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Press review: Moscow wary of US New START data and Russians to support Olympic compatriots

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday


Kommersant: Moscow questions US data provided for New START treaty

Russia and the United States on Monday announced the achievement of benchmarks under the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) inked in 2010. Washington pointed out that it had fulfilled its obligations last year. Moscow provided new figures confirming that it had met the deadline. Meanwhile, Russian authorities questioned the accuracy of the American report, saying that it was not "real cuts", but re-equipping part of the Trident II missile launchers and B-52N heavy bombers so that the breakout potential remains, Kommersant wrote. The US Embassy in Moscow told the newspaper that, the conversion procedures developed by the US fully comply with the treaty.

Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned on January 11 for the first time that Moscow has questions for Washington on the New START deal. According to him, at the time the Russian side did not yet have evidence that American-made weapons do not have a "breakout potential".

A number of experts suggested that Moscow made these claims against Washington amid the crisis in bilateral relations and mounting US sanctions against Russia. However, Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy at the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress Amy Woolf clarified on Twitter that Russian officials had previously raised these issues with their American counterparts. Similarly, she noted that according to the protocol of the New START treaty, if Russia has questions about US measures to re-equip any type of strategic offensive arms, Washington should conduct a demonstration of the procedures for Moscow.

The US Embassy in Moscow told Kommersant that quantitative data on US nuclear forces provided by the State Department is accurate. US Embassy Spokesperson Maria Olson told the newspaper that the conversion procedures developed by the US are permitted under the terms of the agreement. According to her, Washington is "fully committed to continuing the implementation of the treaty."

The fate of the New START, which has become one of the key achievements of the policy of "resetting" relations between Russia and the United States, nevertheless remains open, Kommersant wrote. Former US Secretary of Defense William Perry, answering a question from Kommersant during a seminar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that he was counting on the treaty’s extension, given that both the US and Russia have many reasons to decide in favor of this scenario.


Izvestia: Russian programmer extradited to US, placed in solitary confinement

Peter Levashov, a Russian citizen extradited to the United States from Spain, is currently being held in an American detention facility where he is prohibited from calling his relatives, reading newspapers and communicating with other prisoners, Izvestia wrote citing his lawyer Igor Litvak and wife Maria Levashova.

"Peter has been held in an isolation cell since Friday night ... My client is not allowed to walk, not allowed to read the press, or communicate with other prisoners. He is not even allowed to take a shower yet," Litvak said. According to him, Levashov's cell has only a bed and a mattress, he was forbidden to call his relatives and go to a store, though he received $200 from his lawyer. "Peter is forced to sit 24 hours a day in the cell without any reason, which is illegal, and I would call it torture," the lawyer added.

Levashov’s wife Maria confirmed the information to the newspaper, saying that since his extradition to the United States she has not been able to contact her husband. "In Spain, Peter was also held in an isolation cell for the last eight months. This nightmare keeps continuing. My husband's attorney will contact the Russian Embassy in the United States about this case," she explained.

Levashov was detained at the request of the United States in Spain on April 7, 2017. The US authorities accuse him of computer fraud, committing cybercrimes, developing malicious software and using bulk spam emails.

On October 3, 2017, Spain decided to fulfill the US request to extradite Levashov. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Meshkov said in October that Russia had opposed the extradition of Russians to foreign states, including the United States. In early February, Levashov was turned over to the United States and was brought to trial in Connecticut.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian business feels import substitution leaves much to be desired

Russia’s policy of import substitution might just end up being nothing more than a motivating slogan, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote, adding that domestic products rarely replace foreign counterparts successfully. Along those lines, the majority of Russian enterprises continue to import raw materials and equipment due to the lack of quality alternatives in Russia, according to experts from the Gaidar Institute, the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy (RANEPA) and the Russian Foreign Trade Academy. Over the past three years, the share of enterprises that plan to replace imports with domestic products is steadily declining, the newspaper added.

The expert conclusions about the futility of import substitution efforts were based on the estimates of the Russian economy’s dependence on imports. Thus, in April 2014, 40% of domestic enterprises demonstrated critical dependence on purchases of imported equipment and raw materials.

According to the newspaper, the chief reasons why domestic industry continues to use imported materials do not actually change from year to year. In 2015, about 62% of those surveyed from industrial companies pointed to the lack of domestic alternatives for raw materials and equipment as a major roadblock for import substitution. In 2017, almost 70% of respondents stated the same reason. About a third of managers (roughly 35%) in 2015 pointed to the low quality of domestic raw materials and equipment as a spoke in the import substitution campaign’s wheel. At present, this reason was brought up by 37% of respondents.

"This process sped up in the second quarter of 2015, when about 30% of industrial enterprises reported a reduction in the physical share or complete abandonment of purchases of imported machinery and equipment (compared to the second quarter of 2014)," the Gaidar Institute told the newspaper. However, in the next ten quarters, Russia’s industry began to reduce import substitution. "Thus, in the fourth quarter of 2017, only 7% of enterprises reported a decline in the share of imported machinery and equipment," one of the authors of the monitoring report told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

According to the newspaper, the reason for the rather modest success of import substitution lies in the dependence of Russia’s industry on imports that had taken hold in previous years. The recent strengthening of the ruble and relatively good financial results allowed business to once again turn to imported machinery and equipment.


Izvestia: Russians vow to follow the Olympics despite IOC scandal

Despite the doping scandal, 77% of Russians plan to follow the 2018 Winter Olympics, and feel that the decision by Russian athletes to go to PyeongChang under a neutral flag is right, Izvestia wrote referring to a poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center.

Thus, according to the poll, 89% of Russians know about the upcoming Olympics in South Korea, 92% of the respondents are aware of the situation with the suspension of the Russian national team from the event. More than half of the respondents - 52% believe that not enough was done to make sure that Russian athletes could participate in the Olympics. Another 35% think that all possible measures have been taken.

In the opinion of the majority of those polled (62%), even under a neutral flag, Russian athletes will still represent Russia and defend the nation’s honor. At the same time, 24% think their decision means they will compete on their own behalf, and not on behalf of the Russian Federation.

Biathlon was the most popular sport among those who intend to watch the Olympics - 50% of Russians plan to follow the biathlon competitions. Figure skating takes second place with 46%, after that - hockey (37%), skiing (34%), bobsledding (19%), and speed skating (13%).

"The drawn-out and harsh pressure from the IOC and WADA, resulting in a ban for the Russian team in PyeongChang, did not dishearten Russian fans. Their numbers fell by comparison to the Sochi Games, but not by much," Head of the research department at the Russian Public Opinion Research Center Stepan Lvov told Izvestia.

Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies Rostislav Turovsky told the newspaper, that the Olympics is a tradition and Russians will not lose interest in it, even if the national team is not fully represented.


Kommersant: OSCE observers to ignore Crimea in coming presidential election

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) mission started work in Russia on Monday. Observers will assess the course of the presidential election campaign. The mission’s participants will visit dozens of regions, but will not visit Crimea. The ODIHR told Kommersant that the vote on the peninsula will not be mentioned in the final report either. Meanwhile, European politicians, mostly representatives of small opposition parties, expressed their desire to observe the elections in Crimea.

Thus, 500 OSCE ODIHR representatives will monitor the 2018 presidential election, including 420 people arriving in Russia during the last week before Election Day and will spend a few days in the country after the election.

Member of the Russian Central Election Commission Vasily Likhachev told the newspaper that the mission members want to visit 32 regions. At the same time, in December 2017, the organization stated that it would not send representatives to Crimea, since there is "no consensus" among the leadership of the 57 OSCE member countries on this issue. ODIHR spokesperson Thomas Rymer told Kommersant that the office would not include Crimea in the report on the voting results, because "information about the elections, assessments and recommendations contained in the final reports of the mission are based on personal monitoring of the process." However, the absence of observers in Crimea will not affect the legitimacy of the elections, since it is not a question of legitimacy, but of compliance with standards, Reimer added.

Regardless of the decisions by international organizations, politicians from other countries will be present in Crimea, Kommersant wrote. Likhachev told the newspaper that these observers would have a special status. "There will be political figures from different levels of structures, representatives from France, Germany, Belgium, and Scandinavian countries. They will form a mission of international experts. Not observers, but experts," he said, adding that the exact number of experts is still unknown.

At the same time, Crimean Head Sergey Aksenov told Kommersant that the peninsula is ready to welcome any international observers.


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