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Duma envoy comments on countersanctions bill

The Kremlin is likely to support the bill on criminal liability for compliance with western sanctions against Moscow, says the presidential envoy to the State Duma

MOSCOW, May 15. /TASS/. The bill "On counter measures against unfriendly actions by the United States and/or other foreign countries" with revisions announced by MPs to be made for its main second reading has become more flexible, presidential envoy to the State Duma Garry Minkh told TASS.

"I think that the bill as an instrument has become more flexible," he said, adding though that until its implementation "it is challenging to predict whether it is ‘soft or rigid’," when asked to comment on suggestions that the document might become ‘softer’ after specification of affected areas is removed for its second reading. 

According to Minkh, the text of the document may be further revised. "Let’s see how the discussion goes," he said, adding that he expects a hot and challenging discussion on Tuesday.

"Taking this into account, probably more proposals will be put forward. Overall, the bill offers a new instrument for us. Let’s see how the process of its practical implementation goes," the envoy added.

"The task is not to simply ‘shoot’ at anyone, if only at ourselves. The target of our counter measures is not only to respond in an adequate manner, but in such a way that will at least not inflict damage on us," he said.

Russian Presidential Administration is likely to support the bill on criminal liability for compliance with western sanctions against Moscow on the Russian soil, he said. "Positive," he said when asked about the Kremlin’s attitude to the headline-making initiative submitted for the State Duma’s first reading on Tuesday. "Our expert estimates were similar to those of a number of other participants of the discussion - excessive specification in the body of the bill concerning certain areas, fields, certain types of products is probably not quite right," Minkh said, adding that this would "put us in rigid boundaries limiting Russia’s freedom of manoeuver in particular cases."

"It is highly likely that the administration will support (the bill). Moreover, the main ideas of the initiative were not overlooked by our experts," he said when asked a respective question.

According to Minkh, Presidential Administration plans to participate in the bill’s revision for the second reading. "Particularly, both the government and the Supreme Court have come with one remark - the investigative jurisdiction of those criminal cases has not been defined," he explained.

"As a rule investigations into most challenging cases are suggested to be laid upon the Investigative Committee. So far the issue has not been clarified in the bill, which may well envision further revision," the envoy said.

According to Minkh, sanctions as such are acceptable from the viewpoint of international law, "only in case of violations of existing international legal norms, which envision respective sanctions, and if international mechanisms are used to comply with them." "As we all know this has not been the case. In a situation like that, we view unilateral use of certain negative measures against Russia as an arbitrary act," he emphasized.

"When intending to use retaliatory measures it is necessary to estimate particular cases: whether we have certain groups of goods that we consider to restrict for importing, whether it will inflict the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens, … whether we will weaken our positions in certain sectors of the Russian economy," he said.

"It is necessary to understand whether we produce respective items, and keeping this in mind we will focus on the government’s proposals in each particular case," the envoy noted.

Russia’s State Duma will consider two bills related to counteractive measures against western sanctions in the first reading on Tuesday. The lawmakers plan to impose countersanctions, as well as criminal liability for compliance with western sanctions on the Russian soil.

The countersanctions bill

The bill "On counter measures against unfriendly actions by the United States and/or other foreign countries" was submitted to the Russian State Duma by Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin and leaders of all parliamentary factions on April 13. The bill was drafted in response to the challenges coming from the US and its officials in the form of "unfriendly and non-constructive activities to impose sanctions against both Russia as a whole and its citizens and legal entities," according to the explanatory note.

The bill authorizes the Russian government "to introduce a number of measures both of economic and political nature aimed first of all at removing the so-called unfriendly acts of the US." The concept mentions the ban on supplies of medications, alcohol and tobacco, agriculture and industrial products, technological equipment and software. Retaliatory measures will be imposed by the cabinet of ministers according to the decision of the Russian president. A similar order is also envisioned for a possible removal of countersanctions.

This approach has been widely criticized by public watchers and experts, who warned of possible worsening of the situation on Russia’s pharmaceutical market and in some other areas. It was also recommended to widen the framework of the bill, avoiding specification of certain sectors, items and services, which should be enforced through adoption of a separate decree.