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Published in Stream:
Day 928: September 2, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Gazprom Media Included on US Sanctions Lists; Will Not Affect Ad Purchases on Ekho Moskvy and Other Properties
3 years
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Yesterday, September 1, the US Treasury Department announced a new list of sanctions due to Russia's forcible annexation of the Crimea in February 2014 and ensuing aggression against Ukraine. The announcement indicates both new entries and additional information on previous entries, "to target sanctions evasion and other activities related to the conflict in Ukraine."

There are 17 new additions of individuals, including Eduard Basurin,  the so-called "deputy-defense minister" and military spokesman of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DNR) and Vladimir Kononov, the "defense minister" of the DNR. Yevgeny Manuilov, "minister of communications" of the DNR is also included as are other officials of the DNR and Russian-occupied Crimea.

Twenty entities have been added to the list. Some are businesses, like Most and Mostotrest involved in building the bridge across the Kerch Straits, or handling freight for the occupation regime. One company, the Feodosia Optical Plant, has this (likely self-written) entry for Trade Key which likely explains its presence on the sanctions list:

Feodosia State Optical Plant is a state company established in 1967; since the Soviet times it exercises a glorious reputation as internationally recognized supplier of optical goods and equipment. Its brands of microscopy as well as military equipment have been recognized in China, India, Soviet Union etc.

The so-called "Ukraine Salvation Committee," headed by Nikolai Azarov, former prime minister of Ukraine, and consisting of former officials or supporters of the regime of deposed president Viktor Yanukovicj, has now been included in the list.

The Treasury notice also had a list of 92 additions to the Sectoral Sanctions Identifications List of the Office of Foreign Assets Control which administers and enforces the economic and trade sanctions, based on US foreign policy and national security goals. 

Some of these companies were essentially already included in sanctions as subsidiaries of other companies.

Gazprom Media, the arm of Gazprom that funds media and Internet sites is included among these companies.

We wondered if inclusion of Gazprom Media would mean that US businesses couldn't buy advertising on any of its properties, and also wondered about the implication for purchasing subscriptions, reprints or re-broadcasting rights. Ekho Moskvy, for example has majority ownership by Gazprom Media, and is often described as "the last independent radio station in Russia" although it has increasingly come under pressure from the Kremlin.

We learned after talking to some officials at State not for attribution that in fact, people in the US can go on buying ads on Gazprom Media properties and even in theory subscribing to publications like Ekho Moskvy (although no subscription is required to view its news articles or hear its radio broadcasts, and even a phone app is available). Gazprom Media's properties include NTV, TNT, City-FM and St. Petersburg's Chas Pik (which also does not require a subscription).

Gazprom was listed by the US Treasury because it is at least 50% owned by Gazprombank, already in the sanctions list. The sanctions are intended to prohibit people from dealing in new debt of greater than 30 days maturity or new equity in a company.

The US actions aren't intended to affect freedom of the media in Russia -- such as it is.

According to RT, the Kremlin predictably responded by vowing reciprocity, which is usually how US-Russian relations work.

RT noted that 26 entities of Russia's gas giant Gazprom, already de facto on the list, included Gazprom Media. Gazprom said "the announcement of the Treasury United States does not change anything in the actual state of affairs neither for the Gazprom ban nor fort the mentioned enterprises [sic]."

GazProm Media said the sanctions will only "affect the brand recognition and increase the reach of our channel, broadcasting to foreign audiences". This is likely a reference to the fact that in some countries, as in the US, local broadcasters purchase rights to rebroadcast NTV and other channels mainly to Russian-language audiences.

Gazprom Media's statement is typical of propagandist claims that the world is joining the Kremlin in its resistance to "Anglo-American cultural hegemony" and the West in general. 

In fact, as the vote at the UN General Assembly indicates, after the annexation of Crimea, a majority of countries uphold Ukraine's sovereignty in Resolution 68/262, "Territorial Integrity of Ukraine".

Among those countries that approved the resolution was Turkey; among those countries that abstained were Brazil, India, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; and among those countries that were absent were Iran, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan -- indicating that even close allies of Russia could not go this far, and undermine their own sovereignty.

RT also said that Washington's sanctions, while intended to "complicate" the construction of the bridge over the Kerch Straits, would not prevent its completion. A $3.2 billion contract was originally awarded to President Vladimir Putin's childhood judo partner, Arkady Rotenberg of SGM-Most, who is in the sanctions list. But as RT explained:

Part of the list includes Rotenberg’s SGM – Most and its subcontractor Mosttotrest, in addition to a number of subcontractors directly involved in engineering and constructing the link. Until 2015, Mosttotrest was owned by Rotenberg, but now it is controlled by the Russian Railways subsidiaries.

But as Moscow Times explains, there are other obstacles to the difficult engineering feat of the bridge besides financial support -- weather conditions with storm winds and currents, and legal issues as the bridge involves shared waters with Ukraine, and Kiev will likely block it

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick