RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb 15, 2016

TODAY: Russia and West trade accusations over Syria; Medvedev denies that Russia is bombing Syrian civilians, calls current relations with the West a ‘new cold war’; Rosneft and Bashneft to be privatized this year; Soros predicts 2017 Kremlin bankruptcy; Kirill and Pope Francis meet at last.

Several accusations were traded between Russia and the West this weekend over Syria. Speaking with President Vladimir Putin by telephone yesterday, US President Barack Obama called on Russia to stop bombingmoderate’ rebels.  Dmitry Medvedev chided US Secretary of State John Kerry for suggesting that foreign troops could enter the Syrian conflict, saying that such a move would lead to a ‘full-fledged, long war’.  The FT notes that several Western politicians believe that Russia is deliberately attacking Syrian civilians in order to intensify the refugee crisis; France also called on Russia to stop bombing civilians, whilst Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev still denies that there is any evidence of this actually happening.  Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke to the BBC about the complicated position of avoiding confrontation with Russia in Syria, whilst responding to its threats.  In an interview with the Euronews television channel, Medvedev said Russia and the West are embroiled in a new cold war, citing the ‘almost daily’ description of Russia as a global threat. ‘Sometimes I wonder if this is 2016 or 1962,he said.  He suggested that there could be no cease fire in Syria unless all sides are prepared to stop combat at the same time, because it is when one group stops fighting that the other takes advantage.  He took a similar stance on sanctions, suggesting that the ‘right approach’ for the West and Russia would be to lift their restrictions simultaneously.

Rosneft and Bashneft will be among the energy sector companies to be privatised this year, according to the Minister of Economic Development; Sberbank will not be sold off.  More than four-fifths of Russians understand the country to be in economic crisis.  A former deputy chairman of the central bank says the crisis is worse than Moscow admits, and that the most likely scenario in the medium term is ‘stagnation’.  US billionaire George Soros is predicting that Putin’s government will be bankrupt by 2017.  Russia’s Supreme Court confirmed that only 6% of the Moscow street properties demolished by City Hall last week were illegally constructed.

The Orthodox Church commented that the weekend’s meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill – the first of its kind in 1,000 years – was ‘highly successful’.  Nikita Kamayev, the former executive director of RUSADA, the anti-doping agency, has died, just two months after resigning his post.

PHOTO: Moscow pairs kiss, as they take part in a flashmob, to celebrate Valentine’s Day at a skating rink in VDNKh (The Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy) in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)