- Press review: Opposition reacts to Lukashenko’s inauguration and Russian-led drills excel
- Press review: The ‘all or nothing’ New START bid and Lukashenko’s hush-hush inauguration
- Press review: What Putin offered the world in UN speech and US itching to oust Maduro
- Press review: EU backs down on sanctions and Israel to normalize ties with Sudan
Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, July 20, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: EU eyes new anti-Russian sanctions in wake of alleged hacker attacks against Bundestag
The European Union is likely to approve sanctions against Russians allegedly involved in cyberattacks against the Bundestag in 2015, the German parliament told Izvestia. In mid-July, it was reported that the German government had addressed the EU last month with a request to introduce cyber sanctions against Russia. The mechanism of cyber sanctions was approved in 2019, and is set to remain in place until at least 2021, though it hasn’t been used yet. The restrictions against the alleged hackers include imposing entry bans to the EU and freezing their assets.
So far it remains unclear as to when the EU plans to discuss the introduction of cyber sanctions against Russia. The European Commission told Izvestia that EU members have the right to offer to use this mechanism. Later, this matter would be debated by the EU Council until a full consensus is reached.
Russia’s Mission to the EU shared its stance on the potential sanctions in a statement to Izvestia. "Launching such a mechanism as international sanctions is the sole prerogative of the UN Security Council. Any restrictive measures introduced by separate states or organizations, including the European Union, are illegitimate from the get-go," the mission said.
The mechanism of the EU cyber sanctions is rather new, and considered by the Europeans to be an adequate measure that can send a strong political message and at the same time punish certain individuals accused of the cyberattacks, Program Director of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and the Valdai Discussion Club Ivan Timofeev told the newspaper. He noted that Russia would provide a tit-for-tat response if such sanctions are introduced. Despite the symbolic nature of the sanctions mechanism, this move could damage relations between Moscow, Berlin and Brussels, Timofeev concluded.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow caught in the middle of the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict
Clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, which broke out on July 12 in various settlements along the shared border between both states, rage on, with both sides reporting multiple ceasefire violations daily. Experts predict that the border clashes will cease soon, with both sides toning down their bellicosity. However, if the spike in tensions goes on, it will serve as a test to the effectiveness of Russian diplomacy in the region, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
Moscow has found itself between a rock and a hard place due to the armed escalation in the region, the newspaper suggests. Both Baku and Yerevan are its allies within a post-Soviet system. Both states form part of the Commonwealth of Independent Nations. Besides, Moscow becomes implicitly involved in any armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, since both countries import Russian arms. Information on Russian weapons supplied to Azerbaijan and Armenia is currently classified.
Vadim Kozyulin, a researcher at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Moscow is carrying out a balanced policy of military-technical cooperation both with Armenia and Azerbaijan. "The supply of weapons and military equipment would not give any side the upper hand, which is what is essentially holding them back from a large-scale armed conflict," he said. For his part, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Caucasian Studies at MGIMO University Nikolai Silayev noted that the 2016 clashes had shown that Azerbaijan’s military spending is higher than Armenia’s, however, their defense capacity is at the same level.
Nevertheless, the situation may change, as Azerbaijan and Armenia have the opportunity to buy non-Russian weaponry as well.
Vedomosti: Polish opposition challenges results of presidential election
On July 12, the second round of Poland’s presidential election took place. Incumbent President Andrzej Duda, representing the Law and Justice Party, won the runoff with 51% of the vote, while his opponent from the Civic Platform opposition party, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, came in second with 49%. In the wake of this, representatives of the opposition filed a claim to the Supreme Court of Poland in an attempt to challenge the outcome of the election, Vedomosti reports.
Leader of the Civic Platform party Borys Budka claimed that the election was not up to democratic standards, because the president had received active support from the government.
There were serious violations during the election, however, the main issue is not related to bad organization and other mishaps, Senior Researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) with the Russian Academy of Sciences Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky told Vedomosti. The election system had undergone a planned transformation before the vote, he explained. "A huge number of people abroad could not cast their ballots. It is no secret in Poland that Poles living abroad are more liberal, and they are unlikely to vote for the Law and Justice Party. Several hundred thousand people were unable to vote, which is why Duda’s victory is somewhat controversial. In some countries, those who expressed their desire to vote were faced with a lack of ballots, and in some states, embassies were shut down on election day, the expert notes.
"In any case, Law and Justice does not intend to react to domestic or foreign criticism. They will fight till the end, as they had planned from the start and they expected a response," Ofitserov-Belsky said. According to him, despite a negative view of Law and Justice from Brussels and Berlin, they will not clash with the party’s representatives, and will pursue constructive cooperation instead.
Kommersant: Russians mulling trips to Turkey over rumors of looming flight resumption
Unconfirmed reports of a planned resumption of flights between Russia and Turkey have boosted the demand for tours to Turkey among Russian nationals, as the spike in popularity of Russian resorts has tapered off, Kommersant notes. In some cases, Russians are attempting to book trips from Minsk. Despite the closed borders between Russia and Belarus, there isn’t full control over border crossings, some experts note.
Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported on a planned resumption of flights with Russia on July 15, citing the Turkish Ministry of Transport, however, Russia failed to confirm this report. A Kommersant source in the tourism industry noted that no decision has been made yet and that the talks are continuing. "Turkey expects to resume flights on July 25, however, they are unlikely to begin earlier than August 1," the source noted, adding that the countries are likely to agree to resume regular flights, but not charter ones.
Meanwhile, there are possibilities for Russians to book flights to Turkey with Belarusian tourist firms. Igor Blinov, a spokesperson for the OnlineTur.ru tour-booking website, notes however, that a small number of travelers are willing to embark on such tours, but for many, this sort of scheme seems expensive and difficult.
A Kommersant source in the tourist market noted that if Russia and Turkey resume regular flights in the near future, the country will be able to receive about 1 mln-1.5 mln Russian tourists until the end of the year. This number will rise to 3.5 mln-4 mln people if charter flights resume as well. Under a positive scenario, Russia’s tourist flow to Turkey will be 50% lower than in 2019, when about 7 mln Russians visited Turkey. Blinov thinks that the recovery of tourist flow will take about two weeks. If flights resume on August 1, by mid-August, the countries can reach last year’s figures.
Izvestia: Russian Ministry of Finance to maintain public debt at about 20% of Russia’s GDP
The Russian Ministry of Finance will maintain Russia’s public debt at about 20% of the country’s GDP or lower over the next five years, Izvestia reports, citing the ministry’s draft agenda for 2020-2025.
The Ministry of Finance considers this level of public debt secure for the country’s financial stability, the newspaper notes. "The volume of debt for the next three years will be stipulated in the budget bill presented to the government in the fall," the governing body responsible for the nation’s financial policy told Izvestia when asked what the Russian Ministry of Finance will do if public debt nears the stipulated threshold.
Associate Director of ACRA’s Sovereign Ratings and Macroeconomic Analysis Group Dmitry Kulikov told Izvestia that due to the increased budget deficit in 2020-2021, Russia’s growth of public debt may reach up to 5 percentage points of the GDP, going up to about 17%. If the crisis does not last longer than until next year, the level of public debt will stabilize, which is why the 20% threshold will not be reached in the next three years, Kulikov insisted.
The expert noted that Russia’s public debt levels are generally far from alarming. Countries with levels of public debt lower than 40-50% do not generate any doubts in their ability to adhere to their obligations, even during times of crisis, he pointed out.
For its part, Russia’s Accounts Chamber stated that public debt reaching 20% of a country’s GDP is considered secure in international practice.