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US Presidential election and Russia

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The US presidential election is just days away. Against the backdrop of a dramatic and unprecedented confrontation between Republicans and Democrats, which borders on paranoia, the anti-Russian theme is actively being promoted, writes Moscow correspondent Alex Ivanov.

It is no secret that in America, accusing Russia of all possible sins and, first of all, of insisting on interfering in the US elections, has become a favorite topic on which only a very lazy person does not speculate.

Especially zealous is the democratic candidate Joseph Biden, who at any opportunity threatens to punish Moscow in the harshest way for trying to influence the election process.

However, in Moscow, the upcoming elections in America obviously do not cause any visible excitement. The Kremlin keeps a silent distance and does not seek to show its preferences. Russia, as before, realistically assesses the election fever in the United States, realizing that most of the statements, slogans and even accusations made during this period have a very approximate projection on the real policy of Washington. In a word, the theatrical action and "high voltage" that occur in America every 4 years practically do not concern Russia in any way. In Moscow have already got used to the loud cries and pleas to "restrain Russia", which in reality have quite a limited impact.

“Competition in a great dislike towards Russia has already become such a constant, probably, of all electoral processes in the United States of America. We are well aware of this and we regret it,” said Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president.

Paradoxically, during the administration of President Donald Trump, who, as everyone believes, was allegedly supported by Moscow during the last campaign, relations with Russia reached the lowest possible point. America has only strengthened its sanctions policy against Moscow in recent years, as evidenced by Washington's incredible attempts to stifle the Nord stream 2 energy project. Such insistence of the Americans has already caused a wave of indignation in the EU, while most of its members do not want to put up with the dictates of the United States, especially Germany.

Periodic outbursts of dislike for Russia lead to other consequences, in particular within the framework of NATO. America, against the background of Germany's desire to develop energy cooperation with Moscow, started a large-scale “happening” with the transfer of its troops to other regions of Europe.

The experience of past elections in the United States shows that sociology is deceptive and it is impossible to be sure of someone's victory in advance. As for the leader of public opinion - Democrat Joseph Biden -he himself recently said that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want him to win. "I had several very frank and direct conversations with President Putin when I was vice president and before that. I think one of the reasons he doesn't want me to be president is because he knows there will be more direct conversations like this," said Joseph Biden.

Joseph Biden himself is confident that relations with Russia will not improve under Putin’s leadership, at least he has repeatedly made it clear during his election speeches. So, recently, he said that the US intelligence services have already warned him that the Russian authorities will try to interfere in the November elections to undermine their legitimacy. According to Joseph Biden, if he becomes President, Moscow will have to "pay a serious price" for such actions. In addition, he promised to seek restrictions on imports of goods from China and Russia to the United States, as well as to counter the growth of Russia's influence in Europe and other regions.

According to Biden, Donald Trump does not take the threat from Russia seriously enough, which makes it easy for Moscow to implement its sinister plans to take over the world. As he seeks the Oval office, Joseph Biden hopes to correct this and other mistakes of the current President.

Joseph Biden and many of his supporters in Washington expect a tougher policy towards Russia. There, for some reason, it is customary to call Donald Trump a "Pro-Russian President" and a "puppet of the Kremlin", despite the fact that he did not actually do anything good for Moscow. An illustrative example of this attitude is a column published recently by the Washington Post staff writer Jennifer Rubin entitled 'Joe Biden would put an end to Trump’s policy of putting Putin first'.

Arms control and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are perhaps the only areas where Joseph Biden can be expected to make positive progress for Russia. First of all, this concerns the Russian-American Treaty on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms (START Treaty), which Donald Trump, apparently, simply intends to let expire in February 2021, instead of, as Moscow suggests, extending it for another five years. The current head of the White house made it a condition of extending the Treaty to involve China in arms control. However, the prospects for multilateral agreements in this area are not yet visible and are unlikely to appear in six months.

Joseph Biden has already promised to extend the START Treaty in the event of his election. The question is how to do this in the two weeks between the date of the inauguration of the new US President (it is scheduled for January 20, 2021) and the end of the contract (February 5, 2021). Russian officials have repeatedly warned that Moscow needs time for domestic formalities related to the extension of such an agreement.

Other agreements are more complicated. So, even the election of Joseph Biden will not prevent Donald Trump from withdrawing the United States from the Open skies Treaty on 22 November, 2020. This agreement allows its 34 member countries, including the United States and Russia, to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other's territories in order to strengthen transparency and mutual trust. On 22 May, Donald Trump announced the US withdrawal from this Treaty, justifying this decision by saying that the Treaty is being abused by Russia. If Joseph Biden wants to return the US to the Treaty, he will have to apply to a special Advisory Commission. Given the fact that there are also those among the Democrats who doubt the benefits of this Treaty for the United States, automatism in this matter should not be expected.

We should definitely not expect the parties to return to the Treaty on the Elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, which the US withdrew from last year.

As for the Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the headquarters of Joseph Biden made it clear that he is ready to consider returning the United States to the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint comprehensive plan of action, JCPOA, from which Donald Trump withdrew in 2018). However, this will not be easy to do. First, because in the remaining six months, the current administration can ensure that nothing remains of the deal. And secondly, because Iran can put forward conditions to the United States that they will not agree to.

As for the possibility of placing American nuclear weapons in Poland, along with the transfer of part of the US contingent from Germany, these plans have already been promised by Joseph Biden's advisers to reconsider. In general, his administration will clearly try to make up for the damage done to Euro-Atlantic relations by Donald Trump. Joseph Biden will not demand an ultimatum from European allies to increase their defense spending, threatening to leave NATO. It is not profitable for Russia to strengthen relations within the Alliance, because Donald Trump recently openly admitted that the main goal of NATO's existence is to counter Moscow. While members of the Alliance are engaged in internal disassembly, they have less time and effort to implement this task.

Donald Trump likes to repeat: despite the fact that he is accused of excessive sympathy for Russia and almost collusion with the Kremlin, it was he who imposed the toughest sanctions against Moscow. This is not true: under his democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, more Russian individuals and businesses were added to the sanctions lists. In addition, it was Barack Obama who delivered one of the most sensitive blows to Moscow, arresting Russian diplomatic property in a number of US cities and expelling dozens of Russian diplomats from the country. However, Donald Trump is rapidly catching up with his predecessor: in the past week alone, the United States has imposed sanctions on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, blacklisted five companies allegedly linked to businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin (close to President Putin businessman) and demanded that European creditors of Nord stream 2 withdraw from the project, threatening to impose retroactive restrictive measures against them.

Moscow is waiting for one of two scenarios: either moderately negative or radically negative. At the same time, the personality factor of the US President will only indirectly influence the development of events in a particular scenario.

The presidential election has almost already begun: both Trump and Biden have already voted for themselves ahead of schedule. Moscow remains neutral and refrains from making any comments on the upcoming event. This may be the best way to avoid further unsubstantiated accusations about potential interference and meddling.

Nevertheless, Moscow is very sober and objective about the prospects for further development (or degradation) of relations with America. The eventual victory of any of the contenders is unlikely to bring Russia any tangible positive elements.

Crime

Over 40 arrested in biggest-ever crackdown against drug ring smuggling cocaine from Brazil into Europe

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In the early hours of the morning (27 November), more than a thousand police officers with the support of Europol carried out co-ordinated raids against the members of this highly professional criminal syndicate. Some 180 house searches were executed, resulting in the arrest of 45 suspects. 

The investigation uncovered that this drug trafficking network was responsible for the annual importation of at least 45 tonnes of cocaine into the main European seaports, with profits exceeding €100 million over the course of 6 months.

This international sting, led by the Portuguese, Belgian and Brazilian authorities, was carried out simultaneously by agencies from three different continents, with coordination efforts facilitated by Europol:

  • Europe: Portuguese Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária), Belgian Federal Judicial Police (Federale Gerechtelijke Politie, Police Judiciaire Fédérale), Spanish National Police (Policia Nacional), Dutch Police (Politie) and the Romanian Police (Poliția Română)
  • South America: Brazilian Federal Police (Policia Federal)
  • Middle East: Dubai Police Force and Dubai State Security

Results in brief 

  • 45 arrests in Brazil (38), Belgium (4), Spain (1) and Dubai (2).
  • 179 house searches.
  • Over €12m in cash seized in Portugal, €300,000 in cash seized in Belgium and over R$1m and US$169,000 in cash seized in Brazil.
  • 70 luxury vehicles seized in Brazil, Belgium and Spain and 37 aircrafts seized in Brazil.
  • 163 houses seized in Brazil worth in excess of R$132m, two houses seized in Spain worth €4m, and two apartments seized in Portugal worth €2.5m.
  • Financial assets of 10 individuals frozen in Spain.

Global co-operation 

In the framework of intelligence activities underway with its operational counterparts, Europol developed reliable intelligence concerning the international drug trafficking and money laundering activities of a Brazilian organized crime network operating in several EU countries.

The criminal syndicate had direct contact with drug cartels in Brazil and other South American source countries who were responsible for the preparation and the shipments of cocaine in maritime containers bound to major European seaports.

The scale of cocaine importation from Brazil to Europe under their control and command is massive and over 52 tonnes of cocaine were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigation.

In April 2020, Europol brought together the involved countries who have since been working closely together to establish a joint strategy to bring down the whole network. The main targets were identified on either sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Since then, Europol has provided continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators. During the action day, a total of 8 of its officers were deployed on-the-ground in Portugal, Belgium and Brazil to assist there the national authorities, ensuring swift analysis of new data as it was being collected during the action and adjusting the strategy as required.

Commenting on this operation, Europol’s Deputy Director Wil van Gemert said: "This operation highlights the complex structure and vast reach of Brazilian organized crime groups in Europe. The scale of the challenge faced today by police worldwide calls for a coordinated approach to tackle the drug trade across continents. The commitment of our partner countries to work via Europol underpinned the success of this operation and serves as a continued global call to action."

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EU

Navalny calls on Europe to follow the money

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The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee held an exchange of views with representatives of the Russian political opposition and NGOs on the current political and socio-economic situation in Russia.

Among the speakers was Alexei Navalny, who has recently recovered from being poisoned with a nerve agent similar to the one used in the Salisbury attack targeted at Sergei Skirpal and his daughter. 

Navalny called on Europe to adopt a new strategy towards Russia, that meets the new developments in Russian state leadership. He said that the forthcoming elections for the State Duma would be an absolutely crucial event and that everyone should be able to participate. If opposition politicians are not allowed to participate he asked the European Parliament and every European politician not to recognize the outcome.

Navalny told MEPs that it was not enough to sanction those responsible for carrying out his poisoning and that there was little sense in sanctioning those who didn’t travel a lot or who didn’t own assets in Europe. Instead, he said the main question that should be asked is who gained financially from Putin’s regime. Navalny pointed to the oligarchs, not just the old ones, but the new ones in Putin’s inner circle, with name-checks for Usmanov and Roman Abramovich. He said that these sanctions would be warmly welcomed by most Russians. 

On the various decisions of the European Court of Human Rights that have been ignored by the Russian judiciary, Navalny said it would be very easy to sanction them to prevent them from traveling to Europe and it would be very effective.

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coronavirus

Commission approves German scheme to compensate accommodation providers in the field of child and youth education for damages suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission approved, under EU state aid rules, a German scheme to compensate accommodation providers for child and youth education for the loss of revenue caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The public support will take the form of direct grants. The scheme will compensate up to 60% of the loss of revenues incurred by eligible beneficiaries in the period between the beginning of the lockdown (which started on different dates across the regional states) and 31 July 2020 when their accommodation facilities had to be closed due to the restrictive measures implemented in Germany.

When calculating the loss of revenue, any reductions in costs resulting from income generated during the lockdown and any possible financial aid granted or actually paid out by the state (and in particular granted under scheme SA.58464) or third parties to cope with the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak will be deducted. At the central government level, facilities eligible to apply will have at their disposal a budget of up to €75 million.

However, these funds are not earmarked exclusively for this scheme. In addition, regional authorities (at Länder or local level) may also make use of this scheme from the local budgets. In any event, the scheme ensures that the same eligible costs cannot be compensated twice by different administrative levels. The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or specific sectors for the damages caused by exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission found that the German scheme will compensate damages that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the envisaged compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damages. The Commission therefore concluded that the scheme is in line with EU state aid rules.

More information on actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59228 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website.

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