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Press review: WADA to get ‘just desserts’ and Ukraine’s Russians may come home to vote

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, January 15

Izvestia: Russian lawmakers work on sanctions against WADA officials for 2018 Olympics ban

Russia’s Federation Council (upper house of parliament) members are hammering out sanctions against those officials of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that were responsible for barring the Russian national team from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Izvestia writes with reference to the head of the Federation Council's Commission on Protection of State Sovereignty Andrey Klimov. "We should expose those people, who behind the back of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), used WADA to push for a ban on the national team. We have embarked on this path and are now working on it on the basis of proven facts," he told the newspaper, adding that the plan is to "unveil those guilty and give them their just desserts once the Olympic Games are over."

According to Klimov, the decision to design measures against international sports officials was made on December 12, 2017 at a meeting of parliamentarians, sportsmen and diplomats. Two sources in the Russian parliament familiar with the matter told Izvestia that "about ten people" might be blacklisted, which include others not just WADA members. The issue may be about personal measures, including criminal cases opened, and restrictions on entry to the Russian Federation.

"It is necessary to explore the activities of almost ten people, among them citizens of the United States and Britain," one of the sources said. A source in Russia’s Federation Council also told the paper that the parliament would look into possible involvement by the FBI and US Special Counsel Robert Mueller in WADA’s decision.

In December 2017, the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee ruled to allow only Russia’s clean athletes to take part in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea under the status of neutral athletes, while the country’s national squad was officially barred from participating in the upcoming Games over multiple doping abuse allegations. This followed the release of a report by the WADA Independent Commission headed by Richard McLaren, which summed up the results of an investigation into the alleged violations of anti-doping rules during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. "More than half of WADA’s bigwigs are representatives of NATO member-countries, which are pursuing a struggle with Russia," Klimov told Izvestia. "I do not claim that each of them serves as a secret agent of the alliance, but it turns out that it is the case in actual practice," he added.


Kommersant: Election chief invites Russians in Ukraine to come home to vote on Election Day

Russian citizens living in Ukraine are likely to face hurdles to casting their votes on Ukrainian soil during Russia’s presidential election on March 18 since it is scheduled on the same day that celebrates Crimea’s reunification with the Russian Federation. Head of Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) Ella Pamfilova noted this fact to Kommersant and admitted that she had "no answer as to how Russians can vote there."

"I cannot answer how Russian nationals can vote there since there is no one (on the Ukrainian side) to discuss the issue with," she said, adding that Russians living in Ukraine can "come to Russia, at least to border areas, and cast their ballot" at the closest voting station. "All opportunities to do this are available now," Pamfilova said referring to the new rule allowing Russian nationals to vote at any polling station that they happen to be at on Election Day.

The latest election to the State Duma (lower house of Russian parliament) on September 18, 2016 evidences clashes around the Russian embassy in Kiev as extremists from radical nationalist organizations attempted to block the building and prevent people from casting their votes. Russian diplomatic sources in Kiev told Kommersant that radical groups are likely to "obstruct the voting with a vengeance" on March 18, considering reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia as ‘annexation’. According to Russian diplomats, the Russian embassy in Kiev is gearing up for 18 March election.

However, it remains to be seen whether it will be possible to organize the election in Russia’s consulates in Odessa, Kharkov and Lvov, and it is very unlikely the voting will be organized at the country’s embassy in Kiev since the building is located in the city center and cannot be protected, the paper writes. Before the Maidan events in 2013-2014, the voting took place there. "This time around the balloting will be organized on the territory of the embassy," a source in Russia’s diplomatic body told Kommersant. According to the data provided by the Russian Central Election Commission, around 1.9 mln voters lived outside the country as of July 1, 2017.


Vedomosti: Putin’s new term would see more spending on education, healthcare and infrastructure

Russia’s presidential administration and the nation’s ministries are calculating an increase in budget spending on education, health care and infrastructure, Vedomosti says citing several participants of related meetings and federal officials. Though the measures are being hammered out at President Putin’s request, no official instruction has been given, the publication adds. In particular, the initiative is supported by Presidential Aide Andrei Belousov and Central Bank Chief Elvira Nabiullina, specifying that she’ll support it provided that structural reforms are carried out, sources told Vedomosti.

According to Nabiullina, it is clear that outlays on human capital and infrastructure should be beefed up, though "without funds those are pure slogans." Such options as partial reduction of expenditures, tax hikes and eased budget policy are being discussed, sources said.

Alexey Kudrin, ex-finance minister and Chief of the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) has backed the shift in fiscal policy. Kudrin is drawing up a new reform program at President Putin’s request. The budgetary move envisions a 0.8% of GDP increase in education spending, 0.7% rise in health care expenditures, and a 0.8% hike in expenses on infrastructure by 2024. Proposals are being put forward to cut spending on law enforcement and control-and-auditing apparatus, which both have budget extravagance and can allow a 1% decrease in spending, a participant of relevant meeting told Vedomosti. No cuts in the defense budget have been suggested, the paper says. According to officials, the move is planned to be launched in 2018, though one of sources said one should not expect substantial reforms this year.

Kudrin also proposes easing fiscal rules as part of an effort to redistribute budgetary funds. The Finance Ministry assumes that resources in healthcare and education can be mobilized for the budget by tackling the shadow economy and increasing targeted social support. The Economic Development Ministry adds that structural reforms will also trigger growth in GDP and extra budget revenues, a federal official told the paper. Tax hikes are also being considered, as is raising the retirement age, sources told Vedomosti. The CSR expects Russia’s economic growth to accelerate to 3% in 2019 if the program is implemented. However, the Finance Ministry opposes the idea of such a move, saying that one cannot increase expenses by a certain amount without understanding what those funds will be spent on. A ministry representative told Vedomosti that it is not considering related proposals on this fiscal policy move.


Izvestia: EU may make Russia’s Victory Day a public holiday

Russia’s Victory Day may become a public holiday and a day-off in EU states, Izvestia writes on Monday referring to a civil rights resolution of the European Parliament (EP) approved by the majority of MEPs (430 votes in favor) on December 12, 2017. The document obtained by the newspaper contains an urge (item 34) to announce "May 9 as a European-wide holiday to fortify the European family spirit." It has been submitted to the European Commission, the EU Council, the EU Commissioner for Human Rights, and to governments and national parliaments of member-countries, Izvestia says. "The resolution is a recommendation and presents a kind of compromise of one-year work of certain committees of the European Parliament," MEP member, Tomas Zdechovsky, told the publication. "Now these countries are to decide whether to follow the European Parliament’s call," he added.

In the EU, May 9 is known as Europe Day, which celebrates the historical declaration by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman in 1950, and one of a number of European symbols fostering unity among Europeans. Victory Day, which marks the end of World War II, is celebrated on May 8 in EU countries. According to Zdechovsky, "many people in the EU associate this day (May 9) with Victory Day."

European rights advocates have already responded, for example, in Latvia a petition backing the idea to announce a new public holiday has been prepared. The leader of the ‘Union against Nazism’ Janis Kuzins told Izvestia that signature drive would be started this month. "For many Europeans, May 9 remains the day of paying respect to Soviet soldiers first and foremost. This concerns not only countries where there is a large Russian diaspora, but other members of the EU as well. That is why this is a completely right move to announce May 9 as a day off, and everyone will be able to choose for himself whether to celebrate European integration or victory over Nazism," Kuzins told the newspaper.


Kommersant: Lawsuits against Apple expected in Russia this week

Initial legal battles against the global tech giant, Apple, over its deliberate operational slowdown in older iPhone models are expected in Russian courts early this week, Kommersant says with reference to representatives of legal firms NLF Group and Lex Borealis representing the interests of iPhone owners. "We have the first pool of claimants of around ten people," NLF managing partner Maxim Karpov told the newspaper, adding that "the number [of claimants - TASS] can easily increase to several hundred should the lawsuit be a success."

In December, the producer of the world’s best-selling smartphones admitted to slowing down several iPhone models when their batteries are either old, cold or have a low charge to prevent abrupt shutdowns. After the company apologized for that, numerous lawsuits were filed against it across the world. "The slowing of Apple-made gadgets should be treated as "an obvious flaw of goods" pursuant to the law ‘On protection of consumers’ rights’," Russian lawyers say. According to Lex Borealis’ partner Dmitry Ponomaryov, representatives of Russian claimants will most probably request "to cut the price or to promptly eliminate the flaws." Preliminary estimations say that lawsuits can total "several tens of millions of rubles," the partners said.


TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press review