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Press review: Kiev's uproar over Donbass reintegration and Russian elite's sanctions woes

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday
Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Maxim Nikitin/TASS
Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada
© Maxim Nikitin/TASS


Izvestia: Verkhovna Rada’s Donbass reintegration bill considered a threat to Minsk accords

The bill "on the reintegration of Donbass" by the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada might bury the Minsk deal, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, State Secretary Grigory Karasin told Izvestia. Talk about the document sparked a heated discussion in the Verkhovna Rada and set off a demonstration near the parliament. All day MPs voted on amendments to the bill in the second reading against the background of burning tires and to the accompaniment of protesters under the window and mutual accusations, the newspaper wrote. The plenary session once again demonstrated the split in the political elite of Ukraine and showed that Kiev is looking for ways to sabotage the Minsk agreements, and not to settle the conflict in the Donbass.

Attempts by Ukrainian lawmakers to adopt a bill have nothing to do with resolving the crisis in the east of the country, Karasin said. In his opinion, the numerous proposals submitted to the Ukrainian parliament by various political forces are aimed at disrupting the Minsk agreements.

"All the crafty manipulations around very specific agreements give rise to false hopes that international public opinion will agree to bury the Minsk agreements. However, there is a trilateral commitment, signed by Kiev, the Donbass republics and international participants at the February 2015 meeting, that the Verkhovna Rada should pass laws on a special status, elections and amnesties. In the meantime, we do not see any concrete movement in this direction. However, most importantly, we do not see the mandatory implementation of the dialogue between the parties to the conflict - Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk," he told Izvestia.

According to the newspaper, the words of the Russian diplomat might be confirmed by the fact that any mention of the Minsk agreements was removed from the bill.

Director of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflict Studies Mikhail Pogrebinsky believes that the bill will not be approved in its existing form. However, nationalists still hope to pass the document through the parliament.

"If it is adopted, it will give Moscow grounds to say that Ukraine withdrew from the Minsk process and all responsibility for the consequences lies with Kiev," he told the newspaper.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian elite asks US experts to save them from sanctions

Russian officials and prominent businessmen are turning to federal agencies and US expert centers to help them avoid getting into the "Kremlin report" - a new sanctions list, which the US Treasury seeks to submit at the end of this month, the staff of the Atlantic Council told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The organization headquartered in Washington, earlier put forward its criteria for the application of new sanctions.

Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council Daniel Fried told the newspaper that Washington was generally overwhelmed by requests for information and help in connection with the Kremlin report. He added he has reason to believe that the petitioners who besieged Washington represent the highest echelons of the Russian government.

According to Director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council John Herbst, in recent weeks, there has been a huge flow of Russian oligarchs and their intermediaries into New York and Washington. According to him, concerns about the sanctions list being prepared for publication can play a role here. He told the newspaper he admits that Russia had the potential to influence the decision-making process in the United States, which could include American business with interests in Russia, and paid lobbyists representing the Russian leadership and the largest Russian enterprises. However, with the "Kremlin report" such attempts are doomed to failure, he added.

Anders Aslund, Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the US administration had not yet agree on individuals to be blacklisted. According to him, alternative projects of the sanctions list have been prepared, which are currently under revision at relevant American institutions.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher international law firm partner Adam Smith told the newspaper that he did not encounter clients from Russia who would have asked for consultations on how to avoid getting into the "Kremlin report", however, according to him, the general mood among the Russian political and business elite would be quite understandable.


Izvestia: Italy’s center-right coalition vows to lift sanctions against Russia

The Italian center-right coalition, including the Northern League - now Lega, Forward Italy (Forza Italia), Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia), and polo Quarto promise to push for the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions if they emerge victorious in the March parliamentary elections in Italy, representatives of the Italian parties told Izvestia. All these political forces are known for their sympathy for Moscow, but this year they have every chance to move from the opposition to power, in terms of relations with Russia, that is from words to deeds.

According to the newspaper, such a government coming to power in Italy would send a message to the entire EU on the issue of sanctions - against the backdrop of the anti-Russian rhetoric in the EU, the Italian right is openly advocating the lifting of sanctions and normalization of relations with Moscow.

"Matteo Salvini, the leader of Lega, has repeatedly said and now confirms that when the party gets into power, he will demand the abolition of these crazy sanctions against Russia, which is Europe's main ally in the struggle against international terrorism," Gianluca Savoini, secretary for international affairs of Lega, told Izvestia.

According to him, two other partners in the coalition - Forward Italy, headed by three times ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Brothers of Italy, headed by Giorgia Meloni - follow a similar course to abolish the sanctions imposed by the EU against Russia in 2014.

Parliamentary elections in Italy are scheduled for March 4. At the end of December, experts saw the most realistic result of the vote as a "suspended parliament", in which no party would receive the number of seats necessary for the formation of the government. However, after the unification of four right-wing and center-right parties in the electoral bloc on January 7, the victory of the center-right seems to be the most likely outcome.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kazakh president might mediate US-Russia dialogue

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev during his three-day visit to Washington will discuss with US President Donald Trump the situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia, the issue of assisting Astana in resolving the Ukrainian crisis, combating terrorism, strengthening nuclear non-proliferation, and expanding trade and economic cooperation. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, experts do not rule out that Nazarbayev will try to mediate the dialogue between the US and Russia.

Chairman of the Kazakhstan Council on Foreign Relations, political scientist Yerlan Karin, noted that Nazarbayev is among the first foreign leaders to meet Donald Trump. According to the expert, this visit will be important for the future prospects of Kazakh-American cooperation in determining the relationship between Central Asia and Washington, the role of the US in this region, and also within the international context.

"We must understand that the visit is important not only as a meeting between the presidents. In itself, this rendezvous is interesting because Donald Trump is already the fifth US president to meet the Kazakh leader during his rule. And with every White House occupant, he strove to establish friendly, if not warmer relations," political analyst Arkady Dubnov told the newspaper.

"There is no need for grand illusions, Moscow is quite anxious about special relations between Washington and its closest allies in Central Asia being established and will not help it if this proves to be a side effect of successful peacekeeping in other areas. This was made clear by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a press conference on January 15," Dubnov said. At the time, Lavrov said that Washington can abuse the partnership in the "C5+1" format, which includes the United States, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Director of the Center for Central Asian and Afghanistan Studies at MGIMO University Andrey Kazantsev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Lavrov was referring to the overall dynamics of the confrontation between Russia and the US in the context of the new cold war. At the same time, the expert believes that Nazarbayev, who always had good relations with all American presidents and is at the same time a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, will continue to pursue the line of mediation between Russia and the United States. Just like Kazakhstan acted as a mediator on Syria, in relations between Russia and Turkey and on the Ukrainian conflict.


Kommersant: Russia’s Internet audience growth rebounds thanks to older generation

After two years of stagnation, the Russian Internet audience began to grow again. By early 2018, the number of Internet users in Russia among the population over the age of 16 increased by 3.5% to 87 mln people, according to GfK market research company. According to its report, the growth was mainly due to older people and the mobile Internet. The key driver for further growth is residents of large cities that are over 45 years old.

By the end of 2017, the Internet audience in Russia reached 87 mln people, GfK reported. Users exceeded the figures of the past years by 3 mln, or by 3.5%. "In 2017, we once again returned to quantitative growth," Head of the Media Research Department at GfK Rus Sergey Ketov said. The penetration rate of the Internet in Russia in 2017 among the population over the age of 16 grew from 70.4% to 72.8%, while the mobile Internet audience grew 20% - from 47% to 56%, he said. The data was obtained by GfK based on the results of a regular survey of the population of Russia aged 16 years and over among more than 12,000 respondents.

According to the company, over the past year, the share of Internet users has increased by 25% among people aged 55 and over, and the share of mobile Internet users has doubled. However, only 30% of Russians over 55 years of age use the Internet. By comparison, in the 30-54 year-old age group this figure reached 83% by the beginning of 2018, and 98% among young people. Another trend is the continued growth of the mobile Internet’s popularity, its audience is growing at an "impressive pace". According to the results of 2017, it amounted to 67 mln people, the survey noted.

Yandex confirmed to Kommersant that the audience of the Russian segment of the Internet will grow in cosmopolitan centers, primarily due to the people representing the older generation. "In 2015, people using the Internet in multi-million-strong cities almost ceased growing. The driver for further growth in large cities - only people over 45 years old. In cities with a population of less than 500,000 people and villages, the number of users continues to increase, and there are still several million young and middle-aged people who do not yet use the Internet," the Internet company said.



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