Russian shares tumble as US widens sanctions

Written by Reuters | Moscow/Brussels | Updated: Mar 22 2014, 16:17pm hrs
RussiaThe EU also extended its personal sanctions to another 12 middle-ranking Russian and Crimean officials.
Russian shares fell sharply on Friday as investors took fright at tougher-than-expected US sanctions against President Vladimir Putins inner circle over Moscows seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

The US added 20 names to its sanctions blacklist, including Kremlin banker Yuri Kovalchuk and his Bank Rossiya, oil and commodities trader Gennady Timchenko and the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, who are linked to big contracts on gas pipelines and the Sochi Olympics, as well as Putins chief of staff and his deputy, the head of military intelligence and a railways chief.

In one immediate consequence, US card companies Visa and MasterCard stopped providing services for payment transactions with Russias SMP bank, owned by the Rotenberg brothers, the bank said.

US President Barack Obama said Washington was also considering sanctions against key economic sectors including financial services, oil and gas, metals and mining and the defence industry, if Russia made military moves into eastern and southern Ukraine.

Diplomats said the mere mention of such a possibility would chill investment in Russia, charging an immediate price for Moscows action in Crimea and serving as a potential deterrent to going further.

The EU also extended its personal sanctions to another 12 middle-ranking Russian and Crimean officials.

Though the MICEX share index lurched about 3% lower when trade opened, Putin mocked Obamas announcement of the visa bans and asset freezes on the money men and security officials who accompanied his rise from the mayors office in Saint Petersburg in the 1990s. But he said Moscow should refrain from further retaliation against the US for now.

Russias parliament rushed to complete ratification of the annexation of the Black Sea region while EU leaders met in Brussels to discuss steps to reduce their long-term dependence on Russian energy. The Federation Council upper house approved a treaty on Friday incorporating Crimea into Russia after the State Duma lower house did so a day earlier.

The 28 EU leaders underlined their support for Ukraines new leadership, rejected as illegitimate by Moscow, by signing a political agreement with interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk and promising financial aid as soon as Kiev reaches a deal with the IMF.

The signing recognises the aspirations of the people of Ukraine to live in a country governed by values, by democracy and the rule of law, where all citizens have a stake in national prosperity, European Council president Van Rompuy said. The accord contained no offer of EU membership.

The EU leaders said Europe did not have a legal basis to extend personal sanctions against Putin associates without proof of their direct involvement.

Small measures in the EU are worth more than big measures in the US, a senior European official said, noting that EU trade with Moscow was 10 times the US volume. Its about cutting off Russia politically and diplomatically, the official said, dismissing criticism that EU sanctions looked weaker than the US measures.

Russian deputy finance minister Alexei Moiseev said he expected no big immediate impact from western sanctions on Russias financial sector. He also criticised the downgrading of Russias credit outlook by leading ratings agencies, saying there was no basis for the move. On Thursday, S&P and Fitch revised to negative from stable their long-term outlooks on Russias debt.

Our creditworthiness has not changed, of course. Were going to have a budget this year that will be better than expected, Moiseev said.

Gunvor co-founder forced to sell entire stake to CEO

Geneva, March 20: The US added Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko to its sanctions list on Thursday, forcing him to sell his near 50% stake in the vast oil trading empire he co-founded in order to keep it running.

Hours after Washington slapped sanctions on 20 of Russian President Vladimir Putins closest long-time political and business allies, Swiss-based trading firm Gunvor announced that Timchenko had sold his stake in the firm to chief executive officer Torbjorn Tornqvist earlier this week in order to ensure with certainty the continued and uninterrupted operations of Gunvor.

It said Tornqvist had become the majority owner with 87%, the remainder held by senior employees.

Putin has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds, the US Treasury said as it added Timchenko to its list of Specially Designated Nationals. People on the list have their assets blocked and US persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them. Gunvor said in a statement it was outraged by the US Treasurys linkage of Putin and Gunvor.

President Putin has not and never has had any ownership, beneficial or otherwise in Gunvor. He is not a beneficiary of Gunvor or its activities. Any understanding otherwise is fundamentally misinformed and outrageous, the company said.

Gunvor had revenue of $93 billion in 2012, according to a factsheet on its website, earning $433 million. It traded around 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, the factsheet showed, the equivalent of almost 3% of global supplies.