Moscow’s tit-for-tat response to Washington still dominates the headlines in the Russian press. Over 300 legislators have joined the initiative to slap countersanctions on the US signing the bill initiated by State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin and leaders of all four factions late last week, Kommersant daily writes on Tuesday. Volodin said on Monday that that first reading in the upper house is scheduled for May 15 as it is necessary to get experts and businessmen involved in the discussion. Andrei Isayev, first deputy head of the United Russia faction, told the newspaper that major work on the text of the draft law was launched shortly after PM Dmitry Medvedev’s report to the Duma on April 11. A source in the upper house of the parliament told Kommersant that the legislative initiative was put forward right after Washington expanded the blacklist of Russian businessmen and companies a week ago. He added that feedback from the government and pertinent agencies is coming.
The bill submitted to the State Duma on April 13 lays out restrictions on the United States and its allies that have imposed sanctions against Russian industries, and its legal and physical entities. It authorizes the government to levy bans on imports of farming products, software, tobacco, alcohol and certain types of pharmaceuticals. A round table will be summoned on May 3 to discuss details, with businessmen, the government, the presidential administration, and representatives of all companies currently sanctioned, likewise political analysts have been invited, head of the lower house’s Committee for Economic Policy, MP Sergey Zhigarev, told Vedomosti. He added that since the bill is not prohibitive, but substitutive, all related decisions should be well-grounded. The draft law took some ministries by surprise, one lawmaker told the paper: "The work will unveil how much they depend on imports, and what budget funds have been shelled out all this time."
Meanwhile, Moscow is getting ready for even tougher anti-Russia sanctions and considering actions to respond to measures against its state debt and disconnection from SWIFT, RBC writes with reference to two federal officials. A lockout from the global financial messaging system is feared to cause a collapse of the banking system and a suspension external accounts, particularly related to gas supplies, one of them said. A source close to the Kremlin said that blocking sanctions against Russia’s two biggest lenders - Sberbank and VTB - and retaliatory measures are also on the agenda. Putting public companies on a so-called SDN (Specially Designated Nationals) list is considered to be a last-ditch means, with the potential consequences already experienced by Russia’s Rusal last week as its shares plunged, sending international investors into a self-off mode and foreign partners, not only from the United States, sharply cut transactions with the company, RBC says.
Russia’s prudence that kept it from responding to the US missile strike on Syria enables Moscow and Washington to return to relations, though complicated and confrontational, and leaves open an opportunity for conflict settlement, Paul Saunders, a US political analyst who served in the Bush Administration from 2003 to 2005 as Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, said in an interview with Izvestia daily. He assumes it was hardly possible prior to the attack. The fact that the situation did not result in a direct military confrontation will positively affect bilateral relations, Saunders stressed. He considers the current crisis around Syria extremely dangerous due to the fact, that it could bring the US and Russia into a clash. "I do not believe that Washington or Moscow want it, but the atmosphere around Syria is so complicated, that even one small mistake or wrong interpretations are probable," he said.
According to Saunders, what complicates the situation is the two countries’ different views and interests in Syria, particularly regarding President Bashar Assad. However, he is reluctant to compare the current state of US-Russia relations to the Cold War era. "The world has changed, and the global system is different from the one 30, 40 and 50 years ago. Moreover, the United States and Russia have also changed," he pointed out, adding that the current serious standoff between the two states resembles the beginning of the 1980s and the 1950s. "A dangerous time, though I would not call the current relations a Cold War," the expert told Izvestia.
When asked about a potential meeting between Russian and US leaders, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, he replied that he believes it can happen this year. Though there are numerous obstacles, and a serious meeting like that should be very well prepared, "it is still possible this year I think," Saunders noted. "We need more involvement between the countries and officials. Now the world has entered into a complicated and dangerous period, and the US and Russia need to stay in contact," he said, adding that the key task for the two sides is to find ways to restore confidence.
Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Group will not extend a contract with its French counterpart within the SALIS (Strategic Airlift Interim Solution) program on transporting oversized cargoes on An-124-100 Ruslan aircraft provided to NATO countries starting next year due to the sanctions policy of western countries, Kommersant says.
A source in the aviation industry told the paper that starting January 1, 2019, Volga-Dnepr would suspend the SALIS contract with the French party.
"Amid the sanctions policy against a number of Russian companies and the unprecedented international political pressure on the Russian Federation, air carriers belonging to Volga-Dnepr Group have decided to alter their commercial policy regarding the cargoes transported," the source said, adding that companies have abandoned military freight transportation.
The decisions made by the group’s management not to prolong the agreement with NATO countries is "consistent with the company’s new commercial policy," the source added. Instead, the group plans to focus on civilian services, Kommersant writes, adding that the decision will raise costs and make logistics issues for French overseas military operations much more difficult.
The Eurasian Economic Union and China are on track to entering into a trade and economic cooperation agreement that will be signed next month, two high-ranking sources in the Eurasian Economic Commission told Izvestia. The two sides launched talks on the agreement, which primarily envisions easing up customs procedures and trade regulations that were introduced in June 2016. After five rounds of negotiations, the deal is almost ready for signing. "Firstly, the agreement will be signed in May since the text has been already approved," one of the sources said, adding that only technical details are left for the sides to hammer out, such as setting the date and time of the signing ceremony.
Head of the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center Alexander Gabuyev told the newspaper that the deal in question is part of an initiative to set up a free trade zone between the EAEU and China. "China is the world’s second-biggest economy, while for Russia, Kazakhstan and other EAEU member-states it is the largest trade partner, which makes it logical to improve conditions for developing trade with this country," he said.
Furthermore, in just a couple of months, EAEU states will simplify trade with Iran, as Tehran will sign a relevant free trade agreement with the integrated organization, a representative from the Eurasian Economic Commission told Izvestia. "It is going to be a temporary agreement, which will expire in three years. So, the sides will see how this mechanism works, what its shortcomings may be, and if there are none whatsoever, the free trade agreement will be extended," he said. The source added that a similar agreement with Singapore is expected by the end of this year.
Former CEO of the Russian division of the German retail chain Globus Johannes Tholey has been appointed to be the commercial director of X5 Retail Group, Russia’s largest food retailer, Vedomosti reports with reference to the top manager. "Tholey is one of strongest managers in Russia’s retail, deserving credit for the achievements of Globus hypermarkets," according to General Director of Infoline-Analytics Mikhail Burmistrov. After leaving Globus, he focused on cheese production in Russia, but later returned to consulting in the retail sector.
As X5’s commercial director, Tholey will be in charge of strategic relations of all the group’s three chains with suppliers, management of international offices and direct imports, the publication writes with reference to the company’s spokesman. "I can see the potential of X5, which is why I have accepted the proposal to work for the company," Tholey said. According to Burmistrov, much has to be done to change the balance of purchases and the relationship with suppliers. Currently, the largest suppliers can bargain for more profitable commercial terms as the operations of the three formats are not well-coordinated, the expert said.
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