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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    March 15

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    The incumbent president has won the election with an unprecedented margin in the history of new Russia, writes VN. The lack of any genuine rivals for Putin should not be seen as grounds for discrediting elections as an institution. This freedom, which we have only received recently, has been badly discredited anyway. And, to be honest, not in the past four years. The presidential elections in 1996 and in 2000 can be only described as completely democratic with some reservations. But, at that time, no one called on people to boycott them under the pretext that these are "not elections, but a farce". Nor was yesterday's ballot a farce either. To claim this would insult the overwhelming majority of the Russian electors who voluntarily and deliberately gave their votes for Vladimir Putin. It is not their fault that the incumbent president did not have worthy challengers, writes Vremya Novostei.

    IZVESTIA

    Vladimir Putin has triumphed. Now one can think about, says Izvestia, what the winner will do.

    The economy in general. The trend towards a greater role for the state will remain. But it will primarily affect major enterprises and strategic branches, the raw material sector in the first place.

    Privatisation. It will be pushed further on. The nationalisation of individual facilities is possible, but there will be no large-scale moves in this area.

    Taxes. One may well expect a hike in taxes on big businesses, especially those connected with mineral mining, i.e. extracting natural resources rent. At the same time, one should expect decisions on lowering the single social tax, and introducing new tax breaks for education, healthcare, children's care and mortgages. The mortgage service will become one of the jewels of the second-term programmes. It will lead to a faster rate of housing construction, but may also generate "credit bubbles" and local defaults.

    Chechnya. Russia will carry on its course towards transferring all power in Chechnya to Akhmad Kadyrov. Towards the end of the second term, federal troops in Chechnya will be reduced to a minimum if any remain there at all.

    Foreign policy. There will be no substantial further rapprochement with the West. Relations with the EU are most likely to suffer a temporary insignificant deterioration due to the accession of 10 new members from among the former socialist countries, with little love lost between them and Russia. Relations with the US will either remain at the present level or worsen somewhat - especially if Democrat John Kerry is elected president in November.

    Foreign investment. Foreign investors have got used to working with any government, and in this sense the significance of the Yukos affair need not be overestimated. Besides, the profitability of investment in Russia is very high, Izvestia analysts note.

    KOMMERSANT

    The tensions that lingered in relations between Tbilisi and the authorities of the Adzharian autonomy all last week have reached a climax. Supporters of Aslan Abashidze, Adzharia's head, did not let Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili onto the territory of the autonomy. In reply, the head of state warned Batumi: "Georgia cannot be hostage to individual feudal lords". Tbilisi and Batumi, Kommersant writes, are teetering on the brink of a clash, which may involve Russia.

    As the paper's sources in the Kremlin claim, Moscow doubts Mr Abashidze has firm enough positions in Adzharia, and has drawn attention to the consolidation of forces opposed to him. Moscow has already taken one step testifying to its desire to avoid any direct involvement in the confrontation around Adzharia. A unit of local contract servicemen that served at a Russian military base in Batumi and could side with Aslan Abashidze was urgently replaced with Russian men, reports Kommersant.

    GAZETA

    The latest gas talks between Minsk and Moscow have failed again, notes Gazeta. Belarus proposed a price of 46 dollars for the fuel, while Gazprom is insisting on 50 dollars. According to Gazprom press secretary Sergei Kupriyanov, "Belarus is offering unacceptable and non-market conditions".

    The present state of relations between Moscow and Minsk benefits the latter, believes Gazeta. The republic has already survived a cold winter. The gas it bought from a number of Russian companies will last Belarus one month. But most important of all, Alexander Lukashenko has kept the ownership of the gas pipeline system that delivers Russian gas to European consumers.

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