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Press review: Can Finland save Russia-EU ties and Baku promises bright plans for Karabakh

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, February 16
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET/POOL
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto


Vedomosti: Finland steps in to save dialogue between Russia, EU

It is imperative to ensure active dialogue and an exchange of views in relations between Russia and the European Union, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said after talks with Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov in St. Petersburg. Finland’s top diplomat arrived in the Russian capital after EU diplomatic chief Jose Borrell’s visit to Moscow in early February sparked a furor in Europe, Vedomosti writes. Experts interviewed by the newspaper believe that Brussels' forthcoming sanctions might target individuals, and not whole economic sectors. Meanwhile, the decision on new sanctions will be discussed by the EU’s foreign ministers on February 22, and the heads of state will hash it over in March.

Haavisto stressed that close business, trade and economic ties continue to be maintained between Russia and the EU, which can be the basis for dialogue. Lavrov agreed, but he believes that Brussels is hindering trade and economic ties using sanctions, among other reasons.

Program manager of the Russian International Affairs Council Vladimir Morozov noted that it would be hard to sour relations further between Moscow and Brussels. In fact, they have been deadlocked since the Ukrainian crisis erupted in 2014, when dialogue between Russia and the European Union came to a halt, and negotiations on visa-free arrangements and further integration were curtailed.

Russian-European ties may be further impacted by future sanctions, but their catastrophic development is hardly possible. "If the sanctions are going to target senior civil servants, then they won’t spoil relations," Morozov told the newspaper. In his opinion, sectoral sanctions against large Russian business are unlikely, since "the EU, unlike the US, will lose more."

Therefore, Brussels is likely to use personal restrictions against a number of high-ranking officials, government departments and companies. According to the expert, a number of southern EU nations had previously advocated a revision of the sanctions policy. However, maintaining the union is much more important for the Europeans than relations with Russia, Morozov said.


Izvestia: Azerbaijani minister lays out bright economic development plans for Karabakh

The majority of Azerbaijanis who in the past had lived in the Karabakh territories that came under the control of Baku after November 10, 2020, would like to return, several sources in the local government told Izvestia. However, there is nowhere to return to, only the names and endless minefields remain. Nonetheless, the Azerbaijani authorities are confident that the active development of the seven regions in question will soon turn Karabakh into a driver of economic development for the entire country.

"The regions should not only be revived and brought into sync with the socio-economic development of the entire country, but [they] also should be territories of advanced development, using the terminology recognized in Russia," Azerbaijani Economy Minister Mikayil Jabbarov told Izvestia.

Director of the Institute of Economics of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences Nazim Imanov stated that the full restoration of the returned territories will cost $59 bln over the next 10 years. That price tag is huge even for a country that, thanks to the oil and gas sector, has a fairly comfortable level of financial reserves, Izvestia writes.

The economy minister noted that the Karabakh territories are considered advantageous from an economic point of view, since the mining and agriculture sectors are present there, and in the long run, tourism and logistics may enable the area to serve large flows of cargo. Moreover, Baku noted that Armenia would also benefit from the development of road and rail communications. These measures will help create jobs and industries not related to the oil industry, Jabbarov said.

Such plans would bring in a return on investment with interest and might even be able to provide up to 20% of Azerbaijan's GDP in the future, Imanov believes. However, the primary task is to clear the territories from mines.


Vedomosti: France urges EU to pull out of Energy Charter Treaty

France sent a letter to the European Commission on the need to put together a coordinated EU withdrawal from the Energy Charter Treaty, an international legally binding document created in the early 1990s to regulate investment, trade, and transit in the energy sector. In particular, the agreement obliges member states to facilitate the transit of energy material through their territory in accordance with the principle of freedom of transit. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, the proposed pullout from the treaty would not affect other participants, but it could test relations within the EU.

"The Energy Charter has lost its importance significantly after Russia’s refusal to ratify it," Research Fellow at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics Sergey Shein told Vedomosti. "This whole story just further demonstrates that the institutions, mechanisms, and instruments of regional and global governance that arose after the Cold War are becoming irrelevant, and reforming them takes a long time, it’s expensive and painful due to the increasingly diverging interests of the participants," the expert elaborated.

Research Director at Vygon Consulting Maria Belova agrees, noting that the document no longer fulfills the role it was originally written for. With the implementation of the Third Energy Package, the EU created less comfortable working conditions in its energy market.

Meanwhile, for the remaining participants there will be no immediate or adverse consequences after the EU’s unilateral exit, Shein noted, nor would it affect the further development of energy relations between Europe and Russia, Belova pointed out. Moscow withdrew from this pact back in 2009 without ratifying it. On the other hand, withdrawing from this treaty is very important for the EU’s future internal development, because it might become another test of solidarity among the member states, Shein added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Libya’s warring sides embark on hammering out ‘road map’

As Libya heads into the 2020s, a decade has passed since nascent protests morphed into a nationwide civil war leaving uncertainty about the new power structures, the creation of which was officially launched under the auspices of the UN, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The meeting of the deputies of the House of Representatives scheduled for February 15 on neutral territory, designed to discuss further steps in the political transit, has been postponed.

The country is going through a process of merging the authorities following a formal approval by the conflicting parties, but without any noticeable enthusiasm, the newspaper writes. The Libyan Constitutional Committee, designed to develop a new basic law of the country and determine the procedure for holding a constitutional referendum, completed its work in Egypt’s Hurghada on February 11 without any noticeable decisions.

There are some other concerns about the situation "on the ground". According to the newspaper, Ankara is suspected of building up its military force in the west of the country. Formally, the deadline set by last year's peace agreement dictates that foreign forces should have left Libya in the second half of January.

Expert at the Russian International Affairs Council Kirill Semenov suggested that the new Libyan authorities would probably try to work with all external forces. "But in the end, everything will depend on how they are approved by the House of Representatives, where problems have already begun to arise," the expert said. According to him, the main problem lies with the readiness of the Libyan National Arab Army’s patrons to acknowledge their presence.


Izvestia: Digital rubles might be stored on smartphones

Russian telecom operators are interested in introducing wallets for digital rubles on smart devices and creating additional services for the new form of the national currency, representatives of Beeline and Megafon told Izvestia. Banks explained that storing digital rubles on mobile phones or smart watches is a convenient option for any user, but it is safer and more efficient to leave settlements with credit institutions. The main risk of the project is the quality of customer identification via phone number, experts said.

In the fall of 2020, the Bank of Russia posted a report on developing the digital ruble and began discussing the concept with the market. Beeline and Megafon representatives actively participated in these discussions, the telecoms’ press services told Izvestia. "We are interested in such aspects of using the digital ruble like maintaining wallets on smart devices, which is not included in the current version of the concept. And also, the ability to perform P2P payment transactions without the participation of financial intermediaries, even offline," Beeline agents said.

Linking a wallet to a number will enable more flexible management of the digital currency. It will be possible to store funds, transfer and pay using them via a smartphone, Megafon said adding that thanks to the availability of communication services, operators will be able to ensure a swift launch and distribution of the digital ruble.

The Bank of Russia assumes that each person will have their own individual wallet, open to all banks and functional even in the absence of the Internet, CEO of Freedom Finance bank Gennady Salych told Izvestia. In his opinion, any personal gadget - a smartphone, tablet, watch or something else should be the key to a personal wallet account. This would be the easiest way of implementing the initiative, the expert emphasized.


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