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The announcement of a seismic shift in US visa issuance rules made by the US Embassy in Russia on Monday dominates headlines in the Russian press. As a result of the Russian government’s personnel cap imposed on the US mission, the United States will suspend the procedure of issuing nonimmigrant visas across Russia as of August 23, though in Moscow this procedure will be resumed on September 1. This comes after the Russian Foreign Ministry proposed a cutback to the number of diplomatic and technical staff working at the US Embassy in Moscow and the consulates general in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok to the exact number of Russian diplomats and technical staff members working in America amounting to 455 people, before September 1. Spokesperson at US Embassy in Moscow Maria Olson told Kommersant that Washington is not closing its consulates general in Russia’s regions and will still continue to operate, but they will be providing regular and urgent services to US citizens.
The cutback in the number of employees in Russia is not Washington’s initiative, but that of the Russian authorities, a source close to the State Department told Kommersant. "Our diplomats in Russia are mainly focused on protecting the interests of US citizens. The second thing they are focused on is communicating with Russia on areas considered to be strategic for the US and to look after national interests,” he said. “Visa issuance to Russian citizens is an important task though the first two are more vital. In order to be able to perform our priority in the first two areas just as competently as before we are forced to cut personnel in the third area,” the source said.
According to Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house) Committee for International Affairs Andrey Klimov, “(anti-) Russia hawks are running things in the US now, having created a significant team in Congress and convinced politicians that this policy is correct." He also considers it necessary to strike back and change the visa issuance regulation for US citizens, he told Kommersant and RBC newspapers. Anyhow, for now Moscow does not plan to “take it out on US citizens” as stated by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday. Meanwhile, the recent developments will most likely affect business ties between the two countries, President and CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia Alexis Rodzianko said in an interview with RBC. "The task is becoming more challenging for businessmen as they will have to plan their trips beforehand, spend more time on preparations, and entrepreneurs will have to go to Moscow for visas," he said, adding that "this will not deal a serious blow to Russian business unless there is a response from the Russian side, in which case the situation will get more complicated."
The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) has taken Russia off the list of countries subject to intense monitoring to track down any gaps in its ‘anti-money laundering’ legislation, Deputy Director of Russia’s Federal Service for Financial Monitoring Pavel Livadny told Izvestia. He said that based on the outcome of monitoring of how technical flaws in FATF member-states legislation are fixed, the results revealed that Russia’s move to beef up its fight against terror funding is cause to remove it from FATF monitoring.
According to Livadny, last year Russia submitted amendments to its criminal code and legislation ‘On countering the legalization (laundering) of revenues received through crime and terrorism financing’ and ‘On countering terrorism’, where the term ‘terrorism financing’ was worded according to FATF recommendation. Also, the jail term for aiding and abetting terrorism was increased from 8-20 years to 10-20 years, he added.
The FATF was established by the G7 during their Paris conference in July 1989 in response to surging amounts of laundered criminal profits throughout the world. Currently, the organization comprises 35 member-states, including Russia, which joined it in 2003. Experts interviewed by Izvestia say that the recent move will boost the country’s investment attractiveness, as it means that Russia is now involved in cultivating global anti-terror policies on par with such key countries, as the United States, France, Germany and China.
As the mop-up operation in Iraq draws to a close, only two months would be needed to fully clean house in Iraq of the outlawed organization, the Islamic State, Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Haidar Mansour Hadi said in an interview with Izvestia. "There are not many terrorists left in Iraq as they have no way out, especially along the Syrian border. Now that the issue is only about small ‘nests’ where terrorists are still located, the advance is accelerating," he said, adding that it will take "less than two months" to "deal the final blow."
According to Hadi, some governments have offered assistance to rebuild Iraq. "Some countries have already assumed obligations to reconstruct Iraq. Russian companies have also shown interest in becoming part of this process," the diplomat said. According to Hadi, around $1 bln will be needed to rebuild the liberated city of Mosul where Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi officially declared the final liberation from Islamic State terrorists on July 10, after the city had been under IS occupation for three years.
Touching on the Syrian peace talks, he said that “the victory clinched in Iraq should be secured by a peaceful settlement to the Syrian crisis.” "We’ve supported the talks in Geneva and Astana and stressed that Iraq would like to become part of the Astana and Geneva talks, backed by Moscow," he said. "We’ve been struggling with terrorism since 2003, we are very qualified in this field, and we would like to share our experience with Syria," the ambassador said, adding that hopes are high that "Iraq will be represented at the next meeting on Syria."
Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry has proposed simplifying the amendment process on extraction licenses, RBC writes on Monday. Currently, the only rationale for adjusting the license terms is a change in the amount of products made for reasons beyond subsoil users’ control. The new bill lists more circumstances, substantially different from those when a subsoil license was granted, and in the case of any required completion of any search and estimation of a field's development or liquidation works as long as the company has not violated any license terms.
The draft law regulating amendments to subsoil license agreements has already been submitted to the government, Natural Resources Minister Sergey Donskoy confirmed to the newspaper, adding that the State Duma (lower house) may pass it in the first reading by the end of this year. The amendments to Article 12 of the law ‘On resources’ adopted in 1992, have been endorsed by the Economic Development Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Federal Antimonopoly Service, and the business community, RBC says.
A source in Rosneft, Russia’s top oil producer, told the newspaper that the cost of drilling plummeted 50% amid current oil prices, and the main challenge for oil producers now is to attract western subcontractors with their needed equipment for these types of operations due to the risks related to sanctions. Director of Geological Consulting Center Gekon Mikhail Grigoryev assumes that by including the consequences of the sanctions and economic changes in the list of rationales for changing license terms, the Russian authorities acknowledge that western sanctions against Moscow are unlikely to be lifted in the near future and oil prices are hardly expected to rise above $100 per barrel.
With the first LNG tanker arriving in Lithuania from the US earlier this week, experts warn Gazprom will be facing tougher competition on the European market, Vedomosti says. Tatiana Mitrova, Director of the Skolkovo Energy Center, told the publication that she expects "overall LNG competition, and American LNG in particular, to heat up amid surging surpluses in supply over the next few years.”
Gazprom will be competing not only with LNG, Vedomosti writes, as the TANAP gas pipeline and its extension TAP are being built simultaneously with the construction of Nord Stream 2, along with the Turkish Stream’s two threads. In addition, Poland is eyeing Baltic Pipeline gas deliveries from Norway as an alternative to Russian gas supplies. According to Mitrova, the absorption of capacities of the Ukrainian route and the agreements between Russia and the European Union on absorption of new pipelines will define the demand for new projects. "If the EU does not prevent a radical reduction of Ukrainian transit, new flows may be decently loaded, though not 100%," she said, adding that Gazprom has a chance to keep its position as one of the most competitive gas supplier to Europe if it pursues a flexible marketing policy.
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