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Press review: London’s new scheme against Russia and Trump’s cabinet reshuffle

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, March 16


Izvestia: London dissuades its politicians from attending Russian presidential election

London has forbidden three independent observers from the UK invited to the Russian presidential election by the State Duma to visit Russia on March 18, a source in the lower house of the Russian parliament informed Izvestia.

Earlier this year, Russian lawmakers invited 250 foreign observers to monitor Russia’s presidential election. However, the names of three British politicians had to be deleted from that list due to the latest diplomatic spat between Moscow and London.

"Three members of the European Parliament wanted to come, but they were not allowed to do so. They were summoned by some officials who strongly advised them to refrain from travelling to Russia because of frozen diplomatic contacts," a source in the State Duma told the paper.

According to Izvestia’s interlocutor in British political circles, under these circumstances it would be wrong to let these independent observers come to Russia to monitor the election amid scaled down bilateral contacts.

One of the three MEPs who were to monitor Russia’s election told the paper that all of them are bitterly disappointed with this decision. He asked not to disclose his name, since he doesn’t want additional problems.

Meanwhile, Alexey Chepa, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, noted in an interview with Izvestia that "London fears that British officials and even more so independent representatives" who could "speak positively of Russia" could travel to Moscow. "It’s much more advantageous for London now to keep its population out of the loop and not let them come to Russia," he stressed.

For his part, Kirill Koktysh, an Associate Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) added that Britain will try to make as many symbolic moves as possible. In his view, the observers’ instance fits into London’s anti-Russian rhetoric perfectly well.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Tillerson’s departure to trigger cabinet reshuffle

The anticipated cabinet reshuffle in Trump’s administration that has been the focus of the US media recently comes at an inopportune moment for the White House, Fyodor Voitolovsky, Director of the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"We can see that Trump has no strategic line in many areas of foreign policy," the expert said. "He is carried away by tactical maneuvers focusing on internal policy. As for the cabinet reshuffle, Trump, apparently, was not particularly enthusiastic about the fact that Tillerson had his own point of view on many things. What to expect further from the president who has not yet determined his foreign policy priorities in many areas is open to debate."

According to Fox News, such key figures as National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly could get sacked soon. McMaster is expected to be replaced by John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN, who reflects the interests of neoconservative forces and is known as a tough critic of Russia and Iran.

According to Voitolovsky, Trump’s inability to get along with people who have alternative points of view could be behind the imminent personnel reshuffle. "Tillerson had an independent point of view on US foreign policy strategy, and it is unclear yet what Pompeo will focus on. This is a political appointment too, and he is also an individual that is far removed from foreign policy, probably even more than Tillerson. After all, Pompeo is a politician, while Tillerson is a businessman who ran a transnational corporation and therefore had a broad outlook because he had to communicate with counterparts from other countries."


RBC: Central Asia moves toward regional cooperation amid Russia-West standoff, say experts

The leaders of five Central Asian countries met in Kazakhstan on March 15 after a 10-year hiatus to discuss ways of stepping up cooperation, RBC writes. All the five nations - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and, along with Uzbekistan, they are also members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

An opportunity to intensify interregional cooperation appeared after Shavkat Mirziyoyev was elected President of Uzbekistan in 2016, Andrey Kazantsev, Director of the Center for Central Asia and Afghanistan Studies, explained in an interview with the paper. Although under its previous President Islam Karimov, Tashkent adhered to a tough line in relations with its neighbors, Uzbekistan is now committed to stabilizing and improving relations with them, the expert said.

The advent of the new Uzbek leader marked the beginning of a new policy aimed at easing tensions, which implies a different level of relations. The countries are trying to shift from confrontation to cooperation, which requires dialogue, according to Andrey Grozin, an expert on Central Asia at the Institute of CIS countries.

The current geopolitical climate, specifically, the ongoing standoff between Russia and the West and China’s less obvious confrontation with Western countries, contributed to the meeting in no small measure, Kazantsev added. Under these circumstances, the regional leaders need to coordinate their stances on issues like trade and security to make sure that they can speak with a single voice at talks with third parties, the expert explained.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Germany’s wind and solar strategy unable to replace Russian gas, experts affirm

The new German government headed by Angela Merkel, who has been elected to her fourth term as Chancellor plans to review its energy policy. The proposed move includes a drastic drop in gas purchases abroad. European experts estimate that within the next two years, the capacity of wind parks and solar batteries will reach 8 gigawatts. Similarly, plans are in store to build offshore wind farms and liquefied natural gas terminals.

However, even if these goals are attained, that could hardly pose a threat to the projects of Russia’s energy giant, Gazprom, in Germany. The claims by opponents of Nord Stream 2 look ridiculous and pointless, Mario Mehren, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of Wintershall Holding GmbH, Gazprom’s partner, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta at a news conference in Kassel. He stressed that Russia is an important region for Wintershall and will continue to be so in the future.

Mehren noted that Germany is interested in receiving as much cheap gas as possible through various channels. That would be good for both customers and the industry, he added.

Meanwhile, Sergey Pravosudov, Director of the National Energy Institute, likewise pointed to Germany’s interest in the Nord Stream 2 project. "The fundamental question Gazprom is asked is whether or not it is worth building new routes, if the Ukrainian gas transportation system is not 100-percent operational," he said. "The problem is that Ukraine’s gas transportation system was built in the late 1960s. Everything needs to be modernized, and Ukraine has done nothing about this in recent years, although Russia has repeatedly suggested working jointly along these lines."

That’s why new routes are necessary, "all the more so because Russian gas exports have grown by 50 bln cubic meters over the past four years, and this will continue to grow," the expert concluded.


Kommersant: Bitcoin plunges amid IMF’s calls to regulate cryptocurrencies

The price of bitcoin sank below the $8,000 mark on Thursday for the first time in five weeks, Kommersant writes citing data provided by CoinMarketCap. A decline in bitcoin’s price has been observed for the second week in a row, with the exchange rate of this cryptocurrency decreasing by a third.

The plunge in bitcoin’s value is primarily due to Google’s decision to ban ads of all speculative and risky financial tools, including cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin’s exchange rate was also affected by a statement made by International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who called for regulating the cryptocurrency market globally.

"The issue of regulating cryptocurrencies is supported by Germany, France, China and South Korea, which are prepared to discuss it at the G20 meeting in March," the paper quotes Sergey Korolyov, department head at Zerich Capital Management, as saying. "It is highly likely that a global regulation program involving a majority of countries, will be drafted at this meeting."

Given the current climate, market participants do not rule out a further decline in the price of bitcoin. The IMF’s negative rhetoric and Google’s refusal to advertise cryptocurrencies have an impact on their value, said Alexey Pikuz, head of the alternative investment department at Veles Capital investment company. According to the expert, a significant growth in the cryptocurrencies’ market capitalization is quite probable this year, while heavy-handed regulation is unlikely.


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