Press review: What to expect from Putin’s annual address and NATO boosts eastern presence / News / News agency Inforos
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Press review: What to expect from Putin’s annual address and NATO boosts eastern presence

Press review: What to expect from Putin’s annual address and NATO boosts eastern presence

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, April 21, prepared by TASS

Izvestia: What to expect from Putin’s address to parliament

This year’s presidential address to Russia’s Federal Assembly may become a landmark one, just like the 2020 speech, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his constitutional reform, Izvestia’s sources in the Russian parliament reveal. Russian lawmakers expect that a number of important strategic decisions related to the social sphere and international politics will be announced during the address.

The Russian head of state may unveil new support measures for the population, including adjusting working seniors’ pensions for inflation, First Deputy Head of the United Russia parliamentary faction Adalbi Shkhagoshev told Izvestia. "The social sphere may be one of the priority topics of the address. Another important topic is the international situation and Russia’s role in it. Citizens are waiting for the president to respond to the attacks of the West and the US," the lawmaker explained.

The Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) expects the presidential address to cover the ways Russia plans to counter color revolutions in post-Soviet states, namely in Belarus, Armenia, and Central Asian countries.

"This threat is becoming a challenge to Russia’s security. I think that the president must send a clear signal as to what will happen if these revolutions approach the borders of our country, and in what format can our borders be changed in the future," Senator Igor Morozov told the newspaper.

Izvestia’s sources close to the Russian presidential administration suggest that one of the topics in the address may be the situation in Donbass and the protection of residents of the self-proclaimed republics.

Director General of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications (APEC) Dmitry Orlov thinks that the 2021 address will be characterized by a combination of two main challenges. "Firstly, a foreign policy challenge, a challenge of increased external pressure. I think that the president may have a large-scale, original and asymmetrical response to that. The second challenge is the shift from the coronavirus-related crisis to the growth of the economy. A combination of measures aimed at stimulating the economy and a large-scale restructuring of regional debts can serve as a response to that," the expert told the paper.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: NATO expands military presence near its eastern borders

NATO states have scaled up their military presence near their eastern borders in the wake of media predictions and statements by Russian politicians about Moscow potentially planning to recognize the independence of the Donbass republics, Nezavisimaya Gazeta informs. Over 20 US F-16 and F-15 fighters were deployed to Poland from the UK, while two missile destroyers USS Donald Cook and USS Roosevelt began to move in the direction of the Black Sea. The UK is also sending two warships to the shores of Ukraine in support of Kiev.

It has been speculated by the media for a long time that in light of the escalation of tensions in Donbass, Moscow may recognize the Donbass republics or officially deploy peacekeepers to the region.

Supporters of the self-proclaimed republics hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin may announce this decision during his address to the Russian parliament on April 21. For their part, Kiev and its partners are not pleased with Russia’s activity in the region.

As if to heat up speculation over a possible Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) recommending American airlines conduct flights over some areas of Russia and Ukraine with "extreme caution." Seemingly to counteract the actions of the Pentagon’s fighters and drones, Russia introduced temporary restrictions on flights over a part of Crimea and the Black Sea from April 20 to April 24. Meanwhile, the concentration of NATO forces aimed at supporting Ukraine, as well as the troops of Russia’s Southern Military District in the Black Sea region is on the rise.

Judging by the official statements of the Russian Defense Ministry, another stage of Russia’s military drills on land and in the waters of Crimea and the Sea of Azov has concluded. Even compared to the joint actions of the Ukrainian military and NATO forces, the maneuvers seemed impressive, with over 20 Black Sea Fleet ships and over 50 military aircrafts taking part in the drills. However, Russian troops do not plan to leave the region after the exercises, the newspaper notes.

"I don’t think that Russia has fully concluded the drills in the south. The concentration of Russian troops and the forces of the country’s Navy in the region of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea is likely to continue, since the Defense Ministry will carry on military maneuvers in the south practically until the winter," military expert, Colonel Nikolai Shulgin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. According to him, NATO will continue to concentrate its forces in the region as well. "However, the big question is how close can they manage to approach Russia’s borders and what is more, to reach the Sea of Azov," the expert said. "The Russian Defense Ministry has stated already that due to the military drills in a number of areas in the Black Sea, "from April 24 to October 31, the right of innocent passage through Russia’s territorial waters for foreign warships and other state vessels is suspended." Significant forces are needed in the region to contain the situation and to ensure military security," he concluded.

Media: Navalny supporters plan unsanctioned rallies on April 21

Heads of Alexey Navalny’s federal headquarters Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov notified the Moscow mayor’s office of a rally planned for April 21. Moscow officials rejected the request to hold the rally due to the late notification and the ongoing coronavirus restrictions. Unsanctioned protests are planned in about a hundred Russian cities, Nezavisimaya Gazeta informs. Law enforcement bodies continue to warn potential participants that their actions are illegal, however, no preventive arrests have been made so far, the paper points out.

By setting the date for April 21, the opposition made a predictable move, Vedomosti notes. The political rationale for holding an opposition rally on this day is tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address to the Russian parliament, in which he plans to outline the key objectives of his new policy course. Under conditions of unprecedented foreign pressure, Putin’s address is likely to serve as an election manifesto and as a breakthrough program. This is an ideal moment for the opposition to announce "a counter-address" that challenges the Kremlin’s legitimacy and disrupts the solemn ritual with the noise of street protests.

This is how the move is seen, however, Navalny supporters did not say a word about it. On April 18, they announced the April 21 rally before hitting the goal of 500,000 potential participants registered on a special website, stating that this is the only way to save Navalny’s life, Vedomosti reports.

Tactical flexibility was of greater importance to Navalny supporters than expanding the opposition coalition, because it allows them to take part in the Biden administration’s offensive against the Russian government. The crisis around Ukraine, new sanctions, diplomatic scandals, calls sounded by European politicians to ban Russian citizens from travelling to Europe - all this puts pressure on the ruling elite. Under these conditions, a large-scale "people’s protest" with inevitable social demands can frighten the elites. Meanwhile, a controlled leader movement whose manifestations are directly connected to this leader seems like a convenient means to normalize the relations with the West, Vedomosti suggests.

However, the government’s repressive response may cause destabilization. For the situation to take a turn to the extreme, it’s not the number of protestors that matters, what matters is whether Russian law enforcement will overstep its usual boundary of violence, the newspaper concludes.

Izvestia: Foreign nationals organize trips to Russia to get COVID vaccine

About 600 Germans have booked trips to Russia with the aim of getting inoculated with the Sputnik V vaccine, and 50 of them have already received the first jab, Norway’s tourist company World Visitor which largely works on the German market informed Izvestia. The popularity of vaccine tourism is on the rise due to the low pace of vaccination in a number of countries. Austrian citizens are also interested in vaccination tours to Russia, local businessman Christian Mucha told the paper.

Albert Sigl, a representative of World Visitor working on these Russian tours, told Izvestia that there are no problems with organizing the trips, as Russia opened its borders to Germans and resumed regular flights with Germany from April 1. Besides Germany, Russian officials allowed regular flights to Finland, Greece, Switzerland and Serbia.

Austria has also expressed an interest in the Sputnik V shot. Back in the winter, Austrian businessman Christian Mucha created a special website to form a list of EU citizens wishing to get immunized against COVID-19 abroad due to the lack of vaccines in their home countries.

So far, 21,000 people signed up for such vaccination tours to Serbia, Russia, Dubai or Israel, he told the newspaper, adding that about 50-60% of those who signed up prefer Russia’s Sputnik V jab, since they are more confident in its effectiveness than in the results of the AstraZeneca shot.

However, Mucha failed to organize any vaccine tours to Russia or other states so far due to closed borders and political obstacles. This week, European Commission Chief Spokesperson Eric Mamer warned that EU citizens that go to Russia to get vaccinated are likely to encounter problems in the future when receiving a vaccination certificate.

"We are glad that we have so many clients who don’t care about registration, and who are simply happy to get inoculated with a very good vaccine, Sputnik," Sigl responded to this statement. He suggested that after the Russian jab receives the green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the demand for vaccine tours to Russia will only increase.

Vedomosti: All spheres of Russia’s economy demonstrating confident recovery

All spheres of the Russian economy showed confident growth in the early spring, the Russian Federal State Statistics Service said in its report on the social-economic situation in Russia in January-March 2021. Industrial production went up 1.1% compared to the corresponding period of 2020 and by 12.2% compared to this February. Agricultural production increased by 43.6% compared to February 2021, cargo turnover went up by 10.1% and construction volume increased by 21.4%, Vedomosti informs.

The service industry also showed an improvement (1.4% better than in March 2020 and 4.2% higher than in February 2021).

"All these factors confirm that the Russian economy is quickly recovering," the federal service suggests.

Economic experts quizzed by Vedomosti agree with the statistics service. According to VTB Capital’s Chief Economist for Russia and the CIS Alexander Isakov, the Russian economy showed an active recovery in the first quarter of 2021. Even in the sphere of small businesses that suffered the most from the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation is improving, the expert pointed out. "Paid services to the population are an important indicator of the activity of small businesses, individual entrepreneurs and self-employed citizens," Isakov points out. "They were recovering, which is indirectly proven by the increase of prices in the service industry, which sped up in the first quarter of the year." Another important factor is the decreasing unemployment rate. "Unemployment is declining, and wages are rising, which shows a demand for personnel," Isakov explained.

"Even now, we can confidently predict not only a further decrease in the unemployment level, but a return of the labor market to 2019 figures by the end of this year as well," General Director of Institute of Labor Dmitry Platygin told the paper.

However, entrepreneurs do not share the optimism of the statistics service and these experts. "The demand remains low, which prevents us from actively increasing output and turnover," Director General of Ralf Ringer Andrei Berezhnoi said. Even though the market is becoming more active, like it usually happens in early spring, manufacturers and sellers are forced to come up with special offers to attract clients.

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