Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, December 25th, prepared by TASS
Izvestia: Washington decides on new sanctions against Nord Stream 2
The Trump administration is planning to adopt a new package of sanctions to prevent the completion of the last 160 km of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. According to experts interviewed by Izvestia, these new restrictive measures against the pipeline project are dictated by the domestic political struggle in the US and may complicate its implementation. At the same time, Moscow and its European partners remain committed to the project.
Sergey Zheleznyak, a member of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, told Izvestia that threat of a new package of sanctions against Nord Stream 2 from the US "sound like a broken record." "The United States seems to have gotten confused about what kind of sanctions they are trying to apply against the Russian-European gas project," he said, adding that irritation is growing in Europe over Washington’s meddling in internal affairs.
The new sanctions may be adopted in order to complicate the pipeline project’s implementation as much as possible, as well as to make the lifting of these sanctions highly difficult by the incoming Biden administration, said Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics Dmitry Suslov. "Due to the anti-Russian consensus in the United States, Biden is unlikely to lift the sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration," he believes.
"With each new package of sanctions, completing the construction will be more difficult, because the US restrictive measures are transnational (extraterritorial) in nature and hit those foreign companies that are involved in this construction," the expert added.
Head of the Center for North American Studies at IMEMO RAS Victoria Zhuravleva noted that it is fundamentally important for the Americans to show that they are against the project, as well as to try to "reduce the energy component of Russia's foreign policy influence," while pushing forward a leading role for the US on EU energy markets.
Izvestia: Brexit deal may be postponed to 2021
After 11 months of negotiations, Brussels and London have agreed on the format of their relationship after Brexit. However, it is too early to say that the issue has been finally ironed out. The deal must be approved by the parliaments of both parties and the 27 EU member states. There are no guarantees that this will happen, especially since a week is left before the UK’s final exit from the EU. Sources familiar with the course of the negotiations told Izvestia it is likely that in the beginning of January, Brussels and London will still live in a "no deal" mode.
If the UK and the European Union don’t agree, then they will have to trade according to the WTO rules with the introduction of all duties and quotas, on a common basis, that is, as if Brussels and London had never had any special relations. "The overwhelming majority of British voters and Conservative MPs (including Brexit supporters) wanted the deal to be concluded," a Westminster source told Izvestia. According to the source, if there is an agreement, trade will go much smoother.
At the same time, the fact that the leadership in the UK and the EU were finally able to reach an agreement does not mean that the deal is finally concluded. Now it must be approved by both parties’ parliaments. As far as the main deal is concerned, it was problematic - lawmakers in the UK rejected it three times, which caused the Brexit timing to be postponed. However, according to an Izvestia source in Westminster, there should be no such difficulties with the trade agreement.
Members of the European Parliament did not turn out to be so accommodating. According to media reports, the legislators do not intend to meet again before the end of the year. Yet, the newspaper’s source in European diplomatic circles says that Brussels allows a short "no deal" period in early January, which will last until the agreement comes into force. In addition, all 27 member-countries must approve the agreement, but it is impossible to say for sure whether they will do it.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US pursuing control of Arctic skies
The United States continues to build up its military capabilities in the Arctic. Just the other day, another batch of fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II multipurpose fighters arrived at Alaska’s Eilson Air Base, and they were used in Elephant Walk maneuvers, one of the goals of which was to demonstrate to Moscow the strength and influence of the American Air Force, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. Russia will have to fend off these emerging military threats, while the costs of strengthening the military infrastructure in the Arctic should be compensated by implementing large-scale economic projects in the region, according to the newspaper.
According to the Pentagon, the base will become one of the largest in terms of the number of fifth-generation fighters deployed there. The potential enemy was not specified, but the only influential military force in the Arctic is Russia, the newspaper writes.
That said, Moscow is taking quid-pro-quo measures. Commander of the Russian Pacific Fleet, Admiral Sergey Avakyants, announced that the MiG-31 long-range interceptor fighters were deployed in Anadyr (Chukotka). Since December 1, they have been on combat duty in the Arctic. "We clearly understand the importance of this region for Russia, and that is why the appropriate infrastructure has been deployed to the Anadyr airfield, which will allow our forces to carry out continuous air defense duty," Avakyants said.
"The Arctic is an undeveloped storehouse of the Earth's natural resources. For instance, it makes up a quarter of the world's oil and gas reserves, in addition to reserves of rare earth metals and much more. Their production will significantly eclipse the money that Russian is currently allocating for the defense of the region," retired Colonel Eduard Rodyukov, a corresponding member of the Academy of Military Sciences, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
Vedomosti: Digital ruble might help Russia abandon SWIFT
The future launch of the digital ruble may solve Russia’s ongoing worries of detaching users from the SWIFT payment transfer system, since it will partially duplicate it, according to the Bank of Russia. The key issue will be not only the speed of payments, but also the cost of transactions. Experts told Vedomosti, they consider it quite likely that SWIFT will be replaced by settlements in digital money. SWIFT can also become one of the platforms for the circulation of digital currency.
"Compared to SWIFT, the digital ruble may well be an alternative means for international transfers. As demonstrated by cryptocurrencies, this is a reliable, relatively fast, and secure way of transnational settlements that do not require trust between participants, because trust is provided by the blockchain system itself," Talkbank CEO and founder Mikhail Popov told the newspaper.
The key issue is the popularity of this type of ruble abroad, the banking guru noted. "And the point is not in the protocol itself, but whether the counterparties are ready to purchase a regular or digital ruble and use it in settlements, and whether foreign counterparties are ready to connect to our system and blockchain used for the digital ruble," Popov added.
According to the expert, even with the introduction of the digital ruble, SWIFT will remain an important component of the financial system for a long time. At the same time, if the digital ruble really offers convenient methods of transfers and business will actively use it, then SWIFT’s usage may indeed decline, the commentator believes.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia’s big business quickly develops ‘immunity’ amid pandemic
Over the past five years, Russia has not been able to return to the pre-crisis 2012 values in terms of investments in fixed assets, and the pandemic was added to the chronic economic problems. Although, according to a survey conducted by PwC and the NAFI Research Center, large businesses, as opposed to small ones, have adapted much better to the coronavirus crisis and even felt a recovery in the investment climate. Experts told Nezavisimaya Gazeta, inking investment protection and promotion agreements (IPPA) is one of the reasons for the positive outlook.
Representatives of large and medium-sized businesses assess the investment climate more positively than small business, the study suggests. In the case of large players, only 10% noted that they had reduced investments in their own business, while 35% kept investments at the same level. Companies generally invested in the development of their own business, equipment and technology, yet only 5% saw investments in personnel as promising.
Executive Director of the department at Univer Capital Artem Tuzov considers the mechanism of investment protection and promotion agreements as one of the most effective support measures. The move can attract about 4 trillion rubles ($54.23 bln) of investments per year. "Agreements help businesses feel more confident in times of crisis," he added.
"Business receives certain guarantees from the state that investments will bring them possible privileges and benefits," Head of the analytical department at AMarkets Artyom Deev told the newspaper. "This sort of tool will lead to improvements in the investment climate," the financial guru noted.