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Press review: EU may freeze Brexit talks and Kiev to step up pressure on Russian companies

March 28, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW
Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, March 28
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© EPA/WILL OLIVER

Kommersant: Oligarch duo to pave the way for Sberbank to exit Ukraine

The decision by Russia’s top lender Sberbank to sell its Ukrainian subsidiary, the biggest and most interesting ‘branch’ of all banks owned by Russian state-hold lenders, to a consortium of investors, was made a week ago, Kommersant business daily writes on Tuesday with reference to sources close to the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU). Norvik Banka owned by Grigory Guselnikov and businessman Said Gutseriyev have been indicated as buyers, with a 45% and a 55% stake, respectively. The announcement followed NBU’s claims that Russia’s top bank would be facing more challenges than anyone in finding a buyer for its Ukrainian business.

According to Kommersant’s sources, Grigory Guselnikov has been in talks with Sberbank for some period of time, though back then the seller could dictate terms and the deal was estimated to be worth $450-680 mln. Nevertheless, the transaction failed to materialize. Guselnikov told the newspaper that "the deal would enable offering services backed on European principles of quality, transparency and access and the bank’s technological level to Ukrainian clients." "We welcome Ukraine’s European level and believe that will be able to contribute to the country’s future economic growth via our operations," he said, adding that Norvik Banka also plans certain measures to cut its presence on the Russian banking market, which will help raise investment efficiency and get rid of political risks related to the bank’s geography of operations.

Said Gutseriyev, a UK citizen, who has become the majority shareholder of the consortium, graduated from London’s Harrow School and Oxford University, and in engaged in direct investments in projects in various sectors of the economy around the globe. Previously he worked in one of the world’s biggest companies, Glencore. Since March 13, Ukrainian nationalists have been blocking Sberbank’s central office in Kiev. Following the announcement of the deal, which is expected to be sealed in the first half of this year, the lender pledges to fulfill its obligations to all Ukrainian clients and says the move is likely to help unblock its local offices. Meanwhile, Sberbank had been put on the list of sanctions levied against banks with Russian state capital operating on the Ukrainian market. Four other lenders - VS Bank, Prominvestbank, VTB Bank and BM Bank - are said to be in negotiations on potential sales transactions.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Ukrainian radicals seeking to expel all Russian businesses

Emboldened by the sanctions imposed on Russian banks, Ukrainian radicals are seething to stoke more bans and are now aiming for all businesses with Russian ties. The targets of the growing campaign are now coffee houses, restaurants, department stores and clothing shops, Nezavisimaya Gazeta says, adding that one can expect a total "cleansing" of Ukraine’s economy from Russian business and capital given the cooperation of Kiev’s authorities. Extremists are also demanding that all "’patriotic’ civil organizations join the campaign", and "Ukrainian authorities take urgent measures to suspend the operations of Russian businesses" in the country. "We have expelled Lukoil, we’re expelling Russian banks, and we will manage to get rid of Russian businesses," the newspaper quotes Sergey Mazur, the campaign’s coordinator.

Experts polled by Nezavisimaya say Kiev is likely to yield to the demands. "This is not going to be a surprise if (Kiev) takes this step. The anti-Russia policy of Ukraine’s authorities has long been pursued with no relevance to the country’s economic interests," Andrey Margolin, Vice-Rector at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), told the newspaper.

Analysts also expect Ukraine to continue cranking up the pressure on Russian businesses. Dmitry Zavyalov, Assistant Professor at Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, says that companies controlled by Russian owners are major thorns in the sides of many Ukrainian patriots, "though officially business are owned by nationals of Ukraine, Cyprus, and some other European countries." "The presence of such companies in the energy sector, mobile market, tobacco industry is fairly considerable, though it is rather challenging to apply sanctions to such organizations, just as organize public campaigns around them," he said. According to Zavyalov, only economic measures assumed at the national level may minimize the direct presence of Russian entrepreneurs in the Ukrainian economy, such as "a total ban on goods made in Russia, or a total breaking of trade ties between the countries."

 

Izvestia: EU fearing Frexit, freezes Brexit talks

The date of negotiations between Brussels and London on Brexit, the UK’s departure from the European Union, is planned for the end of March, but may be postponed because Brussels is in desperate search of a reason to suspend the Brexit talks, a source in the European Parliament told Izvestia daily. The EU is deliberately dragging its feet on the issue in order to prevent an inevitable outburst of Euroskeptic sentiment from becoming the trigger for Marine Le Pen’s win in France’s presidential race, the source said, adding that the issue was discussed at a closed meeting in the European Parliament.

Brussels wants to see the outcome of the first round of the French presidential elections on April 23, Izvestia writes. "The European Union preferred to put the dialogue on hold with London until the first round of the French elections is completed. I assume this demonstrates that Brussels is concerned about a possible win by Marine Le Pen, which means she has fairly good chances to win," Janice Atkinson, an independent member of the European Parliament told the newspaper. Bruno Gollnisch, an MP in the European Parliament from France, told Izvestia that EU politicians are afraid of Le Pen’s win, as "Brussels would have to negotiate not only with London" in this case.

 

Izvestia: Finance Ministry may take over investment planning powers

Russia’s Finance Ministry may expand its powers by taking over state investment planning from the Economic Development Ministry once the federal special-purpose programs’ audit is wrapped up in April, a federal official familiar with the matter told Izvestia. A representative of the Economic Development Ministry confirmed that the issue is under discussion. Should this power be handed over, the Finance Ministry will be fully in charge of the country’s investment planning.

"The comprehensive audit of the federal targeted programs could result in some projects being terminated. Quite a few of them should just really be abandoned, which means that the investment structure and the total amount of managed operations would change. The Finance Ministry has repeatedly said it intends to assume all investment powers, explaining that the budget should be in a single pair of hands," the official told the newspaper, adding that discussion on the topic has been going on "for many years already."

According to a source in the Economic Development Ministry, "such talks have been taking place among employees of the department of federal targeted programs and capital investments, though there are no official documents yet." Another source close to the Ministry told Izvestia that the department of budget planning and state programs may be split in two, with its ‘budget’ part passing to the Finance Ministry.

 

Kommersant: Deregulation of aircraft bulk fuel poses flight safety risks

Following the removal of obligatory certification for bulk fuel installations and jet fuel quality control in mid-2015, not a single alternative has been put forward, Kommersant writes citing a letter submitted to Russia’s Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov from market participants requesting an urgent reply on the matter. The aviators have to deal with documents "with an uncertain legal status" and audit all those involved in the process of souping up aircraft of their own, which may potentially threaten the safety of flights, the latter said.

An industry source told the newspaper that currently airlines "are facing risks related to selecting the assortment of aviation bulk fuel and organizing the fueling of aircraft." Meanwhile, oil producers are more confident on the issue, Kommersant says. A source in Rosneft, Russia’s top oil producer, told the newspaper that the abandonment of certification has not influenced the company’s operations on the aviation fuel market, and Rosneft continues functioning under Russian and international regulatory documentation.

 

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

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