HARVARD UNIVERSITY

 

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

Nuclear security:

  • Efforts to counteracting nuclear terrorism was on the agenda at a conference in Russia’s Murmansk on April 4. The conference in Murmansk was entitled “Improving antiterrorist protection of civilian and military nuclear power facilities, preventing acts of nuclear terrorism,” the regional authorities’ newspaper Murmansk Vestnik reports. “The Kola Peninsula is saturated with nuclear facilities, so the topic is very relevant for us,” Aleksandr Metelkov, chief of staff of the Federal Security Service’s operational headquarters, said. A national meeting on security issues of the nuclear industry complex will take place in Murmansk next month. (Barents Observer, 04.05.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Russia has developed the capability to launch an attack on the Baltic stateswith as little as 24 hours’ notice, limiting NATO’s options to respond other than to have military forces already deployed in the region, Lithuania’s intelligence service said on April 3. The Lithuanian intelligence service said in its annual threat assessment that Russia had upgraded its military in the Kaliningrad region last year, reducing lead times for any attack and potentially preventing NATO reinforcements. (Reuters, 04.03.17)
  • A 2009 military document used to teach U.S. troops how to call in close air support emphasizes that the Russian experience in Grozny provides a key historical example for understanding air operations in an urban terrain. “The urban area provided the Chechens protections from fires, resources, interior lines and covered and concealed positions and movement. Given such advantages offered by the environment, smaller or less sophisticated military forces have similarly chosen to fight in urban areas,” the document says. (The Washington Post, 03.31.17)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has joined a growing list of Trump administration officials to visit the hub of North Atlantic solidarity and scold the United States’ European allies, saying they do not spend enough on their collective defense. ”Allies must increase defense spending to meet their commitments,” Tillerson said, again and again, in a speech to NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. (New York Times, 03.31.17)
  • U.S. Sen. John McCain said that Russia’s actions are “echoes of the Cold War. They just tell flat-out lies.” “They’re succeeding in continuing their dismemberment of Ukraine, they’re succeeding in exerting enormous influence in the Middle East, which they never had before,” McCain said. (The Washington Post, 04.02.17)
  • Germany’s far-left Linke party said on April 3 that NATO should be replaced by an alliance including Russia, called for an end to weapons exports as U.S. President Donald Trump urges more defense spending and demanded an end to German combat missions. The latest polls show the Linke on 8% support. (Reuters, 04.03.17)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • The latest set of New START aggregate data released by the U.S. State Department shows Russia as of March 1, 2017 deployed 1,765 strategic warheads, down by 31 warheads compared with October 2016. That means Russia is counted as deploying 228 strategic warheads more than when New START went into force in February 2011. The United States was counted as deploying 1,411 strategic warheads as of March 1, 2017, an increase of 44 warheads compared with the 1,367 strategic deployed warheads counted in October 2016. (Federation of American Scientists, 04.03.17)
  • U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told lawmakers that the U.S. and its allies have “no defense” against recently deployed Russian cruise missiles. The ground-launch missiles deployed were considered a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by the Obama administration when the missiles were tested in 2014. The 1987 treaty bans land-based intermediate-range missiles. “A single ground-launched cruise missile is not a significant threat to the United States or our allies,” Hyten said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. But, he said, “It shows the beginning of a deployment of a structure that could be a threat in the future.” (Defense News, 04.05.17,Washington Examiner, 04.04.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • The United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria overnight in response to what it believes was a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 100 people on April 4. The missiles were launched from the USS Ross and the USS Porter in the Mediterranean Sea toward Shayrat Airfield in the Syrian city of Homs. American officials believe the airfield was used by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to carry out the strike. (NBC, 04.07.17)
    • U.S. President Donald Trump cast the United States assault on a Syrian air base as vital to deter future use of poison gas and called on other nations to join in seeking “to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.” Prior to the strikes, Trump said the gas attack has changed his thinking on the civil war, as the U.S. signaled it could take action against the Syrian government, as well as targeting Islamic State strongholds in the country. Asked on April 5 if the gas attack crossed a “red line,” Trump said it “crossed a lot of lines for me. That crosses many, many lines, beyond red lines.” UNICEF said on April 6 that 546 people were injured in the gas attack, “among them many children.” (New York Times, 04.06.17, Reuters, 04.06.17, Bloomberg, 04.05.17,AP, 04.07.17)
    • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking just after the strikes were announced, said Russia had “failed in its responsibility” to deliver on a 2013 deal it helped broker to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. “So either Russia has been complicit, or Russia has been simply incompetent on its ability to deliver,” Tillerson said. Prior to the U.S. strikes Tillerson has said that Russia and Iran bear “great moral responsibility” for deaths from an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. Also prior to the strikes, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley warned April 5 that the Trump administration will take action against chemical attacks in Syria. “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.” (AP, 04.07.17,AP, 04.04.17, AP, 05.05.17)
    • The U.S. military gave Russian forces advanced notice of its strikes on a Syrian air base and did not hit sections of the base where the Russians were believed to be present, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said on April 6. Davis, briefing reporters on the operation, said the U.S. military had “multiple” conversations with Russian forces on April 6 before the strike, using a line of communication that had previously been established to prevent an accidental clash in Syria during the fight against Islamic State. “Two hours before the attack, the U.S. warned our personnel about it. They attacked the Syrian air base, our people were not there,” Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Defense Committee Vladimir Shamanov told TASS. (TASS, 04.07.17,Reuters, 04.06.17)
    • The Syrian military said at least seven people were killed and nine wounded in the strike. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitor, also put the death toll at seven, including a general and three soldiers. Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Defense Committee Vladimir Shamanov told TASS that no Russian personnel were present at the air base. Russia’s foreign minister also says Russian servicemen haven’t been hurt in the U.S. strike on the Syrian air base. (TASS, 04.07.17, AP, 04.07.17, AP, 04.06.17)
    • In response to the U.S. strikes, Russia announced the suspension of an airspace safety agreement with the U.S. and its allies. (The Moscow Times, 04.07.17)
    • The Russian Defense Ministry says only 23 of 59 U.S. cruise missiles reached the Syrian air base, and that while six Syrian jets were destroyed by the strike, the air base runway remains intact. Following the strike, the Russian Defense Ministry said on April 7 that Syrian air defenses would be beefed up. (AP, 04.07.17, Reuters, 04.07.17)
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the country’s Security Council on April 7 and discussed keeping Russia’s air force presence in Syria following the U.S. missile strikes, the Kremlin said. The Kremlin said Putin believes the U.S. strike is an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.” In remarks made before the strikes on April 6, Putin said it was unacceptable to make “groundless” accusations over the gas attack.  Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin believes the U.S. launched the strikes under a “far-fetched pretext.” “Washington’s move deals a significant blow to the Russia-U.S. relations, which are already in a deplorable shape,” Peskov said. He added that the attack creates a “serious obstacle” for creating an international coalition against terrorism. (AP, 04.06.17,Reuters, 04.06.17, Reuters, 04.07.17)
    • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on April 7 he hoped U.S. missile strikes on Syria would not irreparably damage relations between Moscow and Washington. Drawing a parallel to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Lavrov accused the U.S. and its allies of seeking regime change by sabotaging Russian efforts to secure a Syrian peace deal. (Reuters, 04.07.17, Bloomberg, 04.07.17, AP, 04.06.17, Reuters, 04.04.17, AP, 04.04.17)
    • Some voices in Moscow are questioning whether rogue elements in the Syrian regime could have been responsible for the latest chemical attack, which would put Russia in a very awkward position as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main backer. (Bloomberg, 04.07.17)
    • The British government says it was informed in advance about the strike and firmly supports the American action. The French, Germans and NATO were also informed of the strikes in advance. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande laid the blame for the U.S. military attack on Syria at the door of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as the U.K. said it “fully supports” the overnight strike. On April 5, Britain and France renewed their call for Assad to go, after the suspected chemical weapons attack. (AP, 04.06.17, Wall Street Journal, 04.07.17, Bloomberg, 04.07.17,Reuters, 04.04.15, Reuters, 04.05.17)
    • French Presidential candidate Francois Fillon wrote in a statement April 7 that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime that must not go unpunished. The U.S. response must not lead to a direct confrontation between Western powers and the Russia and Iran, which would be “a terrible danger for peace,” Fillon wrote. (Bloomberg, 04.07.17)
  • When asked about Russia’s role in Syria, U.S. President Donald Trump said: “I think it’s a very sad day for Russia because they’re aligned, and in this case, all information points to Syria that they did this. Why they did this, who knows? That’s a level—first of all, they weren’t supposed to have this. Obama said, ‘It’s all cleared away.’ Well, that’s another thing he didn’t do. This was a big moment, a big moment in the Middle East was when Obama drew the red line in the sand, and it was immediately violated, and did nothing. That was a big moment in the Middle East. I know you’re not going to report it, but—that was a big, bad moment in the Middle East.” (New York Times, 04.05.17)
  • Senior Trump administration officials, reshaping U.S. policy in the Middle East, have formally declared in recent days that Washington no longer is focused on the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a priority. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 30 said that Assad’s future was up to the Syrian people. However, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, says Assad is “a war criminal.” Reporters asked Haley at an April 3 news briefing if Tillerson’s statement meant Washington would accept that Assad could again run for the presidency in elections. “No, it doesn’t mean that the U.S. will accept it,” she said. “There is not a fundamental option of regime change as there has been in the past,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on April 4, adding that the U.S. believes it would be better for the Syrian people if Assad were gone. (Wall Street Journal, 04.01.17, RFE/RL, 04.04.17, Bloomberg, 04.04.17)
  • The European Union’s top diplomat says it is unrealistic to think that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could retain power over any future government in a post-war Syria. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said April 3 that “it seems completely unrealistic to believe that the future of Syria will be exactly the same as it used to be in the past.” (AP, 04.03.17)
  • In remarks made before the U.S. strikes on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said April 6 that Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not unconditional. Peskov told The Associated Press in an interview that “unconditional support is not possible in this current world,” but added that “it is not correct to say that Moscow can convince Mr. Assad to do whatever is wanted in Moscow. This is totally wrong.” (AP, 04.06.17)
  • International donors sought to drum up billions of dollars in aid for war-ravaged Syria on April 5. (AP, 04.05.17).
  • A Russian frigate armed with Kalibr cruise missiles sailed through the Bosporus en route to the eastern Mediterranean in the early hours of April 7, according to pictures taken by Turkish bloggers for their online Bosporus Naval News project. (Reuters, 04.07.17)
  • Currently, roughly 20% of the strikes carried out by Russian aircraft in Syria have used guided weapons, while the U.S. military uses them exclusively. (The Washington Post, 03.31.17)
  • A United Nations expert says it will take 40-50 years and billions of dollars to clear the mines, improvised explosives and other unexploded ordnance from the multiyear wars in Iraq and Syria. (RFE/RL, 04.05.17)
  • King Abdullah II of Jordan said: “We all know that the Russians want [Assad] there longer than the rest of us do, but I don’t think the Russians are wed to Assad. Common sense dictates that somebody who is the figurehead of such bloodshed towards his people probably will move on.” (The Washington Post, 04.06.17)
  • King Abdullah II of Jordan said: “From the Russian point of view, they play what I describe as a three-dimensional chess game. To them, Crimea is important, Syria is important, Ukraine and we see them in Libya. The Americans and Europeans must deal with the Russians on all these issues simultaneously. … For the Russians, I think the most important thing is Crimea. If you come to an understanding on Crimea, I think you will see much more flexibility on Syria, and I think Ukraine then becomes the least problematic.” (The Washington Post, 04.06.17)
  • King Abdullah II of Jordan said: “A Russian-American dialogue will help. Otherwise, the Americans and Russians will fight it out in Syria and Libya. If you keep this tension going, the next problem will be in Moldova. . . . Russians are going to continue to shake the tree, unless we come to a meeting of minds.” (The Washington Post, 04.06.17)

Counter-terrorism:

  • Russia is ready to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism in any format, if Washington shows interest in doing so, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters on April 6. (TASS, 04.06.17)
  • Russian investigators suspect Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, a 22-year-old radical Islamist immigrant from Kyrgyzstan detonated the explosive in a St. Petersburg subway car April 3, killing 14. The remains of Dzhalilov were recovered from the scene of the bombing and matched DNA found on a bag containing the other explosive device that was defused at a nearby station. (The Moscow Times, 04.04.17, Bloomberg, 04.04.17, Bloomberg, 04.04.17)
    • One theory, which is currently being investigated in conjunction with the Kyrgyz National Security Committee, is that Akbarzhon Dzhalilov—an ethnic Uzbek—might have committed the attack under the influence of the Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad terror group, which operated in Syria. (RBTH, 04.07.17)
    • Six men have been detained in St. Petersburg on charges of abetting terrorism, Russia’s Investigative Committee confirmed on April 5.The men, who are described as migrant workers from Central Asia, are suspected of attempting to recruit other Central Asian migrants in St. Petersburg to join terrorist groups. Russian authorities also raided a residential building in St. Petersburg on April 6 and found explosives similar to those used by a suicide bomber who this week blew up a metro carriage killing 14 people, two security sources said. (Reuters, 04.06.17, The Moscow Times, 04.05.17)
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s presence in St. Petersburg at the time of a bomb attack on the metro which killed 14 people is “noteworthy,” the Kremlin said on April 4. Putin visited the Federal Security Service’s St. Petersburg branch to be briefed by officials and later laid flowers at the site of the explosion. (Bloomberg, 04.04.17,Reuters, 04.04.17)
    • U.S. President Donald Trump, asked about the blast by reporters in Washington, called it a “terrible, terrible thing—happening all over the world.” In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump “offered the full support of the United States government in responding to the attack and bringing those responsible to justice,” according to a White House statement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Trump called Putin only to express condolences, but noted that Russia may accept U.S. assistance if it proved necessary. (Bloomberg, 04.04.17,TASS, 04.04.17)
    • The leaders of Russia, Germany and France agreed in a phone call on April 4 to speed up the exchange of data aimed at fighting terrorism, the Kremlin said. The Kremlin said the leaders also discussed the situation in Ukraine and the Easter ceasefire declared from April 1. (Reuters, 04.04.17)
    • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on April 4 it would be “cynical and mean” to call a deadly blast in St. Petersburg an act of revenge for Russia’s actions in Syria, Russian state news agency RIA reported. The deadly bomb blast in St. Petersburg shows the need for joint efforts against global terrorism, he said. (Reuters, 04.04.17)
    • Russia held a series of anti-terror rallies with government encouragement in the wake of a deadly subway suicide bombing in St. Petersburg. (Bloomberg, 06.07.17)
    • Russia’s two biggest cities haven’t suffered a major attack in more than six years. (Bloomberg, 04.04.17)
  • The office of the governor of Russia’s southern Astrakhan region on April 4 said radical Islamists were responsible for the killings of two policemen in the region on April 3, the RIA news agency reported. Police in southern Russia on April 6 hunted down and killed four suspects. (Reuters, 04,04.17,AP, 04.06.17)
  • Turkish security forces have detained 18 people attempting to illegally cross to Turkey from its Syrian border, including a Chechen man suspected of planning an attack, the military said on April 4. (Reuters, 04.04.17)

Cyber security:

  • Over a 24-hour period, top U.S. cyber defenders engaged in a pitched battle with Russian hackers who had breached the unclassified U.S. State Department computer system and displayed an unprecedented level of aggression that experts warn is likely to be turned against the private sector. Whenever National Security Agency (NSA) hackers cut the attackers’ link between their command and control server and the malware in the U.S. system, the Russians set up a new one, current and former U.S. officials said. “It was hand-to-hand combat,” said NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett, who described the incident at a recent cyber forum, but did not name the nation behind it. Ledgett, speaking at the Aspen Institute last month, placed the State Department incident in late 2015. But officials at the NSA, which defends the government’s national security computer systems, clarified that it took place in 2014. (The Washington Post, 04.03.17)
  • Yevgeny Nikulin, a Russian who faces charges in the United States of hacking and stealing information from computers at LinkedIn, Dropbox and other San Francisco Bay Area companies, can be extradited either to the United States or Russia, the state prosecution in Prague said on April 5. (AP, 04.05.17)
  • Kazakh-born Karim Baratov, accused of working with Russian intelligence officials to hack over a half-billion Yahoo e-mail accounts, has asked a Canadian court to release him on bail. (RFE/RL, 04.06.17)
  • Russia’s existing internet regulations are sufficient and the country needs no further restrictions, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 3. “The state should … eliminate certain threats,” Putin told a group of journalists from Russian regions. (Reuters, 04.03.17)
  • The world governing body of track and field says it has become the victim of a cyberattack by a Russian hacking group linked to other incidents, including the hacking of the World Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Democratic Party. (RFE/RL, 04.03.17)

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

  • The FBI is planning to create a special section based at its Washington headquarters to coordinate its investigation of Russian activities designed to influence the 2016 presidential election, according to a person familiar with the plan. (Financial Times, 04.02.17)
  • The CIA told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Trump’s victory months later, former government officials say. The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia’s intentions to help Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought. In the briefings last August and September, the CIA said there was intelligence indicating not only that the Russians were trying to get Trump elected but that they had also gained computer access to multiple state and local election boards in the United States since 2014, officials said. (New York Times, 04.05.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said: “The Russia story is a total hoax. There has been absolutely nothing coming out of that.” (New York Times, 04.05.17)
  • The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret two-day meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials. The meeting took place around Jan. 11 in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump. (The Washington Post, 04.03.17)
  • A former advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign has admitted contact with a Russian spy. Carter Page brushed shoulders with the Russian spy in 2013, allegedly providing them with “documents about the energy business,” according to a 2015 court filing.  The complaint was filed by the U.S. government in 2015 as part of a wider case against three Russian nationals working in New York as undisclosed agents of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR. One of the Russians charged in the case, Viktor Podobny, met Page at a 2013 energy conference. The court filing includes a colorful transcript of Podobny speaking about trying to recruit Page. “[Male-1] wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am,” Podobny said. In a statement released April 4, Page confirmed his role in the 2015 Justice Department spy case. (BuzzFeed, 04.03.17, The Moscow Times, 04.04.17, AP, 04.04.17)
  • House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he is recusing himself from the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election. Nunes has earlier said that his panel could in as soon as two weeks resume interviewing witnesses as part of its probe into possible Russian meddling. (Bloomberg, 06.06.17, The Washington Post, 04.03.17)
  • “Certainly I think Russia was involved in the election,” U.S. envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley said. “There’s no question about that.” (Bloomberg, 03.02.17)
  • Michael Flynn, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, failed to disclose payments from a Russian television network and two other firms linked to Russia in a February financial disclosure form, according to documents released by the White House. (Reuters, 04.02.17)
  • Hillary Clinton left no doubt on April 6 that she believes Russia contributed to her defeat by interfering in the election, condemning what she called Moscow’s “weaponization of information.” (New York Times, 04.06.17)
  • A leading Republican U.S. senator has called for deeper Justice Department investigations into the Washington lobbying firm connected to the explosive dossier compiled on U.S. President Donald Trump during last year’s election campaign and the firm’s alleged Russian ties. The focus of the March 31 letter, from Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is Fusion GPS and the work it did in particular connected to the human rights law passed last year known as the Global Magnitsky Act. (RFE/RL, 04.01.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Some big utilities in Eastern Europe are backing a proposed EU antitrust settlement with Russian state gas exporter Gazprom, increasing the chances of a deal that is opposed by countries striving to loosen the Kremlin’s grip over their energy sectors. (Reuters, 04.07.17)
  • Turkmenistan’s president has fired his natural gas-rich nation’s leading energy official. State newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan said April 6 that the deputy prime minister for energy affairs, Yashigeldy Kakayev, was fired for exercising “weak control” over an industry that is the lifeblood of the former Soviet republic’s economy. (AP, 04.06.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base are unlikely to halt U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s planned visit to Moscow next week, the head of the Russian lower house of parliament’s international affairs committee said on April 7. “I don’t think this will impact Tillerson’s visit; we need to restore dialogue. We should welcome Tillerson, exchange views and try and talk sense into Washington,” Leonid Slutsky said. Russia has earlier seized on the announcement of Tillerson’s first visit to Moscow as U.S. secretary of state by setting out an unusually detailed agenda for talks that it said aimed to eliminate “numerous irritants” in relations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov plans to discuss the fight against terrorism and the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan and Ukraine with Tillerson on April 12, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said. The situation in North Korea, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and arms control are also on the agenda. (Reuters, 04.07.17, Bloomberg, 04.05.17)
  • There are no “specific options” for a planned meeting between the U.S. and Russian presidents so far, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters April 5. Peskov said that the Trump administration needs time to formulate its thoughts about Russia in a more precise way, but Moscow has enough patience to wait for this. The Kremlin spokesman declined to provide a direct answer as to whether Putin preferred Trump during the U.S. election campaign to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. (TASS, 04.01.17,Bloomberg, 04.05.17)
  • Upon hearing one minister at a meeting of NATO’s foreign ministers speak of taking a two-tier approach with Russia because “it takes two to tango,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked, “Sure, you can dance with Russia and you might also gain something out of it. But for sure you cannot tango with [Sergey] Lavrov because he is not allowed to dance that one.” Lavrov responded to Tillerson’s observation by noting, “My mother used to tell me: always be a good boy, don’t ever dance with other boys.” (TASS, 04.04.17)
  • Respected U.S.-Russia analyst Fiona Hill has taken a leave of absence from the Brookings Institution to take up the post of deputy assistant to the U.S. president and senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council. The Brookings Institution posted the announcement on its website on April 4, saying the changes were “effective immediately.” (RFE/RL, 04.04.17)
  • The chief of the Russian space agency says his country is open to extending its partnership in the International Space Station with the United States and other nations past the planned conclusion of the program in 2024. Igor Komarov, general director of Roscosmos, on April 4 told reporters that “we are ready to discuss it,” when asked at the U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado if Russia would consider a four-year extension. Komarov also said that SpaceX’s ability to launch, land and then fly again using the same main engines and lower portion of the rocket was a “breakthrough” and definitely “is the technology of the future.” (RFE/RL, 04.05.17, Wall Street Journal, 04.04.17)
  • U.S. authorities have deported Yevgeny Buryakov, convicted of working as an unregistered Russian government agent, in a case that has shed light on Russian intelligence operations in the United States. (RFE/RL, 04.06.17)
  • The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to consider the case of Russian Viktor Bout, who is serving a criminal term in an American prison.(CrimeRussia, 04.03.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • According to the Rosstat’s latest calculations, Russia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased in the fourth quarter of 2016. On the whole, the Russian economy contracted by 0.2% in 2016. Positive growth was only registered in the fourth quarter, where GDP grew by 0.3% compared over the same period in 2015. (The Moscow Times, 04.04.17)
  • Russia’s Reserve Fund increased slightly to $16.19 billion on April 1 from $16.07 billion at the start of the previous month, finance ministry data showed on April 4. (Reuters, 04.04.17)
  • Ratings agency Fitch on March 31 affirmed Russia’s sovereign outlook at stable, saying the upside and downside risks to the rating are currently balanced. (Reuters, 03.31.17)
  • Russia’s ruble fell the most among major global currencies on April 7 and the nation’s borrowing costs surged after U.S. airstrikes on Syria dashed hopes for an improvement in the two countries’ ties under U.S. President Donald Trump. The Russian currency sank 0.9% against the dollar by 11:04 a.m. in Moscow. (Bloomberg, 04.07.17)
  • Experts from the Center for Economic and Political Reforms (CEPR) found that Russian doctors earned 140 rubles ($2.46) per hour, compared to the hourly wage of 146 rubles ($2.57) for a supervisor at global fast food chain McDonald’s. (The Moscow Times, 04.07.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has relieved the head of the Mari El region of his duties. The Kremlin said on April 6 that Putin “accepted” Leonid Markelov’s “resignation request” and appointed Aleksandr Yevstifeyev as the region’s acting head. (RFE/RL, 04.06.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that exempts Russians who are under Western sanctions from paying taxes in Russia if they are registered as taxpayers abroad. (RFE/RL, 04.04.17)
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on April 4 that allegations of corruption leveled against him were “nonsense” and politically motivated, the RIA Novosti agency reported. Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has urged Russian politicians not to investigate allegations of corruption against Medvedev. Volodin, who previously served as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff, said it would be “wrong” for parliament to conduct an inquiry into the claims. (Reuters, 04.04.17, The Moscow Times, 04.05.17)
  • Russians are demanding more from the government as discontent with state corruption grows, a report by independent pollster the Levada Center has revealed. Some 31% of respondents agreed that “the state gives a lot but one can demand more,” up from 25% in March 2016, the Kommersant newspaper reported on April 3. Another 31% said that the state had given them “so little” that they “didn’t owe it anything.” Dissatisfaction with the country’s overall economic problems has changed people’s attitude to the state, according to the Levada Center. “The ‘Crimean mobilization,’ and subsequent consolidation of society by the authorities is coming to an end,” said Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center. (The Moscow Times, 04.03.17, RBTH, 04.05.17)
  • The European Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for the “immediate release and dropping of all charges” against Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny “and all the peaceful protesters and journalists detained after the recent demonstrations in Russia.” Ten percent of Russian voters would cast their ballots for Navalny in the presidential elections, according to the Levada Center’s February 2017 poll. (RFE/RL, 04.06.17, Russia Matters, 04.07.17)
  • Russian opposition activist Leonid Razvozzhayev has walked free from prison in Siberia after serving 4 1/2 years behind bars for organizing protests. (RFE/RL, 04.07.17)
  • According to an online poll conducted by GfK, the German marketing and consumer information agency, Russians took second place for the world’s most voracious readers. The Chinese came in first place, and the Spanish in third. (RBTH, 03.30.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The number of Russia’s military personnel will rise by 19,000, increasing the total to more than 1.9 million by July 1, according to a decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Of the additional 19,000 employees, 13,698 will be active military servicemen and 5,357 will be civilian workers. (RBTH, 03.30.17)
  • Russia has unveiled its army’s most powerful submarine to date, capable of carrying hundreds of torpedoes and reaching speeds of up to 31 knots. The new Yasen-class nuclear powered attack submarine, called the Kazan, is armed with torpedoes and long-range Kalibr cruise missiles. At the launch of the SSN Kazan, Navy Commander in Chief Adm. Vladimir Korolev said the third Yasen-M, Krasnoyarsk, would be launched in 2019. However, he did not mention the second, Novosibirsk. According to RIA Novosti, Korolev also indicated that the sixth Yasen-M (seventh Yasen overall) will be laid down this summer, and will be named Ulyanovsk. (The Independent, 04.05.17, Russia Defense Policy,03.31.17)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • The head of the Kremlin human rights council is calling for a “thorough check” of reports that authorities in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Chechnya have been arresting and killing homosexuals. (RFE/RL, 04.03.17).
  • A Russian governor has been arrested on suspicion of taking a 140 million ruble ($2.5 million) bribe in the Kremlin’s latest high-profile anti-corruption sting operation.  Alexander Soloviev, the head of Russia’s central Udmurtia region, faces 15 years in prison if found guilty of large-scale corruption. (The Moscow Times, 04.04.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • France’s polling commission has issued a warning over a Russian news report suggesting conservative candidate Francois Fillon leads the race for the presidency—something which contradicts the findings of mainstream opinion pollsters. Support for the Republican nominee rose one percentage point to 19% in the weekly Elabe poll on April 6 of first-round voting intentions, while lower support for Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen brought him closer to a slot in the May 7 runoff than at any time since mid-February. (Reuters, 04.02.17, Bloomberg, 04.06.17)
  • U.K. officials are said earlier this week to be hoping to build bridges with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration. The British government has made discreet approaches to Moscow in an effort to improve frayed relations between the two countries, The Independent has learned. (The Independent, 04.06.17)
  • The Moscow city court has sentenced Estonian resident Arsen Mardaleishvili to 11 years in prison for spying for the Estonian Interior Ministry. (TASS, 04.06.17)
  • A spokeswoman for the European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has called for an investigation into allegations that authorities in the Russian region of Chechnya have been abducting, torturing and even killing gay men in an apparent coordinated campaign. (RFE/RL, 04.06.17)
  • Polish prosecutors have accused two Russian air traffic controllers of “deliberately provoking” the fatal plane crash which killed former Polish President Lech Kaczynski in 2010. (The Moscow Times, 04.03.17)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has expressed concern over Russia’s activities in Afghanistan and its interaction with the Taliban militant group. (RFE/RL, 03.31.17)
  • Russia derailed the appointment of a dual American-German national as the U.N.’s top official in Libya, flexing its diplomatic muscle in a region where Moscow has been steadily seeking to expand its influence, according to several diplomatic sources. (Foreign Policy, 04.03.17)
  • Israel says it is looking into a Russian statement that recognizes its claim to Jerusalem while also recognizing the Palestinian claim. (AP, 04.06.17)
  • According to Russian Defense MinisterSergei Shoigu, around 3,600 Chinese officers have been trained in Russian military institutions since the beginning of 1990s. (RBTH, 04.06.17)
  • Russia is ready to build “effective and full-scale” cooperation with Japan in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy to harness the innovations of Russian scientists, Alexey Likhachov, director-general of state nuclear corporation Rosatom said in Japan this week. (World Nuclear News, 04.06.17)
  • Russia’s ASE Group and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) have announced the “final acceptance” of unit one of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. NPCIL on April 3 signed an agreement provisionally accepting Kudankulam unit two from its Russian suppliers and thus marking the unit’s entry into commercial operation. (World Nuclear News, 04.06.17, World Nuclear News, 04.03.17)
  • A memorandum of understanding has been signed between the nuclear regulatory authorities of Russia and Indonesia to cooperate in a range of issues related to the regulation of nuclear and radiation safety and nuclear security. (World Nuclear News, 04.05.17)
  • Russia and Turkey have held a series of joint naval exercises in the Black Sea. The Kremlin’s Black Sea Fleet deployed three ships while the Turks sent two vessels to the exercise, which is called PASSEX. (The National Interest, 04.05.17)
  • Russia will send about 100 parachute troops to Nicaragua for the first joint anti-terrorist operations between the two nations. Some reports claim that a Russian parachute company made up of 100 servicemen, together with ten airborne combat vehicles, will participate in the joint exercises. (RBTH, 04.06.17)

Ukraine:

  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said last week that he had ordered the Ukrainian military to implement a cease-fire and weapons pullback in eastern Ukraine beginning on April 1. However, the sides continued to exchange fire on April 1-3. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine recorded an increased number of cease-fire violations on April 2-April 3, including about 190 explosions, compared with 90 explosions April 1-April 2. Poroshenko blamed the violations on separatists. In comments made on April 4, he said the separatists have not observed the cease-fire regime for a single day since April 1. According to a separatist commander, however, the Ukrainian army shelled the territory of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. (RFE/RL, 03.30.17, OSCE, 04.04.17, Interfax, 04.04.17, TASS, 04.01.17)
  • Russia has accused the United States and its allies of “slander” as the U.S. top diplomat and Pentagon chief denounced Russia’s actions in Ukraine and elsewhere. “The U.S. and its allies are obsessed with building up their military presence on our borders, justifying it with the need to ‘restrain Russia,'” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. (RFE/RL, 04.01.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has appointed Maria Gaidar, a former politician and activist in Russia, as an adviser. (RFE/RL, 04.05.17)
  • The International Monetary Fund urged Ukraine on April 3 to raise the pension age and do more to tackle corruption after announcing the payout of $1 billion in new aid to the war-torn country. (Reuters, 04.03.17)
  • The European Parliament has approved visa liberalization for Ukraine, a crucial step toward enabling Ukrainians to travel to the European Union without obtaining visas. (RFE/RL, 04.06.17)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The presidents of Russia and Belarus said on April 3 they had resolved all disputes over energy, signaling a rapprochement at a time when both leaders are grappling with street protests and the threat of new Western sanctions hangs over Minsk.  Belarus has agreed to pay Russian gas firm Gazprom more than $720 million in arrears for gas supplies, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said on April 3. (Reuters, 04.03.17)
  • A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has sent a letter to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka expressing “great concern” over a crackdown on citizens protesting against a controversial tax on the unemployed and urged the “immediate” release of those detained. (RFE/RL, 04.05.17)
  • Russia’s Atomstroyexport has announced it has installed the reactor pressure vessel of unit one of the nuclear power plant under construction at Ostrovets in Belarus. (World Nuclear News, 04.03.17)
  • The European Union has said it has no evidence to support a claim by Moldova’s pro-Russian President Igor Dodon that officials in the country’s pro-Western governments have pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid the EU allocated to Moldova. (RFE/RL, 04.05.17)
  • Official results indicate that President Serzh Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia has won about half the votes cast in parliamentary elections that international observers said were “tainted” by reports of vote-buying and pressure on voters. The Central Election Commission on April 3 said that with ballots counted from almost all precincts in the April 2 vote, the Republican Party had won 49.15% and the center-right Tsarukian alliance, led by Russia-friendly tycoon Gagik Tsarukian, had 27.37%. (RFE/RL, 04.03.17)
  • Election officials in Tajikistan say President Emomali Rahmon’s eldest son, Rustam Emomali, has won a seat in the Dushanbe city legislature. (RFE/RL, 04.03.17)
  • A joint delegation from the European Union and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has held talks with the government of Kyrgyzstan on addressing the environmental legacy of uranium mining in Central Asia. (World Nuclear News, 04.04.17)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • “Some people believed in a miracle,” Sergei Karaganov, a former Putin foreign policy adviser, said of the hope for a new page in U.S.-Russia relations under U.S. President Donald Trump. “It didn’t happen.” (Bloomberg, 04.06.17)
  • Dick Cheney, unburdening himself on Russian meddling in the U.S. election, has already been lost in the most recent flood of new revelations. “In some quarters,” the former vice president overstated to a New Delhi audience last week, Russia’s action “would be considered an act of war.” (The Wall Street Journal, 04.05.17)
Advertisements