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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1779
Kremlin targets social vices with new taxes;
USTR takes aim at Russian intellectual property threat
Edited by Ilan Berman and Amanda Pitrof
May 17, 2012
Russian leaders have at long last publicly acknowledged the nuclear threat posed by Iran and North Korea. "The threat from those countries possessing nuclear weapons is always there," said General Nikolai Makarov, chief of Russia's general staff, "including from Iran and the DPRK." The statement marks the first time Russia has openly acknowledged the nuclear threat from the two rogue countries, reports Business Petersburg. However, Kremlin officials have been quick to temper the admission by insisting that the Russian army monitors the level of “nuclear potential” in many countries, including Iran and North Korea.
Li Keqiang and Vladimir Putin have made Sino-Russian relations a priority as they prepare to assume power in their respective countries. According to the Agence France Presse, Li, China's likely next prime minister, and Russian president-elect Putin used a state visit by the incoming Chinese premier to showcase the “unprecedented ties” between China and Russia. “We do not have a single irritating element in our ties, but we have common interests,” Putin stated, although noting that there were several issues requiring “additional attention.” Pricing for gas pumped from Russia to China is likely among those issues, as disagreements have prevented a firm contract since the two countries signed a framework agreement in 2009. The two leaders announced the goal of increasing Sino-Russian trade to $200 billion by 2020.
President-elect Vladimir Putin’s numerous public spending promises could prompt higher “sin” taxes on alcohol and tobacco. According to The Wall Street Journal, the new policy would double taxes on beverages with 9 percent or greater alcohol-by-volume to $20.47 per liter by 2015. Taxes on tobacco, meanwhile, would more than double to 960 rubles per 1,000 cigarettes, plus 9 percent of the maximum retail price (not to be less than 1.25 rubles per lot). In a country where the consumption of pure alcohol is double the recommended limit set by the World Health Organization, and 40 percent of the population smokes, the tax hikes could produce considerable revenue for the Kremlin - and generate considerable resistance from the Russian population.
Opposition activists continue to clash with officials and supporters of the Russian Orthodox Church. A protestor was detained and later beaten after trying to enter Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral to “pray to deliver Russia from Vladimir Putin.” Activists from the militant Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers rallied to shout obscenities as the protestor, Roman Dobrokhotov, and a fellow activist, Mariya Baronova, were detained by police. Dobrokhotov claimed that he was attacked after leaving the police station later that day, and told the Associated Press that “they looked like soccer fans.” This is a popular claim among the opposition, who maintain that pro-Kremlin youth movements hire soccer fans to break up anti-Kremlin rallies and assault government critics.
For the 16th straight year, Russia has appeared on a U.S. list of countries with the worst records of “preventing the theft of copyrighted material and other intellectual property.” The list generated by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative carries no tangible consequences, Reuters reports, but is an attempt by the U.S. to shame governments into cracking down on piracy and counterfeiting. Twenty-six other countries join Russia on the list, including China, Canada, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Russia and China continue to fight against Western intervention in the world’s most conflict-riven regions. In the latest series of events, the two countries are resisting efforts by Western countries to threaten Sudan and South Sudan with sanctions if the strife-ridden countries do not halt their conflict. According to Reuters, weeks of border skirmishes have the West worried over the potential for a full-scale war, as the two countries have still not resolved disputes over oil revenues and border demarcation.