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Russia: S&P downgrade was 'on Washington's orders'

Russian politicians have brushed off ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgrade of the country's debt, calling the decision politically motivated. Sanctions and falling oil prices have hit Russia's economy and the ruble.

Politicians in Russia on Tuesday sought to shrug off the country's credit rating downgrade by agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) the previous evening. Russian sovereign debt was reclassified by S&P as BB+, its highest rating that is also considered non-investment grade - also known as "junk."

"I personally have no doubt that this was done not even on the prompting, but on direct orders from Washington," Deputy Foreign Minister Vasily Neenzya was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency. "Russia faces coordinated actions to undermine its economy. These actions are a covert part of the sanctions war which has been declared against us pretty much officially."

Russia faces a string of western sanctions, from the EU and the US, targeting individuals and certain sectors of the economy. Russia's banks, financial businesses, arms companies and certain oil industry businesses are among those affected. On Tuesday, European foreign ministers raised the specter of further restrictive measures, saying a decision would be taken at the EU's next summit on February 12.

Sanctions biting, more up for discussion

The call followed intensified fighting in eastern Ukraine, especially in the city of Mariupol at the weekend, after pro-Russian separatist fighters said that they would no longer observe a fragile truce first agreed in September. Russian's Nebenzya also alluded to this in his reactions on Tuesday.

"The fact that this step [S&P's downgrade] has been taken now is not surprising: by strange coincidence it came during a fresh spike in anti-Russian hysteria," the deputy foreign minister said.

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