Press review: EU to walk back asset grab gambit and Russia-North Korea oil flow takes blow MOSCOW: The European Union has opted against tra...

 Press review: EU to walk back asset grab gambit and Russia-North Korea oil flow takes blow

MOSCOW: The European Union has opted against transferring 5 bln euros in investment earnings on frozen Russian assets to Kiev; the United States and South Korea are joining forces to prevent Russian-North Korean cooperation in oil supplies; and Kosovo is on the verge of becoming a member of the Council of Europe, setting off alarm bells in Belgrade. These stories topped Thursday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.

Vedomosti: EU decides not to transfer 5 bln euros in revenues from Russian assets to Kiev

European Union officials have decided to withhold 5 bln euros in earnings from the investment of frozen Russian assets over two years, but will not give it to Ukraine, Vedomosti writes. Monies earned under the system before February 2, 2024, will be held at the Euroclear depository in Brussels to cover the costs of potential litigation in Russia and other countries, according to Politico.

In particular, the EU plan calls for using the funds to cover any possible expenses, risks and losses incurred by central securities depositories due to the fighting in Ukraine. Euroclear noted that proceeds earned from the assets for 2022 and 2023 have been ring-fenced from the "ordinary business" and will be held "until receipt of further instructions." According to Politico, as of February 2024, Russian companies had filed 94 lawsuits in Russian courts against the Euroclear securities settlement and clearing system to demand the release of blocked funds.

Artyom Sokolov, researcher at the Center for European Studies at the Institute of International Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), noted that the EU's decision, which was published in the press, reveals a turn toward pragmatic considerations on the part of European politicians, who fear the negative consequences of transferring revenues from Russian assets to Ukraine. Moscow made it clear that such a step would have serious consequences, and this signal has been heard, he told Vedomosti. The EU may simply want to procrastinate for some time, without transferring the funds to Kiev, the expert added. In addition, the EU understands the risks to its own investment appeal should it go ahead with such a provocative treatment of Russian assets, Sokolov noted.

In Germany, the news about the EU’s decision to leave the 5 bln euros untouched at Euroclear instead of transferring it to Ukraine did not make the front pages, Vladislav Belov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, told Vedomosti. In Moscow's view, every euro cent belonging to Russia that is withdrawn from Euroclear accounts and transferred elsewhere is still a violation and confiscation, since there is no legal basis for such actions. "Russia's position is as clear as it can be. To paraphrase the Russian president, it can be formulated as follows: you will be forced to swallow bureaucratic dust in the courts," the expert said. At the same time, it is absolutely unimportant for Russia for what and how its frozen assets are used, and the EU's goals in this regard are absolutely irrelevant, even if we are talking about some [ostensibly] good deeds," Belov concluded.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US, South Korea seek to block Russia-North Korea oil cooperation

Washington and Seoul have formed a team of more than 30 officials and intelligence officers to hamper North Korea’s purchases of oil. But, the relevant UN Security Council resolutions do not prohibit the supply of such commodities, only limiting their volume to 4 mln barrels of oil and 500,000 barrels of gasoline per year. The emergency meeting in Washington was called due to the appearance of satellite images of North Korean tankers arriving at the Russian port of Vostochny. This issue may be discussed by the UN Security Council Committee on Sanctions against North Korea, but its functions are purely advisory, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

The new body created by Washington and Seoul bears the telltale name "Enhanced Disruption Task Force," Reuters writes. Violations pertain to potential shipments of refined oil from Russia to North Korea. Methods for stopping them were discussed, with meeting participants even being issued a statement emphasizing the basic truth that oil is necessary for the North Korean army.

There is a possibility that Russia would veto any resolution calling for an extension of the Security Council committee's mandate, New York-based diplomats from countries unfriendly to Russia say. Meanwhile, the committee said that North Korean tankers may have delivered more than 1.5 mln barrels of oil products between January 1 and September 15, 2023. At the same time, Washington and Seoul continue to claim that North Korea has supplied Russia with weapons intended for use in military operations in Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have promised to strengthen their military-technical cooperation, but reject allegations of arms supplies, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Konstantin Asmolov, leading researcher at the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta: "The US accusations still need to be proven. Let them do that. As for the North Korea sanctions committee, it has become a tradition that some committee members put forward some crazy ideas, while Russian experts say: ‘We’ll see.’ As a result, as the Americans report, the work of the committee was paralyzed. This happened because it did not automatically crank out resolutions against North Korea."

Izvestia: EU still blocking shipments of around 150,000 tons of Russian fertilizers

Shipments of around 150,000 tons of Russian fertilizers are still being blocked in the EU, mostly in Latvia, the press service of major fertilizer producer Uralchem Group told Izvestia. Since 2022, more than 260,000 tons of products from Russia remain in European countries. Uralchem clarified that only about 111,000 tons were exported, mainly from the Netherlands and Belgium, while some are also being held at Estonian ports. Experts believe that the Baltic states are unlikely to cooperate even for the sake of providing humanitarian aid to African countries. At the same time, the EU stated that sanctions against Russia do not apply to the fertilizer sector and do not limit its export to third countries.

"At the moment, about 150,000 tons of fertilizers from the Uralchem Group remain in the EU, most of them in Latvia. Uralchem Group is actively cooperating with the UN, represented by the World Food Program, to organize charitable deliveries of these fertilizers to developing countries," the company's press service told Izvestia.

"Estonia and Latvia are completely indifferent to the interests of Africa. They are solving a perfectly understandable problem: to create maximum difficulties for Russia in all areas. If other countries suffer as a result of these actions, it is collateral damage," Baltic Studies Association President Nikolay Mezhevich told Izvestia.

At the same time, the expert suggested that fertilizers stuck in Baltic ports will remain blocked, and Russia should be ready to respond. "We have to understand that we have apparently lost this property, but we shouldn't make a problem out of it. It is worth looking again carefully for Estonian and Latvian assets registered in second or third hands. Russian citizens are being involved in these schemes," he added.

Humanitarian aid helps reduce food insecurity risks, Andrey Maslov, director of the Center for African Studies at the Higher School of Economics (HSE University), told Izvestia. "Russia is playing an increasingly important role in ensuring the security of Africa as a whole, as climate threats have worsened. This not only includes supplies of grain, but also fertilizers. Russia's role will grow in the future, but these humanitarian supplies are only one aspect of our cooperation in the field of food security," he told Izvestia

Vedomosti: Partially recognized Kosovo gets closer to admission to Council of Europe

On March 27, the Political Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE) approved the admission of partially recognized Kosovo to the CoE. The next step will be a discussion on the admission of Kosovo at a plenary meeting of the organization. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will make the final decision. Dora Bakoyannis, the CoE rapporteur for Kosovo, suggested that participants give a "positive response" to Pristina's bid for membership in the CoE. Serbia, in turn, threatened to leave the CoE if the former Serbian province is granted membership, Vedomosti writes.

On the eve of the vote on admission to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (which could take place on March 27-28), Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic wrote on his Instagram page (owned by Meta, which is designated extremist and banned in Russia) that Belgrade had received news in the last two days that directly threatened the country's vital national interests. Vucic did not reveal any further information.

The likelihood of Kosovo joining the CoE is extremely high, Higher School of Economics (HSE University) Professor Ekaterina Entina told Vedomosti. However, according to her, the very fact that Pristina's application is even being considered is a violation of Article 4 of the CoE charter, because the organization can only take in UN member states. "Considering this issue demonstrates that the Europeans are willing to violate the rules of the game. In summary, this is one step toward the purposeful dismantling of the international legal system and institutional world order that began in the 1990s," she said.

In today's geopolitical realities, it is important for Europeans that Kosovo join NATO in the future, Entina believes. She recalled that in parallel with the process of joining the Council of Europe, the Kosovo authorities are negotiating for the granting of status in the Parliamentary Assembly to the North Atlantic Alliance. Serbia's ability to influence the outcome of the vote in the Council of Europe is limited, Entina noted. According to the expert, it is also unlikely that Belgrade will leave the organization itself.

Vedomosti: Putin tasks domestic developers with producing Russia’s own gaming console

By June 15, 2024, the Russian government must consider the development of Russian gaming consoles, as well as operating and cloud systems for delivering games and programs to users, according to instructions issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin. A government press service spokesperson told Vedomosti that the president's order has been accepted for implementation and that "the necessary decisions will be prepared within the prescribed timeframe." It will be very difficult to compete with Playstation, Nintendo and Xbox, however, experts told the newspaper.

"As an expert industrial organization, we are ready to involve the developer community in the porting of future games, and with the console porting support program, we may even see exclusives that are only available on this device," Video Game Industry Development Organization Head Vasily Ovchinnikov said.

Konstantin Sakhnov, co-founder of the Vengeance Games studio, noted that it is difficult to talk about any ready-made solutions or even game console projects under development in Russia. This market is very competitive and has long been divided between key players, the expert added. Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation occupy the segment of stationary consoles that work with TV, while Nintendo Switch dominates the portable consoles segment, Sakhnov explained.

The development of a Russian console is a perfectly feasible project that any large technical company such as Yandex could take up, Watt Studio co-founder Egor Tomsky told the newspaper. "There are many Chinese consoles on the market for retro games, which can also be used as a base. Of course, it will not be able to compete with Xbox or Playstation, but you can make a pretty decent PC in a nice case. These are now being sold as home media players with their own operating systems based on Linux or Android," he said.

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