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Press review: Putin lays out sweeping constitutional reform and WADA to face legal battle

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, January 21


Kommersant: Vladimir Putin presents his constitutional amendments

Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced a bill to amend the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The bill provides for amendments to article 22 of the Basic Law: all of them relate to Chapters 3-8, that is, they can be adopted by the Federal Assembly with the approval of two-thirds of the regional parliaments. The first reading of the bill is scheduled for January 23, the second may take place in February, and then in the spring a nationwide vote on the amendments can take place. Experts interviewed by Kommersant believe that Putin is paving the way for the political system to function once he leaves his post, but so far they cannot see how exactly the redistribution of power will occur.

A bill introduced on Monday to amend the Basic Law is not much different from the constitutional reform proposed by Putin in his Address to the Federal Assembly on January 15. The head of state suggested clarifying that one person cannot hold the post of president of the Russian Federation for more than two terms, and excluding the word "consecutively" from the constitution. Experts interviewed by Kommersant believe that this update will not be a reason for a new presidential term by Vladimir Putin.

The presented amendments cover the entire range of the president’s proposals, stated in the address, but it is difficult to draw clear conclusions about them, experts told Kommersant. Some of them noted that the key issue is the future powers of the State Council. The constitution has neither the principles of forming a new constitutional body, nor its powers. Details will be disclosed in a separate federal law.

According to political analyst Boris Makarenko, the State Council is unlikely to become an important authority. "There is no reason for this either in the president’s message or in his speech at a meeting with members of the working group preparing the amendments," he said. On the other hand, political scientist Dmitry Badovsky noted that the State Council would deal with rather important issues, like outlining the main trajectories of foreign and domestic policy, and ensuring the coordinated functions of the authorities. "Most importantly, the role of the State Council as a body of strategic analysis and national development planning is set forth," Badovsky said.

That being said, Article 11 of the Constitution establishes that state power in the Russian Federation is exercised by the president, the Federal Assembly, the government and the courts and that remains unchanged. The State Council will not be a body exercising power, Badovsky said. In his opinion, there is a final division into executive bodies controlled by the president and the prime minister.

As for the State Duma, its powers in terms of the formation of the Cabinet are being strengthened. Meanwhile, the powers of the Federation Council are also changing. The president will now appoint regional prosecutors after consultations with the upper house of parliament but consultations with federal subjects are excluded.


Izvestia: France, Germany not backing Trump's plan for new Iran nuke deal

Berlin and Paris call for maintaining the existing nuclear deal with Iran, and not concluding a new one, as Washington insists, the ruling coalition of Germany and the French Foreign Ministry told Izvestia. The Germans also noted that the INSTEX settlement system is not working at its full potential because of Tehran. What’s more, the EU is still waiting for an approval from the Islamic Republic to conduct the first transaction. Berlin also said that on January 14, they launched a dispute settlement mechanism under the Iran deal to preserve the current accord, avoiding its final breakdown. However, experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that by launching this mechanism, Europe will only accelerate the final collapse of the nuclear agreement.

German and French politicians told Izvestia that they would do everything possible to maintain the current agreement with Iran, if it would agree to the terms of the Europeans. The Bundestag’s Foreign Policy Speaker from the CDU/CSU ruling faction Jurgen Hardt told Izvestia that Germany primarily wants to maintain the JCPOA, and he is convinced that the agreement is also in the interests of the US, since they also do not want Iran to have nuclear weapons. At the same time, he noted that activating the dispute settlement mechanism was inevitable and it had no alternatives after Iran decided to go beyond uranium enrichment and heavy water production established by the nuclear deal.

France also does not support the US decision to quickly break existing agreements, conclude a new deal and introduce restrictions against Iran. "On January 6, 2016, the EU lifted all sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, as well as sanctions that were adopted by Europe. Not a single sector of the Iranian economy is subject to sanctions by the EU or its member states," the French Foreign Ministry told Izvestia.

Adlan Margoev, an analyst at the Institute for International Studies at MGIMO, told the newspaper that Iran may start negotiations on a new nuclear deal, but this will take place after the US presidential election. "The Iranians are determined to diplomatically resolve this issue," he added.

The EU’s problem now is that it has no leverage over Iran, Andrei Baklitsky from the PIR Center explained to Izvestia. "Europe’s only pressure valve is to completely break the agreement with Tehran, but that’s not what the EU would like now. Iran, in turn, did not begin to withdraw from the JCPOA … Obviously, they are going to wait in the wings for November, for the US presidential elections," the expert said.


Kommersant: Russian athletes join fight against WADA

A number of Russian athletes and federations may join a legal battle as third parties in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne (CAS) that will determine the fairness of the sanctions imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) against Russia. Sources told Kommersant that their addition will force WADA to "respond in more detail" to questions related to the sanctions, and thus increase the chances of canceling or mitigating many of them. Other experts believe it is futile to attract third parties, and the fact that enlarging the scale of the process could delay any consideration of the case. If it does not end before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, which starts in late July, the Russian team will go to it in full status and avoid any "filtering". However, the negativity just before the start of the competition will only worsen the situation.

The dispute between WADA and the Russians about a large package of harsh sanctions started when on December 9 the WADA Executive Committee stripped the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) of its compliance status and Russia of the right to host major sports events. In addition, Russian athletes wishing to participate in the Olympics under a neutral status will most likely have to go through tough screening.

The Russian sports community has various opinions about major athletes and sports associations wanting to join the legal fight as third parties. A source in one of the leading Russian sports structures told Kommersant, "it is unlikely to be a turning point in the process", however "it can provide some positive things for the Russian side". "The more interested parties there are, the more questions they have for the other side, the more detailed the answers would have to be to explain all the decisions made, and all the points," the source said. The speaker noted that participation of third parties would make the verdict clearer, without a wide range of interpretations.

Meanwhile, sports lawyer Artem Patsev believes, "from the point of view of the effectiveness of the process" for the Russians, the recent events "change little for the Russian side". "They can only show the massive … scope of the sanctions, how many people can suffer because of them, and [it can] show that everyone in the Russian sports community considers them excessive," he told the newspaper.

RUSADA Deputy General Director Margarita Pakhnotskaya told Kommersant commenting on an alleged attempt to prolong the process, "If the case is lost a few days before the Olympics," the IOC, international federations or WADA may simply not have the time to formulate criteria for the admission of neutral athletes and this will only worsen the situation for Russia.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Japan seeks to improve relations with Russia

Speaking at the opening session of the parliament, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would speed up negotiations with Russia on the territorial issue and on a peace treaty. He also indicated that joint economic activity was being established on the disputed islands. Emphasizing the positive changes in bilateral relations, the prime minister, however, did not mention that Moscow and Tokyo remain at their former positions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. Tokyo wants to return the four islands of the South Kuril Ridge, and Moscow says that Japan must first recognize the outcome of World War II.

In an interview with the newspaper, Valery Kistanov, head of the Center of Japanese Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies noted, "The prime minister is engaging in public relations. He has no choice but to harp on this topic, therefore, until the end of his tenure as head of government in September next year, he will talk about it all the time".

The positions of Russia and Japan diverge sharply, the expert said, noting that for Japan, this means transferring all four islands and Russia would never do that. Moscow’s stance, according to him, is that Japan should recognize the legality of Russian ownership of the four islands following World War II and then Moscow would consider the problem, the expert stressed.

Negotiations are at an impasse, but they are continuing, although Tokyo’s hopes are unfounded, he added. "There are two factors. First, the political situation in Russia is extremely unstable. Ratings are falling, and the Crimea effect has run out of steam. Given these conditions, no one will go to transfer the islands. Second, there is the problem of the US-Japan military alliance. The Russian Foreign Ministry once again indicated that two ground-based missile defense systems will be deployed in Japan," Kistanov noted.

The political commentator believes that, "before the end of Abe’s term and the end of Putin’s presidency in 2024, the territorial problem will not be resolved and a peace treaty will not be concluded. New people will come, and then it will be possible to talk about something. "


Kommersant: Russian software to be installed on Huawei servers

Huawei and Red Soft, a Russian IT company, have agreed to install the Red OS operating system on Huawei’s servers for data centers as part of a cooperation agreement signed by the companies, Kommersant wrote. Red OS is a Linux-based operating system for servers and workstations, registered in the Unified Register of Russian computer programs and databases of the Ministry of Communications. It will be installed on the Huawei TaiShan 200 Server (the 2280 model). Huawei could also use other Russian Linux-based operating systems.

According to Liu Yu, director of Huawei's Intelligent Computer Systems Department in Russia, "Huawei intends to foster partnerships with Red Soft in developing joint software and hardware solutions for a wide range of customers". The new solution "may be of interest to organizations of various profiles," Rustam Rustamov, deputy director general of Red Soft said. Cooperation with Huawei will allow Red Soft to bolster its competitiveness, he added.

Developers of other Russian Linux-based operating systems, interviewed by Kommersant, said that their products could also start working on Huawei servers.

Commercial Director of ITV Group Andrey Khristoforov said that Russia’s Astra Linux OS was going to be used on Huawei TaiShan servers. The correct functioning of the Huawei TaiShan 100/200 servers and Astra Linux OS was confirmed in October 2019 as part of a technology partnership deal with Huawei, an Astra Linux representative told Kommersant.


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