‘It is impossible’ for US-Russia relations to improve while sanctions are in place, Deripaska says

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Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska, a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Sunday that Moscow and Washington are more interested in “muscle flexing” than improving their relationship.

Asked whether he has hopes of thawing tensions between Russia and the West while economic sanctions are in place, Deripaska replied: “The way I see it, from the U.S. side, it is impossible.”

“If you look at the reality, Russian people (and) American people, they don’t hate each other,” he told CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore during an exclusive interview in Moscow. “In the heart of the Russian people, I think there is room to go and start a new page but the problem is all of this muscle flexing from both sides.”

Deripaska on Friday filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury Department to lift the sanctions it placed on him last year as part of a wider retaliation for Russian interference in the U.S. election and what the Treasury described as its “malign activity around the globe.”

The billionaire commodities magnate claims his wealth dropped by 81 percent, or $7.5 billion, as a result of the sanctions, and that he’s become “a victim of this country’s political infighting.”

His companies EN+ and Rusal, the latter of which is the world’s second biggest aluminum producer, came under sanctions as part of the U.S. measures against the Russian government in April of 2018.

The lawsuit is the latest shot in a long series of provocations and flare-ups between Russia and the U.S., whose relations are seen by many as at their worst since the Cold War.

Deripaska told CNBC that both countries are prepared to spend trillions of dollars on defense despite that more than half of such an expenditure was likely to be “unnecessary.”

When asked whether the prospect of a change of president in the U.S. next year might present an opportunity for improved ties between Washington and Moscow, Deripsaka replied: “Are you serious?”

“Everything will be the same in four years,” he said. “Only a new generation will do something. This (generation) would prefer to have fighting.”

Russia’s economy tanked in 2014 in part thanks to U.S. sanctions enacted over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and Russian officials regularly slam the latest slate of Treasury sanctions what they say is “anti-Russian hysteria” conjured up by the West.

Moscow and Washington have been on opposing sides of a number of international conflicts, including in Syria, Ukraine, Iran, and most recently Venezuela.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Russia of “standing with its Venezuelan cronies” in order to “protect a Moscow-friendly regime.” His comments came shortly after the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions against Russian bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank for helping Venezuela’s state oil firm PDVSA dodge U.S. financial restrictions.

Both countries have now withdrawn from an 1987 international nuclear treaty, and Putin in December warned the threat of a nuclear war should not be discounted. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that Russia does not want an “arms race,” but was ready to respond to military threats if necessary.

U.S. legislators have proposed new and tougher sanctions bills on Russia in recent months, drawing fierce rebuke from Russian officials who’ve called the motions “insane” and “reckless.”

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators proposed a bill in February called the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA)” of 2019, which seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Russia “in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait,” the bill’s authors said.

Most recently, alongside Canada and the European Union, the U.S. Treasury Department announced on Friday it would impose sanctions against six Russians and approximately half a dozen defense firms over the November attack on Ukrainian Navy vessels and soldiers in the Kerch Strait.

Deripaska’s companies were relieved of sanctions by the Trump administration in January — against Democrats’ objections — but Deripaska himself remains on the Treasury’s list of “Designated Russian Oligarchs” for allegedly acting on behalf of “a senior official of the Government of the Russian Federation,” and for his operation in the Russian energy sector.

Holly Ellyatt
Kevin Breuninger
contributed to this article.

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