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Press review: ‘Kremlin List’ no laughing matter and mission accomplished at Sochi congress

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: ‘Kremlin List’ nothing to laugh at

When Washington publicized its so-called "Kremlin List" earlier this week, the Russian leadership preferred to laugh it off. However, it is becoming increasingly more obvious that it is no joke, and the consequences could be grave indeed, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. It’s not improbable that some joint ventures involving foreign businesses could be frozen until the situation with the new round of anti-Russian sanctions, which are according to the US Department imminent, is clarified. That said, European businesses could even drop a hint to Russian authorities at the need for additional guarantees and preferences.

EU businesses were quick to react to Washington’s move warning Russia of growing uncertainty. According to the Association of European Businesses (AEB), the ‘Kremlin List’ could affect the interests of EU investors and companies doing business with Russia.

"This list produces toxicity in relations between Russian and international businesses leading to excessive tensions and doubt," Alexey Knelz, a spokesman for the Russian-German Chamber of Commerce, told the paper.

Tamara Kasyanova, First Vice-President of the Russian Club of Financial Directors, elaborated in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta that "business elites are concerned about the lack of motivation and ambiguity of such documents, because the issue at hand is the owners of Russia’s largest enterprises that many Western companies do business with."

According to Freedom Finance analyst Georgy Vashchenko, if fresh anti-Russian sanctions are imposed, asking for additional preferences in Russia will be pointless, "as European companies will have no right to work with Russian companies directly." In his view, the end result will be the need to ask for permission from the US Department of Treasury for major projects.


Kommersant: Sochi-hosted Syria congress accomplished its mission

Moscow has achieved its goal, the results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi on Tuesday have been recognized by the global community and will be part of the Geneva peace talks on Syria, Kommersant writes. Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, was earlier quoted as saying that the forum did not generate any rivalry to the central role played by the UN in promoting constitutional reform in Syria. These remarks came in the wake of a statement made by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura who said that the international organization sees the results of the congress as a contribution to the UN-brokered political solution.

"De Mistura’s participation has made it possible to talk about the international legitimization of the Sochi event," Vasily Kuznetsov, Director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the paper. He stressed that all the goals set by Moscow had been achieved. "The forum faced pretty clear tasks, that is, to establish dialogue between various social groups and come up with proposals on the constitutional commission. The dialogue did take place, although it was not easy."

According to Valdai Discussion Club expert Maxim Suchkov, "previous disagreements still linger, but work can carry on." He noted that the West had feared that the Sochi-hosted forum could become an alternative to the Geneva negotiations, contrary to Russia’s assurances. "Their overall impression is that the congress was not a success. On the other hand, they note with satisfaction that the end of that event will make it possible to focus on Geneva," he added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Belgian premier opens up new page in Russia-EU relations

Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel, has wrapped up his official visit to Moscow where he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Michel hoped it would be possible to open up a new stage of dialogue with Russia. He also stressed that the economic sanctions against Russia should not be an end in itself, adding that disagreements between the EU and the Kremlin should be ironed out through negotiations.

The Belgian prime minister admitted that points of contention between Russia and Europe, such as the Ukrainian crisis, persist and pointed to the need to intensify negotiations on the issue.

"There are preconditions for improving relations between Russia and the European Union, considering that the current situation is uncomfortable for both sides," Nadezhda Arbatova, Head of the European Political Studies Department at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said in an interview with the paper. "At the same time, the major stumbling block to fostering dialogue is the Minsk agreements, which have stalled."

According to the expert, the proposal to deploy a peacekeeping mission between the warring parties put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin is a good opportunity to put an end to the hot phase of the conflict in Ukraine. "I believe that could also be a new ground zero in relations between the EU and Russia that would launch the process of easing sanctions," Arbatova concluded.


Kommersant: Russian gas major to boost capacity of Arctic LNG project

Russia's largest independent natural gas producer, Novatek whose strategy envisages the production of up to 70 mln tonnes of liquefied natural gas by 2030 has announced plans to increase the capacity of its future LNG plant on the northern Yamal Peninsula, the Arctic LNG 2, to 19.8 mln tonnes. According to Kommersant’s sources, the proposed move stems from the company’s new calculations as to how much equipment it can fit into one offshore platform. The improved capacity could increase revenues by approximately $700 mln under the current price climate, but this would also demand more capital investment.

Industry sources interviewed by the paper also noted that liquefaction plants are operating in the harsh Arctic climate more effectively than anticipated, and that can be seen during the practical function of the first line of the Yamal LNG commissioned two months ago.

Plans are in store to launch the Arctic LNG 2 by 2023 with full production capacity to be attained by 2026. Novatek is ready to offer its partners 30-40% in the project, but specific investors have not been selected yet. The gas producer is in talks with the current Yamal LNG shareholders - France’s Total and China’s CNPC, along with the Japanese investment conglomerate Marubeni Corporation and Saudi Aramco. It is assumed that the project will be more than 30% cheaper than Yamal LNG ($27 bln).

Raiffeisenbank analyst Andrey Polishchuk pointed out that Novatek could use the Yamal LNG experience in the Arctic LNG project. He stressed though that it is too early to talk about the final parameters of the second plant, which could change as the construction begins. With an increase in LNG production, the company will be able to get additional revenues (about $740 mln per year, according to Kommersant’s estimates). However, future LNG prices will have a more substantial impact on the Arctic LNG economy, the expert added.


Izvestia: Russia sees surge in complaints about suicidal content online

Russia has registered a record number of suicidal content on the web. The press service of the Federal Service for Consumers’ Rights Protection informed Izvestia that in 2017 the watchdog looked into almost five times as many Internet links for the presence of banned information than in 2016. In 95% of all the cases, the material was branded illegal as they contained descriptions or methods for committing suicide or appeals for suicide.

According to Alexey Koch, President of the Association of Social Networking Users, complaints about the distribution of banned content come mostly from individual activists or non-governmental organizations.

For his part, Yevgeny Venediktov, Head of the Center for Research of Legitimacy and Political Protest, noted that the rise in the number of complaints about suicidal information online is due to the upsurge in the activity of "death groups" linked to the notorious Blue Whale suicide community.

"Our statistics shows that 2017 saw a record number of appeals for suicide among children sweeping across social networks. Children and teenagers joined various groups with suicidal content, then they had to perform a number of tasks from a ringleader. At the last stage of the game, the administrator asked schoolchildren to commit suicide," the expert said.

By the end of the year, the number of subscribers to such communities had decreased tenfold. However, this year experts have again registered a new wave of suicide propaganda on social networks.


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