PARIS (AP) — Russia's economy minister, a rising star in Kremlin politics, said Tuesday that his country is no longer suffering from U.S. and EU sanctions, and sees better prospects for future trade in Asia instead.
Maxim Oreshkin told The Associated Press that the Russian economy is on track to grow at least 2 percent this year — a first after 2014, when the economy sank into recession driven by sinking oil prices and sanctions over the Kremlin's actions in Ukraine.
Oreshkin slammed new U.S. sanctions imposed last month as "interfering" with European trade, but shrugged off the economic impact of the measures, saying that Russia's trade with the U.S. remains "much much smaller" than with European and Asian partners.
He wouldn't comment on widespread Russian disappointment that the Trump administration hasn't been as friendly toward Moscow as many expected, and instead stressed that his country has "turned the corner" after the recession's blow thanks to domestic reforms.
"There was a negative effect, it was a big one, but it is already behind us. ... Of course without sanctions it will be even better," he said in an interview in Paris after meeting with French energy, pharmaceutical and other executives active in Russia — who are also eager for sanctions to be lifted.
Oreshkin said Russia's government is building budgets based on the assumptions that the European and American sanctions will remain in place, and "we should concentrate on what we are doing domestically," on what reforms are working and what are still needed.
After unusually strong second-quarter economic growth of 2.5 percent, he forecast "roughly the same pace through the end of the year," and overall growth of 2 percent or 2.1 percent for the year. However, the Russian economy remains heavily dependent on oil and gas, and efforts to diversify have lagged.
As western sanctions reach into their fourth year, Russia is turning toward Asian markets, where Oreshkin has a string of upcoming visits.
While the EU was once Russia's No. 1 trade partner and remains a "key player," he said, "these days China is taking the first place in this competition."
"We see more willingness on the Asian side to work with us. We are working with those who want to work with us," he said.
Oreshkin, 35, rose quickly in government and has heightened the profile of his ministry since being named earlier this year. Asked about Russian media speculation that he could be a potential future prime minister, he said only: "I have a lot of work to do on my current job ... I prefer to do what I have to do."
Oreshkin welcomed more "openness" from French President Emmanuel Macron than his predecessor toward Russia, and said the pace of high-level political and economic meetings has increased since Macron's May election.
In a diplomatic speech Tuesday, Macron said it's important to keep dialogue open with Russia, but has insisted on seeing more progress on peace in Ukraine before sanctions could be lifted.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed.