Kiev’s move to expand its sanctions blacklist of Russian individuals and legal entities is dominating Wednesday’s headlines in the Russian press. The ‘sanctions list’ now includes 468 legal entities and 1,228 individuals, which include not only nationals of the Russia Federation, but also those of Israel, Serbia, Spain, Moldavia, the United States, Poland, and Greece.
A source in circles close to Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko told Kommersant business daily that all of them either made “anti-Ukrainian announcements”, or “unauthorized by Ukrainian authorities visits to Crimea”, or actions “fueling unrest” in the country.
This time several Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) members, judges from the Russian Constitutional Court, and journalists have been added to the blacklist. Besides that several Russian companies have been blackballed as well, including 1C, ABBYY and their Ukrainian subsidiaries. From now on, Internet providers in Ukraine will not allow users to access Russian domains, among them the popular e-mail services Mail.ru and Yandex, social networks, such as VKontakte (VK) and Odnoklassniki, and TV channels.
An MP from Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (national parliament), and member of the Pyotr Poroshenko Bloc, told Kommersant that “it is rather difficult to carry out the restrictions against those media, as people are accustomed to watching Russian channels online.” Vkontakte is the largest and most popular social networking website both in Russia and Ukraine, while Odnoklassniki (Classmates) ranks fifth in popularity in these countries. On the hand, it is hardly possible to technically switch off online resources straightaway, RBC business daily writes. “This process is rather difficult and takes a lot of time, while taking up a considerable number of resources. The efforts will be set into motion and implemented gradually, preliminary estimates say that it will take from several days to a week to block them,” the newspaper writes with reference to a source in the industry.
Mail.ru and Yandex do not expect the sanctions on their operations in the country to seriously affect their financial performance, RBC says, adding that both companies stressed that users - meaning the general Ukrainian public - will be the ones who suffer.
Media allegations that US President Donald Trump had shared highly classified information about the Islamic State (terror group, outlawed in Russia) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak during last week’s talks at the White House, are primarily more hype for the ongoing crusade by the US establishment to end Trump’s presidency. According to Dmitry Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, speaking with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “Trump’s opponents are pushing for impeachment.”
“It is not even important what happened there, or whether anything happened at all. This is only being used as a pretext for accusations. The political struggle is getting hotter in the United States,” the expert said. He added that the move to appoint a new FBI chief might become a new source of problems for President Trump. “I’m sure he will choose a loyalist, but regardless of his choice, the appointment will serve as a new pretext for a further struggle,” Trenin said.
The issue made headlines after the Washington Post said Trump might have revealed to Lavrov and Russia’s chief envoy to the US, Sergey Kislyak, some highly classified information about the Islamic State terrorist group. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed such publications as “utter nonsense” in which there was “no topic to be either confirmed or denied.” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said such media speculations were part and parcel of a campaign that had been launched long before the US presidential election with the aim of turning up the heat on the new administration in the White House. Trump said on Tuesday that in his capacity as US commander-in-chief he had the right to share information with Russia.
Andrei Korobkov, Professor of Political Science at Middle Tennessee State University, agrees that the media buzz is part of a crusade against the US president. “The particular reason for another round of accusations against Trump is of absolutely no importance, it’s a planned campaign to demoralize the President, his supporters and colleagues and over the long-term to remove him from his post,” he told RBC, adding though that this is an unprecedented act in the American history.
The self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic may return to Ukraine if Kiev’s authorities take a pro-Russian course, LPR head Igor Plotnitsky said in an interview with Izvestia. "Any return is out of the question, if the present regime remains in Ukraine. However, it would be possible if Ukraine became pro-Russian and was receptive to the fact that we are one family," he noted. According to Plotnitsky, both the republic’s citizens and leadership understand that the current radical regime in Kiev is not the entire Ukraine. "We know that there are sound forces there that not only support us but will meet us when the time comes. It is true that sooner or later we’ll forgive them but after repentance," he told the newspaper.
According to the head of the Lugansk People’s Republic, in a drive to establish ties with the international community, LPR has been holding talks with Belarus, Turkey and China on coal supplies. "The fact that we cannot fully sell the products that we make, meaning industrial goods and coal, is the biggest obstacle for us now. We’re doing all we can to redirect production to other countries, partially to Russia, though this requires time and effort. We cannot work to full capacity, though we have launched and developed enterprises," he said. "The region is rich in mines has cutting-edge industry and agriculture, with a population exceeding 1.5 mln people, which among other things has gold, and can feed itself. Previously, Donbass’ industry accounted for more than 30% of Ukraine’s GDP," the top official added.
Plotnitsky also said a round table has been recently held with representatives of 24 countries, including Germany, Italy, Finland, the United States, Spain, and Congo. "It was a live conversation, after which many admitted they realized how the mainstream media misrepresent Donbass reality. The round table resulted in a decision to set up an anti-fascist alliance, which will be launched in the near future. The main task is to tell Europe the truth about what is happening here," he told Izvestia.
Tehran is on track to tap a significant share of the Russian grain export market once prices drop 20-30%, Russian Trade representative to Iran, Andrey Lugansky, told Izvestia adding that the construction of grain terminals will be the first step towards this goal. “Our grain export to Iran is minor due to high prices at present. The plan is to construct grain terminals on Iranian territory in a move to make our grain cheaper,” he said. However, Lugansky added, what is even more important for the partners is to sell Iranian oil to third countries. “In case the (‘oil-for-food’) program is implemented, Iran is ready to buy our engineering technology worth billions of dollars.
The issue at hand is railroad-related technology, since insufficient rail service is strangling the Iranian economy and local logistics at present. The country’s key task now is to establish a cross-country railway route from Pakistan and India to Turkey and Russia in order to make Iran a transit country,” he told the newspaper.
When asked what hinders Russian oil producers’ plans to get access to the development of Iranian fields, Lugansky said that “Iran’s oil and gas cannot be passed to private ownership.” “Today the most efficient way to document all approaches of our oil companies to Iran via service contracts with fixed value, even regarding the development of new fields and well drilling,” he said. According to the official, the new type of contract (IPC, or Iran Petroleum Contracts, designed for foreign investors, which has not been adopted by the country’s parliament yet – TASS) will not grant investors the right to hold a share in local fields.
“I attended the presentation of the new contract, but failed to see anything new. The product share principle is absent, the buy-back principle is present with very long-term specifics, which is unacceptable. In fact, this is the very same service contract,” he said.
At the moment, Russia’s trade mission to Iran has a portfolio of 50 joint ventures between the countries valued at around $40 bln, the trade representative summated. The scope of areas involved ranges from avionics and railway construction to machine building and electricity. The plan is also to supply Russia-made jets to the country. “The MS-21 is on the agenda. There is not only a supply program, but also a project on its system of production. In addition, the topic of supplying Il-96s is currently under consideration,” Lugansky noted.
Russia’s state-owned holding Rosneftegaz reported citing the annual financials under the Russian Accounting Standards (RAS) that its profit from business transactions amounted to 596 bln rubles in 2016, Vedomosti writes. The report was not published after the government made a decision not to make it public last year. The company says the fact that it paid 717 bln rubles to the budget related among other things to the 19.5% stake deal in Rosneft, as annual dividends in end-2016, impacted its last year’s net financial result. However, attorney Mikhail Alexandrov told the newspaper that "the loss cannot be explained due to solid dividends in the year’s end, they have no influence on the financial result and only reflect the relations between the company and its shareholder." A market player told Vedomosti that the ties between Rosneft and Rosneftegaz are very opaque and it is impossible to see what is happening between them.
Earlier a source in the government’s finance and economy bloc told TASS that Rosneftegaz will not pay dividends for 2016 in addition to already paid interim dividends due to loss, a relevant draft decree has been prepared and approved by Rosimushchestvo (Federal Agency for State Property Management) and Energy Ministry. As reported earlier Rosneftegaz owns 50% plus one share in Russia’s top oil producer Rosneft, around 11% of shares in the country's biggest gas producer Gazprom, and 27.6% of shares in one of the largest power producers InterRAO.
In 2016, the company received dividends amounting to 86.5 bln rubles from Rosneft (taking into account the ownership of a 69.5% stake in the oil producer prior to the sale of the state-owned stake in it in end-2016), 20.6 bln rubles from Gazprom and 0.5 bln rubles from InterRAO. Last year’s dividends of Rosneftegaz transferred to the budget as interim dividend payouts, amounted to 717 bln rubles, with proceeds from the sale of 19.5% of Rosneft shares for 692.4 bln rubles making up the bulk of the dividends. The company’s dividends transferred to the budget excluding the deal with Rosneft amounted to 24 bln rubles as 2016 interim dividend payments and 18 bln rubles as 2015 dividends.
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