Over the past week, the Russian media highlighted the spiraling nature of the U.S.-Russian sanctions war, which has resulted in the U.S. adding new names and organizations to the blacklist and Russia moving forward with a plan to destroy all sanctioned food products.

Participants of the Red Bull Flugtag 2015 festival, Moscow, Russia. Photo: RIA Novosti / Yevgenia Novozhenina

The main themes that attracted the attention of the Russian media last week included the expansion of U.S. sanctions on Russia, the Kremlin’s decision to destroy all sanctioned food products, and the scandal around the liberal coalition’s participation in regional election campaigns.

New U.S. sanctions on Russia

One of the hot topics discussed last week was the expansion of U.S. sanctions against Russia targeting new individuals and organizations. The list was updated with 11 more names and 15 organizations including the subsidiaries of already sanctioned oil giant Rosneft and the Russian state development bank VEB.

For the most part, the names of these entities are not widely known to the public, therefore, Russian media channels tried to analyze what could have brought them to the attention of the U.S. government.

The popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, for example, acknowledges that some of the newly added individuals might have “deserved” to be put on the list because of their connections with President Putin’s friends, but what about other individuals that seem to be far from the higher circles – private investor Petr Kolbyn, the development manager of the Kalashnikov corporation, and, most interestingly, Finnish businessman Kai Paananen?

While quoting the U.S. official saying that the new sanctions are only imposed to strengthen the sanctions already in place, the paper is certain that Russia will prepare a matching response. The only question is what form it will take.

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta agrees, citing a Russian diplomat who argues, “Such provocative actions not only harm Russian-American relations, but also the cooperation on solving other global problems. Of course, such policy will not be left without a reaction.”

The business-oriented Vedomosti, on the one hand, compares and contrasts the positions of the U.S. and Russian authorities, and on the other, provides the reactions from the entities added to the sanctioned list. While some of them say that this misfortune will not have any negative impact on their work, others, for instance the representative of the Kalashnikov corporation, argue that such steps only signify that the U.S. is not only trying to impose pressure on state structures, but also on private business. This, against the background of higher demand for Russian weapons in the U.S. market, signifies how unfair and protectionist U.S. policies might be.

Russia to liquidate sanctioned food products

On July 31, Russian President Putin signed a decree on liquidating all food products illegally transported to Russia, a move that marks a strengthening of the outright ban imposed last year. The food products will now be gotten rid of “in any manner [possible] and notwithstanding whether the entity that transported it to Russia is known or not,” reported the state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

According to the business daily Kommersant, the products will not only be targeted at the state borders, but also across the whole territory of Russia, in all popular food chains. Although the retailers themselves say that all the banned products have already disappeared from the shelves, Kommersant brings forward state statistics provided by Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. The data shows that during recent months there were as many as 700-800 violations of the food embargo detected in the country. In response, the Russian state-supported youth movement “Khrushi” announced the “Eat Russian” campaign for detecting illegally smuggled products in stores and marking them with special stickers.

In general, the decree provoked two reactions from the Russian public, according to the opposition paper Novaya Gazeta. There are those that treated this step as a new opportunity to laugh at state policies. And there were others who were shocked given the tragic memories of the WWII when millions starved. Today, the arrested products could have been given to those in need (some suggest giving it to Donbas, or to the church). Anyhow, the paper suggests that such a decree will only give the smugglers another opportunity to find new ways to benefit from the embargo.

Vedomosti echoes this position and argues: “In a country where the number of people living under the poverty line amounted to 23 million in a first quarter the liquidation of perfectly good products does not seem like a form of challenging the West, but rather, a challenge to common sense.” As opposed to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who thinks that such a measure will only give local producers an extra incentive to grow, Vedomosti argues that what is more important for the fast growth of local enterprises is to enjoy a favorable tax system and a stable investment climate that will create an opportunity to make long-term investments. The artificial removal of products from shelves and the existence of entrepreneurial law enforcers, on the contrary, can only stimulate more attempts to game the system.

The election committee in the Novosibirsk region has denied registration to PARNAS party lists at the polls in the regional legislative assembly. Photo: Kommersant

Liberal coalition struggles to avoid obstacles in regional elections

The start of the registration process to take part in regional elections marked a new episode of the confrontation between the government and the liberal opposition. Last week, the liberal coalition formed on the basis of the RPR-PARNAS party was not allowed to take part in elections in Novosibirsk, Magadan and Kostroma regions due to the large number of allegedly falsified signatures.

Independent Novaya Gazeta claims that the regional authorities might have declared the signatures as falsified because they had been using outdated data from the federal migration service, which sometimes includes mistakes in the passport number or wrong address or name. The paper also brings together expert opinions: While some say that the condition of gathering signatures is a guaranteed way to prevent a party from taking part in the elections, thus, keeping the power in the hand of the current authorities. Other experts disagree by saying that the opposition’s objective is not to win the elections legally, but create such hype that will shake the position of those in power.  

One of the opposition leaders, Gennady Gudkov, in an interview with Moskovsky Komsomolets, said that the reason why the authorities view these elections as so important is because those parties that will enter regional parliaments in September will be rid of the necessity to gather signatures to enter the elections to the State Duma. As he points out, all the other political actors will not be able to participate in the elections, as it is impossible to gather enough signatures.

Business newspaper Vedomosti published an op-ed arguing that the scandal has shown that the opposition has good managerial skills.

“Without any administrative, corporate or centralized party structure, the representatives of the opposition coalition could not only gather the necessary number of signatures but also create a system of gathering these signatures, that will provide an example to all future campaigns,” writes Andrey Babitsky. 

The independent media outlet Slon goes even further, with the political analyst Alexander Kynev arguing that the liberal coalition in this situation proves that, “You can win even if you get removed from the elections race.” He believes that after the scandal in Novosibirsk, the rating of the democratic coalition will only grow and trying to influence the system from within, sometimes formally losing, will prove a winning strategy in the long run.

Quotes of the week:

Kai Paananen, the Finnish businessman, on being added to the U.S. sanctions list: “This is indeed very odd that a citizen of Finland was put on the sanctions list against Russia. I didn’t do anything to the U.S. I think this is unfair. I was only in charge of Finnish exports abroad. This question should be discussed with the authorities.”

Archpriest Aleksey Uminsky on the food liquidation: “In fact, this idea is mad, stupid and vile. There are a large number of people in our country that could have received long-awaited help in the form of these products.”

Georgy Alburov, a researcher at Alexey Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, on the inability of the liberal opposition to participate in regional elections: “In any case, it wasn’t meaningless for us. It was a valuable experience that will help all of us in the future. And, secondly, pushing the authorities out of their safety zone, forcing them to make mistakes and take hasty decisions is priceless. This is a way to bring forward the beginning of a new, wonderful Russia.”