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Press review: US plots to smear Russia’s election and curler’s meldonium mystery continues

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday


Izvestia: US plotting to delegitimize elections in Russia, expert says

The United States sees the upcoming presidential election in Russia scheduled to be held on March 18 as a historic chance to crank up pressure on Moscow and is conspiring to massively interfere in the electoral process. To do so, Washington plans to use a wide range of tools, including smear campaigns in the media, psyops and bankrolling the opposition, according to a report titled "US Meddling in Russia’s Elections During the 1996-2018 Presidential Campaigns" obtained by Izvestia. Its author, Andrey Manoilo, who is a member of the scientific advisory board to the Russian Security Council, explained in an interview with the paper that one of the main ways Washington meddles in Russia’s internal affairs is through information warfare, which generates a psychological impact on the population.

"The chief objective of such meddling is discrediting the country’s leadership, the president and his close associates. Washington is actively using these mechanisms, with mass smear campaigns organized in the media, on social networks, via agents and so on," he said.

The expert noted that the US and other Western countries are actively working with the Russian opposition, citing as an example Grigory Yavlinsky’s visits to the UK Embassy in Moscow and Ksenia Sobchak’s visit to the United States. "The Russian opposition has never hidden the fact that it has close ties with various Western countries, even with US government agencies. Besides, American instructors are involved in the opposition candidates’ presidential campaigns, which is also considered to be meddling in the electoral process," Manoilo pointed out.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Dzhabarov, First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s (upper house) International Affairs Committee, emphasized in an interview with Izvestia that today’s Russia is a strong and consolidated society ready to thwart foreign influence at all levels. He warned that the global community would be informed about attempts to influence Russia’s elections, and the issue would be raised at all international platforms.


Kommersant: Rosneft to purchase gas from Gazprom

Russia’s Rosneft oil and gas company has signed a contract on buying 5 bln cubic meters of gas from the nation’s energy giant Gazprom at a regulated price, several industry sources informed Kommersant. The oil company needs gas to meet its obligations under long-term contracts. Initially, Rosneft planned to close those contracts with its own gas but was unable to increase production at the necessary pace and is now partially transferring customers to its competitors. At the same time, it also has to purchase gas from Gazprom.

According to one of Kommersant’s sources, under the new contract, Rosneft can purchase more than 5 bln cubic meters of gas if necessary. However, the company is hardly interested in that, since it signed contracts with its customers under the "tariff minus" price formula, which means that Rosneft will be losing money buying gas from Gazprom and selling it at a lower price.

A source in Rosneft assured the paper that "the company uses various opportunities to optimize its portfolio and balance the uneven gas consumption. Transactions with third parties is an absolutely standard practice, which allows all parties to optimize their trade operations." The source added that Gazprom’s regional companies purchase about 6 bln cubic meters of gas from it annually.

Meanwhile, Vasily Tanurkov, an analyst with AKPA, noted that judging by some known terms of Rosneft’s contracts with large consumers, the company’s average discount is about 6%. Based on that premise, Rosneft’s losses, given the volume of the contract with Gazprom of 5 bln cubic meters, can amount to about 1.2 billion rubles ($21.2 mln).


RBC: No quick decision on curler’s meldonium mystery on the horizon

A verdict on Russian curler Krushelnitsky’s case is unlikely to be made soon, since all circumstances need to be investigated, Sergey Alexeyev, Chairman of the Commission on Sports Law at the Association of Lawyers of Russia, told RBC. "This investigation is hindered by the fact that it’s unclear how the substance got into the athlete’s blood," he said. "Evidently, [the decision] cannot [be made] until the end of the Olympic Games. Hearings should be moved to Lausanne in accordance with the code of sports arbitration."

Krushelnitsky, together with his wife Anastasia Bryzgalova, clinched the bronze in curling mixed doubles at the Olympic Games in South Korea’s PyeongChang. Earlier this week, news surfaced that Krushelnitsky’s doping sample had tested positive for meldonium. As a result, the anti-doping division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has opened a case against him.

Sports medicine experts noted though that curlers do not need any medication to boost their performance due to the specific characteristics of the game. "It’s like a good chess player - you have to think. (There is) no physical strain. Using meldonium in curling is absolutely unnecessary," Yuri Vasilkov, the former Russian national football team physician, told the paper.

"Of course, there should be good physical training. After all, it is an Olympic sport, and athletes have to play for three hours. But there is no need for drugs whatsoever," RBC quotes two-time European curling champion Lyudmila Privivkova as saying.

"It is necessary to point to some strange circumstances of identifying meldonium," a partner of Rustam Kurmaev & Partners law firm said in an interview with the paper. "It must have been used about ten days before the samples were taken, which, naturally, could not have any effect for the athlete in terms of advantages over other athletes. Besides, meldonium is a useless product for curling."


Kommersant: US, Australia, India and Japan mull alternative to China’s Belt and Road

Australia, the United States, India and Japan are discussing an international infrastructure project, which, if implemented, could rival Beijing’s One Belt, One Road initiative. The proposed move seeks an alternative to those countries, which could accept China’s aid, according to a source cited by the Australian Financial Review. The issue is expected to be discussed by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump later this week.

However, the experts interviewed by Kommersant are certain that the project was revived in the summer 2017 after a decade-long interruption from containing China.

"Of course, this initiative is aimed at countering China’s strategy. However, it is hard to believe that it will yield any tangible results under the Trump administration, since he announced that many foreign policy projects would be curtailed," said Alexander Gabuev, Senior Fellow and Chair of Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. According to the expert, the most effective tool to rival China’s One Belt, One Road initiative would be "the completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)," which was vigorously promoted by former US President Barack Obama. However, the current White House occupant has withdrawn from the talks arguing that the agreement is out of tune with America’s interests.

Anton Tsvetov, an expert at the Center for Strategic Research, has a similar stance on the issue. "The alternative ‘democratic Indo-Pacific belt project’ can hardly be launched with ease, mainly because relations between businesses and the governments in the four aforementioned countries are very different from those in China. Apparently, they hope that the countries receiving infrastructure investment will not want to depend entirely on Chinese money and will seek, at the very least, to diversify investment sources," he told the paper.


Vedomosti: Russians ready to pour money into education again

A recent survey conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center indicates a growing interest in for-profit education. According to the pollster, 10% of the respondents said they were ready to invest in education, while in 2016 this figure was a mere 3%.

The upsurge of interest in education is because the worst years of the crisis are now over, and Russians have regained confidence in the future. According to the pollster’s expert Oleg Chernozub, Russians are now beginning to spend the money they used to save for a rainy day in 2015 and 2016. Although the real incomes of the population are not growing, Russians’ willingness to pay for their education can be seen as a positive trend.

Isak Frumin, Academic Advisor at the Higher School of Economics’ Institute of Education, agreed with this assessment but pointed to two more important incentives. According to surveys conducted by the Higher School of Economics, more than 40% of Russian families are currently ready to dole out money on good-quality education for their children. Sixty-eight percent of those polled said that a quality education was the key to success in life. According to Frumin, the tremendous societal changes that have occurred recently have made new skills and retraining mandatory and this is being felt more and more in Russia.

Margarita Zobnina, Director of Ecosystem Projects Department at the Internet Initiatives Development Fund, likewise noted a trend towards life-long learning. It is noteworthy that 10% of those Russians who plan to pursue additional education choose webinars, Skype workshops and various online programs. As many as 59% of parents do not rule out that their children could get their education online.


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