04/10/2018, 18.49
RUSSIA
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After Putin's elite hit by sanctions, talk of a new self-centred ideology

by Vladimir Rozanskij

US sanctions affect Russian businesses, banks, politicians, government officials, military officers and hackers. The Moscow Exchange plunges. Russian companies funding Russian military actions in Syria and Ukraine were also targeted. A third way for a Third Rome is proposed.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Last Friday, as joyful Easter celebrations were underway, the decision by the US Congress to impose new sanctions against pro-Putin oligarchs caused local financial markets to plunge. With their names on the US black list, Russia’s 50 richest people lost more than US$ 12 billion.

For one of Putin’s main supporters, Oleg Deripaska, losses totalled more than a billion dollars in just 24 hours. Even for someone not on the black list like Vladimir Potanin, owner of Norilsk Nickel, his business partnership with Deripaska cost him as shares in his company dropped after the Moscow bourse opened on Monday. Other tycoons from Putin’s inner circle also suffered substantial losses, people like Viktor Vekselberg, Suleyman Kerimov, Gennady Timchenko, Vladimir Lisin, Roman Abramovich, Vagit Alekperov and Alexey Mordashov.

Putin’s elite

The new sanctions were introduced under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act adopted last year by Congress. The sanctions allow the US Treasury Department to freeze assets held in the United States by people on the list and to ban US entities and citizens from co-operating with the latter.

The list contains the names of 24 people and 15 firms, who are described as Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Person (SDNs). They are Andrey Kostin, president and Chairman of the Management Board of VTB Bank; Alexei Miller, head of Gazprom; Andrey Akimov, head of Gazprombank, the gas giant’s bank. A number of government officials are also included: Senator Suleiman Kerimov; Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev; Viktor Zolotov, director of Rosgvardiya (the National Guard of Russia set up in 2016), Tula Governor Alexey Djumin, touted as a possible Putin successor; and Regional Development Minister Oleg Govorun.

Together these men constitute the crème de la crème of Putin’s inner circle. Now the door to any dealings with the United States has been slammed in their face.

Moscow Exchange tumbles

The ban on business relations with people and firms also extends to the foreign partners who have dealings with United States. However, this did not deter Turkish President Recep Erdogan from saying that Turkey would go ahead with the purchase of new S-400 missile systems from one of the banned companies, Rosoboronexport (state-owned arms export company). For the Turkish leader, the main consideration is national security. “Turkey will determine its destiny,” he said. Putin agreed to deliver the first S-400 in June 2019 instead of early 2020.

Meanwhile, the Moscow Exchange took a hit, losing more than 10 per cent of their value in one day as shares in sanction-hit firms took a plunge following the announcement of US sanctions. As a result, trading in UC Rusal shares, the world’s largest aluminium company, was suspended. The same thing happened to state-owned savings bank Sberbank. As in the past, observers expect the government to step in to protect the targeted companies to lessen the financial impact of the sanctions.

US measures are especially hard on Russian firms involved one way or another with Russia’s military actions in Syria in support of the Assad regime, and Russian forces engaged in the conflict in Ukraine.

Sanctions have also been slapped on Russian entities involved in cyberattacks, as well as senior military leaders like Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate Lieutenant-General Igor Korobov and his deputy, as well as hackers Alexey Belan and Evgeniy Bogachev, who are sought by US justice. Among the people targeted, 13 are accused of interference in US politics, including the presidential elections. Some Russians are also accused of supporting North Korea’s weapons programme.

Neither east nor west

For Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s main ideologue and adviser, the man behind the president’s “sovereigntist” policies, Russia faces "100 years (200? 300?) of geopolitical solitude".  In an article titled ‘Loneliness of the Half-Blood’ in Russia in Global Affairs, Surkov writes Russia must stop being a "half-blood country", eternally undecided between East and West.

In particular, it must accept that after four centuries of attempts to be part of Western civilisation” and four centuries of "Eastern domination", Russia must choose the "14+" scheme, i.e. the post-2014 era that began with the invasion of the Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, but also the release of Russia from the adolescent stage.

In the article, Surkov proclaims Russia’s new ideal. "For four centuries we turned to the East; for another four centuries we turned West. We have not been able to take root on either side, and both roads are now closed. Hence, we need an ideology of the third way, a third type of civilisation, a third world, a third Rome".

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