Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, December 9, prepared by TASS
Media: No breakthroughs expected from Normandy Four summit
Numerous statements have been made in Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Kiev about the parties’ expectations for the December 9 Normandy Four summit. Everyone agrees that crucial decisions need to be made to resolve the Donbass conflict. However, experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that the Paris meeting is unlikely to reach a breakthrough.
Chairman of the Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev told the newspaper that he "would consider the summit to be successful if Ukraine completely reaffirmed its commitment to the letter and spirit of the Minsk Agreements."
The Paris talks are unlikely to resolve all the problems that Donbass is facing, Director of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology Mikhail Pogrebinsky said. However, in his words, the four leaders may reach an agreement on the disengagement of forces along the entire line of contact. "The summit will hardly come up with some special formula that will radically change the situation," Ukrainian political scientist Georgy Chizhov told Vedomosti. According to him, Russia has taken a rather tough stance after finding itself in a most favorable environment of the past five years because the West has grown tired of sanctions and the situation in general. However, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky cannot back down, so under these circumstances, only an exchange of views is possible, the expert pointed out.
"There is no need to expect serious changes as no landmark agreements will be made there, no breakthroughs or any great progress will be achieved," Russian political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov noted. However, the first personal meeting between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Zelensky may take place, the expert said, adding: "If they build a personal relationship, it could ease the atmosphere.
Progress is possible in terms of the military aspect of the Minsk Agreements, including a more sustainable ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops and a continued exchange of prisoners, political scientist Andrei Kortunov said. But as far as political provisions are concerned, serious disagreements remain, he emphasized.
Izvestia: WADA to determine fate of Russian sports
On December 9, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Executive Committee will probably bar Russian athletes from competing under the national flag and deny Russia the right to host major international tournaments. Experts say that this is the way that sports officials are settling scores with Moscow, Izvestia notes.
"Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the actual fight against doping may turn into a [way of] settling of scores with certain athletes and countries," former Russian Olympic Committee President Leonid Tyagachev told the paper. "Russia has never encouraged the use of banned drugs. Even if there were some incidents involving our athletes — which we don’t deny — it doesn’t mean that everyone should be punished, including those who haven’t violated any rules. This is why one would like to believe that the WADA Executive Committee will make a wise decision and will refrain from focusing on punishment," he added.
First Vice President of the International Federation of Gymnastics Vasily Titov, who also heads Russia’s Gymnastics Federation, believes that inconsistencies between the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) database that WADA has and the database of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, which WADA received in January 2019, could have come from the Moscow Lab’s former head Grigory Rodchenkov. "The database used for reference is the one that Rodchenkov stole when he fled abroad," Izvestia quoted Titov as saying. "His password remained valid for quite a while, so he had the opportunity to access the database. We were accused of meddling with the data. But who can guarantee that Rodchenkov did not do it? I haven’t seen a single expert report about any possible manipulation with the database," the official added.
Russian experts insist that changes in the database were made from overseas. Remote access to LIMS was launched in June 2016 and about 400 entries in the database were recorded in six months. Rodchenkov and his former colleagues are the main suspects.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US Congress hell-bent on impeaching Trump
The Judiciary Committee of the US Congress House of Representatives has released a report following the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump. The Committee’s members concluded that by urging Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky to promote an investigation into Trump’s political rival Joseph Biden in return for military assistance, the US president committed a number of offences and therefore must be impeached, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.
Meanwhile, experts point out that the report offers room for criticism as the Committee’s conclusions are based on oral statements by four law experts — Noah Feldman, Pamela Karlan, Michael Gerhardt and Jonathan Turley — of whom only Turly is a Republican, while the other three are Democrats.
Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation for United States Studies at Moscow State University Yuri Rogulev believes that by cobbling this report together so fast, the Democrats sought to speed up the impeachment process. "The Republicans are actually encouraging them to do it because they, too, want to put on a show, calling their witnesses and giving their assessment of the impeachment process. They will be able to do it when the issue is put to a vote in the Senate," he explained. Since the Republicans have the majority in the Senate, it is already clear what the vote’s outcome will be. However, the consequences of the Republicans’ "show" remain to be seen.
A thing to note is that the Democrats have failed to profit off of the propaganda from the Trump investigation. Rogulev pointed out that neither the report, nor the expert opinions had significantly swayed US public opinion. "The investigation has been going on for months but judging by opinion polls, the number of people supporting the impeachment campaign has not greatly increased," the expert emphasized.
Media: OPEC+ agree to deepen oil output cuts
The OPEC+ deal participants have agreed to cut oil output by another 500,000 barrels a day in the first three months of 2020. If oil prices exceed $70 as a result, Russia and other major oil exporters could make some serious money, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes.
Moscow agreed to the move in order to reduce dependence on energy prices, a Finance Ministry official told the newspaper, pointing out that according to the budget rule, extra oil revenues are transferred to the National Wealth Fund (NWF). If oil prices stabilize at the $70-80 level, the NWF will grow by 500-700 bln rubles ($7.9-11 mln) a month, Chief Analyst at the Alfa Capital management company Maxim Biryukov pointed out.
According to EY Moscow Oil and Gas Center Director Denis Borisov, a global economic slowdown seems increasingly probable since industrial production in a number of developed countries and several leading indicators continue to decline, which creates considerable risks for oil demand growth. Under such a situation, the decision to further cut oil output looks appropriate, Borisov noted.
"OPEC and Russia had no choice but to extend the oil cut deal because the supply will grow on the market in 2020 through the production of shale oil, as well as oil production in Norway and Brazil, while the global economic slowdown will keep the demand from increasing," Fitch Corporations Department Director Dmitry Marinchenko told Vedomosti. "If no extraordinary events take place and the global economy does not slip into a recession, then OPEC will probably manage to maintain oil prices at over $60 per barrel in 2020 but they are unlikely to skyrocket," the expert pointed out.
Vedomosti: Russia opening new avenues to attract investment
The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) may create two closed-end investment funds in order to attract Russian businesses and individual market players, two federal officials confirmed to Vedomosti.
The plan is to establish a mechanism to attract funds not so much into the National Projects as into the economy in general, one of the officials said. It will create an opportunity to attract funds from the public, the other one pointed out, adding that the RDIF had so far worked only with major investors and investment funds.
Debates over the possibility of using the RDIF to attract Russian investment without foreign involvement have been going on for a long time, the newspaper’s source noted. The RDIF is capable of making investment without engaging foreign investors in case the money is provided to companies focused on import substitution and the projects in question have the support of at least another development institution, RDIF Director General Kirill Dmitriev told Vedomosti.
Investors may be interested in closed-end funds for several reasons, NSP Executive Partner Alexander Nektorov noted. First, it includes preferential taxation, which stipulates that reinvested profits are not subject to a capital-gains tax. Second, this tool has been in use for a while and is well-established in legislation.
According to Nektorov, only qualified investors are eligible to buy shares in closed-end funds. Although the entry threshold is high, it should not become an issue because closed-end funds are aimed at a narrow audience, whose members can acquire the necessary status easily. However, expectations to attract common people look strange because it is not a very popular instrument, the expert emphasized.