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West accused of ‘piracy’

Western nations wanted to destroy the Russian economy with sanctions, some of which are in essence nothing short of outright piracy, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on Thursday, as he was delivering his yearly government performance report to the parliament.

“Unfriendly nations found no better way than to return to the typical pirate practice, if we call a spade a spade. By freezing our assets, they de facto robbed the country,” the prime minister said.

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Mishustin was referring to the decision to freeze Russian foreign reserves denominated in dollars and euros, which amounted to about $300 billion.

Washington made it clear that its goal was to either drain Russia’s reserves of foreign currency that are not controlled by Western financial institutions in servicing its foreign debt or to go into default.

Russia reportedly paid interest on its debt in rubles this week. It also announced that it would require buyers of its natural gas to make payments to a Russian bank, which will then exchange the money into rubles at a Russian bourse.

Moscow said the scheme amounted to getting paid in its national currency and protecting its profits from the freeze threat. European nations buying Russian fuel declared they will not pay in rubles because the standing contracts do not require them to do that.

During his report to the lawmakers, Mishustin said the economic pressure against the country put it into a hard spot. “The current situation can be called without reservation the most difficult in the three decades of [modern] Russian history,” he said. 

The official assured his government could deal with the problems. “Those who are trying to isolate us and cut us out of the world economy will fail,” he said. “Our nation is integrated into the global processes.”

He called on opposition factions in the parliament to rally behind the government and help it steer the nation through the crisis. Doing so is necessary to protect the interests of the Russian people, he said.

“Whatever disputes we may have about the development of the country and various parts of life in it, I am certain that we are united on the goals of defending our citizens and national security,” he said.

The US and its allies targeted Russia with an unprecedented number of economic sanctions in retaliation to Moscow’s military attack against Ukraine in late February. Mishustin said Western nations launched the onslaught “to stir panic and hurt everyone” in Russia.

“The architects of the strategy expected this sanctions storm to destroy our economy within days. This scenario did not come to fruition,” the prime minister said.

Moscow attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to regularize the status of the regions within the Ukrainian state.

Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two regions by force.

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