Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, May 27, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Turkey builds ‘air bridge’ ahead of major offensive in Libya
Early this week, the Turkish Air Force set up a so-called "air bridge" from Istanbul to Libya. Military and transport planes are performing several flights per day to airfields controlled by the Government of National Accord (GNA). The forces loyal to it have declared plans on launching a new large-scale offensive against Khalifa Haftar’s army on Wednesday. The field marshal is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which also boosted transport aviation flights to Libya. Experts believe that new arms supplies to the conflicting sides will trigger fierce fighting in the coming days, Izvestia writes.
"Turkey still decided to raise stakes and go all the way," military expert Vladislav Shurygin told the paper. Most flights with military aid are heading to Misrata, which is not within reach of the Libyan National Army’s artillery fire. Haftar’s aviation in May had attacked the air base several times, but now Turkish frigates are on duty near it, creating a so-called air defense "umbrella." So, planes and drones can act freely. The military specialist has no doubt that the GNA will fulfill its promises and will launch a new offensive against Haftar’s weakened army in the coming days.
Turkey’s direct armed interference in the conflict shifted the balance of power resulting in painful defeats for the LNA. "Now, Haftar has not only lost the territorial gains of the past year but also continues retreating. The field marshal may have sought to reach a ceasefire, but the GNA is trying not to miss its chance and fully destroy the enemy," military historian Dmitry Boltenkov said.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China vows to respond to potential US sanctions over Hong Kong law
Hong Kong has become the eye of a storm between the United States and China. After Washington had threatened to strip Hong Kong of a special trade status and voiced support for the protesters, the commander of the Chinese army garrison said that he would thwart any attempts at undermining the country’s sovereignty. Later, journalists reported on the movement of military units. According to experts, Beijing does not want bloodshed. Meanwhile, the US will confine itself to diplomatic protests, given the interests of its companies based in the Hong Kong financial hub, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Western media outlets are guessing whether Beijing is going to quash the protests in Hong Kong. Another question is how far US President Donald Trump is willing to go to punish China for its proposed new national security law that could allegedly infringe on democracy in Hong Kong. In its turn, Beijing has warned that it would be forced to take countermeasures if Washington continued to harm China.
Head of the School of Asian Studies at the Higher School of Economy Andrei Karneyev noted that the emotional clash between China and the US over Hong Kong had kicked off last summer. Back then, the demonstrators there were protesting against a law allowing the administration of the territory to hand over individuals to China suspected of anti-government activities. The West supported the protesters. However, Hong Kong was not a key reason at that time for the mounting tension between the two major economic powers. The turmoil there bolsters Washington’s wish to contain China’s growing economic and military might. So how can China respond? The options are to sell US securities, curb the supplies of rare earth metals to the US and create obstacles for American companies in China. But these measures would also hurt China. Therefore, in real politics the sides will proceed with caution, especially Beijing, Karneyev noted.
Vedomosti: Kremlin struggles to set constitutional vote date due to coronavirus pandemic in regions
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not yet announced the date of the nationwide vote on the much-talked-about constitutional amendments. Sources close to the Kremlin and the Moscow mayor attributed this to the fact that the coronavirus situation in the regions has not yet stabilized. While in the past day the mortality rate from the infection declined in Moscow, it grew in other Russian regions, Vedomosti writes. The possible dates for holding the vote are July 1 or July 8. However, June 24 when Russia is due to hold the Victory Day parade, should not be ruled out, some sources said.
It will take a while to achieve a decline in new coronavirus cases since the situation in the Russian regions lags two weeks behind the capital. Now, Moscow has recorded a clear decline in COVID-19 cases. The date of the vote is expected to be announced next week, but everything largely depends on the epidemiological situation, a source close to the Kremlin administration said. September is also a less desirable option because Unified Election Day would have to be delayed. However, this can be done more easily now. Recently, the president signed a law on amending the election legislation, making it possible to postpone the gubernatorial election due to the bad epidemiological situation. A source close to the Moscow mayor’s office believes that July 1 is the most likely date of the constitutional vote.
The presidential administration insists on holding the ballot as soon as possible, while the Moscow mayor’s office believes that it is too early to hold it due to the coronavirus situation. A source in the administration says that it is necessary to hold the vote in June or July because the plans on amending the constitution were announced back on January 15 and the longer this vote is delayed the more it will be "taken off the agenda."
Another person close to the Kremlin administration explains that the authorities want to celebrate the so-called "victory over the virus" so that people could be in a cheerful mood and it would be more preferable to hold the constitutional vote against this background. Moscow has the opportunity to arrange a digital vote and in any situation Muscovites will be able to cast their votes, a source close to the mayor’s office told the newspaper.
Izvestia: Russians losing interest in Chinese goods, sales could halve in 2020
The volume of Chinese goods purchased by Russians dropped 7.1% to 323.3 mln items in 2019 mainly due to rising prices, a reduced limit on tax-free imports and long deliveries, Izvestia writes, citing the Association of Internet Trade Companies (AITC).
"The mood of consumers was affected by the long delivery of goods from China and the increasing prices on goods from this country. The negative impact was due to the news about the epidemic at the end of the year. Some people were just afraid of making orders in China while Chinese sellers were unable to deliver them. The major volume of sales is always seen at the end of the year," AITC President Artem Sokolov told the newspaper. The expert also noted that the current situation has been affected by new import rules, which Russia introduced last year, namely lowering the limit of tax-free imports from 1,000 euro to 500 euro per month.
According to Izvestia, AITC believes that the market of cross-border trade grew 31% in 2019 to 586 bln rubles ($8.3 bln). The most popular items were clothes and shoes (36.8%) as well as gadgets and household appliances (32.2%). However, the volume of cross-border trade on the Russian market still remains significant, Sokolov noted.
President of the National Association of Remote Trade Alexander Ivanov told the newspaper that an average check of purchases from overseas dropped from $9 to $7, while the volume of deliveries by the end of 2020 could decline 40-50%.
Last year, Russians mainly purchased goods from China, which accounted for 59.7% of the total volume.
Kommersant: Russia likely to seek tougher OPEC+ deal
During the upcoming June meeting of OPEC+, Russia could back the idea of increasing oil production cuts. Since July, the general quota of cuts under OPEC+ was expected to drop from 9.7 mln to 8 mln barrels per day, but now Russia is discussing the option of extending the current quota for another two months. In the event that this quota remains in place, Russia’s oil production will decline by another 4 mln tonnes in those two months and in 2020 the drop in output will reach 50 mln tonnes of oil. Sources told Kommersant that the option to extend the quotas is advantageous for Saudi Arabia, which has been mostly affected by the declining oil prices.
Russia could keep the current level of oil output cuts under the OPEC+ deal until September 2020, three sources in the oil sector told the paper. This issue was discussed at a meeting between Energy Minister Alexander Novak and CEOs of oil producers on May 26 and this position could be announced at the June meeting of OPEC+ delegates.
According to one of the sources, Moscow may tighten its position due to the pressure of its key partner in the deal, Saudi Arabia, which is dissatisfied with the current level of oil prices, although the demand has started to resume amid the gradual cancellation of restrictions over the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Russian oil companies don’t share the position regarding the extension of the current quotas. Rosneft was skeptical about the new deal, while on the contrary, Lukoil and Gazprom Neft acknowledged that it was necessary.
According to Vygon Consulting’s Darya Kozlova, now there is no sense in significantly reviewing the agreements reached in April since it is necessary to understand how the situation will develop in the summer months and only then make a decision.