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Press review: Russia’s Winter Olympic woes and what’s behind Saakashvili’s arrest

December 06, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, December 6

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© EPA-EFE/LAURENT GILLIERON

 

Kommersant: IOC leaves door open for Russians to compete as neutral athletes in winter games

On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board, which has been investigating the Russian doping dispute, announced one of the harshest penalties for the alleged violations of anti-doping rules, but still not the worst one, Kommersant business daily wrote.

The IOC suspended the Russian Olympic Committee, but cleared a path for "clean" Russian athletes to take part in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics under a neutral flag. The intrigue is who will be allowed to the Olympics and if the authorities accept the offer for Russians to participate as neutral athletes. Moscow earlier hinted that it would ditch the Games if the IOC announced such a measure.

The verdict declared in Lausanne after a meeting that had lasted for several hours was absolutely in line with the forecasts of experts, the paper writes. Under the decision, the ROC will be forced to pay a $15 mln fine in compensation for the doping investigation.

The IOC also slapped personal sanctions on several Russian sports officials. Former Russian sports minister and current Deputy PM Vitaly Mutko has been suspended from taking part in the Olympic Games for life in any capacity. ROC President Alexander Zhukov has been temporarily stripped of his status as an IOC member, and head of the 2014 Sochi Olympics Organizing Committee Dmitry Chernyshenko has been excluded from the coordination commission on preparing for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. IOC President Thomas Bach stressed that there is no political undertone in the decision to bar the Russian national team from the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The IOC still left the door open for some Russian athletes to go to PyeongChang, but not for everyone, Kommersant writes. Only athletes with impeccable ‘doping-free’ background will receive an invitation to the Games. Some Russian winter sports superstars, namely figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva, skier Sergey Ustiugov and luger Roman Repilov, should expect this invitation as they are too young to have been involved in the doping system, the paper writes.

Still, there are doubts whether the format proposed by the IOC for Russia’s participation in the Olympics satisfies Moscow. The Russian authorities earlier reacted very harshly to the suggestion and sports officials sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin that competing in South Korea without national symbolics is tantamount to the country’s humiliation.

Lately, several Russian sports officials and politicians said the athletes should make the decision themselves whether to take part in the Games if they had this chance. The ROC president said the decision on the Russians’ participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics will be made at the December 12 meeting.

 

Kommersant: Russian Defense Ministry establishes vital contact with Syria’s Kurds

The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that Syrian government forces have started mopping up the last enclave of the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia) in the country’s east, Kommersant writes.

The Russian military managed to establish contact with the Kurds and armed units of people’s militias advancing along the Euphrates River. Their moves are being coordinated directly from Russian military headquarters in Syria.

The armed forces expect that the eastern Euphrates territories will be fully liberated from the terrorists by this week, whereas the major Islamist groups will be defeated by New Year’s.

According to Kommersant’s military sources, Operation Vozmezdie (Retribution), launched on September 29, 2015, has entered its final phase. The latest success on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River was achieved due to contacts between the Russian forces in Syria and the Kurdish units of the Syrian Democratic Forces, one of the sources told the paper. "This coordination gave us leeway when delivering strikes on the militants because when carrying out the mission the aviation knows precisely where and who the target is."

Retired Colonel Viktor Murakhovsky said contacts with the Kurds won’t mean they’ll be supplied with arms as the mopping-up operation on the eastern bank of the Euphrates "is purely on an ad hoc basis" and the support of the Russian aviation is enough for tackling the assignment.

There are preconditions for wrapping up the operation in the foreseeable future, a military source said. Russian aviation in Hmeymim will be able to carry out some 1,000 sorties per week. According to the latest official data, Assad’s military controls 98% of Syria, which has been already liberated from the militants of the IS group and Jabhat al-Nusra (terror group, outlawed in Russia).

Earlier, Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov predicted that the withdrawal of key parts of the forces and means from Syria will take place by the end of 2017, and Russian Security Council Chief Nikolay Patrushev said the preparation for this was underway. In any case, the withdrawal will begin after President Vladimir Putin signs a respective decree: if the provinces are liberated within a month, this order will be issued, the Russian military anticipates.

 

RBC: Saakashvili’s arrest possibly staged for 2019 elections

The standoff between former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Ukrainian authorities has heated up to new levels. Following the latest protests against President Pyotr Poroshenko, the politician was accused of cooperating with individuals linked to ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich and was put on a wanted list in Ukraine, RBC writes.

Earlier, Kiev used to detain only active protesters but preferred not to touch Saakashvili and other public figures, whose arrests could whip up turmoil, Vladimir Fesenko, the Director of the Penta Center of Applied Political Studies, said. Now the strategy has changed, namely because Saakashvili had vowed to block the presidential administration, in addition to law enforcement agents receiving information that his supporters were preparing for active steps, he explained. The security agents turned up the heat on the politician as they know that over the past two months the protests staged by Saakashvili have not received broad public support and are not afraid of mass disturbances, he noted. However, Saakashvili’s arrest was a mistake as it may trigger tensions nationwide and use of military force, the expert said. Among Saakashvili’s supporters there are active participants of the Donbass operation, who are a key headache for the Ukrainian security structures.

According to analyst of Ukraine’s House of Democracy political center Anatoly Oktisyuk, Saakashvili’s arrest may be a staged event. The expert believes that Kiev seeks to make him a popular but controlled opposition figure before the campaign for the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019 begins. Saakashvili is useful for Kiev, he said. "The public goes for a firebrand figure who is full of action, clashes, conflicts and accusations. He distracts people from serious and global issues and problems," the expert said. "If the authorities had wished to, they would have already expelled him from the country."

Deputy Director of the Russian Center for Current Politics Oleg Ignatov said Ukraine’s opposition needs Saakashvili as it tries to find leverage against Poroshenko before the election campaign kicks off. The expert has not ruled out that the weakness of security agents may signal that the conflict is beneficial for Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. The People’s Front, which is part of the coalition, wants to bargain with Poroshenko for advantageous conditions after the presidential and parliamentary elections, he said.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: German experts acknowledge Crimean referendum

German sociologists have confirmed the results of the 2014 referendum on Crimea’s reunification with Russia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The opinion polls showed that Crimean citizens are satisfied with their life and support divorcing Ukraine. The survey showed that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian army enjoy the greatest prestige among Crimeans.

The pollster, the independent Center for East European and International Studies (ZOiS), was established through a decision of Germany’s Bundestag after the 2014 events in Ukraine, the paper says. Its goal was to find out the real opinion of Crimean citizens about the referendum. According to the sociologists, their poll was unbiased and transparent.

The researchers noted that the frankness of Crimeans was three times higher than in the United States.

Some 80% respondents saw themselves as Russian citizens, while just 3% called themselves Ukrainians. About 13% said they wanted to be only Crimeans. Most Crimeans say they speak Russian and the number of those who said Ukrainian and the Crimean Tatar were their native languages had declined.

Almost two-thirds of those polled said they were satisfied with the economic situation on the Crimean Peninsula.

However, the Crimean Tatars oppose their current status and "remain a potential destabilizing factor."

The major goal of Russia’s foreign policy today is to protect the status of Crimea, Director of the Institute of the Russian Expatriate Community Sergey Panteleyev told the paper.

 

Vedomosti: Russian companies fear new US sanctions, float bond idea

Russian businessmen are bracing for potential new US sanctions against them and asked the government to create a tool for investing repatriated capital. One of the proposals is to set up a special treasury bond denominated in foreign currency, two financial officials told Vedomosti.

"Big business has appealed to the authorities to create a convenient tool to bring their personal capital to Russia in foreign currency," the official said. The sum comes to the tune of roughly $3 bln, another official said.

"For a number of (economic) reasons some big businessmen are returning to the country," a consultant at one of the Big Three confirmed.

The Finance Ministry has rejected the idea, the official said. The Russian market has all the necessary infrastructure for investment in foreign currency and "shifting big businesses’ currency risk on to taxpayers is inadvisable," he explained. Russia is attracting foreign currency via Eurobonds.

Chief Economist at Alfa Bank Natalya Orlova said the agenda for 2018 has two risks: the introduction of sanctions against major Russian business groups or sovereign sanctions. Large Russian companies are nervous, an official confirmed. "It isn’t safe there anymore."

Russia’s authorities had earlier warned businesses that it was safer to keep their capital in Russia and created conditions for their return, namely tax amnesty. However, just a tiny number of individuals took advantage of it, the official said.

Foreign currency bonds would probably be the safest assets in Russia given the financial risk, a staff member of a state corporation said. Nevertheless, the authorities are also putting together many other interesting tools, and the risks there will be close to sovereign ones, he added.

 

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

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