HARVARD UNIVERSITY

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Ecologists in St. Petersburg, Russia are raising the alarm over government plans to fuel a floating nuclear power plant just 2 kilometers from the heart of the city. (RFE/RL, 04.20.17)
  • Russia has announced plans to build an enormous ice-class ship to ferry nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel from points along the Northern Sea Route as well as from its river tributaries, Izvestiya newspaper reported, but it’s unclear from and to where the vessel will transport its cargo. (Bellona, 04.17.17)
  • Representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the U.S. Embassy in Moldova, and the Moldovan government gathered April 6 to celebrate the installation of a radiation detection system at Chisinau International Airport. This partnership advances efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism. (National Nuclear Security Administration, 04.18.17)
  • The National Nuclear Security Administration and the FBI co-sponsored a weapons of mass destruction counterterrorism exercise in March at the University of Michigan which drew 112 emergency responders and law enforcement officials from Ann Arbor and the surrounding area. The exercise challenged participants to refine strategies and techniques for radiological security and incident response. (National Nuclear Security Administration, 04.17.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • The U.S. State Department notified Congress late on April 18 that Iran is complying with last year’s nuclear deal with global powers, and said it has extended sanctions relief given to Tehran under the agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of its nuclear agreement with world powers and said the United States would soon have a response. (RFE/RL, 04.19.17, RFE/RL, 04.21.17)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is shifting its stance on Russia and now sees Moscow as a competitor, Britain’s defense minister said on April 20. (Reuters, 04.21.17)
  • Russian military aircraft were spotted flying off the coast of Alaska for the fourth time in as many days, a U.S. defense official told CNN on April 21. Russian aircraft never entered U.S. airspace and it is unknown at this time whether the U.S. Air Force scrambled any aircraft in response to either occurrence. On April 17, U.S. F-22 fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace 100 miles from Kodiak Island, Alaska. A U.S. military official called the interaction “safe and professional.” (CNN, 04.21.17)
  • Hundreds of U.S. Army and Romanian troops have joined forces for a live-fire exhibition featuring tanks and aircraft conducting battlefield maneuvers in Operation Atlantic Resolve, an exercise meant to allay concerns in Eastern Europe over an increasingly bellicose Russia. (AP, 04.20.17)
  • Moscow sees need for contacts between Russian and U.S. military and hopes for lifting restrictions in this sphere imposed by the previous U.S. administration, Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov toldKommersant. (Interfax, 04.20.17)
  • Russia’s foreign ministry is objecting to a meeting of lawmakers from NATO countries that is planned to take place in the Svalbard Islands next month. Under a 1920 international treaty, the archipelago is under Norwegian rule. But all treaty signatories have the right to reside there and the islands are not to be used “for warlike purposes.” (AP, 04.19.17)
  • U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan brought a message of solidarity to Poland’s leaders on April 21, telling them that the United States supports NATO and shares Polish concerns about “Russian aggression.” (AP, 04.21.17)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • Russia will comply with the procedures prescribed by the New STARTTreaty in a timely manner and prefers to wait until responsible officials are appointed in U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration before discussing the future of the document, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant. (Interfax, 04.20.17)
  • Moscow is ready to continue discussing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the U.S., despite calling the signals sent from Washington regarding Moscow’s supposed violation of the treaty “fragmentary.” “I only saw the U.S. index, their classification, which Michael Gordon ‘poured out’ in his New York Times publication; it is the SSC-8. But what we were given as ‘points of reference’ is clearly not enough for the discussion to continue,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant. (Interfax, 04.20.17)
  • The Pentagon officially kicked off its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) on April 17. The Pentagon has pledged to finish the NPR by the “end of the year,” according to the news release, but the conclusion could come more quickly. (Defense News, 04.17.17)

Counter-terrorism:

  • French presidential candidate Francois Fillon called for an alliance with anyone willing to tackle terror, including Russia, after Paris suffered another attack late on April 20. After the attack on Champs Elysees avenue killed one policeman and seriously injured two others, Fillon said the next president must make the fight against terrorism an “absolute priority.” And that means drawing closer to Russia, in his view. (Bloomberg, 04.21.17)
  • Russia will be able to strip naturalized foreigners of their citizenship for becoming involved in terrorism, under legislation submitted by lawmakers. (Bloomberg, 04.19.17)
  • A Russian citizen who has risen through the ranks of the Islamic State to become a field commander has been killed while fighting in the western part of the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to local law-enforcers. Iraqi police have identified the man by his nom de guerre—Abu Khadzhir ar-Rusi, according to RIA Novosti. (Russia Matters, 04.18.17)
  • Russia’s counterintelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), said April 19 that its agents have killed two men suspected of planning to carry out terror attacks in Russia. The FSB said the suspects, both from Central Asia, were killed in a shootout when they resisted arrest in a home in the Vladimir region east of Moscow. (AP, 04.19.17)
  • The man Russian investigators say orchestrated a suicide bombing on the St. Petersburg metro told a court on April 18 he was an unwitting accomplice in the attack. Russian investigators said that before the April 3 attack, the suspected suicide bomber, Akbarzhon Jalilov, had spoken by telephone with Abror Azimov, who the investigators said was helping mastermind the attack from a Moscow suburb. Russia’s Investigative Committee said on April 20 that Jalilov had received money from an “international terrorist group” in Turkey while the Interior Ministry said Jalilov’s Russian citizenship had been annulled.  Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has identified the person who orchestrated the St. Petersburg metro earlier this month, according to FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov. Russian authorities say a woman who was injured in the April 3 bombing has died, bringing the toll to 16. (Reuters, 04.20.17, Reuters, 04.18.17, Reuters, 04.20.17, RFE/RL, 04.21.17)
  • The massive U.S. bomb dropped on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan last week killed militant fighters from Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, India and other countries, an Afghan official said. (RFE/RL, 04.19.17)
  • Relatives say the 18-year-old son of former Tajik police colonel Gulmurod Halimov who joined the extremist group Islamic State has been arrested. (RFE/RL, 04.18.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on April 21 that Syria had dispersed its warplanes in recent days and that it retained chemical weapons, an issue he said would have to be taken up diplomatically. During a press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart, Mattis was asked whether the Syrian military had moved warplanes to a Russian base in Latakia. “They have dispersed their aircraft, no doubt. They have dispersed their aircraft in recent days,” Mattis said. Syria has moved most of its remaining aircraft to the safety of Russia’s Hmeimim air base, according to U.S. officials. Mattis also said April 21 there was “no doubt” that the Syrian government has chemical weapons. (Wall Street Journal, 04.21.17, Reuters, 04.21.17, The Moscow Times, 04.21.17)
  • A Russian marine major has been killed in combat in Syria, Russian news agencies reported on April 20, confirming an earlier report that one of Moscow’s highest-ranking officers there had lost his life. Maj. Sergei Bordov was killed during an attack by militants on a garrison, they said. (Reuters, 04.20.17)
  • The death toll among Russian forces in Syria during a period of intense fighting to retake the city of Palmyra now stands at 21, according to evidence gathered by Reuters, after information emerged about the deaths of three military contractors. The Reuters tally over the period from Jan. 29 until the end of March is more than four times higher than the official toll given by the Russian Defense Ministry of five servicemen killed. Russia’s Defense Ministry has rejected the report by Reuters on the alleged death toll among the Russian military personnel in Palmyra. (TASS, 04.19.17,Reuters, 04.18.17)
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he is not considering asking Russia to send in ground troops to help the government fight the Islamic State group. (AP, 04.21.17)
  • Can threatening war crimes charges persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power? What about guaranteeing his safety in exile? These long-shot proposals are at the center of the Trump administration’s new effort to resolve Syria’s six-year civil war. After Islamic State is defeated or its threat neutralized, the administration will try to broker regional cease-fires between Assad’s government and rebels. Despite differences, Trump officials insist Russia’s involvement is critical to resolving the war, given the influence it gained in Syria after helping Assad retake Syria’s largest cities. The Trump administration seeks Russian support by guaranteeing Russian access to the Tartus naval base and Latakia air base in any post-Assad scenario. (AP, 04.18.17)
  • The Syrian crisis settlement plan that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillersonbrought to Moscow has some new ideas but no radical changes, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant. (Interfax, 04.20.17)
  • The U.N. mediator for Syria said on April 20 he would hold talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov in Geneva on April 24, and that the United States had declined to take part in any trilateral meeting for now. (Reuters, 04.20.17)
  • On April 15, British Royal Navy frigate HMS Sutherland escorted two Russian warships that were expected to sail through the English Channel overnight. The Type 23 frigate located the two Russian ships in the early hours of April 14 as they sailed through the North Sea towards the Dover Straits. The ships are on their way to Syria, in response to the U.S. cruise missile strike on a Syrian airfield on April 7. (Royal Navy News, 04.17.17,Yahoo, 04.17.17)
  • The second stage of a troubled population transfer in Syria stalled on April 20 as rebel and government negotiators argued over the identities of the prisoners to be released as part of the exchange. (AP, 04.20.17)
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s children have started learning Russian, according to Syria’s ambassador to Russia, Riyad Haddad. Russian language classes are now available at every university in Syria, and at schools beginning in the seventh grade, he said. (The Moscow Times, 04.21.17)

Cyber security:

  • Russia’s media censor, Roskomnadzor, says Twitter has agreed to transfer its Russian users’ data to Russian servers by mid-2018. (The Moscow Times, 04.19.17)
  • U.S. federal prosecutors are weighing whether to bring criminal charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, taking a second look at a 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents and investigating whether the group bears criminal responsibility for the more recent revelation of sensitive CIA cyber-tools, according to people familiar with the case. (AP, 04.21.17)

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

  • U.S. President Donald Trump faced an April 20 deadline to release a report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election—one he appears unlikely to meet. Trump made the promise in January while swatting down reports about a dossier that allegedly suggested connections between his campaign and Russia. “My people will have a full report on hacking within 90 days!” he announced in a January tweet. (The Hill, 04.20.17)
  • A Russian government think tank controlled by Russian President Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters. They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, after the election. Russia dismissed the report as false. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said people should not pay attention to reports based on anonymous sources. (Reuters, 04.20.17, Reuters, 04.19.17)
  • A high-level official at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) tasked with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has announced that she will leave the DOJ in May. Mary McCord, the acting assistant attorney general of the division, did not provide a reason when she told her staff that she would be leaving. (Business Insider, 04.21.17)
  • The House Intelligence Committee is stepping up its probe into Russian interference in last year’s U.S. election, seeking testimony from five key witnesses including FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers. Both have been asked to testify in a closed hearing on May 2, according to an April 21 statement from the panel. (Bloomberg, 04.21.17)
  • The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Blackwater founder Erik Prince had met with a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles in January. A person close to Prince said the Seychelles meeting was arranged at the request of the United Arab Emirates. The person added that it was a private meeting, and that Prince was not representing U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. (Bloomberg, 04.18.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on April 21 a decision on extending a global pact to cut oil production had not yet been taken, but would be discussed with OPEC on May 24. (Reuters, 04.21.17)
  • Exxon Mobil has been denied a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department sanctions on Russia to drill in the Black Sea in a venture with Rosneft, the Russian state oil company. “In consultation with President Donald J. Trump, the Treasury Department will not be issuing waivers to U.S. companies, including Exxon, authorizing drilling prohibited by current Russian sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement April 21. (Bloomberg, 04.21.17, New York Times, 04.19.17)
  • Experts believe Russia’s Arctic shelf region in total holds as much as $20 trillion worth of oil and gas, and will provide 20-30% of its oil production by 2050. (Financial Times, 04.19.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • Russia and the United States are working on a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump that may take place before the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany this July, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant. (Interfax, 04.19.17)
  • An expert group in charge of rectifying relations between Russia and the U.S. will focus on precisely specified problems and will draw up proposals for the two countries’ Presidents, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant. “This won’t be a momentous structure involving specialists from a multitude of organizations. This will be an entity with much flexibility that will be able to alter its configuration depending on the specific issues,” he said. (Interfax, 04.20.17)
  • Over the past several weeks, senior members of U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security team have issued blistering critiques of Moscow, using harsh terms that have led to escalating tensions between the countries and seem at odds with the president. In a speech at the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley lashed out at Russia for its role in Syria  CIA Director Mike Pompeo depicted Moscow as an unredeemable adversary. Though Trump has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pompeo described him as “a man for whom veracity doesn’t translate into English.” (The Washington Post, 04.18.17)
  • The United States has voiced concern over the reported persecution of gay men in Chechnya and urged officials in the Russian region to investigate, while a senior lawmaker called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to make clear that violence based on sexual orientation is unacceptable. (RFE/RL, 04.18.17)
  • In a letter to Congress, U.S. President Donald Trump said that “his administration is actively identifying persons and entities to whom the [Magnitsky] Act may apply and are collecting the evidence necessary to apply it.” “Over the coming weeks and months, agencies will undertake thorough interagency vetting to ensure we fulfill our commitment to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses and corruption accountable,” the letter said. (Russia Matters, 04.21.17)
  • Nearly four-in-ten Democrats (39%) name Russia as the country that represents the greatest danger to the United States—the highest percentage expressing this view in nearly three decades, according to a new survey. Compared with 2013, the last time this question was asked, greater shares in both parties volunteer Russia as posing the greatest danger to the U.S.—but nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans now say this, with 39% versus 21%. (Pew Reserach Center, 04.20.17)
  • U.S. media outlets in Russia will face investigations into whether they illegally influenced the country’s parliamentary elections in 2016. Outlets such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL) and CNN will all fall under the spotlight, said Leonid Levin, the head of the State Duma Committee on Information and Communication. (The Moscow Times, 04.19.17)
  • A Kremlin spokesman is distancing Moscow from incendiary commentary on Russian state TV that alleged U.S. President Donald Trump is more dangerous and unpredictable than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (RFE/RL, 04.17.17)
  • A scaled-down, two-man U.S.-Russian crew blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 20 for a six-hour ride to the International Space Station, a NASA TV broadcast showed. Russia is scaling back space station staffing until its long-delayed science laboratory is flown to the orbiting outpost next year. (Reuters, 04.20.17)
  • Since 1958, the United States has had 39 Nobel laureates in fields associated with molecular biology; the Soviet Union and Russia have had none. (New York Times, 04.21.17)
  • Louis Marinelli, the leader of California separatist group Yes California, announced in a 1,600-word statement on April 17 that he “intends to make Russia” his “new home” and is therefore withdrawing his petition for a “Calexit” referendum. (Business Insider, 04.17.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • The Russian economy is on the slow path to recovery as it rebounds from the shock triggered by the collapse in crude oil prices, head of International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde said. (UPI, 04.18.17)
  • Surprisingly optimistic figures from Russia’s statistics agency have alarmed some investors, who say data on the Russian economy appears to have become less accurate and more biased toward good news during the country’s long recession. Russia’s Federal Service for State Statistics, Rosstat surprised economists by recording a GDP contraction of just 0.2% last year, much shallower than expected, and by revising the previous year’s contraction to just 2.8% from an initial 3.7%. (Reuters, 04.18.17)
  • Russia’s informal economy employs 15.4 million people, or more than one-fifth of the Russian workforce. According to a new report from Russia’s Federal Service for State Statistics, or Rosstat, 21.2% of working Russians were employed in the informal sector in 2016, up from 20.5% the year prior. (Foreign Policy, 04.18.17)
  • Russians’ real incomes grew by 1.4% in March compared to February, according to the country’s state statistical service cited by the Rosbalt news agency. (Russia Matters, 04.18.17)
  • Foreign investors lured by interest rates among the highest in emerging markets poured 159 billion rubles ($2.8 billion) into Russia’s local-currency debt in March, the most on record. The strong demand means there’s little risk of substantial ruble weakening, even after the currency’s 8.7% surge this year, it said. (Bloomberg, 04.19.17)
  • The weaker ruble, increase in subsidies to farmers and the ban on food from the EU and U.S. has allowed Russia to fully substitute imports with domestic production of pork and chicken. While agriculture remains far below oil and gas, the sector has overtaken arms sales to become Russia’s second-biggest exporter. (Financial Times, 04.19.17)
  • Russia needs to implement measures aimed at boosting investment activity to build a modern and high-tech economy, given that the floating ruble affects the availability of buying technologies abroad, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 17. (Reuters, 04.17.17)
  • Leonid Mikhelson, co-owner of Russian gas producer Novatek, has topped Russia’s rich list for a second year running with an estimated wealth of $18.4 billion, the Russian edition of Forbes reported on April 20. The collective wealth of the 200 richest Russian businessmen increased to $460 billion, up $100 billion in a year. The number of dollar billionaires also jumped—to 96 from 77. (Reuters, 04.20.17)
  • According to UNESCO, 29% of people in scientific research worldwide are women, compared with 41% in Russia. In the U.K., about 4% of inventors are women, whereas the figure is 15% in Russia. (BBC, 04.21.17)
  • Driving is Russia’s most common profession, according to Sergey Roshchin, from the National Research University Higher School of Economics, TASS reports. (RBTH, 04.18.17)
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has promised not to raise taxes in 2017 and vowed to consider indexing retirement payments for working pensioners, delivering a moderately upbeat annual report on the troubled economy. (RFE/RL, 04.19.17)
  • Russia’s central bank said on April 18 it will lend 66.7 billion rubles ($1.19 billion) to help keep troubled bank Peresvet, a lender run by the Russian Orthodox Church, afloat. (Reuters, 04.19.17)
  • En+ Group, which manages Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska’s aluminum and hydropower businesses, reported 2016 adjusted core earnings of $2.3 billion on April 18, its first public disclosure of financial results in two years. (Reuters, 04.18.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 20 that only the Russian people will choose who succeeds him as president, through the electoral process. (Reuters, 04.20.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says the Russian president has no reason to doubt the Chechen leader’s assurances that there’s no persecution of gays in his republic, despite reports by a respected Russian newspaper of a roundup of gay men there. (AP, 04.20.17)
  • The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta received an envelope containing an unidentified white powder on April 19, the newspaper reported. The envelope’s only return address was “Grozny,” the capital of Chechnya, where preachers and political officials have recently threatened the newspaper for reporting on the alleged torture and detention of men believed to be gay, according to the newspaper and the Committee to Protect Journalists. (RFE/RL, 04.20.17)
  • The Russian Supreme Court formally banned Jehovah’s Witnesses on April 20, labeling the group an extremist organization. The religious group in Russia will now be forced to dissolve. The decision equates Russia’s 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses to terrorist groups like the Islamic State, and makes it illegal for congregations to meet or distribute literature. (The Moscow Times, 04.21.17)
  • Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee has formally declined to probe allegations by opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is the mastermind of a multibillion-dollar real-estate scheme. (The Moscow Times, 04.21.17)
  • A prominent Russian journalist has died of his injuries six weeks after being attacked in St. Petersburg. The death on April 19 of 73-year-old Nikolai Andrushchenko was reported by Russian media outlets that cited his lawyer and the editor-in-chief of the Novy Peterburg newspaper. (AP, 04.19.17)
  • In 2015, Russia tied in second place with Germany as a global migrant magnet by hosting 12 million international migrants, according to a report published by the United Nations. Last year’s net increase reached more than 260,000, statistics service data show. (Bloomberg, 04.18.17)
  • Sixty-four percent of Russians believe that Crimea becoming part of Russia’s territory has brought more good than harm, according to an opinion poll conducted by the Levada Center, while 23% of those asked think the opposite. (RBTH, 04.19.17)
  • More than half of Russians want to see Vladimir Lenin’s body removed from his mausoleum on Red Square, according to a new survey by state-backed pollster VTsIOM. (The Moscow Times, 04.21.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia is carrying out work on developing hypersonic weapon systems on a par with the U.S., Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters on April 20. (TASS, 04.20.17)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Three people were killed in an April 21 attack on Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the country’s Far East. A teenage gunman opened fire at FSB headquarters for Russia’s Khabarovsk region, killing an FSB employee and one visitor and wounding another visitor. The assailant was killed by FSB personnel and the FSB later said he was affiliated with a neo-Nazi gang. Russian-language media have reported that the weapon used by the assailant was one of dozens stolen from a local shooting range by a group of 10 or more people, the rest of whom are presumably still on the loose; an employee of the shooting range was also found dead. (The Moscow Times, 04.21.17, RFE/RL, 04.21.17, Russia Matters, 04.21.17)
  • A 28-year-old German-Russian national has been arrested on suspicion of attacking the Borussia Dortmund soccer team with three homemade bombs. Despite early concerns linking the attack to terrorist groups, investigators now say that the attack was financially motivated. Prosecutors claim that the suspect had bought a large number of put option shares in Borussia Dortmund, guaranteeing a set price for the shares if he wanted to sell them later. (The Moscow Times, 04.21.17)
  • Isa Yamadayev, who seven years ago accused Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov of ordering the murders of his brothers Ruslan and Sulim, has been charged in absentia with plotting the revenge killing of Kadyrov, according to the news portal Rosbalt. (RFE/RL, 04.18.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • The Russian military said on April 21 it was not building up its forces near the border with North Korea, denying earlier media reports which said it was, the Interfax news agency reported, citing an army spokesman. (Reuters, 04.21.17)
  • Russia has blocked the U.N. Security Council from condemning North Korea’s latest missile test even though China had backed the strongly-worded statement drafted by the United States, diplomats said. (RFE/RL, 04.20.17)
  • A Russian warship has docked in the Philippines, a traditional U.S. ally. The guided-missile cruiser Varyag, the flagship of the Russian Pacific fleet, arrived in Manila on April 20 for a four-day visit. (RFE/RL, 04.20.17)
  • The flagging, scandal-plagued presidential campaign of François Fillon—a former prime minister of France much liked by the Kremlin but not so much, it seems, by French voters—received a surprise lift late last month with a report that he had staged a remarkable recovery in opinion polls and was now leading the pack ahead of voting on April 23. As it happens, Fillon’s lead in the polls existed only in a world of alternative facts shared by the French-language service of Sputnik, a state-funded Russian news operation with the motto ”Telling the Untold.” (New York Times, 04.18.17)
  • French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has dismissed calls for Russia to leave Crimea as “pointless.” (The Moscow Times, 04.20.17)
  • Kremlin-owned news outlet Rossiya Segodnya is to halt a major deal with British news agency Reuters after the company implicated Russian state media in a plot to undermine U.S. elections. (The Moscow Times, 04.21.17)
  • Russia does not intend to open its market to imports of Turkish tomatoes, Russian Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev was cited by Russian news agencies as saying on April 19. Tkachev said he estimated Russia’s losses over the trade dispute with Turkey at up to $1.5 billion. (Reuters, 04.19.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a referendum that will expand his powers, the Kremlin and Turkish state media said on April 18. (RFE/RL, 04.19.17)
  • European Council President Donald Tusk testified for eight hours on April 19 in a Polish intelligence probe by Warsaw’s right-wing government that he described as a smear campaign to discredit him. Tusk was called as a witness in an investigation into former heads of military counter-intelligence (SKW). A former SKW head has said that Tusk, who was Poland’s prime minister at the time and thus ultimately responsible for the intelligence service, was fully aware of secret services’ cooperation with Russia and had authorized it. (Reuters, 04.19.17)
  • Serbia is seeking a Russian air defense system in addition to fighter jets and battle tanks, Serbian officials say. (AP, 04.19.17)
  • In the first quarter of 2017, Lada sold 1,142 cars in the European Union, according to research by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA). This figure is 63.1% more than the same period in 2016. (RBTH, 04.21.17)
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency and Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom have agreed to cooperate in improving nuclear infrastructure development in countries planning to introduce nuclear energy or to expand existing programs. (World Nuclear News, 04.21.17)
  • Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, held bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on April 20 to discuss efforts to bring about an end to conflicts in the region as well as increasing security cooperation and economic ties. (The National, 04.20.17)

China:

  • Leaders of 28 countries are set to attend the Chinese summit showcasing President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy plan, but few will hail from major Western countries. Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Spain’s Mariano Rajoy are among those slated to appear next month in Beijing for the May 14-15 summit  to discuss Xi’s “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure investment program to stitch together the Eurasian continent. (AP, 04.18.17)
  • Russia, China and Kazakhstan were among the nations that opposed a move by the United States on April 18 to make a link between human rights abuses and conflicts at the United Nations. (RFE/RL, 04.19.17)
  • China Development Bank is considering providing financing for a Chinese consortium seeking to buy a stake in Russia’s largest gold producer, Polyus. (Reuters, 04.19.17)

Ukraine:

  • While the Kremlin continues to publicly back the Minsk II accord that Germany and France oversaw in 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s real strategy in Ukraine is to fully separate the two border areas known as the Donbas through incremental integration with Russia, three people close to the leadership in Moscow said. He has no plans to recognize or annex the territories, they said. (Bloomberg, 04.19.17)
  • Leaders of the “Normandy Four” states held a phone conversation to discuss how to settle the armed conflict in the Donbas region of east Ukraine, the Kremlin press service said on April 18 in a statement. According to the statement, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany reaffirmed their commitment to the Minsk agreement regarding security and political aspects of a peaceful settlement. (Xinhua, 04.18.17)
  • Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko on April 19 called for Western sanctions on Russia to be maintained in order to keep the Kremlin in line and to ensure the success of Ukraine’s own economic reform program. (Reuters, 04.19.17)
  • The International Court of Justice rejected a Ukrainian request for an order labeling Russia a sponsor of terrorism for its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. While many civilians have been killed or injured in the conflict, Ukraine hasn’t presented “evidence which affords a sufficient basis to find it plausible” that Russia is financing terrorism in rebel-held areas with “intention and knowledge,” the court in The Hague said in a ruling published April 19. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has hailed the ruling. (Bloomberg, 04.19.17, RFE/RL, 04.20.17)
  • “Today, just as on the question of the so-called ‘deadlock-resolution group,’ to use your term, we have no idea who in the U.S. will be responsible for this Ukrainian issue on a daily basis,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant. (Interfax, 04.20.17)
  • On April 15, Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesperson Andriy Lysenko said four Ukrainian servicemen have been injured in fighting in eastern Ukraine. Two more Ukrainian soldiers were injured in Donbas on April 16. The Ukrainian military said on April 21 two of its soldiers have been killed in clashes with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east. (RFE/RL, 04.21.17, Interfax, 04.15.17, Interfax, 04.16.17)
  • Control Risks registered 315 war incidents in March related to the ongoing conflict between separatist, pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian security forces in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, up from 261 incidents in February. (Control Risks, April 2017)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has criticized Ukraine’s leadership over Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov’s comments on the government’s policy in the restive Donbas region in the east of that country. In an interview with the BBC on April 14, Turchynov said: “I believe that our task is meter by meter, kilometer by kilometer, minimizing losses, to move to the east.” “The main thing is not to miss the border,” Turchynov quipped. (BBC, 04.15.17)
  • Ukrainian investigators are seeking to understand former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s ties, if any, to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych at the time of the shooting of anti-government protesters on the capital’s central square, known as the Maidan, in February 2014. (NPR, 04.14.17)
  • According to two unnamed European officials, the Trump administration is expected to appoint a new special envoy to negotiate over the fate of war-torn Ukraine directly with Vladislav Surkov, a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin once known as the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal.” A U.S. official acknowledged that “there is currently a discussion of the idea,” but said “no final decisions have been made.” (BuzzFeed News, 04.21.17)
  • Ukrainian investigators are seeking a court order to place an influential former lawmaker who is suspected of embezzlement in pretrial custody. Mykola Martynenko was detained in Kiev late on April 20 after the National Anticorruption Bureau announced it was preparing to file charges against him. (RFE/RL, 04.21.17)
  • The International Monetary Fund’s chief to Ukraine told Kiev on April 18 its pension system was unsustainable because it supported nearly a third of the population and must limit the number of retirees. (AFP, 04.18.17)
  • Ukraine Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk said in an interview April 20 that his government might wait until the fall to seek around $1 billion in the international bond market, following the enactment of long-delayed pension and land overhauls he hopes will be completed in the next month. (Wall Street Journal, 04.20.17)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • In reaching an agreement to purchase gas from Azerbaijan, Georgia has both obviated the need to purchase any additional Russian gas in 2017 and temporarily deflected criticism of a recent deal with Gazprom. (RFE/RL, 04.19.17)
  • Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has hit out obliquely at Moscow in an annual address, suggesting Russia is seeking to dominate a trade grouping of former Soviet republics. In the wide-ranging televised speech to parliament on April 21, Lukashenka said it has proven difficult to “establish equal, mutually respectful ties” among the members of the Eurasian Economic Union. (RFE/RL, 04.21.17)
  • Kiwi fruit imports to Russia from Belarus rose 151% in 2015, and papaya—which grows in the tropics—began appearing in shipments to Russia. The landlocked country also began exporting shrimps and sea fish. (Financial Times, 04.19.17)
  • The European Union warned Moldova on April 19 to honor its trade accord with the bloc in the face of Moldovan President Igor Dodon’s turn toward Russia. (RFE/RL, 04.19.17)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said: “What we do know is that, in the midst of responding to the mass murder of the Syrian regime, the president and the first lady hosted an extraordinarily successful conference, summit, with President Xi and his team … they worked together as well in connection with the response to the mass murder on the part of the Assad regime in connection with the U.N. vote. I think President Xi was courageous in distancing himself from the Russians, isolating really the Russians and the Bolivians.” (Real Clear Politics, 04.16.17)
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