Friday 23 March 2018

Fireworks over Crimea in Putin's party

Russia completes annexation of region

Russia President Vladimir Putin

Roland Oliphant Simferopol and Yekaterina Kravtsova Moscow

Fireworks were let off over Moscow last night on President Vladimir Putin's orders as Russia celebrated the formal annexation of Crimea.

Mr Putin laughed off the US sanctions that targeted his inner circle, promised the Russian government would "have the back" of those on the list, and even opened a personal account at a sanctioned bank as an act of solidarity.

"As far as I'm aware, it's an average bank," Mr Putin said yesterday of Bank Rossiya, the only institution on the list of sanctions targets released by the US Treasury Department on Thursday. "I don't have a personal account there, but I'll open one on Monday."

One Moscow financier who wished to remain anonymous said the far-reaching nature of the US sanctions had shocked the business community, but that the mood among investors had quickly recovered.

"Until last night the assumption was that the sanctions were nothing to worry about. But then we saw the American list, and that obviously worried people a bit more," he said. "But the mood seems to be to focus on the future – the general attitude seems to be that in the long term things will recover."

One victim of sanctions, Vladimir Yakunin, the Russian Railways chief, said he had been targeted for taking a "fair and honest" public position.

Gennady Tymchenko and the Rotenberg brothers let it be known through intermediaries that they considered the sanctions "indirect recognition of their service to Russia".

Meanwhile, some Russian media have been casting around for possible European targets for retaliatory action.

Moskovsky Komsomolets, a pro-Kremlin tabloid, called for action against the French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy as the "chief propagandist of Western Europe", in revenge for a European Union travel ban and asset freeze imposed on Dmitry Kisleyov, the firebrand television presenter and state media executive who has been at the forefront of the Kremlin's propaganda campaign in Ukraine. Meanwhile, a Russian billionaire who has been subject to sanctions by the United States sold his shares in a major firm the day before the list was disclosed.

Gennady Timchenko sold his 43pc share in the oil trading firm Gunvor to a business partner on Wednesday. The firm, which was co-founded by Mr Timchenko in 1997, said yesterday it had pre-prepared the sale "as a contingency in the unlikely event that Mr Timchenko would become involved in sanctions".

But it raised questions as to whether news of the list had somehow leaked out, and how such a substantial deal could have been done at short notice.

Questions were also being asked last night as to why Mr Timchenko and a number of other Russian oligarchs were not also included on a new sanctions list drawn up by the European Union.

The EU list, published yesterday, added 12 new names to an existing European list of 21 names announced on Monday. All those listed are now subject to both visa bans and asset freezes.


As well as two presidential advisers, the list includes Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister, and Dmitry Kiselyov, a Russian television presenter, described as "the central figure of the government propaganda supporting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine".

But it omits a number of key businessmen and politicians included on the US list, prompting accusations that individual EU nations had toned down their measures because of fears of Russian reprisals.

Europe is considered to be much more vulnerable than the US to retaliation by the Kremlin because of its business and energy ties to Moscow.

Notable omissions alongside Mr Timchenko included Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, two brothers who are often described as bankers to Mr Putin's inner circle. Another was Sergei Ivanov, Mr Putin's chief of staff. EU diplomats declined to say why certain individuals had not been included, refusing to go into specifics even during off-the-record briefings with journalists.

But critics said last night that it showed how the 28-nation bloc was ill-suited to presenting a sufficiently tough line against Mr Putin. Among those who declared themselves unimpressed with the list was David Clark, who chairs the Russia Foundation, a British thinktank, and who was a special adviser to Robin Cook, the late Labour foreign secretary. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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