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Press review: What looms if US exits Iran deal and Yemen urges Russia to pressure Iran

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, January 23


Izvestia: US withdrawal from Iran nuke deal may cause chain reaction

France is likely to pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal as soon as the United States withdraws, a high-ranking source in Russian diplomatic circles told Izvestia, and two sources in French diplomatic circles later confirmed the information. The French Foreign Ministry, commenting on the situation to the newspaper, pointed out that they took note of the remarks by US President Donald Trump about his intention to withdraw from the treaty. However, Washington's example may be followed not only by Paris, but also by other EU players.

A high-ranking source in Russian diplomatic circles told the newspaper that Paris is keeping a close eye on Washington’s actions and can withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal, should the US do so. "The domino effect could begin with France. The UK is also monitoring the situation, but it is pursuing a much more independent policy on this issue. Germany, for example, is turning a blind eye to it now, as its leadership is more occupied with domestic issues associated with the formation of a coalition. But if the United States begins to act, nobody will stay on the sidelines," the source predicted.

The French Foreign Ministry told Izvestia that Paris took note of the White House occupant’s statement, and would "coordinate this issue with its European partners." However, right now, their official position remains unchanged - the deal must be preserved.

"The problem is that if the US withdraws from the agreement, it will virtually cease to exist. This would mean restoring all tough sanctions that had been previously imposed against the Islamic Republic," Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov told Izvestia.


Kommersant: Yemen urges Russia to exert pressure on Iran

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi held negotiations in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in order to talk Russian authorities into mediating a settlement to the conflict in Yemen. In particular, Al-Mekhlafi asked Moscow to crank up pressure on Tehran, which the government of Yemen (and the Saudi-led international coalition) view as the main culprit for destabilization in the region, Kommersant wrote.

According to Al-Mekhlafi, Yemen wants Iran to cease interfering in the country’s affairs. The government of President Hadi and the Saudi Arabia-led international coalition accuse the Ansar Allah Houthis movement and Iran of destabilizing the country. According to Kommersant, Sergey Lavrov left his colleague's remark about Iran unanswered, noting "increasing international efforts to create conditions for a stable intra-Yemen dialogue" with the participation of all political forces of that country.

"Linking Iran to the events in Yemen is exaggerated and far-fetched, there is no serious evidence of Tehran's meddling in the Yemeni conflict. No deliveries of arms, nor financial assistance from any of the parties, and Russia understands this," Senior Researcher at the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Serebrov told the newspaper. He noted that the territory of Yemen is bordered by Saudi Arabia, and seaports are blocked so Tehran is not able to transfer weapons to the Houthis. The expert added that Moscow never considered the Houthis to be "Tehran’s agents" and "never showed them any special partiality, though it established working contacts with them." "Russia has every opportunity to mediate the Yemeni crisis. It is the only country that has kept in touch with all parties to the conflict and can act within a neutral position," Serebrov added.

During the press conference, Lavrov mentioned that Moscow would continue dialogue with the Houthis despite the statements by his Yemeni counterpart that the movement cannot become "real partners to establish peace."


Kommersant: US calls on EU to support new sanctions against Russian elite

By January 29, the US administration must submit reports to Congress on the implementation of a new package of anti-Russian sanctions provided for by the "Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act" (CAATSA) bill. According to Kommersant, the European Union is being asked to join the measures by CAATSA’s architects, as well as by the expert community. However, the EU is no hurry to tighten sanctions against Russia. At the same time, according to analysts interviewed by Kommersant, many European firms will suspend investment in Russia anyway, since they fear punishment by Washington.

According to the newspaper, the US Congress is also pushing the European Union to crack down on Russian elites. As a result, in mid-January, Democrats in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a report titled "Putin's Asymmetrical Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security", which was aimed at proving that the alleged threat posed by Russia is timely for Europe.

Diplomats in Brussels are irked by Washington’s unilateral actions, Director of the Wider Europe Programmed and Senior Policy Fellow at ECFR Fredrik Wesslau told Kommersant. According to him, new Congressional sanctions were primarily dictated by US domestic policy, namely fears that Donald Trump will remove restrictions on Russia and "no one was interested in the opinion of the European Union."

Introducing new sanctions risks additional financial damage to the EU, which, unlike the United States, has close trade, economic and humanitarian ties with Russia. European business would also suffer because of CAATSA, head of the Paris branch of the corporate consulting firm Aperio George Voloshin told Kommersant. According to the expert, although the United States has tried to outline detailed criteria for the application of sanctions, there are still a lot of grey areas.

According to the newspaper, the lack of consensus between the EU and the US on CAATSA has become a precedent that calls into question the unity of Western policy on sanctions.


Izvestia: Cryptocurrency investments in Russian startups grow tenfold

Cryptocurrency investment in Russian start-ups over the past year increased tenfold and amounted to around $200 mln, the trading platform CryptoBazar told Izvestia. Experts attribute the surge to the fact that there are no strict regulations on stock exchanges for money substitutes. It is easier to attract funds there than by traditional means. However, there is another side to the story - investors are less protected.

According to the newspaper, novice entrepreneurs in Russia have difficulty attracting funds to their business. Banks are reluctant to lend to high-risk projects, while venture investors offer unfavorable conditions. These hurdles, together with the growing popularity of cryptocurrencies, have led to start-ups often developing their projects with the help of ICOs (Initial Coin Offering, attracting investments in digital money).

"Russian entrepreneurs attracted more than $200 mln from all over the world in their projects in 2017. A year ago, it was $20 mln. Russian start-up founders launched more than 100 projects in cryptocurrencies, and in 2016 there were about 20 of them," Founder of the trading platform CryptoBazar Oleg Ivanov told Kommersant.

Currently, according to expert estimates, every fifth ICO is held by immigrants from Russia. In total, over the past four years, teams from Russia have accumulated more than $260 mln - 11% of the total amount of all placements.

The Russian Finance Ministry and the Central Bank are hammering out legislation regulating ICO and cryptocurrencies. The draft document so far only defines ICOs, crypto-currencies and other market terms to use it in court if necessary. The issue of taxation on transactions in cryptocurrencies has not yet been studied.


Vedomosti: Sistema’s main shareholder reinvests his dividends back into company

The main shareholder and Chairman of the Board of investment giant Sistema Vladimir Yevtushenkov refused to receive dividends from his company for the first 9 months of 2017, and instead chose to pour the money into developing the corporation, a source close to the company told Vedomosti. Yevtushenkov confirmed the information.

According to the newspaper, the amount of dividends owed to Yevtushenkov reached 4.2 bln rubles ($74.32 mln). Yevtushenkov stated that he wanted to invest the savings into the development of Sistema. "We are an investment company, we should invest," he told the newspaper.

Sistema’s shareholders approved the payment of dividends for 9 months of 2017 in the amount of 6.562 billion rubles ($116.12 mln) at an extraordinary general meeting in November 2017.

The corporation served as a defendant in the case of the reorganization of Bashneft in 2014. According to the amicable agreement on the case between Rosneft, Bashneft, and the Ministry of Property of Bashkiria with Sistema and Sistema-Invest, approved on December 26, the corporation has to pay Bashneft 100 bln rubles ($1.77 bln).



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