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Press review: EU eyes confiscating frozen Russian assets and Macron visits US

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, December 1st

MOSCOW, December 1. /TASS/. The European Commission calls to confiscate Russian assets, Russia and Poland argue over OSCE and Macron’s official visit to the US. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Vedomosti: Head of European Commission calls to invest Russia’s frozen assets in Ukraine

The European Commission has proposed to put Russia’s frozen assets to use. On November 30, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested creating a special fund to help Kiev, which would include €300 bln of the Russian Central Bank’s reserves and €19 bln of private funds. "In the short term, we could create, with our partners, a structure to manage these funds and invest them. We would then use the proceeds for Ukraine. And once the sanctions are lifted, these funds should be used so that Russia pays full compensation for the damages caused to Ukraine," she said.

The statements about the confiscation of Russian assets should be treated very seriously, says Director of the Institute for Peacekeeping Initiatives and Conflictology Denis Denisov. The European Commission would not make empty threats so at one of the next sanctions stages Brussels is quite capable of presenting a relevant mechanism on a gradual confiscation of Russian assets. The expert added that the process is unlikely to comply with European legislation but that wouldn’t stop the implementation of this initiative because politics would take precedence over any legal norms.

The idea of confiscating Russian assets with their subsequent transfer to Ukraine has existed in the West for some time, Director of Programs at the Russian International Affairs Council Ivan Timofeev noted. Similar bills have been proposed both in the EU and the US, and on November 14, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on reparations. However, there is no mechanism yet for the extra-judicial transfer of Russian assets to Ukraine while its introduction may significantly harm the European Union itself. The expert explained that such measures would seriously undermine investors’ trust in the EU because Brussels would show that in the event of political turmoil it may confiscate other countries’ assets as well. Besides, Russia’s reaction would follow. According to Timofeev, if Russian assets are confiscated, Moscow may freeze or even seize the property of European individuals in Russia. The Kremlin has never wanted to do so but if relations with Brussels were to deteriorate, a reciprocal scenario would become quite real, the expert concluded.


Kommersant: Russia, Poland point fingers over who harms OSCE more

OSCE Chairman-in-Office Zbigniew Rau called 2022 the most difficult year in the organization’s history. The diplomat said this in Lodz where the OSCE Ministerial Council will be held from December 1-2. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will not attend the event for the first time because Polish authorities denied him entry into the country over EU sanctions imposed on the top diplomat. Warsaw and Moscow have been accusing each other of destroying the OSCE while experts urge them to do everything possible to preserve this unique organization.

Meanwhile, diplomats from a number of European OSCE member countries polled by Kommersant think that denying entry to Lavrov was a mistake. The majority of them expressed concern that this will further increase tensions within the organization and will make it even less viable.

Former OSCE Secretary-General Thomas Greminger, who now serves as Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), did not support Warsaw’s stance either. He told the newspaper that, although he agreed with the Polish chairmanship that Russia’s actions in Ukraine were a serious violation of the OSCE’s founding principles, the decision not to invite a top diplomat of a member state to the Ministerial Council undermined the organization’s function as an inclusive dialogue platform.

Russia’s Permanent Envoy to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich thinks that Poland has demonstrated that it is not interested in the OSCE as a discussion platform "for security issues in Europe but rather needs it as a tool to criticize Russia." "Such behavior directly harms the OSCE and undermines its ability to work effectively," the Russian diplomat concluded.

However, despite the sharp confrontation within the organization and the de facto paralysis of its activities, experts urge not to bury the OSCE.

According to Greminger, currently the organization is too polarized to significantly contribute to the settling of conflicts between Russia and Ukraine or between Russia and the West, however, he thinks that the situation may change in the medium term. In his opinion, in addition to becoming a useful platform for dialogue on collective security in Europe, the OSCE may also play a very practical role in observing a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine.


Izvestia: What’s on agenda of Macron’s state visit to US

French President Emmanuel Macron has arrived in the US, becoming the first foreign leader whom the Biden administration has decided to honor with an official state visit. Despite this, it is hard to say that the French leader’s overseas tour will be pleasant in all respects. The main stumbling block between the US and the EU, whom Macron is partially representing, is the US Inflation Reduction Act which may deal a painful blow to European manufacturers. It is also highly likely that talks between the two leaders in the White House will include the sensitive subject of overpriced US LNG for Europe.

"Macron hopes that he will be able to strike a deal with the US but he doesn’t have a winning hand. The entire European autonomy he’s been rallying for has become an empty phrase against the background of the Ukrainian crisis and France alone has little to contribute despite its ambitions to become a global power," Leading Researcher with the Department of Social and Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe Sergey Fedorov told Izvestia.

According to him, Paris’ stance is significantly complicated by its dependency on the US market - about half a million people are working at French enterprises in the US - and this economic fact has always made French businesses look up to the US.

"The Americans, of course, do not intend to exacerbate relations and clash with the Europeans and, I think, Biden will have to make certain concessions. Yet it is unlikely that the US will lower gas prices by a factor of three - they will say that this is market-regulated and they cannot do anything about this. So it is very doubtful that Macron will be able to get something for Europe," the expert concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan mull Putin’s proposal on gas union

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin will visit Samarkand on December 1-2 to participate in a Russian-Uzbek business forum. The event’s agenda includes the issues of transportation, logistics and the development of Russian industrial clusters in the Central Asian republic, according to the press service of Russia’s trade mission in Uzbekistan. During talks with his Uzbek colleague Abdulla Aripov, the head of the Russian government will also discuss Vladimir Putin’s proposal on creating a gas union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

"A broader union is needed, which would be useful not only for Russia but also for Kazakhstan, and even for Uzbekistan. Including a political one but by all appearances nobody is ready for this yet," Leading Researcher with the Institute for International Research at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Alexander Knyazev told the newspaper. As for an economic union, there is already the Eurasian Economic Union where Uzbekistan, being an observer, is more active than the majority of its full-fledged members. According to the expert, the gas track in question has a lot of potential. The main point is not so much in supplying northern Kazakhstan with Russian gas but in Russia changing the direction of its exports and looking for new markets in Asia. "It is obvious that Russia does not need Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan as competitors on the gas market. This is about using Kazakhstan for gas transit to China, especially since both countries expect to stop gas exports in the near future. Uzbekistan may completely stop them in 2025-2027, while Kazakhstan - even earlier," the expert noted.

"On the one hand, the republic may benefit from becoming a major gas hub in such a promising direction. On the other hand, it is necessary to carefully consider all the pros and cons. For example, to figure out how Kazakhstan’s Western partners would react to such assistance by Russia and whether this would impact the operation of foreign companies at the republic’s key oil and gas production fields," Knyazev explained.

So far, Uzbekistan’s authorities have refrained from commenting. "This is a rather meaningful silence since this issue has several aspects. The first one being that two years ago the Uzbek government announced that the country would reduce its gas exports and by 2027 at the latest will completely stop its deliveries," Bakhtier Ergashev, Director of Tashkent-based Ma'No Center of Research Initiatives, told the newspaper. "The second thing is what Russia has been talking about - the export of Russian gas with the use of Kazakhstan’s and Uzbekistan’s gas transport capacity," he stressed. "The position of the Uzbek leadership is understandable: on the one hand, it is possible to become part of a huge gas transport system with large volumes of gas pumped and receive decent transit payments, but on the other, this involves certain tensions on the Western track in general and with the US in particular. It is interesting, what will prevail - economic pragmatism or the desire not to offend the West?" the expert concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kurds seek protection against Erdogan from US

The pro-Kurdish administration of North and East Syria wants the US to toughen its approach to Turkey’s "Claw-Sword" operation. To this end, Co-President of its Executive Council Ilham Ehmed will travel to Washington in the next few days. Kurdish-controlled nongovernmental military formations targeted by Ankara’s trans-border attacks have been disappointed by the Biden administration's stance. The U.S. side appears to have evacuated its civilian personnel to neighboring Iraq, as well as reduced patrols.

Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Affairs at the HSE campus in St. Petersburg Leonid Isaev expressed doubt that relations between Ankara and Washington could deteriorate. "This is not the first operation that Turkey has conducted against the Kurds," the analyst told the newspaper, adding that previous operations were mostly demonstrative and aimed to show what the Turkish leadership was not going to put up with while their actual results have not led to any significant changes.

The expert noted that the "Claw-Sword" operation may also be restricted mostly to symbolic actions. "It is doubtful that the Turks will be interested in getting engaged in a full-blown military conflict now," the expert explained.

He sees Erdogan’s actions as an attempt to benefit from the current geopolitical situation, the standoff between Russia and the West. "Turkey is in a unique position where it maintains relations with both sides," Isaev said. "They are both interested in maintaining relations with Ankara. This is an advantageous situation for the Turks to conduct a military operation since the probability of either side putting pressure or sanctioning it is minimal. In the context of the Russia-West global conflict, interaction with Turkey both for Russia and the US outweighs even those negative trends that could emerge during Turkey’s operation against US allies in Syria," he explained.

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