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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – June 7, 2021

Today in Russia: Open Skies comes to a close; Biden’s big trip to Europe, the Putin-Biden finale, and some hurt feelings in Kyiv; Blinken makes headlines in Russia re Nord Stream 2; Nordgold’s London (re-)listing; Moscow to restrict food exports amid soaring prices; The new face of Russia’s political machine; Nur Sultan says don’t play politics at EUEA

You close your skies so I close mine. Russia exited the Open Skies Treaty, officially signing Moscow’s departure from the treaty on Monday. The move comes after the Trump Administration pulled the US out of the international pact in November on claims that Russia is not in compliance with the treaty. There had been hopes that Biden would re-join the longstanding international treaty, and Moscow had been waiting to make a move until the new administration in Washington made their intention clear. But when the US signaled last month that it had no intention of re-joining, Russia’s exit from the treaty appeared inevitable.

Meet me first please. On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden jets off to Europe where he will attend G-7 and NATO summits. On June 16, Biden is set to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, in what the White House has been at pains to emphasize is about defending US interests, not about signaling closer relations. Joe Biden published an op-ed on Sunday which declared, “when I meet with Vladimir Putin in Geneva, it will be after high-level discussions with friends, partners and allies who see the world through the same lens as the United States, and with whom we have renewed our connections and shared purpose.”

One friend which feared being left out in the cold was Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who is still reeling from – or more precisely, “surprised” and “disappointed by – the Biden Administration’s decision to throw in the towel on the increasingly futile battle against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany by waiving sanctions on the companies involved. The Ukrainian president, as TASS noted, likely with no small amount of glee, was “ready to meet with” Biden before the big day with Putin.

As it turns out, Zelensky will likely not get his face-to-face with the US president before next week, but Biden extended a July invitation to the White House on Monday, which Zelensky said he is very much looking forward to.

We can change our mind anytime (but probably won’t). Speaking of Nord Stream 2, Russian media was full of blaring headlines about Nord Stream 2 made today by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding the sanctions waivers for the controversial pipeline. Facing what might be described as unrelenting fury from Congressional Republicans about the Nord Stream 2 sanctions waiver, Blinken noted that the exemption “can be revoked” in testimony on the Hill. Notably, Blinken also repeated Biden’s previous comments that the pipeline is a “fait accompli,” and noted that continuing to sanction the entities involved would likely cause a worsening rift between Washington and Berlin.

In other words, Blinken had to talk a little tough on the Hill, but don’t expect a policy U-turn on this issue anytime soon.

Oligarchs, keep out. On Thursday, Nordgold – controlled by one of Russia’s richest men Alexei Mordashov – announced that it would seek a £3.5 billion listing on the London Stock Exchange, the latest gold miner looking to capitalize on surging metals prices. Nordgold is developing two new gold mines in Russia’s far east which it expects to lead to a 20 percent increase in production, and has existing operations in Russia, Kazakhstan, and in West Africa.

It’s not Nordgold’s first rodeo listing in London; the gold miner previously was listed on the LSE before delisting in 2017, saying the company was undervalued and declaring that it would return to listing after its new project in the Russian far east got off the ground – which turned out to be exactly what happened.

Not everyone is pleased with Nordgold and Mordashov’s grand return to London, however. The Times declared that “The alarm has been raised” over the re-listing, with concerns about London being used as an oligarch share listing hub and over the possibility that Mordashov or Nordgold could face US sanctions – it seems the listing of Oleg Deripaska’s EN+ in 2017 and subsequent sanctioning is still fresh on everyone’s mind.

Our food, not yours. Russia may further restrict food exports in an effort to slow surging prices for foodstuffs, which has become a global problem as key benchmarks for food prices hit record highs. Russia is one of the world’s largest grain exporters – a recent development since it banned western food imports as retaliation for sanctions and subsequently heavily developed its domestic agricultural sector.

Rosstat reported that May inflation in Russia was 6.02 percent.

The new face of Putin’s Russia. Tatiana Stanovaya wrote for Carnegie Moscow that Russia under the current system has undergone a “rapid and profound” change in the past year to the point that “Questions about successors, about changes, about changing course have become irrelevant. The system is preparing for a long period of conservation and the introduction of strict rules of political behavior.”

Not only this, argues Stanovaya, but the important changes are taking place inside the system of power, notably a conservative push and a fragmentation of the decision-making process in the Kremlin. In the current atmosphere, all aspects of the “non-systemic” opposition is deemed criminal, and the suppression of protest – very broadly defined – is leading to “a complete and blind cleansing of the political space.”

Stanovaya adds that “a snowball of legislative activity is forming” in a race to prove who is tougher and more irreconcilable within the system, leading to the system and its elites becoming “more and more conservative and radically anti-liberal, purging from its ranks all those who doubt and hesitate.” This has also led to the new phenomena of a disregard of the law and legal procedures, which in the past the Kremlin made some effort to “preserve at least the external legitimacy of their decisions” by adhering to the letter – if not the spirit – of the law.

Show me the money and don’t play politics. The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), made up of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, should not be politicized and “are of a purely economic nature,” declared a statement from Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry in response to negotiations pushed by Moscow and Minsk on forming a coordinated response to Western sanctions against Russia and Belarus.

Nur Sultan’s statement is likely to throw cold water on Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Pankin’s sabre rattling at last week’s St Peterburg International Economic Forum, where he declared that “The question of reciprocal measures against unfriendly sanction policies by third countries against the EAEU members is on the agenda.”

Also on the agenda at the EAEU is Uzbekistan’s relationship with the trading bloc. On May 21, Uzbekistan’s president Shavkat Mirziyoyev participated in an EAEU meeting in its capacity as an observer state. But Uzbekistan seems to be in no rush to formally join the union. Rather, Mirziyoyev’s message last month was that Tashkent would like to see “concrete, tangible results of interaction with the EAEU as an observer.” In other words, show us the money now and if we like it maybe we will think about joining for real sometime in the future.

PHOTO: A US Open Skies surveillance aircraft. Source: Airteamimages.com