- Press review: Russian regions lift quarantines and Sweden isolated for being lockdown-free
- Russian nationals arrive in Moscow after exhausting repatriation trip from Fiji
- Press review: US to leave Open Skies treaty and Russia, Turkey hash over reviving tourism
- Press review: US production may exit China and Abbas runs to Putin over annexation fears
Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, August 8, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Russia raises alarm bells over Turkish military scheme in Syria
Russia has voiced its concerns over Turkey’s decision to carry out a new military operation in northern Syria, Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) Defense Committee Chairman Vladimir Shamanov told Izvestia. According to him, Moscow has a number of complaints over Turkey’s implementation of earlier reached agreements. The two countries will have to hold challenging talks, which include ironing out the crisis in northeastern Syria and in Idlib.
Meanwhile, Syrian lawmakers told the paper that the new Turkish operation would bury any chance of resuming dialogue between Damascus and Ankara, and also call into question Turkey’s commitments under the Astana and Sochi agreements. In contrast, Turkey’s think tank SETA has explained that the operation is aimed at solving the current migrant crisis since eliminating Kurdish units from northeastern Syria would enable up to 1 million refugees to return home.
The United States has condemned Erdogan's plans, fearing that Turkish military intervention could result in the collapse of institutional authority in the region and loosen control over prisons. Meanwhile, news broke on Wednesday that Washington had made a concession and agreed to set up a center in Ankara for carrying out operations jointly with Turkey in order to create a buffer zone in Syria. However, it is unknown whether Turkey would give up its plans on launching a new military operation in northeastern Syria. Obviously, Washington has decided to meet Turkey halfway in order to buy time, the paper writes.
In its turn, Russia has certain questions regarding Turkey's plans for northern Syria, Shamanov stated. "The talks will be challenging since we have a number of complaints against Turkey concerning its implementation of the earlier reached agreements," the lawmaker said. "Due to a delay in this process, a great number of planned decisions have not been implemented and the crisis in northern Syria is deepening. Before this operation is launched, this should be coordinated with the Russian General Staff," he noted.
According to Chairman of the Russian Society of Friendship and Business Cooperation with Arab Countries Vyacheslav Matuzov, Russia has a reserved position since Erdogan's military operation would not directly affect Russian and Syrian interests but is aimed at curbing Washington's presence and Kurdish units. "This is more of a problem in US-Turkish relations. However, there is no certainty that Erdogan would cross this line," the expert pointed out. The Turkish operation could even play into Russia’s hands because it would hamper the presence of the United States in northeastern Syria, he concluded.
Kommersant: Presidential feud boils over into violent clashes in Kyrgyzstan
A political struggle in Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday morphed into violent confrontation, with former President Almazbek Atambayev being at the center of attention. An attempt by the country’s special forces to detain the ex-president, charged with corruption, set off street fights outside Atambayev’s residence, with hundreds of his supporters coming to back him. Conflicting reports came from the former president’s hometown near Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek on Wednesday regarding his fate and the special operation’s developments. The conflict boiled over into an armed confrontation.
Kommersant writes that at a recent meeting in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to convince Atambayev to make peace with incumbent Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. However, Moscow failed to reconcile the conflicting parties. According to Kyrgyz experts interviewed by the paper, the decisive factor that pushed the authorities to launch criminal prosecution proceedings against Atambayev were not charges of corruption or numerous economic crimes, but preparations for an opposition rally scheduled for September 3 in downtown Bishkek. The organizers say this should not be a peaceful protest — Atambayev’s supporters are not hiding the fact that they are ready to stage a third revolution and oust the current authorities.
"These events were expected," co-chairman of Pikir Regional Experts Club Igor Shestakov told the paper. According to him, Atambayev violated the law by ignoring demands to show up for questioning three times, declaring that he would not provide any evidence. Moreover, he claimed that he had enough weapons to prevent his apprehension. "The ex-president had deliberately surrounded himself by a radically-motivated crowd. His native village was even called the Koy-Tashskaya people’s republic. Given this, the authorities had grounds to believe that these are not just peaceful gatherings of supporters but preparations for an armed uprising," he noted.
Arkady Dubnov, a Russian expert on Central Asia, believes that the escalating conflict between the former and incumbent presidents could seriously worsen the domestic state of affairs. "Both sides are responsible for what has happened," he said, noting that a full-scale confrontation between the clans could erupt. "Kyrgyzstan is making the same mistake as it did in 2005 and 2010, when revolutions occurred in the country."
Kommersant: Broken truce in Ukraine’s east imperils Contact Group’s work
Tensions have been running high in Donbass both on the military and diplomatic fronts. The recent ceasefire violation, when four Ukrainian troops were killed on August 6, has jeopardized the efforts of the Trilateral Contact Group to settle the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Kiev has not ruled out suspending its participation in the group until a summit of the Normandy Four (Russia, Germany, Ukraine, France) is held. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has demanded that the meeting be held as soon as possible, but said Kiev was not planning to amend the Constitution to approve a special status for Donbass. This makes the new round of talks inevitable since Moscow and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics disagree with the denial of that status, Kommersant writes.
The issue of a special status for Donbass is the most disputed point and judging by Zelensky’s statement, this is a red line for Kiev. Ukraine’s envoy to the Contact Group’s political subgroup Roman Bessmertny, interviewed by Kommersant, has voiced an even tougher stance. "No one in Ukraine will amend the Constitution," he said. "The Ukrainian side won’t discuss this. No special status is mentioned anywhere. The discourse is only about a special local self-rule."
Moscow and the unrecognized Donbass republics backed by it have another stance, insisting that this runs counter to the Minsk peace agreements. According to a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry, it is important to confirm the special status of Donbass in the Constitution, because it is more difficult to amend it, unlike laws, which can be reversed. The issue of a special status is expected to be in the spotlight at the Contact Group’s meetings and other rounds of talks, which will begin as soon as Kiev appoints a new cabinet, the paper says.
According to the Head of the Center for Current Politics Alexei Chesnakov, who is close to Russian Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov, "there are not enough grounds for convening a meeting of the Normandy Four leaders now." "Ukraine should demonstrate convincing arguments in favor of this proposal," he said. "First, progress is needed on the political track. The death of [Ukrainian] servicemen should be thoroughly investigated, but this incident is not enough for a meeting. The talks should be organized, and no such preparations have been seen so far."
Izvestia: Nearly half of Russian entrepreneurs benefit from food embargo, study reveals
Nearly one in two Russian businesspersons have reported a positive effect from Moscow’s food embargo since their enterprises benefited from edging out Western rivals, Izvestia writes, citing research carried out by Business Russia. The study reveals that 40% of entrepreneurs see only advantages from the exit of foreign producers from Russia’s market, while the other 60% have described the countersanctions as negative. Some 2,000 businesspersons in the trade sector were questioned, 30% of whom are doing business in one or two neighboring regions, while only 2% operate across Russia.
Since the restrictive measures were introduced in 2014, many Russian businesses working in agriculture and food industry, biotechnologies and pharmaceuticals, have found their niche on the market. They improved the quality of their goods, making them even better than imports, Head of Business Russia Alexei Repik told the paper, noting however that the sanctions are a counterproductive tool for changing the business climate and its path of development.
According to entrepreneurs, the key obstacles for fostering business in Russia are red tape, lack of workforce, raids by security forces and poor development of city infrastructure, as well as constantly changing legislation.
Almost half of the representatives from small and mid-sized businesses have turned the situation with Russia’s countersanctions to their advantage, said Georgy Ostapkovich, director of the Center for Business Tendencies Studies at the Higher School of Economics. According to him, Western sanctions have not had a great impact on Russia’s economy, with the GDP dropping only 0.6%-0.8%.
Five years on since the food embargo was introduced, Russia’s economy is not showing any significant growth, and this confirms the negative impact of those countersanctions, Head of the FBK Grant Thornton Strategic Analysis Institute Igor Nikolaev told the paper. Given this, the domestic economy is teetering between recession and stagnation. According to the expert, the effect from Russia’s import replacement measures has been minuscule. The lack of rivalry on the market has not encouraged Russian producers to improve the quality of goods, he also noted.
Vedomosti: Gazprom mulls selling shares this fall to the tune of $3 bln
Russia’s energy giant Gazprom may sell a 3.7% stake of quasi-treasury shares of its subsidiary companies this fall, Bloomberg reported citing its sources, which would be worth 200 bln rubles ($3 bln) on the stock market. Foreign investors could be given permission to purchase some shares via local brokers, Vedomosti writes.
Gazprom’s shares have significantly risen in price this year and the company is one of the leaders in terms of capitalization among Russian companies. This growth is primarily linked to rising dividends and expectations that they would increase further, analyst at the ACRA rating agency Vasily Tanurkov said. By the end of the year, Gazprom pledges to introduce a new dividend policy and in the next two or three years it expects to start paying its shareholders 50% of the net profits based on the International Financial Reporting Standards.
The quasi-treasury shares could be bought by a narrow circle of investors, Raiffeisenbank analyst Andrei Polischuk told the paper, explaining that this sales scheme is the best choice for Gazprom. Although the energy giant does not have any financial grounds to sell this package now, in theory, these funds could be spent on reducing its debt, Tanurkov noted.
Fitch analyst Dmitry Marinchenko agrees that now it is the best time for this sale as prices on Gazprom’s shares have been on the rise.