Top stories in the Russian press on Monday, August 3, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Moscow-Minsk relations to deteriorate if 33 Russians are extradited to Kiev
The extradition of Russian citizens detained in Minsk to Ukraine would inevitably spoil relations between Russia and Belarus, according to experts interviewed by Izvestia. In their opinion, such a scenario would be disadvantageous for president Alexander Lukashenko right before the elections. Meanwhile, Belarusian officials continue to add fuel to the flame, the newspaper writes. According to Lukashenko, up to 200 people could allegedly be moved to the country to destabilize the situation. Russia called on Minsk "to stop igniting unnecessary negative emotions" and insisted on the quickest release of its citizens.
First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Viktor Vodolatsky told Izvestia that Minsk must apologize for the unjustified detention of Russians. "First of all, Belarusians need to release the detained Russian citizens who were moving in transit to a third country to fulfill contractual obligations. Minsk should also apologize for the unjustified detention," he said. Continued detention of 33 Russian citizens on the territory of Belarus is disrespectful to Russia as a partner within the Union State’s framework, he noted.
"This scandal before the elections would be unfavorable for Alexander Lukashenko - he positions himself as a pro-Russian candidate who stands for the Union State - such scandals lead to a division between countries, not integration," Associate Professor of the Department of International Relations and Russian Foreign Policy at MGIMO University Oleg Aleksandrov told the paper.
The situation is complicated by the "Ukrainian factor": on July 30, the Belarusian side gave Kiev a list of Russian citizens to find out whether these people participated in the conflict in Donbass on the side of the self-proclaimed republics. According to Belarusian political scientist, Director of the Center for the Study of the Integration of Northern Eurasia Aleksey Dzermant, two scenarios are possible: a positive one assumes that after the elections the situation will be resolved, and detainees could be released. In a negative scenario, Minsk will extradite the Russians to Kiev, and then the deterioration of relations between Russia and Belarus will be inevitable.
Vedomosti: The US may change its position on extending New START Treaty
The United States intends to conclude a new nuclear non-proliferation agreement with Russia, Donald Trump said on August 1. The New START Treaty was signed in 2010 and expires in 2021, but despite Russia’s wishes, Washington has not expressed any intentions to extend it. At the same time, the US leadership insistently proposed transferring the new treaty into a system of trilateral relations, linking it with China. This initiative was rejected in Beijing. Experts interviewed by Vedomosti believe that if Trump is ready to abandon the idea of China's accession to the treaty, this will increase the treaty’s chances to be extended.
"What makes Trump’s latest words different is that he is no longer pushing so hard for a deal with China. He says that first you can conclude an agreement with Russia, and then with China," expert at the Russian International Affairs Council Alexander Yermakov told the newspaper. "In a sense, this is a shift, if it means the removal of the most fundamental barrier to the extension of the New START Treaty. If Trump is ready to ‘cede’ the clause on China's accession to the treaty, this will increase the chance of the Treaty’s extension," the expert noted.
According to a researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences Dmitry Stefanovich, "For Trump, the terms 'non-proliferation', 'disarmament', and 'arms control' are interchangeable." "It seems that there is a desire and readiness to begin settling at least some Russian-US strategic issues in the traditional bilateral format with the subsequent involvement of China," he told Vedomosti.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict might be about energy supplies
Russia began military maneuvers in Armenia on Saturday. Their active phase with the use of strike aircraft took place at the time of similar Azerbaijani-Turkish maneuvers near the borders of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, virtually two interethnic troops (the Armenian-Russian and Azerbaijani-Turkish) are demonstrating forces to each other at a large scale. Meanwhile, experts told the newspaper that the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict could have a hidden energy supply agenda, and could heat up once again.
Baku and Yerevan note that the maneuvers were planned and were not associated with an aggravation of the situation at the border. Military expert, reserve lieutenant general Yuri Netkachev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the movement of large units across the territory of Armenia has another meaning. He noted that Ankara supports Azerbaijan and it cannot be ruled out that joint maneuvers with Baku could spill into armed clashes with Armenia. "The presence of Russian troops in this country acts as a deterrent. This guarantees that the parties to the conflict will not start a large-scale war," the expert added.
Meanwhile, according to a number of Turkish and Azerbaijani experts, the threat of the escalation of the conflict persists - the situation between Baku and Yerevan is taking place against growing supplies of Azerbaijani gas to Turkey, and the conflict is taking place in the area of energy supply routes. "Oil and gas from the Caspian region is an alternative to Russian hydrocarbons in the European market," Military expert Uzeyir Jafarov told the newspaper. He believes that "in the near future, a new aggravation between Baku and Yerevan is quite real," as this may negatively affect the efficiency of transporting hydrocarbons from Azerbaijan to Turkey and Europe.
At the same time, military expert, reserve colonel Vladimir Popov told the newspaper that, "Turkey is Russia's partner in exports of Russian gas to Europe. And Azerbaijani gas is not a reason for Moscow to start some kind of military action."
Kommersant: Government wants to tax Russian oil companies by an additional $2.69 bln
Russian officials and oil companies are facing the biggest tax dispute in two years. The Ministry of Finance submitted to the government a bill on changing the tax on additional income from hydrocarbon production, which means not only significantly worsening its parameters for companies but also collecting an additional 200 bln rubles ($2.69 bln) over the next three years, sources told Kommersant, and this should primarily affect Gazprom Neft and Rosneft. According to the newspaper, the companies strongly disagree with this approach, and the issue can be brought up to Russia’s president.
The tax started working in 2019 as an experiment - the tax was not imposed on the volume of production (like the mineral extraction tax), but on the financial result (proceeds from the sale of oil minus costs).
These measures, according to the Ministry of Finance, should bring in an additional 87.8 bln rubles ($1.18 bln) to the budget in 2021 and 55.6 bln rubles ($747.82 mln) in 2022. The forecast for 2023 was not specified, but according to Kommersant sources, in general, it would be around 200 bln rubles ($2.69 bln) over three years. Gazprom Neft and Rosneft may suffer the most. The largest asset that has brought losses to the budget is Gazprom Neft's Novoportovskoye field with a production of 7.7 mln tonnes in 2019.
According to the newspaper, oil companies consider this tax decision to be incorrect. They agree that the tax should be adjusted, but do not understand why they should compensate the Ministry of Finance for losses due to errors in calculations made by the ministry itself. According to Kommersant, Rosneft took the toughest position, which suggests abandoning any changes. But other oil majors also believe that the issue will hardly be resolved by compromise and, as a result, it will be brought to the attention of the president.
Vedomosti: Putin greenlights cryptocurrencies for all operations except payment
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Law on Digital Financial Assets - for the first time, it provides definitions for cryptocurrency, crypto-exchanges, mining, and so on. However, cryptocurrencies still cannot be used for payment. The new law is more likely to become an obstacle than an incentive for the crypto market, experts told Vedomosti.
"The new law recognizes the existence of bitcoin. I can mine it, buy it, store it, own it, but I cannot use it for payment or exchange," CEO of Digital Partners Consulting Pyotr Dvoryankin told the newspaper. "I will have to pay income tax and fulfill all other requirements of the law on the securities market when selling bitcoin, like with selling securities, and this will discourage any law-abiding investor from coming to this market and developing it. As a result, all promising investors and start-ups will move to other, more friendly jurisdictions, such as Japan or Switzerland," the expert added.
"To ensure the competitiveness of Russian fintech, additional measures are needed to support exports of financial services, including through the conclusion of agreements with foreign states and associations of fintech companies to remove regulatory barriers. But the cryptocurrency market in Russia is not developing, unlike in the OECD countries," Head of the RANEPA Center of Competence and Analysis of OECD Standards Antonina Levashenko told the newspaper.
The legislative regulation of fintech has not yet been completed - in the fall session, lawmakers intend to consider a number of bills related to the development of the digital economy. Experts hope that it would be possible to implement provisions, which would enable developing digital financial solutions, including cryptocurrency.