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Press review: Russia pulls envoy after Biden remark and Israeli top diplomat visits Moscow

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, March 18
US President Joe Biden EPA-EFE/Yuri Gripas/POOL
US President Joe Biden
© EPA-EFE/Yuri Gripas/POOL


Kommersant: Russian-US ties hit by new scandal after Biden’s election meddling remarks

Russian-US relations were rocked by an unprecedented scandal on Wednesday, after US President Joe Biden’s high-profile ABC News interview, Moscow decided to recall its Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov for consultations. The interview, in which Biden called Putin a ‘killer’ and accused Moscow of meddling in the 2020 US election, vowing it would ‘pay a price,’ sent shock waves, hitting the ruble exchange rate and the Russian stock market amid the new sanctions threat. Moscow plans to analyze its further steps in the context of relations with the US, Kommersant writes.

According to Bloomberg and Reuters, the new restrictive measures over the purported US election interference will be introduced next week and target the Russian leadership. Earlier, the US intelligence community published a report accusing Russia of attempting to help Donald Trump win the election by denigrating Biden. Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, notes that this report emerged after the previous administration said there had been no serious election meddling by Moscow. So, the US domestic political struggle is once again throwing the spotlight on Russia, since Biden is trying to disavow his predecessor, he explained. According to the expert, this story is politically fueled since the US intelligence community’s assessment lacks any evidence. In fact, the claims about Moscow’s interference in the 2020 election have two goals: to further discredit Trump, whom Russia had allegedly helped, and lay the groundwork for more sanctions, the expert noted.

Senior Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for US and Canadian Studies Vladimir Vasilyev focused on the fact that the Biden administration spoke about Russian rather than Chinese meddling in the 2020 election. According to the expert, this position is explained by the struggle between the Democrats and the Republicans, who are trying to use the foreign factor issue against their domestic foes and opponents.

Before his departure, Trump tried to obtain the intelligence community’s report on the 2020 election meddling issue, and believed that this would concern Beijing’s attempts to influence the outcome. This would give him more grounds for pressure on China. "However, it’s not beneficial for the new White House administration today to play up the issue of Chinese meddling because it will turn out that Beijing, which opposed Donald Trump, helped Joe Biden win the election."


Izvestia: Chinese, US diplomats gear up for tough talks in Alaska

Chinese and US high-ranking diplomats are scheduled to hold their first one-on-one meeting since the advent of the Biden White House on March 18-19. The talks in Anchorage, Alaska won’t be easy. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already hinted that he believed this discussion would be a chance for Washington to voice all its concerns to Beijing over China’s steps. Moreover, the pressure on America’s geopolitical rival will be painted as a collective gesture. Just a few days before this meeting, Washington had enlisted the support of its allies.

In this situation, Chinese diplomats won’t have any other choice than to persuade the US to delay some disagreements for the sake of cooperation in less contradictory areas, Izvestia writes.

At the first meeting, a message will be sent to China: if the country does not change its behavior, the US will keep turning up the heat on China along the lines of security, diplomacy, trade and the economy. This means ending economic coercion against US allies such as Australia, ending hostage diplomacy (two Canadians accused of espionage in China) and refraining from aggressive behavior in the East China and South China Seas, said Steven Nagi, an expert from the Tokyo-based International Christian University. An important signal for China from the US ahead of the meeting was Washington’s demonstration that it is not alone in its complaints against Beijing.

China also has its complaints against the US, including "red lines" such as non-interference in the situation in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan and other domestic affairs.

According to Director at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University Wu Xinbo, at the meeting, Washington will try to grasp how much it could push China on issues that concern them. Beijing will try to get a more realistic and pragmatic outlook on bilateral ties from the US.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Israeli top diplomat’s visit to Moscow comes amid new shelling in Syria

The Syrian dossier dominated the talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, in Moscow, which coincided with this week’s visit to the capital by Hezbollah emissaries. Ahead of Ashkenazi’s trip, Israel decided to prove that it preserves the right to carry out air operations in Syrian skies by shelling the Arab republic’s southern provinces.

Samir al-Taqi, a former adviser to the Syrian prime minister and visiting research fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute notes that previously Israel refrained from actively participating in Arab affairs, content with placing its bet on strategic defense. However, the new regional reality has changed its position, because Russia, Iran and Turkey have become its immediate "neighbors."

"Many will argue that Israel was interested in chaos or the near total destruction of Syrian capabilities, but I will disagree," he pointed out. "Israel cannot remain aloof from regional problems." According to the expert, the Israelis managed to achieve success with Russia. "But I believe that from Israel’s viewpoint, this policy is squeezing the regime dry and this means that there won’t be a long-term stake on this," he noted.

The Mideast expert doubts that Israel could sign a peace deal with the Syrian government now. "The role of Iran in the war and the world is a priority for the Syrian regime. When Hafez al-Assad and then Bashar [Assad] went too far in their peace attempts with Israel, Iran managed to sabotage the talks through its domestic avenue of influence," he explained.


Kommersant: Russia to compel foreign IT companies to open representation offices

Russian officials plan to oblige foreign IT companies with a large audience (more than 100,000-500,000 users in Russia) to register their subsidiaries or representation offices in Russia and pay taxes. Meanwhile, foreign social networks, content and game services will be offered a ‘digital residence’ arrangement, meaning remote registration on the Federal Tax Service’s website. According to experts, the new regulation could affect Google, Facebook,, Amazon and other services. Experts warn that mounting pressure on foreign companies could change their strategy of working in Russia, Kommersant writes.

According to the newspaper, the government plans to create a ‘digital residence’ system for foreign companies and IT businesses by the end of 2021. This initiative is included in the plan of supporting the IT sector, which is being considered now by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko. Under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s instructions, the government should prepare "additional requirements for foreign IT companies, including opening their representation offices in Russia" by August 1, 2021.

This measure is needed to ensure equal conditions for implementing legislation with regards to foreign and Russian companies working in the country, said Alexander Zhuravlyov, who chairs the commission of the Moscow branch of the Association of Lawyers of Russia. Russian companies, such as Yandex and Telegram, unlike foreign ones, have to pay VAT (value added tax) and this inequality forces them to register abroad, the expert notes.

If foreign companies fail to comply with the demand to register legal entities in Russia, they could face being banned from apps for Russian audiences and running advertisements in state bodies and companies with state participation, the Association of Lawyers of Russia suggested.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Sputnik V likely to be included in EU’s green pass certificate

The European Commission on Wednesday offered to create vaccination passports for convenient border crossing in EU member-states. The idea was proposed by its President Ursula von der Leyen. The initiative received backing in Spain, Portugal and Greece, which largely rely on tourism. Meanwhile, Belgium, Germany and France oppose the plan since not everyone has access to the vaccine. They view this measure as a form of discrimination and an attack on freedom of movement. In case the plan is implemented, the question is whether Russian vaccines will be included there. The chances for success are rather high, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The so-called Digital Green Certificate may soon become an irreplaceable document for those who plan to travel to EU countries for work and tourism purposes. It will include information on COVID-19 tests and recovery, and most important - the confirmation of being vaccinated. However, in order to be included there, Russian jabs must be approved by the European regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA). But there are obstacles here: Russian and Chinese vaccines are not welcome on the European market due to political reasons.

Meanwhile, amid the problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine, Europe is now seriously considering the use of Sputnik V. The German chancellor has expressed readiness to help it get the EMA’s approval. If this effort is successful, this will solve the issue with including Russian vaccines in the Digital Green Certificate and potentially allow Russians to travel to Europe. "Probably, by April, Sputnik V will pave the way to Europe although the negative political background will certainly have some impact. But I think soon there will be official positive decisions because Sputnik V will be produced in Germany by a renowned Bavarian company with Russian capital," Deputy Director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladislav Belov told the newspaper.


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