diplomatic mission in Moscow has shrugged off these accusations.

Klimov emphasized that this activity is unacceptable, noting that the data collected through this social research will be used for further meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs.

"The studies were ordered by the Pentagon, which confirms the interference. They try to analyze how our regions view the central and local authorities to get a picture on how to influence the domestic situation and what issues may be stirred up. Social research is rather controversial. It’s one thing when it is carried out by scientists and another when it is done by diplomats," he said.

Russia won’t ignore Washington’s activity and will take adequate tit-for-tat steps to respond to US attempts to influence the presidential election, the senator stressed.

"We are taking retaliatory steps now. Some people, who were involved in this, were forced to leave the US embassy. We passed a [foreign agent] law that sorts all things out. For instance, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is directly engaged in propaganda in Russian and other languages in Russia. Now we understand that they are foreign agents," he stressed. The goal of these measures is to influence the situation in the country ahead of the March 18 election and prepare the ground for "delegitimizing" it.


Izvestia: Russia to ban entry to foreigners suspected of sponsoring terrorism

A Russian government commission on legislative drafting activities has backed an initiative to slap entry bans on foreigners whose accounts were frozen over suspicions of sponsoring terrorism or money laundering from criminal activities. The document will be considered in the first reading by the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, soon, Izvestia writes.

Under the current law, there are five reasons for barring foreigners from entering Russia: violating border crossing rules, providing false information about themselves or the goal of their visit, multiple administrative offences, breaching the terms of stay during previous visits and working for foreign or international non-governmental organizations, which are recognized as undesirable in Russia.

Chairman of the State Duma Committee for the Development of Civil Society and Issues of Public and Religious Associations Sergey Gavrilov called the proposed law "the right choice."

"We view this document positively and are ready to work it out together with the authors for the second reading, taking into account the recommendations voiced by the president in his address," he told Izvestia.

Lawyer Daniil Berman told the paper that before the proposed measures are adopted, a thorough discussion needs to be held since there is the risk that foreigners who are not implicated in any illegal activity will be hit by sanctions. To prevent this, all possible consequences should be analyzed and the solutions should be found, he said.


Kommersant: US airline giant halts flights to Moscow

Delta, a major US airline, will suspend direct flights from the United States to Russia this spring, Kommersant business daily writes citing the company’s press service. The carrier won’t resume direct flights from Moscow to major American cities this summer. The airline reduced its presence on the plunging Russian market in late 2015, performing direct flights only during high season.

A source in Russia’s Aeroflot flag carrier said that in 2017 flights between Russia and the US increased 4% and the Russian airline plans to boost their number by this summer. According to the Federal Security Service, in 2017 Russians made 127,600 trips to the US for tourism purposes, a 16.3% increase year-on-year.

Thus, in the first quarter, the tourist flow from Russia grew 30.3%, while in the fourth quarter it fell 0.8%. That said, by the middle of the third quarter, the United States announced tougher screening for visa applicants, the paper says.

According to press secretary of the Russian Union of Travel Industry, Irina Tyurina, as a result of Delta’s decision to suspend its flights, Aeroflot, currently the only airline offering direct service from Russia to the US, may jack up prices.

However, a source in the Russian company told Kommersant that Aeroflot would be able meet market demand and Delta’s exit would not impact ticket prices.

Boris Rybak of Infomost noted that there are enough cheap connection flights to the US through Europe. However, after Delta’s departure from the Russian market Aeroflot will gain advantages and prices may surge for direct flights in premium segments, the expert noted. In any case, the reduction in the number of air carriers cannot be "positive news for the market," he noted.


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