Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum
Issue 6.2019
2019.02.04 — 2019.02.10
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's opening remarks at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand Don Pramudwinai, Moscow, February 8, 2019 (Вступительное слово Министра иностранных дел России С.В.Лаврова на пресс-конференции по итогам переговоров с Министром иностранных дел Королевства Таиланд Д.Праматвинаем, Москва, 8 февраля 2019 года) / Russia, February, 2019
Keywords: mofa, speech, sergey_lavrov, top_level_meeting

Ladies and gentlemen,

The talks with my colleague from Thailand, Don Pramudwinai, were held in a traditionally friendly atmosphere and were very substantial.

Thailand is Russia's longtime partner. Our relations are based on the values of friendship, mutual respect and consideration for each other's interests.

We discussed the state of bilateral cooperation and prospects for its further development, with due account for the agreements reached at meetings between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Thailand Prayut Chan-o-cha during the September 2017 BRICS summit in Xiamen, China, and also on the sidelines of the 13th East Asia Summit in Singapore last November.

We were satisfied to note the positive dynamics of bilateral trade and economic ties. We praised the launching of practical co-production arrangements in the power industry, the transport and agro-industrial sectors.

We agreed to continue implementing the top-level decision to increase bilateral trade to $10 billion. The Joint Russian-Thai Commission for Bilateral Cooperation has a major role to play in these efforts. My colleague, Don Pramudwinai, co-chairs the Thai section of the Commission, and Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov chairs its Russian section. We will vigorously facilitate the implementation of agreements reached at this commission's seventh meeting in Bangkok in December 2018 aimed at promoting joint mutually beneficial projects. We will continue to help expand direct contacts between our countries' business communities.

The meeting between the Foreign Minister of Thailand Don Pramudwinai and Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov will take place later in the day. They will map out more specific actions on implementing the agreements reached by the Intergovernmental Commission.

Today, we reaffirmed our desire to improve the contractual foundation of our relations, deepen cooperation in countering new threats and challenges and developing military and military-technical cooperation.

We highly value our cultural, humanitarian, youth and tourist exchanges. Last year 1.5 million Russian citizens visited Thailand. We are grateful to the Thai authorities for meeting our request to open a Russian consulate-general in Phuket in order to facilitate these tourist flows and to assist our tourists.

We emphasised our mutual interest in continuing the practice of educating Thai students at Russian universities; there are now 350 students. We appreciate the interest of the Thai leaders in promoting the Russian language in their country. The centre of the Russian World Foundation has been operating in Thailand for seven years, and the Russian language is taught in many education institutions. Today, we offered our colleagues assistance in training and upgrading the skills of Russian language teachers.

We discussed major issues on the world and regional agendas. We maintain a constructive dialogue in the UN and agreed to continue this. We are grateful to Thailand for voting in favour of many Russian initiatives, including the resolution on the unacceptability of glorifying Nazism, building up trust in outer space, preventing the deployment of weapons in space, and promoting international information security, to name a few. We note that Thailand is not associated with some provocative anti-Russia initiatives that are sometimes put forth in the UN.

We spoke about our continued cooperation at the platforms in the Asia-Pacific Region. The plan of consultations for 2019-2021, signed by our foreign ministries today, will play a big role in this work.

We are also interested in ensuring the sustainable development of the Asia-Pacific Region. To achieve this, it is necessary to continue enhancing regional stability, and form a comprehensive and reliable system of equal and indivisible security that will rely on international law, the principles of peaceful settlement of disputes and the non-use of force.

We support the reliance of this system on the initiatives made by many decades by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including the promising East Asian summits. Along with Thailand and other participants in this format, we want the dialogue on security to continue and to produce a common understanding of the principles of building security in this region.

Thailand chairs ASEAN in 2019. In this context, we confirmed our interest in continuing the practical dialogue on enhancing strategic partnership between Russia and the ten ASEAN countries based on the relevant joint statement signed by our leaders last November.

We favour closer cooperation between ASEAN, the EAEU and the SCO. Last year, the Eurasian Economic Commission (EAEC) signed memorandums of understanding with the Government of Thailand and ASEAN. I think this is a good beginning. We will continue working in this area and moving to join the mechanisms operating in Southeast Asia in the interests of promoting interconnection and creating transport and production chains. All these initiatives naturally fit in into President Vladimir Putin's initiative on establishing a Greater Eurasian Partnership.

We are pleased with the results of our talks. I think this feeling is mutual. I would like to thank my colleague for this close cooperation, and I will now give the floor to him.

India, Russia discuss cooperation through Parliamentary Friendship groups (Индия и Россия обсуждают сотрудничество через группы парламентской дружбы) / India, February, 2019
Keywords: top_level_meeting, cooperation

A delegation from the Federal Council of Russia met with members of Rajya Sabha on Thursday and discussed the whole range of Russian-Indian bilateral cooperation with a special focus on the development of relations through India-Russia Parliamentary Friendship groups.

During the meeting, both the countries discussed various issues of mutual interest, comprising of inter-regional cooperation between Russia and India including in economic sphere, youth entrepreneurship, educational and cultural exchanges, boosting inter-parliamentary contacts, not only on a bilateral level, but also on a multilateral one, as well as developing forums such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS.

The two sides also stressed on the necessity of early signing of the agreement on mutual recognition of diplomas between Russia and India.

In addition to this, both India and Russia have agreed to develop direct trade relations to achieve a turnover of up to 30 billion dollars.

To commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, both India and Russia have agreed to host events in Moscow.

The Russian delegation was headed by member of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building Yelena Afanasyeva, deputy chairperson of the Committee on Budget and Financial Markets Elena Perminova and first deputy chairperson of the Committee on Economic Policy Vyacheslav Timchenko.

The Russian delegation met with Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha Harivansh Narayan Singh and the India-Russia Parliamentary Friendship Group led by member of Lok Sabha Hema Malini,national General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Ram Madhav, leader of the parliamentary opposition Sonia Gandhi, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs Shashi Tharoor.

The Russian delegation took part in a working dinner held on behalf of Strategy and Planning Advisor to FICCI Peter T. Hassan, in the presence of senior Indian officials and ambassadors of Japan and Brazil.
BRICS Under New Brazilian President (БРИКС при новом президенте Бразилии) / India, February, 2019
Keywords: expert_opinion, jair_bolsonaro, political_issues
Author: Fábio Zanini

In 2019, Brazil takes the rotating presidency of the Brics group, the club created in 2006 that also includes Russia, India, China and South Africa. But you wouldn't know that from declarations of the new government of president Jair Bolsonaro or from the list of priorities from his Foreign Minister, Ernesto Araújo. In the new administration, the Brics have become nearly invisible.

In the last days of his term, in December 2018, then President Michel Temer did convey indirectly a message from Bolsonaro to Brazil's partners of the Brics during a summit in Argentina. The new president will be "honored" to host the forthcoming Brics summit in the middle of the year, according to Temer.

Bolsonaro also had a quick meeting with South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa in the World Economic Forum in Davos in January -- the rotating presidency of the bloc is being passed from Pretoria to Brasília.

But it is clear that, in contrast to his predecessors, Bolsonaro's foreign policy priorities lie elsewhere.

One likely explanation is that the Brics group became heavily associated with the leftwing governments of the Workers Party (PT), specially during the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010). The club of emerging giants was an essential part of the South-South strategy which was a trade mark of his diplomacy.

Most importantly, however, the new Brazilian government has started a radical reorientation of strategic partners, in line with the populist winds that have shaken much of the globe.

Bolsonaro's main ally is Donald Trump, followed by Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and the populist leaders of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Italy's Mateo Salvini is already considered a close friend. In Brazil's neighborhood, he has formed solid partnerships with Chile and Colombia, also governed by conservatives.

That leaves the rest of the world in a limbo. Araújo, the new head of Itamaraty (the Foreign Ministry), has shocked the Brazilian diplomatic community by calling himself bluntly an antiglobalist.

The new government rejects multilateralism, the United Nations and global pacts. One of the first acts of the new government was to withdraw Brazil from the recently signed global pact on migration. There was also talk of Brazil following Trump's example and leaving the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, though more pragmatic voices seem to have prevailed and the country is sticking to it for the moment.

So the new Brazilian diplomacy consists of few friends and limited goals, with no global ambitions. One of these goals is solving the crisis in Venezuela, and that, incidentally, is another factor to weaken the links with the Brics. Bolsonaro has made it clear that toppling the government of President Nicolas Maduro is a priority, and for that he counts on political and maybe military support from the United States. On the other hand, Venezuela's dwindling number of friends include Russia and China, the two most powerful members of the Brics. Even the other two, India and South África, even if not staunch allies of Maduro, seem to have little stomach for regime change in Venezuela led by Trump, specially if it comes by with a military offensive.

In the last decades, Brazilian diplomacy has alternated between two poles: one, Atlanticist, privileges relations with the rich, Western world; the other, strongly embodied by President Lula, sees Brazil as a natural leader of the emerging world and emphasizes historical links with Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

None of these traditions, however, has rejected the notion of a multipolar world in which Brazil is a balancing force. But Bolsonaro has come to change that moderating streak in Brazilian diplomacy. He has clearly taken sides against countries not formed in the Jewish-Cristian tradition, as Minister Araújo remarked in his inaugural speech in office. Ironically, a president that has promised to govern without ideological bias has made ideology a central part of his priorities.

The relationship with China exemplifies this abrupt change. In the last decade, the Chinese have become the most important trade partners of Brazil, and have been treated accordingly by all Brazilian presidents.

Bolsonaro, however, has followed Trump in his criticism of Chinese imperialism and appetite for buying companies and land. In the early stages of his campaign, the president travelled to Taiwan, a sure way to irritate Beijing. A visit by some congressmen of his party to China in January caused a storm within his political coalition, specially after criticism from Olavo de Carvalho, a Brazilian philosopher who lives in the US and is considered the intelectual guru of the president. Stepping on Red China was considered akin to treason.

It is obviously still early to say how deep the change will be. Foreign relations have a way of acomodating themselves, as they are subject to multiple pressures. But it is already clear that under President Bolsonaro, diplomacy, as other areas in his government, will be very different from anything we have ever seen.

Fábio Zanini is a journalist at Folha de S. Paulo newspaper (Brazil)
Investment and Finance
Investment and finance in BRICS
Analyzing dynamics and forecasting real effective exchange rates for BRICS countries (1994–2016) (Анализ динамики и прогнозирование реальных эффективных курсов валют для стран БРИКС (1994–2016 гг.)) / Russia, February, 2019
Keywords: research, economic_challenges
Author: Shavshukov V. M., Vorontsovsky A. V., Vyunenko L. F.

This article analyses the behavior of real effective exchange rates of BRICS countries and Eurocurrencies (USD & GBP). The obtained data reveals regularities in the behavior of BRICS currencies during the period of 1994–2016 and confirms that rates in the export-focused economy depend on the structure of the international market of real and financial assets. It also demonstrates high currency volatility (on average 50 % in the group) in the zone reaching the level of BIS real effective exchange rate (REER) = 100 (CPI-base 2010). The fundamental analysis shows that in the long-term (1994–2017), BRICS currencies demonstrate stable growth and the fixed rate regime (as Yuan) proved to be the most efficient in the formation of the national segment of global economy. Downward trends in Forex reflect debut difficulties BRICS economies and finances experienced in the process of integration into the global financial and economic environment. High turbulence and volatility of the REER in the range of 60–130 % was the result of the global crisis of 2008–2009 and oil shocks in 2014–2015. The REER below 100 % reflects low corporate and global competitiveness of BRICS economies and weaknesses in public and corporate finance, not the stability of currencies. This research provides a long-term forecast for the strengthening of currencies, as a result of growing efficiency of national economies and the creation of BRICS financial infrastructure (New Development Bank [capital $100 bln] and Pool Contingent Reserve Arrangement [startup capital $100 bln]), as well as an increase in the share of national currencies in mutual payments. The possibility for constructing a short-term forecast, based on the polynomial residues model and statistical modeling, is demonstrated in the case of BRICS currencies. The results of the short-term BIS REER forecast can also be used for forecasting the behavior of currencies, hedging by participants of foreign trade transactions, and currency policy of central banks.
Free trade revolution in Brazil, Russia and China: this could be the year emerging markets take off (Революция свободной торговли в Бразилии, России и Китае: это может быть год, когда развивающиеся рынки взлетят) / United Kingdom, February, 2019
Keywords: trade_relations, emerging_market, expert_opinion
United Kingdom
Author: Matthew Lynn

They were going to be the giants of the 21st century. Their turbocharged growth would dominate world trade. Their emerging companies would steamroller through Western markets and their newly affluent workers would power consumer demand.

By now, the Brics – the snappy acronym coined for Brazil, Russia, India and China – were meant to have left a declining West in the shade.

It didn't turn out quite according to the script, however. Instead, with the exception of China, the Brics staggered from crisis to crisis, and failed to live up to the expectations of either economists or investors. But, as 2019 opens, something significant has happened.

The four emerging stock markets are powering forward, led by a resurgent Brazil and a suddenly buoyant Russia. The Brics are finally coming good. It has just taken a bit longer than originally expected.

Rewind a decade, and the Brics looked unstoppable. The term was coined by the former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill in 2001 to describe the group of countries he believed could eventually dominate the global economy and quickly took on a life of its own.

By 2009, the four nations were organising Bric summits, similar to the G7 meetings of more developed nations, while just about every fund manager had launched a fund to capture their growth.

Jair Bolsonaro has promised to reform the Brazilian economy There was nothing much wrong with the theory. All four countries had massive potential for rapid industrialisation. Between them, they accounted for a quarter of the world's land mass and 40pc of its population - most of them were young and increasingly well-educated.

If they started to match Europe, North America and Japan in levels of wealth and development, that would transform the global economy.

The trouble was, it reckoned without the politics of those countries. Brazil's corrupt, Left-leaning regime mismanaged the country into setback after setback.

Vladimir Putin's military adventurism and rampant cronyism stifled the potential of that vast country, and sanctions pushed it to the brink of financial collapse. India spluttered to life from time to time, but only China genuinely roared forwards.

Certainly for investors, it was a damp squib. Bric markets performed miserably – the MSCI Bric index took until 2017 to get back to its 2007 level – and it turned out to be the US tech giants that were the real stars of the 2010s. The business world has mostly forgotten all about the Brics.

And yet now there are signs of a turnaround. Just take a look at the best-performing stock markets of the year so far. After a mauling in December, with most major indices collapsing into bear territory, markets around the world bounced back strongly in the first month of 2019. But the interesting point was which ones did best.

Brazil recorded a gain of 18pc for the month. Russia was up by almost 13pc measured in dollar terms. So was the MSCI China index, despite all the talk of a slowdown in that country's powerhouse economy.

Of the quartet, only India was relatively flat, but the rest outperformed all the developed world markets. True, that might simply be the market bouncing back from low levels. But it might also be a sign that something more interesting is starting to happen.

Brazil has the greatest potential for a turnaround. Its new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has taken a lot of criticism for his reactionary views on crime and social issues, and some of that is more than justified.

But his finance minister, Paulo Guedes, is a Chicago-style free-market liberal who has promised a tough programme of privatisation and reform. After a decade of wild spending, and endemic mismanagement of its economy, he plans to bring the budget back under control, sort out the pension system and return a raft of major industries to the private sector.

A worker adjusts a cotton string roll at a textile factory in Hangzhou in east China's Zhejiang province Likewise, the Russian market is rising again as the country moves back towards growth. It is forecast to expand by slightly under 2pc this year, which is fairly dismal for what is still a developing country. But at least it is not shrinking any more.

The US has started to lift some of the sanctions imposed on the country, and if that process continues then there is at least the possibility that it can start growing more strongly again.

India is continuing to develop at a rapid clip, expanding by 7.5pc in 2018 and with a similar rate of growth forecast for this year.

Prime minister Narendra Modi has just pushed through one of the biggest reforms of the tax system in the country's history, including a massive simplification of federal and state taxes, a doubling of the amount you can earn without paying any income tax, and a shift to direct sales taxes.

It is may well prove the kind of overhaul India's once overbearing and bureaucratic government machine needs.

Over in China, everyone is fretting about a slowdown, and just about every chief executive in the world is blaming it for softening profits.

But the fact remains it will expand by another 6pc to 7pc this year, right in line with its performance over the last five years, industrial production is stable, and the buoyancy of the stock market suggests that investors are hardly worried about an imminent collapse.

Can that be maintained? Three things need to happen to keep that going. Bolsonaro needs to curb his authoritarian instincts and concentrate instead on the free-market reforms his finance minister has promised.

Russia needs to curb its geopolitical aggression. And India and China need to keep their growth going even as they become richer.

If that happens, there is no reason why their promise can't be fulfilled.
Climate Justice and Economic Justice Are Not in Conflict (Климатическая справедливость и экономическая справедливость не противоречат друг другу) / USA, February, 2019
Keywords: ecology, economic_challenges, expert_opinion, research

Redistribution will have to be a big part of any program that effectively tackles the climate crisis.

Across the world, global inequality leaves hundreds of millions in dire poverty, while wealth clusters in a handful of "advanced" economies. But increasingly, middle-income countries, or "emerging" economies, are scrambling to catch up by modernizing production and expanding export industries. The problem is that these countries' development comes with extreme environmental costs—so if bringing the world's population up to the wasteful, carbon-intensive living standards of the developed Western economies would ruin the environment, how do rapidly developing countries raise living standards without sinking the earth deeper into climate crisis?

Researchers studying middle-income countries may have an answer, in a global economic model that could hit the right balance between climate justice and worker empowerment. A new study in the journal Ecological Economics on the economies of BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), which are middle-income but growing robustly, maps out how a single industry (clothing manufacturing) could impact the environmental challenges facing both the poorer countries that are exporting clothes and the rich countries that are importing these products. The researchers argue that decarbonization and economic welfare are not necessarily at odds, but you can't have both forever; there will eventually be a limit to growth. And governments, industries, and consumers need to ensure that we grow at a fair scale, balancing social needs and ecological challenges.

The "fast fashion" industry—which churns out mass-manufactured cheap apparel that zooms through seasonal retail trends—have become a fixture of the Global South's manufacturing economies, providing low-wage factory jobs that keep many workers impoverished but still provide many with a favored alternative to farming or the informal economy. The industry has allowed millions of women in Asia, for instance, to earn much more stitching socks than they could plowing fields. The study analyzes what would happen if Western fashion companies could revamp their supply chains to provide these workers with a living wage. The benefits are obvious: helping workers and their families cover essential needs for a decent life—food, housing, and education. The problem is the ecological destruction that typically accompanies richer lifestyles.

The type of growth that emerging economies have historically used to raise living standards have clearly not helped make our environments cleaner or healthier. Indeed, growth has typically come at the expense of increased pollution and carbon consumption. The Ecological Economicsstudy does not explicitly lay out a program for decarbonization, but does outline the balance of priorities that must drive any coordinated effort to manage, and ultimately curb, future growth.

Co-author of the study Simon Mair of University of Surrey takes an economic-realist view of how the ecological consequences of growth can be, if not totally prevented, at least more effectively managed for the countries that are increasing both their development and energy use. He argues that "it isn't possible to completely decouple economic growth from the consumption of resources. We live in a material world." That doesn't mean we have no control over either process, however. The analysis suggests that the wealthiest countries should align around a global economic structure of collective growth within limits, coupled with dramatic carbon cutting in wealthy countries, and massive redistribution targeted toward Global South workers.

Environmentalists need to be much more concerned about redistribution. We should stop aiming to make everyone money rich. Instead, we should focus on bringing everyone to a reasonable material standard of living, then focus on more radical demands for freedom.

The good news is that a living wage for workers in poorer countries can be secured while still lowering overall global emissions. Still, there must be a ceiling on growth, eventually, because "green growth" without limitswould likely be untenable. The question is how to grow toward a plateau while overhauling the supply chain to achieve a fair equilibrium for Global North and South. Mair points to an ethical guidepost for development that harmonizes climate-consciousness and social-consciousness: "Everyone deserves a decent standard of living, but to make that possible people in rich countries have to consume less."

The study reveals how the global supply chain currently allows a rich economy to offset some of its emissions by offshoring its manufacturing to export-driven economies: Over time, "Western European consumption goes down, and is replaced by consumption across a mix of goods in BRIC countries. In this process some jobs are lost and replaced by jobs in other industries." While rich countries may see some decline in emissions, according to Mair, BRIC countries' wage growth "largely cancels out the carbon savings" in more affluent countries, which amounts to a setback for global efforts to curb emissions.

There has been growing pressure on the upper ranks of the Global South, particularly China and India, to impose more ambitious restrictions on future carbon emissions. But at the most recent COP climate conference, China, Brazil, South Africa, and India issued a joint letter pushing back, calling on the United States and Europe to allow poorer countries enough "flexibility" to keep growing in order to "catch up" with their richer trade partners. But if governments want to systemically cope with climate change, their development cannot rely simply on intensification of polluting, export-based production. Navigating this tension between climate and labor needs requires economic and environmental strategies that grow the pie somewhat, redistribute wealth and resources, and shrink overall emissions in the process. Pursuing just one or two of those goals without the other would be a half-baked solution, if middle-tier economies aim to protect workers from the ecological cost of development.

The study has some caveats: It assumes that the structure and geography of the supply chain will stay fixed as consumption changes, and does not account for external factors like capital migration to even poorer countries (as when multinationals move factories from China to Bangladesh to capitalize on its lower wage levels) or automation of jobs by unwaged robots.

The core concept of the analysis is that the key to sustainable growth for middle-income countries is to provide workers both with the wages needed to attain a good quality of life, and a global economic infrastructure that moves away from harmful, carbon-intensive industry. This global dynamic points to a sobering pathway toward a more comprehensive definition of "sustainable development."

Political Events
Political events in the public life of BRICS
Putin's Plan to Make Russian Cities Worth Living In (Путин запланировал сделать российские города достойными жизни) / USA, February, 2019
Keywords: social_issues, economic_challenges, expert_opinion
Author: Leonid Rogozin

By spending billions of dollars on urban redevelopment, he wants to keep people from moving to Moscow.

On a Sunday morning in December, the future arrived in Torzhok, a sleepy town about 155 miles (250 kilometers) northwest of Moscow. It came in the form of an electric locomotive resembling a bright red caterpillar, chugging along through snow-covered forests toward the town of 50,000.

There were only a dozen passengers on the inaugural journey of the train, dubbed the Lastochka—which is Russian for swallow. Among them was Tatyana Sokolova, an entrepreneur and one of a growing number of players rushing to redevelop cities across the country—including Torzhok, her hometown.

Over the past decade or so, Vladimir Putin has managed to stay popular at home through adventures abroad: invading Ukraine, bombing Syria and bragging about new weapons systems that could threaten America. Recently, however, a sluggish economy and self-inflicted pension crisis have taken their toll, pushing his numbers downward. But a bright spot remains for the Russian president—a quiet component of his domestic policies that's kept his approval rating from falling even further.

Since 2011, the Kremlin has been promoting a multibillion-dollar campaign to modernize Russian cities and towns. In the last four years, it allocated 2.1 trillion rubles ($31.7 billion) for Moscow alone. The capital's rapid modernization has been a source of considerable envy in a country used to one-off upgrades—Sochi for the 2014 Olympic games and a handful of cities for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. (Some of the new improvements haven't quite worked out as planned though, especially for Moscow's sidewalks.)

But outside Moscow, redevelopment cash is helping spruce up 40 smaller Russian cities with a combined population of 23 million, stretching from Europe to the Far East, as well historic towns in Russia's west. Around $1.5 billion has been spent annually to transform rail, streets and squares—with billions more allocated for the future. Still, with cuts in healthcare spending and proposals to raise the retirement age, it's an open question whether Russians will be mollified for long.

Abbas Gallyamov, a political consultant who has worked for the government, said people are increasingly worried about more basic quality of life issues. As for the motivation behind Putin's urban renewal push, he said it's the same one it's always been.

"They've traveled all over Europe," Gallyamov said. "They liked it. Now they want Russia to outdo the West."

Among the many beneficiaries of this effort is Torzhok. The town straddles the banks of the Tvertsa river, which meanders between hills dotted by crumbling cathedrals. Its 1,000-year history as part of the medieval Novgorod republic regularly attracts vacationing Muscovites.

Aleksandr Svetlichkin was at the controls as the Lastochka pulled into town. The engineer said that, after decades of driving dingy Soviet-era trains, he finally feels a sense of pride. The new cars are quiet and clean, with comfortable seats, toilets and well-trained attendants. There's even a food car, WiFi and charging outlets. The Moscow-Tver Suburban Passenger Co.'s fleet of 47 trains now includes 22 of these electric locomotives, and though still not quite up to western European standards, their arrival has heartened Russians in places like Torzhok, Svetlichkin said.

His boss, Oleg Fedotov, was also along for the ride. When the Lastochka finally arrived in Torzhok, Sokolova and Svetlichkin watched as Fedotov, head of the regional rail service, cut a red ribbon stretched across the tracks. Just a dozen onlookers gathered for the impromptu event, but Sokolova didn't seem to mind. She spent a year lobbying for the train. For her, the arrival of the Lastochka brings the town a step closer to being a real draw for tourists—and investors.

Her dream isn't far-fetched. A World Bank analysis published last year pointed to a significant increase in tax revenue for the Tver region after high-speed rail arrived. The area may be getting more attractive to families (and industries) who find themselves priced out of Moscow, currently home to 11.9 million people.

This just happens to be the overall goal of this national redevelopment effort. As Russians increasingly move to bigger cities, smaller cities and towns are being depopulated. By making them more attractive places to live and work, the hope is that Russians will stay where they are.

Sokolova, 46, was a teenager when she left for the big city. She dabbled in small business ventures before enrolling in the Moscow School of Management's Skolkovo School. She also helped start a redevelopment initiative for Moscow's abandoned factories. One project was in the ARMA industrial district, which now houses a mix of offices, restaurants and cafes. It's become a showcase for the kind of modernization Moscow has undergone in recent years.

She said that one day, she happened to stumble across a student's redevelopment proposal: It was an urban revival project for Torzhok. It described the town as a case study for how tourism can revitalize Russia's struggling hinterlands. "I thought 'Wow, what a great idea,'" Sokolova said. "How can I fulfill it as an entrepreneur?"

She started by organizing weekend trips for Muscovites looking for quirky travel destinations. There was clearly demand, given Torzhok's natural beauty and architecture. But existing transit options and the town's infrastructure couldn't handle the influx, she said.

Sokolova tried to get the locals on her side, seeking consensus and avoiding the more typical top-down approach. She even organized a riverside book exchange, setting out lawn chairs for residents to meet and discuss ideas about what's best for their town. While local officials treated her with suspicion, her connections from the Skolkovo school eventually earned her an invitation to meet the governor of Tver. Not long after, Torzhok had a new mayor, 37-year-old Aleksandr Menshchikov, a graduate of the elite Moscow School of Economy.

Before taking office, Menshchikov worked as the region's vice-governor in charge of infrastructural development and tourism. He oversaw the first major renovation project in the regional capital. The "road" palace of Catherine the Great, built as a stopover between Saint Petersburg and Moscow, was reopened last year. Using funds from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, part of the World Bank Group, Menshchikov renovated the palace and its art gallery.

Torzhok had been in line for a similar grant, this time from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, but the bank backed away in 2014 when Putin invaded Ukraine. Undeterred, the town obtained $22.3 million from the New Development Bank, set up by the BRICS nations. The money has gone toward upgrades of four landmark buildings and the town's central square. The project, which Sokolova's team helped develop, includes museum and conference space and art residencies. Other historic towns are getting funds as well, from Vyborg on the Finnish border to Chistopol in Tatarstan.

Urban modernization has emerged as one of the key themes of Putin's current term. The idea seemed to capture his attention back in 2012, when demand for improvements became an important theme of anti-government protests. Last March, Putin touted this part of his domestic agenda, pledging to double spending on infrastructure upgrades.

Some 80 percent of Russians live in cities. The goal, he said at the time, was "the formation of a mass and active middle class" who won't abandon their home cities for Russian capitals, or worse, foreign countries. He also stressed that the project's success hinged on the ability of local officials to incorporate local opinion.

Dmitry Orlov, who sits on the Supreme Council of Putin's United Russia party, said making comfortable urban environments is a critical part of the Kremlin strategy.

Strelka KB, a Russian design bureau responsible for some of Moscow's renovation, led the initial stage of the 40 cities program (which is beginning to wind down) by helping mentor local architects in cities from Novosibirsk to Yekaterinburg to Vladivostok. Dutch architecture firm West 8, responsible for landscape design on New York's Governors Island, was brought in to work on a mile-long boulevard in Saratov. The design firm Snøhetta, which helped revamp Oslo's National Opera, spearheaded the revival of Husein ben Talal park in Grozny, the once bombed-out capital of Chechnya. And in Tver, Strelka proposed designs for streets, squares and the Volga river embankment.

"We selected streets, squares, embankments, parks and boulevards whose potential is not fully used," Strelka said in a statement. "Local architects developed design projects which followed five key principles: diversity, identity, comfort, security and environmental friendliness."

To be sure, some Russians see the initiative as a hugely expensive vanity project, money for which could be better spent upgrading basic infrastructure. Nevertheless, by applying Moscow's renovation as a template for other locales, Putin might be onto something.

A 2018 report by PwC, which compared 14 major world cities, notes a higher-than-average level of satisfaction with urban improvements among Moscow's residents. Their index incorporated such factors as quality of housing, recreation, transportation and social infrastructure. A study last year by Boston Consulting Group echoed the PwC report.

"Moscow has been moving within a systematic logic: enhancing and renovating residential buildings and adjacent territories, improving transit spaces, and creating new attraction spots," the BCG report said. "Renovation of Moscow resulted in the improvement of perception and a change in urban residents' behavior across many elements of the urban environment."

But Gallyamov, the political consultant, has a warning for the Kremlin: He said his focus group research shows Russians are far more worried about pensions and wages than they are about sidewalks and coffee shops.

Still, there are optimists. Anton Bakun, 28, who moved from Saint Petersburg back to Torzhok after working in digital media, praised the new approach. Now a freelancer, he runs Instagram accounts for a host of small businesses and is part of Sokolova's team of urban revivalists.

Ten years ago, the idea of moving here would have sounded crazy, he said. But recently, the town has changed. New businesses and a new culture emerged. A local man set up a charity to help deliver firewood to the elderly, while others got together to revive kila, an ancient Russian game resembling American football. In the old Torzhok, Bakun said, that sort of thing wouldn't have happened.

"The point," he said, "is to change the mentality."
World of work
Social policy, trade unions, actions
Sailfish OS is now Aurora OS in Russia (Sailfish OS стало Aurora OS в России) / Croatia, February, 2019
Keywords: digital

After Jolla decided to exit the hardware business, more attention was given to the development of its Sailfish OS. This OS was welcomed in the BRICS countries as an alternative to Android and iOS because of numerous reasons, among which the secureness of the phones was number one.Russian Federation is one of those BRICS countries that is massively using Sailfish OS for its government and government-owned companies. Russian Rostelecom, one of the largest government-owned companies, recently acquired 75% of the open mobile platform on which the Jolla's Sailfish OS was developed. They announced that the Sailfish Mobile OS RUS will be further developed and rebranded as Aurora OS. The new OS is still going to be based on Jolla's Sailfish OS, but the only difference will be the lack of support for Android apps. The Russian government is planning to transfer around 8 million users to Aurora OS run devices, and the process should be done by 2021. The whole transition process should cost the Russians around 160.2 billion rubles.

This maybe isn't how we imagined the future of Sailfish OS, but it is a big deal for Jolla since it will financially secure the development of the MeeGo OS successor.

S. Africa's creative industry has great potential to grow: official (Творческая индустрия Южной Африки имеет большой потенциал для роста) / China, February, 2019
Keywords: social_issues, quotation

South Africa's creative arts industry has a potential of exceptional growth if they could break into the BRICS markets and make use of disruptive technologies, said a senior government official on Monday.

South African Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said this while speaking at a film summit in Johannesburg.

He pointed out that film makers have to use the disruptive technologies to improve efficiency.

"We should prepare and plan for the fourth industrial revolution so that we cannot be left behind," said Mthethwa.

He stated that the creative industry has a potential to be a catalyst to fast track economic growth and create jobs if well managed.

He said the government would use the industry in the BRICS for the national interest.

"We need to be aggressive in accessing the BRICS markets. It is one platform where an industry can grow bigger," he said.

BRICS is an acronym for the grouping of the world's leading emerging economies, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

He stated that they have signed partnerships with some BRICS countries to improve the sector.

Mthethwa encouraged filmmakers to tell the South African story, its history and use the national symbols in the films as U.S. film makers who ensure their national flag appears in their films to promote the country.

The Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, Tshilidzi Marwala, called on the film makers to make more science films.

"You have to explore possibilities of using disruptive technologies to make the industry improve," he said.

The Videovision Entertainment CEO Anant Sigh said the creative industry has a potential to contribute immensely to the fiscus.

"We are in the right direction. Currently we contribute over 179 million U.S. dollars per annum to the gross domestic product. We have a potential to contribute over 3-3.6 billion U.S. dollars in the nearly five years," he added.

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