Tim Ash comments on new US sanctions action on Russia

2017/10/29 11:50:37

What we saw this week was the anger in Congress over Russian interference, and how this is forcing the USG to still take quite hawkish actions. The feeling in USG is that if it does not deliver actions on the Congressional sanctions that inevitably Congress will further legislate tougher sanctions actions against Russia, and take discretionary implementation from the USG.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LONDON, Oct 29, 2017 -  Responding to new United States sanctions on Russia, Bluebay Asset Management senior analyst Timothy Ash offered the following comments at 10:45 today:

 

Ambassador Dan Fried and Brian O’Toole provide a good summary in this Atlantic Council piece on the new sanctions actions around Russia, mostly the defence and intel sector.

 

http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ ... ction-on-russia-sanctions

 

I guess the spin from Moscow has been that these new actions will be ineffectual, and indeed the market action on Friday was limited - Russian assets rallied, partly driven by oil but perhaps also partly relieved I think with the line being from Russian interests that if this is the limit of US actions, then cool, Russia can live with this.

 

But a couple of points worth making here I think:

 

First, the potential sanctions designations on the Russian intel and defence sectors could represent a significant long term slow burn on the Russian economy and Russia’s geopolitical power play. The Russian defence industry exports tens of billions of dollars of equipment a year, and restricting sales therein - which it will - will obviously have an impact on growth and the BOP, albeit not immediate. It just makes a difficult economic situation still, that much more difficult. Further drag on an economy already struggling to pull away from a sluggish growth trajectory (~2% pa). Also on the geopolitical front, this will complicate relations between Russia and some of its new best friends - including Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where Russia has been eager to sell quite advanced defence systems, including the S400s. The wording of the new sanctions order is that the USG will have to give exceptions for significant defence purchases from Russia, and clearly the S400 falls into that category. Countries like Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will have to make critical decisions as to who they see as their prime defence goods supplier, and ultimately where their main geopolitical allegiances are.

 

Second, this is still a work in motion and a USG reaction to the huge annoyance and anger felt in D.C. at least about Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and continued efforts to undermine Western democracies using a range of tools and technologies. Other sectors are also caught up in the US Congressional sanctions bill from earlier this year, and more detail will be forthcoming over the next few months in these areas. The UST also has to produce reports on oligarchic interests around Putin and the potential impacts of sanctioning secondary trading of Russian government debt - these reports had a 180-day deadline, albeit this is likely to be extended beyond January. Still these reports could be impactful depending on how the administration decides to use them.

 

Third, I think there was a view that the Trump administration would try and kick the can on the US Congressional sanctions bill, given that some in the administration seem to be more favourably inclined towards Russia. However, what we saw this week was the anger in Congress over Russian interference, and how this is forcing the USG to still take quite hawkish actions. The feeling in USG is that if it does not deliver actions on the Congressional sanctions that inevitably Congress will further legislate tougher sanctions actions against Russia, and take discretionary implementation from the USG. The risk is that Congress roles out harsher sanctions in Russia, which will be even more sticky that those currently in place. The US government wants to be able to retain the discretion to roll out and roll off sanctions on Russia, to enable it to be able to use sanctions as a negotiating tool still with Moscow over key areas of interest, including Ukraine.  And, if sanctions are sticky and too difficult to take off, what has any US administration realistically got to take to Moscow in terms of concessions if a serious negotiation process begins on key areas of interest.

 

Indeed, what we saw this week was the USG responding to letters and criticism from various US Senators/Representatives asking/pushing them where they are on the implementation of the Congressional sanctions bill. This pressure is expected to remain.

 

I think you could also argue that with the US Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, supposedly set to reveal indictments of a number of people around Russia links as early as this Monday, that the hawkish Russia rhetoric will remain around D.C. Indeed, in order to provide political cover, the Trump administration will have to prove its own hawkish Russia credentials - I think we saw some of this with the WH trying to blame HRC for collusion with the Russians, an attempt to deflect and pass the buck.

 

Fourth, interestingly, the USG has unveiled potential new targets for sanctions, but not actually formally designated these, and as noted more potential designations are to come. Moscow has to now expect an even tighter sanctions regime looming. This risk of yet more sanctions perhaps provides a very narrow window for Moscow to counter this risk by offering some real and significant concessions. Already there is just a hint here of progress on the Volker - Surkov peace process on Ukraine, and some noises in Moscow of a greater willingness to deal, perhaps to take the heat off Moscow, as Putin heads into difficult presidential elections and then the important FIFA World Cup in the summer which he hopes will be a marketing opportunity for Russia. He will not want the latter two events sullied by yet more focus on a tightening sanctions regime around Russia.

 

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** Please note that any views expressed herein are those of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change at any time due to market or economic conditions. The views expressed do not reflect the opinions of all portfolio managers at BlueBay, or the views of the firm as a whole. In addition, these conclusions are speculative in nature, may not come to pass and are not intended to predict the future of any specific investment. No representation or warranty can be given with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the information. Charts and graphs provided herein are for illustrative purposes only.” **

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wqwq Posted: 2017/10/31 6:48
 Re: Tim Ash comments on new US sanctions action on Russia
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