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Press review: How Biden’s sanctions impact Russia and what looms on Russia-Ukraine border

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, April 16

Media: Washington slaps new sanctions on Russia

US President Joe Biden signed an executive order to impose a new round of sanctions against Russia on April 15. In particular, the United States is prohibiting American companies from directly acquiring Russian debt liabilities issued by the Central Bank, the National Wealth Fund, and the Finance Ministry after June 14, 2021. Moreover, the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on 16 organizations and 16 individuals, allegedly responsible for Russia’s rumored interference in the US elections. At the same time, the United States is expelling ten diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Washington DC, claiming that the personnel there includes "representatives of Russian intelligence services."

Biden’s new sanctions against Moscow are in the Russian media’s spotlight. Experts interviewed by the press believe that the new restrictions did not come as a surprise and will not have any serious consequences for the Russian economy. However, the fact that the sanctions were introduced two days after the second conversation between Presidents Biden and Putin does not contribute to the sought-after detente between the two countries. It might even call into question the meeting of the two leaders in the near future.

"After Joe Biden came to power in Washington, relations between the Russian Federation and the United States began to remotely resemble a roller coaster." The fast and unencumbered extension of the New START treaty at the end of January 2021 was followed by a whole range of opinions from the United States about the future of contacts with Moscow," Izvestia writes. Sources told the newspaper that Russia would not delay its reaction to the new US sanctions, in particular expelling diplomats. "Despite the fact that this will complicate the work of the diplomatic departments for both sides, it was not Russia that began the diplomatic expulsion. Moscow only responds to Washington’s actions," one of the sources explained to Izvestia.

Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitry Trenin told Kommersant, "on some issues - for example, the prevention of incidents and armed clashes, as well as compliance with New START, there will be cooperation, since it is vital." "According to others (Iran, North Korea), it may be partial. Everything, however, will be fragmented and running against the background of general hostility. In any case, there will be no broad cooperation."

First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs Dmitry Novikov told Izvestia there is nothing surprising in the new sanctions. Washington has long chosen a strategy of economic pressure on Russia to remove the country from the world map as a serious political entity. "They say that they are ready to meet and contact, but only on topics that interest them, and in all other respects they will continue pressure. They call this a pragmatic approach," he said.

This inconsistency casts doubt on the sincerity of Joe Biden's desire to establish a dialogue with Vladimir Putin, President of the American University in Moscow Eduard Lozansky told Izvestia. However, this may also indicate the incomplete independence of the US President, surrounded by advisers and party members who are inclined towards aggressive Russophobic rhetoric.

Meanwhile, according to experts, the current anti-Russian restrictions have as many economic consequences for Russia as political implications. The decline of the ruble, provoked by the sanctions against the purchase of public debt will not last long. Moreover, the fact that the restrictions were finally revealed will benefit the Russian market, according to analysts interviewed by Izvestia. They expect a ruble exchange rate within 73-79 rubles per dollar and 88-94 rubles per euro.

However, risks for large Russian companies are growing significantly, Vedomosti writes. So far, relatively small companies have been subject to sanctions, but in theory, this mechanism could introduce restrictions against giants like Yandex and Kaspersky Lab, according to the newspaper.

These restrictive measures did not come as a surprise and there was an opportunity to brace for them, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. However, there are also potentially new measures of economic pressure ahead. For example, according to the US media, there are two packages of sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline already approved by the US Department of Justice, which may be go into effect in the near future.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Kiev awaits ‘Russian invasion’, as Moscow ponders leaving troops at border until fall

The Pentagon nixing its plans to send two destroyers to the Black Sea seems to have eased tensions in Crimea’s waters and on the Russian-Ukrainian border, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. However, the United States, with the support of its NATO partners, remains committed to helping Ukraine militarily. Kiev is transferring new combat units and formations to its eastern borders, organizing large-scale military maneuvers in the Kherson Region. Defense Minister Andrey Taran of Ukraine attributed this to Russia’s alleged plans to try to invade and seize the North Crimean Canal.

According to Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine Kirill Budanov, as Russian troops are being drawn to the Ukrainian border, this is likely to end by April 20, when their numbers may reach 56 battalion tactical groups with 110,000 troops.

"This sort of concentration of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine can certainly trigger alarm bells among the authorities in Kiev. But this is unlikely to be connected with any aggressive plans of Russia," military expert Shamil Gareev told the newspaper. "After all, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu recently announced that this is being done in response to the activity by the US and NATO near Russia," the commentator added.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military activity these days can be witnessed in almost all sections of the border with Russia. Kiev, under the leadership of the Security Service of Ukraine in the east and south of the country, began large-scale multi-stage anti-terrorist exercises in the Kherson and Kharkov Regions.

Military expert, Colonel Nikolay Shulgin believes that Ukraine may be holding drills in the Kherson and Kharkov Regions because "a significant share of the pro-Russian-minded population lives there, and [they are] dissatisfied with their social and economic situation." "Besides, additional military forces in the Kherson Region are apparently connected with the fear of losing the North Crimean Canal," Shulgin added.


Kommersant: Libyan, Lebanese leaders visit Moscow to discuss cooperation

Two Middle Eastern guests visited Moscow on Thursday - Libya’s new Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. Russia is an important factor of stability in the region for both Libya and Lebanon, Kommersant writes, adding that in both cases, the talks also focused on cultivating business contacts, if the situation in these countries stabilizes.

The public part of the negotiations of both guests with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin was very similar, the newspaper writes. Mishustin spoke about creating conditions for investors and pointed to the same promising areas for cooperation: in the energy, heavy industry, transport infrastructure, and agro-industrial complex sectors, along with digital services.

Libya has no specific new agreements with Moscow. Large Russian companies that have had contracts with Tripoli since the days of Muammar Gaddafi are in no hurry to return to the country. Dbeibah himself did not mention either the topic of mercenaries or investments, but spoke very warmly about Moscow's role in the Libyan peace process.

Unlike the Libyan guest, Saad Hariri actively encouraged Russians to invest in Lebanon. He also asked for additional doses of the Sputnik V vaccines, including doses to immunize 1.5 mln Lebanese refugees.

Saad Hariri's Personal Representative George Shaaban told Kommersant that Russia seem to be ready to work in Lebanon, and it is interested in a stable Lebanese government. According to him, the participation of Russian companies in restoring the port of Beirut, destroyed by an explosion last summer, was discussed among some promising projects.


Kommersant: Major Russian cybersecurity firm may suffer from Biden’s sanctions

Washington has announced restrictions against six Russian IT organizations, the most famous is Positive Technologies, which also operates in the international cybersecurity market. The company runs the risk of losing not only foreign, but also Russian customers, Kommersant writes. Market players believe that Positive Technologies may try to eliminate reasons for the sanctions or switch to new regions.

The main threat to Positive Technologies as a result of the sanctions is the loss of partnerships with US companies, Kommersant’s sources in the IT market believe. However, its Russian customers are also at risk. The company’s clients include, for example, Sberbank and all telecom operators. They can indeed end cooperation with tech companies from the new sanctions blacklist, senior lawyer at BGP Litigation Denis Durashkin believes. "If Sberbank itself ultimately falls under the sanctions, this will have very serious consequences for the entire Russian market," he told the newspaper.

The new US restrictions may become a driver for the introduction of similar measures in the European Union, Head of International projects group at Vegas Lex law firm Natalia Abtseshko told Kommersant. "The trend noted in late 2020 - early 2021 suggests that the actions of the US and the EU in terms of restrictive measures against Russia is becoming more synchronized," she added.

At the same time, the role of the United States in Positive Technologies' revenue is generally insignificant and has been decreasing in recent years, it has reoriented itself towards Asia and Arab countries, according to one of Kommersant's market sources. The company may strengthen its Arab direction or will try to fight the sanctions to get rid of them, the source added.


Izvestia: Russians consider $17,118 savings comfortable for life

Russians named the desired amount of savings for a comfortable life. On average, a family needs 1.3 mln rubles ($17,118) to feel comfortable, according to a survey by Sberbank Life Insurance and NPF Sberbank. The amount of savings varies significantly by region - residents of Moscow, Vladivostok residents, and St. Petersburg need the most money, Izvestia writes. Almost 40% of Russians make savings constantly or from time to time. Experts believe that the size of savings and the share of people saving money are unlikely to increase due to the pandemic and the fall in real disposable income.

According to the survey, the main goals of Russians' savings are contingencies, support for children, and travel. At the same time, the most popular investment instruments named by Russians were investments in real estate (61%), ruble bank deposits (56%), and investments in business (19%). It was specified that a third of respondents are ready to invest for six months, 20.5% - for a year, 17.4% - for 2-3 years, 13% - for 4-6 years, and 9% - for a period of more than 10 years.

The average amount of savings, which the Russians considered necessary for confidence, is a fairly substantial amount at the average European level, Director of the Center for Market Research at the Higher School of Economics Georgy Ostapkovich told the newspaper. However, such a reserve is designed for a short-term period, and not for the future and for a maximum of a family of two.


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