Putin offers ray of hope for Russians

2020-12-28 12:16:38

A Christmas market in Moscow provides a semblance of the familiar in a year when lives have been turned upside down. VYACHESLAV PROKOFYEV/TASS As US sanctions continue to bite, leader vows to tackle economic problems For Russians, one of the reminders that a year is about to end is the marathon TV event in which Russian President Vladimir Putin fields questions from journalists. This year, under the shadow of COVID-19, the all-remote conference, on Dec 17, was wrapped up in four and a half hours. The issues and questions raised by Russian and foreign journalists will continue to concern the Russian government into the new year. However, Putin promised viewers that he would overcome most of the problems that the country is facing. Russia faces an economic crisis brought on by a number of factors: the collapse in oil prices, the coronavirus pandemic and, most importantly, sanctions imposed by Western countries. Even as United States President Donald Trump claimed to pursue his goal of better relations with Russia, his administration added even more sanctions targeting the government and businesses. Beginning in 2014, under the administration of Barack Obama, the US has brought in travel bans, asset freezes and finance and trade restrictions on hundreds of Russian individuals and companies. The measures are part of a multinational effort to punish the Russian government for alleged trouble-making beyond its borders and in cyberspace. A worsening of relations between Russia and the US has played out in 2020. Putin characterized the Russia-US relationship as having become hostage to domestic politics in the US. The bilateral relationship is now at its worst in 40 years, said Oleg Timofeev, an associate professor at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia in Moscow. He uses the term "abnormal" to describe the ties, with what he sees as psychological undertones to the political strains. US sanctions against Russia have been stepped up since the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act was passed by in 2017, Timofeev said. The US managed to "create negative political and psychological influences against the Russian government, business, and society "with sanctions encompassing the economic, technological, and political spheres, he said. "These measures are aimed mainly at harming key economic sectors such as energy, metallurgy, national defense and finance in the international markets. "They have the effect of reducing Russia's competitiveness and are resulting in long-term negative effects. They also create social and economic imbalances, which in turn put pressure on Russia's domestic and foreign policies." Timofeev does not expect to see any improvement in Russia-US relations over the next four to five years, as the sanctions appear to have become entrenched in US policy. Steven Pifer, a nonresident senior fellow in the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and an expert at the Brookings Institution, agreed with Timofeev. As Joe Biden prepares to become the 46th president of the US, speculation is well underway on what a Biden administration will mean for US policy toward Russia, including its stance on sanctions, Pifer said. However, sanctions will remain part of the US tool kit for dealing with Russia under the new administration, he said. "The sanctions have had an impact on Russia's economic growth, though the exact amount is difficult to measure and a subject of debate." "Some sanctions may not be felt for some time. For example, sanctions that deny Russian companies' access to American technology and financing for developing new and technically challenging oil fields do not constrain Russian oil production now. They will, however, limit Russia's ability to develop new oil fields requiring high-tech extraction techniques as current wells are depleted."