As the highly anticipated Putin-Trump summit nears, pundits are discussing the main challenges of the meeting and potential outcomes for the U.S-Russia relationship. On the domestic front, as negative opinions about the pension reform persist, the Kremlin prepares to respond. One of the key political developments in the capital was the announcement of the list of candidates who will run for the Mayor’s and the Moscow Region Governor’s offices in the September elections. No member of the liberal opposition passed the electoral filter.

 

As Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are set to meet in Helsinki, Russian pundits discuss the potential outcomes of the summit. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev | TASS.

 

  1. Before Putin Meets Trump

The story: The Kremlin is continuing to ready for the Putin-Trump summit slated to take place on July 16 in Helsinki—a meeting that Russia’s Channel One called the “key international event of the summer or even of the year.” In a prelude to the summit, a Republican congressional delegation visited Moscow earlier this week to meet with their Russian counterparts and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Details:

  • The visit was organized by John Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, and the delegation included Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), who explicitly stressed the fact that they went to Russia to get a deeper understanding of the bilateral relationship, to find ways to improve it and not to accuse the country of anything.
  • Among the issues discussed at the meeting were: the Syria crisis, the situation in Ukraine, and “alleged Russian interference” in the 2016 U.S. elections, which the Kremlin continues to deny. At the end, Russia’s parliamentaries said they were willing to pay the U.S. a return visit later this year. [Kommersant]
  • In an interview with Kommersant, Sen. Kennedy said he still believes that Russia interfered with the U.S. elections and it is too early to tell if the bilateral relationship can improve—much will depend on Russia’s behavior in November during the midterm elections. [Kommersant]

What to expect:

  • Andrei Kortunov, Russian International Affairs Council: There will be no breakthroughs similar to those achieved in the 1986 Reykjavík Summit, especially since Trump and Putin are not Reagan and Gorbachev. Given the current tensions, everything that is not a clear failure will be a success for Putin, while for Trump’s critics it will be the opposite. In essence, the summit will be a media reset with no rigid obligations. [Vedomosti]
  • Yuval Weber, Shlomo Weber: to understand what can be expected from the summit, Russia needs to look at Trump’s recent negotiation strategies—at the meeting with Kim Jung-un, the G7 summit and the immigration crisis. Trump is pursuing three objectives—to present himself as a powerful deal maker, to generate PR buzz and to shock the U.S. political establishment.
  • One of the problems caused by these strategies is that Trump will seek short-term effects from the negotiations, while Vladimir Putin is interested in long-term results. [Vedomosti]
  • Vladimir Frolov, international affairs expert: expectations are low, as both sides claim that a general improvement and normalization of the bilateral relationship is the key goal. However, Trump’s claims to equalize with Russia to “rule the world together” likely stem from his personal ambitions to look better against his predecessors, while Putin expects actual geopolitical parity with the U.S.
  • Still, based on recent statements by the Trump administration, the Ukraine deal (Russia leaving Ukraine in return for readmission to the G8 and potential recognition of Crimea) could be the key trade-off of the summit. [Republic]



  1. Pension Reform Widely Unpopular 

The story: In a Levada Center poll, 89 percent of respondents said they view the government’s intention to raise the retirement age negatively—more than 70 percent expressed a sharply negative opinion.

Details:

  • The current retirement age in Russia is 60 for men and 55 for women; on average, 51 percent stop working when they reach these ages. Women who continue to work typically remain employed until age 60, men until age 64.
  • There is a sharp decline in the standard of living after retirement, which the government’s promise to raise monthly pensions by 1,000 rubles will not mitigate—not least because pensions represent the main source of subsistence for 78 percent of retirees. [Levada Center]
  • But according to the Levada Center, 56 percent of respondents consider the World Cup to be the most significant event that occurred this June, compared to 31 percent who believe the pension reform to be the month’s noteworthy event. Now 17 percent of Russian citizens believe that their national team will win the championship. [Kommersant]

The government’s response:

  • The Economic Ministry predicts that Russia’s economic growth rate may exceed 3 percent thanks to the implementation of the May Decrees—the increased retirement age will accelerate growth by 1.3 percent. [Kommersant]
  • If this is not enough, the Kremlin is setting up an informal headquarters to create a PR strategy with the help of experts and political technologists to counter negative attitudes toward the pension reform. [Vedomosti

What the experts say:

  • Alexei Makarkin, Center for Political Technologies: Though the pension reform has lowered officials’ ratings, Putin can continue to shift the blame to Medvedev. According to one poll, 40 percent of respondents now completely distrust Medvedev—the prime minister is a convenient whipping boy, as negative opinion does not necessitate opposition to the authorities as a whole. [Republic]
  • Kirill Martynov, political editor: Putin hasn’t spoken on the reform for weeks, but this will have to change eventually. The issue has also threatened to split United Russia, which party officials are suppressing to cultivate a unanimous front in acceptance of the changes. [Novaya Gazeta]

 

  1. Moscow Elections Filters

The story: On July 3, it became clear that only five gubernatorial candidates are competing against current Moscow governor Andrei Vorobyov in the upcoming September 9 elections. Four mayoral candidates will compete against acting Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin

  • Vorobyov, nominated by United Russia, will compete against Moscow Region Duma Chairmen Konstantin Cheremisov (Communist Party), Igor Chistyukhin (A Just Russia) and Kirill Zhigarev (Liberal Democratic Party, LDPR).
  • Lilia Belova, the leader of the Green Alliance, and Boris Nadezhdin, a former State Duma Deputy who will represent the Party of Growth, are further contenders.
  • In terms of the mayorship, Sobyanin has already collected the required signatures from at least 51 municipalities. [RBC]
  • Running against Sobyanin will be Ilya Sviridov (A Just Russia), State Duma Deputy Mikhail Degtyarev (LDPR), businessman Vadim Kumin (CPRF) and Moscow City Duma Deputy Mikhail Balakin (Union of the Russian People). [Vedomosti]

Breakdown:

  • Vorobyov and Sobyanin’s most active contenders will not make it to the ballot. Already, all of the mayor’s real opponents—Dmitry Gudkov, Ilya Yashin and Anton Krasovsky—failed to pass the municipal filter and gain the necessary number of signatures from local elected officials.
  • Konstantin Kostin, head of the Civil Society Development Foundation: The barring of Gudkov, Yashin and Krasovsky is a consequence of the opposition’s disorganization and its failure to form a coalition. [Vedomosti]
  • According to a Levada poll,50 percent of the capital’s population approves of Sobyanin and 34 percent are ready to vote for him. In turn, Sobyanin is the fifth most-trusted politician by Muscovites (after Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu). In response, Yashin claimed that the attitude of Muscovites isn’t in opinion polls but in the elections. [RBC

What it means:

  • Andrei Pertsev, journalist: The administration won’t allow any well-known oppositionists or party members to rival their choice in an election, especially after Navalny won 27 percent of the vote in 2013 to Sobyanin’s 51.4 percent.
  • Even if it risks low turnout, legitimization through a competitive campaign has been replaced by legitimization through top-down approval of specific electoral outcomes. [Carnegie.ru]

 

Other stories that mattered this week (in Russian) 

  • Successor. Different Power”: Colta.ru publishes an excerpt from an upcoming book of conversations between political scientists Gleb Pavlovsky and Ivan Krastev. The book is titled “Experimental Motherland,” and the excerpt is dedicated to Putin’s ascension to power. [Colta]
  • Freedom Today: More or Less?”: The latest issue of InLiberty discusses the controversies of the current Russian regime—thriving authoritarianism on the one hand and social modernization on the other. Authors of this collection of essays include: Ella Paneyakh, Aleksei Tsvetkov, Andrei Zorin, and Yuri Saprykin. [InLiberty]
  • Voices and Pens of the Enemy”: Next week, the Russian State Duma is likely to pass a law that will allow the government to label not just media outlets but also individual journalists and columnists as “foreign agents.” [Novaya Gazeta]

 

 

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