Russia Geopolitical Watch – From March 26 to April 1st, 2022

Russia  Geopolitical Watch Team: Lauren Lemaire-Hec, Manik Tadevosian

03/26/2022: Vladimir Putin signs law for new anti-crisis measures in the face of sanctions against Russia – Lauren Lemaire-Hec – 

36 days after the start of the war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin signed a law on 26 March on anti-crisis fiscal measures to support the Russian economy in the face of sanctions against it. Earlier, on 17 March, the Russian President signed a decree on measures to ensure socio-economic stability and protect the population of Russia. He said: “I understand that rising prices are seriously affecting people’s incomes. Therefore, in the near future, we will make a decision to increase all social payments, including benefits and pensions. We will increase the minimum wage and the living wage, as well as public sector wages”. The measures taken on 26 March were published on the official Russian legal information portal – including, among others: exemptions from income tax on material benefits received in Russian banks in 2021-2023; for transport tax, the multiplier will apply only to cars worth more than 10 million rubles; for IT companies, the income tax rate will be 0% for the years 2022-2024.

03/27/2022 : The LPR authorities plan to hold a referendum on joining Russia. – Lauren Lemaire-Hec – 

On 27 March, the head of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, declared that a referendum on the LPR’s entry into Russia would be held soon. He said he believed that “in the near future a referendum will be held on the territory of the republic, in which the people will exercise their absolute constitutional right and express their opinion on joining the Russian Federation”.  The independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics was recognised by Vladimir Putin on 21 February, before the friendship and cooperation treaties with the republics were ratified by the State Duma and the Federation Council the following day. This potential referendum was denounced by the Ukrainian government, whose Foreign Ministry spokesman said that “all fake referendums in the temporarily occupied territories are null and void, and will have no legal validity”.

03/27/2022 : Roskomnadzor demands that Russian media not publish Volodymyr Zelensky’s interview. – Lauren Lemaire-Hec – 

The Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) demanded on 27 February that Russian media publish an interview given by the Ukrainian president. On the same day, Volodymyr Zelensky gave a wide-ranging interview to Russian journalists, including Meduza editor Ivan Kolpakov, Dozhd Tikhon Dzyadko (two media outlets blocked in Russia), journalist and writer Mikhail Zygar and Kommersant special correspondent Vladimir Solovyov. Without specifying the reason for not publishing – the Roskomnadzor published on its Telegram channel that “a number of Russian media, including those that are foreign media acting as foreign agents, interviewed Ukrainian President V. Zelensky. Roskomnadzor warns Russian media outlets about the need to refuse to publish this interview,” adding that “the media outlets that were interviewed are being investigated to determine the extent of their responsibility and to take corrective measures”. 

03/28/2022: Sergei Lavrov announces preparation of visa restrictions for citizens of “hostile countries” -Lauren Lemaire-Hec- 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on 28 March that “a draft decree is being prepared on retaliatory visa measures in connection with the hostile actions of a number of foreign states”. The Minister also stated that he believes “that this step will broaden the range of influence on several categories of foreign nationals. Firstly, those who are involved in committing crimes against Russian citizens abroad. Second, there are those who carry out unjustified legal persecution against our people. And finally, it is those who take unjustified decisions that violate the legitimate rights and interests of Russian citizens and organisations”. The list of “hostile countries” approved by the Russian government on 5 March consists of 48 countries including Australia, Albania, Great Britain, EU member states, Canada, Norway, Republic of Korea, USA, Taiwan, Ukraine, Montenegro, Switzerland, Japan… 

03/29/2022 : Russia announced a “drastic reduction” of military activity towards Kiev and Chernihiv after talks with Ukraine in Istanbul – Manik Tavosian- 

After a series of video conference talks, the Russian and Ukrainian delegations met in Istanbul, Turkey for a new round of negotiations on March 29. At the end of the meeting, the Kremlin announced that military activity in “the direction of Kiev and Chernihiv” would be “drastically” reduced. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of “positive signals”, while stating that Ukraine “does not intend to relax” its military efforts. During this meeting, Kiev had proposed a ten-point plan to the Russian side, which includes the neutrality of Ukraine in exchange for an “international agreement” guaranteeing its security under the auspices of several countries (the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Poland, Turkey and Israel). “We insist that this is an international agreement that will be signed by all security guarantors“, announced the chief negotiator of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia. He also added that the Ukrainian authorities want “an international mechanism of security guarantees where the guarantor countries will act in a similar way to Nato’s Chapter 5 and even stronger. While the Kremlin initially described the talks between Russia and Ukraine as “significant”, the following day Moscow said that the outcome of the negotiations had not resulted in “any breakthrough”. Western countries remained very cautious about the outcome of this new round of negotiations. 

03/31/2022 : Vladimir Putin signed a decree on gas trade with so-called “unfriendly” countries -Manik Tadevosian-

On March 31, the Russian president signed a decree that allows Russia to stop gas deliveries to the so-called unfriendly states if they refuse to pay in rubles. In this sense, during the meeting held by video conference, Vladimir Putin stated that “in order to buy Russian natural gas, they must open ruble accounts in Russian banks. These accounts will be used to pay for gas supplies from tomorrow, from April 1 of this year”. He also added that “if these payments are not made, (Russia considers) that this is a default on the part of buyers, with all the consequences that this implies”. This event follows the announcement made by the head of the Kremlin during the past week and aims more broadly to give a response to Western sanctions. In this context, several European countries have put forward arguments to refuse to comply with this new requirement. 

01/04/2022 : Russia accuses Ukraine of having conducted an air strike on its soil – Manik Tadevosian- 

After the resumption of talks between the two warring parties, Russia accused Ukraine of conducting air strikes against an oil depot in the city of Belgorod, located about 40 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, on April 1. Following the event, the governor of Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov said on his Telegram account that “a fire in an oil depot took place due to an air strike conducted by two helicopters of the Ukrainian army that entered Russian territory at low altitude”. In another message, he also said that two employees of the depot were injured. A few hours after the regional governor’s announcement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reacted by saying that this event would not “create appropriate conditions for further negotiations”. This assault has not been officially recognized by the Ukrainian authorities. If the attack was confirmed by Kiev, it would be the first attack by Kiev in Russia.  The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, said on Friday “can neither confirm nor deny the involvement of Ukraine because (he) is not in possession of all the military information. 

01/04/2022: Following Gérard Depardieu’s remarks, Dmitri Peskov says the actor “probably does not fully understand what is going on” -Lauren Lemaire-Hec- 

On 1 April, the spokesman of the Russian government, Dmitry Peskov, reacted to the remarks of the French actor Gérard Depardieu. The latter had emigrated to Russia and in 2013 received citizenship and a Russian passport. A day earlier, the actor denounced Vladimir Putin’s “unacceptable madness” and said that “the Russian people are not responsible for the unacceptable madness of (their) leaders like Vladimir Putin”. The Kremlin offered to explain the conflict in Ukraine to the French personality. Dmitry Peskov commented that G. Depardieu “does not understand (…) what Donetsk and Lugansk are, he is not aware of the bombing of civilians”. A Russian MP, Sultan Khamzaev, even called for Depardieu to be stripped of his Russian citizenship and for his property in the country to be transferred to charity.

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