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US versus Russia: Washington publishes its ‘non sanctions’ list

Alexander Mercouris

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Six months after President Trump very grudgingly signed into law a bipartisan bill voted for overwhelmingly seeking sanctions against US ‘enemies’ such as Russia and Iran, the Trump administration, as it was legally mandated to do, has produced its ‘name and shame’ list of prominent Russians.

The best thing that can be said about the list is that it is bizarre.  The senior Russian government officials named in the list appear to have been indiscriminately chosen because they appear in the Kremlin’s and the Russian government’s directories of prominent officials.  As for the wealthy individuals in the list, it seems that they have simply been transplanted onto the list from Forbes.

Some attempt does seem to have been made to keep certain Russian officials of actual or reputed pro-Western views off the list.  Russia’s Central Bank Chair Elvira Nabiullina is not on the list, and nor is the liberal former Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin.  Unsurprisingly, neither is Anatoly Chubais, the ultra liberal Yeltsin official who masterminded Russia’s disastrous and hugely corrupt privatisation drive in the 1990s.

All I would say about the exclusion of Nabiullina and Kudrin from the list is that irrespective of their views both are currently loyal to Putin, and their exclusion from the list will cause them nothing but trouble in Russia.

As for Chubais, any list genuinely intended to ‘name and shame’ individuals responsible for creating corruption in Russia should certainly include him.  Arguably no other single individual bears a heavier weight of responsibility for the explosion of corruption which took place in Russia than him.

Not all prominent people in Russia who might be broadly described as pro-Western liberals have however managed to avoid inclusion in the list.

German Gref, Russia’s liberal former Economics Minister and close ally of Alexey Kudrin, who is now Chair of Sberbank, is included in the list.  Presumably he is there because Sberbank – Russia’s biggest bank – forms such an essential part of Russia’s financial architecture.

Sberbank by the way is one of the state owned Russian banks which were targeted by the sectoral sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and the EU in July 2014.  Far from being hurt by the sanctions it is now in rude health.

As for the other wealthy Russians in the list, it seems that anyone in Russia who is or is reputed to be a billionaire is automatically included.  These seems to be the case irrespective of whether they are pro-Putin or not.

Putin himself – much to his chagrin – is not on the list.  It is not clear why.

To say that publication of the list has been an anti-climax would be an understatement.  After months of speculation about what new ferocious sanctions the US was about to impose on Russia and on the people named in the list, it is not an exaggeration to say that a mountain has moved and produced a mouse.

Some Democratic Congressmen were unable to hide their anger, and in testimony before the Senate Banking Committee US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried to appease them by assuring them that more sanctions against Russia were indeed on the way.  Whether however they will ever come and how severe they will be if they do is however another matter.

Alongside the ‘name and shame’ list but attracting far less publicity was a classified report the US Treasury Department provided to Congress which was described by Bloomberg in this way

An accompanying report on the effect on Russia’s sovereign debt from possible U.S. sanctions was classified, Senator Bob Corker confirmed in a statement on Tuesday. Congress had requested an unclassified version of the report.

The fact that this report was classified shows the sensitivity and legal difficulty of action against the sovereign debt of Russia, one of the world’s leading economic powers.

It is known that some Democratic Congressmen have been lobbying for action against Russia’s sovereign debt.  As I discussed recently, in practical terms that means action to stop US investors buying Russian sovereign bonds.  As I also discussed recently, that would be unlikely to deter other foreign investors, and given the current state of the Russian economy it would have only a limited effect anyway.

The fact that this report is classified suggests that the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board are advising against it.

It is clear that other wilder proposals to seize Russia’s financial reserves in the US or to disconnect Russian banks from the SWIFT interbank payment system have been dropped.

Why after all the threats and bluster has the US come up with so little?

It is possible that at a certain level President Trump’s well known wish for better relations with Russia has had a certain influence.  However the problem for the US is that ultimately Russia is simply not vulnerable to sanctions.  I discussed this recently in an article for RussiaFeed

Summary

What all these proposals have in common is that they highlight is the simple fact that the sectoral sanctions which were imposed by the West on Russia in 2014 have failed.

The sanctions did not break the Russian economy, or cause a popular revolution in Russia, or lead to an oligarchs’ coup against Putin – all things their advocates variously predicted would happen because of them.

Nor have they achieved their stated purpose, which is to force Russia to change its policies towards Ukraine….

The key point is that the Russian economy is many orders of magnitude bigger and more sophisticated than the sort of economies – such as those of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Venezuela – upon which the US has imposed sanctions previously.  Applying the supposed lessons of the impact of sanctions on those economies in the case of Russia makes no sense, even if those lessons had been learnt correctly, which they have not. Unlike all those economies Russia’s economy is far bigger, already possessing the technology, capital and resources it needs to develop autonomously.

As a self-sufficient continental economy sanctions on Russia almost by definition can have only a limited impact, and one which over time must diminish anyway.

As it happens the most effective sanctions the West could have imposed on Russia, both in terms of their impact on the Russian economy and their limited impact on the economies of the West, were the sectoral sanctions which were imposed in 2014.

Those sanctions did stop for a time the flow of capital from the West into Russia at a time when Russia was facing heavy debt repayments and when the price of its main export products – oil and gas – was collapsing.  The result was to deepen the recession caused by the collapse of oil and gas prices whilst further lowering the value of the rouble in a way which intensified the inflation spike.

With oil prices now rising, most short term Russian foreign debt repaid, and with the rouble floating, none of the sanctions discussed in this article look like they can have anything like the impact on Russia that the sanctions imposed in 2014 did.

The fact that the Russian economy successfully – in fact almost effortlessly – adjusted to those sanctions despite the difficult conditions ought to serve as a warning that further sanctions against Russia will not work, and…..are counter-productive.

As for the idea that slapping sanctions on wealthy Russians will provoke them into launching a coup against President Putin, to anyone genuinely familiar with the situation in Russia the idea is absurd.

What putting the names of such people on a ‘name and shame’ list and threatening them with sanctions is far more likely to do is get them finally to heed President Putin’s call to repatriate their money from abroad.

President Putin has been pushing hard for this ever since the first round of sanctions was imposed on Russia back in 2014.

Wealthy Russians and the Russian business community in general have however proved to deaf to these calls, presumably calculating that they would be exempted from Western sanctions which were intended to target only those people close to the Kremlin.

Now that they know that anyone listed in Forbes is a likely target they may finally reconsider.  That at least is what the Financial Times seems to think

The threat of further sanctions may inadvertently help the Kremlin achieve the long-elusive goal of getting oligarchs to repatriate capital stashed in the west: the finance ministry is preparing to issue a $3bn bond on discounted terms for Russia’s top businessmen. “Everyone is thinking long and hard about it,” says a former member of Mr Putin’s cabinet.

A sanctions policy that actually advances President Putin’s objectives makes little sense.  It is strange that no one in Washington seems to realise it.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Kiev ‘Patriarch’ prepares to seize Moscow properties in Ukraine

Although Constantinople besought the Kiev church to stop property seizures, they were ignored and used, or perhaps, complicit.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The attack on the Eastern Orthodox Church, brought about by the US State Department and its proxies in Constantinople and Ukraine, is continuing. On October 20, 2018, the illegitimate “Kyiv (Kiev) Patriarchate”, led by Filaret Denisenko who is calling himself “Patriarch Filaret”, had a synodal meeting in which it changed the commemoration title of the leader of the church to include the Kyiv Caves and Pochaev Lavras.

This is a problem because Metropolitan Onuphry of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is canonically accepted and acts as a very autonomous church under the Moscow Patriarchate has these places under his pastoral care.

This move takes place only one week after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople unilaterally (and illegally) lifted the excommunications, depositions (removal from priestly ranks as punishment) and anathemas against Filaret and Makary that were imposed on them by the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.

These two censures are very serious matters in the Orthodox Church. Excommunication means that the person or church so considered cannot receive Holy Communion or any of the other Mysteries (called Sacraments in the West) in a neighboring local Orthodox Church. Anathema is even more serious, for this happens when a cleric disregards his excommunication and deposition (removal from the priesthood), and acts as a priest or a bishop anyway.

Filaret Denisenko received all these censures in 1992, and Patriarch Bartholomew accepted this decision at the time, as stated in a letter he sent to Moscow shortly after the censures. However, three years later, Patriarch Bartholomew received a group of Ukrainian autocephalist bishops called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, who had been in communion with Filaret’s group. While this move may have been motivated by the factor of Bartholomew’s almost total isolation within Istanbul, Turkey, it is nonetheless non-canonical.

This year’s moves have far exceeded previous ones, though, and now the possibility for a real clash that could cost lives is raised. With Filaret’s “church” – really an agglomeration of Ukrainian ultranationalists and Neo-Nazis in the mix, plus millions of no doubt innocent Ukrainian faithful who are deluded about the problems of their church, challenging an existing arrangement regarding Ukraine and Russia’s two most holy sites, the results are not likely to be good at all.

Here is the report about today’s developments, reprinted in part from OrthoChristian.com:

Meeting today in Kiev, the Synod of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” (KP) has officially changed the title of its primate, “Patriarch” Philaret, to include the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras under his jurisdiction.

The primate’s new official title, as given on the site of the KP, is “His Holiness and Beatitude (name), Archbishop and Metropolitan of Kiev—Mother of the cities of Rus’, and Galicia, Patriarch of All Rus’-Ukraine, Svyaschenno-Archimandrite of the Holy Dormition Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras.”

…Thus, the KP Synod is declaring that “Patriarch” Philaret has jurisdiction over the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras, although they are canonically under the omophorion of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the primate of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Philaret and his followers and nationalistic radicals have continually proclaimed that they will take the Lavras for themselves.

This claim to the ancient and venerable monasteries comes after the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that it had removed the anathema placed upon Philaret by the Russian Orthodox Church and had restored him to his hierarchical office. Philaret was a metropolitan of the canonical Church, becoming patriarch in his schismatic organization.

Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have clarified that they consider Philaret to be the “former Metropolitan of Kiev,” but he and his organization continue to consider him an active patriarch, with jurisdiction in Ukraine.

Constantinople’s statement also appealed to all in Ukraine to “avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties,” which the Synod of the KP ignored in today’s decision.

The KP primate’s abbreviated title will be, “His Holiness (name), Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine,” and the acceptable form for relations with other Local Churches is “His Beatitude Archbishop (name), Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine.”

The Russian Orthodox Church broke eucharistic communion and all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over this matter earlier this week. Of the fourteen local Orthodox Churches recognized the world over, twelve have expressed the viewpoint that Constantinople’s move was in violation of the canons of the Holy Orthodox Church. Only one local Church supported Constantinople wholeheartedly, and all jurisdictions except Constantinople have appealed for an interOrthodox Synod to address and solve the Ukrainian matter in a legitimate manner.

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