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Press Review: 'Kremlin List' consequences and Sochi congress takeaways

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday

Media: "Kremlin List" jeopardizes prospects for Russia-US relations, experts note

The so-called "Kremlin List" published by the US Department of Treasury on Tuesday under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act creates an atmosphere of anxiety in Russian-US relations, Valery Garbuzov, Director of the Institute for the US and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"Perhaps, the appearance of such lists will not result in new restrictions. Nevertheless, those included in this could be punished in the future, while their children and relatives turned out to be in the crosshairs of the US authorities," he said. The fact that the list includes such prominent officials as Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is an extraordinary event, Garbuzov added. He stressed that the context of relations between Moscow and Washington is becoming less and less favorable for restoring bilateral dialogue.

The paper recalls that the objective of the "Kremlin List" authors is to identify politicians and oligarchs, who are close to the Kremlin, clarify the nature of their ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and find out whether or not they were involved in any corruption schemes. At the same time, it does not imply that those Russian individuals who were put on that roster will be sanctioned automatically.

Although the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act made it possible to make public not just the names but also the income sources identified by US intelligence agencies and possible illegal schemes that could involve these individuals, the Trump administration chose another option including 210 Russian officials, politicians and entrepreneurs on the dossier. "A serious report was expected in Russia. Russophobes were rubbing their hands gleefully anticipating a powerful blow to the Kremlin, while businesspeople were concerned about the possible risks to their reputation," Ivan Timofeyev, Program Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, told Kommersant. "However, eventually we saw a collection of websites of the Russian presidential administration, the government and a Forbes magazine list."


Izvestia: Sochi congress becomes springboard for Syria

One of the most important takeaways of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi was an agreement on setting up a constitutional committee, Izvestia writes. The experts interviewed by the paper stressed that the new format made it possible to not just conduct negotiations between the conflicting parties but keep up a national dialogue, which is a fundamental difference from the Geneva and Astana peace talks.

The parties represented at the congress are seeking an intra-Syrian dialogue, and the issue at hand is not just talks between the delegations, one of its participants, Muhannad Ali al-Haj Ali stressed during the forum. This is also a point made by Vitaly Naumkin, Head of the Institute for Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences who is also an advisor to UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

"This is the National Dialogue Congress. The talks are usually conducted by the parties: the government delegation and the [opposition] delegation. There is no government delegation here," Naumkin stressed in an interview with the paper. He was also certain that Moscow’s national dialogue initiative will give a fresh impetus to efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis.

Mikhail Remizov, President of the National Strategy Institute, likewise pointed out that the Sochi forum was unique. "While the Astana process is a dialogue between the centers of power on military issues, the Geneva format is where the emigrant opposition and those who may reflect the position of other powers are predominant. On the other hand, in Sochi, an attempt was made to shape an influential cross-section of Syrian society for a dialogue on the constitutional process principles," he noted.

Commenting on the role of the Sochi congress to Izvestia, Chairman of the Federation Council (upper house) International Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev noted that it is important to make such meetings regular and keep up a continuous dialogue. In his view, the Sochi platform will be a highly sought after aspect of the entire Syrian peace process.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Russians’ positive expectations growing, pollster reveals

Russian citizens’ positive expectations are currently on the rise, Director General of the Russian Public Opinion Research Center Valery Fyodorov told Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

"This is happening because factories are not closing, the ruble is stable, oil has not become cheaper, while bank collapses do not result in depositors’ losses," he explained. "Today people want to spend money again and consume more after tightening their belts for two years. However, to do so, it is not enough to just have money. One needs to believe that tomorrow will be better than today. And this faith must be backed by market realities. The incomes of people themselves, their friends and relatives must grow. So far, we can see that they lack sufficient stimulus for their desires. That’s why public sentiment is unstable and fluctuating at the moment."

On the other hand, banking statistics shows "rapid growth in lending, which is good, of course," Fyodorov went on to say. "However, the growth in demand for loans should be accompanied by growing incomes, which we haven’t seen so far," he noted.

When asked to comment on rising demand for foreign travel among Russians, he recalled that problems in international relations have not gone away, and an atmosphere of anxiety continues to linger.

"However, things have become a little bit easier recently. Militants have been driven out of Syria, relations with Turkey have been ironed out. So, on the whole, the atmosphere is gradually improving. People are happy to see that and seek to make up for the past several years when vacations abroad were unaffordable for many," Fyodorov said.

He noted that people say that they want to do the same things they used to do before the 2015-2016 crisis, that is, to go on vacation to Egypt, Turkey, to travel to Europe and go on exotic tours in Asia. "And that is a very important aspect of normalization, a return to a normal life after hard times," Fyodorov stressed.


Vedomosti: Poland presses EU to hamper Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 project

Warsaw is working hard to put up roadblocks to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Vedomosti writes. Poland suggested that the European Commission adopt the amendments to the Gas Directive. They envisage the extension of European regulations to gas pipelines from third countries. Warsaw submitted its comments on the draft amendments to the European Commission in January.

The document describes when separate gas pipelines from third countries operate outside the EU energy law as harmful and discriminatory. The arguments against applying the Third Energy Package provisions to offshore gas pipelines are purely political, Poland said and suggested that amendments to the Gas Directive be considered without any delay.

However, far from all European countries are ready to support this. Germany earlier submitted its legal opinion on the draft amendments finding them unacceptable from both the point of view of European and the international law. "A number of countries, including Germany and Austria, insist on a detailed analysis of the possible effects of amending the Gas Directive. Many have refrained from any assessments so far," the paper quotes a European official as saying.

Vedomosti recalls that Warsaw has consistently sought to block any initiatives put forward by Russia’s energy giant Gazprom, which could lead to changes in routes and an increase in the transit of Russian gas to Europe.

Gazprom expects to build Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream by the end of 2019, which will increase the company’s export capacities to 86.5 bln cubic meters of gas. At the same time, contracts for gas supplies to Poland and transit through that country expire in 2022 and 2020 respectively.


Kommersant: Russia’s upmarket smartphone segment to grow

The growth of smartphone sales in Russia in 2018 will slow down to 5-7% in unit sales but will accelerate in monetary terms, Kommersant writes citing data provided by analysts and retailers. The reason for that will be a sufficiently high penetration of devices and a shift in demand towards more expensive models.

In 2017, smartphone sales in Russia grew 36% in dollar terms, and 19% in ruble terms to reach $6.5 bln or 382 billion rubles, according to data provided by the GfK market research agency.

In 2018, the agency expects a slowdown in demand to 5-7% in terms of unit sales. "This will be linked to the continuing growth of smartphone penetration and consumers’ shift towards more expensive and advanced devices," the company’s representative explained. According to the Svyaznoy cellphone retailer, the market will show a 5-percent growth in ruble terms. Despite this, the growth in the ruble equivalent could increase. For example, in January 2018, it grew 25% compared to January 2017, Svyaznoy Commercial Director Dagmara Ivanova said.

The main driver behind this growing demand for more expensive smartphones was the availability of financial offers, according to Svyaznoy and MTS mobile network operator. "The market was also expanding due to competition between three leading brands, that is, Samsung, Apple and Huawei, which reduced prices for popular models," the paper quotes MTS spokesman Dmitry Solodovnikov as saying.


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