Russian press digest (3 August 2015)

This Monday, the Russian press concentrated on economics news: falling oil prices, housing stock becoming cheaper and counter-sanctions being introduced on a local level. на русском языке

Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia
3 August 2015

Coal and oil freight at Murmansk trade port. Mikhail Perfilov / Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Kommersant opens its front page with an article on personnel changes in Crimea—the scandalous appointment of Sergei Khalyuta, a priest from the Moscow Patriarchate, as head of the Khersonesus reserve, one of Crimea’s principal archaeological sites. 

President Vladimir Putin had tasked the governor of Sevastopol, Sergei Menyailo, to transfer the reserve into federal hands before 1 September. As a result, the reserve would receive the status of an ‘especially valuable site of the Russian Federation’s cultural heritage’, making it a specially protected zone. The appointment of Khalyuta has provoked a huge amount of criticism from the academic community. 

As Kommersant reports, this could have consequences for Governor Menyailo. Menyailo had previously not agreed the appointment with Moscow, and had allowed construction work to take place on the site. The scandal over Khalyuta’s appointment emerged from a pre-existing conflict over the governor’s behaviour: Menyailo permitted paths to be laid near the cathedral ahead of the 1,000 anniversary of the death of Prince Volodymyr/Vladimir. 

Khersonesus’ status requires for any works to be agreed with UNESCO. According to UNESCO, the Khersonesus reserve is a Ukrainian World Heritage site, and the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture insists on its inclusion into the UNESCO ‘black list’ of sites under threat. In short, perhaps an international scandal awaits. 

Kommersant continues its focus on Crimea, with a report on the peninsula’s construction business. Crimean developers, it seems, turned out to be less than ready for Russian Federation requirements, and have thus asked local officials for leniency. These ‘lenient’ moments have since made their way into a draft bill, which the Crimean parliament has introduced into the State Duma.

The Crimean authorities will be thus be in charge of technical standards on the peninsula until the end of 2016 (allowing local business to live the easy life a little longer).

Lastly, Kommersant publishes the results of a VTsIOM survey, which reports that the majority of Russians are in favour of internet censorship. Among respondents, 42% believe that foreign governments are using the net to harm Russia, 49% believe that information on the internet should be censored, and 81% see calls to protest against the country’s leadership in a negative light.

Vedomosti reports on the investigation into Leonid Melamed, former top-manager of Rosnano, and who currently stands accused of embezzlement. Many observers believe that this is an attack on Igor Chubais, head of the corporation. As Vedomosti reports, Melamed has appealed for the return of the missing funds (227m roubles), which the state has reportedly lost in suspect deals with Melamed’s team.

The court has accepted Melamed’s appeal, and the funds have been frozen. It is unclear whether this indicates a speedy release for Melamed from house arrest. 

Vedomosti also reports on Rosneft’s plans to sue for compensation following losses under international sanctions. ‘Last week, the USA added further companies of Rosneft to the sanctions list. Rosneft responded that the USA is continuing to respond to the consequences of political decisions by targeting businesses, which cannot influence the decision-making process. To defend its interests, the company is creating a system to account for losses from sanctions.’ This sum could reach 20 billion dollars, but experts asked by Vedomosti doubt the company will succeed in returning that amount.

RBK also talks of fresh victims of the sanctions—13 individuals and companies who have found their way into the lists for ties to ‘serious and continuous attempts to avoid sanctions by Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and the Kalashnikov concern,’ according to OFAS director of foreign assets John Smith. 

RBK also takes a look at Russian popular musician Garik Sukachev, whose name has turned up in the list of investors affected by the Central Bank’s decision to withdraw Rossiisky Kredit’s banking license last week. Apparently, Sukhachev had 1.7m euros in RK.

Rossisskaya Gazeta, a government publication, continues to try and create a positive agenda—its first page is partially given over to a piece about how citizenship procedures for mathematicians and doctors living in foreign countries have been simplified. RG also presents an interview with Ruslan Grinberg, who discusses his ideas for getting Russia out of its economic crisis. Grinberg proposes, in part, the expansion of social benefits to stimulate demand on domestic goods

Finally, Izvestia reports that Russia’s postal company, Pochta Rossii, is expanding into tobacco sales, and that, following the French parliamentarians’ visit to Crimea, Bundestag representatives may visit the peninsula soon enough.

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