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Press review: Russia says US must stay in Open Skies and handed keys to lead security bloc

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, November 29


Kommersant: Russia cautions US about consequences of exiting Open Skies Treaty

Moscow believes that Washington potentially withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies would be a "big mistake", Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Grushko told Kommersant. Earlier, US media reported that the United States could decide to withdraw from the agreement in early 2020. This accord allows 34 countries to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other's territories. Washington claims that Moscow is abusing the treaty, while Moscow says that Washington is looking for a reason to exit another agreement that imposes any obligations on the United States. According to the newspaper, America’s allies in Europe can save the treaty.

"If the Americans decide to pull out of the Treaty on Open Skies, that would be a big mistake," Alexander Grushko told Kommersant. According to him, this is among the "backbone treaties in the field of military security in Europe." "There are agreements that aren’t talked about much, but from the point of view of the impact on the general military situation, their importance cannot be overestimated," he emphasized.

Opponents of the treaty accuse Russia of two violations: the first, that it allegedly uses digital optics containing a higher resolution than the treaty allows and, second, it takes pictures at moments when the lenses should be sheathed. Grushko assured Kommersant that such "violations from the Russian side are inconceivable." According to him, the treaty has such strict certification procedures for using optical equipment and rules for conducting observation flights that covert actions are "physically impossible".

Grushko said he hopes that "Europeans will speak up about the situation around the treaty". A number of US allies in NATO, including Germany, the United Kingdom and France, have already spoken in defense of the accord.


Kommersant: Russia handed chairmanship of post-Soviet security bloc

One of Russia’s priorities as the new chair of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is "maintaining a high alert" level of its peacekeeping forces, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced at the CSTO summit in Bishkek. Meanwhile, achieving another goal - "expanding the circle of friends" of the CSTO - might be more problematic, the newspaper wrote.

"The CSTO is the only guarantee of security in Central Asian countries," Kyrgyz lawmaker Chynybay Tursunbekov told Kommersant. "If it weren’t for the CSTO, terrorists would have attacked our borders long ago. Although they periodically try to test their capabilities. The recent situation on the Tajik-Uzbek border is a prime example," he pointed out.

According to Putin, Russia will try to expand the alliance’s circle of friends, which can be difficult. Not all international organizations are ready to join. Back in May, there was no response from NATO on a proposition to conduct joint consultations. However, deeper cooperation within the organization looks much more attainable.

In addition, Moscow will focus on issues related to building up the CSTO’s peacekeeping potential. A source told Kommersant that back in 2017, Moscow proposed beefing up the UN’s peacekeeping missions in South Sudan and Chad with CSTO troops, but the initiative failed to take off the ground. The source hopes that it could be formalized now.


Izvestia: ‘The West turned Ukraine into a failed state’ says German lawmaker

Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donbass republics need to engage in direct dialogue, according to the Minsk Agreements. Otherwise, the crisis in Ukraine will not be resolved, member of the Left faction on foreign policy issues in the German Bundestag Alexander Neu told Izvestia. He believes that disengagement along the entire line is necessary and the West needs to admit their mistakes in their exploits to clinch peace in Ukraine.

Speaking about the Normandy summit, the politician noted that a large part of German society wants Ukraine to finally achieve peace. Thus, it is very good that the Normandy Quartet is resuming its work and serious negotiations will be held to end the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, according to him, the position of Kiev is still not entirely clear. President Vladimir Zelensky is still under the thumb of powerful nationalist forces, both inside and outside the Ukrainian parliament.

Neu told Izvestia he believes that Ukraine’s economy is in free fall, and Ukrainian oligarchs are not as easily manipulated as the West had expected. The politician believes the policies of Washington, NATO and the EU turned Ukraine into a failed state.

According to him, dire necessity will drive a nail into the coffin of Kiev’s Russophobic economic policy, which aims to destroy all ties with its Russian "neighbor". This paranoid political course, birthed by former President Pyotr Poroshenko, is particularly responsible for destroying Ukraine, he stressed.


Vedomosti: Germany disputes EU decision on restricting Gazprom’s access to OPAL

Germany’s Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Posts and Railway, or the Bundesnetzagentur, has appealed the decision of the EU Supreme Court, which has limited Gazprom’s access to the OPAL pipeline, three sources close to different parties in the legal battle told Vedomosti. The documents were submitted to court on November 20, according to two of them. The sources did not go into the details of the appeal.

Disputes over Gazprom’s access to OPAL have been ongoing since the Nord Stream project got underway. In 2009, the Third Energy Package was adopted in Europe, designed to prevent gas suppliers from dominating the market. This legislation was extended to cover OPAL, which uses transit through Germany to the Czech Republic, and has led Gazprom to get access to only half the pipeline's throughput. At the end of 2016, at the request of Bundesnetzagentur, this restriction was lifted, but this decision was almost immediately challenged by Poland in the EU Supreme Court.

There are no economic grounds for blocking OPAL capacities, analyst at the energy center of the Skolkovo business school Sergey Kapitonov told the newspaper. "Repeated auctions have shown that this gas transmission route failed to interest any of the European suppliers, except for Gazprom," he said

The recent September decision by the EU Supreme Court resulted in a slight decrease in Russian gas flow through the Nord Stream. Although, Kapitonov believes that so far it does not create any catastrophic problems for Gazprom. However, in the winter, during periods of peak demand and uncertainty with Ukrainian transit, the role of Germany as a country that transits Russian gas to Central Europe can increase significantly. "In this regard, the possibility of using OPAL’s transit capacities may become key for Gazprom," he added.


Izvestia: Russia might ban payments in bitcoin

Russia is looking into prohibiting the use of cryptocurrencies to pay for purchases. The Central Bank and the Federal Financial Monitoring Service are drawing up such proposals, an inside source told Izvestia. The Central Bank confirmed this news to the paper. The regulator said that it opposed the use of digital assets as a means for payment. Now, virtual money can be used to pay for purchases on some online stores, and freelancers often receive it as payment, members of Russia’s crypto community told Izvestia.

"We do not see any prerequisites for cryptocurrencies to be used as a means of payment," Deputy Head of the banking regulation department of the Ministry of Finance Alexey Yakovlev said. Meanwhile, the Central Bank told the newspaper, "If a decision is made to ban cryptocurrencies as a means of payment through legislation, we’ll consider it appropriate to support this position".

Regulators are concerned about criminal activity in the digital assets sector, and a ban could be necessary to combat such illicit action. However, according to experts, interviewed by Izvestia, this will not help destroy the "gray" sector, but only deprive the budget of taxes from operations with cryptocurrencies.

The ban on the use of virtual money as a means of payment is a double-edged sword: it fights crime, but also hinders the development of the economy, experts believe. This measure will lead to the formation of a gray market that the regulator will not see, Head of the Russia-OECD Center for RANEPA Antonina Levashenko told Izvestia.


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