US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is currently on a tour of Central Europe, has visited Hungary and Slovakia, two of the former Eastern Bloc members that have become part of the “new Europe.” Pompeo’s first European tour following Washington’s announcement of the INF Treaty’s suspension is aimed at strengthening Transatlantic ties with those EU members whom the White House considers to be a weak link in the anti-Russian front. However, the Budapest talks ran into a scandal when Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that Russia’s critics were actually hypocrites as they continued energy cooperation with Moscow, Kommersant notes.
The newspaper points out that the US top diplomat’s tour comes amid the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the mass antigovernment protests that had swept Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and other eastern European countries, which ended in the collapse of their Communist regimes. In this regard, Washington has decided to remind Moscow’s former Warsaw Pact allies that they need to build closer ties with the United States not only because the situation in Europe is changing in the wake of the US suspension of the INF but also because of common values they came to share after the Iron Curtain had fallen.
“Transatlantic relations are very important for European countries both on the economic and political fronts. And the Trump administration prefers bilateral communication over interaction with cumbersome Brussels-based institutions,” Head of the Strategic Assessment Section at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations Sergei Utkin explained to Kommersant. “It also concerns NATO, where it is easier to reach separate decisions with certain countries when it comes to beefing up European defense budgets and using them to purchase US-made weapons and establish new infrastructure facilities,” he added.
According to the expert, “debates about different approaches to the future of the European integration project and relations with Russia continue in the countries that are part of the Euro-Atlantic structures”. In this situation, Secretary Pompeo seeks to make the countries of the region feel that they have someone to rely on overseas, particularly if they have enough courage not to count too much on their European Union membership and special relations with Moscow and Beijing.
The suspension of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty poses a threat to the security of all countries and will lead to chaos and unpredictability in global politics, ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in an article published by Vedomosti.
According to Gorbachev, “today, everything that was achieved in the years after we had put an end to the Cold War is in great danger” as “the United States’ decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty may reverse the situation.”
“In order to justify its stance, the US points to the intermediate-range missiles that other countries have, namely China, Iran and North Korea. But it does not seem convincing as the US and Russia still own more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. In this connection, our two countries remain ‘the superpowers.’ Other countries’ nuclear arsenals are ten to 15 times smaller. Clearly, if the nuclear arms reduction process had continued, other nations, including the United Kingdom, France and China, would have had to join it at some point,” Gorbachev concluded. In his view, Washington’s true intention for exiting the arms reduction deal is different. “The US seeks to free itself from all restrictions in the arms field and achieve total military dominance.” However, “one country’s hegemony is impossible in today’s world,” the ex-Soviet president emphasized.
“This destructive turn will have a different result, as it will destabilize the global strategic situation, lead to a new arms race and increase chaos and unpredictability in global politics. It will damage the security of all countries, including the US,” Gorbachev warned.
He called on members of the US Congress to launch dialogue with Russia on the nuclear weapons issue. “I regret that the scathing domestic political climate that has emerged in the US in recent years has disrupted dialogue between our countries on an entire range of issues, including nuclear weapons. It is time to overcome inter-party differences and start a serious conversation. I am confident that Russia will be ready for it,” Gorbachev affirmed.
He stressed that politicians needed to assess the current situation and make sure that their actions would not set off a new arms race.
The Foreign Ministers of Russia and Finland – Sergey Lavrov and Timo Soini – have exchanged views on vital cooperation matters at a meeting in Moscow. They paid particular attention to international affairs, given Helsinki’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council and the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.
The Finnish top diplomat cautioned Moscow against pulling out of the Council of Europe in light of the disagreements with the organization’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). It seems relations between the Council and Russia have become an urgent issue. June 2019 will mark two years since Russia suspended its monetary contributions to the Council, so in accordance with the rules, the Committee of Ministers will have to strip the country of its membership in the body and then Russia will be requested to leave.
The two ministers also had to discuss the importance of preserving the atmosphere of peace and cooperation in the Arctic.
“Finland’s priority is to bring the Helsinki spirit to the Arctic by hosting an Arctic Summit, which is expected to take place in the Finnish capital in May,” Leading Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations Ekaterina Labetskaya told the paper. “Vladimir Putin expressed readiness to take part in the event at his Sochi meeting with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto. Northern European countries also intend to participate, though the position of the US and Canada is unclear. In this regard, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s February 15 visit to Reykjavik is of great interest as Iceland is getting ready to take over the Arctic Council chairmanship from Finland. The country is known for its friendly attitude towards Russia and China, which has recently been a concern for Washington,” she added.
According to Labetskaya, experts strongly believe that the Arctic is a region free of conflicts. “However, this optimistic assertion disguises the fact that the conflict-free White Silence is turning into an area of hybrid war. The globalization factor, along with fundamental geophysical, climactic and political changes in the northern hemisphere, has made the Arctic Circle a field of fierce competition between Arctic and extra-regional countries,” the expert concluded.
Sociologists from the Levada Center have presented the results of a survey about Russians’ willingness to take action to improve the domestic situation. Seven out of ten say they are ready to vote for parties and candidates promoting changes that reflected their own views, while one in two would sign open letters and petitions. About the same number of respondents are willing to turn to government agencies, while only 22% of those polled expressed any readiness to engage in street protests, RBC noted.
At the same time, 30% of Russians are ready to take part in the work of public and political organizations and another 24% would like to be volunteers. As many as ten percent of those surveyed are ready to advance changes by running in elections at various levels. A thing to note is that active Internet users are more prone to participate in various activities (including elections and protests) than those who either surf the Internet on rare occasions or don’t do it at all.
The poll has once again proved that most Russians do not share radical views and are only ready to use conventional methods of political activism, political scientist Abbas Gallyamov pointed out. “In fact, far less people will be willing to truly take to the streets, even compared to the poll’s outcome,” he pointed out. “Through talking to pollsters, those dissatisfied with the government’s activities seek to make their dissatisfaction clear to the authorities, while they don’t actually plan to protest,” the expert explained.
Most Russians are not ready to take vigorous action because they don’t believe in themselves, they are not sure they can change things, Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov said. “People in our focus groups often times say that ‘others got it covered’ and ‘no one wants to know our opinion’,” he said. “In part, it certainly is some kind of self-justification. Time after time, when we asked people why they didn’t engage in any public activities, they said they were not interested and had no time for that,” he noted.
The commercial interests of businessmen are the only reason why Valentine’s Day took root in Russia. In the beginning, entrepreneurs tried to make money by selling greeting cards but now florists, restaurant owners, as well as those active in the entertainment industry and some other fields, make huge profits on February 14, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.
Today, there are some companies that celebrate the holiday on a large scale. Where once a post box for valentines was installed in a company’s office, now staff members record video greetings and post them on the company’s social media. Compositions made of flowers and sweets, worth up to several thousand rubles, are used as presents.
Companies do not limit themselves to giving presents to their staff and partners. Some firms organize entire performances that make people forget about their work for a while. “Inviting string quartets and even orchestras to the office has become widely popular: they play romantic music the whole day through to keep the personnel in good spirits,” Special Agency chief Alexandra Tutskaya told the newspaper. Another trend is to arrange fresh bars offering ice cream, sweets and smoothies right in the office.
As for Valentine’s lovers, they prefer not to spend much on each other. Average purchases have been declining in all areas as couples mostly buy knickknacks.
On the other hand, florists come up with new trends every year, which sell the best on this particular day. This year, they offer Teddy bear-shaped roses that have an average price tag of 3,000 rubles ($45). However, flower bouquets have become smaller in size. For instance, five to seven years ago, it was considered chic to give 101 roses but now people tend to choose small flower figures and bouquets.
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