I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security and safety:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would boost Energy Department spending on managing the nation’s nuclear stockpile and reviving the controversial Yucca Mountain storage facility for nuclear power plant waste. The National Nuclear Security Administration budget would grow 11.3% while the rest of the Energy Department’s programs would be cut by 17.9%.  More than half of the Energy Department budget goes to maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile and cleaning up waste left by nuclear weapons research and production. The president would provide $6.5 billion for this program. (The Washington Post, 03.16.17)
  • Kazakhstan’s Institute of Nuclear Physics has implemented “significant” modifications and upgrades to improve the safety of its research reactor, an IAEA Integrated Nuclear Safety Assessment of Research Reactors (INSARR) mission has concluded. (World Nuclear News, 03.10.17)
  • “We could literally have a nuclear war with Vladimir Putin,” U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton said in a live-taping of a podcast on March 14.  “Russia now says … they will ‘escalate to de-escalate,'” Moulton said March 17 when asked to clarify the comments. “They are willing to use nuclear weapons to de-escalate a conventional attack, and I think that the problem here is that we don’t have a plan to deal with that.” (The Boston Globe, 03.14.17, CNN, 03.17.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The biggest beneficiary in President U.S. Donald Trump’s budge—the Defense Department—released a broad wish list on March 16, signaling what it would do with its proposed $54 billion windfall. The Defense Department request veers away from the president’s stated warmth toward Russia. ”Russia and China continue to rise and assert themselves, often in a destabilizing fashion or at the expense of U.S. interests,” the budget request says, explaining why the military needs more money for readiness. (New York Times, 03.16.17)
  • “Preventing conflict means being able to deter and defend against any potential security threat. In recent years, NATO has responded to a series of new challenges with the largest reinforcement of its collective defense in a generation. At the same time, as part of an overall approach to its collective security, the Alliance seeks to improve transparency and reduce the risk of escalation by engaging in meaningful dialogue with Russia,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in his third annual report. (NATO, 03.13.17)
  • NATO’s secretary-general on March 13 urged European allies to spend more on their military budgets as he seeks to reassure U.S. President Donald Trump that members will pay their fair share. Defense spending by European NATO states inched up for the first time in seven years in 2016, the military alliance said on March 13, but remained below the threshold Trump said was crucial to achieve. NATO said the U.S. defense spending last year stood at 3.61% of its Gross Domestic Product, compared to 3.58% in 2015. That compares to 1.47% for NATO’s European allies last year and 1.44% the year before. Only five allies meet the target of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense: the U.S., Britain, Estonia, debt-plagued Greece and Poland. (AP, 03.13.17, Reuters, 03.14.17)
  • Russia’s state-run TV network Channel One issued a mocking response to a NATO effort to analyze comedy shows on Russian television as examples of “strategic communication,” a term often invoked as euphemism for propaganda. One show, “KVN,” was singled out by NATO as an exemplar of state-run efforts to use comedy to manipulate public opinion. (The Moscow Times, 03.16.17)
  • Despite sanctions and a ban on cooperation with the Russian defense industry, the Pentagon is buying Russian-made Kalashnikov assault rifles to arm the Afghan National Army, said Sergey Chemezov, head of Russia’s state-owned defense corporation, Rostec, while speaking to the Rossiya 24 TV channel on March 14. (RBTH, 03.15.17)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.

Counter-terrorism:

  • There are three reasons why Tajikistan finds itself the world’s leadingexporter of suicide bombers to Islamic State (IS) battlefields: state suppression of unofficial Islam, the humiliation of having to work as migrant laborers abroad and a former special-forces commander flipping to the Islamic State group. (RFE/RL, 03.12.17)
  • A passport belonging to the well-known Islamic State fighter Abu Umar Grozny has been found in Mosul according to a photo shared on Twitter on March 16. The passport shows that Abu Umar is Magomed Usmanovich Diresov from Grozny’s Oktyabrskaya district, born in 1987. (From Chechnya to Syria, 03.17.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Russia and the United States have exchanged opinions on setting up a “three-star” Syrian communication channel at the level of generals, said Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, a spokesman for the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to Hicks, the U.S. side expects that the armed forces of Russia and the United States will exchange information on Syria at a higher level than they presently do. This alternative channel of communication will allow to more efficiently manage “the immediate deconfliction we have been doing over the last several months.” (TASS, 03.11.17)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on March 13 that Moscow was ready to resume contacts with the United States on Syria. “Up to this point, we’ve had no contacts with the U.S. on a political settlement in Syria,” Gatilov was quoted as saying. (Reuters, 03.13.17)
  • Russian-led peace talks on Syria were derailed on March 14 as rebels backed by Turkey boycotted a third round of meetings in Kazakhstan and the Kremlin indicated there were international divisions over the process. (Reuters, 03.14.17)
  • Syrian opposition fighters will be allowed to leave the last rebel-held neighborhood in the city of Homs under a Russia-backed deal signed on March 13, a Syrian official and an activist said. (AP, 03.13.17)
  • Russian aircraft delivered 20.6 tons of U.N. humanitarian aid to Syria’s Deir ez-Zor area using parachute platforms, the Russian Center for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria said on March 17. (RBTH, 03.17.17)
  • The European Union unveiled a plan to support the reconstruction of war-torn Syria on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the first protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. (RFE/RL, 03.14.17)
  • The top U.N. human rights official called on March 14 for tens of thousands of detainees to be released from Syria’s prisons and for torturers to be brought to court as part of a lasting peace. “Today in a sense the entire country has become a torture-chamber; a place of savage horror and absolute injustice,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. (Reuters, 03.14.17)
  • More than 800 health workers have died in “acts of war crimes” in Syria since 2011, according to a report in The Lancet medical journal. (RFE/RL, 03.15.17)
  • “Let’s talk about the reality, about the facts: since the Russians started their raids against ISIS in cooperation with the Syrian Army—of course, after we asked them to come and support us in our fight against the terrorists—ISIS has been shrinking,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said. (TASS, 03.13.17)

Cyber security:

  • Two Russian intelligence agents and a pair of hired hackers have been charged in a devastating criminal breach at Yahoo that affected at least a half billion user accounts, the U.S. Justice Department said March 15 in bringing the first case of its kind against current Russian government officials. One of the Yahoo-related defendants, a Canadian and Kazakh national named Karim Baratov, has been taken into custody in Canada. Another, Alexsey Belan, is on the FBI’s list of most wanted cyber criminalsand has been indicted multiple times in the U.S. It’s not clear whether he or the other two defendants, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, will ever step foot in an American courtroom since there’s no extradition treaty with Russia. The indictment identifies Dokuchaev and Sushchin as officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Belan and Baratov were paid hackers directed by the FSB to break into the accounts, prosecutors said. Dokuchaev, whose hacker alias was “Forb,” was arrested in December in Moscow on charges of state treason for passing information to the CIA. (AP, 03.15.17, The Washington Post, 03.15.17)
    • Russian hackers working with Russian spies didn’t crack Yahoo security all at once. Instead, according to an account offered by U.S. officials, they methodically made their way deeper into Yahoo’s network over the space of months—maybe years. That allowed them to forge technological skeleton keys that would unlock many Yahoo accounts, steal personal information and then use that data to break into other email services used by their targets, U.S. officials said in announcing charges against four Russians. (AP, 03.14.17)
    • The Kremlin has denied allegations by U.S. authorities that the FSB intelligence agency was involved in a huge data breach affecting Yahoo. “As we have said repeatedly, there can be absolutely no question of any official involvement by any Russian agency, including the FSB [intelligence agency], in any illegal actions in cyberspace,” said spokesman Dmitry Peskov. (BBC, 03.16.17)
    • Kazakhstan’s government says that Karim Baratov, one of four men indicted by U.S. authorities over a massive hack against Yahoo, is not a Kazakh citizen. (RFE/RL, 03.16.17)
  • Mark Vartanyan, a Russian national who is charged with one count of computer fraud in the United States, was arraigned before a federal court for the Northern District of Georgia following his successful extradition from Norway, the U.S. Justice Department announced on March 14. (RAPSI, 03.15.17)
  • To the FBI, Evgeniy M. Bogachev is the most wanted cybercriminal in the world. The bureau has announced a $3 million bounty for his capture, the most ever for computer crimes, and has been trying to track his movements in hopes of grabbing him if he strays outside his home turf in Russia. (New York Times, 03.13.17)

Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. elections:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump wrote off more than $100 million in business losses to reduce his federal taxes in 2005, according to forms disclosed on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show on March 14. Nothing in the two pages produced on that night suggested any ties with Russia. In the meantime, White House press secretary Sean Spicer on March 13 backpedaled on Trump’s claims that his phone line was ordered tapped by then-President Barack Obama.  (New York Times, 03.14.17, Wall Street Journal, 03.13.17)
  • Moscow is trashing a CNN documentary on Russian President Vladimir Putin that aired on March 13, calling it “odious,” “hysterical” and containing “nothing new.” The documentary included the claims—supported by the U.S. intelligence community—that the Russian government used hackers to intervene in the 2016 election with the purpose of helping elect U.S. President Donald Trump. It also stated that the Kremlin may be in possession of compromising materials that can be used against Trump. (The Hill, 03.14.17)
  • Roger Stone, a political consultant and former campaign adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, says he communicated last year with an individual involved in hacking Democratic National Committee emails. Last summer, emails stolen from Democrats were posted by an online persona known as Guccifer 2.0. U.S. officials believe that individual is linked to Russia. (AP, 03.11.17)
  • Democrats in Congress have long argued that the ongoing intelligence committee investigations into Russia’s interference in the presidential election and the Trump campaign’s ties to the Kremlin are unlikely to get to the bottom of the issue. Now a group of “Never Trump” Republicans are planning to pressure GOP leaders to establish a bipartisan select committee to take over the inquiries and settle the matter once and for all. In the meantime, some of the panel’s Democrats are warning that they may pull their support for the inquiry if it becomes mired in party-line politics. (The Washington Post, 03.14.17, New York Times, 03.12.17)
  • RT, the Russian state-owned television network described by U.S. intelligence officials as “the Kremlin’s principal international propagandaoutlet,” paid $45,386 for former Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn to fly to Moscow to speak at its 10th anniversary celebration in December 2015, according to documents newly obtained by a congressional committee and provided to Yahoo News. Russian technology firm Kaspersky Labs has confirmed paying Flynn. (Yahoo News, 03.16.17,The Moscow Times, 03.17.17)
  • Sen. John McCain accused Sen. Rand Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin” on the Senate floor on March 15, leading some to wonder if the Arizona Republican had violated Rule 19, a Senate regulation evoked earlier this year when one senator imputes the honor of another. (CNN, 03.17.17)

Energy exports:

  • Russia’s state-owned gas producer, Gazprom, has agreed to a series of concessions to address the European Union’s concerns about its market dominance in supplying energy to Eastern Europe. The EU’s executive Commission said March 13 that Gazprom has agreed to price gas at market competitive prices. It will allow countries in the region to re-sell the gas they buy—something that became a political issue in recent years when some EU countries were selling their gas to Ukraine, to which Russia had cut off supplies during the war there. The European Union’s antitrust regulator said it would ask market participants about commitments Gazprom has offered for addressing concerns that the Russian energy giant had violated competition rules in eight European countries (AP, 03.13.17,Wall Street Journal, 03.13.17)
  • Rates for Russian fuel at the German border last month jumped the most in seven years, extending their gain since September to almost 50%, according to the International Monetary Fund. The price of fuel from Moscow-based Gazprom PJSC may increase further even as prices on traded hubs decline, according to analysts including Deutsche Bank AG. (Bloomberg, 03.13.17)
  • OPEC and its allies may prolong production cuts after they expire in June if the world’s crude inventories remain excessive, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister said. Earlier, however, Saudi Arabia told OPEC it raised output back above 10 million barrels a day in February, reversing about a third of the cuts it made the previous month. Non-OPEC producers that signed on to the cartel’s agreement to cut, notably Russia, aren’t yet delivering the goods (or rather still delivering too many of them), according to Bloomberg columnist Liam Denning. (Bloomberg, 03.16.17, Bloomberg, 03.14.17,Bloomberg, 03.14.17)
  • Iranian Communications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi said at a meeting with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak on March 13 that the two men would discuss a deal to supply Moscow with 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day. (Reuters, 03.13.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • Russia’s competition watchdog has found that Apple fixed the prices of certain iPhone models sold in the country. (BBC, 03.15.15)

Other bilateral issues:

  • Former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats has been sworn in as the nation’s top spy chief. Coats has said he would cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into allegations of Russian hacking during the 2016 election, as well as possible contacts between Trump’s team and Russian officials, including providing raw intelligence and material as required. (Bloomberg, 03.15.17, AP, 03.17.17)
  • The White House announced nominees for six senior Pentagon jobs on March 16. Patrick Shanahan, senior vice president of supply chain operations for Boeing, is Trump’s choice for the No. 2 spot at the Pentagon. David Joel Trachtenberg, nominated for the No. 2 policy job, penned a December 2015 commentary saying the Obama administration failed to adapt to a changing reality with Russia following its annexation of Crimea, incursions into eastern Ukraine and more aggressive military exercises. Stephen Young, a nuclear expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed concerns about Trachtenberg’s previous nuclear statements. “It is deeply worrying that the person who seems likely to write the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review does not believe in strategic stability,” Young said. “If you think we have trouble with Russia now, trying to deploy missile defenses against them is certain to significantly increase those problems.”  (AP, 03.16.17, Defense News, 03.16.17)
  • The Kremlin’s main spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has said Moscow is frustrated with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration and a lack of progress in improving relations. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a better understanding of when this dialogue can begin,” Peskov said. (RFE/RL, 03.12.17)
  • Slovenia, the birthplace of U.S. First Lady Melania Trump, is seeking to host the inaugural meeting between her president husband and his Russian counterpart, the European Union member’s top diplomat said. “It’s possible,” Slovene Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec said. “There are no objections to this from the American or the Russian side.” (Bloomberg, 03.15.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia’s Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin said on March 14 that the Russian economy was expected to grow 2% in 2017. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on March 14 that his country’s growth rate should exceed the world average in 2019-2020 and that the government is preparing a plan to boost economic growth. (Reuters, 03.16.17, Reuters, 03.14.17)
  • Russian aluminum giant Rusal said on March 17 that its fourth-quarter core earnings jumped by more than a third on recovery in metal prices, and forecast the market to remain in good shape this year. (Reuters, 03.17.17)
  • Ratings Agency S&P Global Ratings on March 17 lifted its outlook on Russia to “positive” from “stable,” citing improving economic growth prospects and lower risk of large capital outflows. However, the agency maintained its “BBB-“ long term credit rating. (Financial Times, 03.17.17)
  • The sharp decline in oil prices—and western sanctions triggered by Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine—was followed by a drop-off in immigration to Russia. The number of Uzbeks who crossed over fell by 21%, while Tajiks declined by 11% and Kyrgyz fell by 5%. But since then, immigration has rebounded. Russia had 161,000 foreigners come into the country in 2015 and stay. In 2016, that number increased to 196,000, according to the Russian Foreign Trade Academy and Gaidar Institute. Work-permit sales in Moscow rose by 10% last year, too. (Bloomberg, 03.14.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategists are searching for ways to draw more people to the polls in March 2018 to make his expected victory as impressive as possible. (AP, 03.17.17)
  • The Moscow city court has upheld a lower court’s ruling in support of the Justice Ministry’s decision to add independent pollster the Levada Center to Russia’s federal registry of “foreign agents,” according to the news agency Interfax. (The Moscow Times, 03.14.17)
  • The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that the Russian state was behind an attack on prominent rights defender Oleg Orlov and three journalists in 2007, and ordered Moscow to compensate them for “illegal freedom deprivation and torture.” (RFE/RL, 03.14.17)
  • Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza says he plans to return to Russia to continue his protests against the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kara-Murza was hospitalized in critical condition twice in the past two years in what his family and friends suspect was a deliberate poisoning. (RFE/RL, 03.13.17)
  • Religious leaders have denounced Russia’s 1917 communist revolution as a “Western plot” to destroy the country. (The Moscow Times, 03.13.17)
  • A court in the central Russian city of Cheboksary on March 16 found opposition activist and politician Dmitry Semenov guilty of “mass distribution of extremist materials” for reposting a news item about his earlier conviction for reposting “extremist” content. (RFE/RL, 03.17.17)
  • The Russian parliament will not question Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on allegations of corruption, senior politicians have confirmed. Deputies from Russia’s State Duma told the Dozhd television channel that they would not call for an investigation into the claims. Medvedev is scheduled to address parliament with a report on the cabinet’s work in April 2016. (The Moscow Times, 03.17.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Izvestia reports on the formation of a new 8th Combined Arms Army in Russia’s Southern MD. The paper reports the new army’s staff and C3 brigade are standing up in Novocherkassk.  Units will be based in Russia’s Rostov and Volgograd Oblasts. (Russian Defense Policy Blog, 03.17.17)
  • Although the Russian government does not release statistics on crime in the military, reports of suicides and suspicious deaths in the armed forces are depressingly common. According to government figures, cases of extortion overall more than doubled between 2015 and 2016, and rights activists say cases inside the military are also on the rise. (RFE/RL, 03.17.17)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Security authorities in Russia’s Tatarstan region have detained 15 alleged members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir organization. (RFE/RL, 03.14.17)
  • Russia’s Supreme Court has upheld a verdict of high treason against Oksana Sevastidi, a Russian woman jailed for seven years after sending two text messages to a friend living in Georgia. Sevastidi, who received a pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, saw her sentence symbolically reduced to just three years imprisonment, but was not acquitted of the crime. (The Moscow Times, 03.15.17)
  • Russia’s Justice Ministry has filed a case with the Supreme Court to declare the administrative center for Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization. (AP, 03.16.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • Russia has created the necessary market infrastructure for the issuance of its first yuan-denominated OFZ bonds, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank told Reuters in Beijing on March 16. (Reuters, 03.16.17)
  • In a new study titled “Factoring Russia into the U.S.-Chinese Equation on Hypersonic Glide Vehicles,” the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says Russia is a factor that is shaping China’s research of the hypersonic glide vehicle. (RBTH, 03.14.17)
  • Forces controlled by Libya’s eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar said they had retaken two of the country’s major oil ports which had been seized by a rival group about two weeks ago, triggering clashes that curbed oil production in the holder of Africa’s largest crude reserves. Russia urged restraint after Haftar whom it supports, regained control of the facilities. Libya’s opposition government in the east, which opposes the U.N.-backed leadership in Tripoli, has requested military aid from Russia and received promises of support, a key official said. (Bloomberg, 03.14.17,Bloomberg, 03.16.17, RFE/RL, 03.15.17)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied allegations that Russian Special Forces have deployed to Egypt in a bid to assert the Kremlin’s growing influence over neighboring Libya. (The Moscow Times, 03.14.17)
  • The Kremlin is ready to keep up the dialogue with Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, if he continues to lead the government, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “We are monitoring the situation [around the Dutch elections],” he said on March 16, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Rutte earlier had “quite frank and quite productive” contacts. (RBTH, 03.16.17)
  • Bulgaria’s United Patriots, a nationalist coalition that’s poised to hold the balance of power after this month’s snap election, would seek to end European Union sanctions against Russia if it makes it into government. (Bloomberg, 03.14.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current favorite in France’s presidential race, Francois Fillon, has tumbled in the polls amid a probe into whether family members received state money for work they didn’t do. While polls show Le Pen with a slight lead over Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old independent who backs European Union penalties on Russia over Ukraine and accuses the Kremlin of cyberattacks on his campaign, they also show her losing a run-off by a landslide. The outcomes of the May 7 finale in France and Angela Merkel’s bid to remain chancellor of Germany in September are the most keenly anticipated political events of the year for the Kremlin, which has long sought to weaken European unity and negotiate with countries individually. (Bloomberg, 03.16.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says he expects German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Moscow on May 2. Merkel is to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington on March 17. The new U.S. president and the long-serving stateswoman, whose country is Europe’s largest economy, will discuss funding for NATO and relations with Russia in their first meeting since Trump took office in January. (AP, 03.16.17, Reuters, 03.17.17)
  • The German government has presented a draft law that would impose fines of up to 50 million euros on social networks that fail to delete hate speech or fake news, in what amounts to the most draconian clampdown by a European country against internet platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. (Financial Times, 03.14.17)
  • The Swedish government and part of its political opposition agreed on March 13 to boost defense spending by 500 million crowns ($55.7 million) this year to bolster military capabilities in the face of growing security concerns in the region. (Reuters, 03.13.17)
  • A British intelligence agency has told political parties to protect themselves against potential cyber-attacks, citing allegations that Russian hackers tried to influence last year’s U.S. presidential election. (Reuters, 03.12.17)
  • A Russian whistleblower may have been poisoned with a highly toxic plant that was switched for the usual ingredient in a Russian soup, a pre-inquest hearing into his death has heard. Alexander Perepilichny, who was 44 at the time, collapsed while jogging near his home in Weybridge, Surrey, in November 2012.  (Financial Times, 03.13.17)
  • Donald Tusk, freshly re-elected to a top European Union job, has been summoned for questioning in Poland over the 2010 plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski in Russia, prosecutors said March 13. (AP, 03.13.17)
  • The highest ranking Russian military official to visit Thailand in a decade will wrap up four days of talks March 17 as Moscow further deepens ties with Southeast Asia. After stopping first in Laos, Col. Gen. Oleg Salyukov, the commander-in-chief of Russian land forces, was scheduled to meet senior Thai military officials. (Bloomberg, 03.17.17)
  • Serbia’s defense minister has said that the country is expecting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval for the delivery of fighter jets, which could worsen tensions with neighboring states. (AP, 03.12.17)
  • British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has accused “Russians” of organizing a failed coup in Montenegro, but the Kremlin denied involvement. Johnson’s accusations are based on the recent revelations by Montenegro’s top prosecutor, Milivoje Katnic, who said one of the leading suspects in last year’s alleged coup attempt was a former Russian military diplomat who had been expelled from Poland for spying in 2014. (Bloomberg, 03.14.17)

Ukraine:

  • At least 9,940 people have been killed in the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since it erupted mid-April 2014, the Office of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights said on March 15. (RFE/RL, 03.16.17)
  • Ukraine’s national security council has ruled to halt all cargo traffic passing between government-held areas and the separatist-controlled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said that traffic would remain blocked until the Russian-backed separatists hand over control over coal mines in Donbas and fulfill their part of the 2015 Minsk agreement. (The Moscow Times, 03.15.17)
    • Russia accused Ukraine of “consciously” rejecting its own land and people by imposing a blockade of separatist-held territory in the country’s east. (Bloomberg, 03.17.17)
    • Ukrainian opposition lawmakers have demanded an explanation from authorities after the arrests of several dozen activists who were blocking trade with eastern areas held by Russia-backed separatists. Ukraine’s main security agency, the SBU, said that it arrested 43 “blockader” activists at three sites on March 13 after they refused to surrender weapons. (RFE/RL, 03.14.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has imposed sanctions on five banks with Russian capital functioning in Ukraine. A statement on the presidential website on March 16 said that Poroshenko signed a decree introducing sanctions on Sberbank, VS Bank, Prominvestbank, VTB Bank and BM Bank for a one-year period. (RFE/RL, 03.16.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed a bill that would ban dual citizenship. The discussion of dual citizenship has come to the fore in Ukraine following unconfirmed media reports saying that suspended tax and customs service chief Roman Nasirov, who has been arrested on suspicion of corruption, holds foreign passports. (RFE/RL, 03.14.17)
  • Ukrainian lawmakers have approved a bill that requires national television and radio stations to have at least 75% of their programming in the Ukrainian language. (RFE/RL, 03.17.17)
  • The European Union has extended for six months sanctions against 150 Russia-linked people over the territorial disputes in eastern Ukraine. The blacklist names 150 individuals, including Russian politicians, businessmen and law-enforcement officials, as well as former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and senior members of his administration and the leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR). All individuals mentioned in the list are not allowed to enter the European Union, while their assets in European banks are to be frozen. The regulation came into force on March 15 and is set to expire on Sept. 15, 2017, according to the Official Journal of the European Union. (TASS, 03.15.17, AP, 03.13.17)
  • The European Parliament is calling on Moscow to free more than 30 Ukrainian citizens who are in prison or other conditions of restricted freedom in Russia, Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists. (RFE/RL, 03.16.17)
  • The European Commission agreed on March 16 to send Ukraine 600 million euros ($643.20 million) to help its finances, ending months of delays over EU conditions linked to the loan. (Reuters, 03.16.17)
  • European security watchdog OSCE on March 16 prolonged its monitoring mission to Ukraine by one year until March 2018. Fighting has claimed the lives of at least 20 civilians since the start of the year, and wounded over 91 more, according to the United Nations. (Reuters, 03.16.17)
  • A steady uptick in shelling along front lines in eastern Ukraine is threatening numerous industrial facilities that, if damaged, could trigger severe environmental and humanitarian consequences, according to a new report by the Geneva-based Zoi Environment Network and the Toxic Remnants of War Project. (The Washington Post, 03.13.17)
  • The United States on March 16 issued a sharp condemnation of Russia’s seizure of Crimea and the referendum that Moscow staged there and later held up as justification for the annexation. (RFE/RL, 03.16.17)
  • The Russian arm of Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International is preparing to offer services to holders of passports from two self-proclaimed people’s republics in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, its boss said on March 16. (Reuters, 03.16.17)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has ordered the country’s top customs experts to withdraw from their posts at the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The move follows Lukashenko’s refusal to sign the EAEU Customs Code in December 2016 in St. Petersburg. The Belarusian president refused to attend the meeting alongside the EAEU’s other members: Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. (The Moscow Times, 03.15.17)
  • The United States and the United Nations have voiced concern about what human rights groups say is the Belarusian government’s biggest crackdown on protesters in years. (
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