RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 18, 2014

TODAY: Yevtushenkov arrest seen as backdrop for economic theft, Sistema and Bashneft shares drop; budget to be released today; private equity investments down 90%; Gazprom says it cannot meet European demand; Russia and Egypt agree on preliminaries of arms deal; Russia and Zimbabwe agree on major investment deal; foreign media ownership to be cut.

Business leaders, analysts and oppositionists around the world reacted warily to the news that Sistema head Vladimir Yevtushenkov had been placed under house arrest, with many drawing comparisons with the Yukos takeover, and generally viewing the move as an authoritarian grasp for economic control in troubled times.  It is the sign of ‘an intensifying battle for a “shrinking pie” of resources’, says one; a former deputy finance minister called it an economic raid designed to gain control over Sistema. ‘This is not even a racket, this is simple, undisguised theft,’ he said.  A Moscow-based analyst agrees: ‘The economy is doing poorly, sanctions have been imposed, and all there’s left to do is to seize tidbits that are left in the country.’  Others say the arrest is emblematic of the state’s attitude towards private property.  The persecution of Yevtushenkov may be the last straw for business owners, says Bloomberg.  Bashneft, which is owned by Sistema, says the arrest has not affected company operations, though its share price fell by 22%; and Sistema’s share price fell by 32%.  The Moscow Times has a brief profile of Yevtushenkov.  Private equity investments in Russia have seen dramatic losses this year of around 90%: ‘The question is who will be left standing in 2016.’ Russia will present its 2015-2017 budget later today.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 17, 2014

TODAY: Kremlin says it will intervene against inflation, Central Bank concerned that drop in oil prices will affect growth, Kudrin warns of imminent recession; sanctions thwart art fair, delay new pipelines in Siberia; Mail.ru acquires Vkontakte; Yevtushenkov under house arrest; Russia to establish military unit in Crimea, who is next?

Deputy finance minister Alexei Moiseyev says Russians needn’t panic about the ruble’s new low against the dollar, promising that the authorities would step in to curb any further increases in inflation if necessary.  The Central Bank is concerned about the drop in oil prices, however, saying that a failure to recover will ‘significantly’ slow economic growth (which is already at its lowest level in four years at 0.4%).  Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said Russia is at risk of recession next year, calling for government investment and a decrease in social spending.  Art Moscow, the long-running contemporary art fair, has been canceled this year due to international tensions caused by sanctions, according to its founder.  Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe backed Russia yesterday by describing Western sanctions as ‘illegal’.  Transneft says sanctions are expected to delay the launch of new oil pipelines in Siberia, but Energy Minister Alexander Novak says no substantial changes will be made to oil extraction or production plans.  A state loan of $1.55 billion to Belarus has been approved.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 16, 2014

TODAY: Ruble reaches new low, Western sanctions hit oil producers; Russia to create a crisis fund to help targeted companies; Dozhd producer attacked; United Russia wins most seats in election; Lebedev bank searched; watchdog to log bloggers’ info’; Vkontakte hacked.

The ruble hit a new record low against the dollar yesterday, of 38 rubles per dollar: partly due to a corresponding two-year low in oil prices, as well as a new round of Western sanctions against Russia.  Thanks to Washington’s banning Western companies from working with Russia’s oil giants, Gazprom Neft may require alternative equipment providers in order to meet production targets at its Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Arctic.  Western service firms Halliburton and Schlumberger are also likely to lose a combined $4 billion in revenue fro the restrictions.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says the sanctions are a test of Russia’s strength, and urged officials ‘not to succumb to the temptation of easy solutions’.  Finance Minister Anton Siluanov says Russia will create a multi-billion-dollar fund next year to support companies hit by sanctions; part of the money will come from the 100 billion rubles left over from this year’s budget.  Crimea is seeking $2.1 billion from Moscow for new investment projects.  Ksenia Batanova, the chief producer at independent and occasionally oppositionist television channel Dozhd (Rain), has been attacked and robbed near her apartment building.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 15, 2014

5455-02-Grishin-Moscow-Elections1436TODAY: Regional elections see low turnout and reports of falsifications; extended U.S. sanctions target energy sector and raise doubts about Arctic projects; crisis fund to help sanction-affected companies on the cards; plans for railway to bypass Ukraine; Orthodox Church takes to the air waves. 

United Russia candidates have reportedly shown a strong performance in the regional elections which were held yesterday.  Whilst the Central Election Commission claimed it had received no complaints throughout the day, the leader of St. Petersburg’s branch of the A Just Russia party, Oksana Dmitriyeva, has announced that her party would not recognise the results in the city on the basis that the elections were not free.  Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin has indicated that his party might follow suit in the case of the Moscow City Duma.  Golos has received 656 complaints of electoral violations in the polls which also had a low turnout; the Moscow Times estimates 15-20% attendance.  At 45%-60% (depending on which source you use) turnout was considerably higher in Crimea, whose first ever vote in a parliamentary election since the reunification with Russia in mid-March saw United Russia apparently glean 70% of votes.  Reports of pressure to vote for the party of power have emerged in the case of newly absorbed region.

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THE TPPA: TRADING AWAY NEW ZEALAND’S INDEPENDENCE

nz-democracy-tpp-kim-dotcomAs this paper goes to press, New Zealand is a handful of days away from perhaps the most significant election in the country’s history. One key issue for consideration is the status of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), a comprehensive free trade agreement involving a dozen countries including New Zealand, still in the negotiation phase. The TPPA would give the world’s most aggressive economy – the United States (U.S.) – access to New Zealand’s markets and to the mechanism of investor/state arbitration against New Zealand, while stripping the New Zealand Parliament of its authority over much of the country’s trade and business.

This paper addresses five systemic aspects of the TPPA: (1) the asymmetry of the trade relationship between New Zealand and the U.S.; (2) the secrecy and lack of transparency that permits unequal bargaining positions between producers and consumers throughout the free trade area; (3) the capture of the entire trading relationship by U.S. special interest groups which instrumentalise the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to sanction and coerce countries into adopting U.S. corporate interests; (4) the tendency by the U.S. to legislate extra-territorially for other sovereign countries; and (5) the disparity between the trade negotiation process and New Zealand’s ability to maintain its rule-of-law standard.

Click here to download the PDF version of the paper.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 12, 2014

TODAY: Kiev says Russia has withdrawn troops; new E.U. and U.S. sanctions announced; ruble hits historic low; Ukraine now lacking 5bn cubic meters of gas, Poland and Slovakia report import deficits from Gazprom; Russia working to fix China pipeline plans; local elections, Crimean rights, Tolstoy.

Kiev says that Russia has withdrawn most of its forces from Ukrainian territory following its most recent military offensive.  Russia’s Foreign Ministry responded to new sanctions from the European Union, saying that they indicate Europe’s ‘choice against a peaceful resolution of the inter-Ukrainian crisis’, and said Amnesty International was making a ‘profound mistake in accusing Russia of being involved in the fighting.  Russia is preparing retaliatory measures against the E.U. in the form of new import embargoes on clothing and cars.  The ruble has hit a historic low against the dollar.  U.S. President Barack Obama will reveal details of new U.S. sanctions later today, aimed at halting oil exploration in Russia by international companies and limiting the access of major banks to U.S. debt and equity markets; but his government has also indicated that America’s strategy against I.S. could involve Russian participation.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 11, 2014

putin-icbm-testTODAY: West considers extending sanctions to energy sector; Russia tests ICBM and orders drills; Ukraine’s President upbeat on ceasefire; Washington determined to thwart Mistral deal. Gazprom makes sudden cut to exports to Poland; Sechin’s influence acknowledged; man accused of being IS member detained in Moscow. 

The United States and European Union are reportedly seriously considering banning U.S. and European companies from cooperating with Russia on energy projects, a move which would dramatically affect the operations of giants like Exxon Mobil Corp and BP.  The EU has delayed the implementation of sanctions against Russia in order to ‘give Russia a chance to show its willingness to be honest‘.  As reports emerge that Russia has successfully tested a long-troubled intercontinental nuclear missile, it appears that Ukraine has started building a wall along its border to block the influx of fighters and armaments from its neighbouring Eastern ‘aggressor‘.  President Vladimir Putin has also ordered a series of snap combat readiness drills in the Eastern Military District.  Despite this, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko is positive about prospects for a peaceful settlement as 70% of Russian troops have reportedly moved back across the border.  The acting Prime Minister of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, has said if Europe recognises the legitimacy of the Scottish independence poll, they are obliged to follow suit for the Crimean breakaway referendum.  Washington is bolstering efforts to ensure that France’s postponed sale of two Mistral warships to Russia does not go ahead.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 10, 2014

TODAY: E.U. adopts new anti-Russia sanctions, Medvedev vows to protect companies; Germany suffering from sanctions; Russian suicides; MH17 report seen as indicating Russian involvement; China and Russia to settle more trades in local currencies; activists say Golos ruling is small fry.

The European Union has formally adopted new sanctions against Russia to further punish its involvement in the Ukraine crisis, but is being ‘deliberately vague’ about when they will come into effect, according to the BBC.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says the Kremlin will continue to protect and support both state and private companies targeted by Western sanctions (which he called ‘unlawful’ and without grounds); he did not indicate whether Novatek or its Yamal LNG project will receive state aid.  A fish factory in Murmansk is challenging the embargo on food imports from countries that have imposed sanctions against Russia, with a hearing of his suit scheduled for November. Germany says its mid-size businesses are losing market share to Asian companies thanks to anti-Russia sanctions.  Can you guess how many telephone calls President Vladimir Putin has shared with German Chancellor Angela Merkel so far this year? Suicide rates in Russia are declining, but Russian suicides in the past two decades nonetheless total 1 million.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 9, 2014

TODAY: Ukraine death toll at 3,000; Medvedev promises to retaliate against sanctions by barring airspace, bankrupting airlines; Dalai Lama says Putin is all about himself; Russia building new Arctic military bases; Rosneft could get its requested billions; new U.S. Ambassador appointed; pipeline threatens heritage site; Yandex password hack, Golos, Lake Baikal.

According to U.N. estimates, the death toll in the Ukrainian crisis has now exceeded 3,000, including victims of the MH17 plane crash.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that Russia will respond to any new western sanctions against its energy or financial sectors ‘asymmetrically’, potentially barring airlines’ access to Russian airspace.  He said that such a ban could bankrupt ‘many airlines. The concept of ‘Novorossiya’, or ‘New Russia’, is hitting the opinion pages; Artis Pabriks, the former foreign minister of Latvia and current E.U. Parliament member, called for NATO to provide Ukraine with resources to help it defend itself against Russia; and the Dalai Lama spoke out against President Vladimir Putin’s self-centeredness as ‘the root of the problem’ behind Russia’s downfall: ‘Mr. Putin was first a president, then a prime minister, then a president again. It’s a bit too much,’ he said, calling the current international situation a return to the Cold War.  A spokesperson for the Defense Ministry says Russia is building new military bases in the Arctic.  The Washington Post attempts to guess Putin’s motives in eastern Ukraine.  The WSJ suggests that perhaps Putin ‘thinks of himself as [a] Bonaparte’.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Sept 8, 2014

TODAY: Fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, despite truce; new war doctrine could establish NATO as main threat; Ukrainian clergyman says Putin under devil’s spell, accusations of clergy helping rebels; Novatek granted export licence; Medvedev calls for tighter energy security; Estonia a new front?

In defiance of Friday’s OSCE-negotiated truce, fighting continued in eastern Ukraine over the weekend, at first on a smaller scale than previously, and then on a larger scale in Mariupol and Donetsk on Saturday night, with one death, and both sides blaming each other.  Presidents Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko expressed mutual satisfaction with the ceasefire on Saturday.  Mary Dejevsky is holding out hope for the truce: ‘A central question is whether the latest shelling signifies bad faith on the part of Russia or actually demonstrates, as Moscow has insisted, that its control over the separatist fighters is less than western governments believe.’  Russia’s new war doctrine, currently under renovation, could re-establish NATO as Russia’s primary threat.  Patriarch Filaret, a top Ukrainian clergyman, likened Putin to Cain, and said he has fallen under the spell of Satan.  The New York Times looks at evidence that the Orthodox Clergy has been assisting rebel fighters in eastern Ukraine; and quotes Filaret as saying that Russian Orthodox head Patriarch Kirill is too close to the Kremlin.

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