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Press review: Russia sanctions bill restrains Trump and Moscow-Athens ties at lowest point

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, August 8


Izvestia: Trumped-up evidence used in court battles against Russia

The practice of creating fake news and presenting it to the public through reputable media is part of the system of bringing official charges against a particular country, which is being actively used in international courts, Queen's Counsel from Brick Court Chambers Michael Swainston, who presents Russia’s interests in the European Court of Human Rights on the case of Georgia vs. Russia, as well as Kiev-initiated trials, told Izvestia. He considers the trend of using fake news and trumped-up evidence to be a serious threat for the global system of law, peace and security, adding that the contents of precarious videos and online pictures should be taken with a grain of salt. One picture can replace a thousand of words, but all words in this case may turn out to be a lie, he added.

Swainston has compiled evidence in a 160-page report about fabricated packages, groundless statements and doctored photos being dished up as ‘facts’ to be eventually used as a base for charges against Moscow, Izvestia writes. In the document, he proves that the strategy targeting Russia with the help of fake news and their numerous publications involves social networks, prominent media outlets and reputable international structures. Discrepancies and direct contradictions regarding the August 2008 events in South Ossetia and the Donbass conflict are used as examples in the report. Summing it up, the British lawyer stressed that lawyers and judges cannot allow using propaganda as evidence. Disputes can only be effectively settled if the guarantees of neutrality and transparency are observed in fact-finding, otherwise the court’s findings are no longer credible, which is threatening for the whole system of international law, Swainston emphasizes.

The national legislation of the majority of states envisions responsibility for fabricated evidence and attempts to package fake news as facts, Azhdar Kurtov, a political analyst and expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, told the newspaper. He agrees with Swainston that such cases of twisted facts undermine the efficiency of the global legal system. However, international organizations, particularly the European Court of Human Rights, have no mechanisms to investigate such manipulations, which is why any falsifications unveiled bear no threat of consequence for the guilty side, apart from a lost case, Kurtov explained.


Kommersant: US anti-Russia bill restrains Donald Trump rather than Moscow

US Senanor Lindsey Graham and his three colleagues have drafted a bill on new sanctions to be slapped against Russia, which mainly contains provisions regarding President Donald Trump rather than Russia, Kommersant writes with reference to the document. Senators suggest that the president should bring all anti-Russia restrictions imposed earlier into a single system, form a sanction-related coordinating office in the US government for reaching respective agreements with the European Union, block dollar-denominated payments for Russian banks, ban transactions with newly-issued Russian state bonds for US residents, create a national center to tackle the Russian threat, search for President Putin’s assets globally and even resolve the issue of recognizing Russia as a state sponsoring terrorism.

The bill obtained by Kommersant urges Donald Trump to support efforts on preventing the Russian government and other foreign players from interfering in the work of US public departments and the country’s democratic processes. It also demands urging the Russian government to bring Crimea back under Kiev’s control and stop supporting separatists’ violence in eastern Ukraine, as well as on the territory of Georgia and Moldova. Another request addressed to Donald Trump is to make Russia abandon the support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who continues committing military crimes, as the authors put it. The document indicates that the senators, both from the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, consider Trump to be a hardly predictable politician, the paper says, describing a whole mechanism aimed at preventing the president from withdrawing the United States from NATO. Overall, it looks more like a domestic affairs project, in which Moscow’s role is more or less low-key compared with the US President who is too soft on Russia, Kommersant says.


Kommersant: US unofficially finds Saakashvili guilty of starting 2008 war

In 2007 and 2008, Washington kept convincing the Russian side that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would not go to the lengths of a military conflict in South Ossetia, and admitted after the events of August 2008 that he had broken all pledges, Russia’s Special Presidential Representative for Nature Protection, Ecology and Transport Sergei Ivanov said in an interview with Kommersant - in 2008 he held the position of Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the military-industrial complex. "I can avow that Condoleezza Rice, when she served as US Secretary of State, kept telling me in one-on-one conversations that he (Saakashvili) would not cross the red line," Ivanov told the paper.

After Tbilisi’s overnight attack on South Ossetia on August 8, "the pace of developments, including the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the reaction of the West showed that deep in their minds all western leaders were perfectly aware of who was responsible for the situation, and why all of this had happened," he said. "They realized that their creation Saakashvili had breached all promises, crossed the red line and broken off the leash, excuse me," Ivanov said, adding that Rice told him about it after the military conflict. "She said that the Americans had nothing to do with it, they were not behind the attack. She admitted it had been Saakashvili’s initiative and he was responsible for the war. But it happened in a private conversation since she is a wise woman," he explained to Kommersant.

According to Ivanov, the fact that Moscow recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is not related to the wish to keep Georgia away from NATO. "If the United States and their NATO allies, their NATO satellites wanted to allow Georgia to join NATO even without Abkhazia and South Ossetia, I assure you that they would have done it easily," he stressed. "Another thing is that NATO is led by fairly right-minded people, who will think through carefully before taking a serious step like that. I hope they would not take it, but this is another story. They will if they want to. In this case they will have to admit that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are independent states though," Ivanov said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia-Greece conflict still up in the air

The relations between Moscow and Athens have reached their lowest following the diplomatic crisis, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes, adding that Greek authorities consider Russia’s move to expel diplomats in response to July’s expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Athens, to be asymmetrical. "The relations have deteriorated substantially, though the basis was laid after Tsipras came to power," Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies Alexey Makarkin told the paper. "Initially Russia cherished hopes related to the figure, thinking that non-system leftist forces would come to power in Greece. Moscow hoped that when the EU started the talk about sanctions Tsipras would refuse to give permission. But nothing of the kind happened," the expert said, adding that this marked the beginning of a rift in relations between the two countries.

According to Makarkin, Greece has turned out to be too dependent on the EU’s financial support. "Naturally there were romantic calls to drop the euro and shift to the drachma there, but those were only calls. Russia failed to compete with the EU in terms of the financial recovery of Greece, as it had no such funds," he noted. The expert believes that there are few things that bring Russia and Greece together. "Greece is not Russia’s ally. It is a member of the North Atlantic bloc. One can only say that when facing sanctions, Russia considered Greece to be a weak spot in the European Union considering the crisis of Greek elites, and considering non-systen Tsipras (coming to power)," Makarkin explained.

As reported earlier Athens decided to expel two Russian diplomats and ban another two from entering the country in July. Greek authorities accused the diplomats of interfering in the country’s domestic affairs and undermining national security. Greek Cabinet Spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos later confirmed the information about the expulsion of diplomats. In turn, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that Moscow would take tit-for-tat measures.


Vedomosti: Russian oil producers to bring up tax maneuver provisions with president

Russian oil companies plan to discuss with President Vladimir Putin certain provisions of the so-called tax maneuver that has already been approved by the Russian parliament and signed into law, Vedomosti writes with reference to authorities and sources in oil firms. The meeting may be held after August 27, when Putin will head a fuel and energy commission in Kemerovo, the sources said.

The commission itself will not focus on the tax maneuver that is aimed at reducing the dependence of the Russian budget on export duties, which go down when there's a drop in global oil prices. "The law has been adopted, there is nothing to discuss," a source in the government’s financial block told the paper. However, it may be followed by a new meeting, sources told Vedomosti. Four of them said that oil companies are ready to bring up the issue of excise duties on oil products after December 2018, whether and how much they are going to be raised. Some of them said that oil producers are willing to ask for amendments to the law enabling the sector to receive an extra 3 trillion rubles ($47 bln), the publication says, adding though that representatives of Lukoil and Gazprom Neft, as well as the Energy Ministry and Finance Ministry have not confirmed the information.


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