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Press review: Russia, China back Myanmar and what’s the US line on Afghan cooperation

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, December 26


Izvestia: US State Department not planning to resume cooperation on Afghanistan

The United States is not going to change its policy on Afghanistan, a source in the State Department told Izvestia, adding that Washington is pursuing its strategy on the basis of a new document, which US President Donald Trump presented in August. Russia’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov noted that so far, Moscow unsuccessfully expects detailed proposals from the US, and the statements from the State Department and the White House often differ.

A source in the State Department told the newspaper that Washington is going to act on Afghanistan in accordance with Trump’s new strategy, when replying to questions on whether Washington is going to start cooperating with Russia on fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.

At the same time, the department’s press service told Izvestia that President Trump recently introduced a new US strategy on Afghanistan and South Asia, and that Washington's policy will be determined by this plan. According to the press service, the agency’s policy is extremely transparent and any updates on it will be made public.

Thus, according to the newspaper, the State Department made it clear that the US has no new plans to cooperate with Russia on Afghanistan.

In Moscow, such statements were perceived as an unwillingness to see the real state of affairs in Afghanistan. Kabulov told Izvestia that this is an inadequate approach to combating international terrorism, where the Afghan issue plays a key role.

"The State Department’s statements contradict President Trump's sentiment in a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Let them then first figure it out. It looks like they contradict each other. This suggests that America does not have a clear strategy. We do not see any specific attempts from the United States, and Moscow needs the whole story," he said.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia, China among few in UN that continue to back Myanmar

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. The document calls on the authorities to stop military operations, put an end to human rights violations, ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid and provide the Rohingya with civil rights. The motion, prepared by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, blamed the crisis on Myanmar. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russia, China and a number of other states, voted against it, standing in opposition to the majority of Western and Islamic countries.

The resolution was supported by 122 states. Russia, China, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Belarus, Syria, Zimbabwe and Myanmar itself (Burma) voted against. Twenty-four countries abstained.

In a conversation with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Aida Simonia, a leading researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted: "In the past decades, when the West announced the most severe sanctions against Myanmar, Russia and China have always unequivocally supported the country in the Security Council. They used their right of veto. Therefore, there is nothing new here. We have long-standing friendly relations with Myanmar. Apparently, economic interests also play a role."

According to the expert, China has many large joint ventures with the country, and for Russia, Myanmar is a market for selling military aircraft. Deliveries of six aircraft are already planned, cooperation will continue in other areas. As for Russia’s relations with the Islamic world, the expert believes, "These relations are not bad. As for Russia - was it ever afraid of aggravating relations with someone?"

Myanmar believes that the Rohingya people are Bengali, who illegally entered the country. "So far, I generally do not see a way to end the crisis," Simonia concluded.


Izvestia: Moldovan leader upbeat on Russia, EAEU ties, positive on Transnistria

The political settlement to the Transnistrian conflict may break new ground after the parliamentary elections in Moldova. In an interview with Izvestia, the President of Moldova Igor Dodon noted that he does not rule out uniting with Transnistria within a federation, and assured that he would not allow the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the left bank of the Dniester River.

Dodon still considers Moldova’s course towards European integration "unacceptable, because it is impossible to make the ideology of any particular party, even a ruling one, into a constitutional norm."

At the same time, regarding Chisinau’s aim for observer status at the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), President Dodon said that a memorandum on cooperation with the EAEU had been signed in early April upon his initiative, as well as an application being submitted for Moldova's observer status at the organization. "De facto, this decision was approved by all presidents of the participating countries. I have already participated as an observer in two meetings of the EAEU Supreme Council. Currently, Russia holds the presidency within the Union so I hope that in early spring, a decision will be legally formalized," he added.

On the Transnistrian question, Dodon noted that 2017 was a productive year for solving Transnistria’s current problems. "I would like to remind you that at the beginning of the year for the first time in a decade the Moldovan President traveled to Transnistria. We had two meetings with the President of Transnistria (Vadim Krasnoselsky), and we outlined certain steps to iron out the problems that concern the inhabitants on both sides of the river. At the end of the year in November-December there were specific decisions, including those announced in the 5+2 format. Moreover, last Friday at the closing of the parliamentary session, lawmakers voted to amend the legislation, which makes it easier for residents of Transnistria to resolve current issues," he told the newspaper.

Dodon added that the Russian peacekeepers mission "has been and still remains successful." "In my opinion, the mission should continue. Political statements by representatives of the Moldovan government in the United Nations and other venues are just a public relations attempt to enlist pro-Western support," he said.

"Ties between countries are characterized by contacts on at least four levels. On the presidential level, this year was very successful. The presidents of Russia and Moldova have met more than once to make important decisions," Dodon concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Moscow might lose $1.6 bln annually due to EU pork feud

Russia faces the worst commercial defeat for the entire time of its membership in the World Trade Organization. In January, EU members will be able to impose additional duties on Russian goods reaching $1.6 bln annually, punishing Russia for fervently protecting its swine producers, who profit from a complete ban slapped on imports of European pork due to an epidemic of African swine fever, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The Russian government introduced the anti-EU pork imports bans before the Ukrainian crisis escalated. In early December, Russia’s phytosanitary watchdog formally lifted the embargo. However, Russia did not open the market. Pork was included in the list of products embargoed in response to Europe’s "Ukrainian" sanctions. According to the newspaper, the EU regards this step as non-compliance with the WTO’s decision. As a result, Brussels will send a request to the global organization on January 3, 2018, to slap trade sanctions on Russia for $1.6 bln per year.

"It is not about any fine, the WTO does not impose fines. Most likely the EU will ask to limit the most-favored-nation treatment for the Russian Federation for some time, which in the end might lead to financial losses in foreign trade," Professor at the Higher School of Economics Alexey Portansky told the newspaper.

"The basis for the decision by the Russian Federation to impose an embargo on imports of live pigs, as well as swine products from the European Union was a sanction war unleashed by the consolidated West against Russia after the events in Ukraine and Crimea. The decision by the Russian government to support national producers also played a role. Under the slogan of "import substitution," the authorities have practically cleared the way for Russian producers to successfully begin occupying niches, free of imports in pig farming," investment analyst at Global FX Sergey Kostenko told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The expert believes that in the current climate, neither the EU's application to the WTO, nor any other pressure on Russia will bring about an about face. "Sanctions and counter measures are a deadlock, which cannot be resolved by WTO mechanisms," Portansky explained. "It is a shame that an agreement was not reached, that the rules did not work and the EU could not agree on compliance with international economic law," the expert added.


Vedomosti: Russia’s Fintech Association suspends Visa and Mastercard payment systems

Russian Fintech Association, created under the aegis of the Central Bank for the development of financial technologies, excluded Visa and Mastercard after about two weeks after their introduction, three people close to the association told Vedomosti. Two of them said that the decision was made because the association is working on important state projects, while Visa and Mastercard are foreign companies.

Vedomosti sources added that they were not provided with a justification for excluding the companies.

On October 12, Fintech sent out a press release stating that Visa and Mastercard had become its associated members. According to the report, the supervisory board headed by the First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank Olga Skorobogatova, unanimously voted on September 29, 2017, for the admission of the new participants (in total, eight organizations were accepted).

At present, Fintech website does not have Visa and Mastercard in its list of participants. A Fintech representative told Vedomosti that the association is "open for cooperation and is continuing negotiations with Visa and Mastercard." Representatives from these payment systems and the Central Bank failed to respond to Vedomosti's request.

"Excluding international payment systems seems reasonable, since it is a banking association, which also tests new technologies. Therefore, the refusal to cooperate with Visa and Mastercard is dictated by security issues," one of the association's participants told Vedomosti.

Fintech works on remote identification projects and digital identity management, blockchain technology development, cultivating open API and retail payment space.


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