Today in Russia/CIS: Russia’s Central Bank proposes full ban on cryptocurrency; CIA says “Havana syndrome” cases across the globe unlikely to be caused by a malign foreign actor; “Putin Accountability Act” in US House names targets; US to evacuate embassy staff in Ukraine; More Russian troops to the border; Calvey gets a reprieve; US to ‘formally address’ Russian grievances that Western powers threaten Russia
Bye Bye Crypto? Russia’s Central Bank proposed to ban the issuance, mining and circulation of cryptocurrencies in Russia in a report issued today. The Bank cited “the increase in risks associated with cryptoassets cannot be ignored in the country, given that the Russian ruble is not a reserve currency.”
Havana syndrome not coming from Russia. The CIA released a bombshell report into the approximately one thousand cases of “Havana syndrome” that has been reported by US diplomats and other officials across the globe since 2016. The Agency stated, with uncharacteristic certainty that “We assess it is unlikely that a foreign actor, including Russia, is conducting a sustained, worldwide campaign harming U.S. personnel with a weapon or mechanism.” The CIA also concluded that most of the cases of mysterious illness can be attributed to other pre-existing conditions, but noted that there remains a small number of cases that remain unexplained. The Agency – which worked alongside other US government agencies in reaching its conclusion, said it will continue working to find an explanation for these cases and the State Department pledged to provide medical care to those who have suffered from the mysterious symptoms.
Taking aim. A bill in the US House of Representatives called the “Putin Accountability Act” has been introduced, and Russian media noted that it singles out a few individuals for sanctioning from state-run media, if passed. Lenta.ru wrote, US congressman Jim Banks proposed imposing sanctions on RT ‘s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan , TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov , and Channel One CEO Konstantin Ernst…The draft sanctions, according to the [Washington Post], was called the ‘Putin Accountability Act.’ In addition to journalists, it includes the president himself, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, as well as high-ranking Russian officials and security officials.”
Everybody get out, quick. The US State Department is considering the evacuation of its diplomatic personnel in Ukraine as Russia readies more troops at its border, Bloomberg reported. Initially, it will be optional for US diplomatic staff and their families to leave Ukraine, and it is being labeled a cautionary measure. It comes days after Russian embassy staff apparently started thinning out at their Kyiv embassy – something Moscow has vehemently denied.
More troops. Russia has apparently sent more troops to its border with Ukraine. The Financial Times wrote. “In total, Russia has deployed more than 106,000 troops to sites close to the border, according to western and Ukrainian officials. The forces include between 55 and 60 battalion tactical groups, which are highly mobile and strategically independent assault units.”
Calvey gets some reprieve. A court overturned some preventative measures placed on American businessman and fonder of investment fund Baring Vostok Michael Calvey, including a 22:00 to 06:00 curfew. In August last year, Calvey and his associate Philippe Delpal were given 5.5 and 4.5 years of probation, respectively.
Nord Stream and Ukraine. Nord Stream 2, the controversial pipeline running between Russia and Germany will face a further four-month delay in certification, the European Commission said and Kommersant reported. It plans to carry out consultations with Ukraine regarding the pipeline during this period. Ukraine, of course, has long been vehemently opposed to the pipeline, viewing it as a potential security risk and leading to the loss of lucrative gas transit fees.
Formal declaration. “Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would formally address the Kremlin’s claims that Western powers threaten Russian security,” the Wall Street Journal reported. Blinken said, “We will share with Russia a response to the concerns that it’s raised, our own concerns, and put some ideas on the table for consideration, and then we plan to meet again after Russia’s had the opportunity to look at that paper.”
PHOTO: US Secretary of State Antont Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before their meeting this week (Reuters).