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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Mar 4, 2016

TODAY: US extends Russia sanctions until 2017; Gazprom gets €2bn loan from China bank; Putin may appoint rights commissioner to replace election overseer Vladimir Churov; Putin’s public support at highest level in four years; Vkontakte wins case against Warner Music.

The United States has extended its sanctions against Russia, part of its retaliatory measures for Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, for another year, claiming that ‘Russia’s actions continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.’ The US will not lift its sanctions until the Minsk peace agreement has been fully implemented.  However, the US will not be able to end its reliance on Russian rocket engines without incurring $5 billion in costs.  Gazprom has secured a €2 billion, five-year loan from the Bank of China – its largest ever bilateral loan and its first with a Chinese bank – to help cushion it against the imminent drop in export gas prices to a ten-year low.  The Central Bank says Russian industry shows no signs of entering a trajectory of sustainable growth.  The Moscow Times reports on Vneshekonombank, the state bank that has been hard hit by the sanctions, which dates back to the days of Lenin, who used it to finance foreign trade, and which was recently used by the Kremlin to finance the Sochi Winter Olympics.

President Vladimir Putin is considering appointing human rights commissioner Ella Pamfilova to the election overseeing body, following complaints from independent monitors that the government has implemented draconian new laws that will make it impossible to expose violations.  The Kremlin says the current head, Vladimir Churov, is leaving because ofnatural rotation’.  RFE/RL remembers some highlights from veteran Churov’s career as an election official.  Public support for Putin has hit its highest level in four years, according to state pollster VTsIOM, with 74% now willing to support him for another term as President.  Russia’s embargo on imported food has drastically transformed Moscow’s fine-dining landscape, says the WSJ, forcing innovations to compensate for the loss of luxury imports.

Pavel Durov, the founder of Vkontakte, fled Russia after losing control of the social network to Kremlin allies, but his encrypted messaging service Telegram is his ‘revenge’, says the Moscow Times.  Vkontakte has won its case against US record company Warner Music over the illegal distribution of music.  Film director Nikita Mikhalkov has filed a lawsuit against Izvestia, the pro-Kremlin newspaper, accusing it of disseminating false information.

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia on Thursday, March 3, 2016. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)