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Press review: Putin’s rubles-for-gas decree sets in and will South Ossetia join Russia

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, April 1st

Vedomosti: Putin prohibits Gazprom from accepting euros and dollars from the EU

On March 31, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree turning foreign currency payments for Russian pipeline gas supplies to "unfriendly" countries into rubles. Unfriendly countries include those that placed sanctions on Russia following the launch of the special military operation in Ukraine. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, the concept averts fines and speculative risk, as payments may have previously become stranded in a European bank.

The document requires unfriendly foreign buyers of pipeline gas (i.e., Gazprom clients) to create accounts in Russian banks beginning April 1 in order to pay for supplies. Under this mechanism, the buyer opens currency and ruble accounts with Gazprombank (GPB), pays for gas supplies via transfer to a foreign currency account, and then the bank exchanges this currency into rubles on the Moscow Exchange and deposits them into the buyer's ruble account, as described by commodity markets analyst at Otkritie investments Oksana Lukicheva. The gas is thus paid for in rubles from the buyer's ruble account.

According to a Gazprombank representative, the bank is Russia's third-largest systemically important bank with an international presence, and has "many years of experience in addressing Gazprom's needs in a wide range of settlements" with clients.

A source familiar with the new mechanism's development told Vedomosti that the presidential order pertains to payment for gas supplied beginning April 1. According to the source, payments for April gas begin in the second part of April in some Gazprom contracts and in May in others.

This is not the mechanism that will lead to the "creation of the ruble as the currency of international settlements," Renaissance Capital's Russia & CIS analyst Sofya Donets noted. Buyers of gas do not need to look for rubles. The concept, however, eliminates the penalties and speculative danger, as payments could have ended up stuck in a European bank before that.

A mechanism that allows formal payment, but makes sure that Russia does not receive it, is now impossible, Director for Analysis of Financial Markets and Macroeconomics at Alfa-Capital Management Company Vladimir Bragin told the newspaper.


Kommersant: Russia, Ukraine try to understand results of Istanbul meeting

The resumption of negotiations between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations is possible on Friday. Meanwhile, two days after the Istanbul negotiations, both parties were hard at work clarifying their positions to their respective populations and political elites. As it turned out, not everyone in Kiev is willing to accept the compromises provided by the Ukrainian negotiators, Kommersant writes, adding that Moscow does not consider compromises at all, speaking only about concessions from the Ukrainians.

The disclosed conclusions of the negotiations sparked a heated debate among political elites and the general public. According to the newspaper, both sides could be heard accusing the negotiators of capitulation.

As a result, negotiators and higher-ranking officials on both sides were required to clarify their positions. Vladimir Medinsky, head of the Russian delegation, stated that he considers the outcome of the negotiations to be satisfactory. At the same time, Alexey Arestovich, advisor to Head of Ukrainian President's Office, underlined the need for negotiations, stating that armed conflicts and peace treaties usually contain compromises between the parties because both suffer losses.

So far, both Moscow and Kiev have largely maintained their stances following the Istanbul talks. At the same time, it is apparent that both parties have different viewpoints on the issue of Crimea. It seems possible that the Zelensky government is attempting to reach a compromise on Crimea by deferring the matter until later in order to avoid recognizing this region as part of Russia, which it cannot do in any way. However, Moscow is unwilling to accept such a scenario.

The essential element that unites both sides is their willingness to continue the dialogue, according to Kommersant. Meanwhile, Kiev is continuing to request military support from the West and tougher sanctions against Russia, while Moscow is in no hurry to end the military operation.


Vedomosti: South Ossetia joining Russia will be decided after local elections

The declaration concerning South Ossetia's potential accession to Russia was made during the election campaign of the republic's current President, Anatoly Bibilov - local elections will be place on April 10. His press secretary stated that the referendum on joining Russia would take place after April 10. Experts told Vedomosti that if it is deemed that the referendum complicates relations with Georgia, it may not take place at all.

If South Ossetia becomes part of Russia, the republic could unite with North Ossetia, Bibilov noted. Head of North Ossetia Sergey Menyailo supported the possibility of unification.

South Ossetia has a population of 53,000 people, according to the 2015 census. "If the republic is merged into North [Ossetia], the entire bureaucratic apparatus that comprised the state system will be dissolved," South Ossetian journalist Alik Pukhaev said. People will not understand this if South Ossetia remains a separate province of Russia, he continued. "People are willing to give up the concept of sovereignty if the long-held ambition of uniting the Ossetians is fulfilled," he stated.

Ethnically, the two Ossetias are nearly identical, therefore unifying the republics would be natural, First Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies Alexey Makarkin told the newspaper.

According to the expert, the unification may not take place at all if it is determined that it will complicate relations with Georgia, which did not actively support Ukraine during the military special operation.


Izvestia: Russia can duplicate version of European Court of Human Rights within CIS

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) could be replaced by a similar institution within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Chairman of Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council Valery Fadeev said in an interview with Izvestia. Previously, experts did not see the necessity for this, but "such a proposal may well be adopted," he noted. He also discussed the rise of Russophobia in the West and the need to expand Russian social networks.

"I'm not convinced there was any discernible gain from Russia's membership in the Council of Europe. The ECHR is a slightly different story," he said, adding "given today's climate, however, European institutions are so politicized that it is nearly impossible to anticipate any rational choices from them. This is the source of the problem." "If the country's best lawyers make proposals on setting up a new institution, such a proposal may well be accepted," Fadeev said.

The politician believes that "It will take years to overcome Russophobia". "I hope that decent people in European countries will have the opportunity to express their point of view sooner or later," he noted.

Meanwhile, Fadeev advised Russians to be more cautious about information spread through social media. "I can only encourage people to be extremely cautious about the information they get on social media, particularly the information they share," he said. According to him, even now, the Russians are far more cautious about information than they were at the start of Russia's special operation in Ukraine.


Izvestia: Russian companies see 8-fold surge in DDoS attacks

Russian organizations saw an eightfold hike in DDoS attacks in March 2022, with the average duration increasing from 12 minutes to 29 hours, Izvestia reported, citing a study from Kaspersky Lab. In March 2022, the largest number of cyberattacks could be seen in the financial sector. The Ministry of Digital Development and the Bank of Russia both agreed that the attacks had become increasingly frequent. The regulators noted that they did not result in widespread failures.

Experts noticed that the involvement of non-professional cyber activists was a distinguishing element of the most recent DDoS attacks. According to the report, financial enterprises accounted for 35% of hacker attacks, government entities accounted for 33%, educational institutions accounted for 9%, media accounted for 3%, and other spheres accounted for 20%.

"At the end of the fourth quarter of 2021, record levels of intruder activity had already been reported during that time period, but current figures far surpass them. Indirect evidence shows that during the start of the spike in DDoS offensives, a huge number of so-called hacktivists, or non-professional hackers, were involved. Their number among the attackers in total has declined over time, while attacks themselves have become more intensive, well-planned, and prolonged," cybersecurity expert at Kaspersky Lab Alexander Gutnikov said.

Russia’s Ministry of Digital Transformation confirmed to the newspaper that the number of attacks on government bodies was ten times higher than last year.

"The fundamental reason is that attackers intend to impede the availability of Russian digital resources and cause associated reputational costs," the Ministry said, adding that attacks can "lead to short-term unavailability of resources, although the situation with repelling attacks has improved dramatically over the last month".

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