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Press review: New Olympic doping stir sinking Russia’s image and Finland aims for US arms

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday

Kommersant: Russia’s Olympic image hangs on doping scandal with curler

A doping scandal involving a bronze medalist in the mixed doubles curling Alexander Krushelnitsky, remained one of the main topics of the Olympics in PyeongChang on Monday. The report about the Sports Arbitration Court (CAS) accepting the case for consideration seemed like a confirmation of the athlete testing positive for meldonium. The situation has led to a heated discussion about a possible violation and its likely consequences for the Russian delegation. According to Kommersant, the Russian side is looking into various defense mechanisms to shield itself, even using versions of ‘being framed’ and ‘doping-terrorism,’ especially since the curling community doubts the viability of doping in this sport.

A source engaged in working on Russia’s defense told the newspaper that two possible scenarios for the development of the events are currently being considered. According to the first scenario, if the concentration of meldonium in the athlete’s blood is low, then it could be deemed that it might have been "poured in secretly" during training camp in Japan. In this case, the Russian investigative authorities would have to be primarily involved in investigating and collecting evidence to prove the athlete’s innocence.

The second scenario, in the event of high concentration of meldonium being discovered, the assumption would be that the drug was taken already after coming to South Korea, just before the start of the Olympics. In that case, the source told Kommersant, it will be possible to prove the fundamental impossibility of taking the prohibited drug to the host country of the Olympics and especially to the Olympic village because of the rigid control there. "The International Olympic Committee itself gave Russia a trump card when, after investigating the circumstances of the doping crisis, it came to the conclusion that the samples can be opened, in fact, leaving no traces," the source told the newspaper.

According to Kommersant’s source, the "doping-terrorism" version seems to be a priority. A specific defense strategy for the case of the Russian curler will be determined after the B sample is opened, according to the source.

The paper reported that even despite active measures to rehabilitate Krushelnitsky, the consequences of the scandal will be painful for the Russian delegation. First, they would face a wave of negative pressure. Second, the IOC is annoyed with the situation, they took many preventive measures, and the Russian athlete still got caught using doping. Moreover, there is a chance that the punishment for Russia might continue into the next Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020, the newspaper wrote.


Izvestia: Helsinki claims weapons deal with US not yet finalized, and not aimed at Russia

Finland’s Ministry of Defense has not confirmed the purchase of missiles from the US, which the Pentagon had previously announced. The ministry told Izvestia that Helsinki had not yet made a final decision on the arms supplier. The deal is not likely to be concluded before the end of the year, the Defense Ministry said, adding that the arms transaction is not directed against any countries, including Russia. Experts interviewed by Izvestia are confident that Washington's statements stem from the desire to expand NATO's presence in Europe.

Director of Communications at the Finnish Defense Ministry Max Arhippainen told Izvestia that Finland plans to acquire surface-to-surface missile (SSM) in the future and the United States made it clear that the sale of their weapons is possible. That said, acquiring missiles from the US is only one of the options, nevertheless, a decision should not be expected until the end of this year, he said adding that Finland is preparing to protect itself from any threat, but the purchase would not be directed against anyone.

According to the Ministry, Helsinki’s position on Russia is enshrined in the government's report on foreign policy and security issues, which was published in 2016. Finland has repeatedly stated that there is no direct threat to it from Russia.

First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov told the newspaper that the attempts to supply Finland with heavy weapons is part of a gradual process of involving the Scandinavian country in NATO.

"Of course, we are not very pleased with this. However, we will not react in any way, since Finland is a sovereign state. It should be remembered that due to the neutral status of Finland, Moscow and Helsinki have continuously had good relations since the 1990s. This reflected positively, for example, in our trade turnover. Over the past decade, however, external pressure has been exerted on Finland to join NATO. Washington’s statement on its readiness to sell arms to Helsinki is a vivid example," he told the newspaper.


Izvestia: Kiev, Donbass expected to separate forces and resources near LPR hamlet

Kiev and Donbass plan to separate their forces and assets on February 22 near Stanytsa Luganskaya, two sources in Russia’s diplomatic circles told Izvestia. The leadership of both Donbass republics (DPR and LPR) verified the information. The operation in this area remains a critical step, because after this, the parties should begin separating along the entire contact line, Chairman of the DPR People's Council Denis Pushilin told the newspaper.

The disengagement of forces and resources had been postponed several times. The Ukrainian side stated its readiness to take this step on January 18 after meeting the contact group in Minsk. However, the plans for January 21 failed to come to fruition. As a result, this crucial event was postponed until February 22. However, according to information provided by two Russian diplomatic sources and confirmed by the Donbass republics, implementing the Minsk deal might once again fail due to provocations by the Ukrainian military.

"If on February 22, the disengagement of forces and resources near Luganskaya village comes about, this will make it possible to carry out the next points of the Minsk agreements. So far, Kiev has persistently been unwilling to fulfill its obligations," a high-ranking source in Russia’s diplomatic circles told Izvestia.

Pushilin told the paper that the arrangements in Petrovsky and Zolotoy were implemented almost immediately after signing the contact group’s decision on the settlement in Ukraine. "Ukraine continues to drag out the process at the third site, so that there was a reason not to move further on carrying out the agreements," he told the newspaper.


Kommersant: Russian, Moldovan top diplomats agree to calibrate relations

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his counterpart from Moldova, Tudor Ulianovschi, met last Saturday in Munich, which was the first contact between the top diplomats. Diplomatic sources in Moscow and Chisinau told Kommersant that both were satisfied with the meeting.

"After the meeting, our minister was upbeat," a source in Moldova told the newspaper. In addition, a source in the Russian delegation also noted that "the meeting went very well." According to Kommersant, the ministers acknowledged that relations should be set straight, and normalization can begin with the return of Moldovan Ambassador Andrey Neguta to Moscow, who was recalled in December 2017.

The next step may be providing accreditation to the military attache of the Russian embassy in Moldova. This credential has not been given to the diplomat since last year, while his activities are closely connected with the Operational Group of Russian Forces, which is located in the breakaway Transnistrian region not controlled by Chisinau.

According to Kommersant, lately there have been several indications that Moldova is looking into thawing relations with Moscow. Should there be a positive turnaround with the return of the Moldovan ambassador and the accreditation of the Russian military attache, the foreign ministries of both countries can intensify their contacts, the newspaper wrote.

The Russian Foreign Ministry believes that Chisinau should take the initiative now. Since Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin has already visited Chisinau last spring, its now Moldova’s turn. Kommersant’s diplomatic source in Chisinau feels that it logical that State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova Tatiana Molchan, who oversees relations with Russia, visited Moscow first.


RBC: What Russia should expect from South Africa’s new president

President of South Africa Jacob Zuma resigned on February 14 after a long-standing political crisis. The next day, the South African Parliament appointed Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa as head of state. According to RBC, the situation might have noticeable consequences on Russian-South African relations. In particular, Moscow can resume negotiations on joint projects, including the construction of a nuclear power plant, questioned by South African society.

According to RBC, the main element of South Africa's foreign policy since 2009 was the country's entry into the BRIC community, which turned this group into the BRICS. Thus, South Africa declared its claims to the role of "the voice of Africa" in the global arena. However, due to the long internal political crisis, South Africa now lacks the resources to fulfill its leadership ambitions and focuses on intra-African trade.

On the other hand, Ramaphosa's new economic program, called the ‘New Deal’ - an analogy with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policy - in particular includes bringing the rate of economic growth to 5% by 2023. Thus, even if the program is only partially implemented, South Africa will be able to quickly regain its position on the continent, the newspaper wrote.

There is a clear imbalance between the economy and politics in relations between Russia and South Africa, according to RBC. Today, the South African media has formed an extremely negative image of Russia. The dominant negative attitude towards Zuma in society might have shifted over to Russia and President Putin, since they frequently met. Thus, RBC wrote, Zuma's departure is useful for the development of bilateral ties, including the largest joint nuclear energy project.

Unfortunately, Moscow has not had active contacts with Ramaphosa in a timely manner, the newspaper wrote. According to RBC, the two countries might have a chance to establish a new type of strategic partnership without the negative connotation of "personal diplomacy". The countries will have a chance to do that this year, at the next BRICS summit that will be held in Johannesburg.


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