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Press review: How WADA’s move affects Team Russia and Donbass-Kiev prisoner swap likely

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, November 17


Vedomosti: Sponsors to continue financing Russia’s Olympic team

As the WADA Foundation Board refused to reinstate RUSADA at a meeting in Seoul arguing that the agency is non-compliant with WADA’s code, a possible ban for the Russian team will not affect the Russian Olympic Committee's financing, Vedomosti writes citing representatives of national sponsors and backers of sports federations. A final decision on whether Russian athletes will be allowed to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in South Korea’s PyeongChang is expected in December.

The primary sponsors and partners of Russia’s Olympic Committee - Gazprom, Aeroflot, Norilsk Nickel and Zasport, which account for up to 95% of its main budget -plan to leave the team to its fate, the newspaper says. Gazprom has fully performed its obligations to the Olympic Committee on funding the team before the Winter Games, the company said in a written reply to Vedomosti’s request. The co-owner of the Zasport sportswear brand, and partner of the Olympic Committee, Anastasia Zadorina also confirmed to the newspaper that a possible negative decision would not affect the partnership. Two sources said it is impossible to stop financing the national team based on political reasons, as it is mainly a "political story" for companies close to the state.

RUSADA’s membership was suspended in late 2015, after the outcome of a probe conducted by the Independent Commission chaired by Richard Pound were made public. WADA and RUSADA agreed on a roadmap to reinstate the Russian body. Later on, WADA added two more provisions to the roadmap, one of which was recognizing the findings from Richard McLaren’s report. The dossier claimed that an alleged government-backed doping support system existed in Russia at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Russia acknowledged individual anti-doping rule violations but rejected any possibility of the existence of a state-backed doping system in the country.

Also, Russia’s top three TV channels are likely to decline broadcasting the Winter Olympics competitions due to a potential ban on the Russian team from participating in the Games, Vedomosti reported citing sources. There is no reason for giant TV companies to pay tens of millions of dollars for the right to broadcast the Olympic Games as viewers mostly root for the national squad, the paper pointed out.


Media: Local vessels to ship hydrocarbons through chief Arctic route only under Russian flag

As Russian President Vladimir Putin wrapped up discussions on the mandatory use of the Russian flag for vessels on the Northern Sea Route (NSR), the main marine conduit in Arctic Russia, market participants warn that the new regulation may complicate funding for new vessels, Kommersant reports. On Thursday, Putin raised the issue of providing vessels sailing under the Russian flag with an exclusive right to carry and store hydrocarbons in the NSR water area, which will make it possible to increase marine transportation, strengthen the positions of domestic shipping firms, and create more opportunities for fleet renewal. The State Duma is currently reviewing the appropriate draft law, which President Putin said he expects to be passed soon, and may be applied to other Russian water areas.

A source in Russia’s Transport Ministry told the newspaper that vessels under the country’s flag would be granted an exclusive right to transport oil, liquefied gas, gas condensate and coal produced in Russia if they are loaded in ports located on the Northern Sea Route. The law has no retroactive effect and envisions a one-year transition period. Russian ship owners welcome the initiative, Kommersant says. A source in Sovcomflot, the country’s largest hydrocarbons carrier on the NSR, said that the legislative initiatives are in line with the "current practice of other countries to reserve the right of national carriers to transport certain cargoes."

However, a market player told the publication that the foreign flag allows a vessel owner to attract foreign financing, which is impossible for ships registered in the Russian Federation given today’s geopolitical environment. For example, Canadian Teekay, Japanese Mitsui OSK Lines and Greek Dynagas have become owners of LNG-tankers in addition to Sovcomflot within the Yamal LNG project. The new legislation will not affect the project, but will concern Novatek’s next project - the Arctic LNG, which the source says can make it challenging to attract funds for shipbuilding from abroad.

An industry source told Vedomosti that the legislative initiative looks logical for national interests. "You are wrong if you think that other countries do not impose restrictions on local offshore operations and do not promote their interests. For example, only US vessels under the local flag and with an American ship’s captain can operate off Alaska’s shores," he noted.


Kiev, Donbass to swap prisoners before New Year’s 2018

The prisoner exchange between the Donbass self-proclaimed republics and Kiev is expected before the end of this year, Izvestia writes with reference to representatives of the two republics’ leadership. This comes after the talks with the Contact Group in Minsk and leader of the Ukrainian Choice-People’s Right Viktor Medvedchuk’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Moscow Region where Medvedchuk asked the Russian leader to influence the situation with the captives. According to Denis Pushilin, chief envoy of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in the Contact Group for the Donbass settlement, the issue would not get off the ground without Putin’s involvement.

"Russia is a consistent mediator in the settlement to the conflict. Taking into account the fact that the Russian president delved into the issue at Medvedchuk’s request, the chances are high that prisoners will be swapped by the New Year," he told the newspaper, adding that progress is already evident. The sides will have to hold "very challenging but short" negotiations, Pushilin said. Also, Donetsk and Lugansk are not going to accept a partial swap. According to the politician, the leaders of the ‘Normandy format’, including Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko supported the idea of an all-for-all prisoner exchange. "Our lists include people, particularly political prisoners, who are relevant to the Donbass conflict. There are Berkut personnel, and Odessa residents who took part in the May 2 events there, and a number of other political prisoners. No one apart from us will protect them, which is why we demand releasing those people," he stressed.

The all-for-all prisoner swap is one of the key provisions of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk agreements that was signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on February 12, 2015, after marathon talks between the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. Putin’s call to the heads of the LPR and DPR has accelerated the process, making it more difficult for Kiev to sabotage the final decision on the prisoners, representative of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) to the Contact Group Rodion Miroshnik told Izvestia. He added that now Kiev will not be able to strike certain people off the list that it would like to keep "for putting psychological pressure on the republics." "In this case Vladimir Putin served as an ‘engine’ getting all of it off the ground. A situation has been skillfully created, in which the ball is in Poroshenko’s court, and if he abandons the prisoner swap, it will discredit him before the whole world and the guarantors of the Minsk Accords," he emphasized.


RBC: Center for Strategic Research charts course for streamlining government reform

The Center for Strategic Research (CSR) headed by ex-Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin has presented its final proposals on government reform, which had been discussed at a meeting of the working group of the President’s Economic Council earlier this week, RBC daily says. The CSR suggested cutting expenses on government staff from the current 2.5% to 1.74%, which will streamline the digitalization of the management processes from 5-10% as of now to 50%, while the segment of citizens, "who see themselves as fully or mainly responsible for what is going on in the country," will soar from 11% to 40%. In addition, a special strategic bloc should be created within the central office of the Russian government, which will be involved in supervising the implementation of the country’s development strategy, coordinating the outcome of state programs, KPI monitoring and public reports, the paper writes with reference to the document.

The bloc will be obliged to make public reports regarding the country’s achievements. The CSR considers it necessary to reduce the number of obligatory state strategies to four - "national security strategy, and strategies for scientific and technological, spatial and socio-economic development, and set a moratorium on the development of new ones," RBC says. Another proposal is to increase the administrative and political responsibility of ministers in order to reach the targeted goals. "Sanctions may be applied to ministers, even as far as firing them if they fail to fulfill strategic tasks," the Center said. Meanwhile, the number of officials may be cut back from 148.5 to 103.6 per 10,000 citizens.

As reported earlier the Center for Strategic Research developed Russia’s economic growth strategy and submitted it for the president’s consideration in May 2017. The CSR head said that the program is currently being discussed in the president’s administration and in the ministries. Kudrin expects this work to continue until the presidential elections in March 2018.


Izvestia: Medved trucks to be used in counter-terrorist operations in Syria

Russia’s special ops units have received a pilot batch of Medved mine-protected armored vehicles, which are able to safely move across battlefields and eliminate the enemy using mixed fire, Izvestia says. Experts assume a combination of ungraded protection, roominess and portability puts those trucks in demand, particularly for counter-terrorist operations.

A source in the Defense Ministry told the paper that the test program of the first batch envisions their supply to Syria to be tested under military conditions. A source in the Military-Industrial Company confirmed to Izvestia that Russia’s military forces have taken interest in Medvedev vehicles and acquired some of them for test runs.

Expert Oleg Zheltonozhko told the newspaper that since the Syrian operation is getting into a phase when protection of convoys will among the key crucial tasks, "the Russian military forces would like to obtain a whole range of military vehicles - from light to heavy, given that the Medved has a successful combination of armor and roominess and relative portability."


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