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Press review: Moscow keeps cool despite Biden’s antagonism and hosts landmark Afghan talks

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, March 19


Vedomosti: Moscow not seeking to worsen relations after Biden's snipe against Putin

On the evening of March 17, Moscow announced that it was pulling Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov for consultations, in response to Joe Biden’s interview with ABC News. Consultations were needed to prevent an "irreversible degradation" of relations with the United States, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, adding later that Antonov will stay in Moscow "as long as necessary." According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, Russia will not worsen bilateral relations, because neither Moscow nor Washington needs an escalation of tensions.

According to Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of the US and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Pavel Koshkin, the Russian ambassador is now being summoned to "determine rhetoric and future policy towards the United States." He noted that during the consultations, strategic issues in Russian-US relations for the next 5-10 years will be discussed. According to the expert, the time of the ambassador's stay in Moscow will be an important sign. If he stays for a long time, it will be a "warning sign". At the same time, a constructive development of relations with Washington is still possible. The expert notes that Moscow does not intend to recall the ambassador from the United States just yet and is firing a warning shot. "A more serious reason is needed for a recall," he explained.

Head of the Center for Applied Research at the Institute of the US and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pavel Sharikov told the newspaper that in the current situation, any development of events can be expected. That said, Biden's statement "was far from anything resembling a presidential statement. And such things should be said under different circumstances." The US is unlikely to take their words back, but neither Moscow nor Washington needs any confrontation, the foreign policy guru added.

Russia reacted rather restrainedly and thereby prevented a possible development of the conflict, Sharikov added. According to him, Washington will now try to smooth over Biden's remark, because "an escalation based on one unsubstantiated statement is stupid."


Izvestia: How Washington’s looming sanctions will affect the Russian market

After the recent disparaging comments by Joe Biden, there is no hope for a detente or a reset in relations between Moscow and Washington, according to analysts interviewed by Izvestia. In their opinion, a package of new restrictions cannot be avoided. However, the Russian ruble and the stock market are ready for another round of them. In general, Russia does not need external borrowing; it can cover its financial needs with domestic capabilities and profitable exports. Still, restrictions on the purchase of Russian government debt by non-residents will create problems, and not only for Russia.

Biden's snipe will have long-term consequences for relations between Russia and the United States, Otkritie Research expert Andrey Kochetkov told the newspaper. Earlier there was some hope for a detente or a reset between the parties, but now it has faded away, he said.

According to Finam’s Yaroslav Kabakov, a package of fresh restrictive measures cannot be avoided. The US Department of Commerce’s website published a statement about expanding restrictions on exports to Russia due to the Navalny case. Furthermore, plenty of negative news will be on the horizon in the coming weeks, and there are enough reasons for it, he said.

America will use common sense, despite its rather aggressive rhetoric, Senior analyst at Alfa Capital Maxim Biryukov believes. Restrictions on the purchase of Russian government debt by non-residents will create problems not only for Russia, but also for the United States. Speaking about the risks of disconnecting Russia from SWIFT, analysts consider such steps unlikely. According to Biryukov, such measures will hurt banks and their clients, especially those involved in international trade.

However, the unpredictability of US foreign policy makes it difficult to make any predictions, analysts say. The introduction of personal sanctions will drive the Russian currency back to 72.5 rubles per dollar. However, in the event of sectoral restrictions, depending on their magnitude, the dollar may climb to a five-year maximum of 80-82 rubles, or a historical high of 86 rubles and above, which is still unlikely.


Izvestia: EU to meet next week, hash over policy on Russia

Next week, at a meeting scheduled for March 25-26, EU leaders will discuss Brussels' future strategy towards Russia. The European Commission told Izvestia that this discussion would be based on the principles that the EU had adopted five years ago. Meanwhile, judging by the statements from Italian, French and German lawmakers, who were interviewed by Izvestia, there is no unified standpoint on contacts with Russia in the EU, and this may be the reason why the leadership will not accept the new concept and will retain the same approach.

The European Union is still hashing over how it will continue to communicate with Moscow. The consultations by the European Council will be a continuation of the discussion in the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, which took place in February. Back then, the ministers agreed that the implementation of the five guiding principles, as well as a broader approach to counteraction, deterrence and cooperation with Russia where necessary, remains relevant, a representative of the European Commission told the newspaper.

European legislators do not hold a common consensus on how to deal with Russia going forward. There are also some European politicians who believe that the EU’s sanctions against Russia are not working, and bilateral cooperation on global issues has become a victim of diplomatic disagreements, and the application of the five fundamental principles turned out to be filled with many difficulties. German MEP Gunnar Beck told Izvestia that the current friction and mutual suspicion in politics hardly contributed to trade, cultural and interpersonal interaction.

According to the politician, bilateral relations can only improve if the European Union begins to adhere to a more realistic approach, in particular, accepting the status quo in Crimea and becoming more open when it comes to finding ways of a long-term settlement to the Ukrainian crisis.


Kommersant: Moscow holds landmark conference on Afghanistan

The most prestigious and representative event on Afghanistan in the entire history of Russia's participation in this process was held in Moscow. Emissaries from the four largest external forces influencing the situation in Afghanistan - Russia itself, the United States, China, and Pakistan, as well as representatives of the Afghan authorities, the legal opposition, and the Taliban movement (banned in Russia) gathered in Moscow, Kommersant writes. The result was a statement by the so-called "expanded troika", which speaks of the inadmissibility of the restoration of the Islamic State and the traditional spring offensive of the Taliban. But whether the Taliban itself will agree with this is a big question.

Head of the delegation from the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who until recently fought for power in the country, calling himself the real winner of the 2019 presidential elections, in an interview with Kommersant called the prepared document comprehensive and suggested that it would have an impact. Speaking about the idea of a transitional government, he noted that there is no specific plan yet. He added that negotiators from Kabul are ready to discuss "anything that will help establish peace."

Head of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan (Hezb-e-Islami) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in turn told Kommersant that negotiations between the Afghans themselves would continue on Friday. He noted that he had some additions to the general statement, which will be ready for publication once the parties to the Afghan conflict have discussed them in private.

According to Arkady Dubnov, an expert on Central Asia, the statement following the meeting can be called "an expression of inquiry positions". "But the meeting in Turkey will no longer be a 'talking stop, but instructions from the United States, whose opinion is difficult to ignore," the expert told Kommersant.


Vedomosti: Russian IT industry shooting for $50 bln in revenues

By 2024, revenue from the implementation of domestic IT solutions should increase 1.9-fold, and by 2030 it is expected to quadruple, these goals have been laid out by the Ministry of Digital Development in the second package of measures to support the information technology industry in Russia. According to Vedomosti, in the near future, the document will be submitted to the Prime Minister to be signed. According to IDC, in 2020 the volume of Russia’s IT market reached $24.18 bln. So, in 2024, if the plans of the Ministry of Digital Technologies are implemented, its volume will approach the $50 bln mark.

It is planned that thanks to the second package of measures to support the industry in three years, it will be possible to support more than 1,000 startups, the share of purchases of domestic IT solutions in state-owned companies will reach 70%, and the number of specialists employed in the field will double. By 2030, the volume of exports of IT technologies will grow to $12.98 bln, the program said.

All these goals should not only be commensurate with the current state of affairs, but also agreed with all interested departments, experts noted. "Increasing the revenue from the implementation of domestic IT solutions 1.9-fold until 2024 is quite a realistic goal," Deputy General Director for National Projects at Softline Andrey Sholokhov told Vedomosti.

A significant reduction in the income tax rate for companies in the IT sector from 20% to 3% provides opportunities for boosting the revenue of IT companies, CEO of Raketa digital platform Anatoly Kuryumov said. "The rate of its growth will, of course, still depend on a number of other factors; the demand for products, services of IT companies, and competition. Some companies will have the opportunity to double their revenue," he added.


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