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

Special, expanded section on Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. elections:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump on May 9 fired the director of the FBI, James Comey, abruptly terminating the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. (New York Times, 05.09.17)
    • In describing his reasons for firing Comey, Trump told NBC on May 11: “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. … It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.” Earlier, the White House had said that Trump had acted upon the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy who felt that Comey should be dismissed because of his handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. In his letter terminating Comey, Trump said he had “accepted their recommendation.” Vice President Mike Pence had said the same. By the following day, the story began to change, with both the president and a spokeswoman eventually saying Trump had intended to fire Comey long before. (New York Times, 05.11.17)
    • Trump also told NBC that he knew he was not under FBI investigation because he had asked Comey directly: “I said… ‘Am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation.’” Trump said he never tried to pressure Comey into dropping the FBI probe of the Trump campaign because “I want to find out if there was a problem in the election having to do with Russia.” Trump also insisted there was no “collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians,” who, he said, “did not affect the vote.” (NBC, 05.11.17)
    • One week after Trump was sworn in as president, Comey has told associates, the FBI director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief. At one point the president turned the conversation to whether Comey would pledge his loyalty to him. Comey declined to make that pledge, telling Trump he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense. The White House says this account is not correct. (New York Times, 05.11.17)
    • Trump suggested May 12 that there may be “tapes” of his private conversations with Comey, in what appeared to be a threat to Comey about “leaking to the press.” (The Washington Post, 05.12.17)
    • After Comey’s firing, the job of leading the agency falls, at least temporarily, to deputy director Andrew McCabe, who, as second in command, would have been intimately involved in the Russia investigation. Speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 11, McCabe said the FBI considered the probe a “highly significant investigation” and that it would not be derailed because of a change in leadership. He said he had witnessed no covert effort by the White House to influence the inquiry and that there had been “no effort to impede our investigation.” Asked whether it would be wrong to tell the president he was not being investigated, McCabe said, “We typically do not answer that question.” (Wall Street Journal, 05.09.17, New York Times, 05.11.17, New York Times, 05.11. 17, The Washington Post, 05.11.17)
    • Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe contradicted the White House on two major issues on May 11: the support of rank-and-file agents for the fired Comey and the importance of the agency’s investigation into Russian election interference. A day earlier White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that, for the FBI, the Russia investigation was “probably one of the smallest things that they’ve got going on their plate” and that Comey’s firing had widespread support within the bureau. (New York Times, 05.11.17)
    • White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said May 10 “we encourage them [the FBI] to complete investigation” so that it will be proven “there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” Sanders said the White House does not think appointing a special prosecutor is necessary. Prominent Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) have forcefully rejected calls for an independent prosecutor or commission. (AP, 05.10.17,Politico, 05.11.17)
    • Congressional Democrats reacted furiously to Comey’s firing, saying it raises serious constitutional issues because the agency is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible links to Trump’s campaign. “Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said May 9. He and other Democrats have ratcheted up calls for a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia after the dismissal. (Bloomberg, 05.10.17, Politico, 05.10.17)
    • The furor over Comey’s abrupt firing grew May 10 with the revelation that he had sought more resources for the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government shortly before he was dismissed. Acting FBI director McCabe told lawmakers that he was unaware of any such request and that he believed the bureau’s resources for the probe are “adequate.” (The Washington Post, 05.10.17, Reuters, 05.11.17, AP, 05.10.17)
    • Sen. John McCain said that if Comey’s firing was intended to thwart the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible Russia ties, it would fail. “I remember the Saturday Night Massacre,” McCain told a group of mostly European and American guests, referring to the 1973 incident when President Nixon fired the special prosecutor looking into the Watergate break-in. Democrats also likened the firing to the “Saturday Night Massacre” amid their renewed calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor. (The Washington Post, 05.10.17,AP, 05.10.17)
    • Comey’s firing could temporarily delay the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its chairman said May 10. The committee has asked Comey to appear before it next week. (Reuters, 05.10.17,AP, 05.10.17)
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin said Comey’s firing will have “no effect” on U.S.-Russia relations. “There will be no effect,” Putin said, with press aide Dmitry Peskov translating. “Your question looks very funny for me. Don’t be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that.” (CBS, 05.10.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it is “humiliating” for the American people to hear that Russia is controlling the political situation in the U.S. Lavrov was speaking at the Russian Embassy in Washington after meetings with Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He said through a translator that “there is not a single fact” or piece of compelling evidence proving Russia’s intervention in the election. After Lavrov and Tillerson were asked during a photo-op whether Comey’s firing cast a shadow over the meeting between the two diplomats Lavrov said: “Was he fired? You’re kidding. You’re kidding.” (AP, 05.10.17, AP, 05.10.17)
    • See also “Other bilateral issues” section below.
  • The White House says President Donald Trump is sending a certified letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham attesting that the president has no connections to Russia. Graham told CNN on May 9 he wants to explore possible ties between Trump’s businesses and Russia. The South Carolina Republican chairs a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. (AP, 05.09.17)
  • Trump’s lawyers say his income tax returns do not show income from Russian sources or debt owed to Russians, with the exception of $95 million paid by a Russian billionaire for a Trump-owned estate in Florida and $12.2 million in payments in connection with holding the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013. In addition to those, the lawyers said Trump received undisclosed payments over 10 years from Russians for hotel rooms, rounds of golf or Trump-licensed products, like wine, ties or mattresses. (New York Times, 05.12.17)
  • The Senate’s Russia investigators are asking the Treasury Department’s criminal investigation division for any information relevant to President Trump, his top aides and campaign officials. (AP, 05.10.17)
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena May 10 to force former national security adviser Michael Flynn to turn over documents related to the panel’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, including possible ties between the Kremlin and the presidential campaigns. It is the first subpoena the committee has announced in the course of its Russia investigation. (The Washington Post, 05.10.17)
    • Former U.S. President Barack Obama warned Trump during the presidential transition against hiring Flynn as his national security adviser after the president-elect asked for advice on personnel matters. (Bloomberg, 05.09.17)
    • Flynn was warned by senior members of Trump’s transition team about the risks of his contacts with the Russian ambassador weeks before the December call that led to Flynn’s forced resignation. Officials were so concerned that Flynn did not fully understand the motives of the Russian ambassador that the head of Trump’s National Security Council transition team asked Obama administration officials for a classified CIA profile of Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. (The Washington Post, 05.06.17)
    • Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified in a Senate hearing on May 8 that she had two meetings and one telephone call with White House officials about Flynn when he was Trump’s national security adviser. Describing reports that Flynn had misrepresented his contacts with Kislyak, Yates said she was concerned that “the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.” She also said she had discussed with Trump’s White House counsel possible criminal charges related to Flynn’s communications with Russian officials. “To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security advisor compromised by the Russians,” Yates said. (Reuters, 05.08.17, Foreign Policy, 05.08.17)
    • The Senate committee investigating Moscow’s interference in last year’s election has asked several of Trump’s associates to turn over information about possible contacts with Russian officials or businessmen. Former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page responded on May 5, calling the congressional probe a “comically fake inquiry” but pledging to cooperate. (AP, 05.05.17)
  • Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says Russia is now “emboldened” to interfere in elections in the U.S. and around the world. He says Russia’s meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election amounted to a “high-water mark” in its decades-long efforts to interfere in political contests. “The Intelligence Community Assessment concluded first that President Putin directed an influence campaign to erode the faith and confidence of the American people in our presidential election process. Second, that he did so to demean Secretary Clinton, and third, that he sought to advantage Mr. Trump,” he said in his testimony. (Time, 05.08.17,CNN, 05.09.17)
  • John Sullivan, the Trump administration’s nominee to become deputy secretary of state, told a Senate committee May 9 that Russian interference in elections in the United States and Europe requires a “robust” response. (The Washington Post, 05.09.17)

Nuclear security and safety:

  • The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a public statement on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s latest Worldwide Threat Assessment on May 11, identifying Russia’s development of a ground-launched cruise missile as a violation of the INF Treaty and a major threat in the sphere of WMD and nuclear proliferation. “Moscow probably believes that the new GLCM provides sufficient military advantages that make it worth risking the political repercussions of violating the INF Treaty,” the statementsays. (Russia Matters, 05.11.17)
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has issued an edict to establish security zones with “special legal regime” around the nation’s nuclear facilities, including atomic power plants and storage facilities. Medvedev signed the decree, which aims to protect these nuclear facilities from terrorist attacks, on May 4. (Russia Matters, 05.10.17)
  • A tunnel was damaged on May 9 at a plutonium handling facility at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, leading authorities to evacuate some workers at the site and instruct others to take cover, a spokesperson for the site said in a release. The U.S. Department of Energy said it has activated its emergency operations protocol in Hanford. (Bellona, 05.10.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis traveled to the eastern edge of the NATO alliance on May 10 to pledge American solidarity with the Baltic nations, but he stopped short of giving his hosts in Lithuania what they wanted: a commitment to base Patriot missile-defense systems in the region. However, U.S. defense officials raised the possibility that a Patriot missile battery could be deployed to the Baltic region during NATO exercises this summer. The drills, named Tobruk Legacy, will focus on air defense and take place this summer. The move, if finalized, would be temporary. (AP, 05.10.17, New York Times, 05.10.17)
  • The U.S. military will increase its ability observe Russian troop movements near the Baltic states during a large military exercise planned by Moscow this summer, U.S. defense officials said. The United States will put ships in the Baltic Sea and take over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s air policing in the region ahead of the exercises in August and September, said the two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military maneuvers. The Russian exercise, known as Zapad, or West, will take place this year in western Russia, including Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The U.S. military estimates that 70,000 to 100,000 Russian troops could take part in the exercise. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he had “no concerns” about the upcoming Zapad exercise, adding that’s it routine and he hopes “it stays routine.” (The Washington Post, 05.10.17)
  • A Russian jet flew within 20 feet of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane this week, but U.S. military officials said May 12 that they consider the event to have been conducted safely and professionally. The maneuvering occurred May 9 over the Black Sea in international air space, U.S. military officials said. (The Washington Post, 05.12.17)
  • The Czech government has approved a Defense Ministry plan to deploy almost 300 troops in the Baltics as part of NATO forces. (AP, 05.10.17,RFE/RL, 05.10.17)
  • A 1984 prohibition on including nuclear attack preparations in Washington state’s emergency management plans would be removed under a new bill introduced by two lawmakers. (AP, 05.09.17)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.


  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has used a speech at a military parade commemorating the Allied victory over Nazi Germany to press Western countries to fall in line with Moscow’s approach to combating international terrorism. (RFE/RL, 05.09.17)
  • The Islamic State released a new video purporting to show the execution of a captured Russian intelligence officer in Syria, the SITE monitoring group reported on May 9. The Russian Defense Ministry later denied the report, insisting all Russian servicemen in Syria are alive and accounted for. (The Moscow Times, 05.09.17)
  • Russian authorities say they have charged three suspects in the April 3 bombing that killed 16 people on a subway train in St. Petersburg. The federal Investigative Committee said on May 11 that Bakhram Ergashev, Ibragimjon Ermatov and Makhamadyusuf Mirzaalimov had been charged with involvement in a “terrorist act” and the illegal possession or use of explosives. (RFE/RL, 05.11.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • United Nations Security Council members pressed Russia to provide more details before they consider backing the deal reached with Turkey and Iran to set up safe zones in Syria, including information on how the accord would be enforced and monitored. (Bloomberg, 05.08.17)
  • Moscow has sent dozens of new artillery howitzers to Syria to be used by the Assad regime in a future ground campaign against rebel forces, U.S. officials told Fox News on May 9. Some 21 M-30 Russian artillery pieces arrived via cargo ship in the southern port city of Tartus in the past few days, according to two U.S. defense officials. (Fox News, 05.09.17)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon managed to reach an understanding on topical bilateral issues at the consultations held in New York on May 8 in preparation for the May 10 talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “I assume that Syria will top the talks, which is why Mr. Shannon and I have done some work to ease the bilateral agenda for the ministers to some extent so that they get around to Syria and other international issues,” Ryabkov said. (TASS, 05.09.17)
  • Twenty-seven field commanders of opposition groups in Syria have agreed to accept the terms of the memorandum on de-escalation zones, Stanislav Gadzhimagomedov, a deputy head of the Russian Armed Forces’ main operational department, said. (TASS, 05.05.17)
  • Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed in a memorandum signed on May 4 to establish four separate de-escalation zones in Syria for at least six months, according to a text detailing the agreement published by the Russian foreign ministry on May 6. (Reuters, 05.06.17)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry says its military chief of staff and the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff have confirmed their readiness to restore a communications channel aimed at preventing midair incidents between Russian and U.S. warplanes over Syria. Generals Valery Gerasimov and Joseph Dunford also discussed setting up further conflict-avoidance measures in a May 6 telephone call. (AP, 05.06.17)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on May 8 the United States would closely examine proposed de-escalation zones aimed at easing Syria’s civil war but warned “the devil’s in the details” and that much needed to be worked out. The deal to create “de-escalation” zones in the major areas of conflict in western Syria took effect on May 6. (Reuters, 05.08.17)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the U.S. owes it to the people of Syria to take a close look at the Russian proposal to create several “safe zones” in Syria. But Mattis also said the plan poses many unanswered questions, including whether it would be effective. (AP, 05.08.17)
  • Syria’s foreign minister says there will be no international forces under U.N. supervision as part of a deal struck by Russia, Iran and Turkey last week on setting up four safe zones in Syria. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem says militants must be purged out of the safe zones envisaged by the deal on four so-called “de-escalation” areas. He is also describing the role of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds fighting the Islamic State group in Syria as “legitimate.” (AP, 05.08.17)
  • Fighting between Syrian rebel and government forces eased on May 6 as a Russian-led effort to shore up a ceasefire took effect, although battles continued on important frontlines near Hama and Damascus, rebels and a war monitor said. (Reuters, 05.07.17)
  • Israeli satellite imagery confirms redeployment of at least one Russian A-50 aerial early warning and control aircraft in Syria. The deployment, less than a month after a U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile strike on a key regime air base, significantly augments Russia’s ability to defend the entire airspace over Syria against aircraft or missile attack. (Defense News, 05.07.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has approved arming Kurdish forces in Syria in the fight to capture territory from Islamic State—a decision made over Turkey’s strong objections. (Bloomberg, 05.09.17)
  • See also “Other bilateral issues” section below.

Cyber security:

  • The United States watched Russians hack France’s computer networks during the election and tipped off French officials before it became public, a U.S. cyber official told the Senate on May 9. France’s election campaign commission said May 6 that “a significant amount of data”—and some information that was likely fake—was leaked on social networks 36 hours before the nation voted on May 7. “We had become aware of Russian activity. We had talked to our French counterparts and gave them a heads-ups—‘Look, we’re watching the Russians. We’re seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure. Here’s what we’ve seen. What can we do to try to assist?’” Adm. Mike Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We are doing similar things with our German counterparts, with our British counter parts, they have an upcoming election sequence,” he said. France’s chief cybersecurity body, known by the French acronym ANSII, declined comment on Rogers’ testimony. Emmanuel Macron’s campaign digital director Mounir Mahjoubi told Reuters in an interview that he had no proof that Russian government-backed hackers were behind the attacks. Two of the U.S. government sources and one European official said there is clear evidence that Russia targeted Macron’s campaign going back at least to February. Two of the U.S. officials said Russian hackers and propagandists accelerated their efforts near the end of the campaign to help Macron’s opponent, Marine Le Pen. (AP, 05.09.17, Reuters, 05.09.17, RFE/RL, 05.09.17, UPI, 05.09.17)
  • Adm. Mike Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. is still working on a comprehensive cyber policy to counter what he called a “brave new world” in the cyber domain. He said the U.S. needs to take tough actions against nation states working to undermine American democracy. They need to be publicly accused of the activity and the U.S. needs to make it clear to them that this type of activity is “unacceptable and there is a price to pay for doing this.” (AP, 05.09.17)
  • Hackers exploiting data stolen from the United States government conducted extensive cyberattacks on May 12. Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm, said it had recorded at least 45,000 attacks in as many as 74 countries, including Russia, Turkey, Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan. Britain’s public health system was severely disrupted and corporate computer systems in many other countries—including FedEx of the United States, one of the world’s leading international shippers—were among those affected. Spain’s Telefónica and Russia’s MegaFon were among the largest of the businesses targeted. (New York Times, 05.12.17)
  • The United States says it is reviewing government use of software from Russia’s Kaspersky Lab amid concerns that Moscow could use the product to attack U.S. computer systems. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Vincent Stewart on May 11 told a Senate committee that “we are tracking Kaspersky and their software.” He added there is “as far as I know, no Kaspersky software on [DIA] networks,” although it was possible it was being used by intelligence contractors. (RFE/RL, 05.11.17)
  • See also “Other bilateral issues” section below.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Saudi Arabia and Russia signaled they could extend production cuts into 2018, doubling down on an effort to eliminate a supply surplus just as its impact on prices wanes. “We are discussing a number of scenarios and believe extension for a longer period will help speed up market rebalancing,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said. (Bloomberg, 05.08.17)
  • Russia’s Gazprom said on May 7 that Switzerland’s Allseas Group S.A. has begun constructing the first stage of the Turkish Stream pipeline. (Reuters, 05.07.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • The U.S. International Trade Commission has announced it will conduct an expedited five-year review—also known as a “sunset” review—on the U.S.-Russia Antidumping Suspension Agreement. The agreement provides strict limits and conditions on imports of uranium from Russia to the U.S. (World Nuclear News, 05.09.17)

Other bilateral issues:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on May 10, a day after the U.S. president fired FBI director James Comey—and brought with him Russian envoy Sergei Kislyak, who is at the center of intrigue about Trump campaign officials’ contacts with the Russian government. “We had a very, very good meeting with Mr. Lavrov, and I thought it was very good,” Trump said afterwards. “What we want to do is we want to see the killing, the horrible killing in Syria stop as soon as possible and everybody’s working toward that end,” Trump said. During the meeting “Trump emphasized the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria, in particular, underscoring the need for Russia to rein in the Assad regime, Iran and Iranian proxies,” the White House said in a statement. Trump raised the subject of Ukraine, and expressed his administration’s commitment to remain engaged in resolving the conflict, stressing Russia’s responsibility to fully implement the Minsk agreements, according to the statement. Speaking at a news conference in the Russian embassy in Washington, Lavrov said that his talks with U.S. officials had not covered the U.S. sanctions. He said the focus of his discussions had been on creating so-called de-escalation zones inside Syria. “The Trump administration, and the president himself, and the Secretary of State, I was persuaded of this once again today, are people of action,” he said. The first photos of Trump’s meeting with Lavrov to be made public came from the Russian government, not the White House. (Bloomberg, 05.09.17, AP, 05.10.17, Reuters, 05.10.17, WhiteHouse.gov, 05.10.17)
  • When U.S. President Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office on May 10 just hours after firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded with the Russians, he did so at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.” (Politico, 05.10.17)
  • Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, discussing Syria, Ukraine and other matters that have sent U.S.-Russian relations plummeting to Cold War-era lows. Tillerson said the meeting was a chance for the two to “continue our dialogue and our exchange of views” since his trip to Moscow last month. A bare-bones description given by Tillerson’s spokesman suggested the official agenda included the new Russian plan for safe zones in Syria, the campaign against the Islamic State, weapons development in North Korea and the continued Russian activity in Ukraine. Lavrov and Tillerson are clearly trying to organize a first meeting between the two presidents, likely to come on the edges of a summit meeting this summer. Lavrov stressed in an interview the importance of a meeting between the two presidents, but said there was no high intrigue around the plans. Before the meeting, the U.S. State Department said on May 8 that Tillerson and Lavrov will attempt to “set the stage for a political settlement of the conflict in Syria,” as well as discuss efforts to decrease violence and provide aid. The chief U.S. diplomat and his Russian counterpart was also to discuss the Ukraine conflict and the need to fully implement cease-fire and peace agreements known as the Minsk agreements. (Wall Street Journal, 05.08.17, New York Times, 05.10.17, Wall Street Journal, 05.10.17, RFE/RL, 05.10.17)
    • The presence of a Russian photographer working for Russian state-owned news agency TASS during President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office on May 10 sparked criticism from media advocates, as well as concerns over the risk of a security breach. White House officials seemed caught off guard by the controversy, initially saying they had not anticipated that TASS would post photographs from the meeting. “They tricked us,” one unnamed official was quoted as saying by CNN. In response, Russian officials have fired back fiercely by taking aim at the U.S. media. (The Washington Post, 05.12.17)
  • Russia figured prominently in a May 11 statement by the U.S. Intelligence Community about its latest Worldwide Threat Assessment, which identified Moscow as a major threat in space warfare, the cyber sphere, intelligence operations and other areas. (Russia Matters, 05.11.17)
  • Western sanctions weren’t specifically designed to curb current Russian oil production, and they haven’t. Output rose above 11 million barrels a day last year, the highest level in decades. “When sanctions are not uniform across the board, you get unintended consequences,” said Bill Arnold, a former Shell executive and senior vice president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank who teaches about the geopolitics of oil at Rice University. “If the ultimate objective was to curb Russian industry, it isn’t clear that’s taken place.” (Dow Jones, 05.08.17)
  • A top Kremlin foreign-policy adviser has threatened retaliatory measures against U.S. officials in response to Washington’s closure of Russian diplomatic property in the United States last year. Yury Ushakov’s comments on May 12 signaled a possible reversal in policy by the Kremlin regarding the closure, which was announced in December by then-President Barack Obama. Ushakov did not specify what measures Russia might take. (RFE/RL, 05.12.17)
  • A senior Russian Orthodox Church official says he met with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and told him that the United States and Russia should fight terrorism together. Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian church’s External Relations Department, said he spoke with Pence for a few minutes ahead of the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, which they both attended in Washington on May 11. (RFE/RL, 05.12.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russian domestic politics are being influenced by hacking tactics similar to ones Russia is accused of using to try to weaken its foreign opponents. Documents found in email accounts hackers said are linked to Russian officials helped fuel recent protests across Russia against corruption. The documents were released by a shadowy group called Anonymous International—also known as “Shaltai Boltai,” which is Russian for Humpty Dumpty. (Wall Street Journal, 05.08.17)
  • Thousands of Russian opposition activists held a rally in Moscow on May 6 to mark five years since the 2012 Bolotnaya Square antigovernment protest in Moscow. (RFE/RL, 05.06.17)
  • Chechnya’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov said late on May 5 that he is “ready to closely cooperate” with Kremlin officials looking into reports of alleged persecution of gay men in the republic. (RFE/RL, 05.05.17)
  • Russia seems to be gearing up for another Olympic bid, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin told Olympic historian David Miller in an exclusive interview that his country has plenty of candidates capable of hosting the Summer Games, not just Moscow. (AP, 05.05.17)
  • At least 11 activists have been detained on Moscow’s Red Square as they were reading Russia’s constitution out loud, a group that monitors protest activity says. (RFE/RL, 05.12.17)
  • Top managers at Russian oil company Rosneft will see their bonuses skyrocket by 9,900% for the first quarter of 2017. (The Moscow Times, 05.10.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia rolled out air defense systems built to operate in sub-zero Arctic conditions on May 9 as it showcased its military might at a parade on Moscow’s Red Square. The parade is an annual event commemorating the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. (Reuters, 05.09.17)
  • See also “Other bilateral issues” section above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian cell phone operator MTS will be the first company to start storing users’ data under controversial new anti-terror laws. (The Moscow Times, 05.10.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Sochi on May 11. After the talks, Abbas said the Palestinians were ready to cooperate with U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to broker a peace deal. Putin said Russia will continue efforts to help restore direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The two leaders also took part via video link in the opening of a new “multi-functional” complex in Bethlehem that would be used for sports and music lessons for children and was built with major assistance from Russia, according to the Russian armed forces’ Zvezda website. The story’s headline said the complex would bear Putin’s name. (AP, 05.11.17, Russia Matters, 05.11.17)
  • According to the Kremlin press service, Russian President Vladimir Putin reminded France’s newly elected President Emmanuel Macron of the difficult security environment in Europe, the shared threat of international terrorism and the need to overcome mutual mistrust between Russia and the West. He also wished Macron good health. On May 7 French voters backed Macron by a wide margin, 66 to 34%, handing him a decisive victory over Marine Le Pen. (The Moscow Times, 05.08.17, The Washington Post, 05.08.17)
  • A court in Estonia has sentenced Russian citizen Artem Zinchenko to five years in prison for cooperating with Russian intelligence. (The Moscow Times, 05.08.17)
  • Estonia said May 5 that a Russian IL-96 passenger plane, allegedly carrying Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to neighboring Finland, briefly violated Estonian airspace on the evening of May 3. (AP, 05.05.17)
  • Czech prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for Oleg Vorotnikov, a founding member of the Russian dissident art collective, Voina. (RFE/RL, 05.10.17)


  • Russia has blocked access to Chinese social media app WeChat, developed by Tencent Holdings, for failing to give its contact details to the Russian communications watchdog. (Reuters, 05.06.17)


  • U.S. President Donald Trump on May 11 called on Russia and Ukraine to make peace, presenting himself as something of a neutral peacemaker between the nations, a day after meeting foreign ministers from both countries in Washington. (Wall Street Journal, 05.11.17)
  • One Ukrainian serviceman has been killed and nine wounded in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours, the press center of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation headquarters said in its Facebook update on May 9. On May 6, five Ukrainian soldiers had been wounded in Donbas over the previous 24 hours, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, told a briefing in Kiev. On May 5, the ATO headquarters reported on Facebook that ten more Ukrainian soldiers had been wounded in Donbas in the previous 24 hours. (BBC, 05.06.17, BBC, 05.05.17, BBC, 05.09.17)
  • A Russian challenge to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s funding freeze was rejected by shareholders who remain opposed to many of the nation’s foreign policies. EBRD stopped new funding for Russia after Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and backed an insurgency in eastern Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 05.09.17)
  • Steven Seagal, the American actor best known for his role in ’90s action movies such as “Hard to Kill” and “Under Siege,” has been blacklisted from Ukraine as a national security threat. (The Washington Post, 05.06.17)
  • See also “Other bilateral issues” section below.

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The United States says it has signed a “milestone” security agreement with Georgia that will boost intelligence sharing and counterterrorism efforts with the former Soviet republic. The U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili signed the agreement before their meeting in Washington on May 9. (RFE/RL, 05.09.17)
  • Azerbaijan said on May 7 that it has arrested a group of soldiers and civilians it alleges passed on classified military information to Armenia. (RFE/RL, 05.07.17)
  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has denounced the recent execution of a man in Belarus, the only country in Europe which still applies the death penalty. (RFE/RL, 05.08.17)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • ”If our societies continue to stumble because we have a large segment of disaffected voters, Russia might be able to undermine the system that we built,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “In many respects the best way to deal with Russia is getting our own house in order.” (New York Times, 05.08.17)
  • “If you now send German tanks to the border with Russia in Lithuania, then you can’t forget history,” said Tobias Pflueger, vice president of Germany’s pacifist Left party, referring to calls for NATO to help protect their Baltic allies from an increasingly threatening Russia. (Reuters, 05.09.17)
  • “Here he is—the spy!” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said sarcastically after being approached by a Washington Post reporter, referring to the Tass photographer standing nearby who was present at the May 10 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian diplomats. “Your newspaper is making our correspondents feel like Jews in 1933,” she said at the sidelines of the Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 11. (The Washington Post, 05.12.17)