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Moscow says US sanctions against Russia amount to ‘asset grab’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (not pictured) at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on March 26, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Moscow says it regards “illegal” US sanctions against Russia as a form of unfair competition and that any due response by the Kremlin would be in line with Russia’s interests.

 “The sanctions drive against Russia is becoming an idée fixe. We still consider these sanctions illegal... and we’re convinced that any economist can see open attempts to squeeze Russian companies out of global markets,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a press conference in capital Moscow on Monday.

The comments came two days after US-led missile strikes in Syria further deteriorated the already strained Washington-Moscow relations.

Peskov further said that the so-called sanctions leveled by Washington against Russia were “nothing more than an international asset grab.”

Earlier this month, the US imposed fresh sanctions on a number of Russian individuals and companies over a range of activities, including Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

According to the US Treasury Department, the measures targeted seven businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, 12 of their companies as well as 17 senior government officials for what it called a range of “malign activity.”

Companies like Gazprom, Burenie and Renova group have also been added to the sanctions list while freezing the US assets of "oligarchs" such as aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska and lawmaker Suleiman Kerimov, whose family controls Russia's largest gold producer, Polyus.

The sanctions were authorized by the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, known as CAATSA, which Trump reluctantly signed into law in August.

The White House said the punitive measures were in response to Russia’s policies regarding Ukraine and Syria, as well as its cyber activities and attempts to subvert western democracies. The sanctions were the most significant since Crimea’s re-integration with Russia in 2014.

Moscow has already banned a wide range of food imports to Russia from Western countries in 2014, retaliating against US-led sanctions over the Ukraine conflict, with which Russia says it has nothing to do.

On Friday, Russian lawmakers drafted a bill proposing further bans on the imports of certain US products and services to the country and restrictions on trade with the US to retaliate fresh US sanctions on Moscow.

The draft included a ban on cooperation with the US on atomic power, rocket engines, and aircraft manufacturing and prohibited American firms from taking part in Russian privatization projects. It would also restrict US imports of computer software, farm produce, medical drugs that can be obtained from elsewhere, tobacco, and liquor.

The figures provided by Russia’s official customs data show that the country imported $12.5 billion worth of American goods only in 2017, including aircraft, machinery, pharmaceutical, and chemical products.

Major US corporations such as Ford Motor Co, PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola’s bottler Coca-Cola HBC, have also invested billions of dollars in Russia since the fall of the former Soviet Union.

On Saturday, the US, UK and France launched a barrage of cruise missiles against multiple government targets in Syria. The strikes hit three sites, one in Damascus, and two in the city of Homs, which US President Donald Trump claimed were “associated with the chemical weapon capabilities” of the Syrian government.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, Syrian air defense units managed to intercept 71 out of 105 cruise missiles. However, the Pentagon said all the missiles successfully hit their designated targets.

The tripartite Western countries announced that strikes were carried out as a punitive measure against Damascus for a suspected poison gas attack they claimed was purportedly conducted on April 7 by the Syrian government on Douma, the largest town in Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital, which reportedly killed 60 people and injured hundreds more.  

The illegal air raids drew the Syrian government’s harsh condemnation and also sparked a wave of condemnations from a number of countries, including Iran, Russia and Iraq.

Russia, one of Syria’s key supporters in the fight against foreign-backed militancy, has repeatedly said the purported chemical attack had been staged by desperate militants to provoke further intervention in the conflict by the West, namely the US-led military coalition that has been conducting airstrikes against what are said to be terrorists’ targets inside the Arab country since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate.

Moscow and Washington has long been at loggerheads over the Syrian crisis, with the former supporting the Syrian government as the sole legitimate ruling body in the Arab country and the latter seeks the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Saturday’s missile strikes further widened an already existent rift between the two arch foes of the Cold War era.

Russia seeks dialogue with the US despite strikes

Elsewhere in his remarks Monday, Peskov said that the Kremlin still hoped for dialogue with the White House despite US-led missile strikes on Syria last week.

“We hope that, when our American colleagues solve their internal issues, some kind of communication will begin despite all the damage to (our) bilateral relations currently imposed by Washington,” he said.

Peskov added that there were no current discussions between the two sides on a possible summit between Trump and Putin, who has already denounced the strikes in Syria as “an act of aggression against a sovereign state which is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.”

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