- Press review: Putin’s surprise offer for New START and Washington’s pipeline clampdown
- Press review: Yerevan, Baku need to make concessions and Lukashenko to split opposition
- Press review: US nixes Putin’s New START offer and why Iran is waiting for US elections
- Press review: EU targets Kremlin officials in new blacklist and Kyrgyz president resigns
Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, September 3rd, prepared by TASS
Media: Germany alleges Navalny poisoned with Novichok-class agent
Novichok is once again at the center of attention, poisoning relations between Moscow and the West. German authorities announced on Wednesday that Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was poisoned by the same substance that former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia had been two years ago in the United Kingdom. Back then, the West furnished a coordinated response, which resulted in an unprecedented diplomatic scandal with Moscow. This time, just several minutes after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech, calls were also made for imposing sanctions against Russia. In turn, Moscow believes that the conclusions of the German specialists were unfounded and demanded actual facts, Kommersant writes.
Program Director of the Russian International Affairs Council Ivan Timofeev explained that sanctions against Moscow could be imposed for human rights violation and for using weapons of mass destruction, and the latter was the most likely scenario. "The mechanism created back in 2018 implies freezing assets and visa sanctions against those who create chemical weapons, use them or are involved in preparing their use. The mechanism was used against four Russian citizens, who were involved in the Salisbury incident, according to the EU," Timofeyev said. According to him, the poisoning scandal could also affect the EU’s stance on the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline.
The United States also threatens to impose sanctions, the expert said. "For example, there is President Donald Trump’s decree of August 1, 2019: it stipulated sanctions over the Salisbury case, but can be used in the Navalny case. Further restrictions are possible on loans for Russia, new export and import restrictions, downgrading the level of diplomatic relations and restrictions against national airlines," he said. The US won’t miss a chance to punish Russia for human rights violations by possibly using the Magnitsky Act. The decisions on sanctions are unilateral, extrajudicial and political, the expert said, stressing: "The key question is how far the EU and especially the US will go given the possible harm for themselves."
First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s (upper house of parliament) Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov told Izvestia that Moscow was again up against a provocation. "You can say whatever you want. But show the documents, the results of tests and the official conclusions of the doctors. Invite our specialists so that they also assess the results. It’s clear that this is another show. We have nothing to hide and nothing to apologize for. The Russian side should now demand the official results of the examination, which our specialists should study," the senator said.
German political scientist Alexander Rahr noted that Moscow and Berlin now need a dialogue and a conference of Russian and German doctors should find out what tests the blogger underwent in Russia and Germany.
One of the creators of the Soviet nerve agent Novichok, Leonid Rink, dismissed Germany’s claims about Navalny’s poisoning as absolute nonsense. "Navalny had no symptoms linked to Novichok. If there had been, they would have been detected in Russia because this thing had a very quick effect," the scientist told Izvestia, noting that if the opposition figure had been really poisoned by this substance, "he would have been dead now."
Izvestia: EU borders to fully open to Russian tourists only by spring
The opening of Russia’s borders with EU countries and the gradual resumption of direct transportation could take place by the end of 2020, but the full restoration of tourism is expected only by spring, the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) and the National Union of the Hospitality Industry (OSIG) told Izvestia. This process won’t be delayed despite political tensions in Russian-European ties over the unrest in Belarus, said sources in the European Parliament, the European Commission and EU diplomatic missions in Russia. The Council of the European Union assured Izvestia that an active discussion on opening the borders with third countries was underway at an expert level.
Although it is too early to talk about restoring tourism to Europe, the opening of borders for Russians is expected by the end of this year, ATOR’s Vice President Dmitry Gorin told Izvestia. "The removal of all restrictions and full-fledged beginning of the tourism season in Europe and across the entire world is possible in the first quarter of next year. The opening of European borders could take place much earlier - we hope that this will happen in the fourth quarter of this year," he said. In the near future, regular flights to Europe once per week are expected to be restored for certain categories of Russians, for example for those who work, study or undergo medical treatment there and also for relatives of EU citizens, the expert noted.
"We expect the EU’s full re-opening to Russian tourists not earlier than in March. However, this needs to be done step-by-step and carefully because in some countries the number of coronavirus patients is again growing," Executive Director of OSIG Alexei Volkov said.
Many expect that the vaccination will boost the process of opening borders. However, there are fears that COVID-19 could morph in a new form.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: What's Moscow’s condition for supporting Lukashenko
Moscow and Minsk are exchanging visits and their bilateral talks have a clear anti-Western tone. Experts predict various scenarios of the two allies’ steps, which could be both Moscow’s stronger support for Alexander Lukashenko or dumping him, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Commenting on the possible goals of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s visit to Minsk, experts are not excluding that the talks could focus on redirecting trade flows from Lithuania to Russia. Local analysts don’t doubt that Moscow has decided to help Lukashenko due to self-serving interests.
According to political observer Alexander Klaskovsky, Russia will take advantage of Lukashenko’s weakness and his strive to retain power, in order to attach Belarus to itself even more. Now the Belarusian authorities, which are "in the heat of a confrontation with the West" and seek the Kremlin’s backing, dismiss the idea of diversifying external economic ties, the expert noted.
In exchange for its support, Moscow could ask Belarus to allow it to create military bases in Belarus and could wish to buy some enterprises, which still interest investors, he said. However, experts note that Lukashenko might not fulfill his promises.
Meanwhile, some pundits believe that Moscow has grown tired of Lukashenko and is ready for creating a so-called "managed democracy" in Belarus. Now Russia is only simulating support while studying Lukashenko’s enemies and building ties with them. "The upcoming meeting between Lukashenko and Putin in Moscow in two weeks (if it takes place) will be devoted not to signing "roadmaps" on deepening integration but to forcing Lukashenko to conduct constitutional reforms and his exit from Belarusian politics in exchange for personal guarantees," said Yuri Tsarik, who heads the Russian and post-Soviet research department at the Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies. The expert says Russia is not going to sign any serious documents with the illegitimate president and won’t antagonize Belarusian society by supporting him.
Izvestia: Russia tightens the screws on cryptocurrency mining
Miners won’t be able to obtain any recompense in bitcoins and ethereums if amendments to the federal law on digital financial assets proposed by the Finance Ministry are passed, Izvestia writes. The document says that it will be possible to produce cryptocurrency in Russia, but miners won’t be able to get any payment as usual, Izvestia writes.
The new regulation does not mean anything good for miners because it is unclear how they will get their recompense, Director General of Moscow Digital School Dmitry Zakharov said. Perhaps, specialists will try to come up with some legal frameworks but all of them will imply significant risks of administrative and criminal liability, he warned.
The amendments impose a direct ban on all operations with virtual money, except for some cases such as inheritance, obtaining assets as part of a bankruptcy procedure and enforcement proceeding. Russia will introduce administrative and criminal liability for deals with digital currency. Russian individuals may face fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,300) or up to seven years behind bars, while legal entities will have to pay up to 1 mln ($13,300) in fines.
The proposed document needs to be fine-tuned, lawyers noted. According to Partner at Padva & Epstein law firm Anton Babenko, the new measure is not advantageous for Russia because it could result in hiding revenues and consequently tax losses.
RBC: Russian airlines report major losses in first half of 2020
Thirty-five major Russian passenger airlines, which account for more than 99% of flights, lost 121 bln rubles ($1.6 bln) in revenues in the first half of 2020, Deputy Executive Director at the Association of Air Transport Operators (AEVT) Boris Shokurov told RBC.
This sum was calculated based on the companies’ statistics. Earlier, AEVT predicted that the Russian airlines would lose 70 bln rubles ($930 mln) in the first half of the year. Aeroflot, which accounts for 42% of the Russian aviation market, reported 70.33 bln rubles in losses on sales in January-June 2020.
The key reasons behind the losses are the decline in the volume of transportation amid the coronavirus pandemic and mounting foreign currency rates, on which aircraft leasing depends, as well as the rising petrol prices. "The airlines really had major losses in the first half of the year and amid closed borders and fierce competition on the domestic market, even the summer season did not let us earn anything."
By the end of the first half of 2020, Russian and foreign airlines carried 30.7 mln passengers in Russia, half that of 2019 (66.2 mln). A major plunge was seen in the second quarter when flights overseas were suspended and domestic Russian flights significantly decreased. The number of passengers dropped from 38.1 mln (half of them flew to other countries) to 4.6 mln.