HARVARD UNIVERSITY

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Nearly 220 delegates from 74 countries and four international organizations took part in the two-day meeting in Tokyo of the 10th plenary of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. The participants exchanged views on how to prevent weapons of mass destruction and related materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. (Kyodo, 06.02.17)
  • The risk of a nuclear accident at the Kola Nuclear Power Plant near Murmansk and only kilometers from Finland’s border with Russia, will continue to increase until it is closedat the earliest in 2030, by which point it will have operated twice as long as it was designed to, according to a new Bellona report. (Bellona, 05.31.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • The Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union aims to finalize a free-trade deal with Iran by the end of the year, in an attempt by Russia and its fellow members to deepen ties with Tehran. (Financial Times, 05.29.17)
  • Russia has signed a deal to import 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, Russian Energy Minister Sergei Novak said. (The Moscow Times, 06.02.17)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The NATO fighter aircraft supporting the Baltic Air Policing mission in the Baltic States conducted six alert scrambles to identify and escort Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea in one week. The spike in alert scrambles comes after some weeks of calm, with just six scrambles in the period between March 27 and May 22. (Aviationist, 05.29.17)
  • Twelve NATO countries are deploying a total of around 4,600 troops to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and the four battlegroups are due to be fully up and running within two weeks. Some 200 troops and 60 combat vehicles from Norway arrived in Lithuania May 30, completing a multinational NATO unit of more than 1,000 soldiers in the Baltic nation neighboring Russia. Also around 4,000 U.S. and European troops from 14 nations were taking part in the annual Baltic Operations navy exercise that opened June 1 in Poland. In Romania, meanwhile, another 2,000 soldiers, 1,000 assistance personnel and 500 vehicles from 11 NATO nations were training in the alliance’s “Noble Jump 2017” drill. (AP, 06.01.17, AP, 05.30.17)
  • “NATO is building a new military security situation that we cannot ignore, that we should address using our own military instruments,” Russia’s envoy to NATO, Ambassador Alexander Grushko said in Brussels. He declined to spell out what kind of measures Russia might take, saying only that “NATO’s movements will not be left without a response in terms of military planning.” (AP, 06.01.17)
  • “If the Europeans accept the U.S. demand and increase their budgets to 2 % [of gross domestic product], it will mean that their aggregate spending will reach some 370 billion euros (about $407 billion). This is a huge sum,” Russian’s envoy to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, said (RFE/RL, 05.27.17)
  • The Russian Foreign Ministry declared that “Russian-NATO relations are experiencing their most profound crisis since the end of the Cold War.” (RFE/RL, 05.27.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 2 that a collapse of the NATO alliance would be a good thing for Moscow, but he doesn’t see the 28-member bloc crumbling just yet. (CNBC, 06.02.17)
  • “If Sweden joins NATO this will affect our relations in a negative way because we will consider that the infrastructure of the military bloc now approaches us from the Swedish side,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told state news agency Itar-Tass. “We will interpret that as an additional threat for Russia and we will think about how to eliminate this threat.” (Newsweek, 06.02.17)
  • Clearly disappointed with U.S. President Donald Trump’s positions on NATO, Russia, climate change and trade, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Munich on May 28 that traditional alliances were no longer as steadfast as they once were and that Europe should pay more attention to its own interests ”and really take our fate into our own hands.” Merkel said Europe can no longer “completely depend” on the United States and the United Kingdom after the election of Trump and the Brexit vote. Martin Schulz, Merkel’s challenger for the chancellor job in the upcoming September elections, said Trump resembled an “authoritarian leader” who wants to “humiliate others.” (New York Times, 05.28.17, RFE/RL, 05.29.17)
  • Montenegro’s top politicians have been barred from Russia just days before the country formally enters NATO. Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and Speaker of the Montenegrin Parliament Ivan Brajovic are all affected by the ban, Montenegro’s Pobjeda newspaper reported. Montenegro has also earlier protested the “inappropriate” treatment of a lawmaker who was prevented from changing airplanes at a Moscow airport. (The Moscow Times, 06.01.17, RFE/RL, 05.29.17)

Missile defense:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said the U.S. will likely continue to build up its missile shield in the region even if North Korea agrees to curb its nuclear and missile programs, in the same way it has continued to develop missile defenses in Europe despite a deal with Iran that curbed its nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sanctions. “We are concerned about our security,” Putin said. “We are thinking about ways to neutralize possible threats at long distance.” (AP, 06.01.17)

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.

Counter-terrorism:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 2 that Russia and the NATO military alliance need to cooperate to fight terrorism because if they do not, there will be more attacks. (Reuters, 06.02.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • U.S. and Russian officials are quietly negotiating a deal over a proposed “de-escalation” zone near the border with Jordan. The talks included a meeting in Jordan in late May, a former diplomat from the region said on condition of anonymity. Russia, Iran and Turkey negotiated the creation of four zones aimed at de-escalating tensions between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the armed Syrian opposition in early May, and the Donald Trump administration is now trying to see what role the United States can play. (Al Monitor, 06.01.17)
  • Russia said on June 1 that it was systematically bombing any Islamic State militants trying to flee Syria’s Raqqa and that it had carried out two such bombing runs in the last week.  (Reuters, 06.01.17)
  • Russia attacked Islamic State targets in Syria with cruise missiles fired from a warship and submarine, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said on May 31. The Admiral Essen frigate and the Krasnodar submarine, operating in the Mediterranean Sea, hit sites around the Syrian city of Palmyra with four Kalibr missiles. The U.S., Turkey and Israel were notified in advance of the strikes, the ministry said. (Bloomberg, 05.31.17)
  • Russian air strikes over the past month have killed 27 Syrian civilians, a monitor said May 30, the lowest monthly civilian death toll since Moscow began its bombing campaign. Since September 2015, the bombing campaign has killed more than 12,000 people, including 5,000 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Moscow denies the claims and says it only targets “terrorist” groups. (AFP, 05.30.17)
  • Russia and Saudi Arabia hailed their dialogue on Syria on May 30. Russian President Vladimir Putin heaped praise on Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who looks after the kingdom’s defense and energy, as he welcomed the possible future king to the Kremlin. (Reuters, 05.30.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed on May 30 any suggestion that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were behind a chemical attack that killed scores of people in the Idlib province in April. (Reuters, 05.30.17)
  • Russia is considering sending at least several hundred thousand tons of grains as part of new humanitarian aid supplies to Syria, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said on June 2. (Reuters, 06.02.17)
  • Russia’s Adygea-based Adyg-Yurak company imported the first shipment of tomatoes from Syria via the Novorossiysk port on the Black Sea, and plans to deliver over 6,000 tons of vegetables and fruit to Russia by the end of this year. (TASS, 05.31.17)

Cyber security:

  • A new trend has led U.S. intelligence officials to conclude that the Kremlin is waging a quiet effort to map the United States’ telecommunications infrastructure, perhaps preparing for an opportunity to disrupt it, according to a U.S. intelligence official who declined to be identified discussing intelligence matters. During the 2016 campaign, Russian diplomats, widely assumed to be intelligence operatives, whose travel was supposed to be tracked by the State Department, would disappear and then eventually turn up in odd places, often in middle-of-nowhere USA, often seeming to linger where underground fiber-optic cables tend to run. (POLITICO, 06.01.17)
  • “Snowden is not a traitor,”Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an excerpt posted by Showtime of a series of interviews with filmmaker Oliver Stone that will be broadcast beginning June 12. “He did not betray the interests of his country, nor did he transfer any information to any other country.” While he agreed with Snowden that the National Security Agency went too far in its surveillance program, Putin said he shouldn’t have leaked the information. (Bloomberg, 06.02.17)
  • The head of the French government’s cyber security agency, Guillaume Poupard, told The Associated Press on June 1 that it found no trace of aRussian hacking group in its investigations of a hack and document leak that hit Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign. Poupard described the Macron campaign hack as “not very technological” and said “the attack was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone.” During the talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on May 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated that Russia never meddled in the French election. Putin told reporters that Macron had not broached the subject of the cyberattack in their talks. (The Washington Post, 05.29.17, AP, 06.01.17)
  • Karim Baratov, a Canadian charged with working with Russian intelligence agents in a scheme to hack a half billion Yahoo accounts said on May 26 that he is appealing a decision to hold him in custody pending a hearing on a U.S. extradition request. (RFE/RL, 05.27.17)
  • Russian man Yevgeny Nikulin, who faces charges of hacking computers at LinkedIn, Dropbox and other American companies, has appealed a Czech court decision that allows his extradition to Russia. (AP, 06.01.17)

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

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports. (The Washington Post, 05.28.17)
    • According to a February 1969 memo written by Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, Henry Kissinger told him that the Nixon administration wanted to conduct a “most confidential exchange of views” with the Kremlin because, “The Soviet side … knows how to maintain confidentiality; but in our State Department, unfortunately, there are occasional leaks of information to the press.” (The Washington Post, 05..25.17)
    • Jared Kushner had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, seven current and former U.S. officials told Reuters. Those contacts included two phone calls between April and November 2016, two of the sources said. Before the election, Kislyak’s undisclosed discussions with Kushner and Flynn focused on fighting terrorism and improving U.S.-Russian economic relations, six of the sources said. Separately, there were at least 18 undisclosed calls and emails between Trump associates and Kremlin-linked people in the seven months before the Nov. 8 presidential election, including six calls with Kislyak, sources told Reuters earlier this month. (Reuters, 05.27.17)
    • U.S. President Donald Trump defended his son-in-law after reports emerged that Kushner, who carries the title “senior adviser,” considered setting up a secret line of communication between the incoming administration and the Russian government, primarily to discuss a resolution to the crisis in Syria. In a statement to the New York Times, Trump said that Kushner “is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him.” (Bloomberg, 05.29.17)
    • Asked about reports that U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law had tried to set up a secret channel of communication with Russiabefore the president took office, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that so-called “back-channeling” was normal. (Reuters, 05.27.17)
    • John F. Kelly, U.S. President Donald Trump’s homeland security secretary, on May 28 defended a reported effort by Jared Kushner, the president’s embattled son-in-law and key adviser, to establish a secret channel with Russia during the transition. “It’s both normal, in my opinion, and acceptable,” Kelly said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organizations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us, is a good thing.” (New York Times, 05.28.17, The Washington Post, 05.28.17)
    • Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that Jared Kushner should appear before the panel and that his security clearance needs to be reviewed. Schiff would neither confirm nor deny the reports about Kushner, but said if they are accurate, “it’s obviously very concerning.” (Bloomberg, 05.29.17)
    • The White House and a Russian state-owned bank have very different explanations for why the bank’s chief executive and Jared Kushner held a secret meeting during the presidential transition in December 2016. The bank maintained this week that the session was held as part of a new business strategy and was conducted with Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business. The White House says the meeting was unrelated to business and was one of many diplomatic encounters the soon-to-be presidential adviser was holding ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration. (The Washington Post, 06.01.17)
  • The Trump White House is setting up a dedicated unit to cope with a Russia investigation that is picking up in intensity in an attempt to keep the probe from derailing policy priorities that face an uncertain fate on Capitol Hill, people familiar with the effort said. U.S. President Donald Trump is also considering overhauling his White House staff and bringing back top campaign strategists, frustrated by what he views as his team’s inability to contain the burgeoning crisis involving alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. White House communications director Michael Dubke announced his resignation May 30. (Wall Street Journal, 06.01.17, AP, 05.28.17, AP, 05.31.17)
  • On his first day back in office after a lengthy overseas trip, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News.” (AP, 05.30.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, agreed May 30 to turn over a limited number of documents sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee for its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Flynn has agreed to initially produce documents the committee subpoenaed from his two companies, Flynn Intel LLC and Flynn Intel Inc. Flynn will start producing documents on June 6. (Bloomberg, 05.31.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, confirmed to ABC News on May 30 that congressional investigators have asked him to turn over documents and testify about any potential contacts he has had with Russian officials, but that he has declined to do so. That brings the number of current and former Trump associates that are being investigated by Congress to seven. Like the president and his other allies, Cohen questioned why the investigation was continuing. (AP, 05.31.17, Bloomberg, 05.31.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump came to the defense of Carter Page—a former campaign adviser whose interactions with Russia are under investigation—in two tweets early on May 31 and accused Democrats of trying to block Page from testifying before a congressional committee. “Witch Hunt!” Trump at one point tweeted. (AP, 05.31.17)
  • Fired FBI Director James Comey will testify June 8 before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his dismissal by U.S. President Donald Trump as the investigations into whether the president or his associates had improper contact with Russia are shifting toward a dramatic, public phase. U.S. President Donald Trump will decide whether or not to invoke his presidential powers to block Comey from giving congressional testimony, White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said on June 2. (Bloomberg, 06.01.17, Reuters, 06.02.17)
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller is bolstering his team of U.S. investigators probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Justice Department fraud chief Andrew Weissmann is the most senior government lawyer to join Mueller. (Bloomberg, 06.01.17)
  • Russian government officials discussed having potentially “derogatory” information about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his top aides in conversations intercepted by U.S. intelligence during the 2016 election, according to two former intelligence officials and a congressional source. But the sources, privy to the descriptions of the communications written by U.S. intelligence, cautioned the Russian claims to one another “could have been exaggerated or even made up” as part of a disinformation campaign that the Russians did during the election. (CNN, 05.30.17)
  • While repeating past denials that the government in Moscow had anything to do with the cyberattacks on the campaign of Trump’s main challenger in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 1 that he couldn’t rule out involvement by non-state actors in Russia. He compared hackers to free-spirited “artists” who may be Russians who wake up one morning, see how their homeland is being maligned in the foreign press and decide to act on their own. “If they’re patriotically minded, they start making their contribution,” he said. He also said IP addresses allegedly belonging to Russian hackers could have been easily rigged and couldn’t stand as evidence. “There was nothing concrete, zero. It’s just hysteria. Should I give you a pill?” Vladimir Putin told a moderator of a panel at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum when asked about a possible deal between Trump and Moscow. Putin also ridiculed the U.S. focus on the Russian ambassador’s contacts with members of U.S. President Donald Trump’s team, saying that the envoy was only doing his job. (AP, 06.02.17,Bloomberg, 06.01.17, Reuters, 06.02.17, AP, 06.02.17)
  • The Kremlin sees “hourly” attempts at “fomenting and maintaining Russophobic sentiments” in the U.S., Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters May 31. “It has a very negative impact overall on the atmosphere of our bilateral relations,” Peskov said. (Bloomberg, 05.31.17)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov complained that “the threat of leaks” from the White House undermines cooperation between the two countries. He claimed the Kremlin is now conducting only “basic level” exchanges with the Trump administration out of worry that details could be spilled to the U.S. media. (The Washington Post, 05.30.17)
  • The owners of Russia’s Alfa Bank filed a lawsuit against online publication BuzzFeed on May 26 for publishing an uncorroborated dossier that alleged they were part of a Russian scheme to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (AP, 05.26.17)
  • Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch once close to U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, has offered to cooperate with congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but lawmakers are unwilling to accept his conditions, according to congressional officials. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate who is a member of the inner circle of the Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently offered to cooperate with congressional intelligence committees in exchange for a grant of full immunity, according to three congressional officials. Deripaska denied seeking such immunity. (New York Times, 05.27.17, Interfax, 05.29.17)
  • The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee was strongly criticized on June 1 by the panel’s ranking Democrat for refusing to give up his subpoena power over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election less than two months after announcing he would step away from the inquiry. (New York Times, 06.01.17)
  • U.S. Sen. John McCain said Russian President Vladimir Putin is a bigger threat to global security than ISIS, and warned that the Senate would push for sanctions against Moscow for its alleged interference in the U.S. election. (Reuters, 05.29.17)
  • On June 1, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota said they asked the FBI for a briefing on their request that the agency investigate Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ failure to disclose during his confirmation hearing that he met with Russia’s U.S. ambassador during the campaign. (Bloomberg, 06.01.17)
  • Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage is a “person of interest” in the U.S. investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Guardian reported on June 1, citing unidentified sources. Farage said on Twitter it had taken him a long time to read the Guardian article because he was “laughing so much at this fake news.” (Reuters, 06.01.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hailed a new period of close relations at talks in Moscow after the world’s biggest oil exporters reached a deal to prolong supply cuts for another nine months. (Bloomberg, 05.30.17)
  • Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin said the deal between OPEC and its partners to curb output won’t stabilize the crude market over the long term as U.S. shale fills the supply shortfall. Russia is unlikely to prolong its supply deal with OPEC beyond the nine-month extension agreed last week, because by then it will have served its purpose, according to Rosneft board member Oleg Vyugin. (Bloomberg, 06.02.17, Bloomberg, 06.01.17)
  • Russia could increase oil production next year to as much as 551 million tons, or 11.07 million barrels per day, and will begin testing a new tax regime to support output growth, Alexei Texler, first deputy energy minister, told Reuters. (Reuters, 06.01.17)
  • Russia’s largest oil producer Rosneft said on June 2 it had signed an agreement with oil major BP on cooperation in gas, which may see Rosneft supplying Russian gas to Europe starting in 2019. (Reuters, 06.02.17)
  • Azerbaijan’s oil shipments via Russia jumped to 573,838 in the first five months of this year, from 319,499 tons in the same period last year, state oil company SOCAR said on June 1. (Reuters, 06.01.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • Vagit Alekperov, the head of Russia’s No. 2 oil producer Lukoil, met Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods on June 1 at the St. Petersburg economic forum and they agreed to look at the possibility of future joint projects. Among the roughly 200 representatives of U.S. companies accredited to the forum, most are regionally based and only a handful are chief executives. (Reuters, 06.01.17, Bloomberg, 05.30.17)
  • The Moscow Exchange said on June 1 that one of JPMorgan Chase’s companies had increased its stake to 5% in the Micex owner. JPMorgan’s companies own 114.4 million shares in Moscow Exchange, worth 11.43 billion rubles ($202 million). (Reuters, 06.01.17)
  • For some U.S. states, such as Alaska and Hawaii, Russia is historically thelargest oil supplier, according to Alexander Stadnik, the Russian trade representative to the U.S. (RBTH, 06.02.17)
  • A 30% decrease in trade between Russia and the U.S. points to the need for serious efforts to give new impetus to economic ties, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said at the Fort Ross Dialogue conference  on May 30, TASS reports. (TASS, 05.30.17)

Other bilateral issues:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said he likes guys like U.S. President Donald Trump who speak their mind. “He’s direct, open,” Putin told a small group of foreign journalists in St. Petersburg on June 1. “He can’t be put in the same category as traditional politicians.”  “How can you be friends with someone you don’t know?’’ he said of Trump. “I don’t think he can call me a friend. We have never seen each other in person.” (Bloomberg, 06.01.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin appealed to American businesses to help U.S. President Donald Trump end tensions between their two countries, which he said are at “Cold War” levels. “Help us to restore normal political dialogue,” Putin told U.S. executives at his annual investment forum in St. Petersburg on June 2. (Bloomberg, 06.02.17)
  • The United States and Russia are holding high-level negotiations that could lead to the return of two Russian diplomatic compounds seized as punishment for Moscow’s alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election, officials said June 1. Washington and Moscow are preparing for a second round of talks on removing “irritants” in their relationship and both sides are pushing aggressively for their priorities. For Russia, these include returning the New York and Maryland compounds seized by the Obama administration, according to Russian officials. The U.S. wants Russia to stop harassing American diplomats and civilians in the country, and to resolve a dispute related to the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. (AP, 06.01.17)
  • The Trump administration reportedly looked into lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia just days after the new president’s inauguration, and one former official at the State Department said that if those efforts were successful, it would have given the Russians “exactly what they wanted in exchange for absolutely nothing.” (Business Insider, 06.02.17)
  • The United States has sanctioned several new entities and individuals, including two Russian companies, one subsidiary and a Russian citizen in connection with North Korea’s banned weapons programs. OFAC sanctions were set against the Independent Petroleum Company, Moscow-based Ardis-Bearings LLC and its director, Igor Aleksandrovich Michurin, for their dealing with Korean Tangun Trading Corporation. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Moscow was preparing retaliatory measures. At the same time, Russia does not plan to veto a U.N. resolution on North Korea due to be considered on June 2. The resolution, a U.S. and Chinese proposal, would blacklist more North Korean individuals and entities after the country’s repeated ballistic missile launches, diplomats said on June 1. (Reuters, 06.02.17, RFE/RL, 06.02.17)
  • Russia sanctions give Congress a role in foreign policy and “appear to cost nothing,” which is especially important to House representatives amid budget cuts, according to Kyle Parker, a senior professional staff member with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Parker asserted that the question in Congress is not whether the sanctions are working, but rather, “what else could we have done?” (The National Interest, 05.31.17)
  • U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft, whose term expires this autumn, confirmed on May 29 that former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman will replace him. (TASS, 05.29.17)
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s office declined a call with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, after Tillerson’s visit to Russia in April, according to multiple sources close to the incident. (Foreign Policy, 06.01.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • “We’ll revisit these questions in eight years,” Andrei Belousov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in response to a proposal by former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin that state-run oil companies should be sold off in the next seven to eight years. (Reuters, 06.01.17)
  • Russia’s dividend regime has been relaxed for those with clout as Rosneft and Gazprom win exemptions from the 50% payout rule. (Financial Times, 05.31.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin told the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg that he’s confident Russia’s economy is recovering from its longest recession in two decades. He said his policymakers are working on a series of stimulus plans to further boost growth, citing special economic zones and investment projects. He also reiterated his commitment to a floating ruble exchange rate. (Bloomberg, 06.01.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia on May 28 completed the first flight of its new MS-21 medium-range passenger plane, state-controlled United Aircraft Corporation said in a statement. (Reuters, 05.28.17)
  • “Seventy-eight units, subunits and formations are currently being considered for the ‘shock unit’ title,” Lt.Gen. Ivan Buvaltsev, head of the Russian military’s Main Administration of Combat Training of the Russian Armed Forces, wrote in a May 11 article in the Russian military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda. (The National Interest, 05.26.16)
  • The December 25 plane crash which killed 92 people, including members of Russia’s renowned Red Army Choir, was caused by human error, a new report has found. (The Moscow Times, 06.01.17)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he escaped multiple assassination attempts in a documentary by American filmmaker Oliver Stone due to be aired on U.S. cable television this month. (RFE/RL, 06.02.17)
  • A teenager who launched an armed attack on Russian security agents was able to acquire weapons from a nearby shooting club thanks to local national guardsmen, who forged vital safety documents. (The Moscow Times, 05.31.17)
  • A court in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region of Dagestan has sentenced local man Nariman Bashirov to 19 years in prison on terrorism charges. (RFE/RL, 05.30.17)
  • Vladimir Lapygin, a 76-year-old former space researcher who was sentenced to prison on a treason conviction, has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for clemency. (RFE/RL, 05.29.17)
  • A Danish national has been arrested in the Russian city of Oryol after attending a meeting of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (The Moscow Times, 05.30.17)
  • A Moscow court on May 31 ruled in favor of multi-billionaire Alisher Usmanov in his libel suit against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (AP, 05.31.17)
  • A Russian court has ordered the release of activist Aleksei Moroshkin, who was forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2015 after making online calls for the establishment of a “Urals people’s republic.” (RFE/RL, 06.02.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • French President Emmanuel Macron said on May 29 that he and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed the time was right for a new round of peace talks on Ukraine. Macron said that he wanted to bring soon together the ‘Normandy format’ which groups the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. Macron said Putin shared the same hope, adding that the talks should take place “in days or weeks.” Putin said he and Macron have also agreed to discuss pursuing closer cooperation on anti-terror efforts. The two also discussed the situation in Syria and Putin underlined the importance of securing the Syrian state, adding that it’s essential for combatting terrorism. During the talks, Macron delivered a blunt greeting to Putin, criticizing the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s Russian-backed government and blasting two Russian state-owned media organizations as “organs of influence and propaganda.” Macron is now keen to reset the relationship with Moscow, aides say. “There have been missed opportunities with Russia in the recent past, on Syria notably. The idea is to keep Russia close to Europe,” an adviser to Macron said before the meeting. Macron suggested he might drop France’s insistence on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure as a precondition for a political settlement, putting the emphasis instead on the need to maintain the integrity of the Syrian state. Putin seemed to concur. “We cannot fight against terrorism by fighting against a fragile state in the region,” the Russian president said. (Reuters, 05.29.17, AP, 05.29.17, Financial Times, 05.29.17, Financial Times, 05.29.17)
    • French far-right leader Marine Le Pen had no plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin or his aides during Putin’s visit to France, a top official of her National Front party said May 29. (AP, 05.29.17)
    • The leader of Russia’s Chechnya has invited the French president and the German chancellor to visit his region and check for themselves the reports about gay people being killed and tortured there. (AP, 05.30.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to assuage concerns caused by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, calling for a constructive dialogue on efforts needed to curb global warming. Speaking June 2 at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, Putin avoided criticizing Trump for the move that has caused international opprobrium. Putin also said that Trump could have achieved similar goals by remaining in the agreement and changing the United States’ obligations. “But you can’t rewind the tape. What’s said is said. We need to think how to move on,” Putin said. The Paris climate deal is unworkable without the participation of the United States, Kremlin aide Andrei Belousov said June 2. (Reuters, 06.02.17, AP, 06.02.17, Financial Times, 06.02.17)
  • United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said on May 30 he is trying to convince U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration of the value of investing in foreign aid and diplomacy and warned that if Washington pulled back as a global leader, other states would step up. “It’s not only the Russias and the Chinas that are occupying the ground; if you look at Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the regional powers in many parts of the world—when the big powers leave some space, they will occupy it,” Guterres said. “We are confident that the role of the United Nations today must be as important as ever,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a meeting with Guterres in St. Petersburg on June 2. (Reuters, 05.31.17, TASS, 06.02.17)
  • Asked if Russian hackers could try to shape the outcome of German parliamentary elections later this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “We never engaged in that on a state level, and have no intention of doing so.” (AP, 06.01.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian premier Narendra Modi have met during the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, as Moscow looks to burnish a fragile recovery despite tensions with the West. Modi and Putin met on the third leg of the Indian leader’s four-nation tour of Europe, with the pair looking to bolster declining trade between the once key partners. (Deutsche Welle, 06.02.17)
  • Egypt called on Russia to help it fight Islamist militants that have staged a series of devastating attacks in the Arab country as senior officials of the two countries met in Cairo on May 29. (RFE/RL, 05.29.17)
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed an order lifting most sanctions on agricultural imports from Turkey. Medvedev lifted the ban on berries, fruit and meat and poultry imports. Turkish tomatoes will remain on the embargo list. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 1 that Russia was ready to sell Turkey advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and had discussed the matter with Ankara. (The Moscow Times, 06.02.17, Reuters, 06.01.17)
  • Software exports, including software development services, accounted for 1.1% of all Russian exports in 2014. In 2015, the figure stood at 1.7%, according to Alexander Stadnik, the Russian trade representative in the U.S. (RBTH, 06.02.17)

China:

  • “As you may know, our relations with China have been evolving in quite a positive way,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with the heads of global news outlets in St. Petersburg. “We call it a comprehensive strategic partnership.” (TASS, 06.02.17)
  • Russia expects China to help settle the Syrian crisis and restore its economy, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said May 30 at the international conference called Russia and China: Towards a New Quality of Bilateral Relations. “Our interaction with China on Syria through various international platforms is unequaled,” he said. (TASS, 05.30.17)
  • Russian tycoon Suleiman Kerimov’s family said on May 31 that they were selling 10% of Russia’s top gold producer Polyus to a consortium of investors led by China’s Fosun International Ltd for $887 million. (Reuters, 05.31.17)

Ukraine:

  • Naftogaz of Ukraine said May 31 that an arbitration tribunal had dismissed a $34.5 billion claim from Russian state gas giant Gazprom over the terms of a disputed gas contract, marking a victory for Kiev in its efforts to reduce Russia’s economic sway. Gazprom said in a statement that the panel’s decision was “interim” and that a final decision wouldn’t come before the end of June. (Wall Street Journal, 05.31.17)
  • In their March Oval Office meeting, U.S. President Donald Trump told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Ukraine crisis was Europe’s responsibility and that the United States wouldn’t get heavily involved, according to two officials briefed on the discussion. Only two months later, the Trump administration is reversing course and planning to re-engage on Ukraine in a significant way.  (The Washington Post, 05.29.17)
  • “We know that Russia will only move if the Americans will be on board and press them to do more for a cease-fire and for a withdrawal of heavy weapons from the region,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told The Washington Post after meeting with Rex Tillerson on May 17. “The Russians know that the behavior of Russia in Ukraine is a precondition to [U.S.] cooperation with Russia in other fields.” (The Washington Post, 05.29.17)
  • The Dutch Senate has approved the European Union’s Association Agreement with Ukraine, paving the way for ratification of the pact strengthening ties between the EU and Kiev. (RFE/RL, 05.30.17)
  • Deputy foreign ministers of the Normandy format member countries (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia) met in Berlin to discuss the progress of Donbas settlement. (Interfax, 05.30.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said that economic restrictions against Russia have had “zero effect,” predicting that the current strain in relations will ease, because “it’s counterproductive and harmful for all.” (AP, 06.01.17)
  • Eight civilians were injured in the town of Krasnohorivka on May 27-28 and three more were injured in the Luhansk region on May 29, according to Ukrainian authorities. Sixteen Ukrainian soldiers were injured from May 25 to May 30, the press service of the Anti-Terrorist Operation Headquarters reports. In 2017, there have been 219 confirmed civilian casualties, with 44 killed and 175 injured, a 110% increase compared with same period in 2016, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine reports. (RFE/RL, 05.29.17, UNIAN, 05.30.17, Kyiv Post, 05.30.17, UNIAN, 05.30.17, UNIAN, 05.28.17, OSCE, 05.25.17)
  • Chechen man Adam Osmayev, whom Russian authorities accuse of plotting to kill Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot and wounded in Kiev in what Ukrainian police say was an assassination attempt. (RFE/RL, 06.02.17)
  • An Austrian accused of committing war crimes in eastern Ukraine has been released from custody in his home country after credibly denying the allegations against him, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office handling the case said on June 1. (Reuters, 06.01.17)
  • Guillaume Cuvelier, a well-known militant who fought with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and participated in far-right European politics before joining the U.S. Army, has been discharged from the military, a spokeswoman for the Army said. (The Washington Post, 05.29.17)
  • The Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) raided the offices of Russian tech company Yandex in the Ukrainian cities Kiev and Odessa. An SBU spokesperson said Yandex was being investigated for “treason.” (The Moscow Times, 05.30.17)
  • Almost 1.3 million Ukrainians last year received the temporary work registrations that Poland grants to citizens of its eastern neighbor, and 116,000 more received longer-term work permits. Both figures have leapt six-fold since 2013, driven largely by the economic slump that followed Ukraine’s 2014 pro-western revolution and the Russian-fomented conflict in the country’s east. (Financial Times, 05.28.17)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Russia has expelled seven foreign diplomats in a retaliatory move after Russian officials were asked to leave Estonia and Moldova earlier this week. Two Estonian and five Moldovan diplomats were ordered to leave Russia June 1. (The Moscow Times, 06.01.17)
  • Moldovan President Igor Dodon said on June 2 that Moldova was unable to join the European Union in its current form, questioning the benefits of integration with the bloc after Britain voted to quit. (Reuters, 06.02.17)
  • The former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan are closer to war over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region than at any point since a ceasefire brokered more than 20 years ago, the International Crisis Group said. (Reuters, 06.01.17)
  • Russia says it has for the first time used its Iskander-M tactical ballistic-missile systems out of the country during military exercises in Tajikistan. (RFE/RL, 06.01.17)
  • Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has announced that Kyrgyzstan will hold a presidential election on Oct.15. (RFE/RL, 05.29.17)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • “It is a new ‘axis of love,'” one senior Gulf official said of the Russian-Saudi relationship. (Reuters, 06.01.17)
  • “Europeans think they are now being treated worse by Trump than countries like Russia or Saudi Arabia,” said Stephan Bierling, an expert on transatlantic relations at the University of Regensburg in Germany. (The Washington Post, 05.30.17)
  • “Positions have morphed from ‘don’t go’ to ‘don’t get photographed’ to ‘we don’t care,”’ Chris Weafer, a forum veteran and partner at Macro Advisory in Moscow, said of the St. Petersburg economic forum. “The economic case for companies to attend just isn’t there.” (Bloomberg, 05.30.17)
  • Igor Sechin, head of the Russian oil giant Rosneft, once told Reuters that U.S. sanctions against Russia had hurt him personally, because “he would no longer be able to come the United States to take motorcycle rides with [U.S. Secretary of State] Tillerson.” (The Washington Post, 05.30.17)
  • “I thought it was a hidden message to the Russians,” Hillary Clinton said in reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s mysterious tweet about “covfefe.” (AP, 06.01.17)
  • “What keeps you awake at night?” CBS host John Dickerson asked U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis during an interview on “Face the Nation.” “Nothing. I keep other people awake at night,” Mattis responded, almost instantly. (Business Insider, 05.29.17)
Advertisements