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Press review: US Democrats push Russiagate conspiracy and Transnistria to visit PACE

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday


Kommersant: US Democratic senators warn of ‘Russian threat’ in 200-page report

As the US administration is gearing up to present its ‘Russia report’ - a list of high-ranking public officials and businessmen, who are seen as Kremlin insiders - to the Congress, representatives of the Democratic Party warn that President Donald Trump would not apply restrictions to listed persons so that his relations with Vladimir Putin would not be totally ruined. They have also repeatedly said recently, that the Republican Party is not interested in furthering a probe of possible collusion between Trump’s election team and the Kremlin. According to Kommersant, the US Democratic senators have published a 200-page report on the so-called ‘Russian threat’ in order to draw public opinion to its cause. The report named "Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for US National Security" calls for viewing the Russian threat as a long-term destabilization factor, which arose long before the current crisis in Russian-US relations, right after Vladimir Putin took over the reins of power from Boris Yeltsin in 1999.

The report is not a draft resolution, which potentially can turn into a law, but an expanded historical outline of Russia’s external and domestic policy over the last two decades containing a set of recommendations to shift policy, Kommersant says. The authors of the report urge members of Congress - both Democrats and Republicans - to pool efforts following "the long-lasting tradition of resisting Russian aggression," and Donald Trump to take active steps as well, the paper adds.

The task of compiling a list of persons close to the Kremlin as part of the report is stipulated by the law on ‘Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’ (CAATSA) signed by President Donald Trump in August. A source in Washington told Kommersant that the list might contain more than 50 people, and even up to 300 including family members. Daniel Fried, a former Obama administration sanctions coordinator and a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, told the newspaper earlier that being put on the special list does not automatically mean being sanctioned. However, the very fact of being put on the list increases the risk of being sanctioned in the future, he cautioned.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Transnistrian delegation to attend its first ever PACE meeting

A few days remain until the Transnistrian issue will be put on the table for discussion by the subcommittee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Paris. The President of the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselsky, has unveiled plans to befriend both the East and West. "We have shown how to accommodate the East and West," he said in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He added that Russia remains a priority for the republic, but it is not the only one: "We cooperate with the European Union, the United States, Ukraine and Moldova." According to Krasnoselsky, the policy of sustaining friendly relations has been fruitful as exports of products made in Transnistria have surged 34%, including a 30% increase of supplies to the EU, while exports to Russia have doubled.

The PACE meeting scheduled for January 16 will see the republic’s delegation participating in such an event for the first time, Nezavisimaya writes. "The invitation to PACE is not accidental. It is related to the fact that we have devoted plenty of time to clarifying our position on independence. For this, we used various platforms in Moscow, talks and round tables in Chisinau. We were invited to London where we were accepted in the British Foreign Ministry, and I was provided with an opportunity to speak at the Oxford Club. Transnistrians participated in events in Switzerland, Italy, and everywhere we told about our reality, about the 2006 referendum when the majority of Transnistrians supported independence from Moldova. We were listened to and heard. Probably, this was because we stick to peace. And as a result, we were given an opportunity to operate on the EU market, keeping ties with Russia and other EAEU countries. Transnistrian industrial production has surged by a third, and boosted exports - both to the west and the east," Krasnoselsky said.

"We were invited to PACE to shed light on our experience. We can instruct others on how to weather challenging conditions - to make friends with all. I am personally interested in friendship and cooperation with Moldova and Ukraine, despite its relations with Moscow, as well as other countries of the European Union and Eurasian Economic Union," the head of the unrecognized republic said.

The Transnistrian conflict erupted back in March 1992 when initial clashes occurred between Moldovan police and Transnistrian militia near the city of Dubossary, followed by an outbreak of armed hostilities. The relations between Transnistria and Moldova also heated up when Chisinau voiced its plans to establish control over the Transnistrian part of the border with Ukraine. Tiraspol believes that by controlling foreign trade operations, Moldova will have the means to tighten the screws on the unrecognized republic. Throughout 2017, Moscow and Tiraspol have repeatedly called for convening a 5+2 meeting. The parties also managed to reach agreements on a number of issues earlier this month, which analysts refer to as a breakthrough in a long-lasting standoff.


Kommersant: Russian private investor acquires power plants to mine cryptocurrency

Russian businessman Alexey Kolesnik has acquired two small power plants in Russia’s Perm (in western Russia) and Udmurt Regions from T Plus owned by tycoon Viktor Vekselberg, and intends to set up a data processing center and a mining farm, Kommersant writes with reference to several sources in the sector. The businessman himself confirmed to the newspaper that he considers the option to mine cryptocurrency, more likely in the Udmurt Region, while the primary project is to create a data processing center.

"Plans are in store to set up a data processing center, which is not limited to mining. Moreover, there is the Yarovaya legislation saying that information should be stored in Russia, as a data processing center is an ordinary server room," Kolesnik told the publication. "We are also considering the option with cryptocurrency, though there are no plans to work closely on it until a legal base is provided," he added.

The Finance Ministry just started developing cryptocurrency legislation. Currently, the law only obliges domestic storage of Russian nationals’ personal data, but starting July 1, 2018 the so-called anti-terrorist legislation put forward by the lawmaker Irina Yarovaya will oblige Internet providers to store information about received and transferred data for at least one year, and communication operators - for three years. This coupled with electricity price issues makes it beneficial to develop data processing centers, Kommersant says. However, the low capacity of the two abovementioned power plants is a challenge in this particular case, the paper adds.


RBC: Wimm Bill Dann co-founder to engage in ‘conflict resources’ trade

One of the founders of Russia’s Wimm Bill Dann dairy producer and investor David Iakobachvili has acquired shares in two African companies involved in trade of the so-called ‘conflict resources’, RBC says. Iakobachvili and his partners plan to buy and sell gold, tantalum, cobalt and other commodities that originate from Africa, he told the newspaper, adding that the project’s investment would come to $200 mln in 2017-2018. As part of the venture, the businessman and his partners have acquired shares in the Tams company in Rwanda and Coproco in Congo.

Conflict resources are natural resources extracted in a war zone and in areas of human rights violations, particularly in the eastern provinces of Congo, where armed divisions and groups of insurgents killed more than 5 million people using the funds raised from their sale. Commodities such as tantalum and cobalt are required in production of laptops, smartphones, tablets and electric cars, and US companies are obliged to control their production chains in order to prevent using such minerals. According to Amnesty International, Apple controls its cobalt suppliers, while Lenovo, Microsoft, Renault do not assume any required measures.

According to Iakobachvili, the initial plan is to buy and sell commodities, while later on the partners will look into investment in processing. One of his partners told RBC that this is a startup business. "All this is only preliminary, we are involved in trade and also help locals to bolster labor productivity," he said. However, he refused to say where the metals would be exported to, adding that this is an extremely competitive business. He noted that "the circle of buyers is very narrow."


Izvestia: Inflation expectations plunge to all-time low in Russia

At the end of December 2017, inflation fears by Russian citizens followed a drop in consumer price growth and amounted to 10%, which is an all-time low indicator since April 2010, Izvestia writes citing the Central Bank’s research. By comparison, in December 2016, expected inflation was 14.8%. Last year’s inflation of 2.5% is also a record figure for the country, the paper says.

Experts consider the gap between value judgments and virtual data to be normal, saying that in any case Russians properly see the trend as they expect inflation to slow down to 8.7% this year. Also, more people in Russia believe that inflation in 2018 will not exceed 4%, Izvestia writes.

Experts interviewed by the newspaper project inflationary expectations to continue going down, provided that the ruble remains stable, adding that though prices would still rise, it is no longer the number one problems for people in Russia.


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