Just days after the ninth round of Syrian peace talks in the Kazakh capital, the United States, which refrained from participating in the meeting this time, has referred to the negotiations platform suggested by Russia, Turkey and Iran, as an attempt to divert attention from more serious problems. A source in the US State Department told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Washington welcomes "any genuine de-escalation process in Syria, which focuses efforts on tackling the Islamic State and other terrorists, and creates grounds for a firm political transition." "Nevertheless, we have seen enough of how Russia and Iran behave to think they are not contributing much to stop the continuing violence," the source noted. "We together with the global community, including Russia, remain committed and consider the Geneva (format) to be the only way forward that can bring us to a peaceful settlement in accordance with UN resolution 2254 by the Security Council. We are focused on the Geneva (format) and the meaningful progress it has," the source said, adding that "all remaining channels only exist to deflect attention."
The Astana format was launched in 2017 as the first round of talks was held in January and the prior (eighth) meeting took place in December. The experts interviewed by the newspaper assume that Moscow is gradually tilting toward abandoning it and converting its results into a more convenient format of talks in Sochi, as has also been mentioned by Russian Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev who heads the country’s delegation to the Astana talks. "The very fact that the negotiations process may be moved to Sochi, which may probably even replace Geneva raises no questions," Director of the Center of Islamic Research at the Institute of Innovative Development Kirill Semenov told Nezavisimaya. "The problem is who will accept it. Assad is constantly blocking Geneva as he no longer needs it, he is willing to finish off the opposition instead of meeting halfway with it," he said. Semenov suggests that the Geneva format, unlike Sochi, has no drawbacks that enable governmental delegates and their partners to push their agenda. "Sochi will be fruitless despite (Staffan) de Mistura’s presence (UN Special Envoy for Syria who attended the first meeting of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi), the platform will not be given an UN-sponsored status," the expert noted. He also does not rule out that Russia’s peaceful initiative may face competition if the US forms another platform with the participation of Persian Gulf countries and EU member-states.
The Russian financial messaging transfer system created by the Central Bank, amid the potential threat of Russia being cut off from SWIFT, may expand the scope of its coverage not only to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), but also to BRICS member-states, a source close to the regulator told Izvestia daily. According to the source, the development of Russia’s national payment system envisions interweaving its operations between BRICS countries. This means that credit organizations and companies from this organization may join the Russian countertype of SWIFT in the future, bankers familiar with the project to expand the national system’s coverage explained.
The Central Bank confirmed to Izvestia that entities from BRICS states might tap into Russia’s payment system. "As of today, the system’s participants are banks, the federal treasury and other legal entities. Moreover, legislation does not restrict foreign credit organizations’ participation in the system. Currently, as part of EAEU cooperation, the Bank of Russia together with the central banks of other countries are developing mechanisms, particularly using new financial technologies enabling the cooperation of banks and their clients for cross-border transactions in the Eurasian space. Collaboration with BRICS states in this area will be developed in the subsequent stages," the regulator said.
The possibility of Russia's disconnection from SWIFT has been discussed since 2014, when first anti-Russia restrictions were introduced over the Ukrainian crisis. Then the European Parliament adopted a resolution, in which among other measures called for the exclusion of Russia from the system. However, the management of SWIFT found that such recommendations would infringe on individual rights and harm the company. Bankers interviewed by Izvestia welcome the recent initiative to expand the geography of Russia’s national payment system, as it will raise global interest in the service and become a step towards reducing global dependence on SWIFT, which currently operates in over 200 countries worldwide.
One month after a Moscow court satisfied the claim of Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media to block access to the Telegram instant messaging service in Russia due to its failure to provide keys for decrypting users’ messages to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the regulator is still struggling to enforce the court decision. Further developments largely depend on the position of Apple and Google, who so far have been supporting Telegram, Kommersant business daily says with reference to experts.
Former Special Projects Director at one of Telegram’s structures Anton Rozenberg assumes that a permanent communication channel with Apple and Google using push-notifications enables Telegram to dodge the restriction in Russia. "Currently, the efficiency of the messenger’s evasion (of the block) mainly depends on third parties’ decisions, primarily from Apple and Google," he told Kommersant. Rozenberg also suggests that a smart PR move has played a role, as Telegram’s founder Pavel Durov made it clear that the underlying reason of the crisis is not the refusal to comply with the request on terrorists’ data, but the violation of rights and freedoms of all Internet users. This prompted a whole range of human rights groups to stand up for the messenger, which big players like Amazon, Apple and Google, cannot ignore.
On April 16, the ruling by Moscow’s Tagansky Court to block 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. Numerous malfunctions of other resources, which their hosting services used, were reported.
As the government mulls over raising the retirement age nationwide, the Finance Ministry and the Labor Ministry have come up with their own proposals regarding reform on this matter, RBC says. The Finance Ministry suggests that the pension age be raised by five years to 65 for men, and by eight years to 63 for women, two federal officials and a source close to the government told the paper. In contrast, the Labor Ministry’s initiative calls for an increase in the retirement age to 60 years for women, and to 65 years for men. The bureaus’ views also differ on the rate of increases, with the Finance Ministry offering one-year hikes each six months, while the Labor Ministry insists on annual increases each year, the sources said, adding that the reform may start as early as next year.
The retirement age issue has long been the subject of discussions in Russia, which have become even more heated amid the recent presidential campaign. Last month PM Dmitry Medvedev spoke about the need for pension reform, adding though that it should be made "accurately and in a weighed manner." He also stressed that the government was preparing its proposals and would soon submit them to the lower house of parliament for review. A federal employee told RBC that pension age hikes should go together with mechanisms of easing the transition period.
The State Duma (lower house) expects a respective bill to the submitted by the end of its spring session at the end of July. "Taking into account Medvedev’s remarks, and considering the fact that discussions and meetings are underway even with no government in place, I think that this is an issue for the spring session," MP Yaroslav Nilov told the publication.
China’s negative reaction to producing well drilling on Vietnam’s Lan Do offshore field by Rosneft’s affiliate Rosneft Vietnam B.V. is unlikely to have a serious effect on future relations between Moscow and Beijing, RBC says with reference to President of the Russian-Chinese Analytical Center Sergei Sanakoyev, who believes the strategic partners can come to an agreement on the most challenging issues. Amid the background of an unprecedented level of crude imports from Russia to China, the recent statement by the Chinese foreign ministry earlier this week is extraordinary as Beijing has always refrained from negative comments on Russia and the country’s companies, the expert said.
He admits that the situation might have changed due to the deal to sell the Rosneft 14.2% stake to CEFC, a Chinese private company, announced in September 2017, without reaching an agreement with major Chinese state-owned companies. Another possible reason is Rosneft’s weak expertise or the lack of any sufficient expert level for operations with China, Sanakoyev said, adding that he doubts any escalation in the recent dispute.
Rosneft reported spudding a development well at Lan Do with commercial gas reserves of 3.4 bln cubic meters discovered, on May 15. Initial geological reserves are estimated at 23 bln cubic meters of natural gas. Rosneft Vietnam B.V. is the project’s operator with a 35% stake, the remaining stakes of 45% and 20% are held by Indian ONGC and PetroVietnam, respectively.
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