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Press review: Seizure of Russian assets to harm dollar and why is PACE meddling in Moldova

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, March 17th

Izvestia: Moscow, Kiev continue talks on Ukraine’s neutral status

Moscow and Kiev are moving towards a compromise agreement, representatives of the parties said on March 16. Moscow’s priorities include Ukraine’s demilitarization, neutral status and the absence of threats to Russia, while Kiev demands a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees, Izvestia writes.

The parties are making no secret of the fact that the negotiation process is not proceeding smoothly. Until recently, it was Ukraine that made public remarks about how the talks are going but now Russia has also started to provide new information, with Ukraine’s neutrality being the focus of its statements. According to experts, when it comes to a neutral status, each country has its own features.

"The neutrality of Austria and Finland is the result of World War II. Switzerland’s neutral status is a centuries-long tradition stemming from the country’s geographical position and the diversity of its population and culture. The neutrality of Sweden is its conscious choice made in the wake of attempts to build a Baltic empire that had led to a complete resource depletion," Editor-in-Chief of the analytical website Alexander Nosovich explained.

"Neutrality is not just a word, it’s part of a country’s history. In Austria, the Swiss alternative was actually proposed in the mid-1950s. It includes a refusal to join military blocs, host foreign troops and take part in conflicts," Head of the Department for Social and Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe Vladimir Schweitzer pointed out. "Austria accepted neutrality voluntarily, though it had held lots of contacts on the matter with the Soviet Union, too. At the same time, the country did not give up participation in other blocs, namely, the European Union. Moreover, when Austria joined the EU in 1995, it introduced a provision into its constitution, saying that Vienna would not shy away from the EU’s actions (including sanctions)," the expert noted, stressing that each model was different.


Media: Kazakhstan seeks to change its political model

Kazakhstan plans to carry out large-scale reforms, particularly changing the form of government, the country’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in a televised address to the nation. He proposed a comprehensive modernization program that will include a switch from the super-presidential rule to a presidential republic with a strong parliament, Vedomosti writes.

Reforms are long overdue, which is what the January crisis made clear, Director of the Information and Analytical Center for the Study of Social and Political Processes in the Post-Soviet Space Darya Chizhova pointed out. A party system reform is necessary because the field of party politics has not seen any improvement in a long time, while it’s been almost impossible for new parties to pass the current five-percent threshold given the country’s small population.

Although the announced plans may partially democratize Kazakhstan’s system of government, the proposed package of powers won’t radically change the balance between the branches of government, Senior Researcher with the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations Stanislav Pritchin emphasized. According to him, the parliament is unlikely to become much stronger and the president’s position will hardly weaken. In Pritchin’s view, the upcoming political changes have nothing to do with the current Ukrainian crisis or Kazakhstan’s relations with Russia. It is an attempt to resolve issues that led to the January crisis and prevent such incidents from resurfacing in the future, the analyst noted.

Kazakh-German University Professor Rustam Burnashev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that it was extremely hard to figure out to what extent Tokayev’s initiatives were in line with the public’s expectations. "Society is seriously fragmented and various groups of the population often times have totally different expectations. In addition, Tokayev’s proposals were developed in a short time and it seems that no polls had been conducted," the expert stressed.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Seizure of Russian assets may diminish dollar’s global role

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday that the United States and the European Union had tumbled into default after refusing to fulfill their obligations to Moscow. The Russian Finance Ministry sent all the necessary payments to Western banks in advance, issuing a warning that if those payments failed to be processed because of sanctions, Russia would pay in rubles. The move to freeze Russia’s assets worth hundreds of billions of dollars will contribute to the reduction of the US dollar’s role in international payments and reserves, said experts interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

According to media reports, Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to consider the possibility of using the yuan instead of the dollar for payments for part of its oil exports to China. India, in turn, is mulling over plans to make the yuan the base currency for creating a mechanism of settlements in national currencies.

"These severe sanctions may serve as a catalyst for reconsidering countries’ attitude to the dollar as the base settlement and savings currency," said Head of Analytical Research at Univer Capital Dmitry Alexandrov. "No specific trends are in sight yet, it will take them at least several months to become clear. The United States’ actions will be decisive, including those related to the reserves of Russia’s Central Bank, concessions to Saudi Arabia and the rate at which interstate procedures to harmonize payment systems and arrange payments, insurance and logistics services are agreed on," he added.

"No real-time data on changes in the share of currencies used for international settlements is currently available due to the latest developments. Radical changes are unlikely to take place quickly, particularly because when global economic instability starts to rise, international investors usually prefer to stick to more conservative strategies, abandoning risky patterns," said Dmitry Plekhanov, an analyst with the Institute For Complex Strategic Studies.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: PACE meddles in Moldovan-Transnistrian affairs

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) resolution about Russia’s "occupation" of part of Moldova, Transnistria, was initiated by Romanian lawmakers, while Moldova’s delegation did not take part in developing the document. Leader of Moldova’s Social Democratic Party Victor Selin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the move to declare Transnistria "an occupied territory" was aimed at unfreezing the Transnistrian conflict by dragging Moldova into military activities against Russia.

"Neither the Moldovan people nor parliamentary members asked the Council of Europe to raise the Transnistria issue, the discussion was initiated by some EU countries. Moldova did not need the decision declaring Transnistria an occupied territory, it’s a provocation," Selin emphasized. "The goal is to accuse Russia of dividing Moldova’s territory, tighten sanctions against Russia or declare a war on it. However, there is an agreement between Russia and Moldova, which says that Moscow recognizes Transnistria as part of Moldova and acts as a guarantor," the politician added.

"The West is irked by the fact that Russia has no plans to terminate the agreement (as well as Moldova) and continues to play the role of a peacekeeper in the region. Those who proposed declaring Moldova an ‘occupied’ country in fact seek to unfreeze the Transnistrian conflict by interfering in Moldova’s domestic affairs without its consent," Selin pointed out.

"Only effective peacekeeping forces genuinely interested in protecting their families and friends are capable of blocking any attempts to fuel the conflict. Peacekeepers from Transnistria and Moldova, whose children, parents, wives and friends live in the region, are deployed there along with Russian troops," Transnistria-based political analyst Andrey Safonov noted. "There will be no conflict if both parties are free to choose their own development path and refrain from imposing their views on each other," the expert added.


Izvestia: Russians may get free access to foreign movies, music and games

An initiative to ensure free access to foreign movies, music and computer games for Russians has been sent to Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. The idea belongs to Head of the Public Consumer Initiative organization Oleg Pavlov. He points to a large number of complaints from Russian citizens who had purchased subscriptions at various foreign services that suspended operations in Russia, failing to return money to users. Experts consider the move to be a logical one but warn that it will change the situation with Russian copyrights, too, Izvestia writes.

Deputy head of the A Just Russia - For Truth parliamentary faction Valery Gartung believes that it is too early to refuse to protect foreign copyrights. "All options need to be weighed up. In my view, it is certainly unfair when Russians are stripped of access to artistic works even though they paid for it. However, I wouldn’t rush to burn bridges," he told the newspaper.

"The initiative has positive and negative aspects. It is about developing new rules of the game that actually go beyond international copyright law. I think that it may also have a negative impact on the Russian copyright market because there is a thin line between foreign and Russian copyrights," expert with the Film Institute at the Higher School of Economics Oleg Ivanov pointed out.

Copyright expert Igor Murzin does not expect the cabinet to support the initiative officially. "Mikahil Mishustin probably would like to provide assistance to Russian users but I don’t think that the government will make a decision to stop respecting the copyrights of foreign companies because it may lead to international lawsuits against those broadcasting this content," the lawyer explained.

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