HARVARD UNIVERSITY

 

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

Nuclear security:

  • U.N. talks aimed at banning nuclear weapons began March 27, but the United States, Russia, China and other nuclear-armed nations are sitting out a discussion they see as impractical. (AP, 03.27.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, held wide-ranging talks in Moscow on March 28. The presidents expressed support for the Iran nuclear deal and discussed the construction of the second and third blocks of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant. (RFE/RL, 03.28.17, Reuters, 03.28.17)
  • America’s U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley blasted former President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal on March 27 at the annual American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference: “All it did was empower Iran and it empowered Russia,” Haley said, adding: “We are going to watch them [Iran] like a hawk. We are going to make sure that every single thing they do is watched, processed and dealt with.” (The Washington Free Beacon, 03.28.17)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stressed the importance of NATO and criticized Russia for aggression and meddling in other countries’ affairs, easing European allies’ concerns about U.S. President Donald Trump’s commitment to trans-Atlantic security. (Bloomberg, 03.31.17)
  • Western military commanders are concerned that large-scale Russian military exercises near the Baltic states in September pose heightened risks for a miscalculation that could lead to a crisis. The exercises, involving close to an estimated 100,000 troops, will be the first after a new NATO force in the region reaches full strength. They will also take place at the same time as military drills by Western forces in Sweden, across the Baltic Sea. (Wall Street Journal, 03.28.17)
  • The U.S. Senate has ratified Montenegro’s admission into NATO, an initiative Moscow has bitterly opposed. Sen. John McCain characterized the decision as “a test in this contest we are now engaged in with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.” Prior to the vote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had urged the Senate to act without delay so that Montenegro could take part in May’s NATO summit “as a full member … [to] send a strong signal of transatlantic unity.” Montenegrin officials have accused Moscow of backing a coup attempt to derail the effort, a claim Moscow has denied. (VOA, 03.28.17, Wall Street Journal, 03.28.17)
  • The Polish defense minister has welcomed a multinational NATO battalion to Poland made up of troops from the United States, Britain and Romania, saying the deployment improves the region’s security given the “threat from the East.” (AP, 03.28.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to sign off on a delivery of fighter jets, battle tanks and armored vehicles to Serbia, the Balkan country’s defense minister said March 28, in what could worsen tensions with neighboring states and trigger an arms race in the war-weary region. The jets would have to fly over NATO-member countries before reaching Serbia or they would have to be taken apart and flown in transport planes. Meanwhile, Serbia’s archrival and NATO-member Croatia is shopping for a new fighter to replace the nation’s aging MiG-21s. These developments come amid increasing instability in the historically volatile Balkans, including secessionist pressures in Bosnia, a parliamentary boycott in Montenegro and renewed tensions between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo. Putin ally Aleksandar Vucic is set for certain victory in Serbia’s presidential poll, according to the FT. (New York Times, 03.28.17, Reuters, 03.28.17,Financial Times, 03.31.17)
  • The Ukraine conflict dominated the first session of the Russia-NATO Council to be held this year. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the March 30 meeting in Brussels “frank” and “constructive,” but “not an easy dialogue,” adding that the two sides “continue to have clear disagreement” on Ukraine. “The allies do not and will not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of [the Ukrainian region of] Crimea,” Stoltenberg said. Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, said “it is not possible to build confidence until NATO abandons its military-domination policy.” (RFE/RL, 03.30.17)
  • The senior American officer in Europe told the House Armed Services Committee that “Russia’s malign actions,” as well as increased terrorist activity on the continent, has pushed the U.S. European Command back to a “warfighting” role of “deterrence and defense.” In testimony on March 28 Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti went on at length about the threat Russia poses to the West and said that he is looking for more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to better understand Russian moves. The week before, Scaparrotti had told a Senate committee that Russia may be giving material support to the Taliban in Afghanistan; he did not elaborate and Russia has called the claims “absolutely false.” (USNI News, 03.28.17, Statement to House Armed Services Committee, 03.28.17, UPI, 03.24.17)
  • Russia’s role in Libya is causing growing concern within NATO, Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller said March 25, with the Kremlin appearing to throw its support behind Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a rival of the U.N.-backed coalition government in Tripoli. While Moscow denies that it has sent any soldiers to aid Gen. Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which controls much of eastern Libya, Russia’s Defense Ministry has not commented on media reports suggesting Russia was building up forces in Egypt, near Libya. (Wall Street Journal, 03.25.17)
  • Russia’s defense ministry said on March 28 it regarded U.S. naval patrols in the Black Sea as a potential threat to its safety because it was unclear what kind of missiles the ships were carrying, the RIA news agency reported. (Reuters. 03.28.17)
  • The U.K. and U.S. defense ministers have struck a hawkish tone on Russia, accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government of a “pattern of interference” around the world. (Financial Times, 03.31.17)

Missile defense:

  • The Russian representative to a global conference on nuclear weapons has accused the U.S. of massing missile defenses capable of launching a “surprise nuclear missile strike against Russia.” Viktor Poznikhir, deputy head of operations of the Russian General Staff, was the latest official to accuse the U.S. of provoking a new arms race with the Kremlin. Robert Wood, the U.S. permanent representative to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, dismissed the claims as “science fiction.” (The Independent, 03.29.17)

Nuclear arms control:

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signaled on March 31 that Washington might soon decide how to respond to what it says are Russian violations of the Cold War-era INF Treaty, saying the United States was conferring with allies. (Reuters, 03.31.17)

Counter-terrorism:

  • Analysis: Beijing’s security cooperation with the Central Asian states is likely to grow significantly stronger in the coming months. And while China won’t replace Russia in the security equation in Central Asia, Beijing might replace Washington. (RFE/RL, 03.30.17)
  • “When you interfere to fight terrorist manifestations, it’s in the interest of your country,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview. (The National Interest, 03.29.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • The United States’ diplomatic policy on Syria for now is no longer focused on making the war-torn country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, leave power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on March 30, in a departure from the Obama administration’s initial and public stance on Assad’s fate. (Reuters, 03.30.17)
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian leader Vladimir Putin touted strengthening ties following their March 28 meeting in Moscow, despite differences over the conflict in Syria and the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. The two leaders praised their countries’ roles in the Syrian conflict and the Astana peace talks. Tehran and Moscow, which both support Assad, are eyeing foreign policy moves by the U.S., which has been exploring ways of splitting their diplomatic and military partnership. That has unnerved Iranian diplomats, who fear Moscow may sacrifice ties with Tehran for improved relations with the U.S., analysts said. (Wall Street Journal, 03.28.17, RFE/RL, 03.28.17, Reuters, 03.28.17)
  • A senior Russian general on March 28 accused the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State of targeting Syria’s infrastructure—including a key dam—in territory held by the Sunni extremist group. (AP, 03.28. 17)
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Reuters on March 28 that Russia could use Iranian military bases to launch air strikes against militants in Syria on a “case by case basis.” (Reuters, 03.28.17)
  • Turkey-Russia tensions have resurfaced after a Turkish soldier was killed by sniper fire from a part of Syria held by the YPG, a Kurdish militia. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu said that Ankara summoned Russian charge d’affaires Sergei Panov following the incident because Moscow was in charge of monitoring a cease-fire in the border area where the incident occurred. (Financial Times, 03.23.17, RFE/RL, 03.24.17)
  • Communication channels between Russia and the United States on flight safety over Syrian airspace are working, Interfax news agency reported on March 24, citing Russia’s Defense Ministry. The ministry said that its officials held a video conference with their U.S. counterparts on March 24 and discussed possible measures to develop their memorandum of understanding on flight safety over Syria approved in 2015. (Reuters, 03.24.17)
  • U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura urged in Geneva on March 24 for Russia, Iran and Turkey to conduct further Syrian cease-fire talks as soon as possible to prevent conditions in the war-ravaged country from worsening. De Mistura urged the co-sponsors of the Astana talks to recapture the momentum and “hopefully there will be an Astana meeting as soon as possible in order to control the situation which at the moment is worrisome.” (RFE/RL, 03.25.17)
  • U.S.-backed forces in northern Syria paused military operations near the Tabqa Dam, held by the Islamic State group, on March 27 to allow engineers to fix any problems after conflicting reports about the dam’s stability. (AP, 03.27.17)
  • Syria has received 50,000 tons of Russian wheat as humanitarian aid in March, Syrian and Russian government sources said March 28. However, no Russian wheat from the commercial deals signed with state grain buyer Hoboob have arrived yet, the Syrian government source said. (Reuters, 03.28.17)
  • On the Syria deal negotiated with former Secretary of State John Kerry: “And the fact that the Pentagon just disavowed what Kerry did, and Obama could not overrule the Pentagon, meant for me only one thing: that he, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, was motivated by the desire to have some revenge on Russia, for whatever reason and for whatever situation, rather than to capitalize over the deal reached between John Kerry and us, to make the war against terror much more efficient in Syria. But let God judge him,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview. (The National Interest, 03.29.17)
  • “…if their [Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov and U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford] discussions go beyond deconfliction, I don’t want to speculate, this would be a welcome sign that we can really do what is necessary to bring about the situation when everyone who confronts ISIL and Nusra on the ground acts in coordination,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview. (The National Interest, 03.29.17)

Cyber security:

  • See “far abroad” section below.

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

  • Former national security adviser Michael Flynn has offered to cooperate with congressional investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution. (The Washington Post, 03.31.17)
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee will as soon as April 3 begin privately interviewing 20 people as part of its investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election and any potential ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign. (The Washington Post, 03.29.17)
    • Three sources have told NBC News the committee is in talks to interview former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who wrote the dossier alleging links between the Trump campaign and Russia. (NBC, 03.29.17)
  • Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee wants a thorough review of the financial relationships between Russia and President Donald Trump and his associates. A Reuters investigation published earlier this month found that dozens of members of the Russian elite have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records. (Reuters, 03.29.17)
    • News reports in recent weeks have highlighted some unusual patterns in the movements of President Trump and his family and those of a private jet and a yacht owned by the Russian fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought a Florida mansion from Mr. Trump in 2008 for nearly $100 million. (New York Times, 03.31.17)
  • President Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, has agreed to talk to lawmakers about his business dealings with Russians. On March 27, the Russian state development bank Vnesheconombank (VEB) disclosed that its executives had met Kushner, also a real estate developer, in December as part of “a roadshow for Vneshekonombank’s 2021 strategy.” VEB, which has been used to finance political projects such as the Sochi Olympics, recently became embroiled in a spy scandal, with U.S. federal prosecutors accusing one of its top New York executives of operating as a spy under nonofficial cover. (AP, 03.29.17, Reuters, 03.29.17, Wall Street Journal, 03.27.17)
  • Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman and a one-time adviser to ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, has volunteered to be interviewed before the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating alleged ties between Trump campaign officials and Russia. (The Washington Post, 03.24.17)
    • Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska on March 28 denounced the AP’s story that Manafort had secretly worked for him on a plan to influence politics, business dealings and news coverage to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government, for a reported sum of some $10 million. Deripaska demanded that the “dissemination of these allegations … cease immediately.” Deripaska also said he is willing to take part in U.S. congressional hearings to discuss his past business relationship with Manafort. (AP, 03.28.17, The Washington Post, 03.28.17, AP, 03.22.17)
    • Between 2006 and 2013—overlapping in time with his work for Yanukovych—Manafort bought three homes in New York City, following a pattern: Using shell companies, he purchased the homes in all-cash deals, then transferred the properties into his own name for no money and finally borrowed against them ($12 million in total) within the past few years, according to property records. (WNYC, 03.28.17)
    • Within the past year Manafort faced foreclosure on several real-estate investments but received a $16 million lifeline through another former Trump adviser, real estate and court records show. The loans from the Federal Savings Bank, a small Chicago bank run by Steve Calk, equaled almost 24% of the bank’s reported $67 million of equity capital. Calk was a member of Trump’s Economic Advisory panel who overlapped with Manafort on the Trump campaign. (Wall Street Journal, 03.29.17)
  • The House Intelligence Committee’s probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, including potential ties between the Trump team and the Kremlin, is effectively on hold, after its chairman said the panel would not interview more witnesses until two intelligence chiefs return to Capitol Hill for a still-unscheduled private briefing. (The Washington Post, 03.28.17)
    • Democrats have called on the committee’s Republican chairman, Devin Nunes, who was part of President Donald Trump’s transition team, to recuse himself from the committee’s investigation of Trump-Russia ties after his “dead-of-night excursion” to the White House to view classified documents and amid general concerns that he is too close to the administration. Asked if he should recuse himself, Nunes responded, “Why would I?” (AP, 03.27.17, AP, 03.28.17, The Washington Post, 03.28.17, The Washington Post, 03.26.17)
    • At least three senior White House officials, including the top lawyer for the National Security Council, were involved in handling intelligence files that were shared with Nunes and showed that Trump campaign officials were swept up in U.S. surveillance of foreign nationals, according to U.S. officials. (The Washington Post, 03.30.17)
    • The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying in the House investigation of possible links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s campaign, according to letters provided to The Washington Post. (The Washington Post, 03.28.17)
  • In a series of tweets late March 27, President Donald Trump said that instead of probing his associates, the committee should be investigating his Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton’s ties to the Kremlin. “Trump Russia story is a hoax,” he tweeted. “Why isn’t the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big Uranium to go to Russia, Russian speech.” On March 31, Trump called the probe a “witch hunt” by the news media and Democrats. (AP, 03.28.17, The Washington Post, 03.28.17,New York Times, 03.31.17)
  • On Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. elections: “I believe that these absolutely groundless accusations—at least I haven’t seen a single fact that this was substantiated. I believe these accusations were used as an instrument in the electoral campaign … This is a Russophobic instrument,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview. (The National Interest, 03.29.17)
  • “Whether this is going to be an obstacle to normal relations, I don’t think so. I believe the Russian people, at least if we are asked, I would say no, if it depends on us. I understand that there are some people in the United States who want this to become an obstacle, and who want to tie up the team of President Trump on the Russian issue, and I believe this is very mean policy, but we see that this is taking place,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview. (The National Interest, 03.29.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia is a wild card that could thwart OPEC’s plan to dry out the market. Even though the world’s biggest energy producer agreed to cut its production by 300,000 barrels a day as part of the deal, its energy minister has confirmed that production has only declined by 185,000 barrels a day so far, and will hit 200,000 barrels by the end of the month. (Wall Street Journal, 03.28.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • Expectations that President Donald Trump’s election would lead to a rapid U.S. rapprochement with Russia are fading, as the White House pushes off the Kremlin’s proposals for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin and takes an increasingly skeptical view of reaching a grand bargain with Moscow. (Wall Street Journal, 03.30.17)
  • “‘Normal’ is to treat your partners with respect, not to try to impose some of your ideas on others without taking into account their own views and their concerns, always to try to listen and to hear, and hopefully not to rely on a superiority complex, which was obviously the case with the Obama administration,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview. (The National Interest, 03.29.17)
  • The chief spokesman for President Vladimir Putin says relations between the United States and Russia are at a very low ebb, perhaps exceeding Cold War-era hostility between Washington and Moscow. (AP, 03.31.17)
  •  “I don’t believe that we are having another Cold War. Ideologically, we’re not different, we’re not apart. … these days, unlike the days of the Cold War, we have much clearer common threats, like terrorism, like chaos in the Middle East, like the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview. (The National Interest, 03.29.17)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Washington will ease sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine only when Moscow respects commitments to help restore peace. (AP, 03.31.17)
  • Fiona Hill, a Russia expert and frequent critic of President Vladi­mir Putin, will join the White House National Security Council as senior director for Europe and Russia, officials said Tuesday. (The Washington Post, 03.28.17)
  • Uncertain of Moscow’s intentions, the Trump administration will stay away when Russia hosts China, India, Iran and Pakistan and several Central Asian countries for another set of Afghan talks next month. Afghanistan’s government is attending, but the U.S. declined an invitation, saying it wasn’t consulted ahead of time. No one has invited the Taliban. (AP, 03.30.17)
  • “And foreign policy for him [U.S. President Donald Trump] is important as long as it serves the United States’ interests, not just some messiah projects doing something just for the sake of showing that you can do it anywhere. It’s irrational, and in this he certainly holds the same position as we do in Moscow, as President Putin does, that we don’t want to meddle in other people’s matters,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview. (The National Interest, 03.29.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Russia on March 26 to protest official corruption in the most significant challenge to President Vladimir Putin in years; hundreds were arrested. Sunday’s marches were called by leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was detained during the protest in Moscow. (Wall Street Journal, 03.27.17, Financial Times, 03.26.17)
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin did not comment on the protests until March 30, comparing them to the first stirrings of the Arab Spring and warning that his government would deal harshly with unsanctioned protests. “This tool was used at the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring,” he said. “We know very well what this led to, what bloody events this led to.” Putin also suggested that Navalny was using the rallies to promote himself ahead of the country’s 2018 presidential election. (Wall Street Journal, 03.30.17, RFE/RL, 03.30.17)
    • A spokeswoman for Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation said the arrests were “an obvious attempt to disrupt the work of the organization.” (RFE/RL, 03.30.17)
    • State media, which had largely ignored the protests, showed Putin side by side with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during a March 29 trip to the Arctic in what may have been a choreographed display of solidarity and defiance as the anticorruption protests where spurred on by Navalny’s allegations against Medvedev. (RFE/RL, 03.29.17)
    • The White House, U.S. State Department and EU officials condemned the arrests and called on Russia to release peaceful protesters detained across the country. U.N. human rights experts also called on Moscow to annul sentences that had already been issued. President Vladimir Putin said Russia considered “appeals of this sort to be purely politicized questions with the goal of putting some kind of pressure on the internal political life of the country.” (Reuters, 03.29.17,The Washington Post, 03.27.17, AP, 03.27.17, AP, 03.30.17,Financial Times, 03.27.17)
    • More than two-thirds of Russians believe that President Vladimir Putin is “entirely” or “significantly” responsible for massive corruption among state officials, according to a new survey by the Levada Center. (RFE/RL, 03.30.17)
  • Hundreds of Russian truck drivers continued their strike for a third day on March 30, demanding the government repeal a road tax they say is onerous and ineffective. (RFE/RL, 03.30.17)
  • Russia’s energy and finance ministries are increasingly at odds over how to apply a planned new tax regime for oil producers, a finance ministry official said on March 28. (Reuters, 03.28.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Building on Russia’s arms ties with Iran following the delivery of a controversial S-300 air defense system last year, one of Russia’s top defense contractors, Russian Helicopters, said it was eyeing a joint venture with Iran to build light civilian helicopters. (Wall Street Journal, 03.28.17)
  • The United Arab Emirates’ Defense Ministry said in February it would jointly develop a light combat fighter with Russia’s state-run defense corporation Rostec—part of wealthy Gulf Arab states’ warning for Western suppliers of military equipment: If they want business, they have to transfer technical knowledge to local companies that are part of a rising, homegrown defense sector. (Wall Street Journal, 03.29.17)
  • An investigation into quality control in the Russian space industry has discovered that nearly every engine currently stockpiled for use in Proton rockets is defective, the RIA Novosti news agency reported March 30, citing the head of a state rocket-engine manufacturer. (The Moscow Times, 03.30.17)
  • Russia is not yet building a nuclear-powered supercarrier, but a Russian shipbuilding R&D institute pushing the Defense Ministry to sign off on its design, first revealed in May 2015. Based on independent estimates the carrier could take seven to 10 years to build and cost as much as $9 billion. (The Diplomat, 03.29.17)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • The Kremlin defended the actions of security forces, who often grappled with demonstrators during the weekend’s demonstrations and seemed to cart off some who had not been participating in the protests. “Law enforcement was acting in a totally correct, highly professional and lawful way,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. (New York Times, 03.27.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • Russian and Iranian officials signed agreements on oil production and arms trade after Russian President Vladimir Putin met Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani, who is on his first trip to Moscow as president. (Wall Street Journal, 03.28.17)
  • The small port town of Karlshamn, Sweden, offers a textbook case of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s divide-and-conquer strategy as he attempts to maintain Russia’s status as an energy powerhouse and a geopolitical force in Europe. Local leaders have opened the town’s port to Russia’s Gazprom in defiance of Swedish national authorities alarmed by a growing Russian military presence in the Baltic Sea. A Gazprom subsidiary is now allowed to store pipes here for an $11 billion undersea natural-gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, Nord Stream 2, easing the path for a project opposed by Sweden’s national government, the EU and the U.S. (Wall Street Journal, 03.30.17)
  • Many analysts agree that the British withdrawal [from the EU], and the uncertainty it produced, has been good news for Russia, and possibly for China, as two large powers that can exercise greater leverage in negotiations with individual European capitals than with a tightly unified European bloc that, taken together, is a geopolitical powerhouse. (New York Times, 03.29.17)
  • The German parliament was the target of fresh cyberattacks in January that attempted to piggy-back on an Israeli newspaper site, Berlin’s cyber security watchdog said March 29. The attack comes amid growing concern in Germany about cyber security and reports that Russia is working to destabilize the German government and could seek to interfere in the Sept. 24 national elections. The Bundestag lost 16 gigabytes of data to Russian hackers in 2015. A source familiar with the latest incident said it did not appear to be linked to the Russian group blamed for the 2015 hack and the 2016 hack of the U.S. Democratic National Committee. (Reuters, 03.29.17)
  • Bulgaria’s former prime minister, Boyko Borisov, has won an unprecedented third term in office, defeating his pro-Russian socialist rival, but will be unable to govern without the backing of a clutch of unpredictable small parties. The socialist party has called for the EU to drop its sanctions on Russia and has backed a pipeline that would likely increase Europe’s dependency on Russian gas. Still, even in their defeat, the socialists have dragged Borisov’s ruling GERB party further toward Russia. Repeatedly in the campaign, GERB leaders promised to improve relations with both Moscow and Washington. (Financial Times, 03.27.17, Wall Street Journal, 03.27.17)
  • Russia and Iran will continue cooperation in reducing oil output in order to stabilize the global energy market, according to a joint statement. (Reuters, 03.28.17)
  • France must curb its reliance on Russian and Ukrainian firms for its military support fleet to move troops and hardware to war zones, a French parliamentary report on March 28 found. The report’s author said the reliance on Russian and Ukrainian operators was a “veritable Damocles sword” hanging over French forces and that Paris was vulnerable to deteriorating relations that “could totally paralyze its aerial deployment.” In 2015, Flight Unit 224, a company linked to Russia’s Defense Ministry, suspended its flights for France at the request of the Russian government as relations between the two countries cooled over the Ukrainian crisis. (Reuters , 03.28.17)
  • Britain says a planned trip to Russia by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson this week has been postponed due to the rescheduling of a NATO foreign ministers meeting. (AP, 03.27.17)
  • Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip on Friday vowed to keep his country on a European path and accused his rival, President Igor Dodon, of trying to pull the country back toward Russia for domestic political gain. (Reuters, 03.31.17)

Ukraine:

  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered the military to implement a cease-fire and weapons pullback in eastern Ukraine beginning on April 1. (RFE/RL, 03.30.17)
  • Europe’s top court on March 28 upheld EU sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict, including on its largest oil group Rosneft, which had filed the legal challenge. (Reuters, 03.28.17, AP, 03.28.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Ukraine: “On the Minsk agreements, I believe that the Ukrainian government and President Poroshenko personally want them dead. They want them dead in a way which would allow them to blame Russia and the people in the east of Ukraine. … People tend to forget, because they’re being brainwashed every day with very simple phrases like ‘Russia is aggressor in Ukraine,’ ‘annexation of Crimea’ and so on and so forth, instead of laboring your tongues, people should go there. Those who go to Crimea, see for themselves how the people live there, and they understand that all these hysterical voices about violation of human rights, about discrimination vis-à-vis Crimean Tatars, is a lie.” (The National Interest, 03.29.17)
  • Europe’s top court on March 28 upheld EU sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict, including on its largest oil group Rosneft, which had filed the legal challenge. (Reuters, 03.28.17, AP, 03.28.17)
    • Activists in Kiev on March 28 started dismantling a cinder block wall that had been erected to blockade the central office of the local subsidiary of Sberbank, after news that the Russian state-owned bank had reached a preliminary agreement to exit the Ukrainian market. (Financial Times, 03.28.17)
    • On March 22, Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, passed a law restricting money transfers from Russia to countries that restrict the operation of Russian payment systems on its territory. The new rule applies to financial transfers outside the banking system. The law is Moscow’s response to Kiev’s ban on Russian money wiring systems such as Colibri, Golden Crown and Unistream. (Vzglyad/RBTH, 03.24.17)
  • Handing a victory to Russia in a protracted $3 billion debt conflict with Ukraine, London’s High court ruled that a case brought by Moscow cannot proceed to a full trial as Kiev lacks a “justiciable defense.” Justice Blair of the court noted that the aggression alleged by Ukraine or related breaches of international law have no connection with the specific dispute over debt repayment. Ukraine is expected to appeal the decision. (Bear Market Brief, 03.29.17, Financial Times, 03.29.17)
  • The European Union is prolonging its satellite imagery support to help observers monitor the conflict in eastern Ukraine. (AP, 03.24.17)
  • A small Ukrainian military helicopter crashed in the east of the country on March 26, killing its two crew members and three passengers, Ukraine’s defense ministry said. The ministry said it is most likely that the Mi-2 had flown into a power line. (Reuters, 03.26.17)
  • Less than 72 hours before he was killed, ex-Duma Deputy Denis Voronenkov had given one of his final interviews, speaking about his decision to leave Russia, the corruption charges against him, his vote for the annexation of Crimea and life in Ukraine. He dodged questions about his current employment. (The Washington Post, 03.28.17)
  • The man seen shooting ex-Duma Deputy Denis Voronenkov and a bodyguard in security-camera footage has been identified as 28-year-old, Crimean-born Ukrainian national Pavlo Parshov, a Ukrainian Interior Ministry spokesman told RFE/RL. Ukraine’s security service, the SBU, has said Parshov served briefly in the country’s National Guard, according to TASS. (RFE/RL, 03.24.17, RBTH, 03.24.17)
  • A municipal court in the southern Russian town of Yessentuki has issued an arrest warrant for former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. According to the court’s March 27 statement, an international warrant for Yatsenyuk’s arrest has been in effect since Feb. 21. Russia wants to try him on charges of participating in an armed group in the Russian North Caucasus region of Chechnya in the mid-1990s and fighting against Russian troops. (RFE/RL, 03.27.17)
  • Ukraine’s Tedis Ukraine tobacco giant has been accused of tax evasion and financing Russia-backed separatists that control parts of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. (RFE/RL, 03.31.17)
  • PEN America just awarded its Barbey Freedom to Write Award to the acclaimed Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, imprisoned in Russia. (The Washington Post, 03.28.17)
  • See also NATO-RF relations section above.

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant developments.

IV. Quoteworthy

  • No significant developments.
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