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Press review: Moscow’s Afghan clout to resurge and Hungary remains key Russian ally in EU

Top stories from the Russian press on Wednesday, August 25th
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto EPA-EFE/Lajos Soos
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto
© EPA-EFE/Lajos Soos

Izvestia: Russia, China could emerge as key players in Afghanistan

US President Joe Biden said that foreign troops must leave Afghanistan by August 31: this turned out to be one of the main results of the G7 summit, which was urgently convened by the UK, who is currently chairing the G7. London, together with Berlin and Paris, expected to postpone the deadline in order to evacuate as many foreigners and Afghans as possible. However, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson kept up with appearances, announcing that the G7 had agreed on a unified approach to the Taliban (outlawed in Russia). Meanwhile, Russia and China could emerge as new key players in the region, Izvestia writes.

A few days before the meeting, Prime Minister Johnson admitted that the key players in the region with the departure of the United States were Russia and China, and Johnson noted that London would have to involve countries with potentially deterrent clout, such as Russia and China.

Former Italian Presidential Adviser and ex-Ambassador to NATO Stefano Stefanin told Izvestia that Moscow and Beijing are expected to try and fill the power vacuum created by the US-NATO pullout from Afghanistan, and may compete for this, but not to the detriment of their own security.

According to him, Russia and China could play a "deterrent" role against the Taliban both in internal governance and in preventing international jihad and terrorism. Despite geopolitical differences and rivalries, the West, Russia, and China are still on the same side of the abyss between secularism and fundamentalism, the politician said.

However, the international community has no time to wait, the newspaper writes. In addition to being ravaged by war, Afghanistan was hit by its second drought in three years, which destroyed about 40% of its crops. The hasty evacuation from Kabul also created new problems for those who were forced to stay and the financial situation also remains extremely difficult.

"According to my information, the entire financial system is completely blocked. Not a single bank is working," one former Afghan government officials told Izvestia.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund froze a tranche of $370 mln to Kabul to fight the economic crisis due to the "lack of clarity in the international community" about the recognition of the government in Afghanistan.


Izvestia: Ukraine marks 30 years of independence

Ukraine celebrated its 30th anniversary of independence with the largest military parade in the nation’s history. This costly event took place in a year when the country's budget deficit is exceeding 5.5% of GDP. Deputy Speaker of Russia’s Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev told Izvestia that the past three decades of Ukrainian independence are "a time of missed opportunities". The State Duma believes that the road to restoring the Ukrainian economy lies through reviving relations with Russia and the post-Soviet space.

Kosachev noted that everything that is happening in the neighboring country "fully demonstrates the viciousness of the course associated with the renunciation of sovereignty in order to acquire some advantages." "Ukraine is the only former USSR republic that has not yet reached the 1990 level. All the other 14 republics reached that benchmark, and surpassed it. Ukraine is the only one, as of today, living in conditions below the level at which it achieved this independence," the politician told Izvestia, stressing that Russia is always ready to build close relations with the "brotherly Ukrainian people".

The Russian establishment is confident that the only solution for the Ukrainian economy is integration with Russia, Belarus, and other post-Soviet countries, Izvestia writes. First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs Dmitry Novikov believes that the country is under external control. "In Ukraine, any head of state, under whatever slogans he is elected, is not going to meet the interests of the people. The main customer of his policy is not the people, but those forces in the West that sponsor the regime in power," he told Izvestia.

In the meantime, according to experts, Ukraine’s celebration of Independence Day cannot be viewed separately from the Crimea Platform. This summit was needed in order to "resurrect the case of Crimea as one of the most important ones on the world stage," Associate Professor at the Institute of Post-Soviet and Interregional Studies within the Russian State University for the Humanities Alexander Gushchin told the newspaper. "The West needs Russia for gas, as well as for resolving the situation in Afghanistan and Syria. In light of this … the issue of Crimea began evaporating from the Western foreign agenda. Therefore, Kiev decided to bring it back to the table. However, this was possible only to a limited extent - a significant amount of top officials ignored the event," the political scientist noted.


Kommersant: Hungary remains one of Russia’s few allies in Europe

Hungary remains in a narrow circle of European countries friendly to Moscow. This was confirmed by the recent talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto. At a press conference, the top diplomats focused on economic cooperation. However, the countries have more in common in international politics - the tension in relations between Moscow and Budapest with Brussels, the situation in Afghanistan, and Hungary's participation in the Crimea Platform. The latter, as it turned out, will not affect relations between the two countries, Kommersant writes.

Budapest was Lavrov's first stop on his European tour. Hungary remains one of the few European states whose relations with Russia can be called friendly without exaggeration, the newspaper writes. During a joint press conference, Szijjarto was confident that many Western European countries want to maintain the same level of cooperation with Moscow, but Budapest, unlike them, does it openly.

Hungary so far is the first and only EU country that approved Russia’s Sputnik V jab and purchased a significant batch of it. Szijjarto announced on Tuesday that the cooperation will go further: by the end of 2022, Hungary intends to launch its own production of the Sputnik V vaccine. Budapest also wants to sign a 15-year contract with Gazprom for the supply of natural gas. The two countries are also united by the fact that both have uneasy relations with Brussels, Kommersant writes.

Even Hungary's participation in the Crimea Platform did not spoil the meeting. Calling Kiev's initiative an empty "Russophobic action," Lavrov found an excuse for Budapest, Hungary simply cannot resist pressure from allies in the EU and NATO, according to the newspaper.

The Russian foreign minister will continue the topic of regional stability with his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio. Rome, along with Vienna, will be another stop on Lavrov’s tour. However, dialogue with the West, according to the top diplomat, will be successful only if the conversations are aimed at "understanding reality on the ground" and not "promoting one’s own actions."


Kommersant: Russia offers state support to AI development projects

The Russian government will provide state support to the creators of programs for artificial intelligence. Projects can expect subsidies of up to 500 mln rubles ($6.77 mln) per year. Meanwhile, professionals introducing AI into the business processes are seriously discussing the ethical problems arising from the use of the new technology. At the government’s Analytical Center (AC), experts are still deliberating over the code of ethics of AI, with a view to presenting it in the autumn of 2021. One of the main reasons given by the experts for engaging in ethical research is the low level of public trust in the new technologies.

Projects with a term of implementation of up to six years will be able to apply for state support of up to 500 mln rubles ($6.77 mln) per year, that is, up to 3 bln rubles ($40.63 mln) per project. In 2021, the budget is earmarking 1.5 bln rubles ($20.1 mln) for subsidies to AI developers.

According to experts, trust in the new technologies is one of the key issues that are being discussed. In particular, at the Analytical Center as part of the discussion on the future Code of Ethics in AI - the Ministry of Economy and the AI Alliance are also participating in it. "We will be able to achieve [trust] if we openly talk about the principles and the rules for the development and implementation of artificial intelligence technologies," spokesperson for the presidential administration Sofia Zakharova said.

According to Executive Director for the regulation of artificial intelligence technologies at Sberbank Andrey Neznamov, the norms of the future code will be advisory in nature. At the same time, there is no talk of a code of ethics for AI itself - within the framework of the current discussions, it is assumed that the responsibility for creating and using AI "always rests with the people."


Vedomosti: Bank of Russia starts reforming the payments market

The Bank of Russia announced the impending reform of the payment market, which could result in the loss of a part of commission income for banks: the regulator will enable any non-financial company to deal with payments of Russians, Vedomosti writes. This is a large market: in 2020, people made payments with cards to the tune of 29.4 trillion rubles ($398.42 bln), the Bank of Russia said. The regulator suggests giving non-financial and non-bank financial institutions the right to initiate transfers on behalf of clients, as well as to carry out these transfers.

Microfinance companies, brokers, Internet search engines, retail stores, and supermarkets have already shown interest in the provision of payment services, Deputy Chairman of the Bank of Russia Vladimir Chistyukhin said. According to him, non-financial players want their customers not only to purchase something, but also make payments through them. This will reduce costs. The exact timing of the reform is not yet known, Chistyukhin said.

In global practice, there are already examples when settlements are carried out not only by banks, Deputy Director for Business Development at OpenWay Sergey Lebedev told the newspaper. This can spur non-card forms of payment, the trend of avoiding payments from card to card has already begun, the expert believes.

The regulator’s proposal will help attract new players to the market and improve payment instruments through technology, a representative of Yandex told Vedomosti. It will be difficult to compete with banks in terms of commissions for payment transactions, since transfers via the Faster Payments System and cash withdrawals in banks are now free, and building an infrastructure for accepting payments is not an easy task, CEO of Russian Standard Bank Sergey Berestovoy said. Special attention will need to be paid to ensuring the safety of operations, he added.

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in these press reviews.