Uber promises 100% electric vehicles by 2040, commits $800 million to help drivers switch

By Tina Bellon

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc on Tuesday said every vehicle on its global ride-hailing platform will be electric by 2040, and it vowed to contribute $800 million through 2025 to help drivers switch to battery-powered vehicles, including discounts for vehicles bought or leased from partner automakers.

Uber, which as of early February said it had 5 million drivers worldwide, said it formed partnerships with General Motors and the Renault, Nissan, Mitsubishi alliance.

In addition to the vehicle discounts, Uber said the $800 million includes discounts for charging and a fare surcharge for electric and hybrid vehicles, the cost of which would be partially offset by an additional small fee charged to customers who request a “green trip.”

Uber said that vehicles on its rides platform in the United States, Canada and Europe will be zero-emission by 2030, taking advantage of the regulatory support and advanced infrastructure in those regions.

The deals with GM and the Renault alliance focus on the U.S., Canada and Europe. Uber said it was discussing partnerships with other automakers.

Uber’s plan follows years of criticism by environmental groups and city officials over the pollution and congestion caused by ride-hail vehicles and calls for fleet electrification.

Lyft Inc, Uber’s smaller U.S. rival, in June promised to switch to 100% electric vehicles by 2030, but said it would not provide direct financial support to drivers.

Uber said its goal is to reduce the overall cost of ownership for electric vehicles, which are currently more expensive than gasoline cars.

The company also released data on its emission footprint and said it would publish reports going forward.

Before the pandemic, electric cars accounted for only 0.15% of all U.S. and Canadian Uber trip miles – roughly in line with average U.S. electric car ownership. At around 12%, the share of plug-in hybrid and hybrid cars was roughly five times as high as the U.S. average.

Ride-hail trips overall account for less than 0.6% of transportation-sector emissions, according to U.S. data, but the total number of on-demand vehicles has significantly increased since Uber’s launch nearly a decade ago, with 7 billion trips last year, according to Uber’s February investor presentation.

Uber said its U.S. and Canadian trips with a passenger produce 41% more carbon dioxide per mile than an average private car once miles spent cruising between passengers are included.

Uber’s plans could be a boon to the auto industry. Stricter environmental regulation, particularly in Europe, is forcing automakers to invest billions to overhaul their operations while consumer demand for electric vehicles remains subdued. Uber is also working with BP, EVgo and other global charging providers to provide discounts and expand the location of charging stations for ride-hail drivers – generally considered a main hurdle to wider EV adoption. Beginning on Tuesday, all U.S. and Canadian Uber drivers in a fully battery-powered electric vehicle will receive $1 extra per trip, and an additional 50 cents in major U.S. cities if passengers choose to pay extra when booking a “green trip.”

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Peter Henderson and Leslie Adler)

U.S. appeals court blocks Texas curbs on medication abortion

By Lawrence Hurley

(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday blocked Texas from enforcing curbs on medication-induced abortions as part of the Republican-governed state’s restrictions aimed at postponing medical procedures not deemed urgent during the coronavirus pandemic.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a federal judge’s decision blocking the state from applying restrictions to abortions induced through medication to go into effect.

In an unsigned opinion, the three-judge panel said it was not clear if the state’s emergency order restricting abortion procedures covered medication-induced abortion.

Texas is one of several conservative states that have tried to impose limits on abortion during the pandemic, saying they are seeking to ensure that medical resources are available to help healthcare facilities cope with people with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Abortion rights advocates have accused the states of political opportunism, exploiting the pandemic to advance anti-abortion policies.

The abortion providers challenging the Texas restrictions said medication abortion, which involves taking two pills by mouth, should not be halted because it is not a procedure at all and does not require the use of protective equipment.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

Fed cuts rates and NYC, LA close restaurants to fight coronavirus

By Lindsay Dunsmuir and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With panic buying on Main Street and fear-driven sell-offs on Wall Street, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero on Sunday in another emergency move to help shore up the U.S. economy amid the rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic.

The mayors of New York City and Los Angeles ordered restaurants, bars and cafes closed, with takeout and delivery the only options for food sales. Movie theaters, small theater houses and concert venues were also ordered closed as the U.S. death toll from the outbreak hit 65.

“The virus can spread rapidly through the close interactions New Yorkers have in restaurants, bars and places where we sit close together,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We have to break that cycle.”

For the second time since the financial crisis of 2008, the Fed cut rates at an emergency meeting, aiming for a target range of 0% to 0.25% to help put a floor under a rapidly disintegrating global economy.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who had openly pressed the Fed for further action, called the move “terrific” and “very good news.”

Store shelves have been stripped bare of essentials, schools closed and millions of jobs in jeopardy as businesses temporarily shut their doors.

“We’re learning from watching other countries,” Trump said. “It’s a very contagious virus … but it’s something that we have tremendous control of.”

Trump has faced criticism at home and abroad for sometimes downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus and overstating his administration’s ability to handle it.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said the United States was entering a new phase of coronavirus testing but tempered the president’s optimism.

“The worst is yet ahead for us,” Fauci said, a warning he has issued frequently in the past week. “It is how we respond to that challenge that is going to what the ultimate end point is going to be.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said testing for coronavirus was expanding with more than 2,000 labs across the country ready to process tests and 10 states operating drive-through testing.

The United States has lagged behind other industrialized nations in its ability to test for the coronavirus. In early March, the Trump administration said close to 1 million coronavirus tests would soon be available and anyone who needed a test would get one, a promise it failed to keep.

With limited testing available, U.S. officials have recorded nearly 3,000 cases and 65 deaths, up from 58 on Saturday. Globally more than 162,000 are infected and over 6,000 have died.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Sunday recommended that events with gatherings of 50 or more people over the next eight weeks be postponed or canceled.

DON’T HOARD

The White House appealed to Americans not to hoard as the coronavirus spreads, reassuring them that grocery supply chains were strong.

Trump held a phone call on Sunday with 30 executives from grocery stores including Amazon.com Inc’s <AMZN.O> Whole Foods, Target Corp <TGT.N>, Costco Wholesale Corp <COST.O> and Walmart Inc <WMT.N>, the White House said.

“Have a nice dinner, relax because there’s plenty, but you don’t have to … you don’t have to buy the quantities,” Trump said. “We’re doing really, really well. A lot of good things are going to happen.”

Trump tested negative for coronavirus, his doctors said on Saturday, as the president extended a travel ban to Britain and Ireland to try to slow the pandemic.

Trump’s spokesman, Judd Deere, said temperature checks will be conducted on everyone who enters the White House grounds, beginning Monday morning.

Travelers returning to the United States and being screened for the coronavirus were met by long lines and massive delays at some major airports, prompting federal officials to deploy more staff and Trump to appeal for patience.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, squaring off in a Democratic debate, blasted Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and touted their own plans to deal with it.

In their first one-on-one debate, the two Democratic contenders to face Trump in the November election said the Republican president had contributed to worries about the pandemic by minimizing the threat before declaring a national emergency on Friday.

CLOSURES EXPAND

The U.S. containment measures have so far been mild compared to the nationwide lockdowns imposed in Italy, France and Spain.

“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Even though Americans are not barred from going to the movies, ticket sales in North America fell to their lowest level in more than two decades this weekend, according to measurement firm Comscore.

Democratic New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that schools in New York City, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties would close from Monday, and he called on Trump to mobilize the Army Corps of Engineers to create more hospital beds.

Cuomo had been criticized for not closing schools as other states have done, given that New York has a large cluster of coronavirus cases.

A clinical trial to evaluate a vaccine designed to protect against coronavirus will begin on Monday, the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed U.S. government official.

It would take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine, the AP added, citing public health officials.

(For an interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lindsay Dunsmuir, Andrea Shalal, Nandita Bose, Matt Spetalnick, Humeyra Pamuk, John Whitesides, Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Diane Craft, Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle.)

CDC reports 1,678 coronavirus cases, death tally of 41

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday reported 1,678 cases of the coronavirus, an increase of 414 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 5 to 41.

The agency said the cases had been reported by 46 states and the District of Columbia, up from its previous report of 42 states and the District of Columbia.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by a new coronavirus, as of 4 pm ET on March 12.

The CDC tally includes 49 cases among people repatriated from Japan and Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began.

The figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

North Korea criticizes ‘hostile policy’ as U.S. diplomat visits South Korea

North Korea criticizes ‘hostile policy’ as U.S. diplomat visits South Korea
SEOUL (Reuters) – A U.S. report calling North Korea a sponsor of terrorism shows a “hostile policy” that prevents progress in denuclearization talks, the isolated nation said on Tuesday, as a senior U.S. diplomat was set to arrive in the neighboring South.

North Korea accused the United States of failing to show flexibility after a breakdown last month in the first talks between their officials since President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to reopen negotiations.

“The channel of dialogue between the DPRK and the U.S. is more and more narrowing due to such attitude,” North Korean state news agency KCNA said, citing a Foreign Ministry official, and using the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

It said a U.S. State Department report on terrorism “proves once again” that U.S. rejection of North Korea indicated “a hostile policy”.

The agency was referring to “Country Reports on Terrorism 2018”, issued last week, which reaffirmed North Korea’s re-designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Tuesday’s statement came ahead of a visit to Seoul by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell, who is expected to discuss the stalled talks with North Korea, as well as the South’s decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

“I look forward to productive meetings with your government so we can reaffirm the security alliance as the cornerstone of the peace and security here in the region,” Stilwell told reporters late on Tuesday upon arrival at Incheon airport.

U.S. officials did not describe Stilwell’s agenda in detail, but said he would discuss the strength of the U.S.-South Korea alliance and cooperation across foreign policies.

Washington has urged South Korea to rethink a decision to end an intelligence-sharing agreement scrapped in an escalating political and economic dispute with Japan.

On Tuesday, Kim In-chul, a spokesman for South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said there was no change in its stance not to renew the intelligence-sharing pact, however.

The top U.S. negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with South Korea, James DeHart, was also set to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said.

In April, North Korean leader Kim said the country would give Washington until the end of the year to be “more flexible” in denuclearization talks, but state media have since given only vague warnings about what will happen if the deadline expires.

The United States and North Korea could hold another round of working-level talks as soon as mid-November, South Korean lawmaker Lee Eun-jae said on Monday after a briefing by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; additional reporting by Daewoung Kim and Chaeyoun Won; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

U.S. ground troops will not enforce Syria safe zone: defense secretary

U.S. ground troops will not enforce Syria safe zone: defense secretary
By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that no U.S. troops will take part in enforcing the so-called safe zone in northern Syria and the United States “is continuing our deliberate withdrawal from northeastern Syria.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan earlier on Friday said Turkey will set up a dozen observation posts across northeast Syria, insisting that a planned “safe zone” will extend much further than U.S. officials said was covered under a fragile ceasefire deal.

The truce, announced by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Erdogan, sets out a five-day pause to let the Kurdish-led SDF militia pull out of the Turkish “safe zone.”

The deal was aimed at easing a crisis that saw President Donald Trump order a hasty and unexpected U.S. retreat, which his critics say amounted to abandoning loyal Kurdish allies that fought for years alongside U.S. troops against Islamic State.

“No U.S. ground forces will participate in the enforcement of the safe zone, however we will remain in communication with both Turkey and the SDF,” Esper told reporters, referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

He will be traveling to the Middle East and Brussels in the coming days to discuss issues including the future of counter-Islamic State campaign.

Esper said he had spoken with his Turkish counterpart on Friday and reiterated that Ankara must adhere to the ceasefire deal and ensure safety of people in areas controlled by Turkish forces.

“Protecting religious and ethnic minorities in the region continues to be a focus for the administration. This ceasefire is a much needed step in protecting those vulnerable populations,” Esper said.

He added that he reminded Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar of Turkey’s responsibility for maintaining security of the Islamic State prisoners in areas affected by Turkey’s incursion.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States would continue aerial surveillance in northeastern Syria to monitor prisons holding alleged Islamic State militants.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Grant McCool and Cynthia Osterman)

The Fed will soon cut U.S. interest rates. What will it mean for your wallet?

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board building on Constitution Avenue is pictured in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Jason Lange

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A decision by the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates may do little at this point to cut some of the costs that matter to many U.S. consumers.

From mortgages to credit cards, banks and other lenders may resist offering substantially lower rates to consumers, analysts said, even if the central bank makes a widely expected cut to its policy rate, currently targeted between 2.25% and 2.50%.

For one thing, some borrowing costs are already low and markets have already priced in expectations the Fed would support the economy. Mortgage rates have also dropped, with rates on the average 30-year U.S. home loan falling under 4.1%, near a 22-month low, more than half a point below the average since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“If we drive down into the mid-3.7%, mid-3.8% range, you’re talking about historic affordability from a purchasing power standpoint,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for First American Financial Corp, which provides insurance related to real estate transactions. “There’s not a lot of wiggle room here in the first place. I think we established five or six years ago that a mortgage rate around 3.5% or 3.6% is a floor. That’s about as low as you can go.”

That low mortgage level was when the Fed’s rates were near zero and the central bank was buying mortgage bonds in the aftermath of the financial crisis to drive longer-term rates even lower – a far cry from where policy is now.

At the same time, one of the Fed’s main goals in cutting rates is to bring inflation up to the 2% level policymakers consider healthy, and maybe even higher to make up for long periods of missing that target. If the Fed succeeds, longer-term bonds most sensitive to inflation could fall in price, causing their yields to rise. Because U.S. mortgages are benchmarked to those longer-term bonds, rates could rise again.

For many consumers, the obstacle to buying a house has not been mortgage rates, but stricter lending standards that reduced access to mortgages in the first place. Big price increases and limited supply have also made housing less affordable. Lower rates could make housing even more out of reach by spurring demand, driving prices even higher.

Financing for new cars might be a different story, though, especially given the large role of automakers themselves in the car loan business. Those businesses have an incentive to increase lending to support the auto market.

Savers, meanwhile, have been rewarded in recent months for shopping around for higher-yielding savings accounts and certificates of deposit. Thanks to increased competition, some online banks have been pushing yields up for those products even with the expected rate cut.

That could change if the Fed is embarking on a prolonged series of rate cuts, as some investors are betting. But the biggest factor could still be overall competition between financial institutions for savers’ money, said Morningstar Inc analyst Eric Compton.

Consumers, however, are in a much better place than they have been in years, by some measures. They have higher take-home pay, lower debt and better credit scores than during the financial crisis. “You’ve got consumers that are pretty healthy, savings rates are pretty good,” said Neal Van Zutphen, president of Intrinsic Wealth Counsel Inc, a financial planner. “They’re taking advantage of this anticipatory drop in rates.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York and Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Bowing to U.S. demands, U.N. to remove phrase seen as code for abortion on sexual violence in conflict

Amal Clooney and Nadia Murad listen to Denis Mukwege speaking at the United Nations Security Council during a meeting about sexual violence in conflict in New York, New York, U.S., April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – A U.S. threat to veto U.N. Security Council action on sexual violence in conflict was averted on Tuesday after a long-agreed phrase was removed because President Donald Trump’s administration sees it as code for abortion, diplomats said.

A German-drafted resolution was adopted after a reference was cut referring to the need for U.N. bodies and donors to give timely “sexual and reproductive health” assistance to survivors of sexual violence in conflict.

The U.S. veto threat was the latest in a string of policy reversals that some U.N. diplomats say has been driven by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, a conservative Christian who staunchly opposes abortion rights.

Pence was not involved in directing U.S. diplomats during the negotiations, a White House aide said, but added that the adopted text “ended up in a place that is closer in line with the White House’s priorities.”

Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen did not speak after the council vote.

After the vote French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told the 15-member body: “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict – and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant – should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

The language promoting sexual and reproductive health is long-agreed internationally, including in resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 2009 and 2013 and several resolutions adopted annually by the 193-member General Assembly.

The text adopted on Tuesday simply reaffirms the council’s commitment to the 2009 and 2013 resolutions. A reference to the work of the International Criminal Court in fighting the most serious crimes against women and girls was also watered-down to win over Washington, which is not a member of the institution.

RUSSIA, CHINA ABSTAIN

Before the vote, Cohen told the Security Council: “None of us can turn our backs on this issue.”

“It requires the engagement of all member states and of the United Nations to support the efforts of those fighting to protect women, provide accountability, and support survivors,” Cohen said.

Thirteen council members voted in favor of the resolution, while Russia and China abstained over a number of concerns – including a German push for expanded U.N. monitoring of sexual violence in conflict – and even circulated their own rival draft text, which they did not put to a vote.

“Please do not even try to paint us as opponents of the fight against sexual violence in conflict. Our stance on this issue remains firm and unyielding, this scourge has to be eliminated,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.

The council voted after hearing briefings from Nobel Peace Prize winners Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who was held as a sex slave by Islamic State militants, Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, who treats rape victims, Libyan rights activist Inas Miloud, and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

The Trump administration cut U.S. funding in 2017 for the U.N. Population Fund because it “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” The United Nations said that was an inaccurate perception.

In 2018 the administration unsuccessfully tried to remove language on sexual and reproductive health from several General Assembly resolutions, then failed in a similar campaign last month during the annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington’; Editing by Susan Thomas and Howard Goller)

Facebook removes fake accounts tied to Iran that lured over 1 million followers

FILE PHOTO: A woman looks at the Facebook logo on an iPad in this photo illustration taken June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Illustration/File Photo

By Christopher Bing and Munsif Vengattil

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc said on Friday it had deleted accounts originating in Iran that attracted more than 1 million U.S. and British followers, its latest effort to combat disinformation activity on its platform.

Social media companies are struggling to stop attempts by people inside and outside the United States to spread false information on their platforms with goals ranging from destabilizing elections by stoking hardline positions to supporting propaganda campaigns.

The fake Facebook accounts originating in Iran mostly targeted American liberals, according to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a think tank that works with Facebook to study propaganda online.

Facebook said it removed 82 pages, groups and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that represented themselves as being American or British citizens, then posted on “politically charged” topics such as race relations, opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump and immigration, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a blog post.

In total, the removed accounts attracted more than 1 million followers. The Iran-linked posts were amplified through less than $100 in advertising on Facebook and Instagram, Facebook said.

While the accounts originated in Iran, it was unclear if they were linked to the Tehran government, according to Facebook, which shared the information with researchers, other technology companies and the British and U.S. governments.

The Iranian U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The action follows takedowns in August by Facebook, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc of hundreds of accounts linked to Iranian propaganda.

The latest operation was more sophisticated in some instances, making it difficult to identify, Gleicher said during a press conference phone call on Friday.

Although most of accounts and pages had existed only since earlier this year, they attracted more followers than the accounts removed in August, some of which dated back to 2013. The previously suspended Iranian accounts and pages garnered roughly 983,000 followers before being removed.

“It looks like the intention was to embed in highly active and engaged communities by posting inflammatory content, and then insert messaging on Saudi and Israel which amplified the Iranian government’s narrative,” said Ben Nimmo, an information defense fellow with the Digital Forensic Research Lab.

“Most of the posts concerned divisive issues in the U.S., and posted a liberal or progressive viewpoint, especially on race relations and police violence,” Nimmo said.

Social media companies have increasingly targeted foreign interference on their platforms following criticism that they did not do enough to detect, halt and disclose Russian efforts to use their platforms to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

Iran and Russia have denied allegations that they have used social media platforms to launch disinformation campaigns.

(Reporting by Chris Bing in Washington and Munsif Vengattil in Bengalaru, additional reporting by Jack Stubbs in London and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

‘Russia in the doldrums?’: new U.S. sanctions to weigh on recovery

By Jack Stubbs and Polina Nikolskaya

MOSCOW (Reuters) – An escalation in U.S. sanctions against Moscow risks derailing a fragile recovery in Russia’s economy, which had just begun to take hold after the Kremlin’s last confrontation with the West in 2014, analysts and investors said on Monday.

The United States imposed major new sanctions against Russia on Friday, striking at senior Russian officials and some of the country’s biggest companies in one of Washington’s most aggressive moves to punish Moscow for its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other “malign activity”.

“One gets the impression that since 2014 we have been convinced that sanctions are painless for our economy,” said Kirill Tremasov, head of research at Loko-Invest and former director of the Russian Economy Ministry’s forecasting department.

“This is completely groundless. What happened on Friday opens a new stage in relations with Western countries. We have found ourselves in a new reality. And it is very, very serious.”

Analysts and investors in Moscow said the sanctions could consign Russia to years of low growth, frustrating government efforts to stimulate a rebound from a two-year downturn brought on by low oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis.

Putin was re-elected for his fourth presidential term in March with a huge majority, but is under increasing pressure to meet voters’ expectations of better growth and assuage concerns about falling living standards.

SLOW-GROWTH ENVIRONMENT

After two years of contraction, Russian GDP returned to growth of 1.5 percent last year on the back of higher oil prices, still short of a government target of 2 percent.

Chris Weafer, a senior partner at economic and political consultancy Macro Advisory, said he still saw Russia’s economy growing by 1.8 percent this year, with oil prices above $60 a barrel.

“But the big question, of course, is ‘How long does Russia stay in this low-growth environment?’ That’s where the impact of sanctions happens,” he said.

“We all know that the economy needs to grow at a faster pace over the course of the next (presidential) term, it needs to get stronger – and sanctions and the impact on foreign direct investment, that’s where it comes in,” he said. “2018 is the year of Russia in the doldrums.”

The latest round of U.S. sanctions represents the biggest escalation in Western action against Russia since Washington and the European Union first targeted oligarchs close to Putin and their businesses over the Ukraine crisis in 2014.

Investors said the inclusion of people who are not traditionally seen as part of Putin’s inner circle showed that any Russian company or business leader could now be targeted.

Russia’s rouble suffered its biggest daily fall in over three years on Monday and stocks in major Russian companies also slid, as investors reacted to the new sanctions. State-owned Sberbank, often seen as a barometer of the wider economy, fell 17 percent in Moscow and aluminum giant Rusal &lt;0486.HK&gt; lost over half its value in Hong Kong after its main owner Oleg Deripaska was named on the sanctions list.

TIGHTER MONEY

The increased uncertainty and risk will make it harder for Russian companies to borrow abroad and reduce the amount of inward investment, said Tim Ash at BlueBay Asset Management.

“Unless there is a move to de-escalation, you have to assume that financing conditions around Russia will get even tighter,” he said. “Long-term, that’s going to be bad for growth and mean even more stagnation in the Russian economy.”

Natalia Orlova, head economist at Alfa Bank, said the central bank might now take more time over interest rate cuts that could boost growth: “Based on economic logic … it seems to me that it is dangerous to hurry with a rate cut in such uncertain conditions.”

Loko-Invest’s Kirill Tremasov said the biggest danger of the new sanctions might be in scaring foreign investors off Russian OFZ treasury bonds, popular in the West because of their high yields.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year OFZ rose as high as 7.32 percent on Monday as the price of the bond fell. It had stood at around 7.05 percent last week.

Foreigners’ holdings of OFZ bonds stood at nearly $40 billion, or 33.9 percent of all OFZ bonds as of Feb. 1, the last period for which data was available.

“For foreign investors, this is a very, very serious signal … and now there could be some OFZ outflows,” Tremasov said. “This will be reflected in the growth of interest rates in the economy.”

(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Kevin Liffey)