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Press review: Can Russia resolve the Azeri-Armenian clash and OSCE leadership decapitated

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, July 17


Izvestia: Russia needed as mediator to resolve Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict, experts say

It will be quite difficult for Armenia and Azerbaijan to alleviate the tensions that have heated up on the border since July 12 without mediation efforts, where Russia can play a key role, politicians and experts questioned by Izvestia note.

Taking into account that the conflict between both states has been seething for years, with multiple high-and top-level negotiations held over this period, Yerevan and Baku will hardly be able to resolve this conflict by themselves. Besides, there are no guarantees that in the future, these tensions would not explode again, Izvestia points out. The most dangerous part of this situation is that the conflict arose on the border between both states, and not in the Nagorno-Karabakh area.

According to member of the Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) and former Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, the OSCE Minsk Group established back in 1992 should play a role in resolving this conflict.

The Minsk Group has existed for a while, however, full conflict regulation still has not been reached, Chairman of the Russian State Duma’s (lower house) Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Leonid Kalashnikov told Izvestia. This is why now, Yerevan and Baku need a mediator that would guide them towards a gradual but full settlement of the conflict.

"Neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia are satisfied with the current situation. Some international players are trying to take sides, which is completely wrong. This does not help find a solution. This is why only Russia can play a truly positive role in regulating the conflict. Since we are not looking towards the US and Europe, and comprehend that it is more beneficial for them to maintain this strife near our borders, we can assist in resolving this conflict," the MP said.

According to Kalashnikov, only three people can resolve the existing issues - the president of Azerbaijan, the prime minister of Armenia and the Russian president, because Moscow has "unquestionable sway in these republics." The lawmaker was fully confident that Russia would be able to use its good relations not only with Yerevan and Baku, but with Ankara, who has taken on a pro-Azerbaijani stance, as well, which could help the sides reach an agreement.

"In the end, this could open up new opportunities for everyone. For example, Azerbaijan could begin to form part of the EAEU, and Armenia’s prospects could be expanded. This would be an example of a political-diplomatic approach to conflict regulation," the MP concluded.


Kommersant: OSCE rocked by leadership crisis

In one fell swoop, key institutions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have been decapitated. By the end of this week, they will be left without their chiefs, Kommersant reports, adding that this transition period may last for nearly six months. The mandates of OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Lamberto Zannier and OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir have not been prolonged due to complaints made by some OSCE member states, which triggered a diplomatic feud behind the scenes. As a result of this, the organization has found itself mired in a deep crisis. However, this situation may be beneficial to Russia and other post-Soviet states, Kommersant suggests.

The OSCE institutions will remain leaderless until the next ministerial session in Tirana. The Albanians have already launched the process for selecting candidates to the four top OSCE offices. Countries can put forward their candidates until September 18. Meanwhile, the deputy heads of the aforementioned institutions will be appointed acting chiefs. However, they will only deal with technical matters, unable to provide political statements. It is unclear how the lack of OSCE leadership will impact the practical areas of the organization’s work, which includes observing elections and monitoring the security situation in Ukraine.

A diplomatic source within one of the delegations representing one of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries told Kommersant that "the current crisis may trigger a long overdue overhaul of the organization, namely of its human resources and ideas."

In an optimistic scenario, over the next several months, OSCE states will be able to find replacements for the outgoing officials, focusing on candidates from CIS states. However, a pessimistic scenario is also possible, and disputes over the future leadership may deal a final blow to the organization that has been trudging through an identity crisis for a while, the newspaper suggests.


Vedomosti: Russian legislature introduces bill stipulating fines for publishing banned content

On July 16, the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) introduced a bill which stipulates fines of up to 15 mln rubles (about $209,555) for the refusal to block or delete banned content. The authors of the bill, United Russia MPs Aleksander Khinstein and Sergei Boyarsky, explained that this legislation is necessary to regulate the responsibility for failing to adhere to the Russian laws on information, Vedomosti informs.

According to the bill, providers and owners of online sources (including social networks) may receive a fine of up to 100,000 rubles (about $1,400) if they are private citizens and up to 1 mln rubles (about $14,000) if they represent legal entities. Repeat offenders will face fines of up to 200,000 rubles (about $2,800) for individuals and 8 mln rubles (about $111,856) for legal entities. The penalties for those refusing to delete materials related to child pornography, drug production or extremism will be even steeper. Individuals will face a fine of up to 200,000 rubles ($2,800) for the first offense and up to 500,000 (about $6,990) for the second one. Meanwhile, legal entities will have to pay up to 8 mln (about $111,856) rubles for the first offense and up to 15 mln ($209,555) for the second violation.

According to the bill’s authors, it is aimed mainly against Western platforms, however, chief analyst of the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC) Karen Kazaryan noted in a commentary to Vedomosti that foreign services delete such information without extra regulation from Russian watchdogs. It will be hard to apply blocking regulations to such sources, since there should be a legal mechanism for such demands, the expert says. For example, if a foreign source called on citizens to go to an opposition protest, no fine would make them delete this information, Kazaryan suggests. The stipulated penalty would not hurt a big company much, and the blow to its reputation if it deletes the information will be greater. Besides, there is no mechanism for fining foreign companies, the expert says, so it is likely that Russian companies will be the ones most affected by this bill.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Israel’s annexation bid postponed due to renewed lockdown

The Israeli government has decided to introduce tougher quarantine restrictions due to a steep rise in COVID-19 cases, which has already caused political repercussions, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports.

Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of using the coronavirus pandemic to stay in power.

According to the Israeli health ministry, there are over 24,000 people infected in the country currently, which is higher than during the spring peak of the pandemic. Israel’s National Security Council suggested that the government introduce stringent quarantine measures, including a ban on public gatherings of over 10 people. Nevertheless, thousands of Israelis are attending protests accusing the government of being unable to tackle the pandemic and its economic repercussions. Besides, the new measures would stall Netanyahu’s court proceedings. The Israeli PM is named in three corruption cases.

It is hard to predict the political consequences of the renewed lockdown, the newspaper notes. Nevertheless, it is clear that the planned annexation of the West Bank by Israel previously set for July will be postponed. The Palestinians are also tackling the pandemic, and if the annexation occurs, a great number of Israeli soldiers would have to be moved to the area in question. There is a real danger of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Israeli army.

Chief researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe and the Middle East Alexander Shumilin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the Israeli PM might use the pandemic to change his plans. "Right now, there is a spike in tensions between Netanyahu and his team on the issue of annexation. However, he cannot abandon his campaign promise to expand the territory of Israel. Netanyahu is looking for an excuse to postpone or downsize the annexation. The pandemic and the quarantine may serve as such an excuse," Shumilin explained.


Izvestia: Russia’s Central Bank supports qualification tests for investors

Russia’s Central Bank has expressed support for qualification tests for investors developed by the National Finance Association and the National Association of Stock Market Participants (NAUFOR), Izvestia reports.

"The exams include three difficulty levels. They will deal with the basic financial instruments: structural bonds, margin trading, repo deals and option contracts. Testing will be free and voluntary, and those who pass it can diversify their investment portfolio and work with riskier instruments," a letter by the Bank of Russia’s Head of Service for Protection of Consumer Rights and Ensuring the Availability of Financial Services, Mikhail Mamuta, informs.

Head of stock operations at the Moscow Credit Bank Alexander Aksyonov told Izvestia that unqualified investors who do not know their risk profile often make reckless decisions in hopes of getting more revenue, however, they do not have enough experience to manage such investments.

Experts questioned by Izvestia note that there is a clear tendency towards a lowered interest rate on regular deposits, which is why more and more people are looking for alternative ways to get revenue. This is why a law to protect newcomers is necessary, they emphasize.

Another reason that explains the need to protect unqualified players is how simple it is to enter the stock market for newcomers, experts agree. Currently, it is enough to apply for a broker’s account online, which was impossible only 5-7 years ago. Brokers will offer to school new investors, raising their financial literacy and preparing them for the qualification test.


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