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Press review: Putin highlights war on terror and Gazprom may have to foot pipeline’s bill

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, February 25


Izvestia: Putin spotlights war on terror, outlines key threats to Russia

Last year, 72 terrorism-related crimes were foiled in Russia, 25% more than in 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of the Federal Security Service’s board on Wednesday. Experts stress that extremist activity remains one of major challenges for the post-Soviet states. Specialists also warn that terrorism turned into an element of a hybrid war a long time ago, Izvestia writes.

The president requested that the focus be placed on uncovering contacts between terror groups and foreign intelligence services. He also mentioned other threats, including external pressure, economic crimes and cyberattacks. The source of all threats to Russia is the activity of international terror groups, which recruit Russian citizens, political scientist Nikita Mendkovich said. However, a serious problem is the recruitment of citizens in the Commonwealth of Independent States, who come to Russia as labor migrants. This situation underlines the need for further fostering cooperation between CIS states and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a key post-Soviet security bloc.

Another serious problem for the entire global community is terrorism committed by lone wolves, who act independently without being linked to any major group. President of the International Counter-Terrorism Association Joseph Linder warns that behind the "lone wolves" there are often "puppeteers" who supervise or ideologically cultivate them. "We live in an era of a terrorist pandemic. Moreover, after the end of World War II, terrorism has become an element of a hybrid war, which some states use to achieve their goals," the expert told Izvestia. "Against this background, cooperation and confidence building are required even between countries that perceive themselves as geopolitical opponents on the world stage."


Kommersant: European companies reduce funding for Nord Stream 2

European companies, which are Gazprom’s financial partners in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, will allocate less funding for it than expected. The Russian gas monopoly will be missing some 600-650 mln euro out of the 4.75 bln euro, which Shell, Wintershall, Uniper, OMV and Engie had promised. The sides have not revealed the reasons, but two scenarios are likely - either the project’s cost dropped during the year-and-a-half delay or Washington’s sanctions are hindering it, Kommersant writes.

Nord Stream 2 AG assures that it has enough money to complete the gas pipeline’s construction. Lawyers suggest that given the circumstances, Gazprom’s partners are unlikely to face any fines for violating the agreements. The project’s 9.5 bln euro budget was approved with a safety margin. Chief Financial Officer of Nord Stream 2 AG Paul Corcoran admitted that the final cost of the pipeline’s construction would be 8.5 bln euro. However, since its construction has been delayed by a year and a half amid US sanctions, the budget could have increased.

Another explanation could be that European companies simply had failed to earmark all the necessary funds by the time the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) began to be applied to their agreements with Gazprom retroactively. In this case, the Russian energy monopoly will have to bankroll the project out of its own pocket. However, in economic terms this does not change much because if the gas pipeline is launched, Gazprom will have to repay fewer loans.


Media: Moldova in heated battle to form government

Moldova continues to weather a political storm. The country’s Constitutional Court blocked President Maia Sandu’s second attempt to nominate her candidate for the post of prime minister. The head of state will have to hold consultations with her opponents from Igor Dodon’s Party of Socialists. This means that Moldova is unlikely to hold early parliamentary elections soon, Izvestia writes. Dodon has called on Sandu to nominate Mariana Durlesteanu for prime minister, whose candidacy was backed by the Socialists and their allies in the parliament. Otherwise, Dodon threatened to spark protests.

Experts say it’s hard to predict the country’s further developments. Political analyst Anatol Taranu believes that the parliamentary factions and the president will have to hold a new round of consultations and nominate a third candidate for the prime minister. Head of the Balkan-Center think tank, Sergei Manastirli, has described the current situation as tragicomic. "Igor Dodon sees that the Socialists are losing ground. According to the latest opinion polls, the Socialists will get half as many mandates in the new parliament. So, the former president is trying to delay the new elections," the expert said.

Director of the Institute of Effective Policies Vitaly Andrievsky believes that President Sandu has two options, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The first is to be a law-abiding citizen and implement the Constitutional Court’s decision. This means that the president should sign a decree on nominating Mariana Durlesteanu for prime minister. The second one is to say that this decision is right but unfair since most Moldovan citizens want the current parliament’s dissolution and snap elections. Essentially, this means that the president will accept the impeachment scenario.


Kommersant: US plots new restrictions against Russia

The Biden administration is planning to slap new sanctions against Russia over cyberattacks late last year and the situation with opposition figure Alexey Navalny. These particular restrictions will be announced within weeks. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the West’s looming anti-Russian sanctions on Wednesday, stressing that this policy was doomed to failure, Kommersant writes.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned that these would not simply be sanctions, but "a mix of tools seen and unseen." According to him, Washington wants to "draw a line" on cybersecurity issues for Moscow.

Regarding the cyberattacks, in addition to its usual response, Washington is preparing a verbal one, it is expected that the hackers’ steps will be labeled as indiscriminate and subversive. This means that they are beyond ordinary inter-state espionage activity and this is the reason for introducing the restrictions. Furthermore, a harsher statement will be issued with accusations that differ from the one in December, which only said that Moscow’s participation was likely.

Besides the "offensive" measures, the US authorities are planning "defensive" steps. They will enhance their own cyber systems to rule out the possibility of influencing their activity from outside. The US is also working on sanctions over the Navalny case and is planning to coordinate them with the European Union, a source told CNN. These sanctions are also expected to be individually pinpointed.

Putin commented on the plans by the US and the EU to sanction Russia, saying this was an attempt to directly meddle in the country’s social and political life, and in its democratic procedures. He noted that tools from the arsenal of intelligence services were being used.


Izvestia: Russia’s public debt grows due to anti-crisis measures

Russia’s national debt surged in 2020 by 5.4 trillion rubles ($73.5 bln), its biggest figure in history. The debt rose due to increased spending during the coronavirus pandemic, and the key source of this growth turned out to be domestic borrowings. The total debt volume hit 18% of GDP, but this is much less than in most of the world, Izvestia writes. In the US, it reached 133% of GDP, in Spain that came to 121%, in Italy, it was 158%, and in Japan that figure hit 264%.

According to Sergey Konygin, chief economist at Gazprombank, in developing countries, the average level of public debt exceeds 60% of GDP (89% in Brazil, nearly 90% in India, 46% in China and some 40% in Turkey).

"In accordance with the law on the federal budget for this year, the public debt-to-GDP ratio will rise only to 21.4% in the coming three years amid the remaining deficit of the federal budget," said Mikhail Kogan, who heads the analytical research department of the Higher School of Finance Management.

So, the safety margin for increasing the borrowings is rather large. In principle, Russia could have a budget deficit at the level of last year for several years and it still would not reach the level of major developing countries. However, in 2021-2022, a deficit of 4 trln rubles ($54.4 bln) is envisaged, and the bulk of it will be covered by borrowings.


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