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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Jan 20, 2015

TODAY: E.U. has no intention of softening sanctions without Ukraine ceasefire; Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine belie Kremlin’s denial of involvement; the battle for Donetsk airport continues; tax laws pressure wealthy to consider repatriating overseas assets; universities increasing fees 30-35%; marches commemorate Markelov and Baburova murders; Central Bank tries to stave off crisis in sector. 

Many European Union foreign ministers responded harshly to a suggestion from the E.U.’s foreign policy chief that it soften its Russia approach; current sanctions will soon be up for renewal, but ministers are demanding the re-implementation of the Minsk ceasefire before they will consider a new approach. ’[T]he latest developments on the ground are definitely not encouraging, rather the contrary.’  Increasing information being spread about Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine is showing the extent of Moscow’s intervention in the conflict, and exposing the lie of the Kremlin’s denial of Russian military participation there.  Separatist rebels and Ukrainian officials both say they have control of the airport in Donetsk, the ‘epicenter of hostilities’ in eastern Ukraine, as neighbouring residential areas were caught in the crossfire.  Small marches have been held in Irkutsk, Moscow and St. Petersburg this week to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the murders of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova.  Many Russian universities are proposing 30-35% tuition fee increases, with some starting to list their fees in U.S. dollars.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development predicts that Russia’s economy will shrink by 4.8% this year.  New tax rules signed into law by Vladimir Putin at the end of last year are forcing Russia’s richest citizens to consider repatriating their offshore assets in order to avoid penalties.  The Bank of Russia will rely on credit ratings of lenders that pre-date the March 2014 annexation of Crimea for regulation purposes, in a bid to stave off a banking crisis.  Russia’s oil output is likely to stay ‘flat at best over the next two to three years’, partly due to lower investment in undeveloped deposits, and partly due to much lower oil prices than in recent years.  The ruble strengthened slightly yesterday on the back of steadying oil prices.

Russia and China have launched the first Russia-China railroad mail delivery service.  A reported hundreds of thousands of people protested in Chechnya last night in protest against Charlie Hebdo’s ‘vulgar and immoral’ cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

PHOTO: Rescue workers control a Russian Orthodox believer swimming in the icy water on Epiphany in the Neva River in St.Petersburg, Russia, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)