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Russian newspapers summed up the results of 2016 on Friday, focusing on Russia’s foreign policy and finances, as well as looking ahead into new laws kicking in with the coming of 2017.
Three weeks before leaving office, US President Barack Obama announced a new round of unprecedentedly harsh sanctions against Russia, Kommersant business daily writes. Washington has put six persons and five agencies, including the Federal Security Service and the Main Intelligence Directorate, on a blacklist over Moscow's alleged campaign of cyberattacks against US servers. In addition to that 35 Russian diplomats will be expelled from the US in response to the alleged harassment of their US counterparts by Russian police and special services.
Experts interviewed by Kommersant say that at the final stretch of his term in the White House, Obama decided to show his true colors towards a number of his "interlocutors on the global arena" and put US President-elect Donald Trump in a bind. Now his team will find it more difficult to mend ties with Moscow.
The Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry castigated Washington calling the move "an absolutely unexpected display of aggression" and vowed to take "adequate countermeasures."
A consultant at the PIR Center Oleg Demidov told the paper it is highly likely that Trump will suspend or cancel the decree. "However, in a broader and long-term context, the consequences of today’s decision are irreversible - the mechanism of "sanctions for cyberattacks" has switched from a latent to an active tool of the US foreign policy," he said, explaining that Trump could use this mechanism against China by next year. "The tool is convenient and can be easily redirected against any other state."
Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov told Kommersant it is clear that Russia will expel the same number of diplomats and "mirror sanctions" will be declared.
One of the major highlights of 2016 was Russia’s return to Asia, Kommersant writes. This year’s discovery was Japan and its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acted as a competitor to China to win over Russia’s attention. Meanwhile, Moscow’s relations with Tokyo are now largely limited to the economic sphere while in political terms, Russia is slowly moving towards Beijing’s orbit.
Asian studies scholars interviewed by the paper have almost unanimously called the breakthrough in relations with Tokyo as the key event of the year. Prime Minister Abe has finally managed to move bilateral ties beyond the Kuril Islands dispute and step up economic cooperation with Russia. Although many Russian proposals were curtailed, according to Kommersant sources in Moscow, still the outcome is impressive.
During President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan on December 15-16, the parties signed more than 80 intergovernmental and business agreements. Most of them are non-binding memorandums on mutual understanding, but some Japanese companies signed real deals with Russian firms hit by Western sanctions. Politicians and experts in Russia view this as "a break in the sanctions blockade" by Japan, a G7 member.
Although no progress was reached in the territorial dispute, Moscow and Tokyo agreed to carry out joint economic activities and therefore "a special legal regime" will be introduced for the South Kuril Islands that needs to be developed. Tokyo also eased the issue of visas for Russian citizens.
Russia’s envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said in an interview with Izvestia that the outgoing year has not brought any serious positive changes in Moscow’s relations with Brussels.
"In 2016, the EU missed the opportunity of revising its Russia policy several times. Last time was several days ago when Brussels extended the economic sanctions against Moscow," the diplomat said.
The trade turnover between Russia and the EU this year indeed dropped, yet this phenomenon is also seen with other international partners, which is chiefly due to global oil prices, not economic sanctions, he said. "But even amid this negative dynamics, the EU remains Russia’s most important trade and economic partner."
The diplomat said there were positive events this year in Russia-EU relations, including the visit of President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to St. Petersburg and his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June. In general, a full collapse in relations was thwarted and political dialogue was maintained.
The diplomat stressed that the EU unilateral restrictive measures are artificially linked to the Minsk agreements on Ukraine. "It is also evident that there is the need for the EU to cooperate with Russia both in the war on terror, the Syrian settlement and the Middle East, but also in a whole number of bilateral issues," he elaborated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on detailed regulations concerning the use of force by prison authorities. On the one hand, the new regulations are devised to protect prisoners from arbitrary treatment, yet on the other hand it should safeguard personnel from possible problems when force is used, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes on Friday.
The law specifies cases when personnel have the right to open fire or use billy clubs. It is noteworthy that the force can be used both against prisoners and those who are placed under house arrest, as well as offenders doing community service under the court ruling.
The list of special means that can be used has been also expanded. For example, personnel will be able to use electric shockers. The law recommends capturing on video the situations when the prison authorities use force to avoid possible questions during an investigation.
The document caused public outcry shortly after it was put up for discussion and the human rights activists harshly criticized the proposed bill, the paper writes. The Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) held a constructive dialogue with human rights activists to draw up some compromises. Finally, after much give-and-take the second reading the draft law was significantly changed and many provisions were softened.
Under the law, the use of force should be reasonable and the prosecutor should be informed of each such case. Another provision of the document is that prison authorities will be able to use force against civilians protesting outside the correctional facilities, the paper says. The wardens will be allowed to shoot "to prevent a group or armed attack" at the buildings. At the same time, the staff has no right to use firearms if there are crowds of people and passersby that could be injured.
Russia’s national currency has become the hero of the year on financial markets, Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes. During the last week of December, the ruble has been performing exceptionally well and for the first time in the past few years, it has hit record-high levels not seen since the summer of 2015 - almost 60 rubles per dollar at the Moscow Exchange.
The ruble rose 22% against the dollar, becoming the most attractive currency globally, Bloomberg writes. The Russian currency jumped into the spotlight because at the start of the year it shook investors’ nerves, as the ruble dipped to 86 per dollar then. So, the difference between this year’s minimum and maximum is more than 25 rubles.
Several factors were behind the strengthening of the ruble, including rising oil prices due to the deal brokered by OPEC and non-OPEC countries, and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections, the paper writes. According to Morgan Stanley, this factor increases the chances of lifting the anti-Russian sanctions to 35%.
Among the currencies of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the ruble has chances to grow by another 26% during the next year, the UBS Group AG forecasts.
The head of analytical department at the BK-Savings Sergei Suverov told the paper that the oil prices are expected to be hovering at $55 or $57 per barrel. "However, on the other hand, there are factors that may lead to a slight weakening of our currency - within the limit of one or two rubles on average annually."
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