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Press review: EU haggles with Russia over Ukraine and Kurds count on Moscow's response

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, June 29


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: EU promises Russia visa-free entry in exchange for Crimea and Donbass

Brussels is currently summing up the outcome of a recent summit, where a decision was made to extend the sanctions against Russia. Although official contacts are still on hold, the EU continues to talk about its intentions to establish relations with Russia. A source in the EU’s foreign policy department told Nezavisimaya Gazeta about this policy course, which generally continues to turn the heat up on Russian authorities while simultaneously expanding its attention towards the Russian public.

The visit by the EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini to Moscow "was to show that the European Union is interested in quickening the pace of establishing relations with Russia," the source said.

According to the source, the amount of Russians applying for Schengen zone visas has declined since 2014. However, according to statistics, the number of multiple-entry visas issued has surged from 54% to 80%, while the number of rejections stood at 1%. "In other words, visas are given to almost anyone, receiving it is a purely technical matter, but not a political problem," the source said.

Replying to a question about a possible visa-free regime, the source told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that it could happen once dialogue between Moscow and Kiev has been established. "It could be a new referendum on Crimea with the involvement of international organizations, which would be recognized by the international community. It is also necessary to end the conflict in Ukraine's southeast, with full implementation of the Minsk agreements," the source said.

In general, the EU's foreign policy towards Russia will develop in five key directions, the source said. They will include resolving the conflict in southeast Ukraine, fostering relations with the EU’s eastern neighbors - Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, fighting propaganda and putting an end to weaponizing information, cooperating on security in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and North Korea, and expanding cultural ties.


Vedomosti: Telegram might face consequences for joining telecom register

Russia’s telecom watchdog put Pavel Durov’s instant messaging service creation, Telegram, in its register of information distributors on the Internet after the Russian businessman provided information on the company Telegram Messenger LLP, which runs the messenger. Despite Durov's previous vows that Telegram would not provide access to users’ correspondence under what he called the 'unconstitutional' Yarovaya anti-terror legislation requirements, according to experts, interviewed by Vedomosti, the authorities may now place more demands on the messaging service.

Head of the Roskomsvoboda project, Artem Kozlyuk, doubts that the ‘deal’ with the national telecom watchdog can be considered a victory for the company. Durov’s move prevented the service from being blocked, but it could have some fallout, the expert said. According to him, now no one is forcing Durov to execute the Yarovaya anti-terror laws, but only because the requirements for access to its users’ correspondence will not take effect until next year. At the same time, currently the organizations included in the register have to store and provide users’ metadata to authorities upon request.

Oleg Sukhov, chairman of the inter-regional arbitration court for Moscow and the Moscow Region, told the newspaper that should the circumstances arise, he believes that there is nothing to stop authorities from demanding access to Telegram’s user correspondence.

Maxim Safiulin, an attorney at the A2 law firm, told Vedomosti that the status of being an information distributor organizer unequivocally involves specific legal consequences, including storing data on the territory of the Russian Federation, and providing it to the authorities upon request. Moreover, the law also includes an obligation "to provide information on decoding electronic messages". Thus, the "gentleman's agreement" between Zharov and Head of Russia’s telecom watchdog Alexander Zharov does not guarantee that the messaging service will not get new demands from the telecom watchdog, and in case of their failure - new threats of being blocked.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kurds hoping Moscow responds to Turkey's imminent incursion

Kurdish forces are hoping that Moscow will respond to another Turkish military campaign aimed at seizing Afrin controlled by the Kurds in the north of Syria. According to a member of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Abd Salam Ali, the Kurds are gearing up for defense, but are looking to such great powers as Russia and the United States for their support and their response to Turkey's actions, he told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

According to him, Ankara has already wrapped up plans for a new round of military operations in Syria’s northwest. The Kurds see it as an attempt by Ankara to completely take over the de facto autonomous enclave, known as Rojava. A member of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), Farkhat Patiev told the newspaper that he believes that Turkey plans to invade and capture Afrin, which would cause an uproar, but apparently, Ankara does not care anymore. Patiev anticipates that with the help of the operation, the Turkish military wants to undermine the liberation of the informal capital of the Islamic State (terrorist organization banned in Russia) in Raqqa.

According to Patiev, the Syrian Kurds are waiting for Russia. He stressed that the Kurdish people are very sensitive to Moscow's silence or inactivity, and they hope that Russia will still help implement the Syrian Federation project and find common ground with the US on this issue.

Russian experts believe that the weakening of the Kurds in Afrin benefits both Ankara and Damascus. "There are enough forces to hold up its defense," Anton Mardasov, Head of the Department of Middle Eastern Conflicts at the Institute for Innovative Development, told the newspaper. "Turkey’s previous attempts with the help of the Syrian opposition failed. Now the question is, what forces will they attract. If they throw in their troops there, it will complicate the defense," he said. At the same time, the expert believes that the isolation of Afrin is quite possible. "Turkey blocked the roads there some time ago. Moreover, (the Syrian) government forces are doing roughly the same thing. Damascus, too, can launch an offensive, and take some territories in Afrin," Mardasov noted.


Vedomosti: Gazprom cuts gas price for Moldova

Gazprom’s Board of Directors unanimously approved an additional agreement to its contract with Moldovagaz and set the new gas price for the republic. The preliminary estimated price tag for 1,000 cubic meters of gas to the country now amounts to $146.75, whereas the average price for 2016 was $190. A Gazprom representative told Vedomosti, this discount was necessary in order to draw up the documents required to start the deliveries this year.

According to the new agreement, the volume of gas that Gazprom is obliged to transmit to Moldova under the contract over 2017-2019 was set at 50.69 bln cubic meters. That said, the volume of transit of Russian gas through Moldova over the next three years will come to 16 bln cubic meters annually, which roughly corresponds to the previous years’ figures.

According to the newspaper, given the updated conditions of the extended contract, the fate of more than $6 bln of Transnistria’s debt for Gazprom’s gas, remains unclear. The representative from the gas giant did not answer the newspaper’s questions about what stage the debt restructuring talks were in at the moment and whether any agreements had been reached. A Moldovan presidential representative could not answer the question.

Gazprom supplies around 16 bln cubic meters of gas annually via transit through the territory Moldova to the Balkan states. The consumption of gas directly by Moldova reaches about 3 bln cubic meters per year, including 1.8 bln cubic meters in the Transnistrian region. Gazprom is also the majority shareholder of Moldovagaz, set up in 1999. Fifty percent of the company's shares belong to Gazprom, 35.33% to Moldova and 13.44% belong to the Transnistrian administration.


Izvestia: to create apps for Ukrainian users to bypass Kiev’s blocks

The Group launched an application for iOS and Android based smartphones, which allows Ukrainian residents to bypass the block on Russian e-mail services. In May of this year, Ukrainian President Poytr Poroshenko banned the Internet sites of a number of Russian companies, including those of the Group and Yandex. According to experts, interviewed by Izvestia, in the near future embedding services in applications to bypass blocks will become a trend.

The Group holding recently presented its clients with a built-in service to bypass blocks. This application is positioned as a service for Ukrainian users. Craigpark, which belongs to the holding, has rolled out the application to retail outlets.

The Internet holding’s press service told the newspaper, that this is an experimental application that uses Tor (free software for enabling anonymous communication).

"We made it for users who are worried about their anonymity on the Internet and want to additionally protect themselves. The opportunity to connect to accounts of third-party mail services is a customary function for mobile clients, which has been operating for a long time in the main email application," the press service said.

The owner of OMMG Technology (a cloud platform for messaging and video conferencing) Sergey Kravtsov told the newspaper that embedding the possibility of bypassing blocks right in applications will become a trend in the near future. According to him, the policy about blocking Russian services was Kiev’s populist rhetoric, and no one will be able to monitor the activity of these Internet companies.

"Given the current situation, I am sure that other messengers and torrent trackers will do the same.” Kravtsov said. “In theory, the Ukrainian authorities can prove that the new application belongs to and bypasses the ban, but it would be too expensive and technically difficult to achieve. I think that nobody will do it,” the expert told Izvestia.


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