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Press review: Zelensky bent on meeting Putin and who’ll be on Russia’s ‘unfriendly’ list

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, April 27
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskiy EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER/POOL
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskiy

Kommersant: Ukraine launches preparations for Putin-Zelensky meeting

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky is bent on meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation in Donbass, Kommersant reports. He has spoken about the need for such a summit for two weeks running, and even instructed his chief of staff to launch preparations for it. For its part, the Kremlin told Kommersant that Moscow had not discussed this matter with Kiev in detail so far, however, Russia is ready for such a meeting.

The Kremlin is not against a meeting with the Ukrainian leader, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the newspaper. He reiterated the position of Vladimir Putin, noting that Russia would only discuss bilateral relations at such talks. "We can exchange opinions on any matter; if we have to repeat once again that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements, we can do it," Peskov pointed out.

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry told Kommersant that the Ukrainian side had not initiated a discussion of a potential meeting so far.

Ukrainian political analyst Vadim Karasev thinks that a meeting between both leaders is necessary. "They haven’t had a normal meeting for two years. Even if Moscow doesn’t want to discuss Donbass, other issues can be touched upon. Say, the accumulation of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border is an issue of bilateral relations. But we need to understand that no issue of normalizing relations with Russia can be resolved without at least partial regulation of the Donbass issue," he told the newspaper.

According to the expert, it should be noted that Vladimir Zelensky had instructed his Chief of Staff Andrei Yermak to deal with the preparations for the meeting instead of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. "It is a sign that he wants a constructive approach, because the Foreign Ministry is ideological, and Yermak is in the loop about Donbass," he pointed out. Karasev is confident that even if Moscow refuses to meet, Zelensky will not lose points, as he will be able to say that he has done everything to resolve the Donbass issue with Russia.

Vladimir Fesenko, who heads the Penta Center for Applied Political Studies in Kiev, thinks that in the end, Zelensky will be able to organize this meeting. "We need to consider his nature - he is tenacious. In 2019, he fought for the organization of a Normandy Four summit for six months, and he got what he wanted," the expert told Kommersant. "There are many topics for discussion. What’s important to us is Russia’s blocking of the waters of the Sea of Azov, the Kerch Strait, and the partial blocking of the Black Sea. There cannot be any normalization of bilateral relations until the hostilities in Donbass end. If things calm down there, the atmosphere of war will dissipate, and we’ll be able to move forward."

"Zelensky is confident that the Donbass issue should be resolved together with Putin. He has no illusions of 2019, but there is still hope. He believes that he will somehow be able to make the ice thaw," Fesenko concluded.


Izvestia: US, Czech Republic, Baltic states may be declared ‘unfriendly’ by Russia

The Russian government will soon publish a list of "unfriendly states" in accordance with the presidential decree signed on April 23. According to Izvestia, about ten countries are likely to make it to the list, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, the Czech Republic, Canada and the Baltic States. According to the decree, the diplomatic missions of those states will be unable to hire Russian staff. The Russian parliament told Izvestia that the new blacklist will not come as a surprise, as all countries included on the list have been conducting an anti-Russian policy for a while.

According to Izvestia, about 10 nations are risking ending up on the list of "unfriendly states." A well-informed source told the newspaper that the US, Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia may be blacklisted. An additional Izvestia source in the government added that the UK, Canada, Ukraine and Australia may also be included.

"The list hasn’t been finalized yet, [but] work is underway. No one will just brand someone "unfriendly" for nothing. The way these counteractive measures will work is also currently being discussed. There may be a full ban on hiring Russian citizens to those diplomatic missions," the source explained. However, he stressed that this is not done to aggravate the situation, but to prevent further anti-Russian steps.

The Russian Federation Council Committee on Social Policy pointed out that the history of bilateral relations and the ability to react appropriately to the emerging difficulties will be considered when drafting the list.

"Moderation, good will, and a search for compromise and answers to difficult issues will be taken into account by Russia, of course. There won’t be any unfounded steps. I think that the Czech Republic and other states that expelled our diplomats without any grounds, only to support their neighbor, will be included on the list," First Deputy Head of the Russian Federation Council Committee on Social Policy Valery Ryazansky told Izvestia.

It is unlikely that the "unfriendly list" will be very large, however, the US, the Baltic States and the Czech Republic are bound to end up on the list, Russian lawmaker Oleg Shein forecasted.

"The majority of Western European states, namely Germany and France, differ with Russia on certain matters, however, they are considered as some conditional partners that depend on Washington in the sphere of politics, the economy and in the military sphere. However, they are independent to an extent, so for us they are a negotiating side. The same can hardly be said about Eastern European states, who do not possess this independence and who are in a phase of "heightened aggression" against Russia. We will differentiate between them," the MP told Izvestia. According to him, this decision will not affect the Russian market, however, it will affect the work of consulates and embassies.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US pulling out of Afghanistan may deal a blow to China

Commander of US Forces Afghanistan and NATO's Resolute Support Mission Austin Scott Miller confirmed that the process of withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan had begun. This means that the order of US President Joe Biden to end the war by September 11 is underway, Nezavisimaya Gazeta points out. The question is how the pullout of American forces will affect Afghanistan’s neighbors, namely China. It is not ruled out that there will be clashes between supporters of the government in Kabul and the Taliban movement (outlawed in Russia), which could be used by jihadists among Chinese Muslims, the newspaper suggests. On the other hand, Beijing may get access to Afghanistan’s rich mineral resources.

For China, the positive side of the US withdrawal is that its main geopolitical rival is leaving, and the chances of confronting the US in the region are becoming minimal. The downside is that it is unclear so far who will step up to the plate to prevent any destabilization or a civil war in the neighboring state.

Beijing has no desire and no real opportunities to deal with Afghanistan, especially because as of now, the situation on China’s shared border with Afghanistan spanning less than 50 miles is rather calm. However, Afghanistan has served many times as a haven for militants planning attacks on other states. China is concerned that jihadists might recruit militants among the Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group in Northwest China.

Arkady Dubnov, an expert on Afghanistan and Central Asia, pointed out to Nezavisimaya Gazeta that China had been rather displeased with America’s presence in Afghanistan for all those years. "Not because they expected clashes with the US. Notably, the Americans had eyes and ears in Afghanistan to monitor what was happening in China. But most importantly, US presence was what quelled the ambition and the resources of Islamic extremists," he noted.

Nevertheless, China understands that the US is unlikely to leave the region. Right now, there is an active discussion of the US recovering its military presence in Central Asia. The New York Times reported earlier that some military units may be moved along Afghanistan’s borders in Central Asia to avoid an aggravation of the situation, namely to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, the expert specified.


Izvestia: Hungary launches successful vaccination program thanks to Russia’s Sputnik V jab

Hungary is conducting a successful COVID-19 vaccination program due to the purchase of foreign vaccines, namely Russia’s Sputnik V jab, Zsolt Nemeth, head of Hungary’s Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs, said in an interview with Izvestia.

Hungary was the first EU country to receive samples of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to conduct trials in November 2020. In February 2021, it approved the use of the Russian vaccine on its territory. It was informed earlier that Hungary had deemed Russia’s Sputnik V the most safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine among those that it purchased.

Nemeth noted that Hungary is conducting a very successful immunization policy, which would be impossible without purchasing vaccines from alternative sources. Vaccination cannot be a question of ideology, any politician that looks at this process through the prism of geopolitics puts their citizens at great risk, the lawmaker stressed. Nemeth reiterated that Hungary’s success would have been impossible had it not purchased vaccines from Russia and China.

The Hungarian lawmaker noted that Sputnik V is one of the best among the five jabs available in Hungary. The politician told Izvestia that as of now, 3.5 mln people have received the first shot of the vaccine, which amounts to 45% of the adult population, while the European average is 20%.

When asked about the vaccination process in the EU, Nemeth pointed out that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with how EU institutions have tackled this matter. He criticized Brussels’ policy, which, according to the Hungarian politician, is rooted in the EU considering itself a global player, which it is not at the moment.

It is a shame that some officials continue to stage an anti-Russian campaign as a populist method in their domestic policy, fully realizing that their actions will not bring about any political changes, the Hungarian lawmaker stressed.


Vedomosti: Russia to ban foreign firms from auditing certain companies

The Russian government has decided to impose constraints on foreign auditing firms' and their Russian subsidiaries’ access to the information of Russian companies. In particular, Russia will slap a ban on providing information and documents to auditing organizations under the control of a foreign legal entity or an international company, Vedomosti writes.

According to the documents, banks and credit organizations, specialized depositaries and insurance companies, as well as non-governmental pension funds and managing companies involved in pension investment will not be able to use the services of foreign auditors.

"Essentially, this restricts access of such major auditing companies as Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, EY to auditing banks, credit organizations, non-governmental pension funds, managing companies and so on," Ayaz Aliyev, Associate Professor in the Financial Management Department at the Plekhanov Russian Academy of Economics explained to Vedomosti. "For foreign international auditors, this is a rather painful verdict - they will lose a significant part of their clientele, revenue and data that they have accumulated." At the same time, Aliyev added, "this reduces the volume of information about the economic situation of Russian economic subjects available to the US."

The government’s new decision will create a number of problems for Russian clientele of foreign auditors as well. First and foremost, it will concern those who plan to enter international markets: it will be impossible to get a loan without a financial report certified by a major international company.

"However, investors can order an independent business review that is as equally good as an audit," Aliyev suggests. "This report gives an idea of the situation in the company and helps make a decision on financing. But it usually costs more than an auditing report."

Due to this new practice, some clients of foreign auditing firms will be forced to find their Russian equivalents, Alexander Dolgov, who heads the Infrastructure, Energy and Public Private Partnerships group at Squire Patton Boggs Moscow LLC, told the paper. "Although on the whole, auditing firms will be able to do the bulk of their work," he said. Deloitte, KPMG, PwC and EY declined to comment on the new decision of the government so far.


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