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Press review: OSCE, EU to skip Crimea in 2018 vote and Russian ‘Google Earth Pro’ coming

December 25, 2017, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, December 25

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Kommersant: US file on Russian political, business figures may be prelude to financial sanctions

The current US administration is expected to present a so-called ‘Kremlin report’ to the Congress by the end of January, containing a list of high-ranking public officials and businessmen, who are seen as Kremlin insiders. Daniel Fried, a former Obama administration sanctions coordinator and a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, explained that being put on the special list does not automatically mean being sanctioned. "I assume the persons on the list will not face practical consequences, for example, financial (ones) right away. Nevertheless, the very fact of being put on the list increases the risk of being sanctioned in the future," he said in an interview with Kommersant business daily. The task of compiling such a list is stipulated by the law on ‘Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’ (CAATSA) signed by President Donald Trump in August. According to Fried, "the law itself does not say that the report will serve as a basis for a new sanctions list." "However, I would not conceal the fact that many US Congressional members would like to use it this way, and this may eventually happen. In this respect, I understand why many in Moscow are nervous now," he said.

According to the politician, "it is more reasonable to make up a short, but strong list of ‘bad guys’ connected with corruption, criminal activity and acts of aggression, instead of trying to ‘exceed the target’." "American and European banks may consider cooperation with such people poses higher risks," he added. "Once people are put on the Specially Designated Nationals List, US physical and legal entities are banned from cooperating with them, including all financial relations. In practice, it means that sanctioned people will not be able to have banking accounts in dollars or accounts in any other currency if banking transactions with their funds flow though the United States. They are deprived of access to everything connected with the US financial system," he said, adding that "as a rule people on the SDN usually lose access to services to the bulk of western banks."

The ‘Kremlin report’ is what the US Congress deems to be a response to "what happened in 2016 when Russia interfered in the (US) election" and "the political processes in Europe," Fried said. "On the whole, it also reflects US lawmakers’ concern over Russia’s international political moves, particularly regarding its policy on Ukraine. The fact that an absolute majority of members of both chambers of the Congress voted for CAATSA demonstrates how alarmed they are," the politician said, adding that the US Treasury Department, the State Department and a number of other agencies are also involved in compiling the list.

 

Izvestia: OSCE, EU back out of sending observers to Crimea for coming presidential election

The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the EU Monitoring Commission will not send their representatives to Crimea for monitoring the presidential election in March 2018, Izvestia writes citing both structures and three sources in Russia’s diplomatic circles. "The ODIHR mandate on election observation is based on a consensus of 57 member-states of the organization. There is no consensus regarding Crimea, which is why the ODIHR cannot monitor in this region," the organization’s spokesperson Thomas Rymer told the newspaper.

The European Union sticks to the same position. "Brussels will send observers to Russia, but definitely not to Crimea. The final lists of those who will go to Russia have not been agreed on yet, as talks with the receiving party are currently underway," Tomas Zdechovsky, a member of the European Parliament (EP), told Izvestia. Moscow expects the number of foreign observers at the upcoming election to surpass 685 people. A source in diplomatic circles told the publication that Russia’s Foreign Ministry is currently negotiating problematic issues with foreign colleagues. One of those topics is the presence of monitoring mission specialists in Crimea. "Political disputes regarding the status of the peninsula hamper any consensus with western countries and organizations. The OSCE-ODIHR and the EU will not send their observers to Crimean territory. This has been decided on already," sources in diplomatic circles told Izvestia.

Meanwhile, a separate group of experts, MPs from EU member-states’ legislatures plan to monitor the election on March 18 in Crimea, another diplomatic source told the paper, adding that this group of observers will include lawmakers from Austria, Italy, France, the Czech Republic and Cyprus. In this respect, Chairman of the State Duma Committee for International Relations Leonid Slutsky told Izvestia that "the expert group would include deputies who advocate the recognition of a legitimate unification of Crimea and Russia in accordance with the UN Charter." "Their presence will be sufficient, while their voice will be heard in the global community," he added.

 

Kommersant: US military supplies to Kiev unable to change balance of forces in Donbass

Washington’s decision to supply advanced defensive systems to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, may convince the so-called ‘party of war’ to accelerate the coercion-through-force scenario against the self-proclaimed LPR and DPR republics, Kommersant says. The US State Department said late last week that the Administration had decided to provide Ukraine with enhanced defensive capabilities as part of an effort to help it build long-term defense capacity. This comes after President Trump was reportedly going to endorse a plan envisioning supplies of antitank equipment worth $47 million to Kiev. The move means Trump is taking a winning step to get the US involved in the Donbass conflict, which his predecessor Barack Obama had cautiously preferred not to take, the paper writes.

In Ukraine, the reaction was mixed, with some expressing hope that the country’s defense capability will improve, and considering the news to demonstrate a victory of Ukrainian diplomacy, though others doubting that the move will change the balance of power in Donbass. "We should have neither euphoria, nor illusions. No Javelin will be helpful if a real war breaks out in the southeast and Russia truly decides to join it, as we have different weight categories with Moscow," a deputy said on condition of anonymity

Commenting on Washington’s recent move, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told TASS on Saturday that the decision to supply weapons to Kiev once again undermines the implementation of the Minsk agreements. "Our position is that all efforts by the international community should be used to persuade Kiev to act exclusively by the political agenda, with the binding condition of honest and direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk," the diplomat said, adding, "there is no other way to settle the Ukrainian domestic conflict."

 

Izvestia: Russian version of Google Earth Pro in the works

The digital model of the planetary surface being currently created within the ‘Digital Earth’ project by the Russian Space Systems (RSS) Holding Company (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) will cover the entire territory of the Russian Federation by the end of 2020, the company’s Chief Executive Officer Andrey Tyulin said in an interview with Izvestia. "In 2018, we intend to cover the territory of Moscow, the Moscow Region, St. Petersburg, the Krasnodar, Khabarovsk and Primorsky Regions… According to plans, the entire country will be covered by the end of 2020," he said, adding that Crimea and the Rostov Region have become subjects for a pilot project.

According to Tyulin, the plan is to set up a commercial enterprise with the participation of Roscosmos and a private investor, which will be able to compete against such geoservices as Google Earth and Esri on the Russian market. "We realize that it is really challenging to create a consumable product better than Google Earth, but we will have a competitive advantage in Russia and certain developing countries where Google does not offer highly-detailed maps yet," the CEO explained. "We are creating an instrument for promoting Russia’s opportunities on a very competitive market where foreign players are the leaders, but we have to regain positions," he added.

The project, similar to Google Earth Pro (a pay version aimed at interests of business and state structures), will serve as a basis for establishing special and analytical services in the best interests of agriculture and forestry, subsurface resources management, ecology, the monitoring of industrial and transport infrastructure, urban planning, insurance and other fields. "We want to set up an operator to act as a competitor against (foreign players - TASS) at least on the Russian market," Tyulin said.

 

Media: Troubled bank’s co-owner confirms leaving Russia

Co-owner of the troubled Promsvyazbank, which ranks ninth in terms of assets among Russian banks, Dmitry Ananyev confirmed earlier reports that he had left Russia, Vedomosti writes. According to the businessman, he had planned the trip for a long time due to health problems, and does not consider it to be an escape. "I don’t agree with media reports, which depicted it as a flight. I did not run away," he told the newspaper. RBC says citing sources that the banker flew to London late last week.

Russia’s Central Bank approved a plan to bail out Promsvyazbank earlier in December. The measures, aimed at bolstering the bank’s financial stability and ensuring its continuous activity in the banking services market, provide for the Bank of Russia’s participation as an investor using funds from the Banking Sector Consolidation Fund, the regulator said. The Central Bank will provide capital injections into Promsvyazbank to maintain liquidity, which will increase its financial stability and foster further development. News of the bank's bailout was revealed on December 15.

When asked whether he plans to return to Russia, Ananyev said yes, but did not give a concrete date. "I will be discussing it with lawyers. My plan was to leave for a checkup and for vacation to spend the holidays, but now it is a question of how long those holidays will now last for me," he told Vedomosti.

 

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

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