HARVARD UNIVERSITY

 

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

Nuclear security:

  • Russian state corporation Rosatom is reportedly removing all spent fuel from one of the facilities at the Scientific Research Technological Institute in Sosnovy Bor. The fuel was shipped to the RT-1 reprocessing plant at the NPO Mayak, Ozersk. (International Panel on Fissile Materials, 04.18.17)
  • U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) has announced a bipartisan resolution in support of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s role in its promotion of nuclear security. The resolution confirms the agency’s role as an indispensable organization in nuclear safety and encourages the United States to play an active role to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. (Foster.house.gov, 04.26.17)
  • Tennessee Valley Authority security officers at nuclear power plants will soon be prohibited from carrying handguns. (AP, 04.26.17)
  • An exercise was arranged at the construction site of the Belarusian nuclear power plant on April 27 in order to practice responding to possible terrorism-related threats. The exercise was part of the planned measures designed to take care of the installation’s security. (Belta, 04.28.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The lack of trust between the West and Russia is the principal security problem of Europe now, Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov said. (Interfax, 04.26.17)
  • The current phase of ideological confrontation is sometimes worse than that of the Cold War, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service chief Sergey Naryshkin said at the Moscow Conference on International Security on April 27. (TASS, 04.27.17)
  • The United States is developing weapons for a prompt global strike, Deputy Head of Operations for the Russian General Staff Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir said. “The delivery of first complexes to the American armed forces is planned in 2020,” Poznikhir said. (Interfax, 04.26.17)
  • Russian politician Frants Klintsevich has said Britain could be wiped “off the face of the Earth” if it launches a nuclear strike. He made the statement in response to radio comments made by British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon on April 24 in which Fallon discussed the possibility of a preemptive nuclear strike on Russia. (The Moscow Times, 04.25.17)
  • Breaking with a decade’s long policy that stopped short of publicly advocating putting arms in orbit, U.S. Defense Department leaders are calling for faster development of offensive weapons and combat tactics for space, initially to protect the biggest, most expensive U.S. spy satellites from potential attacks. With China and Russia particularly focused on testing antisatellite technologies, the U.S. military started thinking about “hardening” existing satellites. (Wall Street Journal, 04.26.17)
  • Countries in Central Europe showed the largest relative increases in military spending in 2016, at least partially as a result of the perceived increased threat from Russia, a new study says. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a report released on April 23 that spending in Central Europe increased 2.6%, the largest amount relative to population. (RFE/RL, 04.23.17)
  • Some of the F-35A Lightning II aircraft currently at British air force station RAF Lakenheath are being deployed to Estonia. On Apr. 24, Royal Air Force Typhoons arrived at Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase near Constanta, Romania for the first time in support of the NATO air policing mission.(Aviationist, 04.24.17)
  • Estonia’s defense minister says Russia may use large-scale military exercises to move thousands of troops permanently into Belarus later this year in a warning to NATO. (RFE/RL, 04.27.17)
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expects to discuss a contract on buying S-400 missile systems with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 3. (TASS, 04.24.17)
  • Montenegro’s prime minister says Russia has banned the import of its best-known wine because of the Balkan country’s decision to become a member of NATO. (AP, 04.27.17)
  • Montenegro’s pro-Russia opposition has vowed to freeze the Balkan country’s future membership in NATO if it wins the next parliamentary election, saying upcoming approval of the accession treaty is illegal. (AP, 04.26.17)
  • Russia’s foreign ministry has blamed the United States and the European Union for protests in Macedonia where masked protesters stormed the parliament in the capital Skopje on the evening of April 27 to attack opposition lawmakers. (The Washington Post, 04.28.17)

Missile defense:

  • “The presence of U.S. missile defense bases in Europe, missile defense vessels in seas and oceans close to Russia creates a powerful covert strike component for conducting a sudden nuclear missile strike against the Russian Federation,” Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir, deputy head of operations for the Russian General Staff, said. In response to Poznikhir’s speech, Frants Klintsevich, who is head of the defense and security committee in Moscow’s upper house of parliament, wrote April 27 that Poznikhir’s words were meant to be heard by the international community, the U.S. and Russian citizens, whom Klintsevich said “have nothing to fear” because “the situation is under control.” (Newsweek, 04.27.17, Daily Star, 04.27.17)
  • Russia and China are criticizing Washington after the U.S. military started moving parts of a missile-defense system to a deployment site in South Korea amid tension with the North. Speaking at a security conference in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that what he called the “accelerated deployment” of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system was “a highly destabilizing factor” on the Korean Peninsula. (RFE/RL, 04.26.17)
  • The U.S. Navy successfully executed four flight tests of the surface-to-air Standard Missile-6 Block I off the Hawaiian coast between April 6 and 13. Using an “active seeker” technology, two SM-6 missiles were able to simultaneously track and destroy a single target, greatly improving the probability of a target kill. (The National Interest, 04.27.17)

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.

Counter-terrorism:

  • Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee says the leader of an Islamic State (IS) “sleeper cell” and one of the cell’s members have been killed in a shootout with police in the Stavropol region. Also, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on April 26 announced the arrest of two suspected supporters of IS who it said were planning a terror attack. The two men were arrested in an apartment in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, a city on the Pacific island of Sakhalin, where a search turned up a homemade explosive device and IS propaganda literature, the FSB said. The FSB also arrested 12 people in the Kaliningrad exclave for suspected involvement with an Islamic extremist group called Islamic Jihad—Jamaat Mujahedeen. (AP, 04.26.17, AP, 04.26.17, AP, 04.22.17)
  • A group allegedly tied to the terrorist organization al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the subway bombing that rocked the St. Petersburg subway earlier this month, according to the “intelligence group” website, SITE. The group claiming responsibility for the attack reportedly calls itself the “Imam Shamil Battalion.” In the meantime, Russian law-enforcers are checking whether an ethnic Uzbek who has become a field commander among Syrian rebels could have ordered the suicide bombing in St. Petersburg earlier this month. Abu Salakh al-Uzbeki had worked in St. Petersburg as a driver before leaving to fight in Syria, according to an April 21 report in Russia’s Gazeta.ru. (The Moscow Times, 04.26.17, Russia Matters, 04.24.17)
  • The United States said on April 21 that it killed an Islamic State operative who was a close associate of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and linked to an attack on a Turkish nightclub that left 39 people dead. Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, who was believed to be from Uzbekistan, was killed during a secret ground operation near Mayadin, Syria, on April 6. (RFE/RL, 04.22.17)
  • Relatives of the Uzbek man that Swedish authorities accuse of ramming a truck into a crowd in Stockholm earlier this month say that his brother has been arrested in Uzbekistan. (RFE/RL, 04.25.17)
  • Some 10,000 people with origins in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries, “including some 4,000 people with origins in Central Asia,” are fighting on the side of militants in Syria, Valery Semerikov, acting CSTO secretary general, said. He said CSTO has information on efforts by the Islamic State and al-Qaida to unite, and as a result the new terror merger would be able to pose a more dangerous threat. (Interfax, 04.26.17)
  • The Chinese fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria are organized, battled-hardened and have been instrumental in ground offensives against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the country’s northern regions. Thousands of Chinese jihadis have come to Syria since the country’s civil war began in March 2011. (AP, 04.22.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • French intelligence has concluded that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on April 4 in northern Syria and that Assad or members of his inner circle ordered the strike, a declassified report showed. (Reuters, 04.26.17)
  •  “President Trump has stood up to countries that have threatened our national security after years of failed diplomacy. During his first 100 days, the President has … further isolated Syria and Russia at the United Nations through successful diplomacy with President Xi Jinping of China,” reads astatement, entitled “President Trump’s 100 Days of Security and Safety” posted on the White House website on April 27. (Russia Matters, 04.27.17)
  • Within hours of the Syrian chemical weapons attack on its people, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was framing options drawn from a list of contingency plans. The Pentagon prepared for the possibility that Russia would respond. Planners predicted an 85% success rate for the United States; it turned out to be closer to 95%. (The Washington Post, 04.25.17)
  • In an unexpected development, the Russian General Staff announced on April 26 that it has withdrawn almost half of its air grouping originally based at the Hmeimim facility in Syria. Chief of the Main Operational Directorate Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said that the Russian air group never exceeded 35 aircraft between Nov. 10, 2016 and Jan. 10, 2017. He also said that Russia is operating about 80 drones in Syria, and stressed that an analysis has shown that the Russian Aerospace Forces have conducted four times more airstrikes than the U.S.-led coalition despite having fewer aircraft. (National News Agency Lebanon, 04.26.17)
  • The Russian and U.S. forces are maintaining direct working contacts, despite the suspension of the bilateral memorandum on safe flights over Syria, Chief of the Main Operations Department at Russia’s General Staff Sergei Rudskoi said on April 26. “We have direct phones lines at the working level. This is done chiefly to ensure the security of Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft operating in Syrian airspace and American aircraft. We hope to be able to settle differences and establish closer interaction in the future,” Rudskoi said at a conference in Moscow. Russia could resume direct communication with the U.S. military about operations in Syria as long as both countries “continue the same fight —and not a different one,” Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak said April 25. (TASS, 04.26.17, Interfax, 04.26.17, Military Times, 04.25.17)
  • Russian military advisers in Syria prepare the Syrian government army operations and provide its commanders with intelligence, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, said on April 26. (Interfax, 04.26.17)
  • The Russian military have used cruise missiles with a range of up to 1,500 kilometers during the operation in Syria to destroy terrorists’ critical facilities, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, the chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, said on April 26. (Interfax, 04.26.17)
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu complained on April 26 that a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base earlier this month had posed a threat to Russian troops and was forcing Moscow to take extra measures to protect them. “Washington’s action created a threat to the lives of our servicemen who are fighting against terrorism in Syria,” said Shoigu. (Reuters, 04.26.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Russia regrets U.S. opposition to Russian inspectors taking part in an investigation into a chemical weapons attack in Syria. (AP, 04.21.17)
  • Russia’s weapons export contracts have been growing largely due to the effective use of military hardware in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin said. (TASS, 04.25.17)
  • Germany’s foreign minister says a cease-fire in Syria’s civil war can only be achieved with Russia’s help, as it is the only country with “real influence” over the Syrian government. Sigmar Gabriel said during a visit to Jordan on April 24 that he believes it’s in Russia’ interest to put an end to the fighting quickly. (AP, 04.24.17)
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir discussed Syria’s future with his Russian counterpart in Moscow on April 26 after which he said Saudi Arabia still believed there was no political future for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Reuters, 04.26.17)
  • The Trump administration on April 24 imposed financial sanctions on 271 named employees of a Syrian research center it indicated was responsible for developing and producing sarin used to kill dozens of people in the April 4 chemical weapons attack by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow believes Washington’s new sanctions against Syria are unfounded as there is no proof that Damascus has used chemical weapons in the Idlib province, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on April 25. (The Washington Post, 04.25.17, TASS, 04.25.17)
  • The Turkish government gave the United States less than an hour’s notice before conducting strikes on partner forces in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. military said on April 26, stepping up its criticism of airstrikes the United States said endangered American personnel. Turkey said the United States and Russia were “duly informed through both military and diplomatic channels.” (AP, 04.26.17)

Cyber security:

  • Researchers with the Japanese anti-virus firm Trend Micro say the campaign of French presidential front-runner Emmanuel Macron has been targeted by Russia-linked hackers, adding a little more detail to previous suggestions that the centrist politician was being singled out for electronic eavesdropping by the Kremlin. Macron’s digital director, Mounir Mahjoubi said in an interview April 24 that he had no proof of a Russian role, but that the nature and timing of so-called phishing attacks and web assaults on the Macron campaign had stirred worries that Russia was repeating in Francewhat American intelligence agencies say was a concerted effort to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The Kremlin scoffed at the report. (AP, 04.24.17, New York Times, 04.24.17)
  • Two foundations tied to Germany’s ruling coalition parties were attacked by the same cyber spy group that targeted the campaign of French presidential favorite Emmanuel Macron. (Reuters, 04.25.17)
  • Russia has hacked into NATO member Denmark’s Defense Ministry and gained access to employees’ emails in 2015 and 2016, the Danish defense minister told newspaper Berlingske on April 23. (Reuters, 04.23.17)
  • A U.S. federal judge on April 21 handed down the longest sentence ever imposed in the U.S. for a cybercrime case on Roman Seleznev, the son of a Russian Parliament member. Seleznev is convicted of hacking into more than 500 U.S. businesses and stealing millions of credit card numbers, which he then sold on special websites; he was sentenced to 27 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $170 million in restitution. (AP, 04.21.17)
  • A Russian man described by U.S. authorities as one of the world’s most notorious criminal spammers has been indicted by a federal grand jury, officials announced April 21. Pyotr Levashov, who was arrested this month in Barcelona, Spain, is accused of running a computer network that sent hundreds of millions of spam emails worldwide each year. The U.S. Justice Department is seeking his extradition. (AP, 04.21.17)

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

  • Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats have tapped April Doss, a former NSA lawyer, to join the committee’s investigation of Russia’s intervention in the U.S. election. Meanwhile, Rod Rosenstein, who was confirmed as deputy attorney general on April 25, will take the reins of the Justice Department’s sprawling probe into Trump’s Russia ties and Kremlin meddling. (Foreign Policy, 04.26.17)
  • The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said it had invited FBI, NSA and Obama administration officials to testify as it restarts its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election on May 2. (Reuters, 04.24.17)
  • Two former U.S. officials, intelligence director James Clapper and deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, will testify on May 8 in a congressional investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Senate Judiciary Committee said on April 25. (Reuters, 04.25.17)
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian election interference has no full-time dedicated staff members. (The Hill, 04.23.17)
  • One of the reasons the U.S. Congress has launched an investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election is to “prevent the same kind of thing happening” to its NATO and other allies, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said in Estonia April 22. (AP, 04.22.17)
  • Americans have little confidence in Congress’s ability to investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and would give the task to an independent panel, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey finds. Some 73% of adults in the survey said that a nonpartisan, independent commission should look into Russia’s involvement in the election, compared with 16% who said Congress should take the lead. (Wall Street Journal, 04.25.17)
  • In a report released April 27, Facebook now says it has data that “does not contradict” a key U.S. intelligence report that describes “information warfare” ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and carried out on Facebook and across the social media platforms on the web. (The Atlantic, 04.28.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the Trump administration will not grant permission to Exxon Mobil and other companies to resume drilling for oil in areas covered by U.S. sanctions against Russia. (RFE/RL, 04.21.17)
  • Russia’s oil production cuts have reached almost 300,000 barrels per day, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on April 28, in line with its pledge to curtail output as part of a global pact. (Reuters, 04.28.17)
  • Russian oil output could climb to its highest rate in 30 years if OPEC and non-OPEC producers do not extend a supply reduction deal beyond June 30, according to comments by Russian officials and details of investment plans released by oil firms. (Reuters, 04.24.17)
  • Russia retook the top spot from Saudi Arabia in crude supplies to China last month.  The world’s largest energy consumer increased imports from Russia by about 9.3% to 4.69 million metric tons in March from February, according to data released April 25 by China’s General Administration of Customs. (Bloomberg, 04.25.17)
  • Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 project has taken a step towards its implementation with the signing of financial agreements with Engie, OMV, Shell, Uniper and Wintershall. The five companies have committed to providing long-term financing for 50% of the total cost of the project, which is currently estimated to be €9.5 billion ($10.4 billion). (Maritime Executive, 04.25.17)
  • Poland has signed its first deal to purchase liquefied natural gas from a U.S. supplier, a step that will help the country’s efforts to cut its dependence on deliveries from Russia. (AP, 04.27.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • The U.S. Commerce Department launched an investigation on April 26 to determine whether a flood of aluminum imports from China and elsewhere was compromising U.S. national security. Although Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said China was a major contributor to the global excess capacity in aluminum production, he said imports from other countries, including Russia, were also causing problems. (Reuters, 04.27.17)
  • Russia’s national mail service, Russian Post, is ready to open its own office in the U.S., but is “waiting for more stable relations between the two countries,” according to Russian Post CEO Dmitry Strashnov. “We are now in talks with global players such as FedEx, to establish a direct logistical route. Now parcels are delivered via a very exotic route,” he said. (RBTH, 04.26.17)
  • The average price of a gallon of fuel in the U.S. is lower than in Russia. (RBTH, 04.24.17)

Other bilateral issues:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump could meet before July’s G20 summit takes place in the German city of Hamburg, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported April 26, citing unnamed sources on both sides of the Atlantic. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said April 27 that Kommersant’s report was “wishful thinking.” Nonetheless,Russia and the U.S. are preparing for a possible first meeting between Putin and Trump before the two presidents attend July’s Group of 20 summit in Germany, according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. “The issue of whether the schedules of both leaders can coincide is a separate question. As of today, there is no clarity on this,” he said. (Reuters, 04.26.17, The Moscow Times, 04.27.17, Bloomberg, 04.27.17)
  • The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, pushed the U.N. Security Council on April 27 to focus “all eyes and all pressure” on Russia to try and end the Syrian conflict and pressed for council action even if it faces a veto by Moscow. Haley has often been the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues, on everything from military strikes on Syria to sanctions against Russia and how to approach human rights. An email drafted by State Department diplomats urged Haley’s office to rely on ”building blocks” written by the department to prepare her remarks. Her comments should be ”re-cleared with Washington if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue such as Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine or the D.P.R.K. [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea],” added the email, the text of which was seen by The New York Times. (Reuters, 04.27.17, New York Times, 04.27.17)
  • “I think we would like to have a relationship with Russia where they do not threaten, or they don’t pose a threat, to the United States or to any of the Western part of the world; that Russia wants to be a positive member of the global world order,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview with NPR. “…we have a very low—almost no level of trust between us. … This cannot be the relationship to exist between the two most powerful nuclear nations on the planet. We cannot have this kind of relationship. And it’s in a downward spiral—we’ve got to stabilize it and we’ve got to begin to understand how we’re going to turn this around.” Tillerson also said that his personal relationships in Russia might be helpful in that Russian leadership is already familiar with him: “…they don’t have to try to figure out who this guy Rex Tillerson is because they’ve dealt with me for so many years—perhaps that’s helpful. In that my ability to communicate is very straightforward, very candid, it’s not nuanced, because I have found in dealing with the Russian leadership in the past—that is what they respect.” (NPR, 04.28.17)
  • Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may have violated U.S. law by failing to disclose his business dealings with Russia and Turkey, the leader of the House Oversight Committee said. The Defense Department told Flynn in 2014 that he was prohibited from accepting payments from foreign governments after his retirement without approval, according to a letter released by the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. A White House spokesman said on April 27 it was “appropriate” for a Pentagon agency to investigate Flynn for possible wrongdoing in connection with a trip he took to Russia in 2016. (Bloomberg, 04.25.17, Bloomberg, 04.27.17, Reuters, 04.27.17)
  • A U.S. government commission on religious freedom is recommending that Russia be designated as a “country of particular concern,” putting it in a group of the world’s worst offenders. (RFE/RL, 04.26.17)
  • Anna Alekseyevna Repkina, who was found shot in the Oregon woods, arrived in the United States last month from Russia and was having a relationship with the man arrested in her death, authorities said April 24. (AP, 04.24.17)
  • Immigration authorities detained a gay Russian man infected with HIV who was seeking U.S. asylum in California, his lawyer said on April 26. (AP, 04.26.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia’s central bank cut its key interest rate on April 28 for the second time this year and hinted at more cuts to come as inflation, already at a post-Soviet low, continues to fall. The central bank reduced the key rate RUCBIR=ECI to 9.25% from 9.75%. (Reuters, 04.28.17)
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed an order requiring state companies to pay dividends of at least 50% of net income. (Reuters, 04.28.17)
  • A corruption investigation and a sluggish economy have not left Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev untouched—almost half of those questioned in a new poll think he should resign. The survey, carried out earlier this month by the independent Levada Center pollster, showed that 45% of Russians think Medvedev should quit his post. According to two allies, Medvedev is more worried than ever about his political future. (The Moscow Times, 04.26.17, Bloomberg, 04.27.17)
  • Four of the nonprofit foundations recently singled out as pieces in Dmitry Medvedev’s “secret empire” suddenly disclosed their financial records this week. According to the new accounting records, the charities “Gradislav,” “Sotsgosproekt,” “Dar” and the Foundation to Support Winter Olympic Sports collectively spent 3.7 billion rubles (almost $66 million) in 2016. (The Moscow Times, 04.25.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 24 tacitly criticized popular opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose efforts to expose official corruption fueled nationwide protests last month. The president said that it was important to differentiate between those who truly want to fight corruption to “strengthen the state” and those who try to use the fight against corruption to further their own political interests. (AP, 04.24.17)
  • Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee has formally declined to probe allegations by 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)
  • Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was hospitalized on April 27 after an unknown man attacked him outside his office in Moscow. The assailant sprayed a green antiseptic into Navalny’s face, drenching his right eye in the noxious chemical. (The Moscow Times, 04.28.17)
  • Natalia Fyodorova, a Moscow-based activist for Russian opposition party Yabloko, has been left blinded after being attacked with an “unknown chemical.” (The Moscow Times, 04.28.17)
  • On April 26, three days before the protests planned by political movement “Open Russia” against the Kremlin were to occur, Russia’s Prosecutor General blacklisted the group as an “undesirable organization,” banning all its activities. The Kremlin said on April 27 that an opposition protest planned for April 29 was illegal and police would deal with anyone who showed up accordingly. (Reuters, 04.26.17, The Moscow Times, 04.27.17)
  • Gay men in Russia’s Chechen Republic are being illegally detained in at least six secret prisons across the region, the Novaya Gazeta newspaper has reported. (The Moscow Times, 04.24.17)
  • Moscow wants to protect human rights but has no reason to believe reports about the persecution of gay men in Chechnya, Russian officials said on April 24. (AP, 04.24.17)
  • An annual ranking composed by the Reporters Without Borders non-governmental organization has placed Russia in 148th place, behind countries such as Uganda and South Sudan. (The Moscow Times, 04.26.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia increased military expenditures by 5.9% last year to $69.2 billion, making it the third-largest spender after the United States and China. Russia’s military spending in 2016 was 27% of the combined total of European NATO members, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a report released on April 23. The United States increased military spending by 1.7% to $611 billion, while China hiked outlays 5.4% to $215 billion. (RFE/RL, 04.23.17)
  • The S-500 air defense missile system being developed in Russia will be able to hit targets at altitudes of up to 100 kilometers above the earth, Pavel Sozinov, general designer at missile manufacturer Almaz-Antei, said. (RBTH, 04.24.17)
  • A Russian naval intelligence ship, the Liman, sank April 27 after colliding with a merchant freighter in foggy conditions on the Black Sea near Istanbul, the Turkish coast guard said. All 78 crew members on the Russian vessel were rescued. (The Washington Post, 04.27.17)
  • The Russian cosmonaut corps was downsized in April 2017. An interdepartmental commission from the state-run corporation Roscosmos dismissed Gennady Padalka, Sergey Volkov, Alexander Samokutyaev and Sergei Revin from the cosmonaut corps. (RBTH, 04.28.17)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russia’s General Prosecutor, Yuri Chaika, has revealed that in 2016 corruption was to blame for clawing away more than 78 billion rubles ($1.3 billion) of the country’s budget. (RBTH, 04.25.17)
  • A former chief of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Anticorruption and Economic Crimes Directorate, Denis Sugrobov, has been sentenced to 22 years in prison on corruption charges. The Moscow city court issued the sentence on April 27, shortly after convicting Sugrobov of abuse of office and of creating a criminal group. (RFE/RL, 04.27.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • U.S. President Donald Trump raised the specter of a military confrontation with North Korea during a luncheon with U.N. Security Council ambassadors on April 24, but insisted that he favors a peaceful resolution to a decades-long standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The New York Times has earlier reported that the Russian ambassador was among those invited to attend the luncheon. On April 27, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Trump administration is willing to bargain directly with North Korea in an apparent shift in policy. Tillerson on April 28 called for new economic sanctions on North Korea and other “painful” measures, and he asked other countries to suspend diplomatic relations with the communist regime at a special session of the U.N. Security Council. (The Washington Post, 04.28.17 AP, 04.27.17, Foreign Policy, 04.27.17, Russia Matters, 04.27.17)
  • Russian troop movements near the North Korean border are part of planned exercises and are not linked to escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, a military spokesman in the Russian Far East said on April 21. The final round of combat drills began on April 3 and will be over on April 29, after which the troops and equipment will soon return to their home bases. (RFE/RL, 04.22.17)
  • The European Union will seek to renew economic sanctions against Russia when they expire at the end of July, encouraged by U.S. President Donald Trump’s unexpectedly frosty relations with Moscow, EU diplomats and officials said. (Reuters, 04.28.17)
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia on May 2 for talks on the wars in Syria and Ukraine and other issues. (RFE/RL, 04.28.17)
  • Russia accused French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team of discriminating against its media on April 27, saying it had trampled on the freedom of the press by banning Russian news outlets from its events. (Reuters, 04.28.17)
  • Emmanuel Macron’s assumed grip on the keys to the Elysee Palace could be loosening as his lead against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has narrowed ahead of the final week of the French presidential race. The centrist candidate’s predicted win dipped below 60% for the first time since mid-March, according to the latest Opinionway poll. The polls now see Macron emerging victorious from the May 7 second round runoff, but with 59% to Le Pen’s 41%—a notable shift from his anticipated 65% clear lead. (NBC, 04.28.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 27 discussed joint economic projects on disputed islands which could pave the way for the countries to finally sign a peace treaty ending World War II. Putin and Abe told reporters after the talks at the Kremlin that a group of Japanese officials and businessmen would travel to the Kurils next month to examine opportunities for Japanese investment. (AP, 04.27.17)
  • At a news conference, Gen. John Nicholson, the American commander in Afghanistan, said he would “not refute” that Moscow’s involvement includes giving weapons to the Taliban. Russia denies that it provides any such support to the Taliban. Asked about Russia’s activity in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis alluded to the increasing U.S. concerns. “We’ll engage with Russia diplomatically,” Mattis said. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Washington’s statements alleging that Russia supplied weapons to Afghanistan’s Taliban are aimed at diverting attention from U.S. plans for Syrian regime change. Lavrov said that the charges are unsubstantiated and “false.” (RFE/RL, 04.26.17, AP, 04.24.17,TASS, 04.25.17)
  • The Afghan government controls no more than 60% of the country’s territory, Igor Korobov, chief of the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, said on April 26. (Interfax, 04.26.17)
  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry is set to abolish the post of human rights commissioner. (The Moscow Times, 04.25.17)
  • United Nations and Russian officials warned on April 25 against any attack by Saudi-led coalition forces on the Houthi-held Yemeni port of Hodeidah, the aid lifeline for a country where millions of people are in desperate need of food. (Reuters, 04.25.17)
  • U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley urged the U.N. Security Council on April 25 to impose an arms embargo and additional sanctions on South Sudan to pressure the parties to end the civil war in the world’s newest nation—but Russia and China remain opposed. (AP, 04.25.17)
  • A nuclear power deal between the South African government and Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom has been declared “unconstitutional” by the country’s High Court because it had not been debated by the South African parliament. (The Moscow Times, 04.27.17)
  • A report published on April 27 by the MediaDigger media intelligence firm shows that in 2017, Russian media’s coverage extended to 161 languages—a 58% increase compared to last year. (The Moscow Times, 04.28.17)

China:

  • No significant developments.

Ukraine:

  • Ukrainian authorities said on April 26 that three of its troops have been killed and four wounded in eastern Ukraine in an apparent flare-up of fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatists. In the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, rebel commander Eduard Basurin told the local media outlet Donetsk News Agency that one of its fighters was killed and two wounded in shelling by Ukrainian troops on April 25. (AP, 04.26.17)
  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry has claimed the death of a ceasefire monitor ineastern Ukraine was a “provocation” designed to jeopardize the peace process. U.S. paramedic Joseph Stone died when an explosion hit a vehicle for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the separatist-controlled Luhansk region on April 23. Two more people were injured in the blast, the OSCE confirmed. The OSCE Secretary-General Lamberto Zannier said on April 25 after talks with Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow that investigations will be launched to find out who is responsible for the April 23 explosion. (The Moscow Times, 04.24.17,CNN, 04.25.17, RFE/RL, 04.25.17)
  • Sources in Moscow and Kiev tell Russian newspaper Kommersant that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko continue to speak on the phone, though both leaders regularly trade harsh accusations in public. According to Kommersant, the latest conversation between Putin and Poroshenko took place in early April. The two leaders reportedly spent 20 minutes discussing the conflict in eastern Ukraine and that the call took place at Poroshenko’s request. (The Moscow Times, 04.28.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s vow to put “America first” includes a plan to drastically cut assistance to developing countries and merge the State Department with USAID. Foreign assistance to Ukraine, which is used to encourage political and economic reform, is facing a 68.8% cut. According to Ukraine’s Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk, however, the United States has strongly signaled it will continue to support Ukraine. (Reuters, 04.23.17, Business Insider, 04.24.17)
  • In a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. President Donald Trump reaffirmed U.S. support for efforts led by Germany and France to negotiate a resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the White House said on April 24. (RFE/RL, 04.25.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has vowed to use Moscow’s influence to get Ukraine’s separatist rebels to comply with a cease-fire deal. Lavrov made the promise at a news conference April 24 with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini after talks in Moscow. The European Union’s top diplomat said on April 24 that the bloc wanted better ties with Russia but could not pretend Moscow did not annex Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and that EU sanctions would stay in place. (Reuters, 04.24.17, AP, 04.24.17)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson phoned Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on April 23 to discuss his recent trip to Moscow and his message to the Russian leadership that, although the United States is interested in improving relations with Russia, Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine remain an obstacle. (U.S. Department of State, 04.23.17)
  • Ukraine’s decision to stop military technical cooperation with Moscow led to the creation of new industries in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting of the Military Industrial Commission on April 25. (TASS, 04.25.17)
  • Hacked emails show that the Kremlin directs and funds the ostensibly independent republics in eastern Ukraine and runs military operations there, according to Atlantic Council. (Atlantic Council, 04.24.17)
  • The Kremlin says Russia will supply electricity to separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian government cut off the power because of unpaid bills. (AP, 04.25.17)
  • Gazprom has increased its claim against Ukraine’s Naftogaz to $37 billion and expects an arbitration court in Stockholm to rule on the dispute on June 30. Gazprom also wants to cut gas transit via Ukraine by 80%, starting in 2020. (RBTH, 04.26.17, Reuters, 04.26.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has declared the border between Ukraine and Belarus an “axis of good and friendship.” (The Moscow Times, 04.27.17)
  • Commemorations are under way in Ukraine to mark the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Sirens were sounded at the same moment as the first explosion at the reactor, in the early hours of April 26, 1986. (BBC, 04.26.17)
  • A Kiev court has released on bail an influential former lawmaker suspected of embezzlement. The April 22 ruling follows the detention two days earlier of Mykola Martynenko, an ally of former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, after the National Anticorruption Bureau announced it was preparing to file charges against him. (RFE/RL, 04.22.17)
  • Ukraine’s state security service raided the Kiev offices of the country’s largest investment bank, Dragon Capital, looking for illegal software on April 26, drawing a dismayed reaction from Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman. (RFE/RL, 04.27.17)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the new president of Uzbekistan, has moved to consolidate his power by sidelining Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, who has been a member of the triumvirate that has ruled the ex-Soviet state since last year, two sources familiar with the government told Reuters. (Reuters, 04.26.17)
  • Tajik President Emomali Rahmon held talks with the visiting commander of the United States Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, on April 25. Rahmon’s office said they discussed “prospects for cooperation in the military and military-technical spheres” with an eye to bolstering “regional security and stability.” The term “military-technical” usually refers to weapons sales and servicing. (RFE/RL, 04.25.17)
  • Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and other top national officials paid their respects to the victims of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire by laying wreaths and flowers at the monument on Yerevan’s Tsitsernakaberd Hill. (TASS, 04.24.17)
  • A Russian soldier serving at a base in Armenia has been killed in a knife attack. Local news reports said a suspect has been arrested. (AP, 04.22.17)
  • Belarus and Russia have agreed to the delivery of the reactor pressure vessel originally built for the Baltic NPP—under construction in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad—to unit two of the nuclear power plant under construction in Ostrovets, in the Grodno region of Belarus. (World Nuclear News, 04.25.17)
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree on aligning nuclear power legislation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). (World Nuclear News, 04.25.17)
  • Moldovan Transport and Roads Infrastructure Minister Iurie Chirinciuc has been detained on corruption charges, the latest in a string of arrests on suspicion of graft in the economically struggling country. (RFE/RL, 04.27.17)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • Responding to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s observation that Russia’s foreign policy concept calls for strategic partnership with the European Union, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said: “It would be absurd to consider each other strategic partners and have mutual approval—this is not the kind of relationship that partners usually have.” (Russia Matters, 04.24.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in reference to the original Cold War and current competition between Russia and the West: “Two empires existed at that time—the Western and the Soviet ones. Each of them was fomenting conflicts with the adversary in third countries, but never on their borders and never directly. Even the public rhetoric was softer. Both camps never crossed the red lines back then. There are no rules anymore today.” (TASS, 04.25.15)
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