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Press review: Russia boosts military potential and Donbass awaits crucial meeting

August 17, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, August 17

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© Yuri Smityuk/TASS

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Donbass awaits new steps with upcoming US-Russia meeting

The upcoming talks between the US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker and Russian Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov may determine further developments in the Donbass crisis in autumn, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes with reference to a source in Kiev.

The new round of dialogue between Moscow and Washington will be launched amid a new round of sanctions. "There is a time lag of 180 days until the blacklists are published and accounts are blocked," the source said. Also, the Ukrainian side is concerned about Russian-Belarusian military drills due in September, and a bill on Russia’s air defense forces to be deployed on the border with Ukraine that was just submitted to the lower house of the Russian parliament.

The meeting is expected next week, though no particular date and place has been specified yet. There have been unofficial reports that Moscow invited Volker to Kaliningrad, while the US side proposed to organize the meeting in Austria or Switzerland, the newspaper says. Alexei Chesnakov, the director of the Moscow-based Center for Current Political Assessments, said recently that Surkov and Volker will most probably meet in Minsk, which is "a good compromise," according to the expert.

Ukrainian military expert Oleg Zhdanov assumes the Donbass issue will get off the dime once it becomes legally clear who fights with whom in the region. The initiative to bring peacekeepers there, which Moscow has blocked within the UN Security Council and opposed by the leadership of the two breakaway republics, can only be solved when the Ukrainian side documents that the conflict in the eastern part of the country is not a local one, but a war resulting from external aggression, he said. As long as the current situation remains as it is, with Russia rejecting its involvement in the Donbass conflict and recommending Kiev to sit down with Donetsk and Lugansk , and Ukraine considering Russia to be its real opponent, no progress is expected, the publication writes.

 

Izvestia: Russian army ready for two-front war

The potential of Russia’s armed forces has substantially stepped up, enabling the country to sustain several big operations simultaneously, according to the Swedish Defense Research Agency.

"Since 2016, the Russian armed forces have been able to maintain at least one major operation with 100-150 thousand servicemen, which is approximately in line with strategic drills - Vostok, Center and Kavkaz - held annually since 2014," Johan Norberg, the author of a 100-page report devoted to the state of Russia’s military forces released by the agency, said in an interview with Izvestia. He added that "Russia commands an organization structure to launch another joint-force offensive operation in the meantime, which most likely will be of smaller scale, and small defense operations in each military district."

"Thus, we assume all parts of Russia will be defended," the expert said.

According to Norberg, the Syrian campaign has highlighted that the Russian military forces "are able to maintain an operation outside the Russian territory keeping the total national defense capability." However, he considers the operation in Syria to be "small in terms of scale and the amount of forces engaged, compared with the country’s annual strategic trainings."

When asked about weak and strong points of the country’s military complex and its future prospects, the expert said that a number of factors can turn both into advantages and disadvantages in the short and midterm.

"Such factors as the size of the defense budget, the ability to attract trained professionals, the ability of Russia’s defense industry complex to effectively make products necessary for the military, and the development of the mobilization system, will affect the run of events," Norberg told the newspaper.

 

Kommersant: Russian ex-banker’s accounts unfrozen for political reasons

Russia's Prosecutor General’s Office has provided a tough response on the decision of the Swiss Prosecutor's Office to lift the arrest of the accounts of the Bank of Moscow former president Andrey Borodin, and called it "absolutely politicized," Kommersant writes. The Swiss media reported Wednesday that the country’s supervisory authority had found Russia incapable of guaranteeing a fair trial and therefore allowed Borodin to freely dispose of his 300 mln francs, or 260 mln euros.

Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office Spokesman Alexander Kurennoy told Kommersant that Moscow "rejects the decision of the Swiss colleagues as it contradicts Switzerland’s international commitments to tackling money laundering and promotes impunity of people engaged in economic crimes." According to the spokesman, the Russian and Swiss law enforcement bodies have been cooperating on Borodin’s case since 2011 when the Swiss prosecutor launched a criminal case against the Russian banker. Similar cases were initiated in France, Germany and other countries where Borodin allegedly put around $2 bln siphoned off from the Bank of Moscow. The latest data exchange between the prosecutor offices of the two countries was in 2014, after which Switzerland withdrew from the criminal prosecution, though leaving Borodin’s assets under arrest, Kurennoy said.

In 2013, Borodin was granted political asylum in the UK. In May 2017, Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs reported on the completion of the investigation into the criminal case against former leaders of the Bank of Moscow. Borodin and his ex-first deputy Dmitry Akulinin still face charges of siphoning off 150 bln rubles ($2.52 bln) in Russia, according to Kommersant.

 

Vedomosti: New Internet regulation restrictions under consideration in Russia

Russia’s Communication Ministry has proposed a new version of the draft law on Internet regulation, which is to limit foreign ownership of the so-called ‘traffic exchange points’, Vedomosti says. According to the bill, a foreign country, organization, legal entity or a Russian company with more than 20% of foreign ownership cannot directly or indirectly own or control more than 20% of shares of a "traffic exchange point".

The restriction also covers foreign citizens, Russian nationals with citizenship of another country or people without citizenship.

However, market participants say the definition of the ‘traffic exchange point’ given in the bill is rather vague - "a technological system providing Internet traffic to connected networks" - which implies that communication providers, including those from the Russian ‘big four’ companies (MTS, Megafon, Beeline, and Tele2), may also be subject to consideration.

If the bill is adopted as it is, Russian top providers will have to change the ownership structure, analysts interviewed by the newspaper say, as 25% of Megafon is owned by the Swedish TeliaCompany Group, 100% of Vympelcom is held by Dutch company Veon, and 39.17% of MTS are ADRs traded on the US stock exchange.

 

Izvestia: Big companies may be freed from fines for first-time violations

Russia’s Economic Development Ministry has come up with an initiative to caution big companies instead of fining them for first-time violations, Deputy Minister Savva Shipov told Izvestia.

"This will reduce the burden on the business for violations commited for the first time which did not lead to damages," he said, adding that the norm applies only to small and mid-sized companies at the moment.

Experts told the paper that currently, corruption risks persist as the size of fines for big companies is huge, and entrepreneurs therefore attempt to find an off-the-books arrangement with supervisory authorities. The Ministry’s proposal is being considered in other departments now, after which it will be submitted to the relevant subcommittee in the government, the newspaper writes.

 

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

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