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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Feb 18, 2016

TODAY: Iran unresponsive to Russian-Saudi oil freeze plan; Saudi Arabia and Russia acting together on oil, but at odds in Syria; EU still seeking independence from Russian gas; Russia files lawsuit against Ukraine in London; privatisation plans are more about revenue than efficiency; US activists detained in Russia over visa issues.

Iran has as yet made no moves towards supporting Russia and Saudi Arabia’s plans to freeze oil output.  The pair’s joint efforts to rescue the oil price are contrary to the fact that they are backing rival factions in Syria, notes this piece. ‘The irony is that if the Saudi-Russian agreement succeeds in stabilizing or raising oil prices, both will have extra funds to finance their proxy war at a time that Saudi Arabia is threatening to escalate with an intervention of its own.’  The Kremlin says there is no link between Syria and oil production in its talks with Saudi Arabia.  Meanwhile ahead of this Friday’s scheduled ceasefire, Russian air strikes in Syria have reportedly intensified.  Russia is working on a deal to sell Iran various military systems totaling $8 billion.  The European Union’s latest moves towards independence from Russian gas include a plan to vet energy contracts with countries outside the union in a bid to secure fairer prices and reduce the threat of supply wars.  Putin believes that Russia’s relations with the EU will return to normalsooner or later’.  Two Russian bombers were escorted across the North Sea, away from UK airspace, by the RAF yesterday.

Russia has filed a lawsuit against Ukraine at London’s High Court in connection with hits $3 billion Eurobond debt.  Current political divisions in Ukraine give Putin an advantage, because they leave it more open to manipulation, says Bloomberg.  Former CIA director David Petraeus argues in the WSJ that NATO and its allies need to bolster Ukrainian deterrence against ‘further Kremlin adventurism’.  The Finance Ministry may seek to borrow on Western markets this year, rather than raise debt in China’s currency, ‘indicating that forming financial alliances with Beijing have proven more difficult than anticipated’.  Vladimir Putin’s privatisation plans are flawed, says this piece, because they are designed to raise revenue rather than to achieve positive potential gains like improved productivity and efficiency, and thanks to sanctions and poor market conditions, will exclude foreign investors.  Putin believes that the current level of unemployment in Russia is ‘quite low’ but ‘absolutely acceptable’.  Foreign tourists are flocking to Russia to capitalise on the weak ruble.

Long-term American activist Sharon Tennison was detained in Volgograd for violating the terms of her tourist visa – allegedly part of a wider Russian crackdown on Western NGOs.  The improvised memorial to slain opposition leader Boris Nemstov has been vandalised for the fourth time this year.

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attend a joint news conference following their talks in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (Maxim Shipenkov/Pool Photo via AP)