Russia in Review

July 8, 2016


Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for July 1 – July 8, 2016



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

Nuclear security:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on the creation of a National Guard. According to the law, the new force will be charged with enforcing emergency-situation regimes, combating terrorism, defending Russian territory, and protecting state facilities. It has also been earlier reported that the new force will guard some of Russia’s nuclear facilities. (RFE/RL, 07.04.16, RIA Novosti, 04.06.16.)
  • A delegation of the National Nuclear Security Administration visited the head office of Belarus’ State Customs Committee for talks on the supply of radiation detection equipment. Five more border checkpoints in Belarus might be equipped with radiation detectors in 2017. (BelaPan, BelTA, 07.04.16).

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • NATO leaders vowed on July 8 to strengthen the alliance’s defenses near its borders with Russia. “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine threatens our vision of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace,” U.S. President Barack Obama wrote in a commentary published on the Financial Times website. Mr. Obama will convene a meeting Saturday focused on continued tensions between Russia and Ukraine.  (RFE/RL, Wall Street Journal, 07.08.16).
  • “I think the president will be making very clear what the contributions are that his country and our Defense Department has made to and is making to moving from reassurance to deterrence,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said of Barack Obama’s participation in the NATO summit and the alliance’s policies on Russia. (DoD News, 07.08.16).
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia’s actions in Ukraine have eroded mutual trust with the West and unsettled NATO’s Eastern European member states. Merkel, however, said the West must keep dialogue open with Russia "Deterrence and dialogue," Ms. Merkel said, "are not contradictions, no, they belong inextricably together." “We are united…that permanent security in Europe is only to be achieved with Russia and not against Russia,” she said. (Financial Times, RFE/RL, Wall Street Journal, 07.07.16).
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the allies will agree during the summit in Warsaw to the deployment of four multinational battalions of up to 1,000 troops each led by Canada, Germany, Britain, and the United States in Poland and the three Baltic states on a rotating basis. He also said NATO will “transform a Romanian brigade into a multinational brigade to strengthen our posture in the southeastern part of the alliance.” (RFE/RL, 07.08.16).
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO will "continue to seek meaningful and constructive dialogue" with Russia, which he called “an integral part of European security." "NATO does not seek confrontation.... The Cold War is history and should remain history." (RFE/RL, 07.08.16).
  • Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said that it is “absurd to speak of a threat from Russia” and that Moscow hopes "common sense" will prevail at the NATO summit. Dmitry Peskov added that if NATO continues to identify Russia as the enemy and build up its air and ground forces along Russia's border, cooperation between the alliance and Russia will be impossible. However, he sees potential for cooperation in the fight against terrorism, TASS reported. (RFE/RL, Moscow Times, 08.07.16).
  • The NATO-Russia Council will meet on July 13 to discuss air safety measures over the Baltic Sea and other issues. (Reuters, 07.02.16).
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has chaired a meeting with the country's Security Council to discuss possible "confidence-building" steps in the skies over the Baltic region and details in connection with the NATO summit later this week, a presidential spokesman said. All Russian military aircraft could begin flying their missions over the Baltic Sea with their identification transponders switched on as part of a package of trust-building measures with NATO, Russia’s defense minister said. (RFE/RL, 07.05.16, Russia Today, 07.02.16).
  • President Vladimir Putin has indicated that Russia would move troops toward its border with Finland if the Nordic country became a member of NATO. "Finnish forces would cease being independent, cease being sovereign in the full sense of that word," Putin said after a July 1 meeting in Finland with President Sauli Niinisto. Putin added: "Do you think that we will continue as before by keeping our troops 1,500 [kilometers] away?" Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has urged Finland not to join NATO, saying that the move would provoke a Russian military 'response.’(RFE/RL, 07.01.16, Moscow Times, 07.04.16).
  • The biggest construction works seen by Reuters in Kaliningrad were at the Pionersky Radar Station, on Kaliningrad's northern coast. The radar itself, whose range covers all of Europe and which gives early warning of air attack, became operational in 2014. Russia could also place powerful new radar systems on the Baltic and the Black Sea coasts in response to an increased NATO presence. The Podsolnukh ("Sunflower") system has an off-shore range of 200 miles and is designed for tracking ship and aircraft movements as well as guiding missiles. Western diplomats say Russia is also preparing to station new missiles in Kaliningrad and build a web of anti-aircraft systems that could challenge NATO aircraft over the Baltic states and parts of Poland. (Moscow Times, 07.05.16, Reuters, 07.05.16).
  • Satellite imagery confirms that Russia delivered new S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Belarus to be deployed along the Poland and Lithuania borders. (National Interest, 07.05.16).
  • Reuters has reported that Russia will reinforce its western and southern flanks with three new divisions by the year-end. However, that does not mean that Russia is creating additional forces, according to Ulrich Kühn, Research Associate at the University of Hamburg. What is known is that already existing and deployed brigades will be merged to form two new divisions. It is also not true is that that at least one of the divisions will be moved close to the Baltics, according to Kuhn. (War on The Rocks, 07.08.16).
  • "There is a much greater sense that we're dealing with a long-term strategic competition with Russia," said Alexander Vershbow, deputy secretary general of NATO. (Washington Post, 07.04.16).
  • The U.S. Navy has confirmed that a Russian spy ship has been stationed in international waters off Hawaii, but says its presence is not affecting military exercises. (AP, 07.07.16).
  • “The U.K. and NATO need to have adequate military capability and the capacity to deter, and where necessary confront aggressive Russian moves,” according to a report by the Defense Committee of the British parliament. The report contains recommendations to increase the number of experts advising Britain on Russia, to renew sanctions, to impose fresh travel bans on Russia’s leadership and to find ways to deal with Russian propaganda. (Moscow Times, 07.06.16).
  • "People in (Estonia’s) Narva love (Vladimir) Putin. But it's a platonic love. They don't want him here," said Sergei Stepanov, the editor of the local newspaper, Narvskaya Gazeta. "People here are not stupid. They can just cross the border and compare how things are in Russia." (Washington Post, 07.04.16).

Missile defense:

  • Pentagon scientists told the LA Times that the GMD system, which has already cost US taxpayers over $40bn, has actually failed to intercept and destroy mock warheads about 50% of the time in carefully scripted tests. (International Business Times, 07.07.16).

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.


  • Turkey has proposed cooperating with Moscow to combat the Islamic State extremist group in Syria. (RFE/RL, 07.04.16).
  • Kyrgyz authorities say two of the men involved in the deadly Istanbul airport attack had Russian passports, amid speculation that a Kyrgyz national was involved. (RFE/RL, 07.01.16).

Cyber security:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday signed into law a controversial package of counterterrorism measures, including tougher sentences for extremism and heightened electronic surveillance of Russian citizens, that have provoked condemnation from rights activists here. Among the critics of the law was Edward Snowden. Putin has tasked Russia’s Federal Security Service with finding the encryption keys needed to monitor the country's online messaging, following signing of the law. (Washington Post, 07.08.16, Moscow Times, 07.07.16).

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Chevron has announced a $36.8 billion expansion of the Tengiz oil project in Kazakhstan. The U.S. oil giant said in a July 5 statement that the expansion will increase crude production by 260,000 barrels a day to reach about 1 million barrels a day (RFE/RL, 07.05.16).
  • The U.S. holds more recoverable oil reserves than either Saudi Arabia or Russia, according to Oslo-based consultant Rystad Energy. (Bloomberg, 07.05.16).

Bilateral economic ties:

  • The Coursera online educational service has received permission from the U.S. government to operate in Crimea. A spokesperson for Coursera stated in June that the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control gave the website a special license to work in Crimea.  (Moscow Times, 07.05.16).

Other bilateral issues:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday in a July Fourth message to President Barack Obama that he hopes ties between the two countries will get back on track. (AP, 07.04.16).
  • Carter Page, a foreign-policy adviser to Donald Trump used a speech in Moscow to criticize the U.S. and other western governments for a “hypocritical focus” on democracy and corruption and to highlight the benefits of “mutual respect” between major powers. (Bloomberg, 07.07.16).
  • Russian television aired purported footage of an altercation outside the U.S. Embassy between a Russian guard and a U.S. diplomat who Moscow says was a spy returning from a mission. (RFE/RL, 07.07.16).
  • Russian double agent Alexander Poteyev who fled to the U.S. has died, the Interfax news agency reported Thursday, citing unnamed sources.  (Moscow Times, 07.07.16).

II. Russia news.

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • By the end of 2016, there will be 980 billion rubles ($15.27 billion) left in Russia’s Reserve Fund and this fund will be emptied at some point in 2017, the Reuters news agency reported Tuesday, citing draft budget materials. (Moscow Times, 07.05.16).
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has hit out against the country’s “unacceptable” 170th place ranking for cross-border trade in a World Bank Group report. (Moscow Times, 07.01.16).
  • The Onexim holding company controlled by Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov is reportedly seeking to sell off all of its assets in Russia. (RFE/RL, 07.04.16).
  • The Kremlin has denied that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s schedule has been cancelled for the rest of the week. (Moscow Times, 07.07.16).
  • Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says he will seek another term in office in September election. (RFE/RL, 07.02.16).
  • More than a third of Russians believe that the upcoming State Duma elections will not be free and fair, a survey by independent pollster Levada Center revealed Friday.  (Moscow Times, 07.01.16).
  • Russian oppositioner Alexei Navalny has accused Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov of buying 10 apartments, the total cost of which is estimated at 600 million rubles ($9.4 million). (Moscow Times, 07.04.16).

Defense and Aerospace:

  • In total, 50 officers were dismissed from their posts in Russia’s Black See Fleet, including the fleet commander, Vice Admiral Viktor Kravchuk, and his chief of staff, Vice Admiral Sergei Popov. The decision to fire the entire command came at the end of a month-long Defense Ministry inspection, which concluded on June 10. According to St. Petersburg news outlet, the inquiry had been sparked by an unconfirmed collision of the submarine Krasnodar with another vessel — possibly a Polish patrol boat — during a training exercise. (Moscow Times, 07.06.16).
  • The Russian Defense Ministry has set aside about 123 billion rubles ($2 billion) for the construction of combat positions and supporting infrastructure this year. (Tass, 07.01.16).
  • A multinational crew blasted off aboard an upgraded Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan early on July 7 for a two-day trip to the International Space Station. (RFE/RL, 07.07.16).

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Nikita Belykh, the independent Kirov region governor imprisoned on corruption charges, has spoken out against claims that his arrest was politically motivated. (Moscow Times, 07.04.16).
  • Russian prosecutors have ordered investigators to drop a criminal case against Dmitry Kamenshchik, the owner of Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport stemming from a deadly terrorist attack there five years ago.  (RFE/RL, 07.06.16).

Foreign affairs and trade:

  • Syria:
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama have discussed the situation in Syria during a telephone conversation. The Kremlin said that Putin urged Obama to aid the separation of the moderate opposition rebels in Syria from extremist groups. The White House said Obama “emphasized his concerns over the failure of the Syrian regime to comply with the Cessation of Hostilities in Syria.” The two also "confirmed their commitment to defeating ISIL and the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria," the White House said. The two leaders also discussed Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh. (RFE/RL, Wall Street Journal, 07.07.16).
    • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed in a phone conversation on July 2 the possible cooperation of Moscow and Washington in the fight against terrorists in Syria, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. (Tass, 07.02.16).
    • U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, who internally opposed President Obama's new Syria proposal for increased military cooperation with Russia, said if Russia would "do the right thing in Syria - that's an important condition - as in all cases with Russia, we're willing to work with them." (Washington Post, 07.04.16)
    • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has transferred the chief of the Syrian operation, Colonel-General Alexander Dvornikov, to the post of the commander of the Southern Military District. (RBTH, 07.07.16).
    • Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov will travel to the Mediterranean and carry out air strikes in Syria this October. (National Interest, 07.06.16).
    • President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a decree that gives veteran status to Russian soldiers who participated in military operations in Syria. (Moscow Times, 07.04.16).
  • Other countries:
    • Russia's central bank has started buying the Chinese yuan to diversify its foreign-currency reserves away from the euro and U.S. dollar and become less vulnerable to Western sanctions. At the end of September 2015 the yuan had not figured in the central bank's foreign currency assets, but the bank said on July 4 that by the end of 2015 the yuan accounted for 0.1 percent of its reserves. (RFE/RL, 07.05.16).
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia has exported military gear worth $4.6 billion this year. (Moscow Times, 07.08.16).
    • Russia intends to file a lawsuit against the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for freezing its operations in the country, the Interfax news agency reported on Thursday. (Moscow Times, 07.07.16).
    • The parliament of Cyprus has voted for the resolution on lifting EU sanctions against Russia. (Tass, 07.07.16).

Russia's neighbors:

  • Ukraine:
    • Ukraine said on July 5th that three of its servicemen have been killed and 13 wounded in clashes in the country’s east. (RFE/RL, 07.05.16).
    • The Russian Investigative Committee said it shared its files on the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 with Dutch investigators visiting Moscow, but the Dutch team declined to reciprocate. (RFE/RL, 07.07.16).
    • “Even as our nations remain open to a more constructive relationship with Russia, we should agree that sanctions on Russia must remain in place until Moscow fully implements its obligations” under the Minsk agreements, U.S. President Barack Obama wrote in a commentary published on the Financial Times website. (RFE/RL, 07.08.16).
    • During his visit to Kiev U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has reassured Ukraine that sanctions against Russia will remain in place unless Moscow fulfills its obligations under the Minsk agreement reached last year. Kerry also announced that the United States will provide nearly $23 million in additional humanitarian aid to Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 07.07.16).
    • “Only a deeper partnership between NATO and Ukraine will foster stability in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Black Sea region and the transatlantic area as a whole,” Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko wrote in an op-ed published by Wall Street Journal. “NATO's support is a necessary part of the solution for defense and security threats in Ukraine,” he wrote. (Wall Street Journal, 07.08.16).
    • The European Union will not make any changes in its association agreement with Ukraine to address Dutch voters' concerns, but may issue a declaration clarifying that the agreement brings Ukraine no closer to membership, EU diplomats said.  (RFE/RL, 07.07.16).
    • Ukrainian cabinet of ministers has extended the ban on Russian imports to the country till December 31, 2017. (Tass, 07.06.16).
    • Ukraine’s parliament has stripped lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko accused of misappropriating more than $60 million of his immunity.   (RFE/RL, 07.05.16).
  • Other neighbors:
    • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Georgia on July 6 where he underscored Washington’s commitment to supporting the ex-Soviet nation. The two countries signed a new military cooperation agreement during Kerry visit to Georgia. (RFE/RL, 07.07.16).
    • Opposition protesters in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia have attempted to storm the de facto government’s Interior Ministry building to demand the resignation of the territory’s top police official.  (RFE/RL, 07.05.16).
    • Chancellor Angela Merkel will pay an official visit to Kyrgyzstan on July 13-14, the German leader’s first visit to the Central Asian nation, officials in Bishkek say. (RFE/RL, 07.07.16).

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For more information on this publication: Please contact US-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism
For Academic Citation:Russia in Review.” News, , July 8, 2016.