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Press review: Russia’s friends and foes in post-Soviet space and Qatar’s Africa gamble

December 27, 2017, 13:00 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, December 27

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Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani

Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani

© EPA-EFE/NOUFAL IBRAHIM

 

Kommersant: Russian senior diplomat on friends and foes in post-Soviet space

An informal summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the most representative regional organization in the post-Soviet space, was held in Moscow on Tuesday. State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Kommersant about the recent developments in relations between the countries topping Russia’s priorities but also the most problematic region.

According to Karasin, a recent resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on Crimea might be seen as a type of barometer for Russia’s allies, opponents and neutral states. The post-Soviet space (with the exception of the Baltic States) was divided into three camps during the vote on the Crimean motion: Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova co-wrote the document, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan did not participate, the rest voted against it.

"This could be considered an indicator, but I would not have judged the situation based on it alone. As for the resolution itself, Ukraine does not need to deal with Crimea, but with the situation in the southeast of the country. The Crimean question is closed for us. Of course, we will oppose such resolutions while inviting people to visit Crimea, including representatives of international organizations," he said.

As for the Russian motion on deploying UN peacekeepers to Donbass, Karasin hopes that next year "we will be able to take steps in this direction, but this should not take place at the expense of the political interests of Donetsk and Lugansk." "The resolution that we have proposed makes it clear that the peacekeepers’ main objective should be to ensure the security of the OSCE special monitoring mission," he added.

Commenting on plans to sign the Russian-Belarusian intergovernmental agreement, designed to create a legal basis for crossing the land border of both countries by foreigners before the end of the year, he noted, "We are actively working on this document. We have a common understanding of the importance of creating a single visa space, but there are some technical difficulties. I hope that we will iron out this problem at the very beginning of the year." The senior diplomat added that the main goal is to ink the deal before the World Cup.

Karasin told the newspaper about the strategy for developing relations with Chisinau. Thus, according to him, "fostering the relations with Moldova in 2017 was truly contradictory. On the one hand, there are some major pros. Bilateral dialogue at the highest level has become quite stable." "At the same time, the escalating struggle between the branches of power in Moldova continues to negatively impact Russian-Moldovan relations. We cannot help being concerned about the chill in relations at the interdepartmental level," he said, adding that despite this, "We are still determined to continue constructive dialogue with Chisinau and actively work together to implement those deals already reached."

On the Islamic State (terrorist organization banned in Russia) militants fleeing Syria and Iraq to neighboring countries, Karasin noted that terrorists are really becoming more active closer to the Central Asia region. "In this regard, we put special importance on cooperation in beefing up the security and defense capabilities of Central Asian states, by providing gratuitous assistance to the security agencies of several countries in the region, as well as training," he said.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Africa becomes testing ground for Arab conflict

Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani held talks with Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo during his African tour. Experts see the meeting as the onset of a struggle for influence in the region between Doha and Riyadh. At the same time, as a source in the Foreign Ministry of Qatar told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the Emir’s visit was primarily an economic one. In particular, Doha wants to develop agriculture in Africa in order to secure food exports.

According to the newspaper, along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar is one of the few Arab countries that has been able to establish close partnerships with African states. For example, Qatar was one of the mediators between Eritrea and Djibouti. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is bolstering its position in Africa, which, along with the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain, broke off trade and diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing the emirate of sponsoring terrorism.

"The Emir's visit is aimed, among other things, at strengthening Doha’s position in Africa. However, Al Thani's primary goal is to foster economic ties, given that Africa is one of the priority areas for our mid-and long-term investments," a diplomatic source in the Qatari Foreign Ministry told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The source added that Qatar is showing special interest in agricultural cooperation, and by cultivating it, this will help diversify its citizens’ food resources.

Doha’s recent activity in Africa was sparked not by the desire to compete with Saudi Arabia, but rather by the need to search for new partners due to the blockade, Director of the Gulf Studies Program Center at Qatar University Abdullah Baabood told the newspaper.

"Building ties with South Africa in spite of external pressure is part of Qatar’s comprehensive plan aimed at diversifying its economic and political partners in order to overcome the negative consequences of the blockade," the expert told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Let’s not forget that the countries of South Africa, along with many other members of the world community refused to engage in the restrictions against Qatar," he said, adding that after Qatar, other Gulf countries might begin searching for new partners outside the Arab world.

 

Vedomosti: Russia’s deposit insurance agency hammers out reforms on troubled assets

The Russian Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA) is working on a reform package for the liquidation procedure of collapsed banks, DIA General Director Yuri Isaev told Vedomosti. Recently, the Central Bank has taken over another prior function from the DIA – bank bailouts.

Currently, the DIA is engaged in the liquidation of 321 banks with a net book value of 3.78 trillion rubles ($65.6 bln), and the estimated value is 440 bln rubles ($7.63 bln), Isaev said, with an average term of liquidation at around three years. The number of banks that have come under the management of the DIA has been rapidly growing in recent years, and over time the number of assets become cheaper and, as a result, lenders receive less, he told the newspaper.

The DIA proposed amending the law to streamline working with assets. Immediately after a license is revoked, the agency will assess the quality of assets, allocate the assets for sale and prepare them for the transaction, according to Isaev. This will shorten the term of the procedure to 1.5 years and make the process more transparent. "The idea is to abandon the endless judicial procedures, which for the most part do not bring the expected result, and to focus on a quick, public and effective sale, before the assets depreciate," he told Vedomosti.

Assets that have been embezzled from banks due to criminal activity by management or owners will not be offered for sale - information about them, just like now, will form the basis of a statement to law enforcement agencies, Isaev said.

According to Isaev, the reform would help to not only increase revenue receipts in the bankruptcy estate, but also to reduce the costs of asset maintenance.

 

Vedomosti: VEB CEO recalls bailout and sets sights on future prospects

Two years ago, Vnesheconombank (VEB), a Russian government-owned development bank, nearly collapsed under the weight of political projects, its own inefficiency and Western sanctions. After replacing the bank’s former CEO, Sergey Gorkov got down to business by taking on VEB’s old problems and set out to reform the financial institution. Gorkov assessed VEB’s recovery and talked about its future in an interview with Vedomosti.

"When I came to VEB, of course, I understood that the bank was in a difficult situation, but some aspects at that time were greatly underestimated," Gorkov recalled when coming to VEB. "At the same time, we had to urgently rescue the bank from default," he added, noting that the support of the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank also helped during this period.

According to Gorkov, the losses of VEB under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) by the end of 2017 may amount to around 100 bln rubles ($1.74 bln). "We need to accurately calculate the figure. The exchange rates strongly influence our portfolio, so it is always a question of the state of the market at the end of the year. We will have much better results than planned, but there will be losses," Gorkov told the newspaper. At the same time, he noted that VEB plans to create about 100 bln rubles ($1.74 bln) of reserves, which will be completed in several years.

At the same time, VEB and the Russian Ministry of Economic Development are considering creating an infrastructure mortgage fund. "We are discussing it, the first meetings were held. So far, there are more questions than answers, and we need a tool to support the infrastructure," he said.

According to Gorkov, it is necessary to determine the format of VEB's participation in potential projects. "We are still working out the issue of creating tools for an infrastructure mortgage," he noted.

 

Kommersant: Finance Ministry sets rules for ICO in Russia

Details on a future regulation system for initial coin offerings in Russia have come to light, Kommersant wrote referring to the draft law "On Digital Financial Assets", scheduled to be presented on December 27. Experts noted that excessive restrictions and unclear definitions could lead to transferring such projects to other, more liberal markets.

The Finance Ministry intends to limit both the amount of funds raised from Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) - initial placement of tokens - and the maximum amount of investments of unqualified investors into tokens, according to Deputy Finance Minister Alexey Moiseyev. Thus, a maximum of 1 bln rubles ($17.38 mln) can be attracted through an ICO, and not more than 50,000 rubles ($969) for a single unqualified investor. Moiseyev told Kommersant, that the draft law would be presented on December 27 at the Ministry of Finance’s Public Council.

"A limit of 1 bln rubles ($17.38 mln) fits into the average figure," Co-founder of Starta Ventures group Alexey Girin told the newspaper. According to him, often an excessive amount of funds raised can kill start-ups in the early stages of an offering.

"Many projects in 2017 have passed the threshold of 1 bln rubles ($17.38 mln). Therefore, such restrictions can cut off the arrival of potential investors," Managing Partner of Simdaq, Evgeny Dubovoy, told Kommersant. According to him, instead of "simple restrictions," the market should see a well-developed base: "what kind of reporting should the companies give, how to use money, how to make tax deductions."

In addition to these limitations, the document sets norms for regulating the quality of projects entering an ICO, Moiseyev told Kommersant. All quality control issues are planned to be regulated through the information disclosure mechanism.

 

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

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