Kommersant: Moscow angered by Armenia’s crackdown on CSTO chief The new Armenian authorities’ decision to prosecute former leaders has driven a wedge into Moscow’s relations with Yerevan and may set the two countries at loggerheads even more, Kommersant writes. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government has launched a criminal investigation against former senior officials as part of a case into dispersing opposition protesters in March 2008.
PM says Pashinyan, who was sent behind the bars in 2010 for organizing the riots, now demands those who also had a role in the crackdown on the protesters be held accountable: ex-President Robert Kocharyan and Secretary-General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Yuri Khatchaturov, who was the commander of the Yerevan garrison in 2008. They have been charged with usurping power, the paper says.
The prosecution of the CSTO chief has sparked Moscow’s outrage as this deals a blow to the image of the Russian-led military and political bloc, sources in Russia’s state bodies told Kommersant. One of the sources close to the CSTO did not rule out that “the attempt to slander Khatchaturov and the entire organization has been inspired by players outside the region.”
The standoff between Moscow and Yerevan may affect Russian weapons supplies to Armenia agreed earlier, according to the paper. Top managers of two Russian defense enterprises said the implementation of the second package of contracts, under a $100 mln loan to Armenia, “now remains doubtful.”
Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute, has called not to link the current events in Armenia with the country’s foreign policy priorities. “What is happening now in Armenia is within the logic of the Armenian domestic political process. It should be viewed in the context of relations between the new and old elites.”
Izvestia: Crimea opens doors to the European Union
Russia and Slovakia have agreed to establish the European-Crimean chamber of commerce to foster business cooperation between the Black Sea peninsula and the European Union member-states, Izvestia writes. The organization will be headquartered in Bratislava and will be registered with Slovakia’s Interior Ministry, said head of the Krymcongress fund Rustam Muratov, Slovak MP Peter Marcek and businessman Roman Buso, who signed the foundational agreement.
On August 1, the Slovak delegation consisting of 12 members arrived in Crimea and will return on August 3. The signing of the agreement on setting up the European-Crimean chamber of commerce was the key outcome of business meetings during the first day, the paper says.
“This is a historic event. The public organization’s establishment will make it possible to develop trade relations with Crimea, which the Western countries have been trying to isolate over the past years,” Marcek said.
The chief of Krymcongress, which promotes economic potential of the region, believes that this initiative will become a tool of cooperation between Crimean entrepreneurs and Europe. Such chambers of commerce will become the gate to the EU for Crimean goods, said Andrei Nazarov, who co-chairs the Yalta International Economic Forum and the Business Russia public organization. “Crimea and Slovakia have a great potential for cooperation, namely in agriculture, tourism, construction and the industrial sector,” he said.
Over the past years, Crimea has been becoming more and more attractive for foreign investors, the paper says. This was largely encouraged by the fact that in 2015 a law on the free economic zone regime in Crimea came into effect.
Vedomosti: Lawmakers mull bill on protecting journalists in conflict zones
Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, should pass a law on guarantees for journalists working in hot spots of tension as soon as possible in the wake of the deaths of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic, Vedomosti writes. The paper is citing Mikhail Fedotov, who heads the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, as saying these measures should include higher insurance payouts, special training and protection means.
All these proposals were stipulated in a special bill introduced in 2014 after Russian journalists were killed in Donbass. The bill was approved in the first reading in 2015 but has been shelved since. “I hope the death of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic will make our lawmakers feel ashamed of their tardiness,” he said.
Three Russian journalists were killed in the Central African Republic while making a film for ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Investigations Management Center about the Wagner private military company, which is allegedly involved in providing Russian military assistance to the CAR government, the paper writes.
Meanwhile, a source in the State Duma told Vedomosti that the government has not backed the bill, which is opposed by both the Finance Ministry and the Labor Ministry. The Finance Ministry says the initiative will force the state media to make significant cash injections in insurance, while the Labor Ministry insists that the current legislation already has the necessary regulations.
Chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Committee for Information Policy, Information Technologies and Communications Leonid Levin believes the bill is important and should be endorsed during the autumn session. “We don’t think additional spending is more important than human lives.”
Novaya Gazeta publisher Dmitry Muratov warns that the bill could complicate the procedure of sending journalists to military conflict zones.
Kommersant: Russian grain exports via Baltic ports slapped with restrictions
Russian farmers are again facing restrictions on grain exports via the Baltic states’ ports, Vice President of the Russian Grain Union Alexander Korbut said in a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev, according to Kommersant.
The Baltic states, notably Latvia, serve for grain shipments, which are expensive and difficult to be exported via the ports in southern and northwestern Russia. Experts confirm that this year grain exports have faced greater restrictions compared with other cargo types.
According to the Russian Grain Union, during this agricultural year the grain harvest may reach 105-114 mln tonnes, with the record-high carryover stocks of grain estimated at 20.4 mln tonnes. Amid the expected decline in production in Ukraine and Europe and a sound market environment, this creates conditions for exporting 42-45 mln tonnes. Last year, some 1.76 mln tonnes of grain and 1.2 mln tonnes of fat-and-oil and sugar products were sent through Baltic ports.
Meanwhile, according to market sources, there is a tendency of artificially limiting Russia’s export potential, Korbut wrote, noting that Russian Railways approves no more than 30% of applications for exporting grain and derived products via Baltic ports, citing “technical reasons”, while this isn’t the case with other cargoes. The Union asks the deputy prime minister to consider the issue on ensuring grain cargoes shipments to Baltic ports.
“For some grain producers, the Baltic states are the only possibility for cheap and swift exports,” a source in the sector told the paper. The decision on curbing grain exports to the Baltic region may result in the failure to ship up to 200,000 tonnes of grain cargoes per month, he said.
However, Russian Railways argues that grain shipments to Latvia are growing.
Vedomosti: Russian oil producers getting excess profits from growing prices
The OPEC plus deal on cutting production by 1.8 mln barrels per day has been fruitful: oil reserves over the past year and a half shrank to a five-year average and oil prices grew to almost $80 per barrel this May, Vedomosti writes. Now investors are taking a closer look at Russian oil producers.
Experts of Goldman Sachs have reviewed their forecast for the sector and jointly with the Bank of America and Russia’s BCS financial group they predict the growth of free cash flows of Lukoil, Rosneft, Gazprom Neft, Tatneft and other oil companies. Analysts forecast the surge in these producers’ dividend payouts and divided yields.
The reason behind the rising dividend yield is the declining desire for acquisitions abroad and exhausting possibilities of purchases on the domestic market, the paper says.
At least until mid-2019 the interest in Russian oil companies’ securities will continue growing if the expectations on the rising dividends are met, analyst at Raiffeisenbank Andrei Polischuk said.
Moody’s Vice President Denis Perevezentsev believes that thanks to high ruble prices on oil and the revised OPEC plus deal Russian oil producers’ financial results in 2018 will be impressing. However, the growing investment attractiveness of Russian oil companies will be contained by uncertainty amid the possible increase in the US sanctions pressure, he warned.
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