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Sanctions for Russian oligarchs unlikely to seriously impact Putin, experts say

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Among those named was Oleg Deripaska, a man known not just for the billions he accrued as an aluminum magnate but also because of his ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Another, Kirill Shamalov, is reportedly Putin’s son-in-law and Russia’s youngest billionaire thanks to his large stake in the petrochemical giant Sibur.

Igor Rotenberg is the son of Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s childhood friend and erstwhile judo sparring partner.

Also sanctioned were Vladimir Bogdanov, Suleiman Kerimov, Andrei Skoch and Viktor Vekselberg.

They were punished because of what the Treasury called Russia’s “malign activity around the globe,” namely its actions in Ukraine, Syria, and its attempts to meddle in Western elections, including in the U.S.

“The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” the Treasury said, adding that these people “who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.”

Pressuring Putin’s rich friends equates to pressuring Putin — at least that’s the theory.

“The guys we’re talking about now, they are very, very rich, but they do not have power over the Kremlin.”

“The guys we’re talking about now, they are very, very rich, but they do not have power over the Kremlin.”

However, according to experts like Galeotti, this thinking is based on an outdated understanding of the role oligarchs play in Putin’s Russia.

“No one gets to be rich in Russia and not have a relationship of some sort with the Kremlin,” Galeotti said. “The guys we’re talking about now, they are very, very rich, but they do not have power over the Kremlin.”

It’s certainly true that in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, people who made lots of money from the carve-up of state resources held considerable sway. That all changed under Putin, however, with the Russian president making it clear that he wouldn’t tolerate such behavior.

This shift severely weakened the role of the oligarchs in Russian political life, according to Jonathan Eyal, international director at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank known as RUSI.

“Today, it is not like the Yeltsin period, where the oligarchs told the president what to do,” Eyal said, referring to Boris Yeltsin, who was Russian president between 1991 and 1999. “These oligarchs are not likely to sway Putin’s hand about the major things that he wants to do.”

This is the same point made by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov this week.

“The phrase ‘Russian oligarchs’ is considered inappropriate,” Peskov told reporters. “The time when there were oligarchs in Russia passed long ago. There are no oligarchs in Russia.”

Not everyone agrees that the latest U.S. sanctions won’t hurt Putin.

On Twitter, financier and longtime Putin critic Bill Browder called the news “huge” and commended the government for “finally hitting Putin and his cronies where it counts.”

And while analysts like Eyal and Galeotti caution that the sanctions may not change Russian policy more broadly, that doesn’t mean the moves are useless, they add.

“The last thing that the oligarchs appreciate is being put on lists that make it very difficult for them to travel abroad, buy property abroad, have their girlfriends abroad or send their children for education abroad, all the things that makes them enjoy the finer things in life,” Eyal said.

Despite their reduced importance, Eyal still sees the oligarchs as one of the “pillars of the regime,” adding that “if the pillars start suffering themselves, then there is a cumulative impact” that could have some influence on Putin if combined with other measures.

“The sanctions are not what’s going to change Russia’s behavior,” he added, “but they are intended to increase the costs of the defiance of Putin of international norms.”

“The sanctions are not what’s going to change Russia’s behavior, but they are intended to increase the costs of the defiance of Putin of international norms.”

“The sanctions are not what’s going to change Russia’s behavior, but they are intended to increase the costs of the defiance of Putin of international norms.”

Galeotti also stressed that the sanctions should be welcomed as a means to clean out dirty money in the West — just not as a way to curb Putin’s foreign policy.

Part of the reason for this, according to many analysts, is that the Russian president is a man who is not so much interested in wealth but in power.

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“The thought that Putin is going to be bothered, to the point of actually reversing what is a clearly not just a pragmatic policy but one that he genuinely believes in, because there’s a few hundred million in stake in condos in Florida or whatever, I think that’s misunderstanding the man,” Galeotti said.

Another problem that some critics have identified with Friday’s sanctions is that the people targeted will have likely seen this coming a mile away.

All of the oligarchs named had already been mentioned on a much larger list of Russian billionaires released by the Treasury in January.

This list was widely mocked because it was cribbed from Forbes’ ranking of the “200 richest businessmen in Russia 2017.”

And what it effectively did was give oligarchs time to hollow out investments in the U.S. that will be impacted by the new restrictions, according to some experts and U.S. officials.

“Those people have a thousand different ways to channel money that will go unchallenged by any sanctions,” according to Mathieu Boulègue, a research fellow at the London think tank Chatham House. “It’s a headache but it’s not a problem for Russia.”

He added that “sanctions do not affect the Russian leadership the way we would want them to. They are not a magic wand we can agitate in front of the Kremlin and hope to curb Putin’s cost-benefit calculus.”

This echoed what one U.S. official told NBC News ahead of Friday’s sanctions. “They had to know these were coming,” the official said, referring to the oligarchs.

Nor will the sanctions cause the Russian public to turn against their strongman leader, or foment a debate inside the country about the direction of its foreign policy, according to Boulègue.

“Sanctions have been in place since 2014 and the Russian state has transformed them into a show of force in their propaganda,” he said. “Russia has learned to live with them. They are a new normal in relations with the West.”



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COVID-19: India’s doctors warn against using cow dung to ward off coronavirus – amid rise in deadly ‘black fungus’ | World News

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Hospitals in India have reported a rise in “black fungus” found in COVID-19 patients – as doctors warned people against using cow dung in the belief it will ward off the virus.

The Indian government has told medics to look out for signs of mucormycosis in coronavirus patients following an increase in cases of the rare but potentially fatal infection.

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A woman whose husband died from COVID mourns outside a mortuary in Ahmedabad, India
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A woman whose husband died from COVID mourns outside a mortuary in Ahmedabad, India

The disease can lead to blackening or discolouration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood.

It is strongly linked to diabetes, which can in turn be exacerbated by steroids, such as dexamethasone, used to treat severe COVID-19.

Manchester University professor David Denning, an expert in fungal infections, told Reuters there have been cases reported in several other countries including the UK, US, France, Austria, Brazil and Mexico.

“The volume is much bigger in India,” he added.

“And one of the reasons is lots and lots of diabetes, and lots of poorly controlled diabetes.”

Doctors in India treating COVID patients and those with diabetes and compromised immune systems have been told to watch for early symptoms, including sinus pain or nasal blockage on one side of the face, one-sided headaches, swelling or numbness, toothache and loosening of teeth.

Doctors in India have warned against the practice of using cow dung in the belief it will ward off COVID-19
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Some Indians believe cow dung will boost their immunity to defend against COVID

Meanwhile, Indians have been warned against the practice of using cow dung in the belief it will ward off COVID-19.

In the state of Gujarat in western India, some people have been going to cow shelters once a week to cover their bodies in cow dung and urine in the hope it will boost their immunity, or help them recover from the disease.

Dr J. A. Jayalal, national president at the Indian Medical Association, said: “There is no concrete scientific evidence that cow dung or urine work to boost immunity against COVID-19, it is based entirely on belief.”

Gujarat is one of the places said to have recorded cases of mucormycosis, according to media reports, along with Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai.

Indian authorities have not published national data on mucormycosis but insist there is no major outbreak.

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COVID crisis pushes India’s hospitals to the brink

P Suresh, a doctor working at Fortis Hospital in Mumbai, said it had treated at least 10 such patients in the past two weeks – roughly twice as many as in the entire year before the pandemic.

He said all had been infected with COVID-19 and most were diabetic or had received immunosuppressant drugs. Some had died, and some had lost their eyesight.

Other doctors spoke of a similar surge in cases.

Mass cremations are held in New Delhi.
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Mass cremations have been held in New Delhi

Nishant Kumar, a consultant ophthalmologist at Hinduja hospital in Mumbai, said: “Previously if I saw one patient a year, I now see about one a week.”

It is an added complication for India’s overwhelmed hospitals, which are desperately short of beds as well as the oxygen needed for severely ill COVID-19 patients.

India has the world’s highest daily average number of new COVID deaths – accounting for one in every three fatalities reported worldwide each day.

Nearly 23 million coronavirus infections have been recorded in the country, with almost 250,000 deaths.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the COVID variant first identified in India last year is being classified as a variant of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing that it spreads more easily.

Maria Van Kerkhove, from the WHO, told a briefing: “There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility.”

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Russia school shooting: Students among 11 killed in attack in Kazan – reports | World News

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At least 11 people including students have been killed and several injured in a shooting at a school in southwest Russia, according to reports.

The RIA news agency said an explosion was heard at the school in the city of Kazan and a gunman has been detained by police.

Interfax news agency cited a source as saying that there were two attackers and the second could still be in the building.

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Israel launches airstrikes on ‘Hamas military targets’ in Gaza Strip as it responds to rocket attacks | World News

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The Israeli military has insisted it does all it can to avoid civilian deaths after 22 people, including nine children, were killed overnight in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli fighter jets, attack helicopters and drones hit more than 130 “Hamas military targets”, including the home of a Hamas commander, according to the Israeli military.

The airstrikes were a retaliation for a barrage of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza since 6pm on Monday including six rockets which landed near Jerusalem.

An Israeli police water cannon is deployed near the Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem as a fire burns during clashes between police and Palestinian protesters. Pic: AP
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An Israeli police water cannon is used on a fire in the Old City of Jerusalem during clashes between police and Palestinian protesters. Pic: AP

In total, more than 200 rockets were launched by Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups inside Gaza. Video was released by both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) showing the rockets being fired.

In an early morning briefing, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said that more than 90% of the rockets fired from Gaza were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system.

He could not confirm whether the civilian casualties in Gaza were the result of Israeli airstrikes and suggested they could be the consequence of misfired Hamas rockets.

“Thirty-three percent of the rockets fell short and exploded inside Gaza, an abnormally high misfire rate, maybe indicating poor quality,” Lt Col Conricus said.

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“Hamas rockets are falling short and causing damage inside Gaza…. we know they are falling short because of our radar systems.”

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Israeli airstrikes on targets in Gaza City

“Hamas is nurturing a narrative that the ISF is killing non-combatants. We take every effort to avoid killing non-combatants – but can’t confirm or deny yet whether Israeli strikes have hit civilians,” he added.

He said that current estimates suggest that Israeli strikes over a 12-hour period had killed 15 Hamas and PIJ fighters including a Hamas battalion commander whose home in a high rise block was hit.

The residential property was among a number of groups of targets identified in advance according to the IDF. The others included rockets manufacturing facilities, storage facilities, training facilities and military bases.

Gaza’s health ministry said at least seven members of one family, including three children, were killed in an explosion in northern Gaza but the origins of the explosion are unknown.

This morning, rockets continued to be fired from Gaza into southern Israel with a residential building in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon hit, injuring one person.

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What issues lie behind troubles in Jerusalem?

Hamas said in a statement this morning that it will “not stop its resistance action as long as the Israeli occupation continues its aggression against the Palestinians”.

The latest violence comes amid soaring tensions in Jerusalem and days of clashes at an important mosque in the holy city.

Hundreds of Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli security forces in 24 hours in the courtyard outside the Al Aqsa mosque and in the narrow streets of the old city.

Hamas had given the Israeli government an ultimatum to withdraw its forces from the mosque area, release all Palestinians detained over the course of the day and remove Jewish settlers from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.

The militant group said it would retaliate at 6pm on Monday if the demands were not met.

A destroyed Hamas security site is seen in the aftermath of Israeli airstrikes
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A destroyed Hamas security site is seen in the aftermath of Israeli airstrikes

At just after 6pm explosions were heard in Jerusalem as the Hamas rockets landed eight miles to the west of the city.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Hamas attacks had “crossed a red line”.

“Israel will respond very forcefully. We will not tolerate attacks on our territory, our capital, our citizens and our soldiers. Whoever strikes us will pay a heavy price,” he said.

A US State Department spokesman had expressed deep concern over the events at the Al Aqsa mosque earlier in the day and called the Hamas rocket attack an “unacceptable escalation”.

Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, tweeted: “The UK condemns the firing of rockets at Jerusalem and locations within Israel.

“The ongoing violence in Jerusalem and Gaza must stop. We need an immediate de-escalation on all sides, and end to targeting of civilian populations.”

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