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Trump victory, Brexit impact is shifting West's #Russia bias: Gazprom

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USRUSSIARussian state-controlled gas producer Gazprom (GAZP.MM) expects Donald Trump's election as U.S. president, Brexit and upcoming elections in France and Germany to improve Western attitudes toward Moscow, Gazprom's deputy head Alexander Medvedev said, writes Vladimir Soldatkin and Shadia Nasralla. 

President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranked Russian officials have publicly praised Trump, expecting him to lift U.S. sanctions on Moscow, first put in place in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Some observers in Moscow also see changing attitudes toward Russia in Europe following the wave of populism behind Britain's vote to leave the European Union and Trump's election.

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On Monday, the frontrunner in France's presidential election Francois Fillon said sanctions on Russia were pointless and warned that Russia and the U.S. under Trump could forge links that exclude the EU.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who polls show is likely to make the final two-person runoff in the May election, has expressed her admiration for Putin.

"It's not (only) my opinion but many people's too that the political environment will be in a stage of serious change. With Mr Trump elected, with Brexit, with elections in France, with elections in Germany," Medvedev told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the European Gas conference in Vienna.

"We believe that the results of these elections are reflecting the opinion of people who are not happy with certain attitudes of the political establishment," he added.

Medvedev said this would improve the West's attitude not only toward Russia, "but generally it would change policy of Western countries".

Germany will hold a general election in September in which the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is expected to enter the national parliament for the first time.

Gazprom, Europe's largest gas supplier, accounts for around 8% of Russia's gross domestic product and has big political clout in the Kremlin's dealings with neighboring countries.

Medvedev also said he did not expect a fast turnaround in U.S. energy policy despite Trump's push for more energy exports.

Trump has picked former Texas Governor Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy. The country's oil and gas industry welcomed his appointment and called on him to make increasing exports of U.S. natural gas a top priority.

"We should not forget that the United States are still a net importer of oil and gas. To change this situation quickly will not be possible especially in view of the increase of local consumption," Medvedev said.

"We see a lot of areas where Russia and the United States could cooperate in the energy sector," he added, including launching swaps between sea-borne liquefied natural gas and pipeline gas.

"It's not an artificial invention, it's a real possibility to develop our business together," he said.

"We have delivered our LNG to the United States already in 2004. So we have experience with working with the Americans," Medvedev said.

The United States exported its first cargo of LNG gas to Europe last year. It plans to commission four LNG export terminals in 2017-2020. It currently has one working LNG terminal in Sabine Pass, Louisiana.

Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

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European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

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The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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