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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/17/15

Russia's ultimate lethal weapon

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Reprinted from RT

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Let's start with some classic Russian politics. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov is drawing up Russia's economic strategy for 2016, including the government budget. Siluanov -- essentially a liberal, in favor of foreign investment -- will present his proposals to the Kremlin by the end of this month.

So far, nothing spectacular. But then, a few days ago, Kommersant leaked that Russia's Security Council asked presidential aide Sergei Glazyev to come up with a separate economic strategy, to be presented to the council this week. This is not exactly a novelty, as the Russian Security Council in the past has asked small strategy groups for their economic assessment.

The Security Council is led by Nikolai Patrushev, the former head of the Federal Security Service. He and Siluanov are not exactly on the same wavelength. And here's where the plot thickens. Glazyev, a brilliant economist, is a Russian nationalist -- sanctioned personally by the US.

Glazyev is arguably going no holds barred. He is in favor of barring Russian companies from using foreign currency (which makes sense); taxing the conversion of rubles to foreign currencies (same); banning foreign loans to Russian firms (depending if they are not in US dollars or euro); and -- the smoking gun -- requiring Russian companies that have Western loans to default.

Predictably, some sectors of US "Think Tankland" went bonkers, stating with utmost certainty that "the Russian energy sector would not be able to find much financing without connections to the West." Nonsense. Russian firms would easily find financing from Chinese, Japanese or South Korean sources.

Whatever measure of attention Glazyev will get inside the Kremlin, the whole episode already means that Moscow harbors no illusions in the near future regarding the exceptionalists (one just has to look at the presidential candidates, from "El Trumpissimo" to "The Hillarator"); as Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov recently put it, "[we] should expect toughening of the sanctions pressure."

One thing though is absolutely certain; Moscow won't bend over backwards to "pacify" Washington.

Neo-Tsarism, anyone?

One might be tempted to see Glazyev drawing up plans to return to some sort of Tsarist self-sufficiency while cutting off ties with the West. Assuming some version of that would be approved by the Kremlin, what's certain is that it may turn into a huge blow the EU might not recover from.

Imagine Russia defaulting on all its foreign debt -- over $700 billion -- on which Western sanctions have raised extra, punitive costs in terms of repayment.

The default would be payback for the twin Western manipulation of oil prices and the ruble. The manipulation involved unleashing on the oil market over five million barrels a day of excess reserve production that were held back by a few usual suspects, plus derivative manipulation at the NYMEX, crashing the price.

Then, the derivative manipulation of the ruble crashed the currency. Almost all imports to Russia were virtually blocked -- as oil and natural gas exports remained constant. In the long run though, this should create a significant balance of trade surplus for Russia; a very positive factor for long-term growth of Russia's domestic industry.

Vladimir Yakunin, the former head of Russian Railways, now out due to a reshuffle, recently told AP in no uncertain terms how the aim of US sanctions was to cut off Russia economically from Europe.

Sanctions, coupled with speculation on oil and the ruble, pushed the Russian economy into recession in 2015. Yakunin, like most of the economic/business elite, expect Russia's economic troubles to last at least until 2017.

Currently the only products that the West needs from Russia are oil and natural gas. A possible Russian default on its debt would have no effect on that demand in the short-term; and most probably in the long-term as well, unless it would contribute to a new financial crisis in the West, something that nearly happened in 1998.

We all remember August 1998, when a Russian default shook the entire Western financial system to the core. If a Russian default is now the object of serious consideration by the highest powers that be -- and that includes, of course, the FSB, SVR, GRU -- then the specter of The Mother of All Financial Crisis in the West is back. And for the EU, that would be fatal.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)

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