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Press review: Iran stalls plans of dividing Caspian Sea and ruble becomes reserve currency

January 26, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW
Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, January 26
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Anzali port in the Caspian Sea province of Gilan, northern Iran

Anzali port in the Caspian Sea province of Gilan, northern Iran

© EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH

Izvestia: Russia looking to ban foreign companies from owning critical IT infrastructure

Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, has proposed banning foreign companies from owning critical information infrastructure facilities, Izvestia writes on Thursday. The MPs insist that IT systems and telecommunications of government agencies and key fields of industry should belong to Russian legal entities.

In the second reading on January 24, the lower house of parliament passed a bill on the "security of critical information infrastructure of Russia." The MPs proposed introducing changes to the text by the second reading. The State Duma’s committee on informational policy, information technology and communications has suggested discussing with the government the introduction of "restrictions for owners and users of critical information infrastructure facilities."

According to the committee’s conclusions, this would regard companies with foreign participation, or those affiliated with foreign states, international and non-governmental organizations. The current lack of restrictions may lead to new threats both for IT and national security of Russia, the document says. 

The critical IT infrastructure facilities are information and telecoms systems in state bodies, defense industry, healthcare, transport, communications, credit and financial sphere, energy, fuel and nuclear, rocket and space, ore mining and chemical industry and metallurgy. These critical facilities may be included in a special registry to be approved by the government.

Leonid Levin, who heads the IT committee at the State Duma, told Izvestia that the changes may concern the owners and operators of critical facilities. No changes will be introduced for the users. "We believe that the companies, which own or manage critical infrastructure facilities, should have legal entities in Russia," Levin said, explaining that this would ensure the transparency of operations.

This bill passed in the first reading will oblige owners of critical facilities to shield them from cyberattacks. Another bill proposes introducing a 10-year jail term for any cyberattack against these facilities, according to the paper.

Head of Russian Association of Manufacturers of Electronics and Electronical Devices, Svetlana Apollonova, said it is not important who owns the network, but if this is foreign equipment, it may contain unknown risks.

 

Izvestia: European lawmaker says Russia should become EU’s privileged partner

Amid new security threats, including cyberattacks, the EU should place top priority on global cooperation and Russia should become its privileged partner, Vice-Chair European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development and a member of the parliament’s budget committee, Younous Omarjee, said in an interview with Izvestia on Thursday.

"Taking into account the all-encompassing character of security threats - from cyberattacks to terrorism - there should be a priority for global cooperation that is beyond the standard protection of interests. It should be remembered that for many years the United States had been our ally. Now, it is time for Russia to be our privileged partner - by the way, a partner that is on the same continent with us," Omarjee stated.

The change of power in the United States, and in particular, the new foreign policy course of US President Donald Trump may force Europeans to leave the "comfort zone" and the so-called "the US nuclear umbrella" and form a military European integration.

Brussels faces the task now of hammering out a European military alliance that would have firmer positions in Europe than NATO which primarily served the interests of Washington - from bombing Serbia and Kosovo in 1999, to military operations in Afghanistan. The French politician pointed out that NATO essentially tied the EU’s hands.

"If created, a European military alliance could ensure cooperation with Russia on a whole range of issues. However, I do not mean the creation of an alliance with Moscow," the lawmaker noted, explaining that Russia "has its own priorities and interests, and is a military power that can unbalance the military alliance."

 

Vedomosti: Russia’s ruble to become reserve currency

Russia’s Finance Ministry will start buying and selling foreign currency on the domestic forex market starting from February 2017. The ministry will exchange additional oil and gas revenues for foreign currency as long as the actual Urals oil price stays above $40 per barrel, Vedomosti writes. The Central Bank will act as the ministry’s agent.

An official at the Finance Ministry insisted that these are not currency interventions, but Chief Economist at Alfa-Bank Natalya Orlova has not ruled those out. The Central Bank has a commitment to remaining neutral on the foreign currency market and if the regulator emerges on the market for purchases on behalf of the Finance Ministry, then during the day it can sell its own currency if there is such a need, she explained.

The currency operations on the market will be proportional during the trading day, the regulator said, stressing that it will keep the floating exchange rate but will have a possibility to carry out operations on the forex market to maintain financial stability or accumulating foreign currency reserves. The decisions on that will be made regardless of the Finance Ministry’s operations, the Central Bank said.

The last time the Central Bank bought currency replenishing reserves in May-July 2015, when the oil price dropped from $63 to $53 per barrel. The dollar rose from 50 to 60 rubles, Vedomosti writes.

Combined with inflation targeting, the future budget rules stabilize the real ruble rate and this will limit its influence on the competitiveness of Russian manufacturers in addition to having a positive effect on national economy by reducing dependence on raw materials, the Central Bank said.

An investment bank representative told the paper that the Finance Ministry will be able to buy just $60 mln-$80 mln per day. Meanwhile, Orlova said that even if the purchases reached $2 bln-$2.5 bln per month, this would not be a very large sum. "But the presence of the Central Bank on the market will have a psychological effect."

 

Vedomosti: Tatar activist challenges jail terms for separatism in Constitutional Court

Rafis Kashapov, an activist from Tatarstan, has lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court challenging an article of the Criminal Code that holds individuals criminally liable for calls to breach Russia’s territorial integrity even if they are non-violent. Ramil Akhmetgaliyev, a lawyer for Kashapov, who is chairman of a public center in Tatarstan and has been imprisoned for three years for criticizing Russia’s policy against Ukraine, told Vedomosti that the complaint has not been registered in the court’s database.

Kashapov was the first person convicted based on the new article 280.1 of the Criminal Code that was introduced in May 2014 that made the calls for separatism a criminal offence, the paper writes. The complaint says that a total of six sentences were handed down based on this article in 2014-2016 and one person had to undergo forced medical treatment.

The activist’s lawyer argues that unfettered criticism is an important element of a democratic society and does not pose a danger to the public’s interests. Another attorney Sergey Golubok said, "In my opinion, the complaint is absolutely acceptable and poses a serious question: there can be no criminal responsibility for exercising one’s constitutional rights." "I would place this case in the same category as the complaint of activist Ildar Dadin that was under consideration by the Constitutional Court this week. However, that was regarding freedom of assembly, whereas this one is about freedom of speech."

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Iran stalls plans of dividing Caspian Sea

This year’s summit of the heads of the five Caspian states scheduled to be held in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana may finally determine the status of the Caspian Sea, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes citing Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov. The diplomat expects that the agreement on a draft convention will lay the groundwork for defining the status of the sea at the level of heads of states of the Caspian Five - Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran.

However, experts interviewed by the paper say that no breakthrough is expected to be made. "It is no secret for anyone that the principle of dividing the sea is a key containing factor at the talks. Iran’s position remains unchanged: Tehran will not agree with the principle of dividing the sea now," a research fellow at the Center for Central Asia and Caucasus Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Stanislav Pritchin, said.

The principle of dividing the sea should be based on the one used by Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan during the division of the seabed of the northern part of the sea, the expert said, explaining that this enables finding a compromise taking into consideration the geographic conditions.

But in this case Iran would have just slightly more than 13% of the Caspian Sea, while Kazakhstan could have around 29%. Tehran has two proposals - either divide the shelf into two equal parts so that each country gets 20% of the territory, or not divide anything and jointly use the water area.

Experts say the delay in resolving the legal status issue of the Caspian Sea leads to many other risks. The first is the problem of active militarization of the region, and the second one is oil supplies to the market. Analysts also view Khalafov’s statement that most issues of the draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea have been agreed on as too optimistic.

 

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

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