Press review: Putin re-elected resoundingly in record vote and NATO chief on swansong tour

MOSCOW:  Russian President Vladimir Putin has been resoundingly re-elected to a fifth term in office as Russian voters went to the polls in ...

MOSCOW:  Russian President Vladimir Putin has been resoundingly re-elected to a fifth term in office as Russian voters went to the polls in record-breaking numbers; outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg embarks on a farewell tour of the South Caucasus; and China is refusing to sell TikTok following US House passage of a bill mandating the popular app‘s sale. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.

Vedomosti: Putin re-elected in Russian presidential vote with record-breaking turnout

Vladimir Putin has been elected president of Russia for the fifth time, according to preliminary data from the Central Election Commission (CEC) and the results of exit polls conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center at 1,400 polling stations. The incumbent head of state won 87% of the votes cast. Taking second place, according to exit polls, was Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) candidate Nikolay Kharitonov, chair of the State Duma Committee on Far Eastern and Arctic Development, with 4.6%, while third place went to New People party candidate and State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladislav Davankov at 4.2%, and fourth place went to Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) candidate and State Duma member Leonid Slutsky at 3.0%, Vedomosti writes.

Exit poll data may differ from the official results, as the latter figures also factor in the results of remote electronic voting, which was an option for the first time in a Russian presidential election and available to voters in 29 regions, or one-third of the country. With 90.01% of ballot log files processed, the results showed 64.93 mln citizens (87.21%) had voted for Putin, 3.19 mln (4.28%) for Kharitonov, 2.93 mln (3.94%) for Davankov, and 2.35 mln (3.16%) for Slutsky. In addition, this presidential election featured multi-day voting for the first time.

The CEC will announce the official election results in the coming days after ballot logs from all 91,400 local election commissions are uploaded to the "Elections" State Automated System.

However, the CPRF, New People and the LDPR have all conceded to the preliminary election results, the newspaper writes. CPRF legal services chief Georgy Kamenev said that the party had not seen any significant irregularities or violations during the voting process, and that "there are no questions pointing to the illegitimacy of the election."

In this election, the head of state not only received a record result for a Russian president, but he won it with a record turnout. According to the CEC, 74.22% of Russia’s 112.3 mln eligible voters had gone to the polls by 6 p.m. (polls close at 8 p.m.) on the final day of voting, not counting online voting.

"A three-day voting period allows everyone who wishes to vote to do so on a convenient day," Daria Kislitsyna of the Expert Institute for Social Research told Vedomosti.

Three-day voting, unlike remote electronic voting, does not affect turnout in any way, political scientist Alexander Kynev told Vedomosti. Online voting provides a "very large influx" of voters, political scientist Evgeny Minchenko agrees.

Russians who voted showed a readiness to respond to external challenges to their country and society, Sergey Perminov, deputy secretary of the General Council of the United Russia party, said. He believes that online voting is in "demand." "The very high activity of those voters who chose this convenient, quick method of expressing their will is obvious," he added.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Outgoing NATO chief Stoltenberg makes farewell tour of South Caucasus

Outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrived in Azerbaijan on Sunday, where met with President Ilham Aliyev, and on March 18 he plans to hold negotiations with the South Caucasus country’s foreign and defense ministers. The stop in Baku is the most important leg of Stoltenberg’s tour of the South Caucasus countries, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

From March 17 to 19, the NATO chief will visit Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. According to Stoltenberg, the North Atlantic Alliance is calling on Yerevan and Baku to engage constructively in various formats, emphasizing the importance of humanitarian issues. In addition, the military bloc is developing cooperation with the countries of the South Caucasus through individual partnership programs.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijani experts see the visit from the point of view of the international rather than regional agenda, the newspaper writes. "Stoltenberg is travelling to various countries, trying to successfully wrap up his career [as head of] the military bloc. Of course, the conflict in Ukraine covers a large part of the NATO secretary general’s daily activities. However, Stoltenberg is not neglecting contacts with NATO partners," Elkhan Sahinoglu, head of the Atlas Center for Political Research, said.

At the same time, he drew attention to the fact that there are hints in the Western media that Azerbaijan may provide military support to Kiev. According to the political scientist, such publications are part of the West’s information war against Russia.

Political scientist Ilgar Velizadeh believes that Stoltenberg came to Baku primarily to discuss the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, not the one between Armenia and Azerbaijan. "In general, Azerbaijan is NATO’s most interesting and complex partner in the South Caucasus, which is why Stoltenberg spent more time negotiating with Baku than with other countries in the region," the expert believes.

It is worth noting that on the eve of the NATO secretary general’s visit, Aliyev received Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze and the politicians discussed economic cooperation and declared their countries’ mutual recognition of each other’s respective territorial integrity. Vadim Mukhano, head of the Caucasus sector at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAS), believes that this position does not provoke any criticism from Russia because Baku has never hidden its stance in this regard. Azerbaijan’s focus on Turkey is also not surprising. At the same time, economic cooperation cements Azerbaijani-Russian relations, he added.

Izvestia: Why US sees benefit in militarization of Arctic

NATO espionage and surveillance activity along Russia’s Far Northern coastline is prompting Moscow to reassess its regional security posture as the relevant State Duma committee told Izvestia that Russia is already considering denouncing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in the Arctic. The United States is interested in this region because it is the quickest path from America to Eurasia, including for missiles, according to Far Eastern and Arctic Development Minister Alexey Chekunkov.

"The Arctic is strategically important not only because of the Northern Sea Route, climate influence, and subsurface wealth, but also because it is the shortest air route between America and Eurasia for planes and missiles. The militarization of this region jeopardizes global strategic stability and strikes a sensitive nerve in international relations. The US’ policy of creating tension in the Arctic benefits its defense-industrial complex but puts humanity at risk," Chekunkov told Izvestia.

The situation regarding Arctic militarization is shifting substantially as Finland and Sweden have now joined NATO, the newspaper writes. The Russian expert community also feels that NATO’s growth at the expense of the Scandinavian and Nordic countries may set the stage for escalation in relations between the parties. "There have been, are, and will be risks of military conflict in the Arctic. They have increased with the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO. Now the territories of these two countries are being actively used by the leadership of the organization in the northern direction. We have been forced to act. In particular, we are talking about the creation of the Leningrad Military District," Valery Zhuravel, head of the Arctic Research Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, told Izvestia.

Moreover, the importance of the Northern Sea Route is growing now that the logistical route through the Red Sea is no longer safe due to the escalation of the military conflict in the Middle East. India, Vietnam and China are showing interest in using the route, Nikolay Kharitonov, chairman of the State Duma Far Eastern and Arctic Development Committee, told Izvestia.

In order to protect its national interests, Russia may reconsider its participation in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in the Arctic against the background of the actions of unfriendly countries that use the historical space of the Russian region for their military and economic purposes without coordination with Moscow, the State Duma told Izvestia.


Vedomosti: China refuses to sell TikTok after ultimatum by US Congress

The Chinese authorities have made it clear to ByteDance, which owns the TikTok social media app, that it would be undesirable to force its sale in the United States, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports, citing sources. This is precisely what is being demanded in a bill that was passed by the US House of Representatives on March 13, Vedomosti writes. It is alleged that Beijing sees banning the social network in the United States as the preferred option, which could happen if the bill passes in the US Senate and the owner subsequently refuses to sell it.

If the bill gets Senate approval and is signed into law by US President Joe Biden, ByteDance would have to sell TikTok within six months. Otherwise, the social network might be outlawed in the United States, and would be deleted from app stores. It is unclear whether senators will adopt the bill, however, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) remains skeptical that it should be brought to a vote.

Potential bidders for the purchase of TikTok have already emerged, in particular former Trump administration Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said that he, along with other investors, is ready to purchase the platform.

According to Vladimir Vasiliev of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies, the bill’s official rationale is based on TikTok’s control by China. In the United States, it is assumed that in times of ideological conflict, Beijing employs TikTok as its primary media resource, given that its lacks popular international media. Vasiliev also emphasized the significance of Trump’s endorsement for TikTok.

TikTok’s US market is essential, but the social network is also expanding into other markets, such as Indonesia, according to Sinologist Leonid Kovacic. ByteDance may find it simpler to exit the troubled market with fewer factors impeding its growth, the expert added. The hostile information environment that has emerged around the Chinese company in the US in recent years has had a negative influence on its capitalization, he noted. If the bill passes, the option of selling TikTok is doubtful for two reasons: first, Beijing does not want TikTok’s unique algorithms to fall into the wrong hands, and second, it would be very difficult to sell an asset of this magnitude within the period mandated by Congress, Kovacic told Vedomosti.


Izvestia: Analysts look at future course of ruble after Russia’s presidential election

The presidential election in Russia is now over. In anticipation of the results, Russia’s national currency lost some ground against the dollar and the euro. However, experts told Izvestia not to expect any sharp jump in the ruble exchange rate after the final election results are announced. Strong factors that will continue to support the national currency in the coming months are the Bank of Russia’s tight monetary policy and exporters selling earnings.

Experts do not expect any change in the direction of the regulator’s monetary policy at the next meeting of the Bank of Russia on March 22. The key rate is likely to remain at 16%, which will continue to support the ruble.

"At the end of March, exporters will have to make tax payments to the budget, which in March will amount to about 2 trln rubles, almost twice as much as in February and slightly less than in January. This will have a positive effect on the dynamics of the exchange rate, and the ruble may strengthen to 88-89 rubles per dollar. Next, in April, the influence of the tax period will end, which could lead to a weakening of the exchange rate and consolidation in the range of 90-92 rubles per dollar and 100-102 rubles per euro," Olga Veretennikova, vice president at analytical firm Borcell, told Izvestia.

The weakening of the ruble is mainly due to the decline in oil production and exports, the newspaper writes. Oil prices have remained almost unchanged for the past month and the general decline in the output and export of Russian raw materials has led to a reduction in revenues for both oil companies and the state budget.

On the other hand, sanctions continue to put pressure on the Russian currency, which, as expected, creates conditions for a steady weakening of the ruble in the long term. "The United States and the European Union are gradually tightening sanctions, and we can fully expect ‘black swans’ in the second quarter. The final volatility will depend only on budget revenues and the outflow of money from the country, a comfortable ruble exchange rate, taking into account the current balance in the second quarter, is around 100-105 rubles," financial analyst and trader Artem Zvezdin noted.

Nevertheless, most economists agree that sharp fluctuations in the exchange rate in the foreseeable future should not be expected. Until the end of this year, 90-100 rubles will remain the current range for the dollar, economist and director of communications at BitRiver Andrey Loboda told Izvestia.

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in these press reviews




Local Glob: Press review: Putin re-elected resoundingly in record vote and NATO chief on swansong tour
Press review: Putin re-elected resoundingly in record vote and NATO chief on swansong tour
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