Russia in Review

September 23, 2016


Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for September 16-23, 2016

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

Nuclear security:

  • The Obama administration won praise for promising in 2012 to curtail the use of bomb-grade uranium in the production of medical diagnostic tools. But now the U.S. Energy Department is getting brickbats for proposing to send such materials to several European nations, including Belgium.  (Center for Public Integrity, 09.19.16.)
  • Military convoys carrying nuclear weapons through Britain’s cities and towns have experienced 180 mishaps and incidents, including collisions, breakdowns and brake failures during the last 16 years, according to a report produced by a disarmament campaign. (The Guardian, 09.21.16.)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has rejected a Russian air-safety proposal that would require all military planes in the Baltic region to fly with their transponders operational, according to allied officials. Allied officials say the proposal would do little to improve air safety—or prevent Russian aircraft flying dangerously close to ships or planes flown by western allies. Also Estonia says it has declined an offer from Russia to hold talks on Baltic Sea security. (Wall Street Journal, 09.20.16, RFE/RL, 09.22.16.)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter urged lawmakers Thursday to “come together” on a budget deal, saying the nation’s security interests are at risk. If the stopgap measure extends past December, it would “undermine plans to quadruple the European Defense Initiative at a time when we need to be standing with our NATO allies and standing up to deter Russian aggression,” Carter said.   (Defense News, 09.22.16.)
  • Just 27 percent of Russians expected a "worsening of relations" with the West or "another round of the Cold War," compared to 32 percent last year, a report from independent pollster the Levada Center revealed Wednesday. The figure is down from 36 percent of respondents surveyed in September 2015. Almost half of all respondents (48 percent) said that relations between Russia and the West were healing. Also just 29 percent Russians are concerned about their country's increasing isolation from the West, a report from independent pollster the Levada Center revealed Wednesday. (Moscow Times, 09.21.16.)
  • Without Britain there to veto at the past EU summit, France and Germany won approval for a joint European military headquarters.  (New York Times, 09.23.16.)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • Russian Ambassador to UN Vitaly Churkin said on Sept. 17th that he hopes that the UN Security Council will adopt a resolution in the upcoming week to call on countries to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. (Tass, 09.17.16.)


  • An alleged militant for the Islamic State group has been detained in Russia's Tatarstan region. The Federal Security Service said on September 21 that Sharifbek Shoyev, 38, is suspected of spending about three years in Syria, where he allegedly received training in terrorist camps. (RFE/RL, 09.21.16.)
  • A resident of Russia's Chelyabinsk region in the Urals has been sentenced to four years in jail on terrorism charges. The man, whose name was not disclosed, was found guilty of fighting against Syrian government troops alongside Islamic State militants in Syria from April to June 2015. (RFE/RL, 09.19.16.)
  • The Islamic State’s Furat Media Establishment has released a short video of a man who allegedly works for Russian intelligence. The Russian-speaking man identifies himself as Petrenko Ivgeniy Viktorovich and says he is a captain in the Russian intelligence service based in Moscow, an apparent reference to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). (Long War Journal, 09.21.16.)
  • The Russian Supreme Court has branded the Japanese doomsday cult group Aum Shinrikyo a terrorist organization. It was banned in many countries after its members carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.  (RFE/RL, 09.20.16.)

Cyber security:

  • U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested on Tuesday Russia was behind a recent computer hacking operation that stole records from the Democratic Party. “It shouldn't come as a big shock to people," Mr. Clapper said. "I think it's more dramatic maybe because now they have the cyber tools." Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quick to dismiss the claims, accusing the U.S. government of hypocrisy. “This is a new level of absurdity: It’s as if we have fallen through the looking glass," Ryabkov said. (Wall Street Journal, 09.20.16, Moscow Times, 09.23.16.)
  • U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff  have accused Russia of trying to influence the November 8 U.S. election via computer hacking and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to "order a halt to this activity." (RFE/RL, 09.22.16.)
  • The World Anti-Doping Agency said that the "Fancy Bear" Russian hacking group has leaked the confidential data of another 11 athletes who competed in the Rio Olympics. Russia disapproves of the recent cyber-attacks on the database of WADA, but the hacked information helped to bring to light interesting facts in the world of sports, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sept. 19. (RFE/RL, 09.17.16, Tass, 09.19.16.)
  • The Kremlin is to drop part of its new, controversial anti-terror legislation, which would have seen all online and mobile communications stored for six months Russian intelligence agencies are instead looking to implement the law by deciphering and analyzing internet traffic in real time, the Kommersant newspaper reported Wednesday. (Moscow Times, 09.21.16.)
  • Representatives from several German political parties have been targeted by hackers allegedly backed by the Russian government. Members of left-leaning Die Linke party were targeted along with the youth wing of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, the report claimed. CDU's representatives in the federal state of Saarland, where a new regional parliament will be elected next March, also allegedly came under cyber-attack. (Moscow Times, 09.21.16.)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russian oil output rose to a record ahead of talks on supply with Saudi Arabia and other members of OPEC next week. Output in September has been about 11.09 million barrels a day, the highest monthly average since the Soviet era, and reached about 11.18 million on Tuesday, Energy Ministry data show. Russia plans to join the discussions on limiting oil production only after OPEC members reach an agreement between themselves, meaning talks aimed at stabilizing the market could extend beyond Algiers next week.  (Bloomberg, 09.21.16, 09.23.16.)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • In his final address to the UN General Assembly U.S. President Barack Obama accursed Russia President Vladimir Putin’s Russia of “attempting to recover lost glory through force,” a reference to Moscow’s 2014 takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea territory and backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and for continuing “to interfere in the affairs of its neighbors.” “It may be popular at home. It may fuel nationalist fervor for a time. But over time it is also going to diminish [Russia’s] stature and make its borders less secure,” Obama said.  (RFE/RL, 09.20.16.)
  • The United States announced that it will not honor the results of the Russian parliamentary elections in Crimea. (UPI, 09.17.16.)
  • “On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian leadership, while outlining policies that read like a Kremlin wish list,” according to a an open letter to Donald J. Trump signed by more than 50 former government officials and national security and military figures. “He has floated lifting sanctions against Russia, which would benefit both Putin and the Trump Organization.” (New York Times, 09.19.16.)
  • A group of 75 retired career Foreign Service officers, including ambassadors and senior State Department officials under Republican and Democratic presidents over nearly a half-century, has signed an open letter calling Donald Trump "entirely unqualified to serve as President and Commander-in-Chief." Trump, they said, "is ignorant of the complex nature of the challenges facing our country, from Russia to China to ISIS to nuclear proliferation to refugees to drugs, but he has expressed no interest in being educated." (Washington Post, 09.22.16.)
  • Two men from the remote Siberian town of Borzya have received an official warning from Russia's Federal Security Service after inventing state secrets to sell to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. (Moscow Times, 09.20.16).

II. Russia’s domestic news.

Politics, economy and energy:

  • The Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation (CEC) approved on Friday the results of Sunday's election of the State Duma, in which six parties and a self-nominated candidate were elected to the seventh parliament of Russia. “Russia’s ruling United Russia party has 343 seats and enables a constitutional majority," CEC Deputy Chairman Nikolai Bulaev said. Never in post-Soviet Russian history has a ruling party so dominated the State Duma. The Communist Party received 42 seats, the Liberal Democratic Party 39, A Just Russia Party 23 while Rodina ("Motherland") and Civic Platform get one seat respectively, Bulaev said. Sunday's election was also notable for its low turnout, with just 47 percent of the electorate casting ballots. The previous parliamentary elections had 60 percent turnout. "Outside attempts to destabilize Russia" contributed to a landslide victory for United Russia in Sunday's parliamentary elections, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Speaking at a government meeting on Monday, Putin said that the results were a response from Russian voters to “external pressures” being placed on the country (Xinhua, 09.23.16, Washington Post, 09.19.16, 09.20.16, Moscow Times, 09.19.16).
  • Russia's parliamentary elections were “far from truly free and fair,” the independent election monitoring group Golos reported Monday. The 2016 elections saw substantial improvements from those in 2011, but the country still faced a “long and difficult road to reform,” the group said in their official report. Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said that the elections had been “administered transparently” but that challenges remained in Russia's “restriction to fundamental freedoms and political rights, firmly-controlled media and a tightening grip on civil society.” In two regions Reuters reporters saw inflated turnout figures, ballot-stuffing and people voting more than once at three polling stations during Duma elections. Using data from the Central Election Commission’s website, physicist and data analyst Sergei Shpilkin also conducted statistical analysis of the elections to arrive at an estimate that United Russia actually got about 40 percent of the party-list vote, which would have reduced its party-list seats from 140 to around 110. (Reuters, 09.20.16, Moscow Times, 09.19.16, Moscow Times, 09.19.16, RFE/RL, 09.20.16).
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed the deputy chief of the presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin for the post of chairman of the parliament’s lower chamber -- the State Duma. On September 22, Putin appointed the previous Duma speaker, his long-time supporter and associate, Sergei Naryshkin, 61, as the chief of the country's foreign intelligence agency. (RFE/RL, 09.23.16.)
  • “You know how I feel about the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was entirely unnecessary to do this. It would have been possible to carry out reforms, including democratic reforms, without this [dissolution],” President Vladimir Putin said during a meeting at the Kremlin with the leaders of the political parties represented in the new State Duma. (Moscow Times, 09.23.16.)
  • Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said he won’t enlist underwriting services of foreign banks anymore after attracting bids for six times the $1.25 billion of bonds the government sold Thursday. VTB Capital PLC, the sole organizer of the bond placement, said Russia's Finance Ministry had raised $1.25 billion in 10-year Eurobonds with a 3.99% yield. This yield is lower than it was in 2013, before sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine limited its access to foreign markets. The placement of the bond brings Russia to its target of $3 billion in external borrowing for this year. Russia may increase its foreign borrowing next year to $7 billion, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Friday, (Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Bloomberg, 09.23.16.)
  • Russia is only country in the FactSet sample with an inverted yield curve, according to figures for available benchmark bonds by data provider FactSet In 2014, a large drop in crude forced the central bank to raise rates to a whopping 17%, as import prices skyrocketed. While the economy is still contracting, the inverted yield curve is unlikely to signal tougher times ahead. Instead, it probably reflects how the Central Bank of Russia will be able to keep cutting borrowing costs now that oil has stopped falling. (Wall Street Journal, 09.22.16.)
  • Russia's Finance Ministry plans to submit its three-year budget to the government in October, which envisages no increase in taxes, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told a finance forum on Friday.  (Reuters, 09.23.16.)
  • This year, the MSCI Russia index, which tracks the country's equity market, has outperformed every large emerging market except Brazil. On a total-return basis, the index is up 26.3% in dollar terms this year, compared with 14% for the broader MSCI emerging-markets index. (Wall Street Journal, 09.19.16.)
  • 50% of all money allocated for Russian government infrastructure is "lost to corruption and inefficiency" according to the Carnegie Moscow Center. (Wall Street Journal, 09.19.16.)

Defense and Aerospace:

  • Russia has moved two powerful S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems close to the Finnish border, the Interfax news agency reported Wednesday. (Moscow Times, 09.21.16.)
  • The first-stage engine for Russia’s Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has passed firing trials, a source in the Russian defense and industrial sector told TASS. The Sarmat ICBM is planned to be made operational in late 2018. (Tass, 09.16.16.)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A new “State Security Ministry” will emerge on the foundations of the Federal Security Service by 2018, essentially restoring the agency to the position it enjoyed in its Soviet iteration as the KGB, according to a new report by the Kommersant newspaper.  The new ministry will also include the Foreign Intelligence Service and most units in the Federal Protective Service, which guards Russia’s highest ranking public officials, according to Kommersant’s sources. Also the Ministry of Emergency Situation is to be disbanded with parts of its absorbed by the Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry. Also the Investigative Committee might return to the structure of the Prosecutor General’s Office. (Moscow Times, Kommersant, 09.19.16.)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has given the country's highest award to Dagestani police officer Magomed Nurbagandov who was killed by militants after refusing to renounce his duties. (RFE/RL, 09.22.16.)
  • Russia’s Investigative Committee has terminated criminal prosecution of the Domodedovo airport’s main owner, Dmitry Kamenshchik, and other air hub chiefs over suspected violations of security requirements. (Tass, 09.13.16.)

III. Foreign affairs and trade:


  • With prospects plummeting to revive an all but dead Syria cease-fire, the United States and Russia have grudgingly agreed to another round of talks to keep hopes alive. After a contentious two-and-a-half hour meeting with colleagues in New York, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said they would meet again Friday in a bid to find a way forward. (AP, 09.23.16).
  • In a contentious meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday US Secretary of State John Kerry wagged his finger at his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and said the Russians were living in a “parallel universe” as the two exchanged heated remarks over the breakdown of the ceasefire in Syria. During the meeting, the diplomats got word that Syria had announced a new offensive against Aleppo. Kerry said that attack was “exactly the kind of regime action that has done so much damage to this process and to the credibility of the concept of restraint or ceasefire.”  A frustrated Kerry then on Thursday called for "immediate" and "significant" action from Russia and Syria to prove their commitment to the ceasefire. (Bloomberg, 09.22.16, Guardian, 09.21.16.)
  • Russia’s foreign minister says it is essential “to prevent the destruction” of the U.S-Russia cease-fire agreement for Syria. Sergey Lavrov told the U.N. General Assembly on Friday that it was vital to support U.N. resolutions calling for an end to the fighting in Syria and for a political settlement. Lavrov said there must be “an unbiased and impartial investigation” of airstrikes that killed Syrian soldiers in Deir el-Zour and bombings in and around the northern city of Aleppo. (AP, 09.23.16.)
  • U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on Thursday that he believes Russia bombed a humanitarian aid convoy in Syria earlier this week, killing 20 civilians in an “unacceptable atrocity.” When first asked if Russia bombed the aid convoy, Dunford said it wasn’t certain which aircraft dropped the bombs. Under further questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on whether it was Russia, Dunford answered, “that hasn’t been concluded, but my judgment would be that they did.” He was later asked again if it was Russia, and he answered yes. The convoy was attacked by either Russian or Syrian government aircraft, White House deputy national security director Ben Rhodes said Tuesday. In separate comments two U.S. officials claim that a pair of Russian Sukhoi SU-24 fighters was seen in the skies above the aid convoy at the time of the strike. Russia has denied any responsibility, blaming the deaths on a cargo fire. Another Russian statement suggested that an American drone flying out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, where American and NATO forces are based, was aloft in the area and very likely involved. Russian planes neither carried out any strikes where the convoy was hit nor had it any plans for attacks in that area, said a statement from the spokesman for the Defense Ministry. The Syrian government also denied it behind the airstrikes on the convoy. (New York Times, 09.22.16, Moscow Times, Bloomberg, 09.20.16, AP, 09.22.16.)
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry has responded angrily to U.S.-led airstrikes on Syrian Army forces in Deir al-Zour province, calling them "on the boundary between criminal negligence and direct connivance" with Islamic State militants. The incident, which Russia said killed 62 Syrian soldiers, sparked an angry exchange between diplomats at the United Nations.  A Russian officer called the operations center for the U.S.-led coalition in Syria to try alert the coalition that its planes were bombing Syrian military on Saturday. However, no one at the operations center for the U.S.-led coalition could figure out what the Russian officer on the other end of the line was on about, so he hung up, and called back. By time the Russian officer found his designated contact — who was away from his desk — and explained that the coalition was actually hitting a Syrian army unit, “a good amount of strikes” had already taken place, U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. John Thomas told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday. The strike marked the first time the United States has engaged the Syrian military since it began targeting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq two years ago. "It appears to be an intelligence failure," a U.S. defense official said. (Washington Post, 09.17.16, RFE/RL, Washington Post, 09.18.16, Wall Street Journal, 09.19.16, (Foreign Policy, 09.20.16.)
  • Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Thursday that the Geneva agreement doesn't call for the U.S. military to share intelligence with the Russians. "I do not believe it would be a good idea to share intelligence with the Russians," he said. (Wall Street Journal, 09.22.16.)
  • Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, head of the Air Combat Command, told reporters that “for the foreseeable future … we will be in deconfliction mode and not in the joint operations” mode with the Russians. (Foreign Policy, 09.20.16.)
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday called for an immediate grounding of all military aircraft in what he described as “key areas” of Syria — including where aid is delivered — as a last-ditch effort to save an agreement with to reduce violence and ultimately halt a war that shows no sign of slowing. (New York Times, 09.22.16.)
  • Speaking in Kyrgyzstan's capital Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sept. 17 he remained "positive" about the Syria cease-fire agreement struck with the United States last week but called for more transparency from Washington. (RFE/RL, 09.17.16.)
  • The Kremlin’s sole aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is set to make its combat debut in the eastern Mediterranean in November according to Russian media. The 55,000-ton vessel was originally scheduled to depart for the Syrian coast in October, but the deployment has been pushed back. (National Interest, 09.19.16.)
  • Almost three dozen Senate Republicans are pressing the Obama administration to take a tougher stance toward Russia over recent airstrikes it launched from Iran against opposition forces in Syria, which the lawmakers say violate the nuclear deal with Tehran. (Washington Post, 09.19.16.)

Other far abroad countries and foreign affairs in general:

  • The new leader of Britain's UK Independence Party has declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin is among her “political heroes.” Speaking on the BBC's Sunday politics, Diane James placed Putin alongside former British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill. “I admire him [Putin] from the point of view that he’s standing up for his country. He is very nationalist,” James said. “He is a very strong leader. He is putting Russia first.” (Moscow Times, 09.19.16.)
  • Russian soldiers have arrived in Pakistan to take part in the first joint military maneuvers, just as Russia has hosted Indian troops for counter-terrorism drills. Russia's Defense Ministry said about 70 mountain infantry troops arrived in Pakistan Friday to participate in the exercise. The maneuvers coincide with a Russian-Indian military exercise launched Thursday at a military shooting range in Russia's Far East, which involve 250 troops from each side. (AP, 09.23.16.)
  • Russia’s President Vladimir Putin plans to pay a one-day visit to France in mid-October, presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Sep. 17. (Tass, 09.17.16.)
  • Russian leader Vladimir Putin hosted Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia-Herzegovina's autonomous Republika Srpska in Moscow. The TASS news agency said the two leaders discussed "the situation in the Balkans and bilateral interaction" during the September 22 meeting. (RFE/RL, 09.22.16.)


  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. The Ukrainian president said the two discussed the next steps in implementing the Minsk agreements and U.S. financial aid to Kyiv of some $1 billion in loan guarantees. In his speech at the UN Poroshenko has criticized Russia for being "the instigator and major participant" in the ongoing deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine.  (RFE/RL, 09.21.16.)
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday warned Ukraine needs to live up to its promises on economic and political reforms or risk seeing the European Union walk away from its sanctions on Russia. "We know that if they give an excuse to the EU, there are at least five countries right now that want to say 'We want out'" of sanctions against Moscow, Biden said, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Biden has also told visiting President Petro Poroshenko that he needed to do more to clean up Ukraine's judiciary and prosecutor's office, which have been tainted by corruption for years.  (RFE/RL, 09.21.16, Reuters, 09.22.16.)
  • Invited to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week, Donald Trump’s campaign didn’t even bother to send Kiev an RSVP. (Foreign Policy, 09.20.16.)
  • In Minsk, Ukrainian officials and Russia-backed separatist representatives agreed on September 21 to pull back troops and heavy weapons from several areas in eastern Ukraine in an effort to uphold a tenuous peace deal reached in the Belarusian capital in 2015. (RFE/RL, 09.21.16.)
  • Former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has condemned Germany for refusing to speak out against Russia's role in the Ukrainian conflict. German Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel visited Moscow on Wednesday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss trade. Speaking to reporters before the talks, Gabriel said that he was in favor of lifting EU sanctions against Russia, but that the international community needed to see steps towards peace in Ukraine, the Reuters news agency reported. (Moscow Times, 09.22.16.)
  • The Ukrainian Verkhovnaya Rada has branded Russia's parliamentary elections illegitimate because they were also held in the forcibly annexed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. (RFE/RL, 09.20.16.)
  • Right-wing protesters scuffled with police in Kyiv as dozens rallied outside the Russian Embassy, where a polling station was set up for Russian citizens to vote in their country's parliamentary elections (RFE/RL, 09.18.16.)
  • Russian investigators say prominent Ukrainian separatist Yevhen Zhylin has been shot dead in an upscale restaurant outside Moscow. (RFE/RL, 09.20.16.)
  • Ukraine’s Supreme Court has turned down Gazprom’s appeal against a $3.4 antitrust fine, according to the court order published on the Single State Register of Ukraine’s court decisions on Sept. 21. (Tass, 09.21.16.)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev, who is being examined by doctors for potential heart problems, is not expected to return to work before October 1, his office says. On September 19, Atambaev's press service announced that the president had canceled a trip to New York after suffering "chest pains" during the flight. (RFE/RL, 09.20.16.)
  • Uzbekistan has withdrawn its police and border guards from a disputed part of the border with Kyrgyzstan after they were deployed to the area almost a month ago. (RFE/RL, 09.19.16.)
  • Turkmenistan has opened a new $2.3 billion air terminal at Ashgabat International Airport. (RFE/RL, 09.18.16.)
  • An Azerbaijani official has rejected criticism by Council of Europe experts over proposed changes to Azerbaijan's constitution that will be voted on in a national referendum on September 26. The extension of the presidential mandate from five to seven years "cannot be justified" given the already very strong position of the president, the Venice Commission said. (RFE/RL, 09.21.16.)
  • Former Georgian Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili has been found guilty of yet another crime and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison. The Tbilisi City Court found Merabishvili guilty on September 22 of ordering the beating of lawmaker Valery Gelashvili in 2005. (RFE/RL, 09.22.16.)

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