News

Russia in Review

May 06, 2016

Abstract

Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for April 29 - May 6, 2016

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant developments.

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Western allies are preparing to put four battalions -- a force of about 4,000 troops -- in Poland and the Baltic countries. The U.S. is likely to provide two battalions, while Germany and Britain would likely provide one each. The U.S. battalions are likely to be drawn from brigades the U.S. has said it would begin rotating in and out of Europe. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has given his backing to German plans to send troops to Lithuania to reassure NATO’s Eastern European allies wary of a resurgent Russia. The German Defense Ministry has signaled its willingness to deploy a rotating contingent of between 150 and 200 soldiers to Lithuania.  A Bertelsmann Foundation poll published last week found that just 31% of Germans would support sending German troops to defend the Baltic States or Poland against an attack from Russia. (Wall Street Journal, 04.29.16, RFE/RL, 05.03.16).
  • Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on May 4 that Moscow will set up three new military divisions in the west and south of the country by the end of 2016 in response to what he called “the buildup of NATO forces in close proximity to Russia's borders.” All three divisions are set to be motor rifle units with up to 10,000 men. One will to be deployed to the Rostov-on-Don region, with two more located in the Smolensk and Voronezh regions. (RFE/RL, Wall Street Journal, 05.04.16, Moscow Times, 05.05.16).
  • As American commanders draw up a budget request for fiscal year 2018, military leaders are looking at deploying even more troops and hardware to Eastern Europe. The funding request also will include investments in space systems, cyber weapons, and ballistic missile defense designed to check a resurgent Russia, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Foreign Policy, 05.03.16).
  • "We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in Germany. "We do not seek to make Russia an enemy. But make no mistake, we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us." "Most disturbing," Carter said, is loose talk by Russian about using nuclear weapons." "The United States will continue to hold out the possibility that Russia will assume the role of a constructive partner moving forward, not isolated and going backward in time as it appears to be today," Carter said. "We'll keep the door open for Russia," he said. But it's up to the Kremlin to decide."  (AP, 05.03.16).
  • Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti assumed command of NATO's Allied Command Operations from Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove. "We face a resurgent Russia and its aggressive behavior that challenges international norms," U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti said earlier this week upon taking command of U.S. forces in Europe. He added that the Atlantic alliance's forces must be "ready to fight should deterrence fail." (RFE/RL, 05.04.16, DOD News, 05.04.16).
  • Next month, 13,000 U.S. troops will take part in a massive NATO exercise in Poland, joining 12,000 troops from 24 other allied nations in one of the largest alliance exercises in recent memory. U.S. officials have said the 11-day event will include live fire exercises, air assault maneuvers, air defense drills, and tank exercises. (FP, 05.03.16).
  • The U.S. has begun to build up the number of intelligence analysts examining Russia, which stood at 13,000 at the height of the Cold War before dipping to a low point of just 1,000 three years ago, Philip Breedlove, the outgoing top military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said. But Gen. Breedlove said the U.S. needs more technical intelligence assets, the kind of spy satellites focused on the threat from Russia.  (Wall Street Journal, 05.02.16).
  • The intention at the biannual NATO summit meeting in Warsaw in early July is to move from “reassurance” of eastern NATO allies to “deterrence” of Russia. At the NATO summit there will also be discussion of how to recreate the infrastructure, dismantled after the Cold War, to move tanks quickly to Poland, which now takes at least a day.  (New York Times, 05.05.16).
  • “I believe it is important to understand what the Russian view is… Russia does not accept and does not care for the way the rules were rewritten at that time when they were in a weakened position. And so Russia is not interested in breaking those rules. They’re interested in rewriting them. Their every effort these days are to be seen as equal on the world’s stage,” said Gen. Philip Breedlove, the outgoing  top commander of U.S. and alliance forces in Europe. “We need to be careful not paint them as 10 feet tall because they’re not, and if we overstate, then we lose credibility. But I’ve also said they may not be 10 feet tall but they’re pretty close to 7 feet tall,” Gen. Philip Breedlove, the outgoing  top commander of U.S. and alliance forces in Europe, said of Russians. (Wall Street Journal, 05.03.16).
  • "We have a lot of problems with the Russians, but in areas that it is in our national security interest, we need to work with them in the most effective way possible, and the most effective way possible is as one of its inherent necessities, mutual predictability," Gottemoeller said at the Center for Strategic International Studies. (Sputnik, 05.05.16).
  • U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said it is an accepted practice for planes to fly over ships to announce their presence, as long as they do it from a safe altitude. But the Russian fighter planes flying over USS Donald Cook were simulating attack runs, a provocative maneuver, and came far too close, he said. “I grew up in the Cold War in the military, and when I heard the Russians buzzed the Donald Cook I said, ‘What is new?' But it was really new," Mr. Work said. “This type of activity, this type of repeated simulated attack runs, at an extremely low level is unsafe and dangerous." Russia has said the U.S. was operating too close to its military bases in Kaliningrad. (Wall Street Journal, 04.29.16).
  • Russian Defense Ministry suggests US surveillance planes should either keep their distance from Russian borders while performing flights over the Baltic Sea, or at least keep aerial transponders switched on for identification.” The RC-135U reconnaissance plane is frequently trying to sneak up to the Russian border with the transponder off. Our anti-aircraft defense has to order our fighters off the ground simply to visually identify the type of aircraft and its ID number,” Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said. (RT, 04.30.16).
  • Russian pilots are escalating tensions with the West by buzzing U.S. military targets in the Baltics, the U.S. chief of naval operations has said. Admiral John Richardson said the repeated buzzing increased the chance of a "tactical miscalculation," although "I don't think the Russians are trying to provoke an incident. I think they're trying to send a signal."  (RFE/RL, 05.03.16).
  • A Russian MiG-31 jet flew within 50 feet of a U.S. surveillance aircraft in the vicinity of the Kamchatka Peninsula Asia on April 21. (Freedom Beacon, 04.28.16).
  • Russian military planes regularly violate Estonian airspace in what the country's defense minister described on May 3 as "incredibly reckless" behavior.  (RFE/RL, 05.04.16).
  • U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for Russian aircraft showing a 'lack of respect' for America to be shot down 'at a certain point.'(Moscow Times, 05.03.16).
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited Japan to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in March 2015. Abe responded by saying that Tokyo may consider this request in the future, adding that if Japan joins NATO now, its negotiations with Moscow over the disputed "northern territories," —known as the Kuril Islands in Russia — would be over.  (Moscow Times, 05.02.16).
  • Finland would provoke a "serious crisis" with Russia if it joined NATO, a report commissioned by the government warned on April 29.The expert report also said that Finland and Sweden should move together if they want to join the transatlantic military alliance. (RFE/RL, 04.30.16).

Missile defense:

  • NATO’s European missile defense system goes live on Thursday when a base in Romania becomes operational. The next day, Poland is scheduled to break ground on its NATO missile-defense base. (New York Times, 05.05.16).

Nuclear arms control:

  • Some NATO country officials, including in Poland, believe that Moscow already has nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, and will wait to announce that deployment in response to an operational missile defense, or as Moscow’s riposte to the NATO summit in July. The newly robust NATO moves may give Moscow the excuse to announce that it is pulling out of the I.N.F. treaty altogether.  (New York Times, 05.05.16).

Counter-terrorism:

  • Officially, some 900 Dagestanis have left for Syria. Independent experts say the true figure may be as high as 4,000. Dagestan has supplied nearly eight times more jihadists than Belgium, the leading source of European foreign fighters. The exodus of radicals to Syria led to a drop-off in the ongoing low-level insurgency in Dagestan: casualties fell 46% in 2014 and a further 51% in 2015. Most fighters who stayed in Dagestan have switched their allegiance from the Caucasus Emirate (CE), a regional insurgent group linked with al-Qaeda, to IS, which last year claimed the Russian North Caucasus as one of its provinces. (The Economist, 05.03.16).
  • A group of Central Asian countries' citizens, connected with international terrorism and plotting to stage a terrorist attack in Krasnoyarsk during the May holidays, were detained on May 6, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has said. On May 4, FSB announced the detention of a group of Central Asian countries' citizens who had planned to stage a series of terrorist attacks in the Moscow area, during the May holidays, "on orders from the leaders of international terrorist organizations active on the territory of Syria and Turkey." (Interfax, 05.06.16).
  • Russian authorities say they have killed three militants in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region of Dagestan. Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee (NAK) said all three slain militants had been involved in attacks against police officers as well as extortion schemes. NAK said one the militants killed in the operation, Umar Sabuyev, was a leader of a criminal organization called the Kizilyurt gang.  (RFE/RL, 05.04.16).
  • An unknown attacker has shot and killed a chief accountant in the police department in Russia's restive North Caucasus region of Dagestan. (RFE/RL, 05.06.16).

Cyber security:

  • Russia is planning to punish users of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, saying anonymous, difficult-to-trace transactions help kidnappers and money launderers. (Bloomberg, 05.02.16).
  • Nikita Kuzmin, a Russian man who spent three years in jail in the United States for creating a vicious computer virus was spared further prison time but ordered to pay $6.9 million to cover losses to bank customers. (RFE/RL, 05.03.16).

Energy exports from CIS:

  • "Our traditional customers demonstrated a stable growth of demand for Russian gas in January-April 2016: Germany (+19% as compared with the same period in 2015), Italy (+8.7%), France (+43%) and Austria (+23%)," Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller told reporters. (Interfax, 05.02.16).
  • U.S. oil imports this year have surged 20% to about eight million barrels a day since early May 2015. Crude from Russia is arriving at U.S. ports (Wall Street Journal, 05.04.16).

Bilateral economic ties:

  • Media Alliance, a joint venture of the National Media Group and the U.S. media giant Discovery Communications, has closed a deal to buy the Russian assets of broadcasting company Turner, the RBC newspaper reported Thursday. (Moscow Times, 05.05.16).

Other bilateral issues:

  • Gen. Philip Breedlove, the outgoing top commander of U.S. and alliance forces in Europe, said: “Most of those decisions are focused on the preservation of the regime. We believe that that group will be with us for some time. Their ability to shape the Russian people’s approach and understanding is pretty firm. And we’re not sure that we might be in a better place if we saw a change,” he said. Breedlove described Russian President Vladimir Putin as "more reasonable" than other possible alternatives in Russian leadership circles. (Wall Street Journal, 05.03.16).
  • Judge Shira A. Scheindlin revealed that she believed that the 25-year sentence she imposed in 2012 on Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in 2011 was excessive and inappropriate, but because one count carried a mandatory 25-year minimum sentence, she was unable to impose a lesser term. By the time of his arrest, he was “pretty well retired,” according to the retiring judge. “The question was, ‘Was he still an international arms dealer, and does that matter?’” she continued. “They reeled this guy in,” she said. “They offered him a lot of money.” She added, “I gave the lowest sentence I could possibly give.” (New York Times, 05.02.16).
  • Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in the United States, has decided to forgo the processing of his case by the U.S. Supreme Court and other legal actions. (Interfax, 05.06.16).
  • Medical authorities in California say a Russian citizen who died while at a San Diego immigration detention center on May 1 succumbed to heart disease. (RFE/RL, 05.05.16).

II. Russia news.

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia’s non-oil deficit, the shortfall excluding revenue from the energy industry, was at 11 percent in the first half of last year, the widest in a decade. That’s above a level Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has called “critical.” Oil and natural gas account for about a third of Russia’s budget revenue and almost 60 percent of its exports. Under the Economy Ministry’s forecast for oil at $40 through 2019, GDP will return to growth next year after shrinking 0.2 percent in 2016 and 3.7 percent last year. (Bloomberg, 05.06.16).
  • Consumer confidence in Russia fell to 63 points in the first quarter of this year on Nielsen's Consumer Confidence Index, the lowest level since records began in 2005.  (Moscow Times, 04.29.16).
  • Russia's President Vladimir Putin appointed former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, deputy chairman of the President's Economic Council. (Reuters, 04.30.16).
  • President Vladimir Putin has approved a law giving Russian citizens free plots of land in the country's Far East. (Moscow Times, 05.02.16).
  • For the first time in 15 years of tracking by GlobeScan, findings indicate that nearly one in two people (49%) surveyed across 14 tracking countries see themselves more as global citizens than citizens of their country. Russians’ views, however, run counter to this global citizenship sentiment, which is being driven by citizens of large emerging economies. In particular, Russia has highest share of respondents who don't see themselves as global citizens (74%), according to the poll, results of which were released in April.  Russia also has highest share of respondents who disapprove of intermarriage between races (42%), of immigration from other countries (67%) and of accepting refugees (68%). (GlobeScan, April 2016, Belfer Center, 05.04.16).

Defense and Aerospace:

  • Tests of Russia's newest intercontinental ballistic missile RS-28 'Sarmat" are due to begin this year, General Director and General Designer of the Makeyev State Rocket Center Vladimir Degtyar has said. (Interfax, 05.04.16).
  • “Russia has moved ahead with research on third and fourth generation nuclear weapons—that is neutron bombs—with the idea of making a usable battlefield nuclear weapon, “retired four-star general Wesley Clark said. (Fortune, 05.03.16).
  • Significantly, military expenditures are the one area that has not been cut in Russia; in fact, they continue to grow, and in 2015 they reached 5.5% of gross domestic product (GDP). (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 04.15.16).
  • Seventy-one planes and helicopters will take part in the aerial part of the V-Day parade in Moscow, on May 9, Russian Aerospace Forces Commander-in-Chief, Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev has said. The Kremlin this year expects foreign states’ leaders to attend the Victory Day festivities, although no official invitations have been extended. (Tass, Interfax, 05.05.16).

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russia's President Vladimir Putin fired several high-ranking law enforcement officials on Saturday in one of the biggest overhauls of the country's power structures in recent years. (Reuters, 04.30.16).
  • Russian federal investigators say three suspects arrested in connection with the murder of high-ranking police officer Andrei Gosht, and five of his relatives have confessed to the killings. The investigators identified the arrested men on May 3 as Roman Fataliyev, Islam Babayev, and Orxan Zahrabov, all natives of Azerbaijan. Russia's Interior Ministry said the fourth suspect - an ethnic Tajik named Mahmadali Ahmadov -- was detained on May 4. (RFE/RL, 05.03.16, 05.05.16).
  • Spanish authorities have issued an arrest warrant for several high-ranking Russian officials suspected of mafia ties in the country. State Duma deputy Vladislav Reznik was among the 12 Russian citizens targeted by Spanish authorities .Several other prominent Russian officials also appear on the list, including General Nikolai Aulov, deputy director of the Federal Drug Control Service and former KGB colleague of Vladimir Putin; and former deputy chairman of the Investigative Committee Igor Sobolev. All three men deny the charges. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has described the prosecutors' allegations to journalists as "total nonsense," telling the Bloomberg news agency that the claims were "beyond the realm of reason." (Moscow Times, 05.03.16).
  • Police in Portugal have carried out searches at several soccer clubs as part of a probe into suspected money laundering with possible links to Russian crime. (RFE/RL, 05.04.16).
  • The number of people convicted for extremism in Russia has increased three-fold over the past five years, the Gazeta.ru news website reported Thursday, citing a recent study. In 2011, the number of convictions for extremism stood at 137 people, while in 2015 the number had increased to 414, according to a report prepared by the Center for Economic and Political Reforms.. A court in the Russian city of Tver has sentenced a man to two years and three months in prison for reposting material about Crimea on a social-media network.  (Moscow Times, 05.05.16, RFE/RL, 05.06.16).
  • Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) has repeatedly asked officials to make fewer arrests in a bid to ease prison overcrowding. (Moscow Times, 05.04.16).
  • Alexander Rubtsov, an editor at Natsionalnaya Sluzhba Novosti, has been found murdered in his Moscow apartment. (Moscow Times, 05.06.16).
  • Russia's Interior Ministry have purchased 120 Shmel portable flame rocket launchers, used by Soviet troops in Afghanistan and by Russian troops in Chechnya, the Kommersant newspaper reported on Thursday. (Moscow Times, 05.06.16).

Foreign affairs and trade:

  • Syria:
    • The U.S. and Russia reached an agreement extending a “cessation of hostilities” in parts of Syria to the besieged northern city of Aleppo and it went into effect at midnight Thursday. The agreement resulted in “an overall decrease in violence, even though there have been reports of continued fighting in some locations,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. Since signing of the agreement, however, Syrian government jets have dropped barrel bombs on targets in the countryside near Aleppo. (Al Jazeera, 05.06.16, Bloomberg, 05.04.16).
    • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said an agreement has been reached to create a joint Russian-U.S. center in Geneva in the coming day. U.S. and Russian military officials will sit in the same room 24 hours a day and jointly pore over maps and intelligence to monitor cease-fire violations in Syria under a new system they hope will save a fast-collapsing truce, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Tuesday. Aleppo will not be allowed to fall to the government, Kerry said. (Washington Post, 05.04.16, RFE/RL, 05.03.16).
    • The United States and Russia are studying possible ways to separate rival forces in Syria, delineating potential "safe zones" for opposition fighters amid renewed violence that has threatened to fully collapse a two-month-old cease-fire attempt. (Washington Post, 05.03.16).
    • More than 50 armed opposition groups numbering in total about 7,000 people have laid down their arms and joined the cessation of hostilities agreement in Syria over the past two months, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said. The number of Syria's populated localities, which have joined the reconciliation process, has risen to 92, the Russian Defense Ministry said. (Interfax, 05.05.16).
    • Bashar Assad, in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, vowed to prevail in Aleppo and drew comparisons to Stalingrad's "heroic" resistance to a siege by German troops in World War II. (Washington Post, 05.05.16).
    • The chance of unintentional confrontation between foreign powers involved in Syria has risen, the European Leadership Task Force said on Wednesday. "The shoot-down of the Russian Su-24 aircraft ... showed vividly that a direct confrontation is no longer inconceivable, even if the costs can potentially be catastrophic,” said the security think-tank, whose experts include Russian former policymakers and European ex-ministers and defense planners. (Reuters, 05.03.16).
    • In Palmyra, Russia's culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, joined Russia's representative to UNESCO, Eleonora Mitrofanova, reviewing the damage. Also, a Russian orchestra played a concert in the ancient amphitheater in Palmyra. (Washington Post, 05.05.16, RFE/RL, 05.05.16).
  • Other countries:
    • Moscow and Beijing are to hold their first computer-assisted missile defense drill in May. Russia's Defense Ministry announced in a press release that the exercise will use “the combined operations of Russian and Chinese air and missile defense task forces” to provide protection “from accidental or provocative ballistic or cruise missile attacks.” Both countries maintain that the drill is not directed against a third party. (Moscow Times, 05.03.16).
    • Chinese manufacturers will produce up to 80 percent of the equipment needed for the Yamal LNG project. (Interfax, 05.06.16).
    • Russia and China see both the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as closed structures, which may try to replace the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the future, Sergei Naryshkin, the speaker of the State Duma said in China on May 5. Naryshkin will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing this week (RIA Novosti, 05.06.16, RBTH, 05.05.16).
    • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Russian president Vladimir Putin on Friday in Sochi, Russia, marking the 13th time the two leaders have met. That compares to seven meetings between Mr. Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama. Relations between Japan and Russia “are developing rapidly,” Abe told Putin at the start of their talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.  Moscow plans to invite Abe to take part in its Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on September 2-3.  (Wall Street Journal, 05.03.16, RFE/RL, Bloomberg, 05.06.16).
    • Russia has started to fulfill a contract for the supply of T-72B1 tanks to the Armed Forces of Nicaragua. The total order of Russian military equipment by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government equals 50 units at a cost of $80 million. (Interfax, 05.05.16.)
    • Poland has charged a Warsaw lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship with spying for Russian military intelligence, a prosecutor has said. (RFE/RL, 05.06.16).

Russia's neighbors:

  • Ukraine:
    • Leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko said during his Q&A session with residents of Odessa and Bessarabia on Wednesday that he is against Ukraine’s partition. (Tass, 05.04.16).
    • Police in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa say they found three hand grenades on May 2 ahead of a commemoration ceremony for the 48 people who were killed in a 2014 clash between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian demonstrators.  (RFE/RL, 05.02.16).
    • One Ukrainian soldier has been killed and several troops wounded in Ukraine’s east, the Ukrainian government said on May 1 (RFE/RL, 05.01.16).
    • A team of open-source researchers investigating the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 says it has positively identified a Russian Buk missile launcher that shot down the plane. President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he could not assess the accuracy of the Bellingcat investigation. (RFE/RL, 05.04.16).
    • Russia will only provide extradition documents for Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko if her prison sentence is upheld. (Moscow Times, 05.04.16).
    • IMF says it will send a mission to Kyiv from May 10 to May 18 to review whether the new Ukrainian government's reform program is sufficient to restore disbursements from a $17.5 billion bailout loan. A third tranche of assistance to Ukraine has been held up since October due to concerns that funds might be squandered or stolen by corrupt officials. (RFE/RL, 05.05.16).
    • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed a bill which extends a moratorium on repayments of a $3 billion Eurobond owed to Russia, the RBC news website reported Wednesday. (Moscow Times, 05.04.16).
    • “We’ve helped Ukraine reduce its dependency on Russia for gas. And for the first time this past winter, Ukraine received more natural gas from Europe than from Russia, which shows what can happen when you put a strategy in place,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. (State.gov, 05.04.16).
    • Two Ukrainian energy companies that lost control of assets in Crimea when Russia seized the Ukrainian peninsula have asked a UN arbitrator to award compensation.  (RFE/RL, 05.02.16).
    • A new bill in the U.S. Congress would prevent the White House from lifting a raft of sanctions against Russia until Ukraine restores control over Crimea.  (RFE/RL, 04.29.16).
  • Other neighbors:
    • The U.S. Army has deployed Abrams battle tanks in Georgia for the first time, offloading the heavy armor at the Black Sea port of Poti for live-fire training exercises with forces from Georgia and the United Kingdom. (RFE/RL, 05.05.16).
    • Armenia's government has approved a bill drafted by opposition lawmakers that calls for Yerevan to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region. The draft bill was sent to lawmakers on May 5 for debate. (RFE/RL, 05.05.16).
    • Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry says one of its soldiers was killed in an exchange of fire over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region on May 3.  (RFE/RL, 05.03.16).
    • U.S. and Moldovan military forces have begun joint military exercises that are scheduled to last for more than two weeks. About 200 U.S. troops in an armored column entered Moldova from Romania at dawn on May 3. Pro-Russian politicians in Moldova have stepped up their opposition to government plans to invite U.S. troops and military hardware to the World War II anniversary festivities in the capital on May 9.  (RFE/RL, 05.03.16, RFE/RL, 05.06.16).
    • Kazakhstan's credit rating has been downgraded by Fitch Ratings with the agency citing the detrimental effect of lower oil prices on the country's economy. Fitch cut Kazakhstan's credit grade from BBB+ to BBB, the rating company's second-lowest investment grade. (RFE/RL, 05.01.16).
    • Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has postponed a controversial plan to privatize state-owned agricultural land, as ministries tied to the plan were rocked by resignations and reprimands. Agriculture Minister Asylzhan Mamytbekov resigned on May 6, a day after President Nursultan Nazarbaev officially reprimanded him for not being fully fit for his post. (RFE/RL, 05.05.16, RFE/RL, 05.06.16).
    • China and Kazakhstan have signed $2 billion in deals during a trip by the Communist Party chief of China's far western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Chinese media report. There are three Kazakh autonomous prefectures within Xinjiang, where at least 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs, 250,000 Kyrgyz, and some 200,000 Tajiks live. (RFE/RL, 05.06.16).
    • President Almazbek Atambaev says parts of Kyrgyzstan's constitution are "undermining Kyrgyzstan's sovereignty" and "must be amended." Kyrgyzstan's constitution allows its citizens to call upon international courts to protect their rights. (RFE/RL, 05.05.16).
    • The shortage of cash and salary delays in Uzbekistan have now started reaching the capital, Tashkent. Many shops in Uzbekistan have begun rationing Coca-Cola amid a shortage of the beverage and unseasonably hot temperatures.  (Eurasia.net, 05.02.16, RFE/RL, 05.02.16).
    • While Armenia's overall economic growth rate was 3 percent in 2015, the IT sector has grown at an average rate of about 22 percent annually since 2008. Today, the IT sector employs some 15,000 people.  (RFE/RL, 05.03.16).

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