Russia to support companies hit by US sanctions

MOSCOW - Russia said Monday it will support companies hit by fresh U.S. sanctions as the ruble and Russian stocks dropped sharply.

The ruble dropped to its lowest level against the dollar since late 2016, while shares in sanctioned aluminum producer Rusal plunged.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin backs efforts to mitigate the effect of the sanctions package, which he called "egregious in its lawlessness."

"Time is needed for analysis to understand the size of the real damage and to work out steps to correct the situation, for the maximum possible correction," he said.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered his Cabinet to draw up measures to support sanctioned companies in the energy, metals and arms sectors, Russian news agencies reported.

Shares in sanctioned aluminum producer Rusal, which is controlled by the billionaire businessman Oleg Deripaska, plunged just over 50 per cent on the Hong Kong stock exchange Monday.

Rusal said the sanctions "may result in technical defaults in relation to certain credit obligations."

"The company's initial assessment is that it is highly likely that the impact may be materially adverse to the business and prospects of the group," Rusal said in a statement.

Deripaska controls a business empire with assets in aluminum, energy and construction. He has figured in Russian election-meddling investigations in the U.S. due to his ties to former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who once worked as his consultant. The 55-year-old Deripaska is worth $5.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

On the Moscow stock exchange, the flagship MOEX index traded down around 8 per cent as of early Monday afternoon, having partially recovered from a steeper slump which took the index down almost 10 per cent. Companies affected by sanctions were by no means the only ones hit.

The euro traded above 73 rubles for the first time since September 2016, while the dollar briefly traded above the 60-ruble mark, the highest since November 2016.

The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday announced sanctions against seven leading Russian businessmen, 17 officials and a dozen Russian companies.

Besides Deripaska, targets included Alexei Miller, the head of state natural gas giant Gazprom, and Andrey Kostin, the head of the state-controlled VTB Bank, which is Russia's second-largest.

There was also a place on the list for Kirill Shamalov, who is reportedly Putin's son-in-law, married to his daughter Katerina Tikhonova — although neither Putin nor the Kremlin has acknowledged that she is his daughter. In 2014, Shamalov acquired a large share of Russian petrochemical company Sibur, later selling most of his stake for an undisclosed sum.

The sanctions freeze any assets that those targeted have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them.


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