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Press review: Kurds may skip Syria Congress in Sochi and Argentina seeks Russian investors

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, January 24


Izvestia: Kurds might skip Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi

The Kurds might not attend the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi because of the situation in Afrin, leader of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party Salih Muslim Muhammad told Izvestia. Farhad Patiev, Chairman of the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of Kurds, expressed the same position. A high-ranking source in Russian diplomatic circles told the newspaper that Kurdish participation in the Sochi talks could stop the degradation of the situation.

The Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, scheduled for January 29-30, "aims at a peaceful settlement to the conflict in the country, but this is completely at odds with Turkey's actions in Afrin," Saleh Muslim told the newspaper.

"There is a war. We will defend ourselves. So far, we see no reason to participate in the Sochi negotiations. However, a final decision has not yet been made. Nevertheless, we are in constant contact with representatives from Russia, the United States, other large countries, as well as the UN and exchange information about what is happening in Afrin," the politician told Izvestia.

A high-ranking Russian diplomatic source told Izvestia that Moscow would regret it if the Kurds refused to attend the congress. "It is not possible to resolve the Syrian crisis without them. We have put a lot of effort into ensuring their presence at this meeting," the source said.

Since January 20, Turkey has been conducting a military operation dubbed Olive Branch in Syria’s Kurdish-controlled Afrin. Ankara inflicted massive airstrikes on various Kurdish areas, and on January 21, the first units of Turkish ground forces entered the territory of Syria.

Yuri Zinin, a leading researcher at the Center for Partnership of Civilizations at the Moscow-based MGIMO University, told the newspaper there might be another reason why the Kurds are not eager to attend the meeting. Participating in it as delegates from the federal region of Syria, they would de facto recognize the authority of Damascus. This, for them, would be equivalent to acknowledging their own defeat, the expert added.


Izvestia: Russia eyeing short-term ban on foreign agent media prior to elections

Foreign agent media broadcasts can be temporarily banned in Russia since they are allegedly disseminating calls to boycott the upcoming presidential elections, Chairman of the Federation Council's Commission on Protecting State Sovereignty and Preventing Interference in Russia's Domestic Affairs Andrei Klimov told Izvestia.

"The American media called for a boycott of the presidential elections, which is a violation of the Constitution, an open appeal for a boycott of national elections is a transgression that may entail a ban. Our side has all legal pretexts to take retaliatory measures," Klimov stressed.

According to the lawmaker, foreign media operating in Russia have continued to churn out propaganda aimed at undermining the nation’s political system. The senator noted that the Russian Constitution includes the possibility of blocking and restricting dissemination of such information.

In turn, sources in Russian parliamentary circles told Izvestia that this ban could affect Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America. According to the sources, restrictions can be applied on Election Day and on the pre-election silence period.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Argentina pursues Russian investment

Russia's cooperation with Argentina is taking on new dimensions, as demonstrated by the outcome of President Mauricio Macri's visit to Moscow and talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the same time, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Buenos Aires’ bid is a game with strong competitors, including China, which offers Argentina better conditions and prices.

The official part of Macri's visit, who has set his sights on boosting trade turnover and attracting investment, began with a working breakfast with the chief executives of 18 major Russian companies interested in cooperation with Argentina. In the afternoon, a personal meeting between the presidents was held in the Kremlin, where the heads of state discussed the development of a comprehensive strategic partnership.

This year, Russia and Argentina will be organizing major international events - the FIFA World Cup and the G-20 summit. At the same time, certain prospects are opening up in the field of military-technical cooperation. In December 2017, this sphere was at the heart of Macri talks with Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev. In addition, Buenos Aires is interested in purchasing a batch of Mikoyan MiG-29s.

"Macri’s policy includes expanding the circle of partners of Argentina in the international arena, improving relations with countries, which could attract major investments and modern technologies," Senior Research Fellow at Political Studies Centre, Institute of Latin America at RAS Nailya Yakovleva told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "Argentina’s foreign policy has become as pragmatic as possible. That is why, despite pessimistic forecasts and political gambling, the contacts between Moscow and Buenos Aires have not experienced significant changes. Both parties had the common sense to not interrupt the process of building up a strategic partnership, proclaimed during the term of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, when Argentina signed more than 60 different bilateral documents with Russia," the expert added.

According to Yakovleva, the most promising sphere of cooperation between Moscow and Buenos Aires is energy. However, the problems of interaction in the industry were already discussed during the meeting between Putin and Macri on the margins of the China-hosted G20 summit in September 2016. Other competitors strengthened relations with the country, taking advantage of the hiccup in the Argentine-Russian cooperation - for example, China. Given the competition, Russian institutions might want to "show maximum flexibility in order to preserve the existing relations and expand it," the expert emphasized.


Kommersant: Russian government intends to limit anonymous electronic payments

Russians may find themselves being able to transfer funds to e-wallets and prepaid bank cards only from their bank accounts. According to Kommersant, such amendments to the legislation are being hammered out by specialized agencies on behalf of the government. According to the results of the discussion, the restrictions may get tougher. Whatever the final decision is, the electronic payments market will lose a significant part of its customers.

The Russian Justice Ministry’s press office told the newspaper that on December 1, 2017, a conciliatory meeting was held in the Finance Ministry, where disagreements on the restrictions were hashed over. According to Kommersant, the Central Bank insists on prohibiting withdrawing funds from e-wallets and prepaid cards, while the Federal Financial Monitoring Service insists on mandatory identification of their proprietors. "We propose abandoning anonymity. The very existence of such anonymous products contradicts the FATF’s 10 recommendations, which will check Russia's compliance with the requirements in 2018-2019," State Secretary of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service Pavel Livadny told Kommersant.

Experts noted that any option would hit the market, and any restrictions might completely ruin it. "Electronic payment facilities are widely used by ordinary citizens. If you try to force citizens to transfer funds only through bank accounts, the very reason of using the product will be lost for many," Head of project "For the rights of borrowers" Victor Klimov told Kommersant.

According to the newspaper, despite the protests of market participants, in the near future the Federal Financial Monitoring Service and the Central Bank plan to meet and develop a unified position, after which the project will enter the implementation stage.


RBC: Russia yanks historical comedy flick The Death of Stalin from cinemas

Russia’s Ministry of Culture cancelled the release of Armando Iannucci’s dark comedy The Death of Stalin from cinemas, after officials and top cultural figures found the movie extremist and offensive, just two days before the premiere. According to RBC, the situation can be regarded as an attempt at censorship.

The ministry did not find any extremist material in the film right away. Furthermore, the Volgafilm distribution company had already received the certificate on January 17, 2018. Moreover, after the announcement of the film’s release date in Russia, Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky defended the movie, by saying that the ministry adheres to freedom of speech on the matter.

Experts interviewed by the newspaper could not agree on a single reason for the sudden change in the minister’s opinion. However, according to one of the versions, the reaction could be connected with another recent cinema scandal, when the Paddington 2 release date in Russia was moved up two weeks just a day before the premiere. The film is distributed by the same company - Volgafilm. A source in the government told RBC that the scandal with Paddington 2 was the reason for the Prime Minister's instruction to review the procedure for issuing release certificates, which could have influenced the situation with The Death of Stalin.

The move can be also regarded as an attempt at censorship, President of the Center for Political Technologies Igor Bunin told RBC. According to him, it would be reasonable to censor films only if they contain materials clearly prohibited for viewing. "It's unlikely that there are scenes in the film advocating suicide or pornography. Rather, it's just an attempt by the authorities to fight an unpleasant, uncomfortable film," he said.

"The main issue that the entire industry is discussing right now is the lack of guarantees for all participants in the film market – cinemas and distributors - from possible sudden interventions by the regulator," a Russian producer told the newspaper. General Director of the Karo cinemas network Olga Zinyakova told RBC that the ministry’s actions - first to issue and then to yank the certificate - is not completely clear. According to her, if there were no questions about the film when it was seen for the first time and the certificate was issued, there should not be any problems now. "What is happening now and how it happens - at the last moment and quite rude in relation to the market - is bad for all market participants," she said.


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