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Economy

The Hidden Truth In Russia's Opposition To Cyprus Bailout Deal

Medvedev on a 2008 visit to Cyprus
Medvedev on a 2008 visit to Cyprus
http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2150254

NICOSIA - The Cyprus Parliament's initial rejection of the terms of the European Union bailout plan is bad news for Russia.

The opposition to the required taxes on bank deposits means the risk is rising of a long-term freezing of corporate assets in Cyprus. Meanwhile new proposals for taxes on depositors in the island could erase major portions of existing deposits.

This mess seems to be a direct consequence of the failure of unofficial talks between the EU, Russia and Cyprus in 2012. Cypriot banks have been used as a financial haven and launderer for Russian companies, and Russian deposits make up nearly 40 percent of the money in Cypriot banks.

The Russian government is clearly very concerned about the Cyprus crisis, but did not support the recommendations of the EU, which included taxes on bank deposits, small and large. President Vladimir Putin called the EU plan, “unfair, unprofessional and dangerous,” while Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev dubbed the required taxes: "confiscation."

In spite of the harsh words about the bailout’s tax conditions, for many Russian businesses the proposed 9.9% tax on deposits over 100,000 euros might not be the worst-case scenario. In fact, the prospect of serious banking problems in Cyprus that could last for weeks is a much more serious threat for many businesses.

Finance Undersecretary Sergei Shatlov seemed to be the only person in Moscow willing to comprehend the EU’s logic, and he has spent the past week trying to explain to Russian business people that the taxes were both unavoidable and ultimately fair -- at least if one were to levy taxes on interest earned on deposits, rather than the full deposit amount.

Also of concern is the fact that if such proposed taxes are enacted, Russian companies will be making significant contributions to the Cypriot economy. Most of the small deposits in Cypriot banks -- which under the latest, rejected proposal would have been exempt from the tax -- are held by citizens of Cyprus, Greece or Great Britain.

"Gray" money

There is more British-owned money in Cypriot banks than Russian money, but most of that money is held by private citizens in small accounts. Russian deposits, on the other hand, are in large sums and would be more vulnerable to taxation. Russian stocks have fallen in the face of the Cypriot crisis, while British stocks have not.

The Cypriot Finance Minister visited Moscow this week, but his requests for a 5 billion euro loan - which had already been sought once in 2012- were again denied.

Out of the approximately 68 billion euros in Cypriot banks, some 27 billion euros are held by Russian citizens and businesses. The reaction to the Cyprus bailout proposal has been by far the strongest in Russia, with strong words coming not only from Putin but from other politicians as well, some comparing Germany’s financial terms to the confiscation of Jewish-held bank accounts in Nazi Germany.

German politicians, for their part, have said that German taxpayers should not be supporting illegal Russian bank accounts in Cypriot banks.

But at the end of the day, it’s not clear who will really suffer in Cyprus, either from taxes or from accounts being frozen. Vladimir Gidirim, from the Moscow office of Ernst & Young, says that clients are usually interested in incorporating companies or holding structures in Cyprus, not in warehousing their money there. Indeed, Cypriot banks are mostly used as a transfer-point for money.

A consultant familiar with Russian corporations’ financial dealings in Cyprus explains that “Companies don’t keep money in Cyprus. But most of the money is, at best, ‘gray’ money. So if bank accounts are frozen, it is an open question whether those companies will be able to protect those deposits, because they will need to prove where the money came from.”

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Geopolitics

Utter Pessimism, What Israelis And Palestinians Share In Common

Right now, according to a joint survey of Israelis and Palestinians, hopes for a peaceful solution of coexistence simply don't exist. The recent spate of violence is confirmation of the deepest kind of pessimism on both sides for any solution other than domination of the other.

An old Palestinian protester waves Palestinian flag while he confronts the Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the village of Beit Dajan near the West Bank city of Nablus.

A Palestinian protester confronts Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan on Jan. 6.

Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — Just before the latest outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, a survey of public opinion among the two peoples provided a key to understanding the current situation unfolding before our eyes.

It was a joint study, entitled "Palestinian-Israeli Pulse", carried out by two research centers, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, which for years have been regularly asking the same questions to both sides.

The result is disastrous: not only is the support for the two-state solution — Israel and Palestine side by side — at its lowest point in two decades, but there is now a significant share of opinion on both sides that favors a "non-democratic" solution, i.e., a single state controlled by either the Israelis or Palestinians.

This captures the absolute sense of pessimism commonly felt regarding the chances of the two-state option ever being realized, which currently appears to be our grim reality today. But the results are also an expression of the growing acceptance on both sides that it is inconceivable for either state to live without dominating the other — and therefore impossible to live in peace.

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