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HARVARD

 

This Week’s Highlights:

  • Vladimir Putin said today that Donald Trump had not closed the door to talks on the Iran nuclear deal or a new agreement with Tehran, adding that it was important for everyone concerned to keep talking. “All is not yet lost,” he said.
  • The Trump administration says it is pressing European allies to impose tougher sanctions against Russia.
  • One out of four American companies surveyed recently by the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia has put new projects in Russia on hold, while more than one-third said they face disadvantages because of U.S. sanctions.
  • Britain’s Royal Navy responded to Russian military ships 33 times last year compared to just once in 2010.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office plans to complete its probe into alleged obstruction of the Russia inquiry by President Donald Trump by Sept. 1, according to Rudolph Giuliani.
  • Russian litigants have consistently been among the top three users of the London commercial courts.
  • Ukrainian officials have announced that about 200 dogs from the notorious Chernobyl Exclusion Zone are being put up for adoption in the United States, with the first 12 departing in early June.

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2019 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. The bill funds the National Nuclear Security Administration at $14.78 billion, $62 million more than fiscal year 2018. Efforts to extend the life of the current nuclear weapons stockpile are fully funded, as are programs targeted at working with international partners to reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism. The funding is $111 million above the FY2018 enacted level and $311 million below the budget request, for DOE nuclear security programs. (Senate.gov, 05.25.18, Senate.gov, 05.22.18)
  • On May 10, 2018, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry delivered to Congress a letter “waiving” the legal requirement to continue spending funds on construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) at DOE’s Savannah River Site. The delivery of the letter initiated a 30-day period after which spending of further funds on construction can be terminated. (IPFM, 05.23.18)
  • Air Force records obtained by the Associated Press show that U.S. military service members entrusted with guarding nuclear missiles  bought, distributed and used the hallucinogen LSD and other mind-altering illegal drugs as part of a ring that operated undetected for months on a highly secure military base in Wyoming. (AP, 05.24.18)
  • Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant arrived in the Arctic port of Murmansk over the weekend in preparation for its maiden mission, providing electricity to an isolated Russian town across the Bering Strait from Alaska. (Reuters, 05.21.18)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • North Korea says it is still willing to talk after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly canceled a June 12 summit with leader Kim Jong Un over what he called Pyongyang’s “tremendous anger and open hostility.” In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed regret that Trump called off the summit, noting that Kim had done “everything that he had promised in advance, even blowing up the tunnels and shafts” of his nuclear testing site. “In order to talk about a full denuclearization of North Korea, I believe we should give North Korea a guarantee of their sovereignty and inviolability,” the Russian president said. (RFE/RL, 05.25.18, AP, 05.25.18)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Vladimir Putin has pledged cautious Russian support for a French initiative to seek additional agreements with Iran aimed at convincing the U.S. to return to the nuclear deal with Tehran it abandoned this month. Macron insisted on May 24 that he was not seeking a new deal on Iran but rather an agreement to complement the JCPOA. Commenting on Washington’s decision to withdraw from the deal, Putin said on May 25 that unilateral steps taken by countries like the United States led to a dead end and were always counter-productive. Putin said Trump had not closed the door to talks on the issue or a new agreement with Iran, and said it was important for everyone concerned to keep talking. “All is not yet lost,” he said. (Financial Times, 05.25.18, Reuters, 05.25.18, Reuters, 05.25.18)
  • The Trump administration put Iran on notice that any new deal would require it to stop enriching all uranium and halt its support for militant groups in the region, sweeping demands that Tehran swiftly rejected. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 21 spelled out 12 requirements for a new agreement with Tehran that would require a wholesale change in Iran’s military posture in the Middle East. (Wall Street Journal, 05.21.18)
  • Germany’s foreign minister has reiterated Europe’s determination to remain a part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal even in the face of a U.S. withdrawal from the landmark agreement. Speaking to reporters in Washington, Heiko Maas said he explained the German and European position to U.S. national security adviser John Bolton during talks earlier on May 23. (RFE/RL, 05.23.18)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of a $716 billion annual defense policy bill on May 24, joining counterparts in the House of Representatives in labeling China and Russia as threats to the United States and its allies. The bill extends a limitation on U.S.-Russian military cooperation and requires the secretary of defense “to report on the feasibility and advisability of permanently stationing a U.S. Army brigade combat team in Poland.” (Reuters, 05.24.18, Senate Armed Services Committee, 05.24.18)
  • Britain’s Royal Navy responded to Russian military ships 33 times last year compared to just once in 2010, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said on May 24, highlighting British tensions over increased Russian aggression.(Financial Times, 05.24.18)
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg highlighted an “increased Russian military presence all the way from the Bering Sea, the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, down to [the] Mediterranean.” “For us it is important to find the right balance, because we don’t want a new Cold War. We don’t want a new arms race,” he said. (Foreign Policy, 05.18.18)
  • Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are fighting on multiple fronts to block the Trump administration from developing a new tactical nuclear weapon, and the debate threatens to turn into a partisan fight on the House floor. House Armed Services Committee Democrats broadly backed a failed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act earlier this month that would have stripped the bill’s proposed sea-launched, low-yield nuclear warhead. (Defense News, 05.23.18)

Missile defense:

  • Russia has reportedly carried out the world’s longest test of a surface-to-air missile system. The S-500 missile flew 80 kilometers further than any previous test and successfully engaged a target 480 kilometers away. Russia’s Aerospace Forces expect initial deliveries of the newly developed S-500 surface-to-air missile systems sometime in 2020. (The Moscow Times, 05.25.18)
  • Russian efforts to develop hypersonic glide vehicles are explicitly aimed at evading U.S. missile defense systems, said Pavel Podvig, an independent analyst who specializes in Russia’s nuclear arsenal. (Live Science, 05.24.18)

Nuclear arms control:

  • “Under this clamor [of a strident propaganda campaign], the U.S. is gearing up toward the destruction of the INF Treaty, which seriously impedes the implementation of their plans,” wrote Sergei Ryzhkov, the head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s National Nuclear Risk Reduction Center. (The Moscow Times, 05.21.18)

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • The number of casualties from the Feb. 7 fight between American forces and 500 pro-Syrian government forces—including Russian mercenaries in Syria—is in dispute. Initially, Russian officials said only four Russian citizens—but perhaps dozens more—were killed; a Syrian officer said around 100 Syrian soldiers had died. The documents obtained by The Times estimated 200 to 300 of the ”pro-regime force” were killed. (New York Times, 05.25.18)
  • A dozen fighters have been killed in overnight air strikes against Syrian military sites that a war monitor blamed on U.S.-led coalition jets, though the Pentagon denied the report. Syrian officials said the bombardment struck bases manned by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, but they said that Iranian and allied HIzballah fighters were not among the dead. (RFE/RL, 05.25.18)
  • The Russian military says it has downed an unidentified drone approaching its Hmeimim air base in Syria. The military said in a statement late on May 21 that the drone caused no casualties or physical damage before it was shot down near the base that serves as the main hub for Russian operations in Syria, Russian news agencies reported. (RFE/RL, 05.22.18)
  • The Syrian capital of Damascus and its surrounding suburbs are entirely free of rebel fighters for the first time in seven years, the government said on May 21. That milestone was achieved when the last Islamic State fighters reached an agreement with the government over the weekend to leave the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk and the neighboring town of Hajar al-Aswad and head to one of the militant group’s last strongholds in eastern Syria. (New York Times, 05.21.18)
  • Prominent figures in the U.S. Air Force leadership have noted that deploying the F-22 for combat operations to Syria, where Russia has deployed extensive surveillance equipment, including some of its most advanced air defense radar systems, has seriously undermined the platform’s viability by providing Moscow with valuable intelligence on the aircraft. (Military Watch, 05.24.18)

Cyber security:

  • The U.S. Justice Department says it has seized an internet domain controlled by a hacking group tied to Russian military intelligence that was planning a major cyberattack, possibly in Ukraine. The U.S. move late on May 23 was aimed at breaking up what the department said was a dangerous botnet of a half-million infected computer network routers that could have allowed the hackers to take control of computers and stage destructive attacks, as well as steal valuable information. Ukraine’s main security agency earlier in the day had warned of a possible Russian cyberattack during a “large-scale” event such as the final match of the Champions League soccer tournament scheduled for May 26 in Kiev. Cisco Systems Inc. on Wednesday warned that hackers have infected at least 500,000 routers and storage devices in dozens of countries. Ukraine’s state security service on Wednesday warned of a possible cyber attack on state bodies and private companies ahead of the Champions League soccer final in Kiev on Saturday (RFE/RL, 05.24.18, Reuters, 05.23.18)
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has apologized to the European Parliament for causing “harm” by failing to prevent “fake news” and allowing users’ data to be stolen. (RFE/RL, 05.22.18)
  • In 2013, Jurijs Martisevs says, he was contacted by Russian law enforcement. The agents from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, told him the U.S. government was seeking information on him, Martisevs testified in court last week. But he said the Russians did not want to hand him over—they wanted his help. The Virginia case centers on a service created by Ruslan Bondars and Martisevs called Scan4You. It analyzed files and told clients if their malware would be identified by anti-virus programs as malicious. (The Washington Post, 05.21.18)

Elections interference:

  • Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office plans to complete its probe into alleged obstruction of the Russia inquiry by President Donald Trump by Sept. 1, the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani said. (CNBC, 05.20.18)
  • In January, President Donald Trump’s legal team and special counsel Robert Mueller were zeroing in on the terms of a presidential interview: the last Saturday of the month, at Camp David, on a narrow list of topics, for maybe between two and six hours, with time set aside for bathroom breaks, according to people familiar with the matter. The lawyers presented the terms to the president, who was described by one person as “optimistic” about the prospect. But the deal was never sealed as the legal team was divided over the wisdom of letting him testify, the people said. (Wall Street Journal, 05.24.18)
  • Eleven days before the presidential inauguration last year, Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin, visited Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, according to video footage and another person who attended the meeting. That person was Andrew Intrater, an American businessman who is a cousin of Vekselberg’s and invests money for him. Days after the inauguration, Cohen received a $1 million contract from Intrater’s private equity firm. (New York Times, 05.25.18)
  • A New York taxi operator pleaded guilty on May 22 to improperly pocketing $5 million in state tax money and has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors as they investigate President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, according to a person familiar with the case. Evgeny “Gene” Freidman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union long known as the “taxi king” of New York, pleaded guilty to criminal tax fraud in Albany County Court. (The Washington Post, 05.23.18)
  • Top law enforcement and intelligence officials briefed congressional leaders from both parties on May 24 about the FBI’s use of an informant in the Russia investigation, a highly unusual concession to Congress all but ordered by President Trump. The informant, an American academic who served in past Republican administrations, approached at least three Trump campaign advisers who had been in contact with suspected Russian agents. People familiar with the matter said that the use of the informant—a common FBI tool—was to glean information about what the aides knew about Russian efforts to hack into Democratic emails, not to spy on Trump’s campaign. Democrats emerged from the meetings saying they saw no evidence to support Republican allegations that the FBI acted inappropriately in its early investigation into ties between Russia and the campaign. Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly and White House lawyer Emmet Flood, who is representing the president in the Russia investigation, were also present at the start of the two classified meetings. (New York Times, 05.24.28, AP, 05.24.18)
    • President Donald Trump met May 21 with top Justice Department officials about the use of a confidential informant in the initial probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and afterward the White House endorsed the department’s previous decision to refer the matter to its inspector general. (Wall Street Journal, 05.21.18)
    • The U.S. Department of Justice will investigate whether the FBI improperly infiltrated Donald Trump’s staff during the 2016 election race after the president accused the bureau of political motivation behind its Russia investigation. The inquiry by the department’s in-house inspector general, announced on May 20 by deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein, follows revelations that the FBI used an American academic to meet Trump campaign advisers to seek evidence of their dealings with Russia. (Financial Times, 05.21.18)
    • A Cambridge professor with deep ties to American and British intelligence has been outed as an agent who snooped on the Trump presidential campaign for the FBI. Multiple media outlets have named Stefan Halper, 73, as the secret informant who met with Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos starting in the summer of 2016. The American-born academic previously served in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. (New York Post, 05.19.18)
  • The leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said on May 23 that they agreed with intelligence agencies’ assessment that Moscow sought to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election to boost Donald Trump’s prospects of becoming president. (Reuters, 05.23.18)
  • President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort lost a bid on Friday to have certain criminal charges by a U.S. special counsel dismissed, including one count that he conspired to launder money. Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is presiding over Manafort’s case in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said in a ruling that she will not dismiss charges against Manafort related to money laundering or false statements concerning whether he was required to register as a foreign agent for the then pro-Russia Ukrainian government. (Reuters, 05.25.18)
  • President Trump’s former campaign manager is calling for an investigation into a key lawyer on the special counsel team that is currently prosecuting him in two districts. Attorneys for Paul Manafort filed a motion in Alexandria federal court on May 21 claiming that Andrew Weissmann may have leaked information to the Associated Press in April 2017, before joining Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (The Washington Post, 05.21.18)
  • A trial date for U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for alleged financial crimes been postponed to July 24 in the Eastern District of Virginia District Court, according to a court filing on May 25. (Reuters, 05.25.18)
  • Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission. Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald Trump’s advisers, George Papadopoulos, knew in advance about Russian election meddling. The agents summarized their highly unusual interview with the envoy and sent word to Washington on Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the investigation was opened. Their report helped provide the foundation for a case that, a year ago, became the special counsel investigation. But at the time, a small group of FBI officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane. (New York Times, 05.16.18)
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said May 23 the Trump administration will not tolerate Russian interference in the 2018 congressional midterm elections. (AP, 05.23.18)
  • Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, said on May 22 that she did not believe that Russia had tried to help President Trump during the 2016 election — putting her at odds with American intelligence agencies that found widespread meddling by Moscow. (New York Times, 05.22.18)

Energy exports:

  • A political row over Europe’s energy security is not hindering preparatory work for the subsea Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, with dredging work starting off the Baltic coast last week. (Reuters, 05.25.18)
  • Saudi Arabia and Russia are discussing raising OPEC and non-OPEC oil production by some 1 million barrels a day, sources said, while OPEC’s chief said a complaint from U.S. President Donald Trump over high prices had triggered the idea of upping output. (The Moscow Times, 05.25.18)
  • Oil prices at $60 a barrel fully suit Russia and the country doesn’t want them to spiral higher, President Vladimir Putin said May 25. “We’re not interested in an endless rise in the price of energy and oil,” Putin told reporters at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, adding that Russia and OPEC didn’t plan to stick to existing output cuts. (Bloomberg, 05.25.18)
  • Russian gas giant Gazprom welcomed the European Union’s decision to settle its seven-year-long investigation of the firm without fines on May 24. EU antitrust regulators ended the probe after the Russian gas giant agreed to reforms aimed at bringing down gas prices and allowing rivals a foothold in Eastern Europe. (Reuters, 05.24.18)
  • Ukraine will offer Gazprom discounted fees for natural gas transit to ensure a flow from Russia to Europe after 2020, European Commission Vice President for Energy Union Maros Sefcovic said on May 18. (Reuters, 05.18.18)
  • See also “Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with ‘far abroad’ countries”” section below.

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • President Vladimir Putin said on May 25 that Russia was ready for dialogue with the United States, but that a proposed summit between him and U.S. President Donald Trump was not working out for now and was beset by problems. Putin also said it was unacceptable for the United States to apply its own rules beyond its borders. Some countries were using sanctions as part of their trade policy and complained that protectionism was on the rise globally, he said. Preparations for possible summit meeting between Trump and Putin have not advanced since the two men spoke on the phone on March 20, Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said on May 23. (Reuters, 05.25.18, Reuters, 05.25.18, Reuters, 05.25.18, Reuters, 05.23.18)
  • The Trump administration says it is pressing European allies to impose tougher sanctions against Russia, arguing that their actions lag U.S. efforts to clamp down on Moscow’s moves to subvert Western democracies through disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks. (Financial Times,05.24.18)
  • The lower chamber of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, has approved in its third and final reading a bill that provides for countermeasures against the United States and other countries that imposed sanctions against Russia. The proposed legislation would give the Russian government the authority to ban trade in certain items with countries that “implement unfriendly moves towards Russia.” (RFE/RL, 05.22.18)
  • Russia’s largest aluminum producer, Rusal, said on May 24 that its chief executive, Alexandra Bouriko, and seven board members have quit, and warned it may have problems servicing its debt due to the impact of U.S. sanctions. (Reuters, 05.23.18)
  • The United States on May 22 gave U.S. customers of Russian van manufacturer GAZ more time to wind down business with the company in the latest softening of sanctions against GAZ owner Oleg Deripaska. The U.S. Treasury Department said U.S. customers of GAZ will now have until October 23 instead of June 5 to wind down operations and contracts with GAZ. (RFE/RL, 05.23.18)
  • The Russian banker who has come under scrutiny for his ties to Jared Kushner, son-in-law and close adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, is being pushed out by Vladimir Putin. The Russian president replaced Sergei Gorkov as chief executive of VEB, an ailing state development bank, with former first deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov (Financial Times, 05.24.18)
  • The head of Russia’s second-largest banking group, VTB, has said that the bank has stopped providing new loans to tycoon Oleg Deripaska after the latest round of U.S. sanctions. (The Moscow Times, 05.23.18)
  • Russia and Japan have warned they could retaliate against U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum by imposing sanctions worth almost $1 billion combined, filings published by the World Trade Organization showed on May 22. (Reuters, 05.22.18)
  • Russia’s Culture Ministry has ordered the federal tourism agency to look into banning the popular Booking.com website as part of countermeasures against the latest U.S. sanctions. (The Moscow Times, 05.23.18)
  • One out of four American companies put new projects in Russia on hold while more than one-third said they face disadvantages because of U.S. sanctions, the RBC business outlet cited an annual American Chamber of Commerce in Russia survey as saying May 24. (The Moscow Times, 05.24.18)
  • U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Jon Huntsman says he has experienced “frustration” due to the reluctance of some Russian officials to meet with him because of the state of affairs between the two countries. (RFE/RL, 05.24.18)
  • The International Maritime Organization has approved two-way shipping routes into the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait. The IMO accepted routes proposed by the United States and Russia for safe navigation between Alaska and Russia’s Chukotskiy Peninsula. (AP, 05.25.18)
  • Vadim Mikerin, who was sentenced by a U.S. judge to four years in prison in 2015, was deported by federal authorities in Washington on May 18, Russian state news agencies cited a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman as saying later that day. Mikerin, 59, was convicted of arranging corrupt payments linked to the Russian state nuclear company Rosatom. (RFE/RL, 05.19.18)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • President Vladimir Putin said on May 25 that he would respect the Russian constitution, which bans anyone from serving two consecutive presidential terms, meaning he will step down from his post in 2024 when his current term expires. (Reuters, 05.25.18)
  • Vladimir Putin is going to participate in his annual call-in show with Russians on June 7, according to Gazeta.ru. (Russia Matters, 05.21.18)
  • Russia’s ex-Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has assumed a leadership post at the state Audit Chamber, a government spending watchdog, ending his seven-year role on the sidelines as the president’s informal adviser. Kudrin said on May 24 that he believed Western sanctions imposed on Russia would reduce gross domestic product growth by 0.5 percent, against a previous forecast of 0.2-0.3 percent. (The Moscow Times, 05.22.18,Reuters, 05.24.18)
  • President Vladimir Putin has issued a demand that the amount of traffic flowing through the Arctic Northern Sea Route reach a towering 80 million tons a year by 2024, a figure that exceeds even the most ambitious projections of his government’s ministries.  (Bellona, 05.16.18)
  • The last opposition mayor of a major Russian city has resigned in protest of local lawmakers’ decision to abolish direct mayoral elections. Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman had held the post since his election in 2013. (The Moscow Times, 05.22.18)
  • Two supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have been jailed for 30 days for tweets in support of unsanctioned anti-government protests. Former Navalny spokesman Ruslan Shaveddinov and regional coordinator Sergei Boiko were both detained in Moscow this week. (The Moscow Times, 05.23.18)
  • Human Rights Watch has called on world leaders to boycott next month’s opening ceremony of the World Cup soccer competition in Russia unless Russian President Vladimir Putin takes steps to protect Syrian civilians. (RFE/RL, 05.22.18)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The Russian Navy said on May 22 that the nuclear-powered Yuri Dolgoruky submarine—named after the prince who founded Moscow—launched four Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles from a submerged position in the White Sea. (RFE/RL, 05.22.18)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian police have shot dead four gunmen who attacked a Russian Orthodox church in the mostly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya. Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement that two police officers were killed and another two wounded in the May 19 clash that also left one churchgoer dead and another wounded. (RFE/RL, 05.19.18)
  • A pilot project implementing facial recognition technology in Moscow has reportedly led to the arrests of 42 suspects in a month. Around 50,000 photographs of wanted suspects have been uploaded into the Moscow metro system’s facial recognition system, according to Stanislav Kuznetsov, vice president of state-owned Sberbank. “As a result, 42 repeat offenders were detained at four metro stations,” Kuznetsov has been quoted as saying. (The Moscow Times, 05.24.18)
  • Russian anti-fascist activist Dmitry Pchelintsev, accused of planning terrorist attacks, has said that he was tortured in custody by security forces who demanded he retract previous torture allegations. (The Moscow Times, 05.22.18)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • French President Emmanuel Macron drew a spotlight to growing discord between U.S. and European foreign policy on May 25, touting a new multibillion investment in Russia by his country’s top oil company and joining President Vladimir Putin in defense of the Iran nuclear deal. Appearing alongside Putin at Russia’s main economic forum in St. Petersburg, Macron said French major Total SA’s estimated $2.6 billion investment in a giant Arctic natural-gas facility would help French energy security and pave the way for closer business ties between the countries. The agreement was signed by Total in the two presidents’ presence the previous evening. Economic relations between the two countries “are developing despite all the current complications” caused by European Union sanctions on Russia over its aggression in Ukraine, disagreements over Syria and other matters, Putin said before the meeting with Macron on May 24. (Wall Street Journal, 05.25.18, RFE/RL, 05.25.18)
  • French President Emmanuel Macron said on May 25 he met the head of Russia’s oldest rights group as well as the widow of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel literature laureate and prominent dissident of the Soviet era. (The Moscow Times, 05.25.18)
  • President Vladimir Putin hailed Russia’s economic and military ties with India as he hosted the country’s prime minister in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on May 21. Bilateral relations “have very deep roots. We recently managed to give them an extra impetus,” Putin said during a meeting with Narendra Modi, noting that bilateral trade between Russia and India rose 17 percent over the first few months of the year. (RFE/RL, 05.21.18)
  • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Russia and Japan should sign a peace treaty so that they can realize their economic-cooperation ambitions. Russia and Japan have not signed an official peace treaty after World War II due to a dispute over a number of Pacific islands off the northeast coast of Japan. (Reuters, 05.25.18)
  • German business until last month had relied on Russia to supply up to two-fifths of its aluminum. The country would now be forced to buy more expensive aluminum from the U.S. because of U.S. sanctions. (Financial Times, 05.24.18)
  • “Dirty” Russian money is undermining Britain’s efforts to stand up to the Kremlin and supports President Vladimir Putin’s campaign “to subvert the international rules-based system,” a British parliamentary report says, drawing an angry reaction from the Kremlin. “The scale of damage that this ‘dirty money’ can do to U.K. foreign-policy interests dwarfs the benefit of Russian transactions in the City,” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Tugendhat said. (Reuters, 05.21.18, RFE/RL, 05.21.18)
  • In her first filmed public statement since the attack, Yulia Skripal told Reuters that her life had been “turned upside down” but she hoped to return to Russia in the future. The Kremlin said on May 24 that it was deeply skeptical about Skripal’s first media appearance since she and her father, Sergei, were poisoned by a nerve agent in England and said it was unclear if she had been talking of her own free will. Skripal, who survived the March attack that Britain blames on Russia, told Reuters on May 23 that she wanted to return to her country “in the longer term,” despite the poisoning and felt lucky to be alive. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on May 18 that former double agent Sergei Skripal “would have died” quickly if a military-grade poison had been used. (BBC, 05.23.18, Reuters, 05.24.18, RFE/RL, 05.18.18)
  • Britain’s media regulator said on Monday it had opened a further three investigations into Russian news channel RT to see whether it had breached impartiality rules. (Reuters, 05.21.18)
  • Russia announced on May 23 that it had begun analyzing the output of British media working on its territory with a view to opening formal investigations into its objectivity, a response to what it called British attempts to curb Russian media. (Reuters, 05.23.18)
  • A study of 158 commercial disputes heard in London shows that Russian litigants have consistently been among the top three users of the London commercial courts over the past three years. About 20 Russian cases were heard in London’s commercial courts between March 2017 and April this year. (Finacial Times, 05.23.18)
  • British authorities have reportedly ordered Roman Abramovich to explain the origin of his billions before considering his visa renewal application. An expired visa kept Abramovich from attending his Chelsea football club’s FA Cup final victory over Manchester United in London over the weekend. (The Moscow Times, 05.22.18)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Bulgarian counterpart have hailed their common cultural ties and vowed to revive economic links between the two Black Sea nations. At a meeting in the Russian resort city of Sochi on May 22, Putin and Rumen Radev extolled their countries’ common Slavic roots and discussed pursuing a couple of major new energy projects. (RFE/RL, 05.23.18)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered support for Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro after the United States, the European Union and Latin American countries rejected his reelection as a “sham.” (RFE/RL, 05.22.18)
  • Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear corporation, signed a series of agreements with overseas companies during the Atomexpo conference and exhibition being held this week in Sochi, Russia. The agreements, with Chile, China, Cuba, Finland, Hungary, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Spain and Zambia, include the engineering and medical sectors, among others. (World Nuclear News, 05.16.18)
  • Sweden is circling back to its Cold War-era strategy of total defense, which relies on all citizens resisting an invasion and refusing to cooperate with any foreign powers. To remind the Swedes of their responsibility, the Swedish government is also launching advertisements in media outlets this week, ahead of the large-scale distribution of war-readiness pamphlets starting next week. It is the first such campaign in over half a century. (The Washington Post, 05.22.18)
  • Sberbank, the Russian state-run lender, has sold its Turkish subsidiary DenizBank to Dubai-based Emirates NBD for the equivalent of $3.2 billion. (Financial Times, 05.22.18)

China:

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 22 met with heads of foreign delegations attending the 13th meeting of Security Council secretaries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Beijing. The participants included Russia’s Nikolai Patrushev. Patrushev and Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi discussed joint counterterrorism measures, as well as international and regional security issues (Xinhua, 05.23.18, TASS, 05.22.18)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin highlighted the record level of cooperation between Russia and China during his May 24 meeting with Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan. Qishan had come to Russia for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum with a Chinese delegation of nearly 200 people, one of the meeting’s largest, according to Putin. “It is only natural, because China is Russia’s largest trade and economic partner,” the president pointed out. According to Qishan, Chinese-Russian relations have an effect “not only on the Eurasian region, but on the entire world.” However, he stressed that the countries face “not only opportunities, but also many challenges, risks and uncertainties.” Qishan was due to visit Belarus following the Russia trip, according to China’s Foreign Ministry. (TASS, 05.24.18, Reuters, 05.21.18)

Ukraine:

  • A Dutch-led investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 said on May 24 that the missile that took down the jet had come from Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, which is based in the city of Kursk. The Netherlands said on May 25 that it held the Russian state responsible for what it called its role in the downing of the flight that killed all 298 aboard. A Dutch Cabinet statement said a “possible” next step would be presenting the case to an international court or organization for their judgment, adding that Australia shared its assessment of Russia’s role. (Reuters, 05.25.18, The Moscow Times, 05.24.18)
  • A report by the open-source Bellingcat investigative team has identified a Russian military intelligence officer as the suspect sought by Dutch prosecutors for transporting the missile launcher that shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Oleg Ivannikov, a high-ranking officer at Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, “supervised the procurement and transport of weapons across the Russia-Ukraine border,” Bellingcat announced May 25. (The Moscow Times, 05.25.18)
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wants Russia “to admit responsibility and also to fully cooperate” with the investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine in 2014. (RFE/RL, 05.25.18)
  • President Vladimir Putin said on May 25 that a Russian army missile did not bring down Malaysia Airlines Flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014, rebuffing Dutch investigators who concluded that a Russian missile system was used in the attack.  (Reuters, 05.25.18)
  • Monitoring officials say clashes between Ukrainian forces and separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine have escalated in recent days to some of the fiercest fighting of 2018. “Last week was in many ways the worst we have seen so far this year,” Alexander Hug, the deputy chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s monitoring mission in Ukraine said at a briefing in Kiev on May 21. “In total, we recorded 7,700 cease-fire violations.” (RFE/RL, 05.22.18)
  • Ukraine showcased the firepower of the Javelin antitank missile systems given to it by the United States last month in a May 22 performance President Petro Poroshenko called “a dream come true.” The U.S. State Department approved the sale of the Javelin systems to Ukraine at an estimated cost of $47 million in March. (RFE/RL, 05.23.18)
  • The Ukrainian Armed Forces have launched an attack on separatist checkpoints near the town of Gorlovka, the Strana.UA news outlet reported, citing a military source. “Gorlovka is a strategic foothold for an offensive on Debaltsevo and Yenakiyevo,” the source said, adding that “the loop around Donetsk is getting tighter.” The source added that “the heights around Gorlovka are included in the so-called ‘grey zone’ [which was allocated to Ukraine under the Minsk peace accords] so we have the full right to seize the ‘grey zone’ as this is not considered to be an offensive.” (TASS, 05.22.18)
  • Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and four more injured in a skirmish near Yuzhnoe (Chigiri) in the Donetsk region on May 21, the press center of Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation said on Facebook the same day. (Interfax, 05.21.18)
  • A ceasefire around the Donetsk water-filtration station, which ensures access to drinking water for about 350,000 people on both sides of the contact line, has been violated more than 3,400 times over the past month,according to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. On May 17 the station had to suspend operations due to a power outage caused by shelling. (Russia Matters, 05.20.18)
  • President Petro Poroshenko has signed a decree recalling Ukraine’s envoys from bodies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose grouping of former Soviet republics that he said Ukraine no longer has any use for. (RFE/RL, 05.19.18)
  • Ukraine has banned Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, according to a recently expanded list of prominent Russians and entities subjected to Ukrainian sanctions. The updated list published on May 24 contains 1,748 individuals and 756 legal entities—up from 1,228 individuals and 468 legal entities one year ago. (RFE/RL, 05.24.18)
  • French President Emmanuel Macron on May 25 said that European Union sanctions on Russia would not be lifted unless there was progress on Ukraine. EU countries will meet in July to consider extending the sanctions imposed on Russia in 2015, Macron said. (Reuters, 05.25.18)
  • Russia has not received any proposals about the exchange of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov convicted in Russia, for RIA Novosti Ukraine’s editor-in-chief Kirill Vyshinsky, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told reporters, commenting on publications saying that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry does not rule out such an exchange. (TASS, 05.22.18)
  • Poland has detained a Russian woman who was part of a pro-Russian group that sought to whip up tension between Poland and Ukraine and will expel her soon, the national agency for internal security, ABW, said May 17. (Reuters, 05.17.18)
  • The absence of anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine, including the creation of an Anti-Corruption Court, should entail international sanctions against the responsible Ukrainian politicians or officials, Ukrainian residents believe. According to the results of a March poll by the Rating sociological group, 47 percent of Ukrainians are in favor of imposing sanctions against those responsible for carrying out reforms in the anti-corruption sphere, in the absence of such changes. (Interfax, 05.22.18)
  • Ukraine has accused 35 soccer teams of involvement in a match-fixing operation that allegedly earned millions of dollars a year for the organizers. (RFE/RL, 05.22.18)
  • Ukraine’s president has lashed out at a BBC report that asserted a secret $400,000 payment was made to U.S. President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen last year to set up talks between the two leaders. (RFE/RL, 05.24.18)
  • A medium-size Antares rocket developed and built in Ukraine has been successfully launched to the International Space Station (ISS) from a space center in the United States under a NASA contract. (Interfax, 05.21.18)
  • Officials with the Ukrainian government have announced that about 200 dogs from the notorious Chernobyl Exclusion Zone are being put up for adoption in the United States, with the first 12 departing in early June. The dogs are descendants of pets abandoned after the Chernobyl reactor melted down in April of 1986. (Bellona, 05.24.18)

 Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for Russia to withdraw its troops from breakaway regions in Georgia while also pledging deeper security and economic support for Tbilisi. Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said after a meeting with Pompeo that U.S. support for a peaceful resolution to Russian troops in Georgia “is of highest importance to our country and regional stability.” (RFE/RL, 05.21.18)
  • Two well-known Russian pranksters enjoyed an 18 minute phone call with UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson on May 24 after one posed as the prime minister of Armenia. (Financial Times, 05.24.18, Times of London, 05.24.18)
  • Armenians under the age of 30, known as the Independence Generation because most were born after the country decoupled from the Soviet Union in 1991, formed the backbone of the recent protests. Within that broader group, tech-sector employees proved particularly effective in sustaining the demonstrations. They used messaging apps like Telegram to coordinate protests. (New York Times, 05.19.18)
  • The U.S. government has banned all imports of cotton goods from Turkmenistan, which activists have accused of rampant use of child and forced labor in cotton harvesting. (RFE/RL, 05.24.18)
  • Russia is ready to train many more Uzbek servicemen and send teachers to Uzbekistan, given the threat of international terrorism, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Uzbek counterpart, Abdusalom Azizov, at a meeting in Tashkent on May 22. There is a threat of terrorists coming to Uzbekistan from Syria and moving on to other Central Asian countries because of the unstable situation in Afghanistan, Shoigu said. (TASS, 05.22.18)
  • Two suspects in the killing of a brother of former Kyrgyz prosecutor general and opposition politician Aida Salyanova have been detained, an Interior Ministry official says. (RFE/RL, 05.18.18)
  • The candidate of Moldova’s pro-Moscow Socialist Party, Ion Ceban, has won the first round of the snap election for mayor in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, with almost 41 percent of the vote, followed by Andrei Nastase, the candidate of the pro-European party Dignity and Truth Platform (DA), who garnered just over 31 percent. (RFE/RL, 05.21.18)
  • Belarus and Kazakhstan signed a memorandum of cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the Belarusian Energy Ministry has announced. (World Nuclear News, 05.24.18)
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