Russia in Review
Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for April 8-14, 2016
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda.
- Germany's domestic intelligence agency denied on Thursday its head had told German lawmakers a prime suspect in the Paris attacks had documents about the Juelich German nuclear research center. (Reuters, 04.14.16).
- Earlier this month, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington traveled to Ukraine to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine and visit the Neutron Source Facility at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology. (NNSA, 04.14.16).
Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:
- Iran's Foreign Ministry says Russia has delivered the first part of its shipment of S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran. (RFE/RL, 04.11.16).
Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:
- Russian military warplanes flew close to U.S. Navy destroyer U.S.S. Donald Cook and a Polish military helicopter multiple times in the Black Sea over two days this week, according to U.S. officials, a sign of potentially rising tensions. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on April 14 that the crews of the Su-24 jets had respected all safety rules. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he’ll bring up the actions of Russian planes in talks scheduled next week between the military alliance and Russia. NATO envoys will hold their first formal meeting with Russia in almost two years on April 20 with the crisis in Ukraine, reducing military risks and Afghanistan on the agenda. (Bloomberg, 04.14.16, Wall Street Journal, 04.13.16, Reuters, 04.10.16, RFE/RL, 04.14.16).
- U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter nodded to a risk that many in NATO have been warning about since 2014: that some Russian provocation, calculated to blur lines of deterrence without crossing them, could overreach, unintentionally crossing those lines by accident or miscalculation, blundering Europe into an unwanted conflict. "You can't stop a conflict that your enemy deliberately provokes, but you can try to prevent ones they blunder into by underestimating you," he said. "One of the ways you do that is by signaling clearly and having dialogue." (Vox, 04.13.16).
- "Our focus is really on maintaining the nuclear deterrent that we have. We're not looking to increase its size. We're not looking to do anything novel or different with it," said U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. But he went on, "The Russians are also very rapidly modernizing their own nuclear arsenal. I don't associate that with what we're doing. I associate it with the dynamics of their own feelings that nuclear weapons are one of the only things that guarantee their status in the world." "They're fueling their own nuclear modernization," he stressed. "It's a mistake to think that we're fueling it." (Vox, 04.13.16).
- The Pentagon will need to buy up to 18 more Russian-built RD-180 engines to power rockets carrying U.S. military satellites into space over the next six years or so, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said in an interview on Friday. (Reuters, 04.08.16).
- U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Frank A. Rose said: “North Korea and Iran’s repeated ballistic missile launches and the overall evolving threat from these countries dictates that we must be able to keep up with their evolving technology. The fact that these programs continue to advance in spite of United Nations Resolutions and international pressure, are a convincing reminder of why the United States will continue to insist on having the flexibility to respond effectively.”(State.gov, 04.12.16).
Nuclear arms control:
- Moscow calls on world leaders to join the treaty that prohibits nuclear explosive tests, Vladimir Putin stressed. "The unwillingness of these countries to become full parties to the treaty is cause for serious regret, especially given the fact that some of them claim to be leaders and to practically hold special powers in dealing with global security issues. We again call on their leaders to show real political will and join CTBT as soon as possible," Putin said in a statement. (Sputnik, 04.11.16).
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday called his visit to a memorial to victims of the 1945 U.S. nuclear attack on Hiroshima "gut-wrenching" and said it was a reminder of the need to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons.(Reuters, 04.11.16).
- The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in St. Petersburg has detained a member of the Islamic State terrorist group who had received training in Syria, the RBC-Petersburg news agency reported Tuesday, citing the local FSB branch. (Moscow Times, 04.12.16).
- Police in Russia say they have identified three suicide bombers who were killed as they tried to attack a police station in southern Russia. Russia's Investigative Committee said the three attackers were all residents of the village of Kitayevskoye in the Novoselitsky district of the Stavropol region. (RFE/RL, 04.11.16).
- Thailand has stepped up security in the tourist resort island of Phuket after receiving intelligence inputs that two Chechens and two ethnic Uighurs had illegally entered the country. An intelligence memo says two unidentified Chechens are plotting to attack Russian targets and interests in Thailand. (RBTH, 04.11.16).
- Russian national Ravil Mingazov has been detained at the Guantanamo Bay military prison unlawfully for 13 years, as no formal charges have ever been brought against him, the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper reported Monday, citing Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry's commissioner for human rights. (Moscow Times, 04.11.16).
- Russia and China present the greatest cyber security threat to the U.S., but Iran is trying to increase and spend more on its capabilities, Michael Rogers, the Navy admiral in charge of the military's Cyber Command told Congress Tuesday.(AP, 04.09.16).
- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is taking steps to strengthen the existing physical protections at the sites to guard against hacking threats. The steps include the installation of new safeguards for certain fuel cycle sites that house potentially dangerous nuclear materials, as well as protections for uranium conversion and deconversion facilities. (The Hill, 04.11.16).
Energy exports from CIS:
- Russia sees a deal to freeze oil output as possible when it meets other producers including Saudi Arabia this weekend, regardless of Iran’s stance. “There is hope,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s press secretary, said following the latest conversation between Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and his Saudi counterpart. At least 15 nations including the world’s two largest crude oil producers will gather in Doha on April 17 to discuss freezing output in order to stabilize an oversupplied market. (Bloomberg, 04.12.16).
- Russia is planning to offer Saipem SpA a contract to lay a natural gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea in an effort to settle a 760-million euro ($870 million) dispute and strengthen ties with Italy, according to two government officials in Moscow. (Bloomberg, 02.12.16).
- The Asian Development Bank is confident that it can overcome by 2020 the challenges of building a $10-billion gas pipeline through Afghanistan's most violent areas. Shareholders of the planned Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India project agreed on April 7 to invest $200 million in studies and engineering for the $10 billion project. (RFE/RL, 04.09.16).
Bilateral economic ties:
- Ford Motor Co., which spent more than $1.5 billion with a partner in the past five years to build cars and engine factories in Russia, is studying new investments in the country in a bet on economic recovery. (Bloomberg, 04.14.16).
Other bilateral issues:
- During his annual televised Q&A session on Thursday Russian president Vladimir Putin praised US President Barack Obama as "decent" and "strong" for having the "courage" to admit to failures over the US intervention in Libya following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Asked whether he preferred Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as the next president of the U.S., Putin said the individual candidates didn't matter as much as what he said was the need for Washington to give up its imperial ambitions. (Wall Street Journal, 04.14.16, BBC, 04.14.16).
- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday highlighted the ability of Russia and the United States to cooperate closely in space, despite all of the difficulties the two countries face on Earth. He expressed hope that Russia and its partners in the space program — in the U.S., Europe and Japan — would work together in ways that “would help us bring our positions closer and perhaps through space understand one another better on Earth.” (AP, 04.12.16).
- "Russia is not seeking confrontation either with the U.S., NATO or the European Union and has never been the initiator of such confrontation. It is obvious that a confrontational approach only serves to slow down efforts to restore the optimal vector of global development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in his lecture at Mongolia's Foreign Ministry. ( Interfax, 04.14.16).
- U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter characterized Russia and China as driven not by cold, hard power politics but rather by the ideologies of their governments. Vladimir Putin's Russia, he suggested, is "trying to justify itself to its people on how much it can stand against the West." This has led it to "emphasize military confrontation with the West, anti-Western propaganda, and especially the nuclear dimension of that." (Vox, 04.13.16).
- The U.S. State Department says in a new report that the world faces a "global governance crisis" as both governments and nonstate actors increasingly infringe on human rights. The report criticizes the Kremlin for "a range of measures to suppress dissent," including "new repressive laws" and selective prosecution "to harass, discredit, prosecute, imprison, detain, fine, and suppress individuals and organizations engaged in activities critical of the government." (RFE/RL, 04.14.16).
- Russia has picked top American legal firm White & Case LLP to advise it on how to conduct the sale of some $7.5 billion of shares in the country’s biggest oil producer, Rosneft OJSC, which is under U.S. and European sanctions, two people with knowledge of the matter said. (Bloomberg, 04.13.16).
- A letter describing Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a paid agent of British-American investor William Browder is fake, former CIA agent Valerie Plame told the Dozhd television channel on Monday. Navalny has asked the country's lead domestic spy agency to launch an investigation after state television accused him of serving as a secret operative for the West. (RFE/RL, 04.13.16, RFE/RL, 04.12.16).
- Only 1% of Russian respondents interviewed by the Public Opinion Foundation identified Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States as countries that have friendly relations with Russia. (Interfax, 04.10.16).
II. Russia news.
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- During his annual televised Q&A session on Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was too early to speak of a 2018 presidential run and that he had yet to decide on the matter. (Sputnik, 04.14.16).
- Speaking about the economy during his annual televised Q&A session on Thursday Vladimir Putin said that while it was still ailing, its trend was promising and it would grow 1.4% next year. (Wall Street Journal, 04.14.16).
- The IMF took the red pen to its forecasts for Brazil and Russia. The two are on track to be this year’s worst performing big emerging economies this year, with Brazil now expected to contract 3.8 per cent and Russia predicted to shrink 1.8 per cent. (Financial Times, 04.12.16).
- “There are no obstacles for economic growth this year," said Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that his ministry believes oil prices will recover to between $60 and $65 a barrel in 2017-18. (Wall Street Journal, 04.12.16).
- Not even oil at $100 a barrel would lift medium-term gains in gross domestic product beyond a range of 1.5 percent to 2 percent, central bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina said on Tuesday.(Bloomberg, 02.12.16).
- Fixed-capital investment in Russia has posted the longest stretch of declines since at least 1995, when Bloomberg started compiling the data.(Bloomberg, 02.12.16).
- Russia’s working-age population peaked at 90m in 2006 and has fallen by around 5m since, a rate of decline that is expected to accelerate in the coming years. (Financial Times, 04.12.16).
- Rosneft OJSC became Russia’s most valuable company as its market capitalization exceeded that of natural gas exporter Gazprom PJSC for the first time since its shares began trading in 2006. Rosneft also has the lowest operating costs of the world's biggest oil companies (Bloomberg, 04.11.16, Bloomberg, 04.12.16).
- The ranking of the 200 richest businessmen in the country compiled by the Russian version of the Forbes magazine is topped by Leonid Mikhelson, a co-owner of Russian gas companies Novatek and Sibur. His fortune is estimated at $14.4 billion. Mikhail Fridman of Alfa Group has been named the second-richest businessman in Russia, with a total wealth of $13.3 billion. (Moscow Times, 04.14.16).
- Russia has pushed back the completion date of a showcase multi-billion dollar bridge to link the Russian mainland with annexed Crimea by one year, saying the original plan had to be adjusted to take account of the weight of the trains that will cross it. (Reuters, 04.12.16).
Defense and Aerospace:
- In Russia, Cosmonautics Day was celebrated on April 12. This year’s celebration was special as it was 55th anniversary of late cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historic journey into ‘silent sea’. Gagarin was the first man in space more than five decades ago. (NH Voice, 04.12.16).
- Billionaire Russian investor Yuri Milner and British cosmologist Stephen Hawking have announced a space initiative aimed at sending unmanned miniature ships to Alpha Centauri, a star-system 4.37 light years from Earth. (RFE/RL, 04.13.16).
- Another regimental kit of the S-400 "Triumph" surface-to-air missile system will enter service in the Moscow region, the Russian Defense Ministry said on April 10. (Interfax, 04.10.16).
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- The National Guard of the Russian Federation will be able to take part in operations to maintain and restore peace abroad, according to a draft presidential decree establishing the department. (RBTH, 04.12.16).
- Russia's security agency says Lithuanian national Yevgeny Mataitis has been sentenced to 13 years in prison for spying on Moscow. (RFE/RL, 04.13.16).
- Russian investigators are reportedly searching for visitors to the Moscow Library of Ukrainian Literature who borrowed books on Ukrainian history and the Holodomor, the man-made famine that killed up to 7.5 million people in 1930s Ukraine. (Moscow Times, 04.13.16).
Foreign affairs and trade:
- During his annual televised Q&A session on Thursday Russian president Vladimir Putin said the Syrian army is able to carry out "serious offensive operations" despite a drawdown of Russian forces. Mr Putin also said the only way to end the war is for all parties to sit down for political talks, adopt a new constitution and hold early elections. He made no specific mention of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (BBC, 04.14.16).
- That Vladimir Putin announced the pullback at all may be a sign that he was cautious about overcommitting to Syria, said Ruslan Pukhov of Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. “Putin understands his voters, the Russian people, much better than any leader before him till Stalin," Pukhov said. (Washington Post, 04.12.16).
- Russia's Defense Ministry says a Russian military helicopter has crashed in Syria, killing two military personnel on board. The Defense Ministry says the Mi-28 attack helicopter was not shot down, but crashed in Homs Province early on April 12. The crash brings to three the number of aircraft that Russia has now lost in Syria. However, The Russian Defense Ministry has refuted foreign media reports that ISIS terrorists shot down an aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces. (Interfax, 04.14.16, RFE/RL, AP, 02.12.16).
- The Syrian regime, emboldened by battlefield victories, is pushing a political solution to end the war that keeps President Bashar al-Assad in power, in defiance of the agenda supported by Russia, his vital ally. The plan will begin to unfold with Syrian parliamentary elections on Wednesday. (Wall Street Journal, 04.11.16).
- Syrian government forces, with support from Russia, are planning an operation to retake Aleppo and battle an Islamist rebel offensive in the region, the Syrian prime minister said Sunday. However, according to the Russian general staff’s Monday assessment, there are no plans to storm Aleppo. "All actions of the Syrian military and Russian air force are directed at disrupting the plans of Jabhat al-Nusra. No storming of the city of Aleppo is planned," Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Russian General Staff's main operations command said. Syrian troops and their allies launched an offensive Tuesday to retake the important hilltop village of Tel al-Ais south of the city of Aleppo from militants, including al-Qaida's local affiliate. (Reuters, 04.11.16, AP, 04.12.16, Wall Street Journal, 04.10.16).
- CIA and its regional partners have drawn up plans to supply more-powerful weapons to moderate rebels in Syria fighting the regime in the event the country's six-week-old truce collapses, according to U.S. and other officials. Coalition members have agreed on the outlines of Plan B, but the White House must still approve the list of specific Plan B weapons systems before they can be introduced to the battlefield. (Wall Street Journal, 04.12.16).
- The Syrian government has released U.S. citizen Patrick Dawes who was captured and detained after entering the war-wracked country about four years ago. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Dawes was flown to Moscow on April 1 and turned over to the U.S. Embassy there. "Some time ago, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin with a personal request for assistance in the search for U.S. citizens who could be in Syrian territory," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement. (RFE/RL, 04.08.16).
- Other countries:
- As many as 68% of Russian respondents interviewed by the Public Opinion Foundation and asked to name three countries they believe are the closest and the friendliest ones to Russia mentioned Belarus, 56% China and 50% Kazakhstan. Asked by cooperation with what countries is the most important for the Russian economy at the present time, 49% named China, 35% Belarus, 23% Kazakhstan, 22% Germany, 16% India, 14% Japan, 12% the U.S., 9% France, and 5% Ukraine, Italy, and Brazil each.(Interfax, 04.10.16).
- Russian space agency Roscosmos has won a court action in France concerning $700 million in payments owed to the company, which were seized by French authorities. The Ivry First Instance Court ruled in favor of Roscosmos in a dispute with Cyprus-based offshore company Veteran Petroleum, a shareholder in the former Yukos oil company, according to Roscosmos. (Moscow Times, 04.13.16).
- Moscow recognizes North Korea's right to develop a peaceful nuclear program, but rejects Pyongyang's claim to the status of a nuclear power possessing atomic weapons and means of their delivery, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. (Sputnik, 04.13.16).
- BP earned 22 percent of adjusted pretax profit from its share in Moscow-based OAO Rosneft last year, the most since it acquired a 19.75 percent stake in the Russian oil giant in 2013. (Bloomberg, 04.12.16).
- During his annual televised Q&A session on Thursday Russian president Vladimir Putin said Turkey was still a friendly nation and that it just had "problems with some politicians who have behaved improperly.” “Today's leadership in Turkey isn't as interested in fighting with radicals as much as they are in cooperating with them," the Kremlin leader said. (BBC, Wall Street Journal, 04.14.16).
- Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev has announced that the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at the end of June is expected to adopt a special declaration. (Interfax, 04.14.16).
- In early April, Moscow announced that it would be looking into ways to adjust its foreign policy moving forward. The exact changes have not yet been made public, but the lessons from Ukraine are likely to weigh heavily into Russia’s new Foreign Policy concept. (Foreign Policy, 04.14.16).
- Russian president Vladimir Putin said Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko had recently proposed stepping up the presence of monitors from OSCE on the separation line between government and separatist forces, and arming them to enforce a ceasefire. "I think that is the right proposal," he said during his annual televised Q&A session on Thursday. "We support it." (BBC, 04.14.16).
- Ukraine’s military said on April 13th eight soldiers have been wounded in fighting with Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country over the past 24 hours. The most intense combat is taking place in three loosely linked areas: on the edge of the Ukrainian-controlled industrial town of Avdiivka; the major railway junction of Yasinovata; and Horlivka, both controlled by the DNR. Supporters of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) say 90 of their troops have been killed and over 200 wounded in fighting that has been building in intensity over the past month. OSCE said late on April 9 that a team of its monitors in eastern Ukraine had come under fire 50 kilometers south of Donetsk. OSCE observers were also shot at on April 7 and, on the same day, another monitoring group was threatened at gunpoint by a rebel, forcing the observers to leave a checkpoint they needed to pass. France has voiced concern over rising cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv's forces and pro-Russia separatists. The European Union has criticized an "unprecedented level of violence" in eastern Ukraine after international monitors came under fire. (RFE/RL, 04.10.16, 04.11.16, Foreign Policy, 04.12.16, RFE/RL, 04.13.16).
- Ukraine's parliament has approved Volodymyr Groisman as prime minister and his cabinet. Groisman’s predecessor Arseniy Yatsenyuk submitted his resignation earlier this week after weeks of pressure for him to step down. Parliament also approved on April 14 Groisman’s government lineup. Oleksandr Danylyuk, deputy head of Poroshenko's staff, becomes finance minister, replacing U.S.-born Natalie Jaresko. Former central bank Governor Stepan Kubiv will be first deputy prime minister and economy minister. The defense and foreign ministers, who are both appointed by the president, retain their positions. (RFE/RL, 04.14.16).
- Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma committee on international affairs, believes Volodymyr Groisman may be more successful as prime minister than Arseniy Yatsenyuk. (Interfax, 04.13.16).
- Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said: “On the one hand, it seems a little bit strange that we’re spending that much time on this problem because Ukraine is far away, and arguably it really doesn’t go to our core national security interests. Yes, people are aggrieved by Russian aggression and Russian intervention, and it’s nice to do something about it, but why does this really matter? It matters because it is a challenge and a threat to this rules-based system in which we have invested so much—to basic premises like you can’t change the borders of another country by force, or you can’t tell a people what they are to do in the future with their own country and their own decisions or with whom they associate.” (State.gov, 04.07.16).
- EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn says the European Commission plans to go ahead with its proposal for visa liberalization for Ukraine -- despite a Dutch referendum last week that rejected Ukraine’s Association Agreement with Kyiv. (RFE/RL, 04.12.16).
- Lithuanian authorities have prohibited entry to Russian citizens connected to the criminal cases of three Ukrainians: Nadezhda Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko. (Moscow Times, 04.13.16).
- Moscow has indicated it is considering freeing four imprisoned Ukrainians, including filmmaker Oleh Sentsov. The Russian Justice Ministry said any final decision to hand over Sentsov, Hennadiy Afanasyev, Oleksandr Kolchenko, and Yuriy Soloshenko would be made by Russian courts. (RFE/RL, 04.08.16).
- The Dutch vote against an agreement to strengthen ties between the European Union and Ukraine could lead to lengthy negotiations over changes in the pact, the Netherlands' premier said. "It could be months before a solution will be found," since many different parties are involved, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. (RFE/RL, 04.09.16).
- Other neighbors:
- Russia will continue selling weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, despite the recent violence in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. He claimed that arms trade with the two nations was a way to keep American and NATO forces out of the region, and would serve as a deterrent. If Russia stopped selling arms, both countries would simply seek new suppliers, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday. Hundreds of Armenians have demonstrated in Yerevan against Russian weapon sales to Azerbaijan, claiming the sales led to the outbreak of fighting on April 2 in and around Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. A spokesman for the Armenian Defense Minister Artsrun Hovhannisyan commented on the intention to continue Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan. "After all this, the sale of weapons is immoral," Artsrun Hovhannisyan wrote on his Facebook page. (Moscow Times, AP, 04.12.16, News.az, 04.09.16, RFE/RL, 04.13.16).
- Parliament in Kyrgyzstan has voted in favor of appointing Sooronbai Jeenbekov as the country’s next prime minister. (RFE/RL, 04.13.16).
- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rohani have discussed building stronger trade and business ties between their countries at talks in the Iranian capital. (RFE/RL, 04.11.16).
- Imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova has won a UN press award for "her outstanding contribution to press freedom in difficult circumstances." (RFE/RL, 04.08.16).
- In a new report, Freedom House warns that economic woes are threatening the stability of "entrenched dictatorships" in the former Soviet Union. (RFE/RL, 02.12.16).
- The U.S. State Department says in a new report says Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan in 2015 all enacted new legislation against nongovernmental groups "that could restrict operating space for civil society organizations." The report from Washington also says that nongovernmental organizations in Azerbaijan face a "severely constrained" space. (RFE/RL, 04.14.16).
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