All news

Press review: US consular cuts to cause visa delays and Gazprom’s partners fear sanctions

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, August 1


Kommersant: US embassy staff cuts to slow down visa issuance for Russians

The sanctions imposed by Russian authorities against the US Embassy might lead to negative repercussions for Russian citizens since the US Embassy in Moscow admits that Russians may face greater hurdles in obtaining US visas, the diplomatic mission’s press service told Kommersant. Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told the newspaper that faced with the need to cut 755 employees from their missions in Russia, the United States would prefer to fire a large number of Russians working in the US Embassy in Moscow and its consulates in the regions.

According to Michael McFaul, closing US consulates in Russia is out of the question, but the consular section is large, which means that it will account for most of the staff cuts. Russians should also prepare for a significant increase in the time required for obtaining visas, he added.

The press office of the US Embassy in Moscow told Kommersant that it is still too early to even try to guess how restrictions will affect the work of the consular service. However, it is quite possible that this will lead to a slowdown in consular activity.

Meanwhile, according to the newspaper, out of 1,200 staff members working in the US diplomatic missions in Russia, the majority are Russian citizens. There are no figures available for the current year, but according to the State Department report for 2013, only about 25% of the embassy and consular staff were Americans. Thus, the staff cuts will primarily affect Russians, Michael McFaul told the newspaper.

"The cross-expulsion of diplomats is not a new phenomenon. These embassy wars occurred throughout the entire Cold War," journalist Mikhail Taratuta told Kommersant. According to him, now Moscow and Washington are "doomed to a long confrontation." "I think that the new anti-Russia sanctions law passed by the US Congress buried the Kremlin's hopes of establishing relations with the White House," the expert said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Nord Stream 2’s EU partners dread new US sanctions

Foreign players in Russian energy projects fear they will not be able to withstand the new round of US sanctions and are likely to cease cooperation with Russia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. German, French and Swiss companies hope for the protection of EU politicians, who are increasingly opposed to the sanctions war.

According to the newspaper, the new US sanctions against Russia are unequivocally directed against its foremost energy projects. In fact, the construction of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe was singled out in the document.

One of Gazprom’s EU partners working on building the pipeline, France’s Engie, has already reported that it might stop bankrolling the project if US sanctions against Russia are approved, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. The European Commission has also expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed sanctions, which jeopardize European interests, including energy security.

Lead analyst at the Russian Union of Oil and Gas Producers Rustam Tankayev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Turkish Stream could not be stopped because the sanctions are not retroactive - for example, Allseas will have to fulfill its contractual obligations on the project. The expert is also optimistic about the Nord Stream 2 project.

"The Germans are very much in need of this project, since the United States would be able to provide only about 1% in their gas needs if deliveries from Russia stop. Any other gas other than from Russia will cost them twice as much, which is why the harshest criticism of the new sanctions comes from Germany," he told the newspaper.

"If technologically significant foreign partners are forced to depart, the costs of a number of projects will increase for Russia due to the need to create their own designs, but there is also a positive side to this, chiefly the development of import substitution. It is a matter of time and money," First Vice President of the Russian Union of Engineers Ivan Andrievsky told the newspaper. According to the expert, Russia is an important partner for many European countries, and they will fight to the bitter end for such important projects as Nord Stream 2.


Izvestia: Kaspersky to spearhead cyber security body

An information security center will be opened in Russia based on the Association of Software Developers (ARPP), Chairman of the Association's board Natalia Kaspersky told Izvestia. The hub will determine the direction of information security development for the next three years.

A meeting of the ARPP Information Security Committee with representatives of the presidential administration, the Ministry of Communications, the FSB, FSTEC (the Federal Service for Technical and Export Control) and industry experts will be held on August 1, Kaspersky told the newspaper.

"The center will tackle many industry issues, for example, troubleshooting and creating universal models for solutions, developing a process for automation system standards and much more," Kaspersky told Izvestia.

"I will be happy to join the center," President of the Information Democracy Foundation Ilya Massukh told Izvestia. "Its main task is to coordinate the implementation of the Digital Economy program’s Information Security section. It is important to develop methodological recommendations on information security in state structures and state-owned companies," he added.

At the same time, Arseny Scheltsin, Director of project activities at the Institute of Internet Development, told the newspaper that the creation of such a center on the basis of an already existing industry association is not a very good solution.

"Joining any association costs a lot of money, and its main goal is lobbying the interests of specific companies," Scheltsin noted. "Today, Russian enterprises have already built an ecosystem in the field of information security. In addition, I am not sure that the recommendations developed by the center can be managed by someone in the field," the expert emphasized.


Izvestia: Amount of imported goods in Russian stores sinks to record low

The share of imported goods stocked on Russian store shelves in Q1 2017 came to 36%, according to the Russian State Statistics Service, which is an all-time low. The Ministry of Industry and Trade said that growing presence of domestic goods is due to sanctions and foreign companies localizing production in Russia, Izvestia writes. Retailers told the newspaper that the high cost of imported products also played its part.

"These are the consequences of special economic measures taken by Russia in response to the sanctions by Western countries. Before these events, in 2014, the share of imported food products reached 34%," the Ministry of Industry and Trade’s press service told Izvestia. The Ministry added that "another important factor is that international corporations invest in production in Russia."

Retailers also highlight the decline of imported products in Russian stores. Retail supermarket chain Magnit told the newspaper that the share of imported goods in its stores "has always been low" and "the company is actively cooperating with domestic producers".

"As of June 30, 2017, the share of imported goods in our stores did not exceed 8%, the figure is even smaller for food products. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are mainly imported, as well as products that have no analogues in the Russian market," Magnit told Izvestia.

Chairman of the Presidium of the Retail Companies Association (which unites Auchan, X5 Retail Group, Dixy, Magnit and other major retail chains) Ilya Lomakin-Rumyantsev agrees with the Ministry of Industry and Trade that the food embargo has played the greatest role in reducing the share of imported goods. After it was introduced many products supplied from abroad became more expensive, he told the newspaper.


Kommersant: Russia’s antimonopoly service warns cellular majors against price gouging

The Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) decided to open a case against the country’s biggest providers of telecom services - MTS, MegaFon, Vimpelcom and Tele2 - after they failed to revise their prices for domestic roaming. The agency suspects cellular operators have been price gouging on domestic roaming. The operators themselves refer to the high rates of inter-operator tariffs in Crimea, Kommersant writes.

FAS Deputy Head of Anatoly Golomolzin told the newspaper that violations of the antimonopoly legislation by setting monopolistically exorbitant prices for national roaming services are being committed "across the country."

At the same time, the decision to open a case on national roaming came as a surprise for the operators. "We formulate the price for communication services taking into account prices of the Crimean operators. We have conducted extensive negotiations with them on reducing inter-operator tariffs, but, unfortunately, they did not meet us halfway," MegaFon represenetative Yulia Dorokhina told Kommersant. MegaFon appealed to FAS on the issue, but it did not lead anywhere. "Therefore, we are once again surprised by the FAS position regarding national roaming," the MegaFon representative noted.

MTS did not comment on the FAS decision. According to the newspaper, the company received a warning to cancel intranet roaming, and is currently analyzing it. Tele2 does not agree with the FAS warning. "We have carefully studied it, checked our tariffs and came to the conclusion that everything is economically justified. In addition, this warning cannot be technically implemented within 14 days," Tele2 told the newspaper. Vimpelcom declined to comment.

Maxim Safiulin, an attorney at the A2 law firm, told the newspaper, if the FAS initiates proceedings, mobile market players might face administrative accountability, which could threaten them with fines ranging from 300,000 rubles ($5,000) to 1 mln rubles ($16,675). "While none of the market participants are a monopolist, it is noted the small few have abused their domineering position, federal legislation suggests that the dominant position can be recognized for both a single as well as several economic entities operating in the same market and having the opportunity to exert a decisive influence on the general conditions," he told Kommersant.


TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in these press reviews