Stephen Ebert, a US political analyst and a Slavist, plans to visit the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) with a group of colleagues in early September for a balanced assessment of the current situation in the conflict zone to compare personal impressions with those received from western media. "I’m planning to visit the DPR on September 6-8, and I will probably go to the LPR," he said in an interview with Izvestia daily. "I will talk about what I see in Donbass. I’ve arranged meetings with local lawmakers, experts, journalists and public figures. I’d like to listen to ordinary people, to hear their aspirations, wishes and concerns," Ebert said, adding that what he needs is an unbiased view on the current situation in the troubled region.
The leadership of the two republics told the newspaper they are ready to show the area to visitors from the United States and ensure their safety. "Top-ranked people from the United Nations, OSCE and more have come here, and each time we provided proper security. If anyone wishes to visit the DPR we will do our best from our side," Spokesman for the republic’s Operational Command Eduard Basurin told Izvestia. LPR envoy to the Contact Group Vladislav Deinego also welcomed the initiative. "Let him get in contact with us, and we will organize a trip to the LPR for him. He will see with his own eyes what is happening here and who is violating the Minsk accords," Deinego told the paper.
Representatives of the two breakaway regions said earlier, that they are ready to meet the US Special Envoy for Ukraine Negotiations, Kurt Volker, and ensure his safety during the visit. On July 23, Kurt Volker visited the Kiev-controlled area of Donbass, giving a news conference in the city of Kramatorsk, but visiting the Donbass republics was not in his plan. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appointed Kurt Volker as his special envoy for Ukraine on July 7. His task is to coordinate the State Department’s settlement efforts.
As European investors are taking a keen interest in the Crimean peninsula, the economic rationale may overweight the political barriers, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Economic Development Sergey Nazarov told Kommersant business daily. When asked whether the western sanctions against Moscow will last long he said: "I don’t think so." "There is an economic rationale behind any decision. As soon as the economic concern breaks the political barriers sanctions will lose their point," he said, adding that "a number of European companies are already actively visiting the peninsula, taking interest and entering particular projects, and if the western businessmen feel a potential for 300% return it isn’t a crime but common sense for them to dodge sanctions."
Deputy Minister acknowledged that for now the federal targeted program to develop Crimea and Sevastopol is facing millions of challenges, though explained that not all of them are related to sanctions. "There are lots of problems, it’s true. But speaking frankly, there are no other programs of such scale and containing such a number of projects to be constructed," he said, adding that the Crimean federal targeted program includes 636 projects at a various stage of completion. "What makes the program peculiar is that we didn’t have enough time to draft it, which could not but affect the evaluation of infrastructure projects. We only had an understanding that we need to construct roads, kindergartens, schools, waste treatment facilities," Nazarov said.
When asked whether the recent dispute over Siemens-designed turbines supplied to Crimea has influenced the investment climate in the area, Deputy Minister said it has not had any affect. "The situation with Siemens is very controversial, meaning are those turbines theirs or not anymore? There has been a serious reworking using Russian technologies, which even partially raised the capacity. We assume that the turbines reached Crimea quite legally," he told Kommersant.
The spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, wishes that the NATO headquarters moved to Moscow, he said in an interview with Kommersant. "In the Russian mentality NATO is a symbol of the enemy. If the alliance’s office moves to Moscow it will ease the psychological pressure, and a feeling will arise that you (the Russians - TASS) and the Americans are together now!" he said.
When asked what His Holiness proposes as ways to tackle Islamic terrorism, he said a dialogue with Muslims, including terrorists is possible. "The core of the problem is the policy of western countries, the United States in the first place, during the Iraqi crisis. I have repeatedly told western leaders that if they used power to solve the issue you would have had hundreds of Bin Ladens within a decade. The fact that the Americans used military power during the Iraqi crisis had an overwhelming negative effect on how things unfolded around the globe and set millions of people in the Muslim world against America. However, terror attacks in European countries as a reaction of the radical Islam in a move to stop America is also useless. This endless circle of violence can only be stemmed through dialogue," the Dalai Lama said. "What we need is patience. We have to offer a hand to all willing to stop violence, first of all to moderate Muslims," he added.
Speaking about the issue of refugee flows from Arab countries to Europe, the spiritual leader said they should not be considered as permanent residents of Europe. "Europe should become a temporary shelter for them, and simultaneously, their kids and young people should be given an opportunity to get an education," he said. "However, the main focus is reaching peace in their home land, so that those refugees could return home with their education, knowledge and European experience to construct a new peaceful life there," he added.
Russia’s gas giant Gazprom has reported a rise in demand for gas from Turkey, Germany and Austria, Vedomosti writes. In the first half of 2017, those three countries imported 44.5 bln cubic meters of gas, a 21% increase year-on-year. All in all, Russia’s gas exports surged 11.5% to 112 bln cubic meters over the period, the company said. Italy and Britain were among the biggest European consumers that reduced gas imports. However, a drop in supplies to Italy is a temporary trend, a source close to Gazprom told the newspaper. "Purchases of Russian gas declined following the repairs of the pipeline supplying gas from Northern Africa to Italy, but only in the first quarter, now the supplies are on the rise," he said.
Austria showed the highest growth rates in demand for gas in Western Europe as it raised imports from Russia by 77.73% to 3.75 bln cubic meters. In July, Gazprom boosted exports to non-CIS countries by 15% to 15.1 bln cubic meters and continues to do so in August, Vedomosti says. According to RusEnergy parter Mikhail Krutikhin, Europe needs to replenish its underground gas reserves. Also, he said, "Gazprom sticks to a very flexible pricing policy expecting competition on the LNG market in Europe in the future," and the company’s export is rising "mainly due to short contracts and spot market sales." Another factor driving the demand up is a low price for Russian gas. "Amid this background, even the Baltic countries are ready to buy gas from Gazprom," the expert added.
Russia’s Finance Ministry removed six thousand companies from offshore territories last year, head of the ministry’s tax and customs policy department Alexei Sazanov told Izvestia, adding that those firms paid a total of 3 bln rubles ($50 mln) worth of extra taxes to the country’s budget. "Companies additionally declared a profit tax base worth more than 20 bln rubles ($334.8 mln), and paid extra taxes worth around 3 bln rubles," the official said, adding that though this is a small sum, it is "money that simply didn’t exist in the budget before."
The law on controlled foreign companies aimed at receiving taxes from foreign companies controlled by Russians, came into force in 2015. Earlier any Russian nationals could register businesses abroad and not pay taxes in Russia, which is why many entrepreneurs used to do business in offshore zones. The term ‘controlled foreign company’ applies to an organization, which is not a Russian resident, but with at least a 25% ownership of a Russian national, obliged to pay taxes in the Russian Federation. According to Sazanov, the legislation contains certain discrepancies, which will be removed in 2017. The ministry also plans to monitor the law enforcement and reveal tax evasion schemes this year.
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