News

Russia in Review

June 03, 2016

Abstract

Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for May 26 – June 3, 2016

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

Nuclear security:

  • The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism meeting, which will take place in the Netherlands on June 15-16, coincides with the 10th anniversary of the initiative’s founding by the United States and Russia.  (Arms Control Today, June 2016).
  • “Nuclear weapons, as in North Korea, and the specter of nuclear terrorism still threaten us all,” U.S. President Barack Obama said. (WHPR, 06.02.16).
  • British authorities underestimate the risk posed by malicious cyber-attacks, data breaches and spy drones to Britain’s nuclear plants and radioactive cargo, new expert analysis by the Nuclear Free Local Authorities suggests. (Russia Today, 05.31.16).

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russia will not deliver tanks and fighter jets to Iran due to existing restrictions,Rostec State Corporation head Sergei Chemezov said. “We stopped manufacturing S-300 [systems] quite a long time ago, but Iran insisted on the S-300. We also offered the more advanced Antey-2500, but they were adamant,” he said. (Interfax, 06.03.16).

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • A single NATO battalion inside Poland would be enough to deter Russian aggression, Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said in an interview Wednesday. Although NATO units in the Baltics would not be able to defeat Russia in case of invasion, they could slow down the attack while waiting for reinforcements, Macierewicz told the Defense News website. NATO is currently seeking to station four new battalions in Eastern Europe: one each in Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.  While Britain, Germany and the United States have agreed to lead one battalion each, to be filled out with soldiers from other NATO allies to preserve the idea of multinational forces, leadership of the fourth is not yet in sight. France is likely to contribute only about 150 soldiers to the new deployments, NATO officials say, after finally agreeing to the idea of forward deployments in Poland after initial opposition. (New York Times, 05.31.16, Moscow Times, 06.01.16).
  • Russia is going to build up its military presence along its western border due to NATO’s growing activity in Eastern Europe. The relocation of two brigades of motorized infantry from Russia’s central regions “can certainly be viewed as Russia’s response to NATO’s increasing activity near our borders,” an identified source told Interfax. (Moscow Times, 06.03.16).
  • The Western alliance is moving toward creating a powerful new intelligence post, according to U.S. and European officials. The new post of Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence—likely to be formally approved by NATO in July—was first proposed to improve the alliance's analysis and information about Russian military activities.  (Wall Street Journal, 06.03.16).
  • Some 16 of the 28 NATO member states have increased defense spending in real terms, with only Italy, Bulgaria and Croatia still cutting. The Baltic States which border Russia have made the biggest changes. Latvia’s budget will rise nearly 60 per cent this year. Lithuania will see a 35 per cent increase and Estonia 9 per cent. Poland is also raising defense expenditure 9 per cent. The UK has pledged to increase spending in order to maintain the 2 per cent of GDP alliance target. According to the 2 per cent guideline, European countries should be spending an additional $100bn annually on their militaries. The current spend is equivalent to around 1.43 per cent of gross domestic product.  “2016 will be the first year with increased defense spending among European allies for many, many years,” said NATO Jens Stoltenberg. (New York Times, Financial Times, Moscow Times, 05.31.16).
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said an upcoming summit will enhance the alliance's defensive and deterrent presence in Poland and other countries on its eastern flank.  Stoltenberg also said the military alliance is not seeking confrontation with Russia by bolstering its battalions in Eastern Europe. "We are strengthening our collective defense not to provoke a conflict but to prevent a conflict," Stoltenberg said. (RFE/RL, 06.02.16, RFE/RL, 05.30.16).
  • Poland says it will start recruiting in September for a new 35,000-strong paramilitary force amid tensions with Russia. (RFE/RL, 06.03.16).
  • NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) met its intended air, sea, and land deployment goals during NATO's Exercise 'Brilliant Jump', which saw 2,500 allied troops deploy from across Europe into Poland, according to allied officials.(Jane’s, 05.31.16).
  • “There is a sense at NATO that Russian decision-making cycles are faster moving than western ones are," a senior U.S. official said. (Wall Street Journal, 06.03.16).

Missile defense:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow has no choice but to retaliate over the U.S. missile shield in Europe. "If yesterday in those areas of Romania people simply did not know what it means to be in the cross-hairs, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security," Putin said. "It will be the same case with Poland." (RFE/RL, 05.28.16).
  • The Missile Defense Agency and Raytheon are testing and developing a new SM-3 missile variant better able to detect and destroy ballistic missile threats approaching the earth’s atmosphere from space. (National Interest, 05.28.16).

Nuclear arms control:

  • Russian military observers are beginning to inspect Belgian territory on June 1, during which they are supposed to visit ranges or be provided with information on military garrisons, chief of the Russian national Nuclear Danger Reduction Center Sergei Ryzhkov said. (Interfax, 06.01.16).

Counter-terrorism:

  • The U.S. State Department issued its annual Country Reports on Terrorism on June 2. According to the reports, “the Russian government has expressed a willingness to work with the United States and multilaterally on counterterrorism issues, although some bilateral counterterrorism joint activities were suspended in the wake of Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea in 2014.” (State.gov, 06.02.16).
  • A United Nations report says the Islamic State extremist group has entered a new phase that emphasizes attacking and killing civilians outside territory it controls in. In the last six months, IS has sponsored or inspired attacks that have killed more than 500 people in 11 countries: Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Egypt, France, Germany, Indonesia, Lebanon, Turkey, and the United States. (RFE/RL, 06.03.16).
  • Ukraine has announced it has detained two suspected Islamic State militants who Kyiv says were planning to travel to Western Europe to stage terror attacks. (RFE/RL, 06.01.16).

Cyber security:

  • Russian police have arrested 50 members of an alleged cyber-crime ring that stole more than 3 billion rubles ($45 million) from banks, the country’s biggest ever crackdown on financial hackers. (Bloomberg, 06.01.16).
  • Google is now reaching more Russian Internet users each month than any other online service, the Vedomosti newspaper reported Tuesday. (Moscow Times, 05.31.16).
  • Russian officials could be banned from using Western online messengers and email services under new proposals from the country's Ministry of Economic Development. (Moscow Times, 05.30.16).
  • At least 54 people were sent to prison in Russia for hate speech last year, most of them for sharing and posting things online, which is almost five times as many as five years ago. (AP, 05.31.16).

Energy exports from CIS:

  • “I think that verbal interventions are unlikely to play any significant role," Alexander Novak told reporters in Moscow Friday.. “It is fundamental factors that are coming into play now.” Novak expects the global oil market to re-balance, even after OPEC on Thursday stuck to its policy of unfettered production. Crude prices have rebounded almost 80 percent from January’s 12-year low to about $50 a barrel. (Bloomberg, 06.03.16).
  • Azerbaijan is considering a sale of $1 billion of Eurobonds to fund construction of a route to bring Caspian natural gas to European markets, bypassing Russia. (Bloomberg, 06.01.16).
  • On May 30, Polish government energy official Piotr Naimski told, that Poland does not plan to renew a long-term gas supply contract with Russia when its current deal with Gazprom expires. The contract, signed in 1996, expires in 2022. Poland was Gazprom’s fifth-biggest EU customer last year, buying about 9 billion cubic meters (320 billion cubic feet) worth more than $2 billion. (Interfax, Bloomberg, 05.31.16).

Bilateral economic ties:

  • Russia’s state-owned Rosatom Corp. plans to expand into supplying fuel assemblies for U.S. reactors in partnership with General Electric Co. amid increasing political tension between the nations. Rosatom, which has since 1987 supplied the U.S. with low-enriched uranium that is then prepared for use in power plants, last week signed an accord to cooperate on possible production of fuel rods in the nation with a venture controlled by the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company. U.S. utilities would be able to use the assemblies at about a third of the nation’s 99 reactors, which generated 20 percent of electricity last year. (Bloomberg, 05.31.16).

Other bilateral issues:

  • U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has claimed that Russia and China will celebrate if her opponent Donald Trump wins the upcoming U.S. elections. "Moscow and Beijing are deeply envious of our alliances around the world, because they have nothing to match them," Clinton said. "They’d love for us to elect a president who would jeopardize that source of strength." Moscow Times, 06.03.16).
  • Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters that “Russia will never catch up to the United States in the space race.” “Our space industry has fallen behind the Americans nine fold. All of our ambitious projects require us to up productivity 150 percent – and even if we manage that, we will still never catch up with them,” Rogozin originally said to Interfax Friday. (Moscow Times, 05.27.16).
  • Russian citizens have named the United States, Ukraine and Turkey as the country's greatest enemies, according to a poll by the independent Levada Center. The United States topped the list of countries, being named as hostile by 72 percent of respondents, followed by Ukraine with 48 percent of respondents. Turkey was seen as an enemy by 29 percent of Russian respondents. (Moscow Times, 06.02.16).
  • President Obama's 2008 campaign pledge to improve the image of the United States around the world hasn't worked in Russia where a decade low of just 1 percent approve of American leadership, according to Gallup. The 1 percent Russian approval of the United States is below where it was when former President George W. Bush left office, at about 20 percent. (Washington Examiner, 05.30.16).
  • Yan Bonner — an American citizen studying in Russia — has been deported from the country for tutoring without a special license. Also, American citizen Wyatt Gerard Ford has sent a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights over his deportation from Russia.  (Moscow Times, 05.30.16, 05.31.16).

 

II. Russia news.

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has urged President Vladimir Putin to reduce geopolitical tensions for the sake of the Russian economy in a meeting on economic reforms. In the meeting's closing speech, President Putin said that while Russia lagged behind in certain areas, the country had a thousand year history and that he would defend its sovereignty to the end of his life. (Moscow Times, 05.30.16).
  • Russian dollar bond yields are currently lower than Portugal's. Just over a year ago, Russian dollar debt yielded more than twice as much as Portugal's. (Wall Street Journal, 05.31.16).
  • Rosatom estimates that the "economic potential" of agreements and memoranda signed at Atom Expo 2016 is as much as $10 billion, its director general  Sergey Kirienko said.  (World Nuclear News, 06.01.16).
  • “If Dudayev were alive today, he would like what he would see. He would say: Ramzan succeeded where I failed," said Chechen parliament member Magomed Hambiev said. (Wall Street Journal, 06.02.16).
  • Speaking at a conference titled “Crime and Punishment: Vice and Atonement,” Alexander Bastrykin, head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, said that a national idea was needed and that such an idea should be supported by legislation. (Moscow Times, 05.26.16).
  • The report from the Russian Institute for Strategic Research described the country's HIV problem as part of information war against Russia. Study co-author Igor Beloborodov claimed that condoms were one of the factors causing the spread of the disease. (Moscow Times, 05.31.16).

Defense and Aerospace:

  • Russia conducted a successful flight test of a developmental anti-satellite missile on Wednesday that is capable of destroying satellites in orbit, American defense officials said. The Nudol direct ascent anti-satellite missile was launched from the Plesetsk test launch facility. (Free Beacon, 05.27.16).
  • Russia will spend around 1.1 trillion rubles ($16.7 billion) on its military manufacturing sector in the 2016-2020 period. Russia is also allocating 100 billion rubles ($1.5 billion) from the state budget for the construction of Il-114 and Il-96-400 planes.  (RFE/RL, 05.30.16, Moscow Times, 05.27.16).
  • Russia says it has launched "unprecedented measures" to develop military infrastructure on the far eastern Kurile Islands, Colonel-General Sergei Surovikin, commander of the eastern military district, said. The Russian Defense Ministry and the Russian Geographical Society have begun engineering works to reconstruct an airfield on the uninhabited volcanic island of Matua on the Kuril archipelago(RFE/RL, 05.27.16, Interfax, 06.01.16).
  • Infrastructure for Russian troops stationed in the Arctic region will be mostly ready by the end of this year, the Northern Fleet staff's press service said. (Interfax, 05.31.15).

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Attackers have shot dead a police officer in Dagestan in his home in front of his wife and two children. (RFE/RL, 06.03.16).
  • A court in Dagestan found Murad Shuaibov and Isa Abdurakhmanov guilty on May 30 of killing journalist Malik Akhmedilov, and sentenced them to 10 1/2 years and eight years in prison, respectively. (RFE/RL, 05.30.16).
  • Russian opposition activist Dmitry Nekrasov has fled the country after hearing he was to be arrested on charges of financing extremism and terrorism. (Moscow Times, 05.27.16).
  • Three alleged members of the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir have been detained in the Chelyabinsk region in Russia's Ural Mountains. (RFE/RL, 06.01.16).

Foreign affairs and trade:

  • Syria:
    • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone on May 29 to discuss joint operations in Syria, the situation on the Syrian-Turkish border and Washington's promises to draw a distinction between the opposition and al-Nusra terrorists, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. (Interfax, 05.31.16).
    • Russia has denied its planes had conducted air strikes overnight against the Syrian rebel-held city of Idlib, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said had killed 23 people. (RFE/RL, 05.31.16).
    • Russian air operations have largely concentrated against positions along the opposition’s last remaining supply route into Aleppo City from May 13 - 26, including against towns northwest of the city and areas in Aleppo’s northern industrial outskirts. (Institute for Study of War, 05.28.16).
    • Russian troops transported an Aleppo resident, Sidra Zaarur, aged 10, who was injured in an attack on the city's residential areas, to Moscow for medical treatment. (Interfax, 06.02.16).
    • "Russia sent a message to the Middle East with its direct intervention in Syria: We are more serious in settling the region's problems than the Americans are," said Salim al-Jabouri, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and the country's leading Sunni politician. (Wall Street Journal, 05.28.16).
    • "The Russians are not doing it because they are part of the Red Cross. They are doing it because they have interests," said Yassine Jaber, a Lebanese Shiite member of parliament and a former cabinet minister. "Now they've achieved their historical dream of having bases in the warm waters of the region, and they will make sure no gas pipelines will come from Central Asia or Qatar without their approval. They have gained a foothold in the region." (Wall Street Journal, 05.28.16).
  • Other countries:
    • Moscow and Beijing have agreed to increase bilateral trade to $200 billion by 2020.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that while the goal seemed ambitious, it would be achievable with a new model of economic cooperation. Lavrov said Putin's planned trip to China will give powerful new impulse to ties between the two nations. (Moscow Times, AP, 05.31.16).
    • In the business sessions of the Russia-China conference organized by the Russian International Affairs Council Viktor Vekselberg called the level of cooperation in innovation “catastrophic,” while China's former ambassador to Russia Li Fenglin complained that “Gazprom is trying to play hide and seek with China.” Li also the conference that in his view Russians “rock from one extreme to another.” “First you call for an alliance and then you start deterring China through cooperating with its neighbors.” An ex-member of China’s State Council told the same conference that “the level of our relations is higher than the Everest, but, unlike this mountain, it can grow even higher.” At the same time, Dai Bingo said that China is not considering establishment of a military alliance with Russia.  To that chairman of PIR Center’s Council Yevgeny Buzhinsky responded by saying “I would very much like our relations to become truly ally-like.”  (Kommersant, 06.03.16, 06.01.16).
    • Russia will deliver S-400 Triumph long-range missile systems to China at the earliest in 2018, Rostec state corporation head Sergei Chemezov said. (Interfax, 06.03.16).
    • British Prime Minister David Cameron says the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) economic powers have agreed that sanctions imposed against Russia over its actions in Ukraine must be extended next month. (RFE/RL, 05.27.16).
    • European Union officials have said they expect a unanimous decision in the coming weeks to renew the bloc's sanctions on Russia, which expire in late July. (Wall Street Journal, 05.28.16).
    • "We believe it is still right and necessary to keep up the pressure but at the same time to apply sanctions against Russia in an intelligent way," a spokesman for Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday. “This followed comments this past week by Sigmar Gabriel, economics minister and vice chancellor, suggesting that limited progress in implementing the February 2015 Minsk peace plan for Ukraine could be rewarded with the lifting of some sanctions. EU officials have indicated, however, that such a discussion was unlikely before what EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini has called a "complete political assessment" of the situation is done in the second half of this year. (Wall Street Journal, 05.28.16).
    • European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker accepted Moscow's invitation to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 16, in what will be the first visit to Russia by a top European Union official since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's also to attend the forum. (RFE/RL, Interfax, 05.31.16).
    • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Russia of providing antiaircraft weaponry and rockets to militants of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party. The Kremlin has rejected the creation of a dedicated working group aimed at normalizing relations between Russia and Turkey. (Moscow Times, 05.30.16, RFE/RL, 05.30.16).
    • Soviet-born politician Avigdor Lieberman has officially taken his post as Israeli Defense Minister. He is the first Russian-speaking Israeli to hold the role. (Moscow Times, 05.31.16).
    • The European Parliament has decided to reestablish contacts with Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma. (RFE/RL, 06.02.16).
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to build closer relations with Greece as he wrapped up a two-day trip to the EU state. Standing beside him, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said, "Everyone recognizes that there cannot exist a future for the European continent with the European Union and Russia at loggerheads." The number of Russian tourists visiting Greece has skyrocketed by more than 500 percent. (RFE/RL, 06.03.16, RFE/RL, 05.30.16, Moscow Times, 05.27.16).
    • A Polish lieutenant colonel, named as J. Zbigniew, has been sentenced to six years in prison for spying for Russia. (Moscow Times, 05.30.16).
    • Tokyo is interested in partnering with the Rosatom state corporation to decommission nuclear power plant installations in Japan, Rosatom Chief Executive Sergei Kirienko told Rossiya 24 on June 1. (Interfax, 06.02.16).

Russia's neighbors:

  • Ukraine:
    • Parliament in Ukraine has passed judicial reforms that Westerns backers say are needed to fight corruption. The changes aim to curb influence on the appointment of judges and limit their immunity in case of malpractice.(RFE/RL, 06.02.16).
    • The Ukrainian side's claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to the deployment of a certain armed police mission of OSCE are not true, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. (Interfax, 06.02.16).
    • The Ukrainian military said on May 29th that one Ukrainian soldier was killed in fighting in Eastern Ukraine. Kiev then said May 30th that three soldiers had been killed and eight wounded. And on June 1st Kiev said that one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and three wounded in attacks over the past 24 hours.(RFE/RL, 06.01.16).
    • The situation in eastern Ukraine after two years of conflict "remains volatile and continues to have a severe impact on human rights," according to a new UN report. International cease-fire observers also warn that renewed fighting between Ukraine's army and Russian-backed separatists in the area threatens to destroy a water-filtration plant in Avdiivka, potentially triggering environmental havoc and a humanitarian emergency. (Washington Post, 06.02.16,RFE/RL, 06.03.16).
    • The Security Service of Ukraine denied claims of United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic that SBU was responsible for hundreds of illegal detentions and torture and that Kiev’s disregard for human rights had become systemic. (Sputnik, 03.06.16).
    • Recognizing the separatist republics of Lugansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine would be “counter-productive” for Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview Tuesday. The Kremlin is ready to support the return of Ukraine’s troubled eastern regions to Kiev government control, according to President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov. (Moscow Times, 05.31.16, 05.26.16).
    • The United States has announced it has signed a major new loan guarantee with Ukraine. The $1-billion commitment is the third of its kind issued by Washington since the pro-EU revolution. (RFE/RL, 06.03.16).
    • Ukraine has proposed that Kyiv and the United States jointly develop and produce a rocket engine to replace Russian rocket engines currently used to launch U.S. military satellites. (RFE/RL, 06.01.16).
    • Ukraine has filed its defense with a British court over a $3 billion debt to Russia, arguing that the original loan agreement with its neighbor was invalid. (RFE/RL, 05.27.16).
    • The June 9, 2010 agreement between the Ukrainian and Russian governments on cooperation in building power units 3 and 4 of the Khmelnytsky Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) has been terminated. (Interfax, 05.26.16).
    • In 2008 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov heaped scorn on then-French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for saying he would consider sanctions. "My friend Kouchner has also said we will soon attack Moldova and Ukraine and the Crimea...but that is a sick imagination and probably that applies to sanctions as well," Lavrov said in Dushanbe in August 2008. (RFE/RL, 06.03.16).
    • A court in Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya has sentenced two Ukrainian citizens to lengthy prison terms after they were found guilty of fighting alongside Chechen separatists in the 1990s. (RFE/RL, 05.27.16).
  • Other neighbors:
    • Former Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili says the South Caucasus nation "must absolutely" join NATO and the European Union, but cautioned that it will first have to overcome Russia's disapproval. (RFE/RL, 06.03.16).
    • The German Parliament overwhelmingly adopted a symbolic but fraught resolution on Thursday declaring the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 a genocide. “Working through the Shoah is the basis of democracy in Germany,” Cem Ozdemir, the co-chairman of the opposition Greens and a driving force behind the resolution, said. “This genocide is also waiting to be worked through.” (New York Times, 06.02.16).
    • Russia says leaders of the Eurasian Economic Union (EES) have agreed to start negotiations on a trade deal with China. (RFE/RL, 05.31.16).
    • Leading rights activists and journalists in Kazakhstan have called on the authorities to immediately release dozens of individuals arrested for taking part in or calling for unsanctioned mass protests against land privatization legislation. (RFE/RL, 05.30.16).
    • A new report by the Walk Free Foundation on global slavery ranks Uzbekistan among the five worst offenders in terms of the number of people forced into modern slavery. (RFE/RL, 05.31.16).
    • Tajikistan has sentenced two leaders of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party to life imprisonment while several others have received lengthy prison terms. (RFE/RL, 06.02.16).

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For Academic Citation:Russia in Review.” News, , June 3, 2016.