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Press review: Moscow’s fee cut imperils PACE and Gaddafi’s heirs call for Sarkozy’s trial

Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday

Izvestia: PACE in trouble because of Moscow’s refusal to pay membership dues

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has admitted that it is facing serious financial problems because of Russia’s refusal to transfer part of its membership fees. However, Turkey also made its contribution to the organization’s deplorable state, having decided to withdraw from the number of PACE’s major contributors, Izvestia writes. All that creates an unprecedented crisis for the Council of Europe as a whole. Until recently, six nations, namely, Russia, France, the UK, Germany, Italy and Turkey who paid equal sums (about 33 ml euros) were its major donors.

As a result, the Council of Europe’s budget is on the verge of losing about 42.7 mln euros for the first time in its history. According to PACE’s data, Russia did not pay 22.65 mln euros in 2017 and has no intention of doing so this year. Moscow refused to participate in the Assembly’s work after its delegation was stripped of its voting rights and expelled from PACE’s governing bodies over Crimea’s reunification with Russia in 2014.

Actually, a country can be expelled from the Council of Europe for that, but Moscow paid a certain sum of money last year, so no procedure against it has been launched, said Yuri Berestnev, Editor-in-Chief of Bulletin of the European Court for Human Rights magazine.

"In this case, asking us to pay our contribution and stripping us of an opportunity to work is absurd," the paper quotes Alexey Chepa, Deputy Chairman of Russia’s State Duma (lower house) International Affairs Committee, as saying.

Political analyst Bogdan Bezpalko, who is a member of the Russian Presidential Council on Interethnic Relations, expressed a similar view. "This is a platform where Russia is vilified, while its representatives are blatantly humiliated. In this case, the membership fees, which are quite sizeable, could be earmarked for the development of Russia’s regions. It would be strange and inappropriate to make payments to that organization," he stressed.


Kommersant: US on its way to becoming Russia’s top LNG rival

The United States, which plans to become Russia’s major competitor in the European gas market, has become a net gas exporter for the first time in 60 years, Kommersant writes. In recent years, America has systematically increased production, expanding pipe gas supplies to Mexico and Canada, in addition to building liquefaction plants. Washington is focusing on LNG whose production in the US can grow to 70 mln tonnes by 2020, in the fierce struggle to clinch markets.

The US has already said that it is gearing up for serious competition with Russia in the gas market, including the European segment, the biggest market for Russia’s Gazprom energy giant. However, Gazprom has so far taken the prospects for such competition last lightly, arguing that the bulk of LNG supplies traditionally goes to the Asian markets.

According to Vyacheslav Mishchenko from Argus Media (Eurasia), the US as an exporter is focusing on the LNG market, but the situation is changing very rapidly.

"We saw an illustrative example at the beginning of the year. A lot was said that the US would supply an abundance of liquefied gas to Europe. However, as a result, due to a storm and severe frosts on the East Coast, the country imported gas from Russia. In early January, the first batch of LNG from Novatek’s Yamal LNG plant was delivered to Boston," the paper quotes the expert as saying. Another tanker carrying gas from Yamal arrived there on March 3. So, it is not necessarily the case that the US will be able to consolidate its net exporter status for many years, since the LNG market is changing quickly. According to the expert, the growth of LNG use in many countries will be limited by the low level of infrastructure development and the internal network of gas pipelines.


Izvestia: Gaddafi family demands Sarkozy be tried for destroying Libya

The scandal over charges that ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign was bankrolled by late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi back in 2007 has been unexpectedly reignited, Izvestia writes. The former occupant of the Elysee Palace has been taken into police custody over these accusations. In an interview with the paper, Gaddafi family spokesman, Basem al-Soul, hoped that the former French head of state would be brought to justice, not for receiving money, but rather for destroying Libya, together with politicians from the US, the UK, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and other countries that took part in the military offensive to topple the late Libyan leader.

He noted that Libya was a major sponsor of Sarkozy’s election campaign, and, of course, he was trying to hide this fact, considering the role that Sarkozy’s France played in destroying the North African state. We had no doubt that at some point the French justice system would have questions for Sarkozy, he pointed out. The spokesman noted that both the former French president and some of his ministers, along with representatives of other countries who took part in the anti-Libyan military assault are expected to be held accountable.

The paper recalls that in 2011, at the height of the so-called "Arab Spring," Paris supported the Libyan opposition and was one of the nations that initiated a military operation to overthrow Gaddafi.

Meanwhile, experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that this scandal will hardly deal a heavy blow to the image of the Republican Party (earlier led by Sarkozy). By the same token, it will effectively put an end to the ex-president’s plans to return to the global stage.

"The situation with Nicolas Sarkozy will not affect the ring-wing forces and the opposition, as the former president no longer has any influence in politics. Nor should one look for any hidden motives here. The French justice system has been dragging out their efforts, which is why the ‘Sarkozy affair’ was brought to the fore many years later. There will be no blow to the opposition," the ex-president’s fellow party member Thierry Mariani told Izvestia.

Similarly, Philippe Moreau Chevrolet, an analyst at the Paris-based Science Po (Institute for Policy Studies), noted in an interview with the paper that the Sarkozy case is unlikely to generate any backlash for the Republican Party, but will mark the end of the "Sarkozy political era".


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russian government set to unveil ‘miracle plan’ to steer the nation out of crisis

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov has hinted that the Cabinet has a miraculous plan to unleash economic growth. The proposed moves, which will include tax reforms, are expected to be made public within the next few months, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The Russian economy is growing very slowly right now, but it has the potential for acceleration, government officials said. Shuvalov recently stressed that "we have every opportunity to achieve that." He explained that the current government had drafted proposals for the next political cycle. When the new government is formed, legislators will make the most important decisions, including on taxes, he pointed out.

However, the experts interviewed by the paper noted that economic growth cannot be achieved by "verbal interventions" only. "It is necessary to use non-monetary incentives, such as reducing taxes for small and medium-sized businesses, investing in social projects and increasing labor efficiency," says Alor Broker analyst Kirill Yakovenko.

The government should resort to major structural reforms, the most important being the establishment of an independent justice system and protection of private property, according to Pavel Sigal, First Vice President of the Opora Rossii association.

Meanwhile, Finam analyst Alexey Korenev noted that, if the issue is addressed reasonably, Russia could see a gradual forward shift. However, that will require "substantial expenditures and radical reforms in many spheres of the economy and legislation."

It is necessary "to reduce administrative pressure and prevent any illegal criminal prosecution of businesses," added co-Chairman of the Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) union of entrepreneurs Andrei Nazarov.


Kommersant: Turkey pushing to ‘gain full’ control in northern Syria

The struggle for strategically important areas in northern Syria populated by the Kurds has entered its key stage. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Ankara intends to gain full control over the neighboring country’s frontier areas and pledged to expand the Olive Branch military operation to the city of Manbij, another stronghold of Kurdish resistance following the fall of Afrin to Turkish troops.

Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and former EU Ambassador to Turkey, stressed in an interview with Kommersant that, in the event of a Turkish offensive against Manbij, the situation will change radically from the operation in Afrin. Whereas in Afrin the Turkish army was only confronted by the Self-Defense Forces, in Manbij it will have to deal with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a broader coalition, which includes both Kurds and Arabs. Besides, Afrin’s defenders had no support from the US, which they expect to have in Manbij, the expert noted.

He added that the continuation of the Turkish operation against the Kurds is contrary to the Geneva and Astana peace processes and contravenes those guarantees, which Russia has provided to the Syrian Kurds since September 2015.

According to Murat Yesiltas, Director of Security Studies Program at the SETA Foundation, there should be no military confrontation between the US and Turkey in Manbij, as Washington does not want to lose Turkey as an ally. The Trump administration understands that Russia may take an advantage of the situation to change Turkey’s strategic vector in its favor, the expert stressed. In his view, Turkey is waiting for Washington’s proposal on Manbij, and, if it is acceptable for it, it will not conduct any military operations there.


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