HARVARD UNIVERSITY

 

Click here to read Nikolas Gvosdev’s snapshot analysis of Trump’s NATO trip and the questions it raises for Brussels, Moscow and even Washington.

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

Nuclear security:

  • The Trump administration released its Fiscal Year 2018 budget request on May 23. The request would increase the funds allocated to the National Nuclear Security Administration  by $1 billion to $13.9 billion, a 7.8% increase above the FY 2017 Omnibus level, according to the agency. The NNSA would get $10.2 billion for nuclear weapons activities, which represents 10.8% above the FY 2017 Omnibus level. For Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, Trump’s FY 2018 Budget Request ($1.8 billion) is consistent with the FY 2017 Omnibus level, according to the NNSA. The administration is proposing to “terminate the MOX project and pursue the dilute & dispose (D&D) option as an alternative,” according to according toStephen Young  of the Union of Concerned Scientists. (All Things Nuclear, 05.25.17, NNSA, 05.23.17, Russia Matters, 05.26.17)
  • New Jersey officials apologized May 24 for accidentally broadcasting false alerts to residents that a nuclear power plant disaster was underway. (The National Interest, 05.24.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • The Trump administration announced on May 17 that it is sanctioning several entities in connection with Iran’s ballistic missile program, which the U.S. intelligence community estimates could be used to carry nuclear weapons over great distances, according to an announcement by the U.S. Treasury Department. (The Washington Free Beacon, 05.17.17)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump did not explicitly endorse the mutual-aid clause of the North Atlantic Treaty at the NATO summit on May 25 despite previous indications that he was planning to do so, keeping in place the cloud of ambiguity hanging over the relationship between the United States and the alliance. Trump also said that “The NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration as well as threats from Russia and NATO’s eastern and southern borders.” Trump also rebuked fellow NATO members on May 25 for failing to meet the military alliance’s financial benchmarks, asserting that leaves it weaker and shortchanges “the people and taxpayers of the United States.” During a private dinner on May 25, the 28 members, plus Montenegro, renewed an old pledge to move toward the 2% defense spending mark by 2024. Montenegro will become the 29th member of NATO on June 5. (The Atlantic, 05.25.17, AP, 05.25.17, Wall Street Journal, 05.25.17, RFE/RL, 05.27.17)
  • Most NATO allies remain confident that the United States would come to their defense if there was a serious military conflict with Russia—with those in Spain (70%), Canada (68%) and Britain (66%) the most positive in their responses. For their part, 62% of Americans said that if Russia got into a military conflict with a neighboring country that is a NATO ally, they should use military force to defend the country, with only 31% disagreeing. (The Washington Post, 05.23.17)
  • “The military environment has shifted away from the existence of the United States as the single ‘hyperpower’ to a situation in which foreign militaries are emerging with near-peer and, in some areas, peer capabilities,” U.S. Marine Corps. Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 23. (The National Interest, 05.23.17)
  • Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbac, U.S. commander in Alaska, has expressed concern about Russia’s recent military buildup in the Arctic, saying it threatens the historically peaceful region. (RFE/RL, 05.26.17)
  • Russia’s defense minister says the military has received a steady flow of new weapons allowing it to maintain a “strategic parity” with NATO. Sergey Shoigu said that Russia’s nuclear forces have been equipped with the new Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles with an enhanced capability to penetrate any potential missile defense. The navy has commissioned three new Borei-class nuclear submarines armed with the Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles, and Shoigu said their number will reach seven by 2021. He said that after 2021, the military will also start receiving a modernized version of the Tu-160 long-range bomber. (AP, 05.24.17)

Missile defense:

  • Russia and China agree that the development of North Korea’s nuclear program should not be used as an excuse for deploying elements of a U.S. global anti-missile system on the Korean peninsula, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on May 26. (Reuters, 05.26.17)

Nuclear arms control:

  • A United Nations disarmament panel presented on May 22 the first draft of a proposed global treaty to ban nuclear weapons, which advocates called an important step that could hasten completion of a final text by early July. (New York Times, 05.22.17)

Counter-terrorism:

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that U.S. President Donald Trump has approved a series of measures to expedite the ISIS group’s defeat. Among those steps, Mattis said, is a new emphasis on encircling and cutting off the Islamic State in population centers, rather than positioning local forces around cities in a way that could allow militants to escape and regroup elsewhere. Mattis said Trump had also delegated decision-making “to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities.” (The Washington Post, 05.19.17)
  • NATO leaders issued a joint statement on fighting terrorism, admonishing internet service providers and social media companies to “substantially increase” their efforts to rein in extremist content. (Reuters, 05.26.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said he never named Israel during an Oval Office conversation with Russian officials in which he reportedly revealed sensitive intelligence gathered by an unidentified U.S. ally. (Bloomberg, 05.22.17)
  • “Few nations have been spared the violent reach of terrorism. America has suffered repeated barbaric attacks … The nations of Europe have also endured unspeakable horror. So too have the nations of Africa and South America. India, Russia, China and Australia have all been victims. But in sheer numbers, the deadliest toll has been exacted on the innocent people of Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern nations,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in his speech on global terrorism that he gave while visiting Saudi Arabia. (The Washington Post, 05.21.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed deep condolences to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May over the deadly terror attack at the Manchester Arena in England, the Kremlin press service said on May 23. (TASS, 05.23.17)
  • One of Russia’s top politicians has called the Manchester terror attack a “lesson” to British special forces for refusing to cooperate with their Russian counterparts. Viktor Ozerov, Chairman of the Defense Committee for Russia’s Federation Council, said that Russian intelligence agencies would aid any investigation into the attack. (The Moscow Times, 05.23.17)
  • Russian federal agents in Bashkortostan say they’ve arrested a man suspected of fighting with a Russian-speaking group tied to the terrorist organization al-Qaida since at least 2014. Russia’s Federal Security Service says the suspect was detained earlier this month by guards while crossing the Turkish-Syrian border, before being returned to Russia. (The Moscow Times, 05.24.17)
  • Russia’s main domestic security agency says it has arrested four members of the Islamic State group who have been preparing attacks in Moscow. The Federal Security Service said that the four were working under directions from IS in Syria to prepare attacks using self-made explosive devices. (AP, 05.25.17)
  • The prosecutor has demanded prison terms of up to 20 years for eight young men from Kabardino-Balkaria in Russia’s North Caucasus region on charges ranging from illegal possession of arms and establishing an illegal armed group to the attempted killing of a police officer. (RFE/RL, 05.25.17)
  • Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, announced on May 24 that terrorists groups are using secret chats on the instant messenger Telegram to coordinate their efforts. A new bill banning anonymous users from using online messenger apps has been submitted to the Russian parliament. (The Moscow Times, 05.24.17, The Moscow Times, 05.24.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon has stepped up communication with the Russian military over Syria: “In addition to the direct communication that I have, we’ve opened up a three-star level channel where RJ5 here in the joint staff routinely corresponds—communicates with his counterpart in Moscow. And then we have a pretty robust operational link on the ground from our combined air operations center and counter to the—to the Russians on the ground,” he said.  Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the chief planning officer on the Joint Chiefs’ staff, has been talking to his Russian counterpart, Gen. Dunford said. While Dunford said military coordination with Russia was prohibited by U.S. law, he said expanded communications would be helpful as the areas where U.S. troops and aircraft operate become “increasingly complex and constrained.” In one illustration of U.S.-Russian dialogue, Dunford said that he spoke on May 18 with Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces. “We had a proposal that we’re working on with the Russians right now. I won’t share the details.  But—but my sense is that the Russians are as enthusiastic as we are to deconflict operations and ensure that we can continue to take the campaign to ISIS and ensure the safety of our personnel.” (U.S. Department of Defense, 05.19.17, The Washington Post, 05.19.17, New York Times, 05.24.15)
  • Russia and the United States continue discussing the situation in Syria in a round-the-clock mode and are preparing a joint project on the southern zone of de-escalation, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said at the Federation Council. “A great work is underway with them,” Shoigu said. “We would like it to be completed and presented as a project ready for implementation. But we are working with them and working, naturally, on the southern zone of de-escalation,” the minister said. (TASS, 05.24.17)
  • U.S. military phone calls with Russia have increased as the two countries work to avoid aircraft mishaps in the increasingly crowded skies over Syria, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian said May 24. Military operations by Russia, the Syrian government or its allies are essentially restricted in those zones so American and U.S.-backed forces are protected, he said. Harrigian declined to say how many exist or where they are. But he acknowledged one is about 55 kilometers around Tanf, near the Jordan border. (AP, 05.24.17)
  • A Russian fighter jet recently conducted an “unprofessional” intercept of U.S. KC-10 tanker aircraft in the skies over Syria, prompting Russian officers to apologize, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian said on May 24. A U.S. military official told CNN that the incident took place approximately two weeks ago and that the Russian fighter had performed a “barrel roll” over the U.S. plane.  (CNN, 05.25.17)
  • Russian paratroopers and special forces have been deployed to the Al-Sweida Governorate in southern Syria this week, according to the pro-Syrian government Al-Masdar online newspaper. (Russia Matters, 05.20.17)
  • Another Russian military adviser, Yevgeny Konstantinov, a native of Birobidzhan, was killed in Syria, officials with the regional branch of the All-Russian public organization of veterans “Combat Brotherhood” said. Konstantinov was killed on May 3. Konstantinov’s colleague Maj. Alexander Skadlan was then reportedly killed while trying to help Konstantinov. (Pravda, 05.22.17, Meduza, 05.22.17)
  • Syria and Venezuela plotted in recent years to evade international sanctions on Syria through a secret deal to transport its crude oil through Russia to the Caribbean. (Bloomberg, 05.25.17)
  • The settlement of the crisis in Syria requires the involvement of Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on May 23 when asked his view of U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest remarks on Tehran. (TASS, 05.23.17)
  • Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a rare challenge to the Trump administration May 25: Prove to us that you are making progress with Russia over the war in Syria soon, or we will push forward with sanctions. (The Washington Post, 05.25.17)

Cyber security:

  • The hacking spree that upended the presidential election wasn’t limited to Democratic National Committee memos and Clinton-aide emails posted on websites. Hacker “Guccifer 2.0” also privately sent Democratic voter-turnout analyses to a Republican political operative in Florida named Aaron Nevins. (Wall Street Journal, 05.25.17)
  • Moscow hopes that the United States will set up a team for discussing issues related to cyber security, the Russian president’s special envoy for international cooperation in information security, Andrey Krutskikh, said. (TASS, 05.25.17)
  • Russia’s National Guard is planning to train IT experts and specialists to monitor social networks, the Interfax news agency reported May 19, citing first deputy commander of the National Guard Sergei Melikov. (The Moscow Times, 05.19.17)
  • Ukrainian hacker Vadym Iermolovych was sentenced on May 22 to 30 months in a U.S. prison for a scheme using stolen unpublished news releases to make around $30 million in profits. (RFE/RL, 05.22.17)

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

  • U.S. President Donald Trump is leaning toward maintaining sanctions against Russia that were adopted by the Obama administration in response to Moscow’s alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election, a senior administration official said May 25. The White House is in the midst of conducting a review of the Trump administration’s Russia policy, and decisions haven’t been finalized, the senior administration official said. (Dow Jones, 05.25.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials. Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials. (The Washington Post, 05.22.17)
  • On May 23 at the Capitol, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats refused to say whether U.S. President Donald Trump asked him to halt the FBI’s Russia investigation. Coats also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. intelligence community has not initiated an assessment of the significance or impact of any information that Trump revealed in a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister. (The Washington Post, 05.23.17, Reuters, 05.23.17)
  • Former CIA director John Brennan said May 23 that he personally warned the head of Russia’s intelligence service last year that Moscow’s interference in the U.S. election would backfire and cause severe damage to the country’s relationship with the United States. Brennan also said that CIA alerted the FBI to a troubling pattern of contacts between Russian officials and associates of the Trump campaign last year. “I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons,” Brennan said, adding that he did not see proof of collusion before he left office on Jan. 20, but “felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues.” (AP, 05.23.17, The Washington Post, 05.22.17, The Washington Post, 05.23.17)
  • Former FBI Director James Comey is delaying an appearance before the U.S. House Oversight Committee that had been planned for May 24, the panel’s chairman said on May 22. Comey is also set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is examining Russia’s role in the election and possible ties to Donald Trump’s campaign, in two weeks. In the meantime, the FBI told Congress that it would withhold for now memos written by Comey concerning his interactions with U.S. President Donald Trump while the bureau weighs how the appointment of a special counsel will affect investigations under way on Capitol Hill. (Reuters, 05.22.17,Reuters, 05.21.17, Wall Street Journal, 05.25.17)
  • Then-FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of information relating to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email was fake—created by Russian intelligence—but he feared that if it became public it would undermine the probe and the Justice Department itself, according to multiple officials with knowledge of the process. Comey’s actions based on what he knew was Russian disinformation offer a stark example of the way Russian interference impacted the decisions of the highest-level US officials during the 2016 campaign. The Washington Post reported on May 24 that this Russian intelligence was unreliable. U.S. officials now tell CNN that Comey and FBI officials actually knew early on that this intelligence was indeed false. (CNN, 05.26.17)
  • Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation. Kushner, who held meetings in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians, the people said. The Washington Post has not been told that Kushner is a target—or the central focus—of the investigation, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing. (The Washington Post, 05.25.17)
  • American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence. The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, a retired general who was advising Trump, the officials said. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Manafort and Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election. (New York Times, 05.25.17)
  • Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination on May 22 as he notifies the Senate Intelligence Committee that he will not comply with a subpoena seeking documents. Rep. Adam Schiff said the House Intelligence Committee would subpoena Flynn in its probe into alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election after he declined to appear before the panel. Asked if Flynn should cooperate with FBI and congressional investigations on collusion with Russia, U.S. President Donald Trump stared at the source of the question and again said, “Thank you,” as the press was hustled out of the room. (AP, 05.22.17, Reuters, 05.25.17, The Washington Post, 05.25.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, turned over 305 pages of documents related to the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election to the House and Senate intelligence committees this week, according to people familiar with the ongoing inquiries. (AP, 05.24.17)
  • Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign, told Reuters that he would testify before the House Intelligence Committee but was “still working out details.” ABC News said he would testify before the House panel on June 6. When Page turned up at Trump’s campaign headquarters in 2016, former officials recall, Trump aides were quick to make him feel welcome. A top Trump adviser, Sam Clovis, employed what campaign aides now acknowledge was their go-to vetting process—a quick Google search—to check out the newcomer. But what the Google search had not shown was that Page had been on the FBI’s radar since at least 2013, when Russian officials allegedly attempted to use him to get information about the energy business. (Reuters, 05.25.17, The Washington Post, 05.25.17)
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to disclose meetings with Russian officials when he applied for security clearance because he was told not to do so by advisers and the FBI, a Justice Department spokesman said May 24. (New York Times, 05.24.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has hired one of his longtime lawyers, Marc Kasowitz, to help guide him through what is shaping up to be wide-ranging probes of his campaign and Russian interference in the election, according to a person familiar with the matter. (Bloomberg, 05.24.17)
  • Justice Department ethics experts have concluded that newly appointed special counsel Robert S. Mueller III can oversee the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election—even though his former law firm represents several people who could be caught up in the matter, authorities announced May 23. (The Washington Post,  05.23.17)
  • U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth is pressing the National Security Agency for information about whether any security sweeps for listening or recording devices were conducted after U.S. President Donald Trump met with senior Russian officials in the Oval Office earlier this month. (Wall Street Journal, 05.22.17)
  • Senate Democrats are accusing the White House of purposely ignoring requests for information on issues ranging from the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections, to ethics waivers given to top officials and changes in environmental rules. (The Washington Post, 05.24.17)
  • Russia has revealed that the United States submitted two official appeals for information on possible Kremlin interference in the country’s presidential elections in 2016. The first request was sent a week before the elections in November last year, the deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Oleg Khramov, told the Kommersant newspaper. He described the appeal as a “vaguely-worded” document which repeated media reports on possible Russian meddling. A more detailed request, describing specific IP addresses and evidence of a cyberattack, was given to Moscow in early 2017, Khramov said. He claimed that the Kremlin gave the U.S. government “exhaustive answers, including a technical plan,” and that Washington had not sought to follow up on the information. (The Moscow Times, 05.22.17)
  • A key U.S. Senate committee has moved forward on new legislation aimed at countering Russian propaganda and election meddling in the United States and elsewhere. The bill, passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 25, is one of several Russia-targeted measures now circulating in Congress. (RFE/RL, 05.26.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on May 25 renewed an agreement with Russia and other crude-oil producers to extendoutput caps through March 2018, but the cuts won’t be deepened from current levels as some investors had hoped. Brent crude, the global benchmark, dropped 1% to $50.95. Russia and OPEC have tools to further support crude prices if needed, Russia’s energy minister, Alexander Novak, said after the deal failed to impress markets. (Bloomberg, 05.25.17, Wall Street Journal, 05.26.17)
  • U.S. oil output has surged since the OPEC deal, and is now on pace to hit nearly 9.9 million barrels a day in 2018, a record, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. (Wall Street Journal, 05.24.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • U.S. financial authorities are looking into the Russian government’s growing leverage over Citgo Petroleum Corp. amid heightened concern that the Kremlin is seeking to use energy as a political weapon against the U.S., according to U.S. and congressional officials. Russia’s state-owned oil giant Rosneft in recent months has amassed debt that is backed by a near-controlling stake in Citgo, the Houston-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s Petróleos de Venezuela SA, or PdVSA. (Dow Jones, 05.18.17)

Other bilateral issues:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump raised the firing of the FBI director in a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister to explain why he had been unable to find areas of cooperation with Moscow, two top administration officials said on May 21. “The gist of the conversation was that the president feels as if he is hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia to find areas of cooperation because this has been obviously so much in the news,” Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster said. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump was also trying to convey to the Russians that he was “not going to be distracted by all these issues at home that affect us domestically.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on May 20 that he had not discussed the firing of the former FBI Director James Comey with U.S. President Donald Trump, Interfax news agency reported. “We did not touch this issue at all,” Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying. (Reuters, 05.20.17, Reuters, 05.21.17)A meeting in Europe between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump is not expected in the coming days, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. (TASS, 05.26.17)
  • By a 36-point margin, American voters consider Russia an enemy of the U.S. rather than an ally. In contrast, by a 53-point spread, most think U.S. President Donald Trump sees it the other way around. The latest Fox News national poll asks voters to label a list of countries as either an ally or an enemy. North Korea (93%), Iran (80%) and Syria (76%) are viewed as America’s top three enemies. Russia is fourth, with 64% of respondents viewing it as an enemy. (Fox News, 05.26.17)
  • Federal authorities say a California man who worked as an engineer for a defense contractor has pleaded guilty to attempting to sell sensitive information used in military and commercial satellites to Russia. Gregory Allen Justice entered the pleas May 22 to two felonies: economic espionage and violating the Arms Export Control Act. (AP, 05.22.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia’s largest oil producer Rosneft said on May 24 it had raised its damage claim in a lawsuit against business conglomerate Sistema to 170.6 billion rubles ($3.03 billion) from 106.6 billion. (Reuters, 05.24.17)
  • Sberbank PJSC has the Russian central bank to thank for a record profit in the first quarter. The Russian state-controlled behemoth reported net income of 167.8 billion rubles ($2.98 billion). (Bloomberg, 05.24.17)
  • Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service announced on May 22 that it’s uncovered a price-fixing cartel in the Defense Ministry’s procurement contracts, and the companies involved are the same ones opposition leader Alexei Navalny says belong to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the billionaire known as “Vladimir Putin’s favorite chef.” Antitrust officials say the cartel coordinated procurement bids to inflate prices on contracts. (The Moscow Times, 05.23.17)
  • The number of Russian children living in state care has more than halved over the past five years as more children are also being moved away from orphanages or government institutions, with 87% now receiving “family-based care.” (The Moscow Times, 05.23.17)
  • The chair of the Chechen parliament, Magomed Daudov, played a key role in anti-gay purges in the Russian authoritarian republic of Chechnya, Human Rights Watch has revealed in a report published today. (The Moscow Times,  05.26.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said May 23 that plans to encourage athletes to give evidence about doping remind him of denunciations during Josef Stalin’s purges. (AP, 05.24.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The SSBN version of Russia’s planned fifth generation Husky-class submarine will carry liquid-fuel submarine-launched ballistic missiles, according to a May 18 report in Russia’s Kommersant. (Russia Today, 05.18.17)
  • On May 25, Russia’s Air and Space Forces successfully launched a Soyuz-2.1b launcher from launch pad number four of launch complex number 43 of the Plesetsk site. The satellite is the second “Tundra” spacecraft of the new early-warning system, known as EKS. (Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces blog, 05.25.17)
  • Spending on Russian military bases abroad will be increased this year by more than 500 million rubles ($8.81 million), according to an explanatory note to the bill on amendments to the 2017 budget released on May 26. (TASS, 05.26.17)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Almost a quarter of Russians have witnessed or experienced beatings carried out by police and medical staff, a new report has revealed. (The Moscow Times, 05.22.17)
  • Russian police have raided a leading contemporary theater in Moscow as part of a corruption investigation. Officers raided the Gogol Center on May 23 as part of an embezzlement case involving 1.2 million rubles ($21,000). (The Moscow Times, 05.23.17)
  • Russian authorities say Dmitry Popkov, the chief editor of a newspaper in the Siberian city of Minusinsk, has been shot dead in a killing they believe may be connected to his work. (RFE/RL, 05.25.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet French leader Emmanuel Macron before the end of the month as part of an “unplanned” visit to Paris. One high-ranking Kremlin source told Russia’s Kommersant newspaper that the two men would meet on May 29 as part of Putin’s “full agenda.” (The Moscow Times, 05.22.17)
  • Russia is attempting to influence elections in Europe using tactics similar to those it used to influence the 2016 U.S. election, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said on May 23 at the Capitol. (The Washington Post, 05.23.17)
  • Russia’s state-owned railway monopoly is refusing most requests to take cargo from Russia to ports in Latvia, industry executives said, a serious blow to the Baltic state which depends on the transit trade. (Reuters, 05.23.17)
  • Russia and Turkey have signed a joint agreement on lifting mutual trade restrictions on the sidelines of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation summit on May 22. However, Turkey then limited wheat imports from Russia for the second time this year, according to traders and Turkey’s grain association. (TASS, 05.22.17, Bloomberg, 05.24.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow hopes for a democratic settlement of Macedonia’s political situation. Putin made the statement May 24 at the start of his talks with Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov. (AP, 05.24.17)
  • Venezuela possesses 5,000 Russian-made MANPADS surface-to-air weapons. (Reuters, 05.22.17)
  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow that his country needs modern arms to fight Islamic State militants and that he expects Russian support. (RFE/RL, 05.23.17)
  • A top diplomat says a new Russian ambassador to the United Nations will take his post soon. Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov confirmed May 25 that Vasily Nebenzya has been tapped for the job. (AP, 05.25.17)
  • Finnair has been allowed to increase its flights from Helsinki to Asian destinations over Siberia according to a new deal between Russia and Finland, the ministry of transport and communications said on May 26. (Reuters, 05.26.17)
  • Russia’s Consul General Dmitry Kazennov in Estonia’s third largest city Narva and Consul Andrei Surgayev are to be expelled from the country. (TASS, 05.26.17)

China:

  • China and Russia teamed up to develop twin-aisle jets that will compete with Airbus SE and Boeing Co., the plane makers who dominate passenger aircraft capable of trans-continental flights. (Bloomberg, 05.22.17)
  • “Before rushing into China’s arms in 2014 in the wake of the war in Ukraine, the Kremlin for the first time in history conducted an inter-agency study of potential risks of partnership with Beijing. The results have dispelled many of Moscow’s worries. As it turns out, Moscow needn’t be afraid of creeping Chinese colonization of Siberia. The Chinese population there doesn’t exceed 300,000, and it has been decreasing,” writes Alexander Gabuev, senior associate of the Carnegie Moscow Center. (Russia Matters, 05.24.17)

Ukraine:

  • European Council President Donald Tusk said on May 25 that U.S. President Donald Trump and senior EU officials appeared to be “on the same line” with regard to the situation in Ukraine, but that he was not sure that “we have a common position, common opinion about Russia.” Trump and Tusk differed about the intentions and policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tusk expressed a far more skeptical view of the Russians in the talks while Trump reportedly referred in breathtaking terms to the potential to deal with Putin. Tusk then urged Group of Seven leaders on May 26 to stick firmly to their sanctions policy on Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Tusk was responding to comments by White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who appeared to differ from those of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has repeatedly said sanctions must remain until Minsk is put in place. “I think the president is looking at it. Right now, we don’t have a position,” Cohn said on May 25. Cohn then told reporters on May 26 that “[The White House] is not lowering our sanctions on Russia. If anything, we are probably looking to get tougher on Russia.” Tillerson said Russia won’t be allowed back in the Group of Seven major economies unless it respects “Ukrainian sovereignty.” (Reuters, 05.26.17, RFE/RL, 05.25.17,New York Times, 05.25.17, ABC News, 05.26.17, Financial Times, 05.26.17, AP, 05.25.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal includes provisions to end many foreign military grants administered by the U.S. State Department and replace them with loans, a move that could affect up to $1 billion in aid to dozens of countries if Congress approves, U.S. officials said. An internal State Department memo names Ukraine among countries that could be affected. The cuts could affect Ukraine’s ability to deploy counter-mortar radars, the memo says. Trump’s proposal to slash spending on foreign aid got a cool reception from key Republicans in Congress on May 23. (Dow Jones, 05.21.17, RFE/RL, 05.23.17)
  • When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in March, she brought a 1980s map of the former Soviet Union and noted the way its borders stretched for hundreds of miles to the west of Russia’s current boundary. The German leader’s point was that Putin laments the Soviet Union’s demise and, left unchecked, would happily restore its former borders. Merkel wants to reboot attempts to bring peace to eastern Ukraine with a summit between the presidents of France, Ukraine and Russia. Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko agreed on May 20 to try to improve the security situation in eastern Ukraine and return to implementing the Minsk ceasefire deal after an upsurge in violence there. (Politico, 05.25.16, EURACTIV, 05.23.17, Reuters, 05.20.17)
  • Russia has sent a request to the World Trade Organization asking to hold consultations over Ukraine’s sanctions against Moscow, in place since 2014, Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies on May 20. (Reuters, 05.20.17)
  • Russia demanded on May 26 that Ukraine should pay $325 million now while awaiting the outcome of a legal dispute over $3 billion lent by Moscow to Kiev in 2013. (Reuters, 05.26.17)
  • The International Monetary Fund said on May 25 that it will only release a new tranche payment to Ukraine once parliament approves a long-stalled pension system overhaul and land privatization legislation. (IMF, 05.26.17)
  • Ukrainian law enforcement agents have arrested 23 former high-ranking tax-administration officials suspected of helping the government of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych to defraud the state of nearly 97 billion hryvnas ($4 billion) in what authorities called the largest-ever operation of its kind there. (RFE/RL, 05.24.17)
  • Months after Russia annexed Crimea, Paul Manafort returned to Ukraine to advise the pro-Russian party, now known as the Opposition Bloc, for the 2014 parliamentary elections. Nestor Shufrych, one of the party leaders, says Manafort pushed for them to be both anti-NATO and the voice of Russians in the east. Shufrych thought they had no chance but they got nearly 10%, with 29 seats. Manafort personally approved the list of candidates, according to another party official. (Bloomberg, 05.22.17)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has met with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and voiced hope for closer cooperation between the two countries. Nazarbayev spoke to Tillerson on the sidelines of a summit of Muslim countries attended by U.S. President Donald Trump in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 21. (RFE/RL, 05.22.17)
  • Kazakhstan, the world’s biggest uranium producer, will start producing nuclear fuel for Chinese power plants in 2019 through a joint venture set up by the two countries. (Reuters, 05.26.17)
  • Kazakh lawmakers have given preliminary approval to controversial bills that would ban independent candidates from running in presidential elections and enable the authorities to strip “terrorists” of their citizenship. (RFE/RL, 05.24.17)
  • Azerbaijan’s opposition Popular Front Party says its deputy chief has been detained at a border checkpoint when she was returning to Azerbaijan from Georgia. (RFE/RL, 05.26.17)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • Mikhail Gorbachev recalled how he told former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz in 1987: “I lashed out at him, too, on the issue of spymania. I told him that he, Shultz, is himself the main spy, as well as our Shevardnadze—the main spy, and all ambassadors are spies. You know everything about us, and we know everything about you. And that is good.” (National Security Archive, undated)
  • “If you look at the state of the Russian economy today, it is difficult to call it a superpower,” EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said. (CNBC, 05.20.17)

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