Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, January 19, prepared by TASS
Media: What comes after Navalny's arrest
Blogger Alexey Navalny has been taken into custody for 30 days, until February 15. Until then, a hearing will take place at the Federal Penitentiary Service’s request that his suspended sentence be converted into a jail term. The blogger was put on a wanted list in late 2020 for "numerous probation violations" in the Yves Rocher case. He was detained upon return from Berlin to Moscow on January 17. Experts interviewed by Izvestia believe that Navalny will be eventually brought to trial.
The blogger’s detention was legitimate because he had failed to inform the Federal Penitentiary Service of his plans to leave the country for medical treatment, Director of the Law and Order organization Oleg Ivannikov pointed out. According to him, the current criminal cases against the opposition figure will go to court. "Law enforcement agencies are probing up-to-date information about Navalny’s illegal fundraising in the form of sponsorship, which is viewed as large-scale fraud. The case will be taken to court and a ruling will be made in accordance with the law," the expert said.
Meanwhile, Navalny is becoming an icon that will bring all opposition forces together for the long term, First Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies Alexei Makarkin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. However, in his words, overall public sentiment towards Navalny ranges from sympathy to resentment, with indifference being the prevailing trend. In order to figure out how effective Navalny’s transformation into an opposition symbol will be, there is a need to wait and see how many people will take to the streets in his support, Makarkin noted.
"The opposition has managed to place Navalny on the banner of its fight against the regime and opposition forces may now unite against a common enemy in the next election," said Konstantin Kalachev, who heads the Political Expert Group.
Nezavizimaya Gazeta: Europe regrets Russia's withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty
The United Kingdom, Norway, France and Switzerland have expressed regret over Moscow's decision to pull out of the Treaty on Open Skies. For 28 years, the agreement provided NATO countries with the opportunity to legally collect intelligence on Russia’s military infrastructure and Russia was able to do the same. Moscow tried its best to preserve the treaty even after Washington’s exit but the collective West failed to hear its initiatives, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
US President Donald Trump's administration was reluctant to bind itself to international agreements. In particular, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was an obstacle since it did not allow the Americans to deploy assault weapons to Poland and Romania, apart from interceptor missiles. In a situation where neither the INF Treaty nor the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty existed anymore, the Treaty on Open Skies was the only hindrance preventing the Washington from implementing its plans to move national missile defenses beyond US territory.
According to Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Ruslan Pukhov, in fact, the Treaty on Open Skies was not particularly relevant in the 1990s. It allowed the signatory countries to legally monitor military activities on each other’s territory. "In the 2000s, with higher technical capacities, the treaty largely became a tool to enhance mutual trust. Today, Russia and the collective West seem unable to maintain dialogue and the agreement doesn’t make sense anymore. Moreover, there are space monitoring systems that make it possible to obtain more information without coordinating the movement of satellites over various facilities with your opponents," Pukhov noted.
The expert pointed out that the withdrawal process might take up to seven months. However, there is little hope that the situation will reverse during that time because the incoming Biden administration does not plan to return to the deal.
Kommersant: Pandemic can't stop Russian delegation from attending PACE session
Russia's delegation will take part in the January session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) despite the coronavirus pandemic. Although online participation was possible, Russian lawmakers decided to visit Strasbourg. They are not afraid of facing tough questions from their European counterparts, including those about the crackdown on foreign agents and the alleged poisoning of opposition figurehead Alexey Navalny, Kommersant writes.
"We will indeed take part in the session personally - though there will be only a few of us - because when it comes to heated debates, it is always better to look each other in the eye than stare at a monitor," State Duma Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy told the newspaper. According to him, issues related to the activities of NGOs were among those that Russia viewed as crucial. "They say that the law on foreign agents infringes on the activities of non-government organizations that receive funding from overseas. Besides, accusations against Russia over the Navalny case will definitely be on the agenda. Without any evidence, all [these] accusations don’t hold water and we will neither respond to them nor take part in the so-called investigations," Tolstoy pointed out.
Back in 2014, PACE stripped Moscow of the right to vote over developments in Crimea and Donbass. In response, Russia stopped attending PACE meetings and suspended membership fee payments. The Russian delegation's rights were restored in 2019.
Political scientist Alexei Makarkin believes that PACE would like "to keep Russia," because if a country is isolated, it becomes more reactionary. However, according to the expert, PACE has lost its importance in Russia’s view. "We used to emphasize that it was an important platform for sharing experiences but now we don’t want to learn from others anymore." Russia is more interested in global security issues, while PACE is focused on human rights, the expert added. "However, why not use this international platform to promote Russia as a state advocating traditional values?" Makarkin noted.
Izvestia: Minsk deprived of hosting Ice Hockey World Championships
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Council has decided to move the 2021 IIHF World Championship from the Belarusian capital of Minsk. The city was expected to host the event together with the Latvian capital of Riga. Many experts regret the decision, saying it runs counter to the principle that sports should be left out of politics, Izvestia notes.
Talk about moving the championship from Minsk began in August, when large-scale protests erupted in Belarus in the wake of the presidential election. Numerous European Parliament members and top officials from European countries started calling on the IIHF to move the tournament to another place, citing human rights violations against demonstrators. IIHF President Rene Fasel hinted several times that if the situation in Minsk did not improve by May, it would be difficult to hold the championship there. A number of national ice hockey federations mentioned the possibility of boycotting the event, saying that they could not be sure they would be safe. Pressure reached its peak last week, when several sponsors threatened to withdraw if the event was held in Belarus.
Meanwhile, experts point out that the removal of the tournament from Minsk won’t deal a painful blow at all to Belarus or to President Alexander Lukashenko. "Before and after meeting with Rene Fasel, Lukashenko did his best to make it clear that he did not care if the championship takes place [in Belarus] or not," Belarusian analyst Yevgeny Preigerman told the paper. "Nothing will change if there is no championship. Belarus hasn’t spent much on it because most expenditures were made before 2014, when Minsk hosted a world ice hockey championship for the first time. No major infrastructure facilities had to be built because there already were sports arenas and hotels," the expert added. As for problems, Preigerman pointed to forfeited profits. People would have visited Minsk to attend ice hockey matches and hotel occupancy would have increased, the commentator explained.
Belarusian political scientist Alexei Dzermant shares the same opinion. According to him, the fact that Minsk lost the right to host the event is for the best as it will reduce spending. "In my view, there will be no political consequences," Dzermant emphasized.
Izvestia: Telegram may face Big Tech's ire
The Telegram messaging service app is unlikely to be removed from the App Store and the Google Play store in the near future, said experts interviewed by Izvestia. A US non-profit organization, the Coalition for a Safer Web, earlier sued Apple, demanding that it remove Telegram from its App Store over the extremist statements posted before the recent attack on the US Capitol.
The case is politically motivated, Katkov and Partners owner Pavel Katkov noted. Telegram has welcomed Trump supporters whose accounts were suspended on a number of social media networks, so everything related to Telegram will be viewed as toxic in the US, the expert explained.
The lawsuit may be either a private initiative or a move pushed by the authorities and Apple, said President of the Association of Professional Users of Social Networks Vladimir Zykov. "On the one hand, the lawsuit may take years, and the non-profit organization will have to prove that Telegram is as dangerous as it claims. It will be hard to do because [Telegram founder] Pavel Durov will argue that all prohibited content is deleted upon users’ complaints. On the other hand, Telegram may be swiftly removed from the app store," Zykov warned.
Social media giants such as Facebook and WhatsApp could be behind the Coalition for a Safer Web, Director of the Information Technology Institute at Synergy University Stanislav Kosarev suggested. In early January, WhatsApp released a newsletter on changes in its user agreement, forcing many users to move to Telegram and Signal, he pointed out.
The founder of the messaging service said in January that a stable web version of Telegram was in the works, which won't depend on the App Store and Google Play, B&C Agency Managing Partner Mark Sherman noted. According to him, it will provide more independence to the messaging service.