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The new package of sanctions against Russia approved by US lawmakers over the weekend is an expanded version of the one introduced by the Obama administration, which makes it the most radical sanctions since the time of the Cold War, Kommersant daily writes on Monday. Apart from existing restrictions for Russia’s actions in Crimea and Donbass, the new legislation hurls accusations against Moscow of supplying weapons to Damascus, human rights violations "on the territory occupied by the Russian government with force and controlled by it," disrupting US cybersecurity and others. Meanwhile, the authors of the bill would handcuff the president’s ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions, a precedent-setting move in modern American history, the newspaper says. For decades it has been the head of the White House who has set the tone for the relationship with Moscow, only having to agree on it with Congress. If President Trump moves towards lifting sanctions, the situation may get sticky, Kommersant says.
Alexey Ivanov, Director of Institute for Law and Development at Higher School of Economics does not expect the US legislature’s effort to obligate Donald Trump to introduce new restrictions against Russia to have any legal consequences, the publication writes. The Congress cannot make President do anything, only impeach him. However, the expert adds, if President does not do what the law orders, it will be another argument in favor of impeachment. Most analysts say there is no doubt the House of Representatives will vote for the bill and they intend to do their best to make sure the bill is adopted before the summer holidays. This makes things even worse for Donald Trump who could potentially veto the bill. "Donald Trump will not put his career at risk and put up a veto," American University History Professor Anton Fedyashin told Kommersant. "However, this decision by Congress will have the most serious implications not only for the relationship with Moscow, but for the Euro-Atlantic community as well, factionalizing it," he added.
According to Alexey Ivanov, what is crucial is that if the bill is adopted, the anti-Russia sanctions would become part of the US legislative base rather than be extraordinary measures. Previously, key American sanctions have been introduced through presidential directives, whereas now they are about to become a law, meaning sanctions will be institutionalized.
Since January 20, the post of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, previously occupied by Victoria Nuland, a heavyweight on US policy for the post-Soviet region, who refused to join Donald Trump’s team, has been vacant. Now this position is likely to be filled by A. Wess Mitchell, President of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), who is known to be an even harsher critic of Russia, Kommersant says. A former employee of the State Department told the newspaper on condition of anonymity that Mitchell is expected to push the interests of East European countries.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Mankoff, deputy director and senior fellow with the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program, doubts that Nuland’s successor will have a substantial influence on US foreign policy. "This administration is unusually chaotic in its actions, even more so towards Russia, and it is not fully clear who shapes policy," he told Kommersant, adding that "it looks like all decisions are made by Trump personally and his family."
According to Andrew Weiss, Vice President for Studies at The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "Donald Trump’s aggressive attempts to establish personal ties with Vladimir Putin raises serious concern with career bureaucrats." The expert told the newspaper that the new post will be really challenging for Mitchell, though he considers the very fact of his appointment to be an important and positive piece of news amid the background that many high posts in the State Department still remain vacant, while diplomats are being forced to tackle a deficit of staff and funds.
The defense attorney for Russian citizen Roman Seleznev, who was handed 27 years in prison for hacking in state of Washington in April, Igor Litvak is going to appeal the verdict. The lawyer considers the 27-year term to be an "unwarranted measure, being the harshest of all given to any hacker, not only from Russia," he said in an interview with Izvestia daily. When asked why the sentences were not lightened in spite of the guilty confession, Litvak said that "this happened (just) because he (Seleznev) is from Russia." "Had he been say, a British or a French national, he would have been gotten a third of this penalty. Also, there have been American hackers accused of much more serious crimes, but they were given 15-20 years in prison. Twenty-seven years is madness and he will not stand for it," he added.
Roman Seleznev was detained at the international airport of the Republic of Maldives on July 5, 2014. On the same day, he was extradited to the island of Guam, an unincorporated US territory. Guam’s district court refused to release the Russian and handed down a decision to deport him to Seattle, where charges against him were brought. American investigators suspected Seleznev of having intended to steal and sell information about US citizens’ credit cards between October 2009 and February 2011. According to the detectives, the Russian was involved in the theft of some 200,000 credit card numbers. In August 2016, Seleznev was found guilty of cybercrime charges. Moscow claims that Seleznev was not arrested but "kidnapped" by the US authorities while the case against him is politically motivated.
According to Litvak, two more cases have been launched against Seleznev in two other US states – Nevada and Georgia, and it will only become known where Roman will serve out his sentence after the final sentence has been read out in all three states. “The defense is working on filing an appeal. Initially we had been planning to appeal before August, though it was later postponed until February 2, 2018,” he said. The attorneys added that the defense is also considering the option of writing a letter to US President Donald Trump, though it can be done “any time, it is easy, and we will do it,” he said, adding though that “taking into account the current political climate, it is likely to be unproductive.”
Russian gunmen will be trained to destroy IS ‘jihad-mobiles’, that is armed pickups and off-roaders mounted with heavy guns and efficiently used by Middle East terror groups, Izvestia says. Special exercises developed from military experience in Syria, have been included in the combat training curriculum for artillery divisions of Russia’s ground forces, air-transported troops and marines, a source in the general staff of ground forces told the newspaper.
These tactics are used by highly maneuverable military groups which see extensive combat nowadays, military expert Vladislav Shurygin told Izvestia. “For the Russian military, the battle against the jihad-mobiles are timely because those improvised war vehicles are widely used throughout Syria, and such types of threats may arise on the territory of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization),” he said. Anton Lavrov, an independent military expert, told the publication that “judging from the experience of today’s military conflicts it is really challenging and expensive to fight jihad mobiles.” He added that he considers the Russian military’s new tactics to be an efficient and cheap way of fighting armed pickups.
The much-talked-about ‘Yarovaya law’ on compulsory data storage may result in hefty fines for Russian mobile operators, Vedomosti business daily writes citing Russia’s Institute for Internet Research. The European Union is about to introduce new data processing regulation in May 2018, and foreign companies violating it may face serious fines of up to 20 mln euro or up to 4% of annual global revenue, depending on which sum is bigger. Calculations based on the latter point to the big ‘four’ Russian mobile operators potentially facing a fine of around 45 bln rubles, the newspaper writes.
The Yarovaya anti-terror laws initiated by State Duma (lower house) member Irina Yarovaya and Federation Council (upper house) member Viktor Ozerov, obliges communications operators starting on July 1, 2018 to store data on the receipt, transmission, delivery and processing of voice information and text messages, images, audio and video materials for three years. Operators are obliged to keep "the heaviest" content - images, audio and video data - for six months. They will also be required to supply this information at the request of the special services.
According to Karen Kazaryan, an analyst of the Russian Association of Electronic Communications, the Yarovaya law contains no norms limiting or restricting storage of traffic of foreign citizens, which violates the new European regulation if a Russian company stores an EU user’s data without his or her consent and provides that data to Russia law enforcement bodies with a court’s decision. How tough the requirements will be for Russian operators remains to be seen, market watchers told Vedomosti. The first mass precedents are expected to be seen in Russia during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
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