Russia to lose some $40 bn a year due to sanctions

Russia is set to lose around $40 billion (32 billiUon euros) per year due to Western sanctions over the Ukraine conflict, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Monday. “We are losing around $40 billion per year due to geopolitical sanctions and we are losing some $90 to $100 billion per year due to oil prices falling 30 percent,” Siluanov said in a speech at an economic forum in Moscow, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency. Sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States on Russia’s economy, which is largely dependent on exports of raw materials, block its access to international capital markets and also to technology. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday accused the West of attempting to achieve “regime change” in Russia through sanctions that aim to destroy the economy and rouse public protests. President Vladimir Putin suggested Sunday that Russia could experience “catastrophic consequences” from sanctions, the falling oil price and the plunging ruble, while arguing that these would have knock-on effects for other countries. “The modern world is interdependent. It’s far from guaranteed that sanctions, the steep fall in oil prices and the loss of value of the national currency will lead to negative results or catastrophic consequences only for us,” Putin warned in an interview with TASS news agency. Putin denied he has financial links to the Russian officials and businessmen from his inner circle who are targeted by Western sanctions blacklists. He said to impose sanctions on those individuals in an attempt to get to him was an approach based on a “false premise” (Source: Hurriyet Daily News).

Despite differences, Turkey and Russia forge on

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due in Turkey in early December for the fifth annual meeting of the High Level Cooperation Council, which the two countries established in 2010. He plans to use his visit to “open up new horizons and take bilateral relations even further,” to use his words. Putin made this remark while accepting a letter earlier this week from Turkey’s newly appointed ambassador to Moscow, Umit Yardim. Given the warmth reflected by Putin during the Kremlin ceremony, when he also underlined his extremely close dialogue with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one would not be amiss in assuming that all is well in Turkish-Russian ties. It is Erdogan himself, however, who not so long ago underlined that this was not necessarily the case, especially when it came to Syria. “Unfortunately, we disagree with Russia over the Syria issue. We have talked about this many times, but we have wasted time, despite our meetings. Russia continues to support [the Syrian regime],” Erdogan told reporters when he was flying back to Turkey from an Oct. 25 visit to Estonia. Russia has in fact proved to be the main obstacle for Erdogan’s Syria policy, which from the start has been based on getting rid of Bashar al-Assad. Moscow has firmly opposed Turkey in this regard and has used its veto in the UN Security Council to block all resolutions against Assad. Meanwhile, it has continued to arm the Syrian regime against the Free Syrian Army, which is supported by Ankara, and other opposition groups (Source: Al-Monitor).

Broadcaster’s Russia Coverage Under Fire as Germany Debates Ukraine Crisis

The editor in chief of Germany’s largest public television network has spent months parrying attacks from viewers and his own oversight board that the network’s reporting on the Ukraine crisis was hostile to Russia. Lately, Thomas Baumann has found himself facing a different stable of critics. Their charge: An interview with Vladimir Putin broadcast Nov. 16 was so soft that it effectively provided the Russian president with a prime-time propaganda platform. “The German-Russian relationship continues to move people to very strong emotions,” Mr. Baumann said. “People are asking: Are we sliding back into a past that we long ago thought we had overcome?” No political debate has so polarized Germans this year as that over the Ukraine crisis and how tough a line Berlin should take against Mr. Putin. The furor shows the treacherous ground German Chancellor Angela Merkel is treading at home as she leads the West’s diplomatic response. New cracks in Germany emerged this past week. On Monday, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, of the left-leaning Social Democrats, struck conciliatory tones toward Moscow hours after Ms. Merkel, who leads Germany’s conservatives, delivered her most forceful criticism this year. On Tuesday, Matthias Platzeck, a former leader of the Social Democrats, suggested the West should negotiate with Russia over how to legalize its annexation of Crimea. And Friday, a new poll showed many Germans, especially in the former Communist east, want Europe to lift its economic sanctions against Russia (Source: The Wall Street Journal).

Finland feeling vulnerable amid Russian provocations

Wedged hard against Russia’s northwestern border, peaceable Finland has long gone out of its way to avoid prodding the nuclear-armed bear next door. But now the bear is provoking Finland, repeatedly guiding military planes into Finnish airspace and deploying submarines and helicopters to chase after Finnish research vessels in international waters. The incidents are part of a pattern of aggressive Russian behavior that has radiated across Europe but that has been especially unnerving for countries such as Finland that live outside the protective bubble of NATO. As Russian-backed separatists have eviscerated another non-NATO neighbor this year — Ukraine — Finnish leaders have watched with growing alarm. They are increasingly questioning whether the nonaligned path they navigated through the Cold War can keep them safe as Europe heads toward another period of dangerous standoffs between West and East. “We have a long history with Russia — not that peaceful all the time. So everything the Russians are doing, surely the Finns notice and think very carefully about what that might mean,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in an interview at his coastal residence in this capital city, just a two-hour drive from the Russian border. In the case of the recent air incursions, he said, the message was clear: “They were testing how we’d react.” Niinisto said Finland’s ­response — scrambling American-made F-18 Hornet fighter jets to intercept the Russian planes — was strong enough to ward off further Russian aggression (Source: The Washington Post).

Can Putin Turn the ISIS Mess to Russia’s Advantage?

Sputnik News, the slick new-media rebranding of the venerable Russian news wire RIA-Novosti, reports that Russia has called on the U.N. Security Council to ban purchases of oil from terrorist-controlled regions, including the territory held by ISIS. This isn’t a surprising position, but it does draw some attention to Russia’s interesting outsider role in the international anti-ISIS effort. While the U.S. and Russia have pledged to share intelligence on the group, Russia—one of the main international backers of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government—is not a member of the U.S.-led “broad coalition” against ISIS announced last month. As one Russian foreign ministry official recently put it, “We do not expect any invitations and we are not going to buy entry tickets.” Russia has taken the position that airstrikes against ISIS in Syria ought to have been debated in the U.N. Security Council, where Moscow enjoys veto power. Russia has also relished the opportunity to say I told you so, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arguing that ISIS is made up of the same rebels that the U.S. and other Western countries were supporting against Assad. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also made much of his umbrage at President Obama’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September, which listed Russian aggression in Ukraine (along with ISIS and the Ebola virus) as major international threats. Discussing the diplomatic puzzle presented by Syria, a senior U.S. administration official recently told CNN, “The Russians are not our friend here.” So there’s little reason to think Russia will formally join the U.S.-led coalition. But there are some ways that this all could work to Moscow’s advantage (Source: Slate).

Russia to Sign Alliance With Georgia's Breakaway Abkhazia Region

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leader of Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia will sign a strategic partnership agreement on Monday, the Kremlin has said. Abkhazia relies on financial and political support from Moscow since Russia recognised it as independent along with South Ossetia following a five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008. Putin will meet Abkhazia’s Raul Khadzhimba in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday to sign an “alliance and strategic partnership” agreement, the Kremlin said in a statement. The move comes as Putin contends with the international political crisis over Ukraine (Source: The Moscow Times).

Iran Could Turn to Russia and China If Nuclear Talks Collapse, Official Says

Iran and six world powers look set to miss Monday’s deadline for resolving a 12-year stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, though Iranian officials say they can turn to Beijing and Moscow if talks in Vienna fail to end Western sanctions. While the deadline, already extended in July, could be extended again, Iranian officials have said they are working on an alternative if the talks collapse altogether, which would see them look east and north for diplomatic and economic support. “Of course we have a plan B,” a senior Iranian official said. “I cannot reveal more details but we have always had good relations with Russia and China. Naturally, if the nuclear talks fail, we will increase our cooperation with our friends and will provide them more opportunities in Iran’s high-potential market.” He added: “We share common views [with Russia and China] on many issues, including Syria and Iraq.” China is the biggest buyer of Iranian oil and one of the few countries to continue absorbing large volumes of Iranian exports without any big decrease since U.S. and EU sanctions were tightened in the past three years. Russia has sold Iran weapons, built a nuclear power station and could provide technology. Both countries can provide diplomatic cover at the UN Security Council, where they wield vetoes that can help prevent sanctions from be widened. Still, the help has serious limits: China has demanded steep discounts for buying Iranian oil, and is likely to pay even less now that its own demand for oil is softening and the global price is tumbling. Russia has no use for Iranian oil and is suffering its own sanctions over the Ukraine crisis (Source: The Moscow Times).

France, Germany to present joint economic reform plan

Germany and France plan to present a joint economic reform plan Thursday under which Paris would freeze wages and Berlin would hike public investment, a news report said. France would make its labour rules, including the 35-hour week, more flexible in many sectors and seek to freeze wages for three years to make companies more competitive, reported Der Spiegel news weekly on Sunday. Under the proposals, Germany would double its infrastructure spending to 20 billion euros ($25 billion) by 2018, and the fast-ageing country would reform immigration rules and do more to get women into the workforce, according to the report. The “road map” plan for Europe’s two biggest economies will be presented Thursday in Paris by German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, the report said. It is based on a government-commissioned study by Henrik Enderlein, head of the Jacques Delors Institute in Berlin, and Jean Pisani-Ferry, chief economic strategist of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said Der Spiegel. The plan would be a compromise between Berlin, which has long preached fiscal discipline in the crisis-hit EU, and Paris, which is grappling with high unemployment and a ballooning budget deficit and has been urging more stimulus spending (Source: France24).

Putin says Russia not isolated over Ukraine, blames West for frosty ties

President Vladimir Putin blamed the West for worsening relations with Russia since the Ukraine crisis and said Moscow would not allow itself to become internationally isolated behind another ‘Iron Curtain’. In an interview published by state news agency TASS on Sunday, Putin also said Western sanctions against Moscow, combined with the slide in the rouble and oil price falls would have no “catastrophic consequences” on Russia’s economy. The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and ratcheted them up over Moscow’s backing for separatists fighting Kiev troops to split east Ukraine. “We understand the fatality of an ‘Iron Curtain’ for us,” Putin was quoted as saying. “We will not go down this path in any case and no one will build a wall around us. That is impossible!” Russia’s ties with the West are at their worst since the Cold War because of Ukraine, where more than 4,300 people have been killed since violence erupted in the east mid-April. As the West pressures Moscow over Ukraine, Putin accused Washington and Brussels of disregarding Russia’s interests.When Russia starts… safeguarding people and its interests, it immediately becomes bad (in the view of the West), he said. “You think it’s over our position over east Ukraine or Crimea? Absolutely not! If it wasn’t for that, they would have found a different reason. It has always been like that” (Source: Reuters).

Russia to Support Resolution on Palestinian Statehood

Moscow has vowed to support a United Nations Security Council draft resolution on Palestinian statehood, Interfax reported Sunday. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said such a resolution “could serve as a starting point for the renewal of negotiations between Palestine and Israel. Considering that, Russia is prepared to support this resolution, when and if it will be put to a vote,” Interfax reported. Noting that “the mention of the Palestinian project on the resolution was immediately met with hostility by Israel, as well as the U.S.,” Bogdanov went on to warn of the possibility that “the Americans would use their veto power if the resolution comes to a vote,” Interfax reported. “The Palestinians have repeatedly said that if a UN resolution is blocked, they will appeal on behalf of Palestine to various international structures, including the International Criminal Court,” Bogdanov said in comments carried by Interfax. Bogdanov’s comments come five days after five people were killed in a grisly attack on a Jerusalem synagogue. The attack was carried out by two Palestinian men who were also killed during the incident. Palestine’s draft resolution calls for an end to what it describes as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem by November 2016. It is unclear when the resolution is expected to be submitted. In 2012, the UN General Assembly made Palestine a “non-member observer state” and by September 2013 the Palestinian State had been recognized by 134 UN members, including Russia. The majority of Western countries do not recognize Palestine as an independent nation (Source: The Moscow Times).