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Press review: Russia hits back at EU and is left out of China’s free trade zone plans

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, November 13

Izvestia: Russia retaliates against EU restrictions with new sanctions

Moscow has imposed new sanctions in response to the EU’s punitive measures over the alleged Navalny poisoning, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference. These sanctions are aimed at members of the French and German administrations. The Russian-imposed sanctions in response to Europe’s restrictions is a logical step, the Federation Council told Izvestia.

The upper house said the story might not end here. New measures from the European Union could be expected. At the same time, Russia is making claims about the role that the OPCW has been playing in the Navalny case. Moscow has long accused the organization of being biased.

The Federation Council considers Russia's reaction to be absolutely reasoned, Chairman of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev told Izvestia. "Without any evidence in hand, without waiting for any results of the investigation, such punitive decisions were definitely taken in order to exert political pressure on those investigative structures that are dealing with this regrettable case," the senator said.

Moscow has repeatedly said it was ready to cooperate with the investigation, however, Germany still has not transferred Navalny’s test results. A source in German political circles told Izvestia that all Russian requests were accepted and, within the framework of legal assistance mechanisms, Berlin needs time for inspection.

There is another key contradiction in this conflict, Izvestia writes. Moscow insists that the "Navalny case" is a bilateral issue, while Germany says that it should be considered on a multilateral platform, in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). However, according to Director of the MGIMO Center for Military-Political Research Alexey Podberezkin, no one will conduct an objective investigation of the situation in the OPCW. Therefore, Russia should not expect an unbiased response from the organization, he concluded. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya did not rule out that the country may even leave the organization.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: China sets sights on setting up immense free trade zone without Russia

The summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is being held via teleconference in Hanoi, under the chairmanship of Vietnam. Once its participants tackle the pandemic and the security issue in the South China Sea, the countries of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will meet to discuss setting up a trade union. The project promoted by Beijing would account for a third of global GDP. According to experts, interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, it remains unclear why Russia was not invited.

The zone would include 10 ASEAN states and China, New Zealand, South Korea, Australia, and Japan. Negotiations on this bloc began back in 2012. It is believed that it will have about 3 bln consumers, and its total GDP will be about a third of the world. The proclamation of this bloc will cement China's position as the region's main economic power, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Especially at a time when it is not yet clear what Washington’s policy in Southeast Asia will be.

However, transforming RCEP into a full-fledged mechanism, where trade barriers are removed, could take, according to observers in Asia, up to two decades. Yet it is not clear why Russia has not been mentioned among its possible participants, the newspaper writes.

Head of the South-East Asia department at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Dmitry Mosyakov told the newspaper, "The fact that Russia is not mentioned can be explained by the weaknesses and shortcomings of our foreign policy on this track. It's a mystery to me why we find ourselves outside of this process. Russia signed a free trade zone deal with Vietnam, and one was also discussed with Singapore, but it didn't go further. It would seem that China is our friend, and RCEP is a Chinese enterprise, but Russia is not there."


Kommersant: Russia won’t allow Turkey to patrol former Karabakh conflict zone ‘on the ground’

Russia and Turkey have entered into an uncompromising struggle for the title of peacekeepers, Kommersant writes. Ankara professes that it is going to station its military observers in Nagorno-Karabakh along with Russian ones, but Moscow has made it clear that the Turkish military will have to limit themselves to filming from drones without entering the former conflict zone. Meanwhile, half of Russia’s peacekeeping personnel has already arrived in the region. In the evening, the Russian peacekeeping battalion entered Stepanakert.

Director of European Studies at Seta Enes Bayrakli told the newspaper that the Erdogan administration considers the presence of Turkish peacekeepers "on the ground" to be the only possible way to maintain any balance, since Russia is perceived to be a supporter of Armenia. He also noted that the final decision on this matter should be made by Azerbaijan.

According to researcher at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies (ORSAM) in Ankara Oytun Orhan, Russia will do everything to limit Ankara’s role. However, if Turkey is not represented on the ground, it will be more difficult for the Erdogan administration to influence the political resolution of the conflict, the expert told Kommersant.

Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to Russia Polad Bulbuloglu seems to lean closer to Russia’s position, Kommersant writes. He noted, "the conversation is not about the introduction of peacekeepers, that is, Turkish soldiers, the conversation is about technical control over the implementation of this peacekeeping statement by the parties." In turn, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia, speaking about Moscow’s role, was confident that "Russian peacekeepers will ensure security and the Yerevan-Stepanakert connection will be reliable."

Meanwhile, the Russian peacekeeping contingent continues to arrive in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, 800 people have already been transferred there, that is, about half of the planned 1,960.


Izvestia: Russian-Abkhazian ties gain geopolitical significance

Fostering tourism is one of the most promising areas for relations between Moscow and Abkhazia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a meeting with his Abkhazian counterpart Aslan Bzhania. Experts told Izvestia that they believe that developing hotels on the Black Sea coast can boost new transportation and agricultural infrastructure. In general, the economy of Abkhazia largely depends on Russia. According to Putin, over 70% of the republic's total turnover falls on Russia. Nevertheless, the economic aspect is not the only thing that is important to the ties between the two countries. Should the security situation in the Transcaucasian region deteriorate, including due to NATO expansion, Abkhazia could play an important role in terms of geopolitics.

Based on the Russian investment program for Abkhazia, the construction of 48 facilities will be completed in 2020, including transportation and power grid infrastructures, water supply, and waste management facilities. "Without its own funds for the development of a proper resort and tourist infrastructure, the republic may be of interest to Russian business. Opportunities for economic cooperation in this direction are quite abundant," expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies Azhdar Kurtov told Izvestia. Nevertheless, Moscow has a competitor here - Turkey. According to the expert, Turkish companies are very active in the post-Soviet space.

"Of course, allied relations are important against the backdrop of political turbulence in Georgia. Tbilisi may try to get revenge for August 2008. The size of Abkhazia’s army is extremely limited," Head of Eurasian integration and development of the SCO Department at the Institute of CIS Countries Vladimir Evseev told Izvestia. Despite its small military, Abkhazia’s territory has geopolitical value for Russia, the paper writes. Georgia's possible full-fledged NATO membership in the future can lead to the creation of a powerful military infrastructure in the country. Moscow can respond by strengthening its presence. According to the expert, Russia, if necessary, will be able to very quickly build up its troops in Abkhazia.


Kommersant: Michael Calvey released from house arrest

The Russian Supreme Court released the founder of the Baring Vostok fund Michael Calvey and his alleged accomplices, accused of embezzling 2.5 bln rubles ($32.4 mln) belonging to Vostochny Bank, from house arrest. After the bank was fully compensated for the alleged damage, the property of the defendants in the scandalous investigation was also released from the interim measures. According to Kommersant, the defense now expects to convince the court to stop the criminal prosecution of investors due to the absence of a crime.

Political analysts interviewed by Kommersant are confident that the Calvey case will be terminated. The turning point in this case was when his defendants were transferred to house arrest, Director of the Center for Political Science Research at the Financial University Pavel Salin believes. "This means that the initiators of this story began to receive what they expected. The first easing for Calvey and his colleagues coincided with the transfer of ownership to his Russian partners. … When the point of no return is passed in this matter, Calvey will be released, [he will be] much poorer, but [he’ll] have an unblemished reputation," he told Kommersant.

The expert considers the Calvey case a vivid example of "power entrepreneurship", when the power resource - in this case, the initiation of a criminal case - is used to put pressure on business to redistribute it.

"The change in the pre-trial restrictions is a positive event, it is very important for their families and business," Russia’s business ombudsman Boris Titov told Kommersant. "This is especially important, since entrepreneurs are responsible for hiring employees and investment projects. We wrote to the president that bail should be used more often in relation to businessmen, if it was established that they are unable to influence the investigation or witnesses and the head of state fully agreed with it," Titov added.


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