Following Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation after staying in office for less than a week amid mass protests nationwide, Karen Karapetyan has been appointed acting Prime Minister, while the new PM and cabinet are expected in a week’s time. Sargsyan’s appointment by the national parliament on April 17 sparked widespread demonstrations across the country last week demanding his resignation. Despite the recent developments, economic relations between Armenia and Russia will remain solid as the two countries enjoy well-established and strong ties. More importantly, Moscow is a key economic partner for Yerevan, Izvestia writes with reference to experts.
Valery Mironov, Deputy Director of the Center for Development Institute of the Higher School of Economics, told the newspaper that he does not expect the resignation of PM Sargsyan to have a substantial effect on the trade and economic relationship between Russia and Armenia.
"The protesters noted that this was not a second Maidan, and they aren’t against ties with Russia, they oppose [unlimited] tenure of power. This means that relations with Russia will be fully maintained. That said, another subject for discussion is that they should be expanded, in particular it is necessary to increase mutual trade turnover between the two countries," he said. According to the expert, "new contracts might be delayed, though the situation will stabilize in the near future, and contracts between Moscow and Yerevan will be resumed."
FBK Grant Thornton’s Igor Nikolayev told Izvestia that Russia is a key trading partner for Armenia now, and "everyone understands that trade and economic ties should be maintained and developed." Last year, trade turnover between the countries rose by 29%, according to the data provided by Russia’s Federal Customs Service. Russian exports to Armenia increased 27.7% to $1.2 bln, while imports from Armenia went up 32.2% to $515 mln. Moscow is also among the biggest investors in the Armenian economy, with Russia accounting for over 44% of the total amount of foreign investments in the country, the paper says. The amount of accumulated Russian capital investments in the Armenia economy is over $4 bln.
As Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media is expanding its blockade of resources used by Telegram messenger in the country, it has included Google IP addresses to the list of banned resources. Experts polled by RBC believe that a worst-case scenario can prompt Google to quit the country. Russian Internet users reported problems with operations of Google resources, including google.com, google.ru, and Gmail, late last week. Problems were mainly reported from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Izhevsk and Krasnoyarsk.
In its official statement, the Russian watchdog said that Google had not met its demands and was violating the court’s verdict by continuing to allow the Telegram Messenger Limited Liability Partnership company to use its IP addresses for activity on Russian soil. As a result, the watchdog has included in the registry of banned information a number of IP addresses of Google, which are used by Telegram to carry out its activity in Russia.
Head of Society for Internet Protection Mikhail Klimarev told RBC that the watchdog is seeking to prevent push-notifications used by Telegram to avoid blocks. "Push-notifications are one of the ways to distribute content on the Internet. Any service can use this technology if the client agrees to accept those messages," he said, adding that by fully blocking push-notifications, the regulator can make Android and iOS smartphones inoperable. Klimarev assumes that Google cannot ban Telegram from using its infrastructure and does not violate the law in this particular case.
"In fact, Zharov (watchdog’s chief Alexander Zharov - TASS) behaves as a punisher, and the Service’s actions against Google are pure blackmail aimed at forcing the company to cooperate with the authorities," he said. The expert added that Google could even leave Russia in a worst-case scenario. "Of course, Google will lose money, but Russia’s share in the company’s total revenue is less than one percent, and those are not going to be considerable losses against the background of its global business," he said.
On April 13, Moscow’s Tagansky court blocked access to the cloud-based instant messaging service, Telegram, in Russia over its failure to provide encryption keys to the Federal Security Service, the FSB. The court satisfied the lawsuit by Russia’s telecom watchdog filed on April 6. Telegram said those demands would be impossible to implement since the keys were stored on users’ devices. On April 16, the court’s decision on blocking access to all of Telegram products in Russia came into effect. Data operators received information on restricting access to the messenger. On the same day, the Russian media watchdog started blocking IP addresses of Google and Amazon subnetworks used by Telegram. Malfunctions of other resources, which their hosting services used, were reported.
Potential sanctions relief for Russia’s aluminum giant, Rusal, announced by US Treasury Department on Monday is an unprecedented step, RBC says referring to Brian O'Toole who worked at the US Department of the Treasury from 2009 to 2017 who said that the announcement was "very unusual". The move shows that "companies (primarily European) that otherwise would have been forced to break deals with Rusal, are facing serious difficulties," he pointed out. Another source told the paper that OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) never makes announcements on this day of the week and at this time, which highlights a certain crisis." "The path for the United States to provide sanctions relief is through divestment and relinquishment of control of RUSAL by Oleg Deripaska," the authority said earlier. The US Treasury’s OFAC also extended the deadline for ending transactions with the Russian aluminum producer Rusal to October 23, 2018.
Previously, Rusal warned of possible technical defaults on certain types of debt obligations after the US Treasury slapped sanctions on the producer. On April 6, the US Treasury put Oleg Deripaska, the main owner of Rusal, and eight companies he controls, on a special SDN list together with other Russian businessmen and entities. According to an explanatory note attached to the list, the US authorities ordered American investors to dump shares of sanctioned Russian companies by May 7, 2018. In addition, prior to June 5, American investors should cancel all contracts they had signed earlier with all 12 blacklisted companies. Later it became known that a number of traders, including Glencore, announced force majeure on some contracts for the supply of Russian aluminum.
ACRA analyst Maxim Khudalov suggests that the recent statement is only aimed at calming the markets. "I don’t believe very much that the company will be excluded from the sanctions list. I think that this rhetoric is aimed at calming the markets as a surge in metal price hits American and European consumers. Once prices stabilize, the US will probably continue efforts to hinder the operations of Rusal, which is why they are taking a pause till the end of October," he said.
UNESCO’s Secretariat is no longer maintaining contact with the administrations of the World Heritage List sites in Crimea, Russian envoy to UNESCO Alexander Kuznetsov said in an interview with Izvestia. "Under the western pressure the secretariat of UNESCO has broken all contacts with their traditional partners in Crimea, including the World Heritage List site - the Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese. The Secretariat even rejects accepting reports on its integrity," he said.
According to Kuznetsov, the UN cultural organization uses monitoring results based on Kiev’s reports, which are biased. "They [the reports] are extremely politicized and unilateral. So what ‘monitoring’ in Crimea are we talking about? UNESCO simply ignores the real state of affairs on the peninsula," he emphasized.
The tendency of politicizing the work of the organization makes its operations far less efficient, the diplomat stressed. "We believe that politicization hurts UNESCO’s work. This humanitarian platform has been established for dialogue and cooperation, not for discussion over political issues, which contradicts its mandate," he added. Still, Kiev and Western states continue to raise the issue of Crimea’s belonging at UNESCO sessions. "At every session, Ukraine and Western countries promote one the same exact resolution on Crimea, which only aims at stating that Crimea is part of Ukraine, in defiance of reality," Kuznetsov said.
However, he noted that members of the organization’s executive board do not consider it necessary to add the Crimean issue to the agenda. "A growing number of countries realize how blind it is to discuss the issue in UNESCO. During this session, the number of votes against the Crimean resolution increased from 5 to 11, with 16 participants supporting it," he said speaking about the latest 204th session of the UNESCO executive board in Paris, adding that the remaining delegates either abstained from the voting or skipped the meeting.
On Monday, Angolan officials officially acknowledged the loss of the Angosat-1 telecom satellite. Russia’s aerospace corporation, Energia produced the satellite and agreed to construct an updated version, Angosat-2. However, a rocky financial road is foreseen when implementing the project, Kommersant business daily writes. The payment for the production of the second satellite is expected to come from the insurance reimbursement for the lost AngoSat-1 satellite worth $121 mln. However, the insurance will only cover half of the related works, with the Russian side having to pick up the tab and look for other ways to pay for it. The Angosat-2 project is estimated to cost $130 mln at least.
Angosat-1 telecom satellite was launched on December 26, 2017, from the Baikonur space center on the territory of Kazakhstan with the aid of the Zenit-2SB launch vehicle and the Fregat booster. On December 27, after separating from the booster, the ground control center lost communication with the satellite. The ground control mission attempted to regain communication with the satellite up to mid-January 2018 when the latter left the zone of direct radio visibility from Russian territory. Angolan Minister of Telecommunications and Information Technologies Jose Carvalho da Rocha said that the satellite indicated a malfunction, which made its use impossible. He confirmed to Kommersant that the contract stipulates the obligation of the Russian side to construct a second satellite within 30 months.
The terms are going to be a "heavy burden" for Russia’s Energiya, a top manager of one of the companies involved in the project told the newspaper. A total of $252 mln was poured into the first satellite in 2011. Taking into account the suggestions of the Angolan side, the final sum is going to reach at least $250 mln, which means the corporation will have to find $129 on its own, using borrowed funds, loans, etc. A source in Russia’s government told Kommersant that this is an image-building effort, but simultaneously a substantial financial loss: "Those funds could have been spent on the construction of satellite systems for the development of the Arctic."
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