HARVARD

 

This Week’s Highlights:

  • The White House has begun preparations for a possible summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, will travel to Moscow to discuss the potential meeting.
  • Days after the Pentagon said it had agreed with South Korea to cancel an important military exercise scheduled for later this summer, President Moon Jae-in visited Russia to boost bilateral economic ties and discuss North Korea.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the creation of a new U.S. military branch that he says will ensure “American dominance in space.” Russia has warned that the move could have “consequences no less harmful than the nuclear arms race.”
  • The Pentagon has quietly empowered the U.S. Cyber Command to take a far more aggressive approach to defending against cyberattacks, a shift in strategy that could increase the risk of conflict with foreign states that sponsor malicious hacking groups.
  • Former Obama administration officials told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the administration’s approach to countering Russia had been too fractured and timid to compel the Kremlin to rethink its actions. Obama’s chief cyber official said he had been ordered to “stand down” his efforts in the summer of 2016.
  • Russia is working on a blockchain alternative to SWIFT, due in part to fears that sanctions could cut off Moscow’s access to the bank-messaging network. Meanwhile, old Soviet factories in Kaliningrad have become an officially sanctioned hub for mining Bitcoin.
  • Foreign World Cup fans have been marching, chanting and drinking on Russian streets—things that Russian protesters and political opposition groups often cannot do.
  • Crimea has stepped up grain exports to Syria and has given an unprecedented boost to Russian seafood production.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • The pace of cleanup at a major Cold War dump for spent nuclear submarine fuel in northwest Russia is going twice faster than planned, officials with Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom have said. (Bellona, 06.19.18)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • The Pentagon said June 18 that it had agreed with South Korea to cancel an important military exercise that was scheduled for later this summer. President Donald Trump had long pondered the prospect of halting such exercises after the suggestion was first made to him last summer by Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to U.S. officials. Both Russia and China are on the record as saying they would like the U.S. to freeze exercises, and North Korea has long complained about the maneuvers, calling them proof of U.S. “ambition for military confrontation” against North Korea. (Wall Street Journal, 06.19.18)

  • South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited Moscow on June 22 on a trip intended to boost bilateral economic ties and discuss North Korea. Putin vowed that Moscow would try to help settle problems concerning North Korea. On June 20, Moon told Russian media that Pyongyang must “present far more concrete denuclearization plans” and Washington should “swiftly reciprocate by coming up with comprehensive measures.” Moon also said he and Putin share the goal of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, which would “certainly lead to enhanced economic development,” with priority areas including “railroads, gas industry, electricity production, the construction of port infrastructure facilities, agriculture, fishery, ship-building and so on.” (AP, 06.22.18, The Chosunilbo, 06.21.18)

  • See also “Iran’s nuclear program and related issues” and “Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with ‘far abroad’ countries” sections below.

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres discussed the Iran nuclear deal and progress on the Korean peninsula in Moscow on June 21. Interfax news agency, citing Guterres, said that Russia and the U.N. are working over implementation of agreements over Syria peace process discussed in Russia’s Sochi earlier this year. (AP, 06.21.18)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the creation of a new U.S. military branch that he says will ensure “American dominance in space.” Trump unveiled the initiative at a June 18 White House meeting attended by former astronauts and heads of U.S. aerospace companies. Trump has vowed to maintain U.S. dominance in space as China, Russia and other countries make advances in the race to explore the moon, Mars and other planets. (RFE/RL, 06.18.18, RFE/RL, 06.18.18)

  • Russia has pledged severe repercussions if U.S. President Donald Trump’s order to set up a new, space-oriented military branch violates a treaty banning nuclear weapons in the cosmos. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that the militarization of space “could be fraught with consequences no less harmful than the nuclear arms race.” (The Moscow Times, 06.20.18, AP, 06.20.18)

  • The bonds between Europe and North America are under strain and there’s no guarantee the trans-Atlantic partnership will survive, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on June 21. “It is not written in stone that the transatlantic bond will survive forever, but I believe we will preserve it,” he added. While there is nervousness in Europe over a possible meeting between the U.S. and Russian heads of state, Stoltenberg said he was unconcerned: “A meeting between the two presidents is in line with NATO’s approach to Russia: defense and dialogue.” (AP, 06.21.18, RFE/RL, 06.21.18, Wall Street Journal, 06.21.18)

  • Amid tensions between Russia and the West, the Russian defense minister has warned that weapons deployed to Crimea are capable of fending off any attack. (AP, 06.20.18)

  • Estonia says a Russian government aircraft violated its airspace near the island of Vaindloo in the Gulf of Finland on June 20—the second such violation this year. (AP, 06.21.18)

  • A U.S. Senate committee passed a spending bill on June 21 including a provision to block Turkey’s purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets unless it drops a plan to buy S-400 missile defense systems from Russia. (Reuters, 06.21.18)

  • The S-400 missile system has never been used in combat, yet Russia could earn $30 billion from sales over the next 12 to 15 years—some of them to buyers in markets long dominated by American weapons makers. (Bloomberg, 06.22.18)

  • See also “Cyber security” section below.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on June 18 said the overall number of nuclear weapons held by the nine known nuclear powers was down from 14,935 the previous year. The U.S. and Russia still account for nearly 92 percent of all nuclear weapons. At the start of this year, the U.S. had some 6,450 warheads, down from 6,800 a year earlier, while Russia had 6,850, a decline from 7,000. (RFE/RL, 06.18.18)

  • Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said on June 22 that if Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump hold a summit, they should focus on curbing the U.S.-Russia arms race and ensuring strategic stability. He hopes the two leaders “will confirm adherence to the main nuclear disarmament treaties—the START and INF Treaties.” Russia does not rule out talks with the U.S. on nuclear strategic stability this summer, Russian news agencies reported on June 22, citing a Russian Foreign Ministry source. (AP, 06.22.18, Reuters, 06.22.18)

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • Syrian government forces kept up their pressure on the country’s strategic southwest on June 22, using artillery, airstrikes and dropping barrel bombs that targeted rebel-held parts of the region, further undermining an international “de-escalation” agreement backed by the United States. The U.S., Russia and Jordan negotiated a truce for the area, which borders Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, in July of last year. The U.S. on June 21 reiterated its demand that the zone be respected, warning Assad and his Russian allies of “serious repercussions” of violations. (AP, 06.22.18, AP, 06.21.18, Reuters, 06.22.18)

  • U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by phone on June 18. The two discussed issues and concerns related to Syria and the bilateral relationship. Pompeo reemphasized the U.S. commitment to the southwest ceasefire arrangement that was approved by Trump and Putin one year ago. (U.S. State Department, 06.18.18)

  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told a Russian television station that he thinks it would be pointless to have talks with the U.S. “Negotiations with the U.S. now will not lead to anything, it’s an empty waste of time. We are not going to talk to Americans just because they are Americans. … We are ready to talk to anyone with whom we can achieve results, but we consider that U.S. policy will not change in the future,” he was quoted as saying. (Reuters, 06.22.18)

  • Russia said on June 22 that the U.S. and its allies have relied on fabricated evidence to accuse the Syrian government of launching chemical attacks against civilians. Russia’s foreign and defense ministries also charged the international chemical weapons watchdog with failing to objectively investigate the alleged chemical attacks and with being subject to political control. On June 20, a United Nations commission investigating and documenting possible war crimes in the conflict issued a report detailing chemical attacks in the country and blaming Syria for atrocities in eastern Ghouta. (AP, 06.22.18, New York Times, 06.20.18)

  • The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, says there is “some common ground” among Russia, Iran and Turkey about how to move forward on writing a new constitution for war-torn Syria. (RFE/RL, 06.19.18)

  • Crimea has stepped up grain exports to Syria over the past year in an arrangement that gives the Black Sea peninsula an outlet for its surplus crops and ensures Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has a reliable source of wheat. At least 10 ships took a minimum of 170,000 tons of grain to Syria between July 2017 and May 2018. (Reuters, 06.21.18)

  • By the end of 2017, Syria’s conflict pushed more than 6.3 million people out of the country, accounting for nearly one-third of the global refugee population, the U.N. refugee agency said. Another 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced. (RFE/RL, 06.19.18)

  • See also “Iran’s nuclear program and related issues” section above.

Cyber security:

  • The Pentagon has quietly empowered the U.S. Cyber Command to take a far more aggressive approach to defending the nation against cyberattacks, a shift in strategy that could increase the risk of conflict with foreign states that sponsor malicious hacking groups. The objective, according to the new ”vision statement” quietly issued by the command, is to ”contest dangerous adversary activity before it impairs our national power.” (New York Times, 06.18.18)

  • The Trump administration’s new sanctions on Russia are casting light on the threat posed to the undersea cables that carry the world’s electronic communications between continents. The Treasury Department sanctioned five Russian firms and three Russian nationals last week for aiding the Kremlin’s domestic security service, the FSB. One of the companies is alleged to have provided support for Moscow’s “underwater capabilities”—including producing diving systems and a submersible craft for the FSB. (The Hill, 06.17.18)

  • The Obama White House’s chief cyber official testified June 20 at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that proposals he was developing to counter Russia’s attack on the U.S. presidential election were put on a “back burner” after he was ordered to “stand down” his efforts in the summer of 2016. The comments by Michael Daniel, who served as White House “cyber security coordinator” between 2012 and January of last year, provided his first public confirmation of a much-discussed passage in the book “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump” that detailed his thwarted efforts to respond to the Russian attack. (Yahoo News, 06.20.18)

  • Nine EU member states will establish “rapid-response teams” to counter cyberattacks, according to project leader Lithuania, which has issued warnings about what it calls Russia-directed “hostile cyberactivities.” Croatia, Estonia, the Netherlands and Romania will gather in Luxembourg on June 25 to sign the agreement. Finland, France, Poland and Spain will join later this year. (RFE/RL, 06.21.18)

  • Russia was probably behind a widespread cyber attack on German energy providers disclosed last week, according to the head of Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency. (Reuters, 06.20.18)

Elections interference:

  • Former Obama administration officials warned President Trump on June 20 to learn from their mistakes and respond forcefully to Russian interference, urging him to make sure Moscow knows exactly what the U.S. will do if the Kremlin attempts to interfere in another election. Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and former cybersecurity coordinator J. Michael Daniel both said the Obama administration’s approach to countering Russia had been too fractured and too timid to compel the Kremlin to rethink its actions. (The Washington Post, 06.20.18)

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani suggested on June 17 that Trump might pardon his former campaign manager Paul Manafort if he is convicted—but only after special counsel Robert Mueller has completed his investigation. Trump said June 15 that the jailing of Manafort in advance of his trial was “a tough sentence,” charging that the  federal judge’s decision to respond to allegations of witness tampering was “very unfair.” (The Washington Post, 06.15.18, The Washington Post, 06.17.18)

  • In late May 2016, Roger Stone, longtime confidant of Donald Trump, met Henry Greenberg, who offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Greenberg, who did not reveal the information he claimed to possess, wanted Trump to pay $2 million for the political dirt, Stone said. Two years later, the brief sit-down in Florida has resurfaced as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Greenberg, in text messages with The Post, denied that he had been acting on the FBI’s behalf when he met with Stone. (The Washington Post, 06.17.18)

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s congressional allies trained their fire on the special counsel investigation on June 19, armed anew with a damaging report showing that the lead FBI agent assigned to the case held strong anti-Trump views when the inquiry began. At the heart of Republicans’ criticism were two senior FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who exchanged text messages about their dislike of Trump, his supporters and his policies—even as they investigated his campaign’s ties to Russia. (New York Times, 06.19.18)

    • Agent Peter Strzok, who was singled out in a recent Justice Department inspector general’s report for the politically charged messages, would be willing to testify without immunity, and he would not invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to questions, his lawyer said. Strzok has become a special target of Trump, who has used his texts to question the Russia investigation. (The Washington Post, 06.17.18)

  • Sixty percent of U.S. adults said President Donald Trump should agree to an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, to answer questions about whether there was any coordination between associates of Trump’s 2016 election campaign and Russia, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll. (Reuters, 06.21.18)

  • Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer, resigned from his post as national deputy finance chairman at the Republican National Committee on June 20, according to an RNC official, saying the investigations into his contacts with Russia and his business dealings were proving too great a distraction. (Wall Street Journal, 06.20.18)

  • With U.S. midterm elections approaching, Russian trolls found ways to remain active on Twitter well into 2018, trying to rile up the American electorate with tweets on everything from Roseanne Barr’s firing to Donald Trump Jr.’s divorce, a Wall Street Journal analysis found. Newly identified Russian trolls posted politically divisive messages on Twitter as recently as last month, hitting on a wide array of hot-button issues. (Wall Street Journal, 06.20.18)

  • A federal judge this week dealt two more blows to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in his legal battle with special counsel Robert Mueller, first declining Manafort’s request to suppress evidence seized by investigators from a storage unit, then refusing to dismiss a money laundering charge against him. (Reuters, 06.21.18, Reuters, 06.22.18)

  • See also “Cyber security” section above.

Energy exports:

  • Major oil-producing countries agreed on June 22 to jointly raise exports in a bid to cool a rally in crude prices. Officials from OPEC, as well as other major producers like Russia, were set to increase their total output by around 1 percent of the global oil supply. The deal was reached despite opposition from Iran earlier this week. The group is expected to review the impact of the increase in September. (New York Times, 06.22.18, Financial Times, 06.22.18)

  • Thanks to its unprecedented cooperation with OPEC to cut production, Russia has deliberately idled oil wells for the first time in its history. But judging exactly how much Russia can boost its output, and how quickly, is a much more difficult task. (Bloomberg, 06.19.18)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • Although investors usually seek safety in U.S. debt, Russia cut its holdings of Treasuries nearly in half in April as Washington slapped the harshest sanctions to date on a selection of Russian companies and individuals. In a shift attributed to a “deepening geopolitical standoff,” Russia is instead keeping up its purchases of gold. (Bloomberg, 06.20.18)

Other bilateral issues:

  • The White House has begun preparations for a possible summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, “will meet with U.S. allies in London and Rome to discuss national security issues, and travel to Moscow to discuss a potential meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin,” said Garrett Marquis, National Security Council spokesman, in a tweet on June 20. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov plans to meet with Bolton when he visits Moscow. Trump is due to visit Europe for a NATO summit July 11-12 and to go on to the UK on July 13. Russian officials have previously mentioned Austria, Finland, Slovenia and Iceland as potential host countries for a summit. Trump administration officials say a White House advance team has traveled to Vienna to scout locations and make other logistical preparations for a summit should it come off. While the Kremlin has pursued such a meeting since Trump took office 17 months ago, some U.S. officials say Trump privately has been asking his aides for a bilateral meeting ever since he met with Putin in Vietnam in November on the sidelines of an economic summit. (Financial Times, 06.21.18, Reuters, 06.22.18, AP, 06.21.18,  The Washington Post, 06.15.18)

  • U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman is arranging for a delegation of Republican senators, including Richard Shelby of Alabama, John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana and John Hoeven of North Dakota, to visit Moscow. Russia’s ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, told reporters June 21 that U.S. legislators are planning a trip to Russia in late June and early July. (The Washington Post, 06.15.18, The Moscow Times, 06.22.18)

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has positioned himself as the leader of a xenophobic movement that wants to weaken the United States’ traditional alliances and undermine democracy, former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said on June 22. (Reuters, 06.22.18)

  • The U.S. has called on Russia to release dozens of people it says have been identified by rights groups as political prisoners. The June 18 statement by the State Department said more than 150 people were being held in all, including Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and human rights activist Oyub Titiyev. Sentsov’s lawyers said June 20 that the European Court of Human Rights had called on Sentsov to end his hunger strike and for Russia to provide details by June 27 about his condition and how his rights are being ensured. (RFE/RL, 06.18.18, AP, 06.20.18)

  • Russia will impose tariffs on imports of certain goods from the U.S. in response to tariffs placed on steel and aluminum imports by Washington. On June 22 Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin warned that American cars could be targeted, just days after saying that American road-building equipment could be hit with higher levies. (Reuters, 06.19.18, Bloomberg, 06.22.18)

  • Russia has put forward its candidacy for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council after the U.S. withdrew from participation halfway through its three-year term. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope that the U.S. will change its mind about its withdrawal, as did U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a visit to Moscow. “We hope that this decision is not final and that the U.S. will re-establish its commitment to the United Nations,” Lavrov told reporters. (The Moscow Times, 06.20.18, AP, 06.21.18)

  • For most of last year, Wilbur Ross served as U.S. secretary of commerce while maintaining stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government, a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, a Cypriot bank reportedly caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation and a huge player in an industry Ross is now investigating. To this day, Ross’ family apparently continues to have an interest in these holdings. In addition, five days before reports surfaced last fall that Ross was connected to Putin cronies through a shipping firm called Navigator Holdings, the secretary of commerce, who likely knew about the reporting, shorted stock in the Kremlin-linked company, positioning himself to make money on the investment when share prices dropped. Ross denied committing insider trading after he was found short-selling the stock ahead of negative news about his ownership stake.  (Forbes, 06.18.18, Wall Street Journal, 06.20.18)

  • Americans feel U.S. relations have a better chance at improving in the year ahead with traditionally hostile nations such as North Korea and Russia than they do with allies such as Britain and Canada, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (AP, 06.21.18)

  • Two U.S. lawmakers have urged the Trump  administration to consider hitting Russian billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov with sanctions and examine whether he has engaged in corruption. The request was made in a letter that cites Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement in October 2016 that Yevtushenkov’s holding company, AFK Sistema, would build medical facilities in Crimea. (RFE/RL, 06.22.18)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia had the world’s fastest-growing number of dollar millionaires in 2016, ranking 15th globally with 189,500, according to Capgemini’s annual World Wealth Report. (The Moscow Times, 06.19.18)

  • Russia is working on a blockchain alternative to SWIFT, due in part to Moscow’s fears that sanctions could cause it to lose access to the bank-messaging network. (Wall Street Journal, 06.20.18)

  • Though Russia’s approach to cryptocurrencies is unclear, old Soviet factories in Kaliningrad have become an officially sanctioned hub for mining Bitcoin. (Financial Times, 06.20.18)

  • Domestic seafood production in Russia has seen an unprecedented boom in the last few years, with a boost in the oyster and mussel harvest coming from the annexed Crimean peninsula. The Russian oyster harvest increased by a factor of 265 in the past three years. The Kremlin imposed an embargo on Western food imports, including oysters, in response to U.S. sanctions on Russia in the wake of its seizure of Crimea in 2014. (The Moscow Times, 06.20.18)

  • A recent Levada poll found that 51 percent of surveyed Russians want to see Russian President Vladimir Putin retain his post after 2024, while 27 percent expressed the opposite view. (The Moscow Times, 06.19.18)

  • The Russian government has submitted proposed pension-reform legislation that would raise the retirement age—long a sensitive issue in Russia. On June 22, about 1,000 people rallied in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk against the government plan to raise pension ages. Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny on June 19 urged Russians to rally against the proposed reform in 20 cities—none of which are hosting World Cup matches—on July 1, calling the plan “the simple robbery of tens of millions of people.” (RFE/RL, 06.16.18, RFE/RL, 06.22.18, RFE/RL, 06.20.18)

  • Russian opposition politicians accused the Kremlin of using Russia’s World Cup as a cover to avoid dissent while it pushes through unpopular measures, while all eyes are on the country’s sporting successes and a de facto ban is in place on political protests. (Reuters, 06.22.18)

  • One of the defining images of the World Cup has been delirious scenes of South American fans marching, chanting and drinking into the early hours on Russian streets. For those with experience in protest and political opposition in the country, there is a kind of dark humor in the spectacle: Foreigners can spontaneously gather on city streets, while Russians themselves cannot. (The Guardian, 06.21.18)

  • Banned former FIFA president Sepp Blatter made a surprise appearance at the World Cup at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I met President Putin yesterday evening. He invited me to his apartment in the Kremlin. It’s not the first time I’m there,” the 82-year-old Blatter said June 21. (Wall Street Journal, 06.21.18, The Moscow Times, 06.21.18)

  • Russia’s former national soccer coach, Leonid Slutsky, broke an unwritten rule of working on state television when he mentioned President Vladimir Putin’s main political foe, Alexey Navalny, by name live on air during a World Cup match commentary. (Bloomberg, 06.20.18)

  • At least eight foreign World Cup fans have been detained or fined in the first days of the football tournament in Russia, mostly for theft, with media reports naming nationals from Mexico, Iran, Peru and the United Kingdom among the suspects. (The Moscow Times, 06.19.18)

  • Advisers to Russian President Vladimir Putin have questioned the legality of a slew of criminal cases opened against members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and asked the General Prosecutor’s office to protect the group’s freedom of belief. (Reuters, 06.21.18)

  • The lower house of Russia’s parliament has given preliminary approval to a controversial bill on the teaching of “native languages” in schools. (RFE/RL, 06.20.18)

  • Moscow authorities have reportedly denied three opposition figures looking to challenge Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin in his re-election campaign this fall a chance to get on the ballot. (The Moscow Times, 06.15.18)

  • A lawyer says Russian blog editor Alexander Valov, accused of trying to extort a lawmaker in Sochi, has been hospitalized after an incident in which, prosecutors allege, he stabbed himself in the stomach. The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Russian authorities to “carefully investigate” the circumstances behind injuries. (RFE/RL, 06.18.18, RFE/RL, 06.20.18)

  • Russian authorities have said that they were spraying the area outside the World Cup stadium in Volgograd with vanilla concentrate to keep gnats from spoiling soccer matches there, Russian state-run news agency TASS reported. (RFE/RL, 06.22.18)

  • The Russian division of American fast-food chain Burger King sparked criticism by releasing an ad offering a lifetime supply of hamburgers to Russian women who get pregnant by World Cup players. The company apologized and removed the ad. (RFE/RL, 06.21.18)

Defense and aerospace:

  • During the past two years, the Russian military has carried out a major renovation of what appears to be an active nuclear weapons storage site in the Kaliningrad region, about 50 kilometers from the Polish border. A Digital Globe satellite image purchased via Getty Images and several other satellite images viewable on TerraServer show one of three underground bunkers near Kulikovo being excavated in 2016, apparently renovated and getting covered up again in 2018 presumably to return to operational status soon. (Federation of American Scientists, 06.18.18)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian news reports say an executive with energy holding company Inter RAO has been arrested and charged with spying for an unnamed foreign country. A spokesperson at Moscow’s Lefortovo district court was quoted as saying Karina Tsurkan had been detained by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service. Citing unnamed sources, Kommersant said Tsurkan had links to a businessman tied to Romanian intelligence. (RFE/RL, 06.19.18)

  • The Mexican Embassy in Russia has said that two Mexican citizens were among those injured after a taxi drove into a crowd in central Moscow on June 16. At least seven people were hurt after the cab drove onto the pavement. (The Moscow Times, 06.18.18)

  • Alleged Russian crime boss Aslan Gagiyev, also known as Dzhako, suspected in a string of contract killings has been extradited by Austria to Moscow after losing a years-long legal battle. (RFE/RL, 06.20.18)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • EU leaders will next week extend until the end of January economic sanctions against Russia over its intervention in Ukraine, diplomats and officials said. (Reuters, 06.22.18)

  • During South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized on June 22 that South Korea was a “priority partner” for Russia in Asia and said there were opportunities to further expand economic cooperation. Following the two leaders’ talks in the Kremlin, officials signed bilateral agreements on cooperation in various economic projects, energy, transport and innovative technologies. Putin said South Korea’s state-run Korea Gas Corp may join Russia’s Arctic LNG-2 project, while Russian energy company Novatek and KOGAS signed an agreement on liquefied natural gas cooperation and said they had decided to increase Russian gas deliveries to South Korea. Moon is to deliver a speech before the State Duma and watch a World Cup match between South Korea and Mexico on June 23. (RFE/RL, 06.22.18, AP, 06.22.18,Reuters, 06.22.18, The Chosunilbo, 06.21.18)

  • U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said while meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 20 in Moscow: “Of course, we consider Russia as one of the key founder countries of the U.N. … Now, we are especially emphasizing that Russia is as an irreplaceable element of creating a multipolar world.” Putin spoke highly of the U.N. in return: “We believe that the United Nations is the only universal platform. …The organization’s role as a universal instrument for settling crises in international affairs is absolutely unique.” (AP, 06.20.18)

  • Six years ago, Bulgaria scrapped a multibillion-euro project to build a nuclear power plant with Russia’s Rosatom nuclear monopoly as costs spiraled. Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria’s pugnacious premier, called it “the corruption scheme of the century.” This month, Bulgaria’s parliament approved a proposal from Borisov to restart the project, causing consternation in Brussels. (Financial Times, 06.20.18)

  • Five asylum seekers, of Nigerian, Moroccan and Chinese nationality, have crossed into Finland from Russia, which they entered using their World Cup tickets and papers, a senior Finnish border guard has told Reuters. (Reuters, 06.20.18)

  • Japan’s Princess Takamado is the first member of Japan’s royal family to visit Russia since 1916. (Reuters, 06.19.18)

  • Russia’s standing has taken a major in hit in the eyes of other countries, according to a study of the reputations of nations around the world released June 21. The Reputation Institute consulting firm ranks 55 of the world’s biggest countries; Russia placed 52nd, with low scores in transparency, corruption and effective governance. It suffered among the biggest declines globally, according to an analysis by the RBC news website. (The Moscow Times, 06.22.18)

China:

  • No significant developments.

Ukraine:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko by phone on June 21 about implementing the Minsk peace agreement, RIA news agency reported. (Reuters, 06.21.18)

  • Russian-held Crimean businesses will remain under EU sanctions for another year after the bloc agreed to extend its economic actions until mid-2019. (The Moscow Times, 06.18.18)

  • Ukraine’s government has added 30 legal entities and 14 individuals to its blacklist of those sanctioned over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s backing of a separatist campaign in eastern Ukraine. The Russian Central Election Commission, the United Russia party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, the Russian Communist Party and others were among those added. (RFE/RL, 06.22.18)

  • The Russian defense minister has warned that weapons deployed to Crimea are capable of fending off any attack. Speaking at a meeting with top military officers in Crimea, Sergei Shoigu said “the high-tech weapons systems don’t leave a single chance to a potential adversary who might dare to encroach on the Russian territory.” (AP, 06.21.18)

  • Ukraine’s Naftogaz said on June 19 that it had served Russia’s Gazprom with an order to freeze its U.K.-based assets, upping the ante in a legal battle between the two energy companies. (Financial Times, 06.19.18)

  • The U.S., France, Britain and 35 other countries have asked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to raise the case of jailed film director Oleg Sentsov and dozens of other Ukrainian prisoners during his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ambassadors of the G-7 and Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, have also urged Russia to release Sentsov. (RFE/RL, 06.16.18, RFE/RL, 06.21.18, RFE/RL, 06.20.18)

  • The Kremlin said it will not intervene to pardon jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who has been on an indefinite hunger strike for a month and one week seeking the release of Ukrainian political prisoners. Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s human rights envoy said June 21 that Sentsov has heart and kidney problems from the hunger strike. According to his lawyer, Sentsov’s condition abruptly deteriorated on the 26th day of his hunger strike. (AP, 06.21.18, The Moscow Times, 06.19.18, RFE/RL, 06.22.18)

  • Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko says she plans to run for president in 2019, setting up a possible showdown with incumbent Petro Poroshenko. (RFE/RL, 06.20.18)

  • The U.S. and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are praising Ukraine for enacting legislation to establish an independent anticorruption court, but say more work is needed to complete the reforms and secure more IMF loans. (RFE/RL, 06.21.18)

  • More than 50 Ukrainian far-right activists were detained in Kiev on June 17 after they tried to disrupt a gay pride march. (AFP, 06.17.18)

  • The Ukrainian Security Service says a second person has been detained in an alleged plot to assassinate Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, an outspoken Kremlin critic, in Kiev. (RFE/RL, 06.15.18)

  • Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova was not allowed to meet with Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko in a Moscow detention center, the Ukrainian parliament’s deputy speaker says. (RFE/RL, 06.19.18)

  • A Russian court in Crimea on June 19 convicted five Crimean Tatar activists of taking part in “mass disturbances” in February 2014 and handed them suspended prison sentences ranging from 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 years. (RFE/RL, 06.19.18)

  • See also “Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations,” “Other bilateral issues” and “Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with ‘far abroad’ countries” sections above.

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Moldova has expressed concern over what it says were unauthorized movements by Russian military forces in the breakaway Transdniester region. (RFE/RL, 06.18.18)

  • Georgia’s parliament on June 20 approved acting Finance Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze as the country’s new prime minister by a vote of 99-6 and also approved an interim cabinet that Bakhtadze intends to reshuffle within three weeks as part of plans to usher in liberal reforms. (RFE/RL, 06.20.18)

  • Mamuka Bakhtadze, the newly approved Georgian prime minister, says he plans to reduce the number of ministries from 14 to 11 in order to cut costs. Speaking at the headquarters of the ruling Georgian Dream party on June 18, Mamuka Bakhtadze said that the proposed reform would requires legislative amendments. He did not say which ministries would be cut. (RFE/RL, 06.18.18)

  • A U.S. jury has found two members of an organized criminal gang from the former Soviet Union guilty of racketeering and other charges in a verdict announced by the U.S. Justice Department on June 19. The department said the jury unanimously found that the gang’s chief, Razhden Shulaya, and his chief enforcer, Avtandil Khurtsidze, engaged in an array of violent criminal activities that included extortion, theft, trafficking in stolen goods and fraud. (RFE/RL, 06.20.18)

  • The Union of Kazakhstan’s Journalists has recognized Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov for his stance in a long-running battle between popular messaging service Telegram and the Russian authorities. (RFE/RL, 06.21.18)

  • Lawmakers in Armenia have stripped a prominent retired general of his parliamentary immunity after security agents raided his homes and found vast quantities of weapons, food and other supplies meant for Armenia’s soldiers. The June 19 vote came amid mounting questions—and outrage—about Manvel Grigorian’s motivation for storing the cache of goods at his properties in and around Echmiadzin in western Armenia. (RFE/RL, 06.19.18)

  • A Moldovan court rejected an appeal on June 21 of its ruling to invalidate the results of a local election in the capital city. Andrei Nastase, a pro-European prosecutor who opposes the Russia-friendly policies of Moldova’s government, won 52.5 percent of the vote in Chisinau’s June 3 mayoral election, defeating a Socialist candidate who called for closer relations with Moscow. The Appeals Court voided the election late on June 20, saying both candidates had addressed voters on social media after the legal end of campaigning. The court concluded the late messages had affected the outcome of the race. (AP, 06.21.18)

  • U.S. citizen Zokir Aliev, who returned to visit relatives in Uzbekistan, has been detained on suspicion of joining a terrorist group and fighting alongside Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan. (RFE/RL, 06.18.18)

  • Kyrgyz authorities have jailed a second former prime minister, Jantoro Satybaldiev, in a corruption case that is making waves in the Central Asian country. (RFE/RL, 06.19.18)

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