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Press review: Trumped-up ‘Russiagate’ charges divide America and Russia-West feud persists

Top stories in the Russian press on Monday


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: No consensus in Washington on Kremlin’s alleged meddling in US election

Charges of meddling in the 2016 presidential election in the United States brought against 13 Russian nationals have sparked a controversial response in the US administration, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. US President Donald Trump urged National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to reject any assumptions on Russia’s alleged interference in the election. He tweeted though that, if Moscow’s goal was "to create discord, disruption and chaos within the US," the Russians "have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams."

Trump’s hostile rhetoric should be seen through the prism of his standoff with the Democrats, Yuri Rogulev, Director of the Franklin Roosevelt US Policy Studies Center at Moscow State University, told the paper. "Trump’s primary goal is to protect his reputation in the eyes of society and the Democrats at whatever the cost and prove that his victory was clean and was not the result of someone’s interference," he stressed.

At the same time, the US Department of Justice and other agencies need to show the Democrats that the so-called "Russian influence" is viewed in a serious light, the expert went on to say. "Hence, regular accusations against Russians shows that these endeavors have paid off," he added.

Meanwhile, there is a divergence of opinion in the US as to Moscow’s underlying motives. According to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Russian "propaganda" narrative was aimed at supporting Trump and Democratic Party rival Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton.

Such statements, however, contradict the conclusions drawn by Rob Goldman, vice president of ads at Facebook, who noted on his Twitter page that Russia’s main goal was "to divide America by using our institutions, like free speech and social media, against us." This strategy is working well, he stressed, adding that Americans "are quite divided as a nation."


Kommersant: Russia-West disagreements linger, Munich conference shows

The Munich Security Conference that ended in the Bavarian capital in Germany on Sunday, has shown that the discord between Russia and the West had become a long-standing reality. There are neither tough confrontation of the post-Crimean period nor hopes that relations will improve soon that had existed last year when the new US administration took office, Kommersant writes.

Opening the conference, its Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger warned that the world had come too close to the brink of the abyss, and that there was a danger of a global conflict.

However, a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger on the sidelines of the forum, which focused on Ukraine, was conducted in an upbeat tone. Greminger told the paper after the meeting he did not lose hope that a compromise on peacekeepers in the Donbass region would be achieved.

Top German diplomat Sigmar Gabriel said at his meeting with his Russian counterpart and German businesspeople that, if peacekeepers were deployed to Ukraine’s Donbass region, the European Union could begin a gradual removal of anti-Russian sanctions. However, a participant in the conference told Kommersant on condition of anonymity that this statement "did not fully reflect Brussels’ opinion."

According to Tomas Valasek, Director of Carnegie Europe, the EU fears that Moscow will not let peacekeepers take control of the entire territory of Donbass. He added though that he understood Moscow’s concerns regarding Kiev’s possible failure to implement the Minsk agreements. The problem is that the parties do not trust each other, that’s why it is so difficult to agree on something and implement agreements, he told Kommersant.

For his part, Steven Pifer, former US Ambassador to Ukraine and, currently, a Brookings Institution expert, noted in an interview with the paper, that there were no real premises for lifting anti-Russian restrictions. He also expressed fear that the conflict in Donbass could eventually morph into a frozen one.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Emerging US-Turkey alliance jeopardizes Syria’s territorial integrity, expert notes

Ankara has completed the deployment of its observation posts south of Afrin Canton in Syria’s Idlib de-escalation zone. Observers say Turkish troops occupied the area, which under the Astana agreements should be under Moscow’s protectorate, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Media reports said that Turkish forces now control the area south of the Aleppo-Hama Highway, where Russian military personnel were planned to be deployed. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during his visit to Ankara that Washington recognizes Turkey’s right to defend its borders, but urged the Turks to refrain from any hasty moves. Washington and Ankara could deploy a joint military contingent to northern Syria, reports said.

Despite the fact that during Tillerson’s visit to Ankara, the US and Turkey reiterated their commitment to preserving Syria’s territorial integrity, their genuine goals are currently aimed at preserving and consolidating local authorities, said military expert Vladimir Popov.

"In Idlib, it is the so-called pro-Turkish opposition government, and in eastern Syria these are the Kurdish self-defense forces and Arab tribes that are reluctant to give oil and gas assets back to the Assad regime," the paper quotes him as saying.

Popov noted that the emerging US-Turkish military alliance in Syria creates good conditions for transporting hydrocarbons from the Arabian Peninsula to Turkey and beyond into Europe. "That makes the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, which Russia is interested in so much and which was one of the unspoken motives for the deployment of the Russian task force to Syria, virtually unnecessary," the expert stressed.


Kommersant: Saakashvili-backed opposition pressing Ukrainian president to step down

The Movement of New Forces opposition movement led by ex-Georgian President and former Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa Region Mikhail Saakashvili, who was earlier deported to Poland, held a mass protest march in Kiev dubbed "for the future" which is aimed against President Pyotr Poroshenko. Its organizers insisted that tens of thousands of people had marched through the Ukrainian capital. However, media reports said the march had attracted roughly 5,000 protesters who are seeking Poroshenko’s immediate resignation and early parliamentary and presidential elections. Protests to demand the president’s exodus were held in dozens of other cities as well, Kommersant writes.

The experts interviewed by the paper offered dissenting opinions on this score. According to Vladimir Fesenko, Director of the Kiev-based Center of Applied Political Studies, there is no upsurge in protests. "Apparently, the authorities’ expectations came true. They hoped that, if the leader (Mikhail Saakashvili) is deported, there would be no serious consequences. This is another warning. You march, you demand (the president’s) resignation, but nothing happens," the expert noted. According to Fesenko, the opposition has no more than two months left, before it loses steam and everything calms down.

On the other hand, Kiev political scientist Vadim Karasev takes a different viewpoint. "I believe that’s very serious. The rally was quite massive even without Saakashvili. And the reason is people’s dissatisfaction with the regime rather than the opposition’s organizing skills. That’s just the beginning, and it looks like snap parliamentary elections are imminent. That will make it possible for Poroshenko to partially satisfy demands for reforms and retain power," he emphasized.


Izvestia: Russia to create ICO investment protection system

The first system of guarantees for investing in cryptocurrencies will appear in Russia as early as this year, Izvestia writes. The subsidiary bank of VEB - the Globex state corporation - together with the Russian Association of Cryptocurrency and Blockchain (RACIB) and the CrowdHub Internet platform, are creating a system to protect investment in Initial Coin Offerings (ICO). The new project will make it possible for investors to control the funds expenditure. Payments will be made in stages in line with approved plans to develop startups.

RACIB Director Arseniy Shcheltsin informed the paper that work was in progress to create an ICO hub whose main element would be a system of guaranteed investment in cryptocurrency startups. Its operation will be based on the CrowdHub platform (a joint project by RACIB Vice President Denis Dushnov and the association). This information has been confirmed by Head of the Department for the Development of E-Commerce and Remote Banking Services at Globex Alexander Mineyev. "We expect the project to be launched in April, and later on a further development of its strategy will begin," he said.

The use of escrow accounts for ICOs does not only guarantee that parties comply with the joint obligations, it also minimizes risks for transaction failure or fraud, said Mikhail Lapin, Head of the Project Department at Bell Integrator. The participation of a state-run bank in the project is a good signal for the market, according to Murad Salikhov, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Bank Voronezh.

The absence of the cryptocurrency legislation in Russia should not prevent market participants from creating their own standards and rules of conduct, which do not violate the existing legal norms, said Lenam Rakhamnov, co-founder of the Statum Cryptocurrency Fund. "On the contrary, this type of activity contributes to the creation of a balanced legislation in this area," he pointed out.


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