Many high-profile Russians may get stung by a new package of anti-Russia sanctions set to be adopted by Washington in February containing a confidential blacklist of individuals, Izvestia writes on Monday. The list does not impose personal restrictions, but sends a red flag to Washington’s European partners that contacts with those people are undesirable, three sources familiar with preparations for that package of sanctions told the newspaper. "The list will contain several hundred Russian last names. No sanctions will be imposed against them, but the document will be a signal for Europeans that it is unadvisable to deal with those people," one of the sources said, adding that Russian businessmen, public figures, and those with state awards will be put on the list, which will be distributed only among US allies and partners in Europe. Currently, the list is being hammered out as the Congress, the Treasury Department and the State Department are making their recommendations and proposing their own options.
Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Izvestia that research centers are involved in developing the open part of the new package of anti-Russia restrictions, adding that the Atlantic Council has been tasked with analytical work. "The open portion of the document will specify measures against Russian businessmen, while the list will contain state banks and energy companies. The Treasury Department is the main body defining sanctions, though other departments are participating in this process," he said. For it’s part, Russia has also started working on potential retaliation measures, head of the Federation Council’s Temporary Commission on Defending State Sovereignty and Preventing Interference in Internal Affairs Andrey Klimov told the publication, adding that Moscow is aware of the US plans. "We will stick to tit-for-tat diplomacy. All unfriendly actions of the United States will be followed by similar measures by Russia," he said.
The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) will release a report laying out the general lines of the country’s challenges in 2017 and their possible solutions in 2018 later on this week. According to Kommersant, which obtained the report, experts led by RIAC Director General Andrey Kortunov and RIAC Program Director Ivan Timofeyev are quite optimistic in their projections regarding cooperation with the European Union. In their view, they see a "selective partnership" with the EU, but expect only a "conflict management" scenario with the United States. Overall, the authors of the document do not expect Russia’s relations with the West to improve. They mentioned the "exterritorial use of US sanctions against Russia and its foreign partners," "scaling down cooperation between Russia and the US in remaining areas" and "an increase in mutual containment measures by Russia and NATO" among the main threats Moscow will be facing in 2018. They also warn that Washington and its allies will be trying to “blur the legitimacy of Russia’s political system” for the upcoming March presidential election.
Meanwhile, next year can bring opportunities as well, the report said. In the West, they are mainly connected with the European Union. “In 2018, a ‘multi-paced’ sanctions system against Russia may emerge, the authors said, adding though that excessive optimism is inappropriate.
"EU-Russia relations will have limited room for maneuver," the paper said. Experts hope that Moscow and Brussels may reach ‘selective cooperation’, particularly if there is progress in settling the Donbass conflict. Cybersecurity will be another topic for discussion between the parties in 2018, the report said. According to the paper, even if Russia fails to improve ties with the West, its chief goal for 2018 in this area will be to "manage the conflict."
"China and Russia will probably be able to convince North Korea to give up (unclear) tests, at least temporarily, in exchange for partial reduction of military actions by the US, South Korea and Japan. Meanwhile, Washington and allies will not agree to a substantial scaling down of training plans and other defense actions," the document reports. Cooperation with China will be expanding, particularly if Beijing faces "US sanctions" itself, the experts noted. The RIAC expects the Ukrainian conflict to remain the hot topic in the post-Soviet space. Particularly, the report predicts that the issue of deploying peacekeepers in Donbass will be the subject of some heated bargaining. The domestic situation in Ukraine may make things worse, though experts do not expect a "crisis scenario of disintegration," at least in 2018.
Ukraine is on the edge of a new upheaval as supporters of ex-Georgian President and former Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa Region Mikhail Saakashvili rallied in downtown Kiev on Sunday, December 17, calling for political change. The so-called ‘Impeachment rally’ drew around 5,000 demonstrators, according to official data, while the participants themselves said at least 10,000 people took part in the rally. Earlier, the Ukrainian mass media reported that Saakashvili allegedly sent a letter to Poroshenko offering a compromise, Izvestia writes on Monday.
However, on December 17, Saakashvili denied the report, and pledged to go on "the attack even more fiercely than ever before." Sources among organizers of the ‘Impeachment rally’ confirmed this information to the newspaper, adding that they do not plan to scale down their actions until the impeachment law is adopted and Poroshenko resigns.
Opposition Bloc MP Yevgeny Balitsky told Izvestia that Mikhail Saakashvili is clearly picking up on public sentiment and their distrust of the current authorities is playing into his hands. "The country has reached a point where the domestic government is not respected, but even despised, and Mikhail Saakashvili is perfectly aware of this. Now he’s got his own choir, his own sect. Obviously, some people go because they are paid, some protesters are in despair. Our country is doomed to regular revolutions and maidans," the politician said.
According to Oleg Nemensky, a leading CIS and Baltic expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Saakashvili is currently acting as a political tool for Western powers to pressure Kiev. “Contradictions between Ukraine and the West have deepened lately. The main request of the US and its allies is to get the domestic fight against corruption going. Given the current atmosphere of mass corruption, the West cannot manage financial ‘investments’ in Ukraine and pour money into the country. As for now the protests do not have any catastrophic implications for Poroshenko as the West has not yet made a final decision to change the acting president or put in another leader,” the analyst told Izvestia.
The Kremlin has received the final version of the State Armaments Program for 2018-2027 worth around 19 trillion rubles ($32 bln), Kommersant says with reference to a source close to the Presidential administration. The government made the latest amendments to the document, which had been drafted for three years, on December 14, after which it was submitted to the head of state for signing, the source said, adding that President Vladimir Putin may ink the program by this week.
Initially, the 10-year program was planned to come into force in 2016, but its adoption was postponed due to the unstable economic climate. A source in one of the power structures told the newspaper that though the economic situation has not become easier, the political environment dictates its terms.
According to the source, the new program allocates around 19 trillion rubles ($32 bln) to Russia’s Defense Ministry, and over 3 trillion rubles to other bodies, such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service, Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service and the National Guard. Sources told Kommersant that this program is more balanced than the previous one, and each military unit will receive similar funding. Nuclear deterrence systems, high-precision weapons, weapons based on ‘new physical principles’ (hypersound) and the development of general purpose forces will be the priorities of the State Armaments Program until 2027. A military source told the newspaper that the latter obviously lacked financing in the previous period.
Last week, Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky court found former Russian Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev, 61, guilty of taking a bribe and sentenced him to eight years in a maximum-security correctional facility, in addition to slapping him with a 130-mln ruble ($2.2 mln) fine. However, lawyers said the verdict is harsh, while analysts say the case is politically motivated. A lenient sentence was impossible for the ex-minister due to the start of the election campaign, political analyst Alexey Makarkin told Vedomosti, as voters would like the corrupt official to get jail time showing that the war on corruption is bearing fruit. The expert assumes that the decision had been taken long before the sentence was announced, and Ulyukayev himself must have known it.
The trial of Ulyukayev, who was placed under house arrest on November 15, 2016, began on August 8. The court questioned 15 witnesses, while the prosecutors earlier said their number was 30. The key witness, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, whose evidence was the basis for the charges, failed to appear in court. The court examined the recordings of Ulyukayev’s phone conversations with Sechin, who had invited the former minister to Rosneft’s office late on November 14 and gave him a bag with money. The two million dollars, which had been provided by an unknown investor, was also shown in court. Besides, it was determined in court that the bag with $2 mln weighed almost 22 kg. The verdict includes evidence given by former Rosneft head of security, FSB General Oleg Feoktistov, who had suggested that Sechin should go to law enforcement agencies. The verdict also says that Ulyukayev remarked that he had not known that the bag contained money, and he thought this was a wine gift. The lawyer earlier said Sechin had promised to treat Ulyukayev to "wine that he had never tasted in his whole life."
Another political analyst, Nikolai Petrov, sees the ex-minister as a victim of a power struggle that ended in a draw. "Sechin has lost much in terms of image, one cannot say that he has retained his positions," he told Vedomosti, adding that since Feoktistov retired, the case has not strengthened the positions of the power structures either.
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