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Press review: How highly likely OPCW is to toe UK line and US puts heat on Russian bigwigs

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, April 6


Izvestia: Moscow hopes OPCW will rely on hard facts in UK poison probe

Moscow hopes that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) won’t dance to London’s tune and will only rely on established facts in the Skripal case, a Russian diplomatic source told Izvestia.

"Many have an understanding that there is no evidence that the substance (allegedly used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia) originated in Russia. London has built its case around the ‘highly likely’ wording, expelled diplomats and now claims that many countries find its version credible. However, there is every reason to believe that such a serious organization like the OPCW will not take its cue from Britain and will not resort to unsubstantiated accusations," the paper’s source noted.

OPCW experts who travelled to Britain to collect all the necessary samples to identify the toxic agent are expected to present the results of their investigation as early as next week. However, the OPCW will only hand over a copy of its report on the probe to Britain. The UK Foreign Office declined to answer Izvestia’s question about briefing Russia on its results.

Meanwhile, Moscow continues to insist on a joint Russian-UK probe into the Salisbury incident. At Wednesday’s session of the OPCW Executive Council, Moscow’s draft document was unconditionally supported by six countries, including Iran and China. Seventeen countries abstained, three others did not attend the meeting and 15 voted against it. London responded to Moscow’s proposal to jointly find out the truth with another unfriendly statement describing it as "a diversionary tactic and yet more disinformation."


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian elite forced to maintain covert dialogue with US

Washington’s new moves to tighten the screws on some prominent members of the Russian political establishment are bound not to have any substantial impact on Russia’s economy, Andrey Movchan, Senior Fellow and Director of the Economic Policy Program at Carnegie Moscow Center, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Personal sanctions never have any decisive impact on the economy, just because businesses can be easily depersonalized. Let’s say that a certain entrepreneur will be prohibited from doing business with the US and the EU. However, if he has a business operating in America and Europe, he will just sell it, and that business will continue to function the way it did. Personal sanctions are restrictive measures against specific individuals, while economic sanctions are aimed against businesses," he pointed out.

CNN earlier reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had started questioning Russian businesspeople traveling to the United States, including an entrepreneur who was interviewed when his private jet landed at a New York area airport.

It cannot be ruled out that the ongoing policy of restrictive measures are for another goal, that is, to force representatives of Russia’s big business to maintain a behind-the-scenes dialogue with the West, Tatyana Stanovaya, founder and CEO of R.Politik political analysis firm, told the paper. "I believe that, under these circumstances, we will see quite a few interesting surprises soon, when businesspeople who seem to be loyal and fit well [into the system] will begin attempts to enter into a semi-secret dialogue with the West saying that they are not responsible for the policy pursued by Putin and his political establishment. The logic of the US policy currently boils down to the fact that businesses, which have worked under Putin, are all in a high-risk group, and I don’t see how they can be protected from that," the expert emphasized.


Izvestia: Russia’s food exports grow more than 20% over past year

Russian exports of food and agricultural raw materials amounted to $20.7 bln last year, a 21.7-percent increase compared to 2016, Izvestia writes citing data provided by the Russian Agriculture Ministry. Grain, flour and cereal products accounted for one-third of the exported food commodities. The leading consumers of these products were Egypt ($1.78 bln), Turkey ($1.78 bln), China ($1.77 bln) and South Korea ($1.46 bln).

Russia’s national export support system is currently in the active development stage, the paper quotes Mikhail Sneg who represents the Russian Export Center as saying.

To successfully implement the export strategy, it is necessary to modernize production capacities in both agriculture and the food processing industry, the Agriculture Ministry’s press service told Izvestia.

Dmitry Rylko, CEO of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies, recalled that WTO members cannot subsidize exports directly, using only indirect support measures. These can include efforts to help companies certify domestic products abroad and encourage producers to take part in international exhibitions.

Meanwhile, Director of SovEcon analytical center Andrei Sizov emphasized that Russian food exports could reach $30 bln for the midterm. He noted that agricultural raw materials are the basis of goods exported from Russia, and new markets are required to sell them abroad. For example, exports to Saudi Arabia and North African countries can be considered, he noted.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: France puts forward reforms to slash number of lawmakers

The French government has presented a draft of institutional reforms for the country’s parliamentary system. According to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, the key objective of the proposed move is to improve the parliament’s efficiency and representation.

The reform includes three major steps, one of which is a 30-percent cut in the number of members in the National Assembly and the Senate. As a result, the number of the lower house members will decrease from 577 to 404 and the upper house - from 348 to 243. This parliamentary reform is one of President Macron’s campaign promises, the paper notes.

"Macron has been very consistent in his decisions, and so far he has been able to turn his promises into reality," Sergei Fyodorov, a Leading Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The expert also recalled that Macron’s and Philippe’s initiatives are yet to be endorsed by the parliament. In light of that, the government will face a major uphill battle from the Senate, where the Republicans opposition party controls the majority of seats.

Although the reforms put forward by the French premier are not as radical as some politicians would like them to be, they, nevertheless, can yield positive results, Fyodorov stressed. "In the future, a more compact parliament will make it possible to save resources and create an opportunity for legislators [to do] more rational work," he said. "Meanwhile, the partial introduction of a proportional system will help some parties get more seats in parliament, for example, the National Front, which secures about 30% of the votes but is almost not represented in the lower house of parliament."


Vedomosti: Major market watcher says Russia’s automotive business set to grow

Russia’s automakers are expected to boost output by 9.7% to 1.75 mln cars in 2018, Vedomosti writes citing the estimates provided by the Automobile Manufacturers Committee of the Association of European Businesses (AEB). That corresponds to the 2015 level. The increase will slow down compared to last year, when sales grew 12%.

Car dealers agree with the AEB’s estimates. For one, Avilon expects a 10-15% increase in car sales, while Rolf and Avtomir anticipate a 10% increase each, their representatives said.

To achieve that, certain conditions are required, such as a stable economic climate, expansion of state support programs and steps to encourage customers by importers, said Andrei Kamensky, Avilon Marketing Director. According to Tatiana Kofanova, Automotive Sector Specialist at Deloitte CIS, the key driver will be deferred demand and an increase in the population’s purchasing power.

Apart from that, a consistent reduction in the Central Bank’s key interest rate can set off a surge in credit sales, which are currently lower in Russia than in Europe and the US, said Artem Zyabin, Head of Avtomir’s Expert and Analytical Department. Russia’s Central Bank has lowered its key rate by 0.5 percentage points to 7.25% per annum since the beginning of 2018. Car dealers said their credit sales range from 30 to 55%.


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