- Press review: Will Putin, Biden extend New START and Russian airlines seek bailout
- Press review: Biden’s inaugural address calls for unity and Iran may form ‘Shiite NATO’
- New START Treaty extension meets US national security interests
- Press review: What comes next after Navalny's arrest and Telegram may face Big Tech's ire
Top stories in the Russian press on Wednesday, December 12, prepared by TASS
Media: Tehran looks for ways to punish Trump
In response to the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the country’s parliament has passed a bill requiring Tehran to abandon its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the nuclear program. The bill won’t probably be approved, failing to come into force, but it will still complicate Iran’s dialogue with the Biden administration, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
The main thing about the bill is that Iran refuses to comply with its obligation not to produce weapons-grade uranium and provide International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors with access to all its nuclear sites. Incumbent US President Donald Trump and his administration officials have repeatedly stressed that they view it as a threat to US national security. That said, the move increases the possibility of a military conflict between the US and Iran but only if the bill gets approval from Iran’s Guardian Council and becomes law.
There are no disagreements between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s administration and conservative forces on whether or not to respond to Fakhrizadeh’s assassination. The dispute is about what the response should be, Iranian political scientist Hamidreza Azizi told Kommersant. According to him, those in Rouhani’s inner circle believe that Tehran needs to avoid getting trapped by cutting ties with the IAEA because it will have negative consequences for the country and reduce the chance of establishing contact with the new US administration. Hardliners, in turn, may take advantage of the situation to block Rouhani’s attempts to build diplomatic ties with the new US president.
"Conservative circles have long questioned the effectiveness of the JCPOA, advocated by President Hassan Rouhani’s team. Now it’s not just about sanctions but also about murders committed on the country’s soil and the violation of Iran’s sovereignty," PIR Center consultant Yulia Sveshnikova pointed out.
Meanwhile, Pavel Sharikov, who heads the Russian Center for Applied Research at the Academy of Sciences' Institute for the United States and Canada, is skeptical about the assumption that by killing Fakhrizadeh, Trump sought to prevent Biden from building dialogue with Iran. "If evidence arises that he organized the murder, it may cost him his freedom. Many Democrats call for holding Trump criminally liable and this would be a real gift for them," the expert told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Turkey seeks to push Russia out of South Caucasus
Ankara is beginning to pressure Russia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Following the Turkish Defense Ministry's announcement of an agreement with Russia on the creation of a joint monitoring center, Baku said that Turkish troops were already operating in Karabakh as deminers. The Voice of Turkey Telegram channel posted a photo of such a group, assuming that it was an SAS special forces unit, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
Such reports can point to Ankara’s attempts to demonstrate its success and prove that Moscow was unable to prevent the Turkish leadership from achieving its geopolitical goals in the post-Soviet South Caucasus. The Turkish authorities earlier made a political decision to send troops to Azerbaijan. On November 22, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that the country’s Land Forces units would be deployed there.
"Where there is infantry, special forces units may also mix in," Russian military expert retired Lieutenant General Yuri Netkachev emphasized. In his view, Turkey’s goal is to drive Russia out of Nagorno-Karabakh and the entire South Caucasus. "Turkish special operations forces can do it by carrying out subversive activities and turning locals against Russian peacekeepers," Netkachev noted. Before the war had broken out in Nagorno-Karabakh, anti-Russian protests had taken place in Azerbaijan with demonstrators holding Turkish flags along with Azerbaijani ones, the expert pointed out.
The Telegram channel ‘Azerbaijani Armed Forces’ wrote on Tuesday that "Armenian and Russia’s pro-Armenian news outlets are spreading reports that people in Azerbaijan are unhappy about the presence of Russian peacekeepers and they are calling for kicking the Russians out of Karabakh, particularly by using military force." "I think it’s Turkey that benefits from it and its information forces are working in this field," Netkachev said.
Izvestia: Russia's Central Bank embarks on creating digital ruble
Russia’s Central Bank plans to issue a digital ruble that will be used along with cash and non-cash transactions, the bank’s Deputy Chairman Alexei Zabotkin said in an interview with Izvestia.
"We will thoroughly consider all initiatives concerning technological options to create a digital ruble. I would like to point out that in any case, the digital ruble will be the third form of money issued by the Central Bank that will circulate along with the two previous ones, cash and non-cash money," Zabotkin noted.
He stressed that the Central Bank would be the only issuer of the Russian digital currency. "As far as the distribution of the digital ruble goes, avenues to interact with other financial market players will depend on the model that will be adopted in the end," the Central Bank official added.
At the same time, in Zabotkin’s words, "banks and other financial intermediaries will have the opportunity to create and develop additional services to work with the digital ruble, which will ensure its deep integration with existing financial products and services."
When asked if the Russian digital currency would сompete with cash and non-cash transactions, he said that it was hard to tell at the moment how financial resources would be divided between the three forms of the ruble because there were no precedents.
"All central banks are merely working on the possibility of launching digital currencies. We are going to cultivate the digital ruble platform so that all economic agents can use it. The important aspect of the digital ruble’s launch is that it should be easy for the country’s population to use it," Zabotkin emphasized.
Nezavisiamaya Gazeta: France facing nascent revolutionary situation
A number of experts believe that France has entered a pre-revolutionary situation amid mass protests against a new security law. Following a string of terrorist attacks and tightened security measures, people fear that police will abuse their power and the ban on sharing photos of police officers on duty will allow police brutality to go unpunished, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.
"The law pits police against journalists who demand this particular provision be removed, though lawmakers promised that the legislation wouldn’t affect the activities of the media and judicial authorities. However, freedom of speech is highly important for the French," said Vera Ageyeva, deputy head of the Department of Applied Political Science and International Relations at the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg.
She pointed out that the bill had been initiated by the police. "The life of police officers became much harder in late 2018, when Yellow Vest protesters went smashing everything up. The number of police officers injured between November 2018 and the end of 2019 amounts to the total for the past 20 years. The police’s job is indeed dangerous," Ageyeva explained.
"Some believe that the current situation in France is reminiscent to that of the late 18th century as it is unclear what will happen next. Society is under pressure due to the lockdown restrictions and police have been operating in an emergency mode for two years because of the Yellow Vest protests," noted Natalya Lapina, head of the Department of Global Problems at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences.
According to the expert, the controversial bill is an example of how the authorities can overreact to security concerns. It may undermine people’s trust in the government, which is already on the decline.
Izvestia: Pandemic makes Russians give up on cash
More than half of Russians have stopped using cash. Analysts point out that Russia is in the global top five for non-cash payment growth. In particular, the coronavirus pandemic made Russians give up on cash, Izvestia notes.
According to the Russian Central Bank, the share of non-cash payments rose to 69% in the second quarter of the year. It was expected to happen only in late 2020, but the pandemic sped up the process. The World Health Organization said that banknotes could carry COVID-19 and people realized that using paper money was not only impractical but also unsafe. However, analysts say that apart from the risk of contracting the virus, the evolution of delivery and other online services during the spring lockdown was the main driver behind the change in consumer habits.
"A significant part of the population started to use food delivery services and online cinemas. Non-cash payments also grew because of the restrictions imposed on cafes and bars where people often pay cash," said co-founder of the A3F Group Alexander Duzhnikov.
Experts also point to another reason behind Russia’s leading position in terms of the use of bank cards incorporated into mobile devices. It turns out that Russian users perceive new technologies better.
"The young generation skipped the stage of card payments and opened digital wallets. Young people tend to use their gadgets for contactless payment," Retail Business Development Director at RGS Bank Marina Dembitskaya emphasized.
Finally, the government is interested in making sure that as many payments as possible are made online as it makes it easier to control the movement of money, bolsters the safety of transactions and facilitates an end to shadow payments.