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Press review: Why Putin put nuke forces on high alert and liberation of Donbass continues

Top stories from the Russian press on Monday, February 28th

Kommersant: Why Putin put nuclear forces on special alert

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered to put the strategic nuclear forces on special alert, justifying this decision by the West’s "unfriendly economic actions", as well as the "aggressive" rhetoric against Moscow, the Kommersant newspaper said. According to experts, this is the first time when Russia’s nuclear forces were transferred to such a mode since the end of the Cold War. The US leadership declared that NATO did not pose a threat to Russia.

"Most likely, we are talking about bringing the control system of nuclear forces into a state that makes deterrence forces more stable in the event of an attack," Director of the Russian Nuclear Forces Project, Senior Researcher at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) Pavel Podvig told Kommersant. "Overall, once a containment force has been brought to this point, it becomes less vulnerable to a first strike, be it decapitation or disarmament. However, this does not mean that Russia is going to attack first."

Furthermore, Senior Research Fellow at the Academy of Strategic Missile Forces Vasily Lata told Kommersant that the president’s order sought "not to escalate the conflict with the West but, on the contrary, to prevent its aggravation." Lata believes that through this decision, Putin warned the US and NATO once again that meddling in the military conflict in favor of Ukraine was inadmissible. "Therefore, Putin is sending them another message: we are carrying out a special operation, do not meddle in this, because we are ready to take decisive measures," the expert said. "At present, it is a necessary and reasonable decision. This will cool any hot heads on the other side."


Vedomosti: Russian banks to be disconnected from SWIFT

The scenario of disconnecting Russia from SWIFT seemed unrealistic just a week ago. However, on February 27, the US and the EU officially declared their readiness to disconnect from SWIFT not the entire country, but those financial institutions that had already been subjected to sanctions, the Vedomosti newspaper noted.

Last week, five Russian banks fell under the most severe US penalties, namely VTB, Otkritie FC Bank, Sovcombank, Promsvyazbank and Novikombank - their assets in the US will be frozen, while the US counterparties be banned from working with them.

"Payments from Russia outside the country will become more difficult, longer and more expensive," according to President of the Russian Electronic Money and Remittance Association Viktor Dostov. "For banks, this means increased costs and a significant decline in profitability," Chief Legal Specialist at CM Grace Consulting Ekaterina Orlova stated. "Being unable to use SWIFT, banks will have to find back channels," she noted. "For example, using bridge banks (third party) can be an alternative."

"Banks can switch to alternative messaging systems, for instance, based on bilateral agreements, they can use any means of communication, from Telegram to e-mail," partner at EMPP Russian Law Firm Mergen Doraev said. "Also, instead of Visa and Mastercard, Russia can use the Chinese UnionPay system for international payments," according to Orlova. Furthermore, she believes that the use of digital currency will see an increase, and it does not require the SWIFT system.


Izvestia: Russia closing in on Kiev’s main forces

On February 27, the fourth day of the military operation in Ukraine is underway, the forces of the Donbass republics and Russia resumed their offensive, Izvestia stated. Some three more settlements were liberated in the Donetsk People's Republic. According to experts, the main goal of the operation, which is the isolation and encirclement of the Kiev regime’s forces and nationalist groups concentrated in Donbass, is about to be completed. Its implementation is going to seriously undermine Kiev’s reserves. The dire straits that the Ukrainian leadership is facing, is corroborated by the fact that Kiev has agreed to hold talks in Belarus, the experts note.

Currently, the Kiev regime’s units in Donbass are actually cut off, and this is the most combat-ready part of the Ukrainian army, according to Deputy Director at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, National Research University Higher School of Economics Vasily Kashin. "The encirclement operation is becoming the crucial one, and we are about to complete it," he told Izvestia. "If these units are prevented from retreating deep into the country, Ukraine will lose its main reserve, and, on the contrary, huge forces will be freed up in our country. These include the troops of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics.

Denazification and demilitarization are the main objective, so the Russian forces are carrying out it all across Ukraine, the expert said. We need to defeat its army, destroy the military infrastructure and conduct political reforms. Solving such tasks can take three weeks, a month or even longer. "Assessing the situation is challenging due to the growing number of fakes. And the Ukrainian Defense Ministry was caught more than once in outright and deliberate lies," the expert noted.


RBC: Russian Central Bank bans foreigners from selling Russian securities

The Russian Central Bank has banned the country’s brokers from selling securities on behalf of foreign clients. This decision comes into effect from 07:00 Moscow Time on Monday, RBC stated citing the official document.

Securities market players that are engaged in brokerage activities need to suspend the execution of all orders of clients - foreign legal entities and individuals for the sale of securities from 7:00 am Moscow Time on February 28 until the order is cancelled, according to a document signed by Central Bank Deputy Chairman Philip Gabunia. Brokers must also report to the Central Bank about the suspension of operations, RBC noted.

It is noted that the requirements do not extend to those applications submitted before 7:00 am Monday. The report on the execution of the order must be received by the Central Bank within five working days from the date this document is issued by the Bank of Russia.


Kommersant: Europe closes skies to Russia and seizes planes

The EU and most other European states closed their airspace to Russia. But even a complete shutdown of international flights will not tackle the problems that Russian airlines are up against amid these sanctions, which actually deprive the companies of the main part of the fleet, Kommersant said.

"Until Friday, we had never assumed that Russia would be isolated from the world," a source told Kommersant. Several other experts noted that S7 and Ural Airlines, whose fleets are predominantly leased in Europe, are facing extreme pressure. Planes have already started to be taken away. According to several sources, a leasing company from Ireland sent a grand notice to the Pobeda airline to recall three Boeing 737 aircraft. Yakutia Airlines and at least two other companies received the same letters, according to Kommersant.

Debevoise & Plimpton Managing partner Alan Kartashkin confirmed that all existing leasing contracts must be presumably completed by March 28. "We’ve come to this conclusion <…>, since there are no other clarifications yet." Overall, according to the expert, the latest EU sanctions are designed in such a way that many issues remain unclear. "Unlike the US, there is no single institution that can promptly clarify the situation. All specialists are waiting for official clarifications, but there is no certainty that [they] will be received soon."

"The situation with the leasing transactions of US firms is more interesting, since [it] did not impose sanctions on leasing," Kartashkin said. The experts are divided on whether the US will also ban the supply of its aircraft or "use the situation in the interests of Boeing," however, the likelihood of the latter scenario is "decreasing every hour."