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Press review: Moscow heads sanctions club and EU neighbors ban entry to Russian cars

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, September 18th

MOSCOW, September 18. /TASS/. Moscow is forming a kind of society of sanctioned countries, the EU bans entry to Russian vehicles and Eastern Europe reinstates the embargo on Ukrainian grain. These stories topped Monday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow building fraternity of sanctioned countries

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has completed his six-day visit to Russia’s Far East. This coming after he discussed issues of military cooperation with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. Kim inspected Russian bombers, which are capable of carrying nuclear arms, and warships. The US and South Korea have cautioned that if something becomes of this interaction, Moscow and Pyongyang will pay a dear price. Washington also insists that Kim’s visit has alarmed Beijing because it heightened instability near Chinese borders, potentially hindering China’s ability to normalize relations with the US and its allies in East Asia.

Head of the Korea and Mongolia Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Eastern Studies Alexander Vorontsov noted: "It is only natural that the scope of cooperation expands between those countries against which a hostile policy is being conducted and which encounter threats to their security. This is an organic process. Albeit against their will, but they found themselves in the same boat with similar problems. So cooperation between them will invariably grow. Regardless of what journalists call it, the axis of sanctioned countries, the axis of dissenting countries, the axis of countries standing up for their sovereignty, the essence remains."

"As for the claims by some media outlets that the rapprochement between Russia and North Korea harms China’s interests, this is not entirely true. North Korea has wonderful and quite extensive relations with China. Of course, North Korea does not want to be unilaterally dependent on any country. It has demonstrated that China is not its only friend, there are prospects for cooperation with Russia. Yet the interests of the three countries in many ways coincide. I think that Beijing was informed of the visit in advance," the expert said.


Vedomosti: All EU countries bordering Russia block entry to Russian vehicles

An entry ban on vehicles registered in Russia was enacted in Poland at midnight on September 17. Their entry is being interpreted as an attempt to export goods, something that is banned by sanctions. Thus, entry to cars with Russian plates is now blocked by all five EU countries bordering Russia with the exception of transit to the Kaliningrad Region. The personal belongings of Russian citizens, from smartphones to clothing and toilet paper, may also be confiscated, as punishment for attempting to circumvent sanctions on their export. Earlier, on September 12, the ban was enacted by Latvia and Lithuania, on September 13 - by Estonia (with the exception of buses, motorcycles and diplomatic vehicles). Finland also introduced the ban on September 15 even though on September 12, its foreign ministry stated that it wouldn’t follow Brussels’ recommendations.

EU countries in Southern Europe have not yet introduced such restrictions or explained their interpretation of the EU sanctions. Senior Researcher at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Nikita Gusev notes that people can still travel via Georgia and Turkey to Bulgaria and Greece without fear of their car being impounded or personal belongings being confiscated.

In addition to these two countries, Norway has also made no statements yet on the possibility of seizing private vehicles or belongings from entering Russians. "In the case of Norway, them not taking a position one way or the other is related to the fact that it is not part of the EU," says Nikita Belukhin, junior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO RAN). "Norway usually adapts EU sanctions to its own circumstances and it does not have to follow the European Commission’s instructions directly," he explained.

The restrictions are introduced based on decrees by authorized bodies and any such decree may be duly disputed in order to recognize it as unconstitutional. As an option, such a decision may be disputed at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), although this may be problematic for Russians because Russia left the organization, says Yury Fedyukin, managing partner with Enterprise Legal Solutions.

Ivan Timofeyev, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, also thinks that it is possible to turn to the legal system of the EU member country where a vehicle is seized. The expert noted that bringing such legal cases before a court could be promising because a claimant could argue that the actions of customs authorities were illegitimate as they are inconsistent with the sanctions’ official goal. That said, the expert cautions that such processes take a great deal of time and money.


Vedomosti: Eastern Europe prolongs embargo on grain imports from Ukraine

Three out of the four Eastern European EU countries that border Ukraine - Poland, Hungary and Slovakia - have extended the import embargo on Ukrainian grain which expired on September 15. This happened right after the European Commission (EC) lifted its restrictions. Only Bulgaria announced that it wouldn’t extend the embargo, as the country’s parliament voted on the issue on September 15.

The EC must now choose whether to extend the restrictions or leave everything as is, with unilateral bans and the possibility of transit, says Arkady Zlochevsky, president of the Russian Grain Union. According to the expert, the ban on the part of Poland, Hungary and Slovakia is quite understandable because they have to protect their domestic market. "These countries were harmed; they are protecting their agrarians from further losses," the expert concluded.

In this situation, the upcoming election in Poland and the issue of the rights of Trans-Carpathian ethnic Hungarians will play a huge role, says Kirill Teremetsky, an expert at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies (CCEIS) at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University). In his opinion, if the Law and Justice Party remains in power in Poland, then it will be difficult for the EC to convince Warsaw to lift the restrictions. However, in the event of the pro-European opposition winning, Poland may head toward a more constructive dialogue with Brussels, the expert thinks. He stressed the importance of observing ethnic Hungarians’ rights in western Ukraine. If Kiev does not present any concrete solutions to this problem or lift restrictions from Hungary’s OTP Bank, Budapest won’t make any concessions on grain transit, the expert believes.

The EC lifting the restrictions may be explained by the prevailing "values-based approach," says Vladislav Belov, head of the Center of Country Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe. Thus, Brussels is trying to prove two things: its loyalty to Ukraine and its ability to act without Moscow’s help after the grain deal collapse. Belov also stressed that Bulgaria’s rejection of the embargo and Romania’s vague position so far are related to the fact that these countries cannot afford to go against the EC as they lack the political and economic resources that Poland and Hungary have.


Izvestia: Republika Srpska may hold referendum on independence in 2024

Republika Srpska (one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) entities) may hold a referendum on its independence in 2024, if the West does not let up its pressure on Serbs in BiH, Izvestia said citing Dusko Perovic, head of the Representative Office of Republika Srpska in Moscow.

"It is possible. If the West and the self-proclaimed high representative for BiH Christian Schmidt, who does not have a UNSC mandate, continue to put pressure on the republic, Banja Luka will hold a referendum in response. The republic will fight in a legal, non-violent way and defend its rights guaranteed under the Dayton Agreement and the constitution. Of course, the referendum will be a forced measure," the newspaper quoted Perovic as saying.

He noted that Republika Srpska is against Sarajevo’s attempts to centralize the country. "Already now they are completely stripping Republika Srpska of all property, factories, forests, agriculture and all other industry. They want to register all the property as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s even though BiH does not have any under the constitution. In the future, they want to have a single police force, emergency service and other authorities. All of this is being done in order to deprive the Serbs of the opportunity to impact political processes within the country. And if they achieve their goal, then, of course, Republika Srpska simply won’t be able to block the country’s accession to NATO," the envoy explained.

According to Perovic, after the potential referendum on independence is held, the republic won’t automatically leave BiH, because first a political and economic groundwork must be laid, and relevant parliamentary decisions made.

Technically, it is possible to hold a referendum and Republika Srpska does not need Sarajevo’s approval to do so, Oleg Bondarenko, founder and editor-in-chief at, told the newspaper.


Kommersant: Europe’s gas consumption up for first time since late 2022

Industrial demand for gas in EU countries has perked up amid plummeting prices: a rise in gas consumption was registered in August for the first time in ten months, up 6.5% year-on-year, to 17.5 bln cubic meters. So far, this is only happening in some countries, in Germany and Spain, due mainly to last year’s low baseline when consumers drastically cut demand amid peak gas prices. However, these positive dynamics may continue in the coming months, analysts think.

If in August 2022, demand decreased by 8.2% year-on-year, then in September it was cut by 9.5% and in October - by 23.3%, reiterates Sergey Kondratyev of the Institute of Energy and Finance Foundation.

"So the rate of growth in demand may be in the double digits in the coming months. But, of course, the dynamics will strongly depend on the temperature factor and the output of wind-power stations," he thinks.

Despite the recovering demand amid low prices, this upward trend remains shaky, in his opinion, because gas consumption in Italy and France’s industry is on the decline while the demand for gas in the electrical energy industry and from average joes remains weak. The expert also notes that the Gas Exporting Countries Forum’s (GECF) statistics is based on ENTSOG data and final assessments may be higher: for example, for Italy, Eurostat assesses gas consumption in August as 3.33 bln cubic meters (-12.6% year-on-year) and the GECF places it at 3.2 bln cubic meters (-11% year-on-year).

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