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US, France Warn Russia of ‘New Measures’ Over Ukraine.

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande warned Saturday of “new measures” against Russia if it fails to work toward defusing the crisis in Ukraine, the French presidency said.

In a phone call on Saturday, Obama and Hollande insisted on the “need for Russia to withdraw forces sent to Crimea since the end of February and to do everything to allow the deployment of international observers,” it said.
Obama’s conversation with Hollande was one of a half dozen telephone conversations he had with world leaders Saturday about Ukraine, the White House says.

He  also spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and held a conference call with the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

The new warnings come in the wake of Russia’s insistence that any U.S. sanctions will have a boomerang effect on the United States and that Crimea has the right to self-determination as armed men tried to seize another Ukrainian military base on the peninsula.

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In a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against “hasty and reckless steps” that could harm Russian-American relations, the foreign ministry said on Friday.

“Sanctions…would inevitably hit the United States like a boomerang,” it added.

It was the second tense, high-level exchange between the former Cold War foes in 24 hours over the pro-Russian takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after an hour-long call with U.S. President Barack Obama that their positions on the former Soviet republic were still far apart. Obama announced the first sanctions against Russia on Thursday.

Putin, who later opened the Paralympic Games in Sochi which have been boycotted by a string of Western dignitaries, said Ukraine’s new, pro-Western authorities had acted illegitimately over the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.

“Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,” he said.

Serhiy Astakhov, an aide to the Ukrainian border guards’ commander, said 30,000 Russian soldiers were now in Crimea, compared to the 11,000 permanently based with the Russian Black Sea fleet in the port of Sevastopol before the crisis.

On Friday evening armed men drove a truck into a Ukrainian missile defence post in Sevastopol, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene. But no shots were fired and Crimea’s pro-Russian premier said later the standoff was over.

Putin denies the forces with no national insignia that are surrounding Ukrainian troops in their bases are under Moscow’s command, although their vehicles have Russian military plates. The West has ridiculed his assertion.

The most serious East-West confrontation since the end of the Cold War – resulting from the overthrow last month of President Viktor Yanukovich after protests in Kiev that led to violence – escalated on Thursday when Crimea’s parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia.

The region’s government set a referendum for March 16 – in just nine days’ time.


Turkey scrambled jets after a Russian surveillance plane flew along its Black Sea coast and a U.S. warship passed through Turkey’s Bosphorus straits on its way to the Black Sea, although the U.S. military said it was a routine deployment.

European Union leaders and Obama said the referendum plan was illegitimate and would violate Ukraine’s constitution.

The head of Russia’s upper house of parliament said after meeting visiting Crimean lawmakers on Friday that Crimea had a right to self-determination, and ruled out any risk of war between “the two brotherly nations”.

Obama ordered visa bans and asset freezes on Thursday against so far unidentified people deemed responsible for threatening European Union leaders Ukraine’s sovereignty. Earlier in the week, a Kremlin aide said Moscow might refuse to pay off any loans to U.S. banks, the top four of which have around $24 billion in exposure to Russia.

Japan endorsed the Western position that the actions of Russia constitute “a threat to international peace and security”, after Obama spoke to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

China, often a Russian ally in blocking Western moves in the U.N. Security Council, was more cautious, saying economic sanctions were not the best way to solve the crisis and avoiding comment on the Crimean referendum.

The EU, Russia’s biggest economic partner and energy customer, adopted a three-stage plan to try to force a negotiated solution but stopped short of immediate sanctions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded angrily on Friday, calling the EU decision to freeze talks on visa-free travel and on a broad new pact governing Russia-EU ties “extremely unconstructive”. It pledged to retaliate.


Senior Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko, freed from prison after Yanukovich’s overthrow, met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dublin and appealed for immediate EU sanctions against Russia, warning that Crimea might otherwise slide into a guerrilla war.

Brussels and Washington rushed to strengthen the new authorities in economically shattered Ukraine, announcing both political and financial assistance. The regional director of the International Monetary Fund said talks with Kiev on a loan agreement were going well and praised the new government’s openness to economic reform and transparency.

The European Commission has said Ukraine could receive up to 11 billion euros ($15 billion) in the next couple of years provided it reaches agreement with the IMF, which requires painful economic reforms like ending gas subsidies.

Promises of billions of dollars in Western aid for the Kiev government, and the perception that Russian troops are not likely to go beyond Crimea into other parts of Ukraine, have helped reverse a rout in the local hryvnia currency.

In the past two days it has traded above 9.0 to the dollar for the first time since the Crimea crisis began last week. Local dealers said emergency currency restrictions imposed last week were also supporting the hryvnia.

Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said Ukraine had not paid its $440 million gas bill for February, bringing its arrears to $1.89 billion and hinted it could turn off the taps as it did in 2009, when a halt in Russian deliveries to Ukraine reduced supplies to Europe during a cold snap.

In Moscow, a huge crowd gathered near the Kremlin at a government-sanctioned rally and concert billed as being “in support of the Crimean people”. Pop stars took to the stage and demonstrators held signs with slogans such as “Crimea is Russian land”, and “We believe in Putin”.


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said no one in the civilised world would recognise the result of the “so-called referendum” in Crimea.

He repeated Kiev’s willingness to negotiate with Russia if Moscow pulls its additional troops out of Crimea and said he had requested a telephone call with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov ridiculed calls for Russia to join an international “contact group” with Ukraine proposed by the West, saying they “make us smile”.

Demonstrators encamped in Kiev’s central Independence Square to defend the revolution that ousted Yanukovich said they did not believe Crimea would be allowed to secede.

Alexander Zaporozhets, 40, from central Ukraine’s Kirovograd region, put his faith in international pressure.

“I don’t think the Russians will be allowed to take Crimea from us: you can’t behave like that to an independent state. We have the support of the whole world. But I think we are losing time. While the Russians are preparing, we are just talking.”

Unarmed military observers from the pan-European Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were blocked from entering Crimea for a second day in a row on Friday, the OSCE said on Twitter.

The United Nations said it had sent its assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, to Kiev to conduct a preliminary humans rights assessment.

Ukrainian television has been replaced with Russian state channels in Crimea and the streets largely belong to people who support Moscow’s rule, some of whom have harassed journalists and occasional pro-Kiev protesters.

Part of the Crimea’s 2 million population opposes Moscow’s rule, including members of the region’s ethnic Russian majority. The last time Crimeans were asked, in 1991, they voted narrowly for independence along with the rest of Ukraine.

“With all these soldiers here, it is like we are living in a zoo,” Tatyana, 41, an ethnic Russian. “Everyone fully understands this is an occupation.”

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Newsmax Wires

Russia Rejects Cyprus Financial Rescue Bid as Deadline Looms.

Russia spurned Cyprus’s offers of assets for a bailout as the island nation’s lawmakers begin debate on legislation to avert a financial collapse.

“I think we aren’t able to get the support that we wanted to get,” Cypriot Finance Minister Michael Sarris said in an interview after checking out of the Lotte Hotel in Moscow. “But we must go back home because things are getting serious.”

Cypriot lawmakers begin debating legislation today to prevent a financial meltdown as the European Central Bank threatens to cut off a lifeline for the country’s banks in three days unless a bailout agreement with the European Union is reached. Russian companies and individuals may have about $31 billion of deposits in Cyprus, which in turn is the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Russia.

“The only thing that Cyprus could hope for is Gazprom buying some reserves from them,” Vladimir Kolychev, head of research at Societe Generale SA’s Rosbank unit in Moscow, said by phone. “It’s not clear what these gas reserves are worth, and apparently Gazprom wasn’t particularly interested.”

Russia has ended talks with Cyprus and will decide on participating in restructuring debt after the so-called troika overseeing euro-area bailouts makes its decision, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told reporters today. The troika comprises officials from the European Commission, ECB and International Monetary Fund.

Door Open

“We didn’t close the door, didn’t say we won’t discuss anything,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said today at a briefing in the Russian capital with Jose Barroso, head of the European Commission. While “we are prepared to discuss various options for supporting” Cyprus, Russia’s possible assistance is contingent on a consensus over a rescue plan between the nation and the EU, he said.

A solution to the crisis “can be found” and it must be acceptable to all members of the currency union, Barroso said. “I believe there is no time to lose,” he said.

Sarris met with First Deputy Minister Igor Shuvalov and Siluanov on March 20, asking Russia to restructure a 2.5 billion-euro ($3.2 billion) loan that was granted in December 2011 by extending its duration beyond 2016 and lowering the rate. The Mediterranean island nation is seeking to overcome a deadlock after lawmakers rejected an unprecedented 5.8 billion- euro levy on bank deposits that the Eurogroup proposed.

‘Not Ready’

“I think the loan will be extended and the conditions adjusted,” Sarris said. “But the rest of the support, we are not ready to have concluded anything.”

A new loan to Cyprus wasn’t considered because it would have exceeded a European debt limit, Siluanov said. Cyprus had asked Russia for about 5 billion euros, three Russian government officials said yesterday, asking not to be identified because the talks were private.

The euro-area nation sought to attract Russian capital into a proposed investment fund that would include gas, banking and other assets, intended to help raise the 5.8 billion euros needed to trigger emergency loans, Siluanov said. “Investors didn’t show interest,” he said.

OAO Rosneft and OAO Gazprom, Russia’s state-run oil and gas producers, received an offer only to participate in tenders for Cypriot offshore assets and weren’t interested, a Russian government official said today. State-run OAO Sberbank and VTB Group, Russia’s two largest lenders, said they didn’t plan to buy assets in Cyprus.

Cypriot Commitment

Sarris said March 20 that talks would last “as long as it takes,” while his hotel room had been booked until March 25, according to hotel reception.

The euro appreciated 0.2 percent to $1.2929 at 1:52 p.m. in Moscow. Russia’s Micex Index declined 0.8 percent to 1,448.11, while the ruble was little changed at 34.9767 against the central bank’s target dollar-euro currency basket.

Russian companies and individuals have $31 billion of deposits in Cyprus, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Including loans to companies registered in Cyprus, Russia’s

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

Russia’s Medvedev laments relations with Europe.


  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev waves as he arrives to the Plenary Session at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)View PhotoRussian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev …
  • The Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev gestures during a panel session on the first day of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron)View PhotoThe Prime Minister of the Russian …

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP)Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is criticizing European energy regulations and visa policies and insisting that his country isn’t a corrupt place to do business.

Medvedev is trying to defend Russia’s reputation in the face of a new report released at the World Economic Forum in Davos warning of risks ahead for his country’s economy.

Speaking in Davos on Wednesday, he said it is “very sad” that Europe and Russia are fighting over energy regulations. The European Union is pressuring Russia to apply EU rules to the European operations of gas giant Gazprom. Russia is struggling to maintain its dominance of Europe’s gas market.

He also criticized European leaders for “not hearing” Russia’s arguments for visa-free travel in Europe — obtaining visas is a big hurdle for Russians doing business.


Associated Press

Russia’s Gazprom plans new Pacific gas pipeline.


MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his blessing on Monday to a plan to invest tens of billions of dollars to tap a new natural gas field in Siberia and build a new pipeline to the nation’s Pacific coast for exports to Asia.

Putin met Monday with Alexei Miller, the CEO of state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom, who briefed him on prospects of tapping the giant Chaynda deposit in the Yakutia region. Miller said the field is estimated to hold 1.2 trillion cubic meters of gas.

He said Gazprom plans to build a 3,200-kilometer (2,000-mile) pipeline linking the field with Russia’s Pacific port of Vladivostok. Miller said Gazprom would need to invest 430 billion rubles ($13.7 billion) to develop the field and 770 billion rubles ($24.4 billion) to build the pipeline by 2017.

Gazprom is planning to build a liquefied natural gas plant in the Vladivostok region for exports to Pacific nations.

“In the near future, we will be able to build new gas export capacities which would be comparable to or, perhaps, even exceeding gas supplies to Europe,” Miller said.

As part of its eastward expansion, Gazprom is also planning to build a Pacific-bound pipeline from another giant Siberian field, Kovykta, which is estimated to hold 2.5 trillion cubic meters of gas, he said.

Putin and Gazprom chiefs long have talked about plans to diversify Russia’s energy exports by shifting them to Asian markets. The bulk of Gazprom’s exports now go to the European Union, which relies on Russia for more than two fifths of its gas imports.

But the Russian gas monopoly has faced a growing pressure in Europe because of the availability of liquefied natural gas from North Africa and the production of shale gas in the United States which have driven down world prices on spot markets and inspired some European countries to explore for their own shale gas.

Moscow also has been annoyed by an EU investigation launched in September, which is to determine whether Gazprom violated competition rules by linking the prices of gas and oil. The Russian gas behemoth would face hefty fines if found guilty.


Associated Press

Russia’s oil output hits post-Soviet high.


Russian leaders hailed their powerful energy industry on Sunday as the country posted a post-Soviet record high rate of oil productionthat should boost coffers in uncertain global economic times.

The energy ministry said private and state companies extracted a combined 10.38 million barrels per day in August — only a slight increase over July but higher than any figure seen in the past two decades.

Nearly a quarter of the oil was produced by the government’s expanding Rosneft unit that last year struck Russia’s first Arctic exploration agreement with the US super-major ExxonMobil.

Analysts said production is rising as companies seek to take full advantage of strong global oil prices before a potential hit from the impact of a mooted Greek withdrawal from the eurozone in the months to come.

But the news is especially welcome for a budget that earned 49 percent of its revenues from oil and gas sales in 2011 and will now hope for output to meet President Vladimir Putin‘s big spending promises for his third term.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the country had assumed its “rightful place” as the world’s largest combined exporter of oil and natural gas.

But “it is important to keep moving ahead along the path of innovation,” Medvedev also cautioned. “We have to adopt advanced, science-intensive technology and improve labour production.”

Russia claimed the world’s top oil production rate last year but now closely trails Saudi Arabiabecause it lacks the resources to quickly step up output at times of rising prices.

It is still the globe’s top natural gas exporter thanks to Gazprom — a state behemoth now facing headwinds because of its failure to tap exploding liquefied natural and shale gas markets in time.

Data showed natural gas production shrinking by 3.3 percent between January and August.

The downbeat figure largely reflect the reality that almost all of Gazprom’s foreign sales are focused on European and post-Soviet countries that are currently experiencing some of the slowest growth rates in the world.

Energy Minister Alexander Novak said the sector as a whole accounted for 30 percent of gross domestic product and was “developing successfully and at a stable rate” despite the problems at Gazprom.

But the minister also pointed to necessary improvements to a tax policy that often fails to reward investment and appears to focus on revenues rather private firms’ strategic growth.

“The first thing we need to do is improve our tax regulations,” Novak said in a statement.

Analysts agreed that Putin’s focus on revenues and desire to meet post-March election spending promises that include a record but disputed new rearmament programme threatened to hurt the country in the decades to come.

“The authorities are staking everything on filling the budget,” National Energy Institute director Sergei Pravosudov told the Prime business news agency.

“They should be making decision based on development,” he said.

The $710 billion earmarked for the military this decade — a sentimental choice boosting Putin’s tough image — sparked bitter arguments that has cost the job of Russia’s veteran and widely admired finance chief Alexei Kudrin.

But Putin last week again promised to “modernise our defence industry as comprehensively as it was done in the 1930s” in the worst years of Stalin’s repressions.


By Dmitry Zaks | AFP

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