Moscow   -  President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia had no choice but to cut its dependency on dollars to conduct trade, after becoming the target of increasingly severe US sanctions.

“It isn’t our goal to desert the dollar,” Putin told an investment forum in comments broadcast on national television. “The dollar is deserting us.”

The dollar is the preeminent currency in international trade. Washington has made it difficult for some targets of its sanctions to use the currency.

“Those who are taking such decisions are not shooting themselves in the foot, but a bit higher,” Putin said to laughter from the crowd. Worries about the ability to use the dollar will push other countries to seek alternatives, said Putin.

Russian authorities have long talked about “de-dolarisation” of its international trade. “We need to do it and I assure you we will do it,” said Putin. However, progress on that front has been slow. Oil, Russia’s major export, is priced in dollars. Nevertheless, much of Russia’s trade with its ex-Soviet neighbours is in rubles, and Putin noted the country recently sold its S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries to Turkey without dollars featuring in the transaction.

Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov recently said India will pay for its S-400s in rubles.

Russia and China have also indicated they want to increase the use of the ruble and yuan in their bilateral trade. Russia has been hit by several rounds of sanctions by Washington and the European Union since Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014.

MOSCOW CALLS FOR AFGHAN PEACE TALKS

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday called for a political settlement in Afghanistan as his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis offered Switzerland to play a peace-broking role between warring factions.

In a speech made at the Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan in Geneva, Lavrov said, “We are still deeply concerned by the deterioration of the military and political situation in the country. We believe that the Afghan crisis can be settled only by political means.”  He said, “A broad intra-Afghan dialogue with the participation of the government, the Taliban movement, and the whole spectrum of political and social forces is needed.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a speech his government has formed a negotiating team to work on a peace agreement with the Taliban. “We seek a peace agreement in which the Afghan Taliban would be included in a democratic and inclusive society,” Ghani told the conference.

Cassis also spoke on the second day of the Geneva conference on Afghanistan to assess progress since a pledging conference was held in Brussels in 2016 and to measure results against the 15.2 billion US dollars committed by the international community for Afghanistan in 2016.

“After 17 years of war that produced only losers, the time has come for dialogue. The time has come for a political solution. Switzerland is ready to host any round of talks if requested,” said Cassis.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded in Afghanistan since the war started in 2001 in a conflict involving Afghanistan government forces and the Taliban.

Cassis also pointed out that more than two and a half million people have been forced to flee the country. “What people in Afghanistan need most of all today is peace,” said Cassis.

Relentless, high-casualty attacks in Afghanistan are beating down Afghans’ morale, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer said. “If peace and prosperity are to make the jump from a Geneva conference room rallying cry to real life in Afghanistan, there must be a real commitment on all sides to not attack civilians, including health workers,” said Maurer.

He said civilian casualties in this country have risen for eight years in a row, with violence in 2018 killing a record number of ordinary citizens - 1,692 - in the first six months.