Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, April 8, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Russia backs stability in Armenian election campaign
The Russian factor at Armenia’s upcoming snap parliamentary elections will be decisive if not crucial. Key political rivals and irreconcilable foes visited Moscow: former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Both of them had talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s contacts with the key players in the Armenian domestic political struggle are not the only thing pointing to Russia’s stepped up focus on the situation there. It’s important for the Kremlin not just to preserve the peace in Nagorno-Karabakh and Russian peacekeepers, but also to embark on economically restoring the region hit by the conflict. The idea is to unblock transportation links and economic ties, including between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
According to Head of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan, if Pashinyan’s goal during his visit to Moscow was to demonstrate that he had tried to free Armenian citizens from captivity and ensure his country’s security thanks to Russia’s support, the Kremlin has its own priorities.
"Moscow wants the process of unblocking transportation links between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which kicked off with its mediation after the war, to go on," he explained. "Russia is sponsoring this process and cannot leave it as it is. Moscow thinks that economic cooperation could ease tensions between the sides and the effort to iron out the Karabakh issue could move forward." In this situation, it’s important for the Kremlin that regardless of the winner, in the event of a lack of an absolute leader, the coalition government won’t break the fragile security architecture, which emerged in the region late last year.
Izvestia: Putin to focus on social issues in State of the Nation Address
Russian MPs and senators expect that Russian President Vladimir Putin will focus on new measures of social support for citizens and businesses as well as protecting Russia’s sovereignty and fellow countrymen living around the world in his State of the Nation Address on April 21, which will be held offline.
"The address is a serious analytical document about the outcome and prospects of the country’s development. This time the major outcome here will be Russia’s success in the battle against COVID-19, and so this will be a victorious message. In this challenging situation with the pandemic’s spread across the entire world, our country is number one in the scientific and humanitarian fields. This is confirmed by the fact that we have developed three vaccines, which we are ready to supply to many countries," First Deputy Chair of the United Russia faction in the State Duma Adalbi Shkhagoshev told Izvestia.
Experts believe that the date of Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly is related to the beginning of the climate summit, initiated by US President Joe Biden, who announced Washington’s return to the Paris agreement. The leaders of 40 countries, including Russia, have been invited to the online event.
"On April 22, Earth Day, a virtual summit of the heads of state is scheduled. I believe that the date of the address (April 21) is related to this event. So, of course, one of the issues, which Vladimir Putin is set to highlight, will be Russia’s role in solving global issues as well as tackling new global threats. His speech will become a point of entry to the global discussion, and the key issue, which he could suggest for joint resolution will be climate change," Head of the Political Expert Group Konstantin Kalachev noted. However, the key issue in the president’s speech will be ironing out social issues, he said.
Author of Telegram channel Davydov. Index Leonid Davydov also points to the connection between the date of Putin’s address and the climate summit for global leaders. According to him, in the run-up to the event, Putin will present Russia’s position on all important issues and his words will be addressed to foreign partners. The expert also noted that in the future all those who plan to take part in the election campaign will rely on this address.
Kommersant: Lavrov makes progress in Pakistan
Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov has wrapped up his visit to Pakistan, which became the second stop on his Asian tour after India. The talks in Islamabad reached a breakthrough. Pakistan, which was out of Moscow’s spotlight due to the conflict with India and Islamabad’s close ties to the US, managed to break the deadlock in relations with Russia, including their most sensitive military and technical part. However, the Russian-Pakistani honeymoon might entail costs for each side. The pro-US lobby in New Delhi has gained ammunition in favor of shifting towards the US, while as far as Pakistan is concerned rapprochement with Russia will trigger cooler ties with Washington and less US military assistance, Kommersant writes.
Leading Indian mass media outlets pointed out that the Russian foreign minister united India and Pakistan during his Asian trip, which many foreign politicians prefer not to do. Meanwhile, Washington’s relations with its strategic Pakistani ally keep deteriorating for two reasons. First, the US thinks that Islamabad is slacking off in the anti-terror fight, and the enormous assistance allocated there is becoming a black hole. Second, Washington views Pakistan as the younger brother of China, the key US geopolitical rival. And now there’ll be a third reason, after Lavrov’s visit - rapprochement with Russia, the newspaper says. According to Indian media reports, Lavrov’s visit to Islamabad, which became a turning point in bilateral relations, took place mainly thanks to Beijing’s efforts.
"Now the struggle for Pakistan is unfolding in the region and three key players - the US, China and Russia - are pursuing their interests. For Beijing, Pakistan is becoming an important point of influence in South Asia and the Middle East. The US views Islamabad as a future operator of Afghanistan and hopes to alienate it from Beijing. For Russia, Pakistan is interesting as a tool of containing the US in the region as well as a point of influence on the Taliban and other Jihadist groups, which potentially pose a threat to security in Central Asia," Director of the Russian Society of Political Scientists, a think tank, Andrey Serenko told Kommersant.
"Pakistan will interest Russia as an essential partner, but Moscow is unlikely to have inclusive cooperation with Islamabad since for Pakistan this would mean unacceptable downgrading its partnership with Washington. Given this, Moscow will have to thoroughly evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of its current strategy, given the prospect of spoiling relations with India," the expert pointed out.
RBC: Experts weigh in on what awaits Moscow and Kiev in Donbass escalation
Moscow, Kiev and the Donbass republics are trading barbs on the situation in southeastern Ukraine. For Kiev, the deterioration in the region is a new pretext to raise the issue of joining NATO. The Kremlin stated that this move by Kiev would only worsen the crisis.
According to political scientist Evgeny Minchenko, all steps taken by Russia (including a demonstrative concentration of troops on the border) are an attempt to avoid a hot phase of the conflict and demonstrate its will to protect the citizens of the self-proclaimed republics in Donbass, hundreds of thousands of whom have obtained Russian citizenship. "This story is not comfortable for Moscow. Tactically, it could bring some domestic political benefits, like rallying around the flag and uniting against an external foe, but strategically, this bears only additional expenses and extra tensions in relations with the West. It’s clear that no matter what happens there, Moscow will be declared as the guilty party," Minchenko said.
The commentator agrees that this exacerbation could be advantageous for Kiev in renewing ties with the US. According to him, there are three scenarios now unfolding: more saber-rattling, which won’t result in anything, a low-intensive conflict, which will end with the establishment of the current borders in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and finally, an offensive by Ukrainian troops, which will pull Russian forces into the conflict and this will seriously increase the chances of recognizing the DPR and LPR by Moscow.
Neither side is interested in massive combat actions, said Alexander Gushchin, a senior lecturer at the Russian State University for the Humanities. For Russia, a military escalation in Donbass risks new sanctions and worsening prospects against its key gas project - Nord Stream 2. For Ukraine, this also poses dangers, since the army is unlikely to withstand a large-scale conflict, Guschin noted. Ukrainian expert Vadim Karasev concurs that a major conflict is not on the horizon.
Vedomosti: Travel agent rolls out coronavirus vaccination tours to Russia
An online platform for booking tours to Russia for foreign tourists, Cosmos Travel, part of the AFK Sistema Cosmos Hotel Group, launched package tour offers on vaccination against COVID-19 for Russians living abroad on April 7. They will be able to come to Russia for several days in order to get the Sputnik V jab. The tour package includes accommodation, transportation services as well as assistance in the vaccination center. Clients will pay for a flight to Moscow themselves, a spokesman for the Cosmos Hotel Group told Vedomosti.
The travel agent offers two tour package options. The first one is a 1,500-euro package, which is one trip to Russia with a stay in any city (Moscow is preferable as there are more flights to the capital). This trip will last for 21 days - in order to receive two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The second offer is two three-day trips with the price tag of 700 euro each. Any person, who lives outside Russia and has Russian citizenship, can join the program. "There is huge interest in getting immunized with Sputnik V among Russian citizens living in other countries. We often receive such requests," said Andrei Sivitsky, Director General of Cosmos Travel.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in 2020, 11 mln Russians were living abroad. Sivitsky notes that as soon as the anti-coronavirus restrictions between the countries are lifted, at least 50,000 people could travel on anti-coronavirus tours by the end of the year. Foreign citizens are also showing interest in the Russian drug, he noted.
The problem with access to vaccines in Europe is very acute and given this background some people would like to come to Russia to get vaccinated with Sputnik V, which is one of the most efficient and safest drugs, Nikolai Bespalov, Director for Development at RNC Pharma said. In the future, the tours to get the Russian jab could be arranged not only in Russia, but also in other countries, he said.