US President Donald Trump has once again confirmed his reputation as one of the most unpredictable world leaders. Less than 48 hours prior to his talks in Argentina with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the US leader canceled the meeting. He made the decision based on a report about the November 25 incident off the Crimean Peninsula, which involved Russian and Ukrainian navy ships, Kommersant writes.
However, Center for Political-Military Analysis Director at the Hudson Institute and Valdai Discussion Club expert Richard Weitz told the paper that the two presidents should talk in any case, since there are some issues they need to discuss as soon as possible. According to the expert, the INF deal is the most pressing issue, while others include the conflict with Ukraine, Syria, US sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
Leading expert at Russia’s Center for Contemporary Politics Viktor Olevich told Kommersant that “each meeting with Vladimir Putin is a disadvantage for Donald Trump, given the domestic political tension in the United States. Every time Trump returns to Washington after holding a meeting with the Russian president, he becomes the target for attacks and aggressive criticism from both the media and the political opposition,” the expert pointed out. According to him, a new meeting with Putin would have not allowed Trump to reach any agreements that he could “demonstrate to the American people as an achievement to justify such meetings.”
There were numerous signals indicating that Trump might cancel the meeting, President of the American University in Moscow Edward Lozansky told Izvestia. “Emotions have been running high in the US as senators from both parties continue to turn up the heat on Trump,” he said. “He couldn’t resist the pressure. They had left him no chance to hold the meeting. It would have been a political uproar… So Trump showed his weakness,” the expert noted. Trump’s unexpected move is unprecedented in global diplomacy, said former United Nations Under Secretary General Sergei Ordzhonikidze. “This is unique. It turns out that this president can be expected to do just about anything at all. He either does not control the situation or has become a puppet of his own administration. Such statements are usually made through diplomatic channels. This kind of behavior on the international stage is inappropriate,” he noted.
However, according to Director of the International Institute of the Newly Established States Alexey Martynov, all this does not mean that the two presidents will not meet in the near future. “Perhaps, the US president is not ready for talks at the moment and understands that he would have had to make obligations that he would not be able to fulfill. He still has the logic of a businessman,” the expert told RBC.
A bill recently submitted to the US Congress, named Stopping Russian Nuclear Aggression Act, actually prohibits the Trump administration from extending the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia. Nezavisimaya Gazeta points out that the White House has already discussed what it calls “Russian nuclear aggression” before. In particular, it is mentioned in the National Defense Authorization Act signed by Trump in August 2018.
Washington and Moscow inked the New START treaty in 2010 for a term of ten years. The document stipulates that both parties have to cut back the number of deployed ICBMs to 700 and the number of warheads to 1,550. In February, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US Department of State announced that both countries continued to comply with the treaty. However, reciprocal claims nonetheless remain. In particular, the US is concerned about the new Russian weapons President Vladimir Putin unveiled in his State of the Nation Address to the Federal Assembly on March 1.
Chief Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy Major General Vladimir Dvorkin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the bill prohibiting the current US administration from extending the New START treaty had just been submitted to the Congress. “It will now be discussed and there are many politicians in the US, including Members of Congress, who believe that the new START treaty must be extended,” said Dvorkin, who used to head the Russian Defense Ministry’s Fourth Central Research Institute, responsible for nuclear planning.
The expert was confident that “the Americans will make a huge mistake if they choose not to extend the New START treaty.” According to Dvorkin, “in that case, they will lose access to full information about the state of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, for one. Second, the lack of an agreement on strategic weapons between the largest nuclear superpowers will undermine all the principles of global strategic stability. Given Washington’s possible withdrawal from the INF Treaty, it will mean the end of the nuclear proliferation control system,” Dvorkin stressed. In his view, there is a need not only to prolong the New START deal, but also to take time to draw up a new document based on the changes in Russian and US weapons that have already taken place and will occur in the future.
So far, 17% of Russians are mostly positive about the idea of handing some of the Kuril Islands over to Japan for the sake of reaching a peace treaty, said a poll conducted by the Levada Center in 52 Russian regions on November 22-28. In May 2016, only seven percent of those surveyed shared this view, RBC notes.
Russians’ attitude towards Japan has improved, and the number of those who are potentially ready to support the islands handover has grown. According to the Levada Center’s poll, more than half of Russians are positive about Japan, while only 20% expressed negative views of the country.
People do not see the diplomatic dispute over the islands as a real threat and a reason for a war, unlike the Crimea situation, so their attitude towards Japan remains mostly positive, Karina Pipiya, a pollster at the Levada Center, told RBC commenting on the survey’s outcome.
According to the poll, most Russians still oppose handing the Kuril Islands over to Japan but the number of respondents supporting the idea has been increasing. In November, 17% of those surveyed were mostly positive about a potential island handover, while 74% were mostly negative. However, only seven percent had welcomed the idea in May 2016.
The number of people who support a potential handover keeps changing but it has always been a minority, Pipiya said. According to her, on the one hand, the country’s vast territory is one of the reasons behind Russians’ national pride, so “most view the idea of giving up territory as a sign of weakness.”
The arrival of a new generation of Russians may be one of the reasons for the growing number of those who support a possible handover, Head of the Department of Oriental Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Dmitry Streltsov told RBC, commenting on the poll’s results. Young Russians are more globalized and prone to compromise, while at the same time being less concerned about the legacy of the Cold War and World War II, he noted. However, the expert was doubtful that it would be possible to reach a compromise in the foreseeable future as Tokyo would not be satisfied with the handover of only two islands, while Moscow was not ready to fully implement the 1956 agreements.
There are more than 12,000 HIV-positive children in Russia. Many parents tend to reveal the truth to their children as late as possible though the World Health Organization recommends doing that when children are between six and 12 years old. However, people are afraid that kids will tell someone about their disease and the entire family may then face misunderstandings, disapproval and unfounded fears, Izvestia writes.
The number of HIV-positive individuals in Russia is close to one million according to the Health Ministry, and has long exceeded one million according to expert estimates. However, people still know little about the disease though they are aware it is contagious, incurable and deadly. On top of that, the disease carries the stigma of being an illness prevalent among drug addicts and homosexuals.
According to a poll conducted by the Deti Plus (or Children Plus) charity fund in November, as many as 55% parents of HIV-positive children have faced misunderstandings, discrimination and violations of their children’s rights.
“The first HIV-positive children were born in Russia around 1997-1998,” Department Head at the Moscow Regional AIDS Prevention and Control Center Yevgeny Smirnov told Izvestia. “At the time, the virus started to spread among drug addicts. Only a few infected children were born at the beginning, but an upward trend emerged when the virus started to be sexually transmitted and many women got it. However, the number of mother-to-child transmissions has been decreasing lately because we now have a special strategy for dealing with HIV-positive pregnant women. Most infected children are born by women who avoid seeing a doctor until it is time to give birth,” he added.
Doctors insist that HIV-positive children pose no danger to other people. “HIV is transmitted through blood, that is, through an injection or during a sexual intercourse when there are some micro-fractures. The amount of the virus other body fluids contain is not enough for transmission,” Smirnov explained, adding that no HIV transmissions from children during the course of daily life has been recorded in Russia.
The tourist outflow from Russia during the coming holiday season may turn out to be ten percent higher than last year. However, the trend can hardly be described as highly positive since it is just in line with overall market growth recorded in 2018. Experts believe it is the devaluation of the ruble and price hikes that prevented the industry from growing in a season popular with tourists, Kommersant writes.
Transport Adviser to the Federal Tourism Agency (Rostourism) head Dmitry Gorin told the paper that the tourist outflow during the holiday season would be roughly similar to the average annual figure. “There will be an increase of about ten percent. Market participants, who initially expected a 20% increase, have ultimately faced financial difficulties,” he explained.
Promsvyazbank Chief Analyst Igor Nuzhdin believes that the tourist market could have grown more this year but the ruble devaluation made it impossible, since the national currency started depreciating in May, when tourist deals are usually made in large volumes.
As a result, according to the expert, the package and individual tourism markets will show similar trends this year, growing by 8-10%. “Most of the growth – 22-23% – comes from Turkey, which is still the most accessible tourist destination for Russians,” the expert said.
In 2019, the growth of outward and domestic tourism industry will slow, Nuzhdin added. According to him, sales increase rates may fall by one or two percentage points. The expert says the reason is that sales already recovered following the 2014-2016 crisis, whereas Russians’ incomes continue to decline in dollar terms.
“Stagnation is the prospect for 2019 and several more years to come because in 2018, the outward and domestic tourism market reached the level where further growth is only possible if people’s incomes or tour packages’ prices change significantly,” the expert said.
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