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Press review: Why did Austria’s chancellor visit Moscow and EU plots chaos in Central Asia

Top stories from the Russian press on Tuesday, April 12th
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer

Izvestia: What were the reasons behind Austrian chancellor’s Moscow visit

Sanctions on Russia will remain in effect and will even get tougher until the country’s special military operation in Ukraine is over but still, there is no alternative to dialogue with Moscow. This is what Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer stated following talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Experts interviewed by Izvestia point out that Austria is capable of playing the role of a mediator in the conflict as it is a member of the European Union but not a NATO country.

"The Austrians stick to more balanced approaches than even the Germans, claiming the role of a global mediator and a negotiating platform. This is why, despite being an EU member, they refused to provide weapons to Ukraine," Associate Professor with the Department of International Relations, Political Science and Foreign Area Studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities Vadim Trukhachev noted.

Austria is capable of playing a positive role as a mediator because it is a neutral state, Head of the Department for Social and Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe Vladimir Schweitzer stressed. According to him, the country’s leadership has repeatedly emphasized that it is not part of any blocs and opposes attempts to resolve issues by military means. "Clearly, they implement a certain policy outlined by the European Union. For the EU, Austria’s role is very important at the moment because if the leader of an EU country that’s not a NATO member visits Russia, it does not complicate debates," the expert added.

In addition, Austria opposes an oil and gas embargo on Moscow. "Vienna depends a lot on Russia in terms of energy. Austria used to be a big advocate of Nord Stream 2. And now, they keep stressing that although they support EU sanctions, their national interests should not suffer. Those interests particularly include Russian gas supplies," Schweitzer noted.


Kommersant: Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia lining up to join EU

On Monday, Moldova and Georgia received applications for future EU membership candidacy, similar to the one that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen handed to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky on Friday. Given the current crisis, it can be assumed that the three countries may soon become candidates. However, their prospects for joining the EU still look dim, Kommersant writes.

An informed source in Moldova’s government agencies told the newspaper that the application included various questions: "There are political and economic criteria. The political part covers the field of justice, public management and human rights, and the economic one includes finances, macroeconomics, the banking sector and budget matters," he specified.

"An association agreement and the accession process usually mean the same obligations, including a structured convergence of an EU partner’s laws with the rules of the union," Associate Professor at St. Petersburg University’s Department of European Studies Tatyana Romanova noted. "It is another thing that an accession agreement makes the process of legislative changes tougher," the expert added. "The process is rather difficult per se and the question is, for instance, if Ukraine has an institutional ability to carry it out at this point," Romanova said. According to her, Brussels "prefers to hold talks with a group of countries in order to compare them and make them compete with each other."

"There is no consensus among EU member states. Some have already pointed out that it’s just the beginning of a journey," Romanova emphasized. Various options for partial membership are being put forward as an alternative, she noted, adding that those would require changes to the European Union’s basic treaties.

"In the old days, I would have said that a compromise would be found by establishing a date by which Ukraine would need to carry out all reforms, but in the current situation, I don’t rule out that there will be a model for some partial membership that would certainly prove devastating for the EU itself," Romanova said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Europeans plotting to destabilize Central Asia

The European Union’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson has held consultations in Tajikistan. Afghan issues were also discussed during United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi’s recent visit to Dushanbe. Experts believe that the Europeans are analyzing the situation in Central Asia before launching an operation to destabilize the region, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

"Given Tajikistan’s tough position against the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) and refusal to hold constructive talks with the new regime in Kabul, the West seems to view the country as a channel for supporting the so-called anti-Taliban forces so as to create the necessary level of instability in Afghanistan," St. Petersburg State University Professor Alexander Knyazev noted.

"Instability persists along the southern borders of Central Asian countries. The EU and US allies are interested in creating chaos on the southern borders of Central Asian nations because it is Russia’s zone of responsibility and interests so even slight tensions in northern Afghanistan would distract Russia’s resources currently focused on Europe," the expert emphasized. According to him, Imran Khan’s removal from the post of Pakistan’s prime minister, marks a new stage in the Chinese-US standoff in Pakistan, which will soon spread into Afghanistan.

"EU officials are testing the waters through Tajikistan before escalating a conflict that would spill over into Russia via Kazakhstan," political scientist Mars Sariyev noted. "The recent vote of no confidence against the Pakistani prime minister gives free rein to the West. Now, the United States can advance its prearranged plan to destabilize the region. When leaving Afghanistan, Americans left a lot of weapons behind for a reason, which, apart from the Taliban, fell into the hands of groups outlawed in Russia, including the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and Ansarullah," Sariyev stressed.


Vedomosti: South Ossetian election runoff won’t affect referendum on joining Russia

According to preliminary data from South Ossetia’s Central Election Commission, the republic’s incumbent President Anatoly Bibilov and Nykhas party leader Alan Gagloyev have entered the presidential election runoff, Vedomosti writes.

On March 30, in the midst of the election campaign, Bibilov made a statement about the need for a referendum on joining Russia. Gagloyev supported the idea but accused his opponent of using the matter for campaign purposes. The issue of South Ossetia joining Russia is very pressing for the republic. It had been brought up on numerous occasions even before 2008, when Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia following a five-day war with Georgia. However, Russia’s federal authorities have not made any clear statements on the matter yet.

There are no anti-Russian politicians in South Ossetia, said Soslan Dzhusoyev, a former advisor to South Ossetian Presidents Bibilov and Tibilov. According to him, the outcome of the presidential election will not affect plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia. "We can see that neither the Russian Foreign Ministry nor the Russian president has so far reacted to the initiative. It’s easy to hold a referendum and the result will be positive, once a relevant agreement is reached with Moscow," Dzhusoyev said.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry slammed the South Ossetian election as null and void. It is based on relations with Georgia that Russia will decide if the republic’s accession is necessary, political scientist Alexey Makarkin noted. However, in his words, there will be a pro-Russian leader in South Ossetia.


Izvestia: What’s on the horizon for Russia’s ruble

The Russian ruble will continue to strengthen in April and the lifting of some currency restrictions won’t become an obstacle, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. The national currency’s weakening against the dollar by more than six rubles on April 11 was more like the result of profiteering and an emotional reaction.

The main reason for the ruble’s weakening was the Central Bank’s move to lift a number of restrictions imposed earlier, analysts said. It particularly included the cancellation of a 12% fee on foreign currency purchases through brokers and the permission for banks to start selling foreign cash currency to individuals on April 18, but only the cash that they receive starting on April 9.

"With the restrictions relaxed, some foreign currency buyers will return to the market. However, their return will hardly lead to a lengthy and significant weakening of the ruble, at least not as long as the authorities refrain from reducing the level of the mandatory sales of export proceeds and easing restrictions on transferring foreign currency abroad, which practically mean a ban," Stock Market Expert at BCS World of Investment Dmitry Babin pointed out.

The Central Bank is currently trying to lighten up as far as foreign currency demand goes in order to balance its supply on the exchange, Finam Group analyst Alexander Potavin noted. At the same time, in his words, Russia’s trade balance and balance of payment will be positive in April, which will prevent the ruble from weakening even after the fee on purchasing dollars and euros is lifted.

Babin expects that the Russian Central Bank will continue to gradually soften foreign currency restrictions. If the geopolitical situation and the external market conditions don’t change much, the dollar will remain at a level ranging between 78 and 86 rubles in April, he estimates.

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