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Press review: Moscow won’t cave to ECHR pressure and NATO plots new scheme against Russia

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, February 18


Media: Russia won’t cave to ECHR’s demand to release Navalny

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has demanded Russia immediately release blogger Alexey Navalny from custody as an interim measure under his complaint. Lawyers have described this decision as unprecedented, but admitted that it’s impossible to force Russia to fulfill it. Moscow stated it would not implement the ECHR’s order and moreover, the authorities view this as meddling in a sovereign state’s judicial system. Experts note that the developments around the Navalny case could lead to Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe, although this scenario would not benefit any side.

Chairman of the board of lawyers Kiryanov and Partners, a Civic Chamber member Artyom Kiryanov is sure that Russia should ignore the ECHR’s decision since it is politically biased, especially given the "flash-like response" while usually Russian defendants wait for the ECHR’s decisions for years, Kommersant writes. Attorney Dmitry Agranovsky also called the ECHR’s decision political, noting that "there are no grounds for applying Rule 39 in this case." He is sure that Russia’s authorities won’t implement this decision. This won’t trigger any sanctions and Russia won’t be excluded from the Council of Europe, although Moscow could decide to pull out on its own, he said. Director of the Russian Center for Current Policy Alexey Chesnakov is confident that Russia won’t be able to comply with the ECHR decision since it runs counter to its Constitution. In this situation, Moscow should furnish an adequate response. "It could be just harsh, for example, suspending all contacts for a certain time, and radical - Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe."

Moscow could ignore the ECHR’s demand to release Navalny, Izvestia writes. This right is guaranteed by the constitutional amendments adopted in 2020, the Federation Council (the upper house) says. The Justice Ministry stressed that this ECHR’s ruling is unfounded since it does not mention any legal norm, which could change the decision of a national court. The Russian Foreign Ministry has dismissed this demand, branding it pressure, while the State Duma (the lower house) admitted that this could be a step towards slapping new sanctions against Russia. The defendant’s lawyers have asked the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to discuss how Moscow is committed to the European Convention of Human Rights. However, experts believe this procedure would not trigger any real consequences.


Kommersant: NATO allies to plot new scheme for containing Russia

NATO defense chiefs are holding a crucial brainstorming session ahead of approving the alliance’s new strategic concept, which is due at the Brussels summit in March. One of key issues of the meeting, which will be attended by Lloyd Austin, the new Pentagon chief, is a model for containing Russia. It is expected that the new strategy for the first time after the end of the Cold War will designate Russia as a "key military threat" rather than a partner. However, while encouraging the allies to pursue a long-term standoff with Moscow, the Biden administration, which calls the shots in the alliance, is signaling its readiness for selective cooperation with Russia in the areas of mutual interest, Kommersant writes.

"This NATO meeting is aimed at having a look at Lloyd Austin and his readiness to hold dialogue with the allies without them being humiliated like during the Donald Trump era. Meanwhile, the new Pentagon chief will have to send a message to the allies that the new US administration has already concluded that it’s impossible to prevent Russian-Chinese rapprochement by luring either Russia or China," Chief Researcher at the Institute for the US and Canada Vladimir Batyuk told the newspaper. In order to preserve NATO’s ideological cohesion, the new US administration won’t punish the Europeans for insufficient military spending, the expert noted.

For the Europeans, cooperation within the framework of NATO indicates normalizing ties with the US and returning to the usual rules of the game. "For the US it’s important because the Biden administration is placing its stake on strengthening the system of alliances in containing not only Russia, but chiefly China," said Vasily Kashin, senior research fellow at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies (CCEIS) of the Higher School of Economics. "It’s easier for both sides to demonstrate unity thanks to Russia given that Russian-US relations have been ruined while Russian-European ties are on the brink of collapse," Kashin noted.

Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov says it won’t be easy to breathe new life into the alliance’s activity since the harsh military and political alliances of the Cold War era are a thing of the past. They are being replaced by flexible, ad hoc alliances for solving particular issues, he said.


Izvestia: Kiev, Donbass reigniting tensions towards potential major war

Donbass has recently seen a new escalation of the crisis. International observers have reported up to 900 ceasefire violations per day, and six Ukrainian servicemen were killed in February. Politicians in Kiev vow that this could trigger a huge war. Former Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko has called for bringing Ukrainian soldiers back to the frontline. Kiev’s envoy to the Minsk talks Alexey Arestovich noted that in spring or in early summer a further escalation would be inevitable, Izvestia writes.

According to the envoy, the Donbass peace talks have been sluggish while the truce reached in July 2020 "is hanging by a thread." The parties failed to make progress on issues towards a political settlement. The points of the Minsk peace agreements have not been implemented while the negotiations have been sabotaged. Since the start of the year, the amount of shelling has been steadily on the rise. The death toll has also been mounting. Meanwhile, both sides are pointing fingers at each other for the escalation.

Experts have varying opinions regarding the situation in Donbass. Bogdan Bezpalko, a member of the Russian President's Council for Interethnic Relations, says that this escalation is unlikely to spark a big war. "For a large-scale offensive, Ukraine needs resources, which the country lacks," he said, noting that although the amount of shelling is likely to rise, direct confrontation could be avoided. "I hope that sooner or later Ukraine will officially and voluntarily withdraw from the Minsk agreements. In this case, Russia will be able to recognize the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, provide them with large-scale assistance and finally incorporate them [into Russia]," he told the newspaper.

However, political scientist Vladimir Kornilov notes that a new war was in the cards. "Obviously, Kiev is preparing for combat operations. Of course, Zelensky came to power under different slogans, but a lot has changed since then. By the way, the decision on the offensive will be taken not by him, but by Ukraine’s Western friends," the expert specified.


Kommersant: Sochi talks revive Syria’s Constitutional Committee

The 15th round of the Astana peace talks on settling the Syrian crisis ended in Sochi on Tuesday. While the parties discussed the Arab republic’s political future with no hope for success, Moscow surprisingly had to become a mediator between Damascus and Israel and offer a helping hand in ironing out humanitarian issues, Kommersant writes.

The joint statement by Russia, Iran and Turkey includes 17 points, and the bulk of them are devoted to the stalled work of the Constitutional Committee. The three countries pledged to provide assistance to the Committee’s work through cooperation with the Syrian sides and also with UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. In the coming days, Pedersen will have to decide whether to convene the sixth meeting of the Committee’s group in charge of drawing up the Constitution. In order to hold this gathering, there should be guarantees that Damascus is ready to launch real work on the Constitution’s text rather than just reduce the meetings to a discussion on general issues.

On the sidelines of the Sochi talks, an idea was actively discussed, which is promoted by Damascus and Tehran, that any progress in the work of the Constitutional Committee could happen only after holding the Syrian presidential election scheduled for this summer. Apparently, Damascus seeks to get guarantees of political stability in the near future. Meanwhile, the opposition insists that it would not back the elections without agreeing on the Constitution. The West fully supports this idea. The opposition and the UN hope that Moscow will be able to convince Damascus to launch a constructive dialogue. And the key hopes here are being pinned on a dialogue regarding Syria between Russia and the US. Moscow is still clinging to hope that by May-June, when the next Astana talks are scheduled to be held, some progress towards a political settlement will be seen.


Izvestia: Germany, US launch talks on fate of Russian pipeline project

Germany and the United States have launched negotiations on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. According to experts interviewed by Izvestia, the Biden administration could make concessions and lift sanctions on the strategically important project, but its terms could be impossible to fulfill.

Jurgen Hardt, the Bundestag’s Foreign Policy Spokesman from the CDU/CSU ruling faction, welcomes the fact that after all these long years of confrontation, the US is finally ready for talks. It is impossible to say now what will be the result of this dialogue, however, the idea of snapbacks will be certainly discussed, he told the newspaper. These snapbacks imply creating a mechanism, which could allow Berlin to halt supplies via Nord Stream 2, if Moscow exerted pressure on Kiev. Another means of control over the pipeline is to introduce a moratorium on its work until Russia "shows goodwill on important issues." Meanwhile, the Bundestag believes that this runs counter to Germany’s interests. Klaus Ernst, who chairs the Bundestag Committee on Economics and Energy, stresses that the suspension of Nord Stream 2’s construction, even if this is temporary, should not become a lever of pressure at talks with the US.

According to German political scientist Alexander Rahr, the discussion on imposing a moratorium is somehow "artificial" and the US needs it in the first place. "It’s unclear how this mechanism will actually work, it’s technically impossible to suspend a project that has been launched," he explained. The gas pipeline’s construction will be completed since its suspension won’t benefit Germany, which does not want to admit that Washington has the right to call the shots in European energy issues. Political scientists questioned by Izvestia also believe that US President Joe Biden will try to pursue a more friendly policy with Europe and Nord Stream 2 could be a key to achieving this goal.


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