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Press review: Astana wraps up peace talks and Kaspersky Lab's top manager arrested

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, January 25

Izvestia: Astana’s peace talks on Syria wrapped up

The second day of peace talks on settling the Syrian conflict in Astana resulted in a final communique envisaging the establishment of a ceasefire monitoring mechanism, yet the opposition refused to sign the document. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the efforts of Russia, Iran and Turkey that brought the warring parties together to the negotiating table were in vain, Izvestia wrote. Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs, Andrey Klimov, told the newspaper that the results of the meeting in Astana point to the success and comprehensive progress of the Syrian settlement.

"The mere fact that the meeting took place and gathered representatives of the opposing sides in the same room is an achievement. We are only developing this format, and it would be naive to expect that it will work effectively from the very outset. After all, we have to understand that these people engaged in dialogue with the Syrian authorities are backed by tens of thousands of militants. Our goal in this situation is to stop the armed conflict, and later start a dialogue on political issues with those who can really influence the domestic situation. Of course, excluding the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda (terror organizations, banned in Russia)," Klimov said.

He added that Russia’s goal in the Syrian crisis is not to keep certain individuals in power, but to reach a reasonable compromise, in which Syria would be a united stable country.

Syrian MP Ashwaq Abbas told Izvestia that Damascus also positively assessed the results of the conference.

"Securing a truce, supporting the idea of ··demarcating the armed opposition and creating a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire were the goals of the meeting. Russia, Turkey and Iran generally agree on these issues. This can be attributed to the positive results of the meeting in Astana," she said, adding that armed groups are well aware that if we manage to secure a ceasefire in Syria, their role in the conflict and political settlement will be reduced to almost zero, because they have no support among the people. According to her, this might be the reason why representatives of the opposition are looking for excuses not to conclude any agreements.

According to Izvestia, now that the conference in Astana is over, it is time for Russia, Turkey and Iran to act - creating a joint mechanism to monitor the cessation of hostilities in Syria. Moscow, Ankara and Tehran have yet to discuss how to ensure an objective monitoring of the situation. If successful, identifying those responsible for ongoing ceasefire violations would be only a matter of time.


Izvestia: Russia could become fifth biggest international reserves holder by 2019

Russia's international reserves could reach $500 bln in 2019 given the current oil price climate, low capital outflow and favorable external conditions, the Institute of Economic Forecasting at the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) told Izvestia. According to the Institute’s estimations, with this figure Russia could be able to take the 5th place in the global ranking in terms of reserves.

"Maneuvers with the Reserve Fund and National Wealth Fund will not greatly affect the volume of reserves, and capital outflow can be assumed to be a constant at the level of $15-20 bln per year. With this scenario, we could see $500 bln in 2019," according to Deputy Director of the Institute of Economic Forecasting Alexander Shirov.

He noted that everything depends on the parameters of the exchange rate, which will be determined by the Government and the Central Bank under the preliminary fiscal rule. In other words, reserve purchases are more profitable with a stronger ruble. The current scenarios of the Institute, calculated prior to the Finance Ministry’s decision not to spend the reserves, is projected at $417 bln by the end of 2017, $461 bln in 2018 and at nearly $484 bln by 2019.

Leading expert of the Development Center at the Higher School of Economic Sergey Pukhov told the newspaper that reaching $500 bln is not the Central Bank’s main goal. For now the regulator is mostly interested in reaching target inflation of 4% and securing a floating exchange rate for the ruble.

If Russia reaches the level of $500 bln, it will take the 5th place in the global ranking in terms of gold and foreign currency reserves after China ($3 trillion), Japan ($1.2 trillion), Switzerland ($685 bln) and Saudi Arabia ($535 bln), surpassing Taiwan ($435 bln).


Kommersant: Russia’s FSB arrests Kaspersky Lab top manager

Ruslan Stoyanov, head of the computer incidents investigation unit at Kaspersky Lab, was arrested according to Kommersant citing a source close to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The newspaper noted that the arrest might be linked to the investigation of one of the department heads of the FSB’s Information Security Center.

Kaspersky Lab press service confirmed the arrest to the newspaper, adding that the investigation is not related to the company and is being conducted against a private individual.

Both Stoyanov and FSB information security official, Sergey Mikhailov were taken into custody as defendants in the same case.

Detectives are investigating the Information Security Center’s connection to private companies cooperating with the division in the field of cybercrime expert studies. According to the newspaper, the case falls under the high treason article of Russia’s Criminal Code, with information about one of the Center’s employees receiving money from foreign organizations currently being verified.

The Investigation unit at Kaspersky Lab has been working with the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs in cybercrime expert studies since 2013.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev trumps up terror claim against Moscow in international lawsuit

After filing a lawsuit against Russia to the International Court of Justice last week, Ukraine is now sending an additional document in order to convince the court to accept the claim for consideration, especially since the so-called "Russian aggression against Ukraine" was not recognized at all internationally, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote. The newspaper noted that therefore it would be unclear who is the second party to the conflict that has to compensate Ukraine for the damage allegations estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars.

Ukraine’s 47-page lawsuit accuses Russia of violating the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (from December 21, 1965) and International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (from December 9, 1999). The legal background for the case mentioned shooting attacks in the residential areas of Mariupol and Kramatorsk, explosions in Kharkov, the shooting of a passenger bus in Volnovakha, as well as the Malaysia Airlines Boeing Flight MH17 catastrophe.

Political scientist, Director of the Information and Analytical Center Perspektiva, Pavel Rudyakov, told the newspaper, he believed that it would be extremely difficult to prove Russia’s involvement in these tragedies. Experts in Kiev unofficially noted that the UN so far has made no decisions that would have confirmed the validity of the Ukrainian claims. Therefore, only Kiev officially labels the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic "terrorist organizations". Since Ukraine declared war on the republics in an "anti-terrorist operation", it might raise questions about how Russia can be involved in this. Especially, since in the globally recognized Normandy format Moscow is playing the role of a mediator on a par with Paris and Berlin.

Vladimir Gorbach, political analyst at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic cooperation told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the Ukrainian government has carefully prepared evidence and performed all the necessary procedures. "This suggests that the International Court of Justice will consider the Ukrainian lawsuit. However, it could take years," the expert warned.

Not only does Kiev want to mete out punishment, but it also seeks to get compensation. Ukrainian officials and politicians talked about various sums over time, starting from $100 bln, so the compensation is expected to grow in the long run. "The Ukrainian lawsuit suggests that the court, whose decisions cannot be appealed, sooner or later will oblige Russia to pay compensation. If this is the verdict and Moscow refuses to pay, the mechanism might involve seizing Russian property abroad," Gorbach noted.


Kommersant: Roscosmos to recall engines for second and third stage of Proton-M

Roscosmos management has decided to recall all engines of the second and third stage of Proton-M carrier rocket for cross-checking, Kommersant wrote citing several top managers of the space industry enterprises.

"We are talking about all engines for Proton, manufactured at the Voronezh Mechanical Plant over the last few years - dozens of units, including those that have already been delivered to Baikonur. The schedule of returning them to the plant must be agreed before the end of the week," a source told the newspaper.

According to Kommersant, during firing tests of Proton-M’s second stage a problem in liquid rocket engines was detected. Investigation into the causes of the incident found that during the assembly of the engines "non-liquid components" were used, in particular, metals that are less heat-resistant. Currently, the Federal Security Service, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigative Committee are trying to figure out why the replacement of materials had not been picked up by those responsible for quality control.

According to Kommersant, the examinations will affect the timing of Proton launches - the first launch of the carrier rocket this year will not take place before summer. In total in 2017, Roscosmos is expected to conduct 27 launches; at least eight of them involve Proton carrier rockets.


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