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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • On June 27 the House Appropriations Committee released the fiscal year 2018 Energy and Water Development bill, which provides $13.9 billion for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons security programs. The bill allocates $1.83 billion for defense nuclear nonproliferation—$76.5 million below the enacted FY2017 level. This includes $340 million to help fulfill the international commitment by the U.S. to construct a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility. (Congressional Documents and Publications, 06.27.17)
  • Ukrainian firefighters are battling to contain a forest fire inside the irradiated exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, officials say. The fire erupted June 29 during tree-cutting work in the area and spread to an area of some 25 hectares by early June 30. (RFE/RL, 06.30.17)
  • Workers at the old Chernobyl nuclear plant were forced to manually monitor radiation when their computers failed June 27 after an international cyberattack that struck IT systems from Ukraine to the United States. The assault was similar to a recent one that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide. (New York Times, 06.28.17)
  • Four former officials from the U.S., Russia, Germany and the United Kingdom are calling on U.S. President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to collaborate on issues involving nuclear deterrence. The group, which includes former Sen. Sam Nunn, is urging Trump and Putin to take advantage of their first meeting next month to coordinate on a series of steps, including increasing communication between their militaries, preventing terrorist groups like ISIS from acquiring radiological and nuclear material and reaching informal understandings about cyber dangers. (CBC News, 06.27.17)
  • The first shipment of used nuclear fuel assemblies from Russian nuclear submarines has left the former base of the Russian Northern Fleet in the Kola Bay in northern Russia. Western nations are giving Russia nearly $130 million to clean up nuclear waste at one of its biggest Cold War-era naval bases, in the bay’s Andreyev inlet, and one of the most toxic sites in the country. (BBC, 06.27.17, (World Nuclear News, 06.27.17)
  • The Energy Department’s enforcement arm waived or significantly reduced 19 of 21 major fines that officials had said were justified because of safety lapses and other workplace misconduct in the past 10 years, according to a yearlong investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. All told, they forgave $3.3 million of $7.3 million in fines they said could have been imposed. (USA Today, 06.27.17)
  • The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has been informed by Los Alamos National Laboratory that proper procedures were not followed in shipping small quantities of special nuclear material to both Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Savannah River National Laboratory last week. (NNSA, 06.23.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The Senate Armed Service Committee’s version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, approved June 28, calls for new measures to counter adversarial Russian actions abroad.
    • The act extends existing prohibitions on the Pentagon cooperating directly with the Russia military following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Additionally, the committee approved $4.6 billion for the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative, which seeks to bolster security along Europe’s eastern flank.
    • The act also includes $500 million to provide Ukraine with security assistance—including lethal weapons—against Russian-backed separatists.
    • The act calls for establishment of a new offensive ground-based missile program. The establishment of a new medium-range ground missile program may not violate the INF treaty itself, but it would open the door to the United States withdrawing from the treaty and building new medium-range missiles of its own.
    • The act prohibits the Defense Department from using Russian company Kaspersky Lab’s computer software because of concerns that its ties to the Russian government could create a cybersecurity risk in the United States. (See also Cyber security section below.)
    • The act requires the Pentagon report to lawmakers about Russian hybrid warfare. (The Washington Post, 06.29.17)
  • “Over the past year, Russia has maintained its gains in Ukraine, continued support for the Assad regime in Syria, interfered in U.S. elections, violated landmark disarmament treaties and continued to take unprecedented provocative actions against U.S., NATO-allied and partner ships and planes,” according to a summary of the House’s $696.5 billion defense policy released June 26. “These events all point to the importance of ensuring the U.S. Military has the capability needed to protect the country and our interests, and to assure America’s allies and partners.” (The Hill, 06.26.17)
  • Defense ministers from NATO’s 29 member states are meeting in Brussels to discuss raising defense spending further and sending more troops to Afghanistan to help the government battle a resurgent Taliban. Speaking ahead of the meeting on June 29, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said allies had agreed to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan, but there was no question of returning to a combat role. NATO allies of the United States plan to boost their defense spending by 4.3% this year, Stoltenberg said June 28—this would be the fastest growth since more than a decade of cuts ended in 2014. Spending growth was 1.8% in 2015 and 3.3% last year. Only five of NATO’s members currently meet the spending guidelines. Romania plans to get there this year, while Lithuania and Latvia expect to meet the bar in 2018. (RFE/RL, 06.29.17, The Washington Post, 06.28.17, Reuters, 06.28.17)
  • The U.S. House of Representatives has voted nearly unanimously to reaffirm NATO’s guarantee that all members defend each other, weeks after President Donald Trump raised doubts about U.S. support for that guarantee. (RFE/RL, 06.28.17)
  • In a June 28 speech U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Russian “leader making mischief beyond Russian borders will not restore their fortunes or rekindle their hope.” (RFE/RL, 06.28.17)
  • NATO’s senior military officer, Petr Pavel, said the alliance was confronting efforts by Russia to increase its military capabilities on virtually every level and allies were on guard to prevent any repeat of the Kremlin’s military intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. (Politico, 06.26.17)
  • Technology for ballistic and cruise missiles is advancing in countries from North Korea and Iran to Russia and China, increasing potential threats to the U.S. even if they don’t carry nuclear warheads, according to a new Pentagon report. Russia, which surpassed the U.S. in 2014 in deployed nuclear warheads, “is expected to retain the largest force of strategic ballistic missiles outside the United States,” according to the report. (Bloomberg, 06.26.17)
  • Sweden and Finland have joined a British-led military rapid-reaction force that can either operate alone or jointly with the United Nations, NATO or the European Union. (AP, 06.30.17)
  • Russia has told Norway that the extension of a U.S. military deployment in the country will hit diplomatic ties. Norway announced this week that 330 U.S. Marines will remain in the country until the end of 2018, a year longer than was originally planned. (AP, 06.24.17)
  • The Russian military mocked Britain’s new aircraft carrier on June 29, saying the HMS Queen Elizabeth presented “a large convenient target” and would be wise to keep its distance from Moscow’s warships. (Reuters, 06.29.17)

Missile defense:

  • Russia is creating a multi-layered national missile defense. “The modernization of the A-135 missile defense of Moscow and the Central Industrial District is to be completed by 2020 and the national missile defense is to be created by 2025,” a lead designer of the early warning system and board member of the private RTI defense holding Sergei Boyev has said. (TASS, 06.26.17)

Nuclear arms control:

  • Moscow will respond if the U.S. pulls out of the INF pact, warned a leading Russian defense official, despite allegations that Russia has repeatedly violated the treaty. U.S. President Donald Trump is reportedly being pressed by members of his administration to scrap the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Politico reported over the weekend. Viktor Shamanov, the Defense Committee chief in Russia’s lower house, addressed the issue June 26: “We need to wait for a decision” on U.S. withdrawal, he said. “That we can take adequate measures [in response] is outside the bounds of any doubt.” (Newsweek, 06.26.17)
  • Patrick Shanahan, President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy defense secretary, initially refused to offer any opinion on options to respond to alleged Russian violations of the INF treaty. In his revised written answer this week, Shanahan said he’d favor withdrawal from the 1987 treaty as a last resort. (Bloomberg, 06.28.17)

Counter-terrorism:

  • U.S. prosecutors have sought to block the release of an Uzbek national, Jamshid Muhtorov, held for more than five years in the United States while awaiting trial on charges of providing support to Islamic Jihad Union. (RFE/RL, 06.28.17)
  • Some foreign special services are directly supporting extremist and terrorist groups to destabilize the situation near Russia’s borders, President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with Russia’s foreign intelligence agency. (Bloomberg, 06.28.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • A Defense Intelligence Agency report released June 28 portrays Russia’s intervention in Syria since 2015 as largely successful at “changing the entire dynamic of the conflict, bolstering [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s] regime and ensuring that no resolution to the conflict is possible without Moscow’s agreement.” As Russia continues to modernize and encounter military success, “within the next decade, an even more confident and capable Russia could emerge,” the agency’s director said in the report’s preface. (RFE/RL, 06.29.17)
  • Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis claimed on June 28 that the Syrian government backed down after the White House said President Assad’s forces were preparing for another possible chemical attack. “They didn’t do it,” Mattis said. (The Washington Post, 06.28.17)
    • U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to pursue a “common response” to the Assad regime in Syria in the event of another chemical weapons attack, the French government said June 27 after the two leaders spoke. (Washington Examiner, 06.27.17)
    • The Russian Foreign Ministry says Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked June 26 about the need to secure a cease-fire in Syria, fight extremist groups and to prevent the use of chemical weapons. It added that Lavrov “urged Washington to take steps to prevent provocations against Syrian government forces battling terrorists.” (AP, 06.26.17)
    • Syria’s government and its ally Russia accused Washington on June 29 of concocting a “provocation” in Syria, which would then be blamed on Assad’s government as alleged use of chemical weapons to justify an attack. (AP, 06.29.17)
    • The Kremlin on June 27 dismissed the White House’s warning that the Syrian government is preparing a new chemical attack and that Assad and his military “will pay a heavy price” if it goes ahead. (AP, 06.27.17)
    • Russia will respond “in proportion” if the United States takes military action to prevent what it says could be a chemical attack by Syrian government forces, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said June 28. (Reuters, 06.28.17)
    • U.S. assertions that the Syrian government may be planning a chemical weapons attack complicate peace talks on Syria, RIA news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying June 28. (Reuters, 06.28.17)
  • Russia says that an international chemical weapons watchdog’s investigation into a chemical attack in Syria has been tainted by political bias. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was based on “dubious data” from the Syrian opposition and driven by “political orders” to blame the Syrian government. The ministry emphasized the OPCW’s failure to take samples from the site of the attack. (AP, 06.30.17)
  • The U.S. military said that a crisis hotline with Russia set up to avoid accidental clashes in Syria is still being used, despite Moscow’s threat earlier this week to suspend it. (RFE/RL, 06.24.17)
  • At least 57 people have been killed in a suspected U.S.-led coalition air strike on a prison run by the extremist group Islamic State in eastern Syria, activists said June 26. (RFE/RL, 06.27.17)
  • Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev said he has not conducted negotiations on sending peacekeeping troops to Syria during his visit to Moscow. (Reuters, 06.24.17)
  • The United Nations envoy for Syria says violence is down in the war-torn country despite repeated clashes recently between U.S., Syrian and Iranian-backed forces there. (RFE/RL, 06.28.17)
  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger predicted ongoing friction with Russia over Ukraine and Syria, while noting that he believed President Putin would ultimately work toward cooperative relationships with countries on Russia’s borders. “Russia has evolved to what amounts to a definition of absolute security [and] absolute insecurity for some of its neighbors,” Kissinger said, adding that Putin’s view of international politics is reminiscent of 1930’s European nationalist authoritarianism: “Russia wants to be accepted by Europe and transcend it simultaneously.” Kissinger also warned that with political chaos enveloping Britain and the United States, Russia, India and China could gain a foothold in creating a new world order. (AP, 06.27.17)

Cyber security:

  • The FBI has interviewed several U.S.-based employees of the Russian cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab as part of its investigation into the company’s operations. FBI agents reportedly visited the homes of Kaspersky employees late on June 27 in several U.S. cities and had “brief interactions” with them, though no search warrants were served. (RFE/RL, 06.29.17)
  • Russia does not rule out retaliatory measures if the U.S. bans Moscow-based cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab’s products, RIA news agency cited Russia’s Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov as saying June 29. (Reuters, 06.29.17)
  • Computer systems from Russia to Britain were victims of a global cyberattack on June 27. The attack, which crippled computer systems in Ukraine and other countries this week, employed a ruse—the appearance of being ransomware—that seems designed to deflect attention from the attacker’s true identity, security researchers said. More than half the victimized computers were in Ukraine, including banks, energy firms and an airport. (The Washington Post, 06.29.17, New York Times, 06.27.17)
    • A number of Ukrainian banks and companies, including the state power distributor, were hit by the cyberattack. The hackers compromised Ukrainian accounting software mandated to be used in various industries in the country. The attack came about two months after Ukraine banned a “near-indispensable” accounting software from Russia. Ukrainian officials pointed a finger at Russia on June 27, although Russian companies were also affected. In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, A.T.M.s stopped working. About 80 miles away, workers were forced to manually monitor radiation at the old Chernobyl nuclear plant when their computers failed. (New York Times, 06.27.17, New York Times, 06.28.17, Bloomberg, 06.29.17)
    • More than 80 companies in Russia and Ukraine were affected by the virus, initially identified as the pre-existing Petya malware, that disabled computers June 27 and told users to pay $300 in cryptocurrency to unlock them, according to the Moscow-based cybersecurity company Group-IB. (Bloomberg, 06.27.17)
    • Russian oil giant Rosneft said June 27 that a “powerful” hacking attack has been carried out against its servers. (RFR/RL, 06.27.17)
  • Ukraine’s state security service (SBU) seized equipment in May and June that it said belonged to Russian agents intending to launch cyberattacks against Ukraine and other countries, the SBU said in a statement June 30. (Reuters, 06.30.17)
  • Russian authorities have ditched plans to ban a messaging app after its owner agreed to Russian registration. Alexander Zharov, head of the Russian communications regulator, said in a statement June 28 that Telegram would be free to operate in Russia, despite previous threats to close it down, after its owner agreed to provide registration details to authorities, adding that his company would not share confidential user data with anyone. Earlier Russia’s FSB security service had said the Telegram messaging app had been used by terrorists to plot atrocities on Russian soil. (AP, 06.28.17, Reuters, 06.26.17, 06.28.17)
  • The British Parliament was the target of a cyberattack that left many legislators unable to connect to their email on June 24 as remote access to accounts was disabled as a security measure. (New York Times, 06.25.17)
  • Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime GOP opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers. In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump. (Wall Street Journal, 06.29.17)
  • Want to influence an election? All you need is about $400,000, according to cyber security consultant Trend Micro Inc. That’s the sum it takes to buy followers on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, hire companies to write and disseminate fake news postings over a period of 12 months and run sophisticated websites to influence public opinion, according to Udo Schneider, a security expert for the German-speaking market at Trend Micro. (Bloomberg, 06.29.17)

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

  • President Trump on June 24 called out Obama administration officials for not taking stronger actions against Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, contradicting his past statements, and suggested they had been trying to help Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, also struck a combative tone, saying: “It’s the Obama administration that was responsible for doing absolutely nothing from August to January with the knowledge that Russia was hacking into our election. They did absolutely nothing. They’re responsible for this.” (The Washington Post, 06.25.17, The Washington Post, 06.24.17)
  • Obama made a “very serious mistake” in not doing more about Russia’s intervention in the presidential election campaign, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said June 25. (Bloomberg, 06.25.17)
  • President Donald Trump on June 26 asked for an apology over the investigations into Russia’s election meddling and possible collusion with his 2016 campaign because those probes, which are ongoing, have not publicly turned up any proof of coordination between Trump associates and the Russian government. (Politico, 06.26.17)
  • National security adviser H.R. McMaster described the need to counter Russian meddling in elections throughout Europe and in the United States. McMaster said the Russians had mounted a “sophisticated campaign of subversion” that included the “sowing of conspiracy theories” online in an effort to weaken Western democracies. He called for the United States to develop capabilities to counter Russian disinformation campaigns. That effort, he said, might include engagement with Russian leaders as well as confrontation when necessary. (The Washington Post, 06.28.17)
  • FBI agents have repeatedly questioned former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page about his contacts with Russians and his interactions with the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the investigation. Over a series of five meetings in March, totaling about 10 hours of questioning, Page repeatedly denied wrongdoing. (AP, 06.26.17)
  • Senate Intelligence Committee leaders have received assurances they will soon be able to review the memos former FBI Director James Comey kept of his conversations with President Trump, according to the panel’s top Democrat. (The Washington Post, 06.28.17)
  • CNN accepted the resignations on June 26 of three journalists involved in a retracted story about a supposed investigation into a pre-inaugural meeting between Anthony Scaramucci, an associate of President Donald Trump, and the head of a Russian investment fund. (AP, 06.26.17)
  • Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman John Podesta met June 27 with a House committee investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. (AP, 06.27.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Thirteen EU nations voiced support on June 26 for a proposal to empower the bloc’s executive to negotiate with Russia over objections to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline plan to Germany, despite opposition from Berlin. (Reuters, 06.26.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has inaugurated the deep-water phase of the TurkStream pipeline project that will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and eventually to the European Union. (RFE/RL, 06.23.17)
  • Russia’s largest crude producer, Rosneft, said oil output was uninterrupted after its servers were infected by the virus that targeted companies across the country and in neighboring Ukraine. Three out of four oil and natural gas companies fell victim to at least one cyberattack last year as hacking efforts against the industry become more frequent and sophisticated. (Bloomberg, 06.27.17, Bloomberg, 06.26.17)
  • Rosneft, the world’s top listed oil producer, wants to supply gas in parts of Europe where Gazprom is not present—or Moscow risks losing the market to U.S. liquefied natural gas, a Rosneft executive said. (Reuters, 06.30.17)
  • President Donald Trump on June 29 promoted a “golden era” of U.S. energy business by seeking to assert power abroad through a boost in natural gas, coal and petroleum exports. In what he called a policy of “energy dominance,” Trump re-branded efforts to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to markets in Eastern Europe and Asia that had been set in motion during the previous presidential administration. The United States also will offer to export coal to Ukraine, where energy consumers often have suffered from cuts in natural gas supply by Russia. (Reuters, 06.30.17)
  • The U.S. and Middle East are set to boost supply of fuels such as diesel to Europe to the highest level in at least six months, helping to offset reduced flows from Russia and India. (Bloomberg, 06.28.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • The L1 Energy unit of Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s investment company LetterOne recently walked away from a deal to buy Texas oil producer ExL Petroleum Management LLC for about $700 million over concerns the plan could be rebuffed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., the government panel that reviews deals for national security risks. (Bloomberg, 06.26.17)

Other bilateral issues:

  • National security adviser H.R. McMaster confirmed that Donald Trump will meet with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the annual Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, part of an itinerary that will include meetings with several world leaders. (AP, 06.29.17)
    • “It won’t be different from our discussions with any other country, really,” McMaster said. “There is no specific agenda. It’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about. … Nobody wants a major-power war,” General McMaster told reporters. He also said Trump wants to try to identify potential areas of cooperation with Russia, be it on de-escalating the conflict in Syria, addressing the nuclear threat from North Korea or confronting transnational terrorist threats. (The Moscow Times, 06.30.17, New York Times,  06.30.17)
    • Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, said the White House expected the meeting to be a formal bilateral one rather than an informal “pull-aside” conversation.  (The Washington Post, 06.29.17)
    • Donald Trump and some others within his administration have been pressing for a full bilateral meeting. He’s calling for media access and all the typical protocol associated with such sessions, even as officials within the State Department and National Security Council urge more restraint, according to a current and a former administration official. But some advisers have recommended that the president instead do either a quick, informal “pull-aside” or that the U.S. and Russian delegations hold “strategic stability talks,” which typically don’t involve the presidents. Asked about the AP report that Trump is eager for a full bilateral meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on June 26 that “the protocol side of it is secondary.” (AP, 06.26.17)
    • While Putin and Trump will meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit, no separate meeting is planned, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters June 29. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it “probably would not be right” if Putin and Trump do not have talks on the sidelines of the summit. Lavrov said it was especially important for Putin and Trump to discuss the war in Syria. Lavrov and his U.S. counterpart, Rex Tillerson, will also meet at the summit, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said, Russian news agencies reported. (Reuters. 06.29.17, Reuters, 06.29.17, RFE/RL, 06.28.17)
    • Trump and Putin have an opportunity to mend their countries’ ties when they meet next week, former top U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger said June 30, a day after he followed up a meeting with the U.S. president by having talks with Putin. The Kremlin denied that Kissinger, who is visiting Moscow and met Putin behind closed doors June 29, was acting as a go-between. Speaking at an international affairs conference in Moscow, Kissinger said of the planned Trump-Putin meeting: “I believe that at this moment our two countries have a responsibility, and an opportunity, to make significant progress not just by improving relations, but by improving situations around the world through cooperative efforts.” (Reuters, 06.30.17)
  • The Trump administration is planning to step up its lobbying against parts of a bipartisan Senate bill that would slap new sanctions on Russia and Iran, a senior official said. The White House opposes provisions that could be seen as preempting the president’s powers.  (The Washington Post, 06.23.17)
    • The Senate on June 29 fixed a popular measure that would slap economic sanctions on Russia and Iran, yet a long-awaited House vote won’t come until after Donald Trump meets for the first time as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Speaking to reporters early the same day, House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted the House was “protecting the Constitution,” not working behind the scenes on behalf of the White House. “They wrote the bill incorrectly so we have told the Senate you’ve got to write it correctly to follow the Constitution,” Ryan said.  (AP, 06.29.17)
    • The greatest difference between U.S. and European sanctions policies on Russia is that Washington singles out oil and gas players, while Europe singles out oil. The only company that both countries have sanctioned so far is Rosneft. (Forbes, 06.23.17)
    • There are three reasons Europe is skeptical about the Senate’s Russia sanctions bill: frustration that the United States is abandoning cooperation for unilateralism, unhappiness with the implications of the sanctions for European companies and differing views on the future of European energy security. (The Washington Post, 06.27.17)
  • Kremlin leaders believe the United States wants regime change in Russia, a worry that is feeding rising tensions between the two former Cold War foes, a U.S. defense intelligence report says. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, released on June 28, says Moscow has a “deep and abiding distrust of U.S. efforts to promote democracy around the world and what it perceives as a U.S. campaign to impose a single set of global values.” (RFE/RL, 06.29.17)
  • Moscow is preparing retaliatory measures to Washington’s decision to seize two Russian diplomatic compounds in the United States in 2016, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said June 28. (Reuters, 06.28.17)
  • Putin has signed a decree to extend a ban on Western food imports for another 18 months after the European Union extended economic sanctions against Russia. (AP, 06.30.17)
  • Ending one of the most turbulent tenures of a Washington-based ambassador in recent memory, the Kremlin has decided to recall Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak, three individuals familiar with the decision told BuzzFeed News. The U.S.-Russia Business Council is hosting a going-away party for the ambassador on July 11. (BuzzFeed, 06.26.17)
  • As the United States pressures China to enforce United Nations sanctions on its ally North Korea, Washington is concerned that Russia could provide support to Pyongyang and fill any vacuum left by Beijing, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on June 27. Russia is developing its own roadmap to de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula, according to the Kommersant newspaper. The plan calls for mutual restraint, no use or threat of military force and cessation of provocations from all sides. While details remain unclear, the proposal is an ostensible nod to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who arrives in Moscow next week for a state visit, and a rejection of Washington’s call for more assertive measures. (Reuters, 06.27.17, Center on Global Interests, 06.28.17)
  • Russian lawmakers have started looking at ways to block foreign media broadcasts in Russian if they break the law, but the Kremlin said June 28 that the move requires careful consideration. The Russian lawmakers’ proposal is a tit-for-tat response to a bill introduced in the U.S. Congress in March that would give the Justice Department authority to investigate Russia’s English-language RT broadcaster for potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (AP, 06.28.17)
  • The House of Representatives voted on June 27 in favor of a resolution calling on Chechen officials to stop “the abduction, detention and torture of individuals on the basis of their actual or suspected sexual orientation, and hold accountable all those involved in perpetrating such abuses.” (RFE/RL, 06.27.17)
  • Five months into Trump’s presidency, a Pew survey released on June 27 spanning 37 nations showed U.S. favorability ratings in the rest of the world slumping to 49% from 64% at the end of Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House. The survey showed even deeper mistrust of Trump personally, with only 22% saying they had confidence he would do the right thing in world affairs, compared with 64% who trusted Obama. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping exceeded Trump’s confidence rating, with ratings of 27% and 28%, respectively. Only two countries gave Trump higher marks than his predecessor: Russia and Israel, where he received approval ratings of 53% and 56%, respectively. (RFE/RL, 06.27.17)
  • One month before Election Day, Jared Kushner’s real estate company finalized a $285 million loan as part of a refinancing package for its property near Times Square in Manhattan. The lender, Deutsche Bank, was negotiating to settle a federal mortgage fraud case and charges from New York state regulators that it aided a possible Russian money-laundering scheme. The cases were settled in December and January. (The Washington Post, 06.26.18)
    • A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit accusing Deutsche Bank AG of concealing major deficiencies in its anti-money laundering controls, even as it allowed “mirror trades” to launder money out of Russia as part of a $10 billion trading scheme. (Reuters, 06.28.17)
    • Deutsche Bank AG again told U.S. Democratic lawmakers that it won’t disclose details about its relationship with President Donald Trump, the latest in a back-and-forth focused on the German lender and questions about its clients’ Russian connections. (Wall Street Journal, 06.29.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • The Kremlin announced that justice, respect and trust will be the cornerstones of the 2018 presidential election campaign. Analysts say Russians are tired of external conflicts and want the election to focus on internal issues, according to the RBC news agency. (Center on Global Interests, 06.26.17)
  • A new survey by state-backed pollster VTsIOM found that 10% of Russians struggled to cover the costs of food, while 29% said that they could not afford to replace worn-out clothes. (The Moscow Times, 06.29.17)
  • Russian life expectancy has reached record highs, new data has revealed. Russians born in 2016 are expected to live 71.87 years on average, according to state statistics agency Rosstat. (The Moscow Times, 06.29.17)
  • Russia’s senate has approved controversial legislation to demolish thousands of Soviet-era apartment buildings in Moscow. (RFE/RL, 06.28.17)
  • Russian institutions have sold the highest amount of new debt since the country was hit with international sanctions three years ago, as borrowers seek to take advantage of robust investor appetite for emerging markets. (Financial Times, 06.26.17)
  • Russian business conglomerate Sistema said on June26 that a court had “arrested” its stakes in a number of companies, including mobile operator MTS, as part of a legal dispute with oil major Rosneft. (Reuters, 06.26.17)
  • A poll by the Levada Center asked a representative sample of 1,600 Russians to name the “top 10 most outstanding people of all time and all nations.” It also compiled a list of all 20 names that received more than 6% of the vote. Without prompting, 38% named Joseph Stalin, followed by Vladimir Putin at 34%, in a tie with Alexander Pushkin, the renowned 19th-century poet often referred to as “the Shakespeare of Russia.” (The Washington Post, 06.26.17)
  • A much-awaited FIFA report on the race to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups makes no suggestion that Russia or Qatar should lose the right to stage the tournaments, despite detailing numerous attempts to influence voting officials. (Reuters, 06.27.17)
  • Ilya Novikov, a deputy head of the Open Russia civic movement, says he has “temporarily” left Russia amid what he describes as “large-scale persecutions against those engaged in any political action.” (RFE/RL, 06.30.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The Russian Defense Ministry said the Yuri Dolgoruky nuclear-powered submarine launched the Bulava missile on June 26 from a submerged position in the Barents Sea. The ministry said the missile’s mock warheads reached their designated targets on the opposite side of Russia—the Kura shooting range on the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula. (AP, 06.26.17)
  • On June 23 the Russian Air and Space Forces successfully launched a Soyuz-2.1v launcher from pad No. 4 of site No. 43 of the Plesetsk launch site. According to Russianspaceweb.com, the launch may be the first of the 14F150 Napryazhenie geodetic satellites developed as part of a Nivelir-ZU program. (Russianforces.org, 06.23.17)
  • Russia’s defense industry plans to replace all its products manufactured in Ukraine by 2018 and in NATO countries by 2020, Sergei Chemezov, head of the Rostekh state corporation said on June 27 at a meeting attended by President Putin. (TASS, 06.27.17)
  • The Russian Navy will design a new Lider-class destroyer with nuclear propulsion, but analysts and defense industry sources are skeptical that the new warship will ever be built. (National Interest, 06.29.17)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A jury on June 29 found five men guilty in the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, bringing to a close a trial that Nemtsov’s allies believe failed to bring the slaying’s alleged masterminds to justice. (AP, 06.29.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • Rosatom is managing 42 power plant projects in 12 countries including EU members Finland and Hungary. It has commissioned 10 nuclear units in the past decade, and has a 10-year order book worth $133 billion, excluding its domestic business.  (Financial Times, 06.28.17)
  • The first pouring of structural concrete for two Russian-built VVER reactors at Kudankulam units 3 and 4 was marked yesterday at the site in Tamil Nadu, India. The milestone followed approval last week by India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The units represent the second phase of the Kudankulam project. (World Nuclear News, 06.30.17)
  • Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s investment vehicle agreed to buy Holland & Barrett for about $2.3 billion, gaining one of Europe’s largest health-food retail chains in its first retailing acquisition. (Bloomberg, 06.26.17)
  • Russia’s state arms seller Rosoboronexport has exported about 50 warships worth $24 billion since 2000, the company’s press office reported on June 26. (TASS, 06.26.17)
  • Serbia’s future prime minister on June 27 proposed a staunchly pro-Russia official as defense minister, dampening hopes in the West that her nomination signaled a shift away from Moscow’s influence. (AP, 06.27.17)
  • The presidents of Bulgaria and Romania insisted June 28 that they were not opposed to Russia, despite both Eastern European countries being members of NATO and the European Union. (AP, 06.28.17)
  • Alexander Vavilov, the son of Russian spies, has regained his Canadian citizenship after a lengthy struggle under a Canadian court decision released on June 23. (RFE/RL, 06.24.17)
  • Russia says it is suspending its financial contributions to the Council of Europe over a dispute regarding Russian delegates who were stripped of their authority following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.(RFE/RL, 06.30.17)

China:

  • China’s Beijing Gas Group has bought 20% of a Russian oil and gas field from Rosneft for $1.1 billion. (Financial Times, 06.29.17)
  • The U.S. stepped up its criticism of China in a global assessment of human trafficking practices released on June 27, a move likely to inflame tensions with Beijing. The State Department report details U.S. concerns about state-sponsored forced labor, sex trafficking and encompasses the treatment of North Korean citizens in China. China was moved in the report to Tier 3, a category with countries including Iran, North Korea, Russia and Syria. In last year’s report China was on the Tier 2 watch list. (Wall Street Journal, 06.27.17)

Ukraine:

  • Patrick Shanahan, President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy defense secretary, has endorsed providing defensive weapons to Ukraine, a reversal from past U.S. policy and from his refusal to offer his thoughts on the issue at his Senate confirmation hearing. “Yes. I support lethal defensive security assistance to Ukraine,” Shanahan said. (Bloomberg, 06.28.17)
  • The European Union has officially extended economic sanctions against Russia by six months for destabilizing Ukraine. (AP, 06.28.17)
  • President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, received $17.1 million for his work with a Ukrainian political party, according to a registration document he filed with the U.S. government. (Bloomberg, 06.27.17)
  • Col. Maksym Shapoval, a senior Ukrainian military intelligence officer was killed when a bomb detonated under his car in Kiev on June 27, the Defense Ministry said, in an act the government is treating as terrorism. Ukraine’s Chief Military Prosecutor said that authorities were looking for traces of involvement by Russia. (Wall Street Journal, 06.27.17)
  • German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on June 26 that both Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists were violating a ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine and it would likely be difficult to resolve the crisis in the short term. (Reuters, 06.27.17)
  • French President Emmanuel Macron says further peace talks over the Ukrainian crisis will be held in the coming days, following a meeting in Paris with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko. Macron said in a joint news conference that a phone call between the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia will be scheduled by the end of next week in an effort to make tangible progress. He insisted the so-called Normandy Format talks among the four countries are still the best forum to discuss the situation. Poroshenko said he felt “much more optimistic” following the meeting with Macron, while Macron said German leader Angela Merkel shared his determination to resolve the Ukraine conflict. (Reuters, 06.26.17, AP, 06.26.17)
  • There are hundreds of people—or possibly several thousand—who are missing or held as prisoners of war in eastern Ukraine. (The Washington Post, 06.26.17)
  • The treason trial of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was quickly adjourned after formally opening on June 26 in a Kiev courtroom. (RFE/RL, 06.26.17)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambaev said he wants Russia to establish a second military base in his country. In Tatarstan’s capital, Kazan, Atambaev told journalists he had asked Vladimir Putin to open a new joint base in Kyrgyzstan rather than put more troops and military aircraft at Kant. “What we see in Afghanistan is the Taliban getting stronger there, and IS [Islamic State] is also gaining strength there,” Atambaev said. (RFE/RL, 06.28.17)
  • Kyrgyz authorities say they have detained four members of a suspected terrorist cell that was allegedly planning attacks in the country. (RFE/RL, 06.28.17)
  • According to Armenian officials, more than 22,000 Syrians have come to the former Soviet republic since the start of the conflict in 2011. By 2015, the United Nations refugee agency said Syrian refugees accounted for six of every 1,000 people in Armenia. (New York Times, 06.27.17)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • “Russia has evolved to what amounts to a definition of absolute security [and] absolute insecurity for some of its neighbors,” Henry Kissinger said during a speech, adding that Putin’s view of international politics is reminiscent of 1930’s European nationalist authoritarianism: “Russia wants to be accepted by Europe and transcend it simultaneously.” (AP, 06.27.17)
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