- Press review: NATO spooked by myth of Russian ‘doctrines’ and RAND sparks Turkey coup talk
- Press review: Erdogan’s Idlib offensive a ‘question of time’ and why Haftar visited Moscow
- Press review: Russia to fight Dutch court’s ruling and Rome, Moscow focus on arms control
- Press review: EU insists on extending New START and sees Libya’s Sarraj as major headache
Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, December 20, prepared by TASS
Vedomosti: Putin supports initiative to change Russia’s Constitution
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move to support changes to the country’s Constitution turned out to be one of the unexpected results of his annual news conference on December 19, Vedomosti writes.
Putin highlighted the importance of maintaining Article 1 of the Constitution, which defines the foundations of the constitutional order. He added, however, that all other things in the Constitution were subject to change: in particular, the words "in a row" could be removed from the article concerning the number of presidential terms. "What might be done in relation to these presidential terms is to cancel the reservation ‘in a row’ [in the Russian Constitution concerning the presidential terms of office — TASS]," Putin told the news conference. "We have two terms in a row. Yours truly spent two terms in office first and then stepped down. It was my constitutional right to take the president’s seat again, because it was not two terms in a row," he added.
Experts interviewed by the newspaper have different views on the president’s statement.
It is a hint to the possibility for Dmitry Medvedev to be nominated for president in 2024, political scientist Grigory Golosov pointed out. However, Putin will hardly be willing to serve as prime minister under President Medvedev like he did in 2008-2012 because "he seems to get tired of this kind of work," the expert noted. At the same time, in his words, "it would be possible to do what Kazakhstan did, giving special powers to the Security Council and making Putin its chief." Golosov has no doubt that the current concentration of power can easily ensure decisions that would allow Putin to remain in power. "It is an important question how it will be done and I think that the presidential administration is already considering ways to do it in the least shocking way," the expert said.
Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research Director Dmitry Badovsky said he is confident that the institutions of power won’t see a radical redesign.
However, the president has made a landmark move to give the green light to discussions on constitutional changes, Civil Society Development Fund’s Chairman of the Board Konstantin Kostin emphasized. "We are yet to see if a public debate leads to any result as it will depend on the debate’s participants and moderators. The Kazakh option will probably be discussed. As an experienced politician, Putin seeks to extend the range of possible moves in a political game of chess," the expert explained.
Vedomosti: Even a failed impeachment attempt may harm Trump
The US House of Representatives on Wednesday night voted to impeach President Donald Trump. The case will now be sent to the Senate for trial. Given the Republican majority in the Senate, the impeachment seems unlikely but it may influence the 2020 election campaign, Vedomosti notes. On July 25, Trump and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky had a telephone conversation, in which the US head of state allegedly pressured Kiev to launch a corruption investigation into former US Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic Party’s presidential hopeful, and his son Hunter, who served on the board of directors of Ukraine’s Burisma energy company in 2014-2019.
There are several options for Senate hearings that could lead to an unexpected outcome, Political Science Professor at the Higher School of Economics Israel Marques II said. "For instance, some of the important witnesses, who have been silent so far — such as Bolton — may say something completely new and more documents may get leaked," he explained. However, the expert considers such scenarios to be unlikely.
Nevertheless, no matter the outcome, the process will be important in terms of the next presidential election campaign, the political scientist pointed out. On the one hand, it will hardly discourage Trump supporters and reduce voter turnout among them. On the other hand, if a Democratic candidate manages to use "the corruption card" against Trump, it may motivate independent and moderate voters. "At the same time, even if Trump wins, he will be bound by new investigations. The impeachment threat won’t hover over him anymore but much time will be wasted and government agencies’ activities will slow down once again," the expert noted.
In addition, the process will be crucial for the congressional elections set to take place concurrently with the presidential election on November 3, 2020, Marques added. "Some Democrats, who won the 2016 election in constituencies that voted for Trump, may lose their seats over this. It is yet unclear whether it will make the Democratic Party lose its majority," the expert pointed out.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Muslim nations gather for conference in Malaysia
A conference of Muslim countries has kicked off in Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur. The country’s Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad said, addressing the event, that the Muslim world is facing a crisis. The conference involves the presidents of Turkey and Iran and the emir of Qatar among others. However, the Saudi king and Pakistan’s prime minister chose to ignore the summit, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Director of the Center for Partnership of Civilizations at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Veniamin Popov pointed out that "the Malaysia meeting is not an alternative to the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation]." "However, the organization seems to be a bit sleepy at the moment. Under the Saudis, it meets following some events and makes decisions that no one implements. Mahathir seeks to breathe some life into the OIC," the expert added.
Senior Researcher at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations Nikolai Surkov has a different view on the matter. According to him, the absence of Saudi Arabia and its closest allies reflects mounting political differences between Muslim countries.
"A thing to note is that Saudi Arabia’s main rivals — the leaders of Turkey, Qatar and Iran — are participating in the Kuala Lumpur summit. In the past, differences between the Sunni and Shiite communities were what divided the Islamic world, but now, there is also a confrontation among Sunni countries. Turkey and Qatar are believed to have challenged Riyadh in the Middle East and entered an undeclared race for leadership among Muslims," the experts emphasized.
However, Surkov believes that "a new division line in the Islamic world won’t prevent Muslim countries from forming a united front and cooperating in resolving numerous issues, including extremism, economic underdevelopment and humanitarian crises."
Izvesita: CAS may consider Russia’s appeal in April
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) Supervisory Board has refused to accept the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Executive Committee’s decision to ban Russia from international competitions for four years. The Board’s head Alexander Ivlev said that the case would be sent to the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that Russia has chances to win the appeal.
CAS judges already ruled in favor of Russian athletes before. In February 2018, CAS upheld the appeals of 28 Russian athletes, ruling that their Olympic medals be returned to them and they be granted the right to participate in the Olympic Games. "I believe that we need to fight till the end no matter what, and our 2018 success in CAS is the best proof that this is the way," 2014 Winter Olympic silver medalist Tatyana Ivanova said.
According to international rules, CAS may review a case under a fast-track procedure, within three months following the setup of a panel of arbitrators. If Russia files an appeal in early January, a panel will be formed later in the month and CAS may be expected to make a final decision by the end of April, sports lawyer Artyom Patsev explained.
If CAS arbitrators uphold Russia’s appeal, the country’s Olympic qualifiers will have a chance to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Games. Otherwise, Russian athletes will have to go through a tough filter because WADA now controls admissions to the Olympics. Russia’s four-year ban will begin once CAS issues a final ruling. The Tokyo Games are set to kick off on July 24, 2020. In theory, if the Lausanne court eventually supports WADA’s decision but doesn’t have enough time to issue a verdict, then the ban will come into force after the 2020 Games and will apply to the 2024 Olympics.
WADA’s move poses a threat to a number of major sporting events expected to take place in Russia. However, it is up to the international sporting federations to make a final decision, and they may refuse to relocate competitions to other countries. Besides, they also have the right to appeal against WADA’s decision in CAS.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Sanctions 'from hell’ are coming down on Russia
The US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee has approved a bill on new sanctions against Russia dubbed "from hell." In particular, the bill imposes restrictions on state banks and investment in Russia’s energy projects. But most devastating is a ban for Western investors to purchase newly issued Russian government bonds, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.
Experts have opposing views on the bill’s viability. "The ruble is very sensitive not only to sanctions but even to reports about their possible introduction," Head of AMarkets Analytical Department Artyom Deyev told the paper. If there is progress with the bill, the ruble’s exchange rate may drop to 67-70 rubles per dollar in the medium term, he added.
It has become clear to everyone that there will be no Iranian-style sanctions for Russia, Head of the Investment Department at BCS Broker Narek Avakyan pointed out. "First, Russia is too big an economy and cutting it off from global markets will inflict far more damage on the world, and second, previous sanctions have shown that they don’t have a direct negative impact," he explained. "I think, the ruble and government bonds (at least the ruble ones) won’t show any reaction even if and when Trump signs the bill into law," Avakyan added.
According to Leading Analyst at Forex Optimum Ivan Kapustyansky, if the bill becomes law, Russia will have to respond. "However, the response will hardly be aimed at severing the current economic ties with the United States. At least, let us hope that officials responsible for decision-making will have common sense. On the other hand, Moscow doesn’t have many tools to put pressure on Washington. Perhaps, a response will lead to further efforts to reduce the use of the US dollar and boost economic integration with Asia," the expert concluded.