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Press review: Bigger BRICS gets nod in Jo’burg and crash of Wagner PMC head’s plane probed

Top stories from the Russian press on Thursday, August 24th

MOSCOW, August 24. /TASS/. BRICS leaders welcome the group’s expansion on key day of the Johannesburg summit, while highlighting its peaceful aims and global focus; Wagner PMC founder Prigozhin’s plane crashes in Russia’s Tver Region; and Ukraine bans Western media access to front after reports on Kiev’s martial failures and huge losses. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Media: BRICS leaders welcome group’s expansion, highlight its peaceful aims, global focus

August 23 was the main day of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, as the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa took part in both a closed-door meeting and an expanded session. All five national leaders highlighted the group’s peaceful nature in their addresses to the summit’s plenary session, along with its readiness to contribute to global development. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who addressed the event via video link, pointed out that Moscow would be taking over the rotating one-year chairmanship of the BRICS group from Pretoria, Vedomosti writes.

As expected, the potential expansion of the BRICS group has been the keynote theme of the Johannesburg summit, with decisions pending on dozens of formal membership applications from aspirant countries. Thus, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor announced that the summit’s participants had agreed on the group’s expansion.

Increasing trade payments in national currencies will be BRICS’ economic priority during the Russian chairmanship next year, Russian International Affairs Council member Yaroslav Lisovolik noted. The expert pointed out that in order to ensure more effective use of national currencies, the parties needed to reduce customs barriers, among other actions.

None of the BRICS countries is happy with the West’s hegemony, Izvestia notes. The group’s foundational principle remains the desire to create a multipolar world order wherein the rules of the game will not reflect solely the interests of the United States and its allies. That said, the collective West can be expected to show some significant pushback in the near future.

"Washington and its allies can take various specific steps, from denying the group’s subjectivity and expressing an unwillingness to deal with it, to exerting political, diplomatic and economic pressure on specific [BRICS] members (up to imposing sanctions)," Alexander Vorobyov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Center for Public Diplomacy and World Policy Analysis, pointed out. The reason why the US and its allies don't accept BRICS is because they are reluctant to allow others to compete with Western economic and political institutions and seek to preserve their own monopoly and control over the global economy and political processes. In addition, the fact that it is China that plays a leading role in BRICS, as well as in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, does not sit well with the West. Moreover, the group keeps promoting things that the US and its allies do not find palatable, from the very idea of multipolarity to efforts to create an international payments system that would undermine the dominance of the US dollar, the expert added.

"The West’s resistance can only partially slow down BRICS’ development and hinder the implementation of some of the group’s initiatives in the economic and political fields, but it cannot fully stop the group’s further development and prevent its role in international affairs from growing," Vorobyov concluded.


Kommersant: Wagner PMC founder’s plane crashes in Russia’s Tver Region, probe ongoing

A private aircraft carrying Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) founders Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Uktin crashed in Russia’s Tver Region, north of Moscow. According to experts in investigating air traffic accidents, the crash could have been caused by an explosion in the tail section of the aircraft. The experts said that holes in the fuselage and wings suggest that the business jet may have been downed by a missile strike, Kommersant writes.

Experts interviewed by the newspaper are inclined to believe that the crash could have been caused by a missile attack or an explosion on board rather than by a technical malfunction or human error. The fact that the business jet broke up in the air supports this version of events. Numerous holes similar to those caused by the striking elements of surface-to-air missiles can be seen on debris from the plane’s wreckage.

An official at the Western Regional Investigation Department of the Russian Investigative Committee told Kommersant that no evidence proving a terrorist attack had yet been found, so a criminal investigation has been launched under Article 263 of the Russian Criminal Code ("Violation of Safety Regulations and Rules for the Operation of Transport Vehicles Causing the Death by Negligence of Two or More People"). A technical probe into the crash will be carried out by the Interstate Aviation Committee, while Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency has formed a commission to look into the files related to the plane’s pre-flight preparations and the actions of ground crews that serviced the aircraft.

"Official reports contain all the necessary commentary. It is now up to investigators to take action," Alexander Yushchenko, member of the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) and head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation’s press service, told Kommersant. "I believe that no one should draw hasty conclusions. Investigative teams are working and the [regional] governor is in control," Yaroslav Nilov, deputy chief of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)’s State Duma faction, told the paper. State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladislav Davankov, who represents the New People party, said that the party would wait for the official findings of the investigation before commenting. The United Russia party also had no comment, highlighting the need to wait for the results of the official probe into the incident.


Izvestia: Ukraine bans Western media access after reports on martial failures, huge losses

Foreign and Ukrainian journalists have been banned from visiting and reporting from the line of contact. A report on the matter, which appeared in the European media early in the week, was later confirmed by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, Izvestia notes.

Earlier, the Ukrainian military command made the decision to ban media access to the line of contact in March and June 2023. Back then, it cited the need to conceal the Ukrainian forces’ strategic plans. This time, however, according to Swiss newspaper Le Temps, the ban stems from the huge troop and equipment losses that the Ukrainian armed forces are incurring in their stalled counteroffensive, as well as from the lack of tangible battlefield success, which even usually friendly foreign media outlets have begun highlighting in their coverage. Over the past month, Western media outlets have been reporting more frequently about the Ukrainian leadership’s military failures. As well, more publications have appeared accusing the Ukrainian authorities of censorship and placing restrictions on the media.

The new slant in news coverage is intended to prepare Western public opinion for an upcoming shift in the prevailing narrative away from incessant talk of imminent victory toward the recognition of the inevitability of a political settlement, said Denis Denisov, an expert at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation. "Criticism of the counteroffensive and of continuing support for Ukraine is paving the way for discussions of peace initiatives. On the other hand, these so-called initiatives are obviously unacceptable for Russia. In any case, it’s clear that Western support will wane and the new narrative will make it easier to justify such decisions," the analyst explained.

Experts pointed out that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s overly ambitious promises are one of the reasons why the West’s information support is declining. "Zelensky has painted himself into a corner with his rhetoric. Overambitious plans and unfounded expectations for the counteroffensive have simultaneously given impetus to a huge layer of nationalist opposition within the country, leaving [Zelensky] with no way to back down in terms of his relations with Kiev’s Western partners. Everyone was expecting success [in the much-hyped counteroffensive], but in reality everything came to naught," Denisov noted.


Vedomosti: Russian authorities move to soften terms of dividend payouts abroad

The Russian Finance Ministry and the Central Bank of Russia have softened the terms for dividend payouts to residents of unfriendly countries. Such payouts can be made without limitation if an investment in the Russian economy is made. The amount of the dividend should not exceed that of the investment, Vedomosti notes.

Positive changes were expected to take place after the Russian president handed down instructions to soften the terms for dividend payouts to corporate residents of unfriendly jurisdictions whose subsidiaries remain in Russia and continue to develop their Russian businesses, said Alisa Melkonyan, tax and legal partner at consultancy Kept (formerly KPMG in Russia). On the other hand, there is no certainty that the move really translates into an easing of restrictions because the bulk of foreign companies that continue to work in Russia have in fact significantly reduced or even fully ceased making fresh investments, she added.

The initiative looks positive given that, until recently, investors had only vague criteria for what they needed to do to receive dividends, B1 partner Marina Belyakova noted.

The easing of the rules represents a positive sign for those foreign businesses that continue to operate in Russia and invest in Russian projects despite all the difficulties, Tatyana Glazneva, tax and legal senior manager at consultancy DRT (formerly Deloitte CIS), pointed out. However, in a situation where sanctions that serve to significantly reduce investment in Russian businesses are in effect abroad, the practical impact from the easing of the dividend rules may ultimately be rather weak.

The authorities have actually put forward a formula for earning "a ruble in dividends for a ruble in new investment," Glazneva noted, adding that the approach could not be seen as completely fair. Any investor expects to profit from his or her investment and get back more in return than was originally invested, but such an additional guarantee that the money will at least be paid back also seems to be a positive thing, the expert stressed.


Izvestia: Experts see growth in Russia’s trade turnover with African countries

The agreements that were reached at the Russia-Africa Summit in July will make it possible to double trade turnover between African nations and Russia to $40 bln by the end of 2026, Izvestia writes, citing African Export-Import Bank Executive Vice President George Elombi.

The Russia-Africa Summit made it clear that the Western-led project to isolate Russia has failed as there are still plenty of countries seeking to work with Moscow, said Daniil Shulga, associate professor in the Department of International Relations and Humanitarian Cooperation at the Siberian Institute of Management of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). According to him, not all the leaders that were invited to the summit fully share the Kremlin’s position on all international issues, but that is a rather normal working situation in a multipolar world. Economic common ground is far more important.

According to Artyom Shakhurin, expert at IVA Partners, Russia can increase exports of food, fertilizers, agricultural equipment, motor vehicles and fuel to African countries. In addition, there is potential for boosting cooperation in building railways, power plants and processing facilities.

Andrey Maslov, director of the Center for African Studies at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), believes that a partial redirection of Russian oil and oil product exports to Africa will be crucial for increasing trade.

"Russia and African nations are only beginning to actively develop their partnership. In this regard, the summit turned out to be an important catalyst. The reason is that mutual trade flows are gaining momentum, cooperation is growing and economic ties are expanding. Special attention should be paid to interaction in the areas where trade is growing the fastest, including the energy industry and the oil and gas sector, the metal industry, food and grain supplies," Yaroslav Kabakov, strategy director at Final, emphasized.

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