Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday, December 24, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Russia’s relations with OPCW turn toxic amid Navalny incident
Russia and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have faced some hurdles when trying to agree on a visit by international experts in order to investigate the incident with blogger Alexey Navalny. In early October, Russia sent a request to the organization to provide it with technical assistance. OPCW Director General Fernando Arias confirmed on December 11 that the international experts’ visit was being coordinated. However, the parties have failed to come to terms on it.
A diplomatic source told Izvestia that the key obstacle is that the chemical weapons watchdog insists that Russia must unilaterally hand over Navalny’s samples, but Moscow won’t be satisfied with this proposal. According to Russia, cooperation here must be a two-way street.
The source notes that now Moscow has enough grounds to "slam the door" and leave the organization. Russia should evaluate whether its further participation in the OPCW is really advisable. The only reason to keep its membership is that the organization serves as a platform for sharing knowledge in the chemical industry. Meanwhile, Russia’s withdrawal could trigger major political consequences, the source notes. Other countries could view this move not just as a protest but as admitting guilt.
"We took part in creating the OPCW hoping that a technical mechanism would be established for controlling compliance with the convention. In the end, we destroyed our chemical arsenals voluntarily and unilaterally," Director of the MGIMO Center for Military and Political Studies Alexey Podberezkin said. "But after we eliminated them, it turned out that the US did not fully destroy its potentials. In the end, the organization itself has turned into a tool of political influence rather than technical control. This transformation has happened recently. We are not controlling this process and since we are not in control of this, the question is why on earth should we take part in it," the expert noted.
Kommersant: Qatari delegation visits Moscow for first time since onset of pandemic
A delegation from Qatar, one of Russia’s major investors among Arab countries, paid a visit to Moscow. On Wednesday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani and Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi held talks with the heads of Rosneft and VTB, Igor Sechin and Andrei Kostin, as well as Russian government members and Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council. During the visit, the Qatari envoys focused on the prospects of investment, trade and economic cooperation. This somehow compensated for the lack of contacts at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Kommersant writes. Qatar was scheduled to take part in the event, but the forum was canceled due to the pandemic.
Alexei Potemkin, CEO of the Moscow Policy Group, told the newspaper that "cooperation between Russian and Qatari companies is the most promising in the field of high-tech, cyber and food security." According to him, Russia’s experience in preparing for the 2018 World Cup gave an impetus for this cooperation. Doha took up the baton and is actively using Russia’s know-how.
The exact volume of Qatar’s investments in Russia has not been unveiled. However, this summer, Russian Ambassador to Qatar Nurmakhmad Kholov announced that there were plans to cultivate projects in the field of infrastructure development, agriculture, medicine, real estate, and oil and gas to the tune of over $10 bln.
The visit was also well-timed from the viewpoint of a political agenda. The Qataris came to Moscow following a visit by a delegation from the United Arab Emirates. So, Russia could take a look at the challenging situation in the Persian Gulf from different sides. At the talks in Moscow, the parties discussed the regional agenda: Syria, Libya, Palestine, the Iranian nuclear dossier and the situation in the Persian Gulf region in general.
Izvestia: Will Netanyahu hold on to the prime minister’s seat?
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Israel is set to hold its fourth parliamentary elections in the past two years, which are scheduled for March 23. The Knesset (legislature) failed to pass the budget and automatically dissolved early on December 23. Experts polled by Izvestia believe that during his campaign Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will place his bets on a successful vaccination campaign and normalizing ties with Arab states. By March, more Middle East states are likely to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
From the very beginning, many experts doubted that Netanyahu would entertain the idea of voluntarily yielding the prime minister’s seat to Benny Gantz under a coalition deal. So, many of them view the government’s resignation and consequently, ditching the rotation as part of Netanyahu’s plan. However, Israeli political scientist Zeev Hanin dismissed this speculation. "Netanyahu sought to hold these new elections, but closer to the summer, when the vaccinations will end and the economy will demonstrate more sustainable growth, and when more Arab countries seeking to normalize ties will emerge. This would be a position guaranteeing him a convenient scenario at the elections," the expert told the newspaper.
March is not convenient for Netanyahu in all respects. The results of the mass vaccination campaign won’t be so evident and economic growth will be at a minimum. So, the political scientist believes that the prime minister should not be blamed for artificially whipping up tensions for the sake of ruining the coalition.
According to Sergei Melkonyan, an expert on Israeli studies from the Institute for Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the PR campaign on vaccinations should be viewed as Netanyahu’s first step in the election race. The potential success in handling the coronavirus could bring Netanyahu some major points, he noted.
RBC: Russian regulator views digital currencies as potential rival to SWIFT
Digital currencies could become a rival to the SWIFT international payment system in the future, First Deputy Chairperson of the Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova said. The Central Bank is currently discussing the development of a digital ruble, RBC writes.
A new system of international settlements could be created by using blockchain technology. This operation can be carried out via digital national currencies, Vice President of the Russian Association of Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain Vladislav Martynov said. According to Brian O'Toole, a former senior advisor at the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of the Treasury, if SWIFT fails to catch up with the blockchain technology’s development, then digital currencies of central banks will partly replace the central role of SWIFT, but not fully because fiat currency is here to stay. Even if Russia could create the payment mechanism using a digital ruble, it could not be a rival to the dollar until Russia’s financial system becomes more reliable, he predicted.
For creating an alternative to SWIFT, a significant number of economic powers should agree on the rules of the game and blockchain settlements, Martynov noted. "Countries have two reasons to support blockchain: economic and political ones. From an economic viewpoint, blockchain could lower the cost of transactions, since there is no commission to a middleman that needs to be paid and the process itself will require less resources and investments in IT infrastructure. As for political reasons, blockchain could be backed by those countries, which dislike the American financial system’s pressure - namely the countries of BRICS, Africa, Latin America and probably, some part of Europe," Martynov said.
Kommersant: Moldova plunges into a new political crisis
The Moldovan government has resigned, clearing the way for a key power struggle in the country, which means early parliamentary elections. Their outcome will decide the country's foreign policy course in the near future. If Moldova’s new President Maia Sandu gets control of the parliament, Chisinau will definitely build closer ties to the West. If Igor Dodon, who lost the presidential election, together with his Party of Socialists turn the tables, Moscow will retain its influence over the republic, Kommersant writes.
For Sandu, the early elections are a chance to win genuine power. In his turn, outgoing President Dodon stated many times that he was also interested in the snap elections. This is the only opportunity for him to get revenge after his November defeat. It is likely that soon he will be elected chairman of the Party of Socialists (where he was an informal leader for all four years of his presidential term) and will prepare it for a new struggle.
The day when the government resigned, Dodon pretended that everything was planned this way and that the moment was ripe. However, there is an opinion that Dodon was being disingenuous when he hinted that the resignation was his own initiative. "Initially, the Socialists’ goal was to delay the elections so that it would be harder for Sandu to ride the wave after defeating Dodon. Now, there is no such threat," said Sergey Manastyrly, who heads the Chisinau-based Balkan Center. The expert believes that the resignation is a concession, which Sandu had forced her opponents to make.