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West is Unlikely to Slap Heavy Economic Sanctions on Russia. Why?

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The tone of the statements made from Brussels and Washington and their decisions taken with regard to the Russian Federation, Russian businesses and officials imply that West is unlikely to go beyond ‘cosmetic’ sanctions.

Escalation of the Crimean conflict and the risk of further infiltration of the Russian troops into the continental part of Ukraine have raised a concern about international mechanisms of deterrence of the Kremlin policy, economic sanctions being among them. Although Brussels and Washington made rather harsh statements earlier, it is quite improbable that they will really dare impose heavy sanctions on Moscow. This means that the world community now lacks efficient instruments of influence allowing adequate response to the aggression of the countries with nuclear weapons.

The Russian Federation is the third biggest trade partner of the EU (next to the US and China) with the USD 417.4 billion sales turnover in 2013. That is why the sanctions in question may have the reverse effect and thus cause direct loss of about USD 170 billion to European producers. Considering the current state of the EU economy, the results will be grave. At the same time, it is quite remarkable that where the trade is concerned, the biggest losses will be incurred by the Eastern European countries (except Romania), which will result in yet greater misbalance in the EU economy, strengthen the effect of the centrifugal forces impeding stable economic development of the EU countries, and exacerbate economic issues within the EU in general.

Russia is one of the world’s biggest oil producing countries and the world’s second biggest ‘black gold’ exporter. It supplies most of its oil and gas to the EU countries. Hence, the only way to affect Russian economy is slapping sanctions on it that would target Russia’s energy sector. And this implies refusal from Russia’s natural gas supplies resulting in reduction of its state revenues. In 2013, the country’s earnings from oil export amounted to USD 162 billion, from natural gas export — USD 67 billion.

There are more factors which prevent the EU from ‘punishing’ Russia, such as location of Russia’s sufficient energy assets in Europe, complete influence of 11 EU countries on energy supplies from Russia, close partnership with Germany and the Netherlands in the area of gas supplies.

Out of 485 billion cubic meters of gas consumed by the EU countries annually, Russia supplies about 160 billion cubic meters which is almost one third of the total volume. According to the forecast suggested by governments and energy companies, by 2013 consumption may increase up to 585 billion cubic meters annually, and imports from Russia — up to 175 billion. Therefore, Russia’s share in gas supply to the EU will remain about the same.

In its turn, the dynamic of oil import by the EU 2001 through 2013 shows that, despite general decrease in volumes, Russia’s share has never decreased ever since 2005 — it was Kazakhstan, Libya and Saudi Arabia that reduced their exports. Import of natural gas is currently, quite oppositely, increasing steadily, Russia’s share still being the largest.

Talks about compensation of losses caused by lifting some Iran sanctions are absolutely groundless and economically unjustified.
Therefore, ban on Russia’s energy imports will be a blowback to Europe resulting in further aggravation of the current economic crisis. Brussels has no chance to arrange for quick diversification of natural gas supplies. At the same time, sanctions against Russia will result in raising prices for energy resources, which, vice versa, will increase Moscow’s revenues. Moreover, Europe will face economic recession once again, thus negating all anti-crisis programs implemented by Brussels during the last several years. In its turn, this will raise social issues.
So neither the US nor the EU will impose an embargo on oil and gas imports from Russia just because the consequences thereof will have too negative an effect on the global market which is expected to see growth of oil consumption up to 92.5 million barrels daily in 2014. Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar Zangeneh agrees with this forecast.

Russia’s budget for 2014 was calculated based on the average annual oil price of USD 93 per barrel. In case sanctions become a reality, the prices will well exceed USD 130, and the raise will continue. This will bring Russia additional USD 37 from each exported barrel of oil at the least. Let us not forget that in 2013 Russia exported about 234 million tons of oil and liquid gas.

Imposing sanctions against the key Russian energy companies — Gazprom, LUKoil and Rosneft —also seems quite doubtful. Most of them signed field development contracts with a number of American and European oil and gas producing companies. Therefore, the blow to Russian oil and gas producing companies will affect their western partners whose business interests are concentrated in this country.

According to Bob Dudley, the Group Chief Executive and a director of BP — which is one of the largest foreign investor in Russia’s oil producing industry owning a 20% share in one of the world’s biggest oil exporters Rosneft — his company is not going to stop investments in Russia. He underlined that BP is immensely interested in investing in this country. BP produces one fourth of its oil and keeps one third of its oil and gas reserves in Russia.

President of the French company Total Christophe de Margerie promised to continue investing in the USD 26.9 Yamal LNG project where Total’s share amounts to 20%, its project partners being Novatekom and CNPC (China). The partner plan on starting liquid natural gas supplies from the arctic field in 2017. “We are there for a long term,” Margerie told reporters at the IHS CERAWeek energy conference. “Total and Yamal will definitely survive through this crisis and I hope not too many others.” At the same conference, Paolo Scaroni, the Chief Executive of Eni, said that sufficient gas reserves give Russia powerful instruments of influence on Europe. He believes that the worst possible scenario would be complete termination of gas supplies from Russia through Ukraine.

On March 5, after Russian troops invaded Crimea, top managers of the British energy producing company BP and the French Total promised to continue investing in Russia, and CEO of the Italian Eni underlined once again that huge gas reserves allow Moscow to hold control over the whole Europe.

According to Rainer Steele, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gazprom’s partner Wintershall, sanctions against Russia will not settle the issue and will be ineffective. Philipp Mißfelder, member of the German Parliament, also said that sanctions against Russia will affect Germany, and that sanctions are never a good method for export-oriented Germany. German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier doubted that Europe would even dare expel Russia from the G8.

Direct EU investments in Russia’s economy are yet another issue. Thus, foreign direct investments from the Netherlands in Russia amount to 12% of the overall investment outflows from Amsterdam, 4.3% from Germany, 3.4% from France, 30% from Cyprus (mostly reinvestments), 3.8% from Ireland.

Investment outflows from Russia to the EU are also quite considerable: 37% — Cyprus, 15.9% — the Netherlands, 2.5% — Great Britain, 2.2% — Germany. This shows that blocking of bilateral financial flows between Russia and the EU is not reasonable from the economic point of view.
According to the disclosed secret documents of the British Parliament, Downing Street also recommends to refrain from closing the British market for Russia, and to not go beyond visa restrictions and exclusion for certain Russian officials. In particular, one of the documents tells that Britain should not impose any trade sanctions or close London’s financial centre for Russian capital.

These recommendations also include evasion of the issue of participation of the North Atlantic Alliance in settling the Crimean conflict. This means that the EU will resort only to some political instruments available to the OSCE and the UN that will be targeted at certain persons and not the whole country.

All in all, Britain and Germany will attempt to not affect their own economy, and this is what will determine further London’s behaviour. We believe that Britain and Germany will only act as diplomats in the Crimean conflict, and they might even try to lobby some nominal sanctions about which the US Senator John McCain gave a hint in his interview after his meeting with the British representatives during which he expressed his disappointment about London’s official standpoint and ignoring history’s lessons on the part of Europe. Basically, he said that the US would like but could not possibly impose certain effective sanctions, and Europe is not ready for such serious measures.

Russia only ranks number 20 among the countries consumers of the US products and is not among the top ten of the countries exporters of goods and services to the US. Therefore, Washington has only financial leverages at its disposal in this situation. Moreover, sanctions similar to Iranian, for example, will affect, and most probably, block economic cooperation between Russia and the EU — scenario which is unacceptable for Brussels. This means that neither the US has any flexible economic leverages against Moscow at their disposal.

That is why Washington now counts on, first of all, imposing sanctions by its European partners aimed at limiting access for the Russian President’s wingmen and partners to their bank accounts and financial flows within the territory of Europe. Therefore, they expect some upward pressure, sparking discontent among the political elite which would make it possible to prepare grounds to exert influence on the Kremlin. However, it is not probable that such measures will turn out to be effective.

It is fair to say that the international checks and balances system elaborated back in 1945 is efficient no more, and the depth of integration of the global economy no longer allows control over the countries with nuclear weapons and critical shares in the global export. In view thereof, despite all the strivings of the world community, there are no more ‘innocent’ leverages to exert effective pressure on such players as Moscow, Washington and Beijing. Any instruments which may help achieve the desired results are going to bring serious consequences for the global economy and the initiators of the sanctions. At the same time, as the ‘Crimean precedent’ may be used without any dramatic consequences only by three countries, and Washington and Brussels understand that no mass chain reaction will follow, and most incidents may be precluded by means of traditional diplomatic and economic instruments.

This means that the world is gradually approaching the new round of the Cold War which today, as strange as it may sound, may have a stimulating effect on the development of the key national economies.

Therefore, according to our forecast, West is likely to resort to financial aid for Ukraine instead of further complicating relations with Russia, thus preventing the risk of economic loss in the context of the current crisis. This means that neither Washington nor Brussels will dare impose serious economic sanctions against Russia. Hence, these instruments are unlikely to considerably influence the Kremlin’s policy with regard to Ukraine in the medium term.

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The Emerging “Eastern Axis” and the Future of JCPOA

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Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh recently said that Tehran would further strengthen its ties with Moscow via a strategic partnership. Said Khatibzadeh  ‘The initial arrangements of this document, entitled the Global Agreement for Cooperation between Iran and Russia, have been concluded’

    This agreement will be similar in nature to the agreement signed by Iran with China in March 2021, dubbed as the strategic cooperation pact, which sought to enhance economic and strategic relations (China would invest 400 Billion USD in infrastructure and oil and gas sector while also strengthening security ties). Commenting on the same, Khatibzadeh also said that an ‘Eastern axis’ is emerging between Russia, Iran and China.

    Closer ties with Russia are important from an economic, strategic point of view, and also to reduce Iran’s dependence upon China (many including Iran’s Foreign Minister had been critical of the 25 year agreement saying that it lacked transparency). Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the eve of his Russia visit from October 5-6th, 2021 also stated that Iran while strengthening ties would not want to be excessively dependent upon either country.

Iranian Foreign Minister’s visit to Russia

    Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian  during his Russia visit  discussed a host of issues with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov including the current situation in Afghanistan, South Caucasus, Syria and the resumption of the Vienna negotiations.

Russia and Iran have been working closely on Afghanistan (on October 20, 2021 Russia is hosting talks involving China, India, Iran and Pakistan with the Taliban).

It is also important to bear in mind, that both Russia and Iran have flagged the non-inclusive nature of the Taliban Interim government. Russia has in fact categorically stated that recognition of Taliban was not on the table. Said the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly,   ‘the whole gamut of Afghan society — ethno-religious and political forces — so we are engaging in contacts, they are ongoing.’

China’s approach vis-à-vis Afghanistan

Here it would be pertinent to point out, that China’s stance vis-à-vis Afghanistan is not identical to that of Moscow and Tehran. Beijing while putting forward its concerns vis-à-vis the use of Afghan territory for terrorism and support to Uyghur separatist group East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), has repeatedly said that there should be no external interference, and that Afghanistan should be allowed to decide its future course. China has also spoken in favor of removal of sanctions against the Taliban, and also freeing the reserves of the Afghan Central Bank (estimated at well over 9 Billion USD), which had been frozen by the US after the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

If one were to look at the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action JCPOA/Iran Nuclear deal, Russia has been urging Iran to get back to the Vienna negotiations on the one hand (these negotiations have been on hold since June), while also asking the US to return to its commitments, it had made under the JCPOA, and also put an end to restriction on Iran and its trading partners.

Conversation between US Secretary of State and Russian Foreign Minister

The important role of Russia is reiterated by the conversation between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken with Russian Foreign Minister. Angela Merkel during her visit to Israel also made an important point that both China and Russia had an important role to play as far as getting Iran back on JCPOA is concerned. What is also interesting is that US has provided a waiver to the company building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Russia and Germany. The US has opposed the project, but the Department of State said waiving these sanctions was in US national interest. Both Germany and Russia welcomed this decision.

In conclusion, while there is no doubt that Russia may have moved closer to China in recent years, its stance on Afghanistan as well as it’s important role in the context of resumption of Vienna negotiations highlight the fact that Moscow is not keen to play second fiddle to Beijing. The Biden Administration in spite of its differences has been engaging closely with Moscow (a number of US analysts have been arguing for Washington to adopt a pragmatic approach vis-à-vis Russia and to avoid hyphenating Moscow with Beijing).  In the given geopolitical landscape, Washington would not be particularly averse to Tehran moving closer to Russia. While the Iranian spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh spoke about a Eastern axis emerging between Moscow, Tehran and Beijing, it would be pertinent to point out, that there are differences on a number of issues between Moscow and Beijing. The Russia-Iran relationship as well as US engagement with Russia on a number of important geopolitical issues underscores the pitfalls of viewing geopolitics from simplistic binaries.

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New U.S. travel rules excludes foreigners vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V

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Local and foreign media have stepped up reports about rising Covid-19 infections in Russia. While the reports also indicated high deaths in the country, other highligted new trends that are noticeably appearing. Interestingly, directors at the Russian tourism and travel agencies say that many Russians are lining up for vaccine tourism in Serbia, Bulgaria and Germany and a few other foreign countries.

These Russians aim at getting foreign vaccines including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

Here are a few facts about Russian vaccines.

Russia’s Sputnik V was the first officially registered coronavirus vaccine on August 11, 2020. Russia is using four vaccines for mass vaccination for Covid-19. These are Sputnik V and Sputnik Light developed by the Russian Health Ministry’s Gamaleya Center.

EpiVacCorona developed by the Vector Center of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), and CoviVac developed by the Chumakov Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Clinical trials of the EpiVacCorona vaccine on teens aged from 15 to 17 might begin in the near future.

China has 1.3 billion population and has given the two billionth vaccine by the end of August, the United State has 380 million and attained 60% of its population. In Europe, vaccination rate is highly at an appreciable level.

Overall, Russia with an estimated 146 million people has Europe’s highest death toll from the pandemic, nearly 210,000 people as at September 30, according to various authentic sources including the National Coronavirus Task Force.

More than 42 million Russians have received both components of a coronavirus vaccine, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova.

“The number of citizens who have received the first component of a vaccine has topped 44 million, and more than 37 million people have completed a full vaccination course,” Golikova said.

She gave an assurance back in July that once the population have been immunized with at least the first component of a two-shot vaccine, herd immunity to Covid-19, or at least an 80% vaccination rate, should be reached by November 1.

Reasons: Even though Russia boasted of creating the world’s first coronavirus vaccines, vaccination is very low. Critics have principally blamed a botched vaccine rollout and mixed messages the authorities have been sending about the outbreak.

In addition, coronavirus antibody tests are popular in Russia and some observers suggest this contributes to the low vaccination numbers.

Western health experts say the antibody tests are unreliable either for diagnosing Covid-19 or assessing immunity to it. The antibodies that these tests look for can only serve as evidence of a past infection. Scientists say it’s still unclear what level of antibodies indicates that a person has protection from the virus and for how long.

Russia has registered Sputnik V in more than 150 foreign countries. The World Health Organization is yet to register this vaccine. For its registration, it must necessarily pass through approved procedures, so far Russia has ignored them, according reports.

There have also been several debates after the World Health Organization paused its review process of the Sputnik V vaccine over concerns about its manufacturing process, and few other technical reasons. While some talked about politicizing the vaccine registration, other have faced facts of observing recognized international rules for certifying medical products as such vaccines.

During the first week of October, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko has reiterated or repeated assertively that a certain package of documents were needed to continue the process for the approval of the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V by the World Health Organization. The final approval is expected towards the end of 2021.

Still some the problems with the registration as unfair competition in the global market. For instance, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov said in an interview with the Rossiya-24 television channel on October 5: “I think it is an element of competition. Until Pfizer covers a certain part of the market, it is pure economics.”

On the other side, Pyotr Ilyichev, Director for International Organization at the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, told Interfax News Agency, for instance that World Health Organization has been playing politics around Russian vaccine especially when it is need in most parts of the world.

“The world is facing an acute shortage of vaccines for the novel coronavirus infection. In certain regions, for instance in African countries, less than 2% of the population has been vaccinated. The Russian vaccine is in demand, and the UN stands ready to buy it,” he told Interfax.

“However, certification in the WHO is a complex, multi-step process, which was developed in the past in line with Western countries’ standards. It requires time and serious efforts from our producers. We hope that this process will be successfully finalized in the near future,” Ilyichev said.

Chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky has described as discriminatory a decision reported by foreign media that the United States, under its new consular rules, would deny entry for foreigners immunized with the Russian Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V.

“Thus, the U.S. will blatantly embark on a path of ‘vaccine discrimination.’ There are absolutely no grounds for such decisions. The efficacy and safety of the Sputnik V vaccine have been confirmed not only by specialists, but also by its use in practice,” Slutsky said on Telegram.

He cited an article in The Washington Post saying that from November the United States may begin denying entry to foreigners vaccinated with Sputnik V.

It means that if such additional border measures are adopted, foreigners seeking entry to the United States will have to be immunized with vaccines approved for use either by American authorities or the World Health Organization.

According to an article published in The Washington Post, for the first time since the pandemic began, the United States intends to loosen entry restrictions for foreigners vaccinated against Covid-19.

The new rules, which enter into force in November, will not apply to Russians vaccinated with Sputnik V and citizens of other countries using this Russian vaccine.

Under the new rules, foreigners will enter United States only if they are immunized with vaccines approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. Russia’s Sputnik V is yet to be approved by the World Health Organization and is not recognized by the United States.

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Should Russia Be Worried by the New AUKUS Alliance?

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The establishment of a new trilateral military and political alliance consisting of the United States, Australia, and the UK (AUKUS) and the corollary rupture of France’s “contract of the century” to build a new generation of diesel-powered submarines for Australia elicited mixed reactions in Russia. Some were pleased to see a conflict arise between the United States and France, while some expressed concern that the alliance targets Moscow just as much as it does Beijing. Others were worried about the implications of the U.S. decision to share nuclear submarine technology with a non-nuclear state (instead of the French diesel submarines, Canberra will now get eight nuclear submarines).

These are valid points, but they all focus on the short-term consequences of the creation of AUKUS. Yet the decision to form a trilateral union and the new format of modernizing Australia’s underwater fleet will also have long-term implications, including for Russia.

Above all, the launch of AUKUS has confirmed that the standoff with China is indisputably the number one foreign policy priority for U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration. Standing up to China is apparently worth risking a serious fallout with Paris over, worth putting Canberra in an awkward position, and worth expanding the interpretation of nonproliferation. The fact is that it’s getting increasingly difficult for Washington to single-handedly compete with Beijing in the naval arena, especially in the eastern Pacific Ocean, so it has no choice but to lean on its most reliable partners while ignoring the inevitable costs.

Nuclear-powered submarines have only one indisputable advantage over modern diesel submarines: a greater operating range, thanks to their superior autonomy. If the new submarines were intended only to defend Australia, there would be no need for them to be nuclear. If, however, they are expected to perform covert operations over many months in more remote waters—in the Taiwan Strait, near the Korean Peninsula, or somewhere in the Arabian Sea—then a nuclear reactor would be a significant advantage.

For Russia, this means that any of its actions from now on will be viewed by Washington within the context of the U.S.-Chinese confrontation. The White House will, for example, turn a blind eye to Moscow’s cooperation with New Delhi and Hanoi on military technology, seeing it as a way to shore up the regional counterbalance to Beijing. Russia’s ongoing assistance with China’s naval modernization program, on the other hand, will be closely scrutinized and could become grounds for new U.S. sanctions against both countries.

There has been some speculation that AUKUS will, with time, become an Asian equivalent of NATO, with more countries joining, from Canada and New Zealand to Japan and South Korea, and eventually even India and Vietnam. These predictions have unsurprisingly elicited concern in Russia.

Yet they are unlikely to come true. Countries like South Korea and India have no desire to join a multilateral military alliance that could jeopardize their relations with other countries. In any case, the establishment of a new structure is in itself an indirect acknowledgement by Washington that the twentieth-century rigid model of alliances is not right for this century. If anything, AUKUS is an attempt to find a modern alternative to NATO.

It’s inevitable that the role of NATO in U.S. strategy will decrease, but that’s not necessarily in Russia’s long-term interests if it means the organization will be replaced with structures such as AUKUS. NATO has detailed and clearly articulated decisionmaking procedures and mechanisms for reaching compromises among its many members. Decisions made by NATO may be unpalatable for Moscow, but they are generally consistent and predictable. The same cannot be said of less heavyweight structures such as AUKUS, from which any number of improvised reactions could ensue, inevitably adding to the political risks.

The concept of AUKUS envisages that control of ocean lanes will continue to be a U.S. priority. The United States is not capable of establishing sufficient control over land transport corridors in Eurasia, nor does it need to do so: the main global cargo traffic routes will be maritime for the foreseeable future. For this reason, it is the world’s oceans rather than continental Eurasia that will be the main battleground between the United States and China.

For Russia, as a predominantly land power, that is overall a good thing—as long as Moscow doesn’t strive to position itself at the epicenter of the Chinese-American standoff. In theory, in a couple of decades’ time, Australian submarines could turn up off the coast of Russia’s Sakhalin Island and Kamchatka Peninsula, or even cross the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean, creating a new potential threat for Russia’s Northern Fleet. There is every reason to suppose, however, that their main routes will lie much further south, and will not directly impinge upon Russian interests.

It is noteworthy that at around the same time as the establishment of AUKUS, China submitted an application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP was actually conceived as part of the strategy for China’s economic containment under former U.S. president Barack Obama, though his successor Donald Trump refused to take part in the initiative. China’s chances of joining the TPP are slim, but in making the request, Beijing is once again demonstrating that for its part, it would like to limit its rivalry with Washington to the realm of trade, investment, and technology. By creating AUKUS, on the other hand, the United States and its partners are increasingly signaling their intention of extending the confrontation to the field of military technology and the geopolitical arena.

Back in May 1882, when Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy agreed to establish the military and political bloc known as the Triple Alliance, it’s unlikely that anyone in Europe gave a second thought to the possible long-term consequences. After all, the aim of the alliance was purely the containment of France, where revanchism was rife following the country’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1872. There were no bigger plans in Berlin, Vienna, or Rome at that time. Yet little more than thirty years later, the European continent was awash with the bloodshed of an unprecedented war.

Today, AUKUS looks like a rickety and unstable structure cobbled together in a hurry. But in twenty or thirty years, the logic that prompted its members to establish a new military and political alliance could lead them into a situation that neither they nor their opponents can get out of without the most severe consequences for themselves and the rest of the world. That is the main long-term danger from AUKUS.

From our partner RIAC

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