News

Russia in Review

September 2, 2016

Abstract

Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for August 26-September 2, 2016

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

Nuclear security:

  • Russia is preparing a new used fuel storage program. The concept provides for transportation of used nuclear fuel from the sites of nuclear power plants to Mayak Production Association in Ozersk for reprocessing or to a centralized repository at Mining and Chemical Combine at Zheleznogorsk for storage and subsequent reprocessing.(World Nuclear News, 08.26.16)
  • The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and Indonesian government agencies have announced the completion of a collaborative effort to down-blend Indonesia's stocks of highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium. With the completion of this operation, Indonesia becomes the 30th country plus Taiwan to be declared free of HEU. (NNSA, 08.29.16)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Iranian news agencies are reporting that Iran and Russia have agreed to start building two nuclear power plants in Iran's southern city of Bushehr this month. “Operations to build two new nuclear power plants in Bushehr will start on September 10 and it will take 10 years for the power [units] to be completed," Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said. (RFE/RL, 09.02.16)
  • The United States has carried out its part of the Iranian nuclear deal, but unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran have remained in place and are a "big hindrance" for Tehran, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Sergei Ryabkov said while visiting Tehran. (RFE/RL, 09.01.16)
  • Iran has deployed a Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system at its Fordow uranium enrichment facility.  (Russia Today, 08.29.16)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Russia had staged large drills with no advance notification "with increasing frequency," NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow said. He said NATO wants to "develop a more stringent regime to increase transparency and ... predictability and a way to better stabilize what is a very unsatisfactory relationship with Russia." (AP, 08.29.16)
  • The United States said on Thursday it was skeptical about Germany's call for a new arms control deal with Russia to avoid an escalation of tensions in Europe, given Moscow's violation of a series of other agreements Daniel Baer, the U.S. envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told Reuters that Washington favors continued dialogue with Russia to enhance transparency, but is wary of entering into any new agreements at this point. (Reuters, 09.01.16)
  • Asked directly if he was confident in the ability of aircraft carrier and its air wing to fight inside an A2/AD zone, Adm. John Richardson, chief of U.S. naval operations was unequivocal in his answer. “Yes,” Richardson said. (National Interest, 08.29.16)
  • Speaking at a Defense Ministry meeting on Tuesday, Sergei Shoigu confirmed that “there are plans to form a coastal defense division in 2018 on the Chukotka operational direction.” The new forces scheduled to arrive in 2018 will be as close as 85km to the U.S. border. (Washington Times, 08.29.16)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.

Counter-terrorism:

  • The United States is offering a reward of $3 million for information about fugitive Tajik Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, who joined the Islamic State group last year. (RFE/RL, 08.30.16)
  • Head of Russia’s Kabardino-Balkaria Republic Yury Kokov has said that that 125-150 militants from Kabardino-Balkaria are currently fighting in Syria. (RFE/RL, 08.27.16)
  • A suicide bomber has attacked the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek in a suspected terrorist attack. The three wounded people were Kyrgyz employees of the embassy, the news agency Interfax reported. According to preliminary data, the bomber was a Uighur. The Chinese Embassy in Bishkek has suspended the issuance of visas to Kyrgyz citizens following the attack. (New York Times, Moscow Times, 08.30.16, RFE/RL, 09.01.16)
  • A Kyrgyz court announced on August 29 that it has sentenced a controversial opposition figure to seven years in jail on terrorism-related charges. According to the charges against Nurlan Motuev, he expressed support for Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. (RFE/RL, 08.29.16)
  • A court in Kazakhstan’s northwestern city of Aqtobe has jailed a man for calling for a series of terrorist attacks to be carried out in neighboring Russia. According to the court, Almas Abdiraev tried to persuade two acquaintances to organize terrorist acts in Russia "as a response to Russia's military operations in Syria." On August 31, Kazakh authorities said they had apprehended 11 Islamists in the Aqtobe region, of which Aqtobe is the capital. (RFE/RL, 09.02.16)

Cyber security:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin denied this week that Russia had sponsored the hackers who stole emails and documents from the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other U.S. political institutions, adding that the American public should focus on the content of the leaks rather than searching for who did it. He called the accusations against Russia by U.S. officials and politicians an attempt to "distract the public's attention." "At any rate we definitely do not do this at the state level," Putin added. (Washington Post, Bloomberg, 09.02.16).
  • Hackers targeted voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona, and the FBI alerted Arizona officials in June that Russians were behind the assault on the election system in that state. U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and other congressional Democrats are asking the FBI to investigate concerns that the Russian government may be attempting to undermine the U.S. presidential election through cyberattacks.  (RFE/RL, 08.31.16, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, 08.30.16)
  • A Russian hacking group linked to a series of computer intrusions at the Democratic National Committee and other organizations is now targeting Washington think tanks focused on Russian policy, according to investigators at computer-security firm CrowdStrike Inc. The company detected "several intrusions" at think tanks that it said bore the trademarks of a Russian hacking group alternatively known as Cozy Bear and APT 29. (Wall Street Journal, 08.31.16)
  • The World Anti-Doping Agency has suffered “daily” cyber-attacks and harassment from Russia, WADA Director General Olivier Niggli said. (Moscow Times, 09.02.16)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Vladimir Putin said he would like OPEC and Russia to reach a deal to freeze supply and expects the dispute over Iran’s participation can be resolved. “Until now, Russia had sounded wary of giving the proposal another chance. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Thursday that no accord is necessary when prices are around $50 a barrel (Bloomberg, 09.02.16)
  • During a presentation at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Gazprom's head Alexei Miller noted that the company had expanded European exports by 10 percent between January and August 2016. In addition, the energy giant's monopoly share of the European market reached 31 percent. (Moscow Times, 09.02.16)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • Russian and U.S. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama will meet at a G20 summit in China on Sept. 4-5 and define the format of their talk themselves, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Aug. 30. (Tass, 08.30.16)
  • Russian officials mostly shrugged off the impact of a new round of sanctions announced by the United States on September 1 targeting 37 individuals and companies involved in Russia's aggression in Ukraine.  Companies helping to construct a bridge to Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, were among the biggest new targets. European Union also appears set to prolong asset freezes and visa bans against 146 individuals and 37 entities that, according to the EU, are responsible for actions against Ukraine's territorial integrity. The targets of the sanctions include companies in Crimea and various battalions formed by the Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, as well as Russian politicians like Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Dmitry Kiselyov (RFE/RL, 08.31.16, RFE/RL, 09.02.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted both Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s tactics on the campaign trail but refused to publicly take sides in a U.S. presidential race. “They’re both using shock tactics, just each in their own way,” the Russian president said in an interview. “I don’t think they are setting the best example,” he added. He also described the candidates as “very smart people” who “understand which buttons you need to press” to win support. “I would like to work with a person who can make responsible decisions and implement any agreements that we reach,’’ Putin said, asked who he would prefer to have at the end of the hotline when he’s trying to stabilize a threatening geopolitical situation. “Their last name doesn’t matter.” (Bloomberg, 09.02.16)
  • Donald Trump has accused the State Department under Hillary Clinton of approving the Russian takeover of uranium assets in the U.S. after investors in the deal paid $145 million to the Clinton Foundation.  “Does that mean we control the Clinton family?” Vladimir Putin asked in the interview. “That’s complete nonsense.” (Bloomberg, 09.02.16)
  • “Only the out of touch media elites think the biggest problems facing America -- you know this, this is what they talk about, facing American society today is that there are 11 million illegal immigrants who don't have legal status. And, they also think the biggest thing, and you know this, it's not nuclear, and it's not ISIS, it's not Russia, it's not China, it's global warming,” Donald Trump said. (New York Times, 09.02.16)

II. Russia’s domestic news.

Politics, economy and energy:

  • "This is one of the key challenges in the country today - namely, stopping the depopulation of regions of the Far East, including the Primorsky Territory," President Vladimir Putin said Thursday. The Far East and Eastern Siberia  contain tremendous resources, including oil and gas, 90 percent of Russian tin, 30 percent of Russian gold, 35 percent of forest, 70 percent of Russia’s fish is harvested in the local waters, according to Putin.    (Sputnik, 09.01.16, Bloomberg, 09.02.16)
  • A survey published Thursday by the independent Levada Center pollster showed support for United Russia had dropped from 57 percent to 50 percent in August compared to July among those who said they were going to vote in the Sept. 18 State Duma elections. The change was 39 percent to 31 percent when including undecided voters. (Moscow Times, 09.01.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is pushing ahead with plans to sell a fifth of Rosneft PJSC, the country’s largest listed oil producer, as the government seeks to cut its budget deficit. The sale of the 19.5 percent stake could happen as early as this year if the company can find “appropriate strategic investors,’’ the Russian leader said (Bloomberg, 09.02.16)
  • Sberbank’s capitalization on the Moscow Stock Exchange reached 3.24 trillion rubles as of Friday, Aug. 26, while Gazprom’s stood slightly lower at 3.19 trillion rubles. (Moscow Times, 08.29.16)
  • Russian police have detained grieving relatives at an event commemorating the Beslan school massacre after they criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported Thursday. (Moscow Times, 09.01.16)
  • St. Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko is to leave his post after Russia's parliamentary elections on Sept. 18, the RBC newspaper reported Wednesday. The move is alleged to have been triggered ongoing controversy surrounding the city's planned World Cup stadium. Among those tipped to replace Poltavchenko, include Maksim Sokolov, Russia’s current transport minister, and Sergey Naryshkin, Russia’s current Duma speaker. (Moscow Times, 09.01.16)
  • President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov has 1.9 million followers on Instagram (Wall Street Journal, 08.27.16)

Defense and Aerospace:

  • Russian designers are carrying out final tests of the newest Kh-32 cruise missiles for the Tu-22M3 long-range bombers involved in the Syrian operation. The new weapon will be able to rise into the stratosphere to a height of up of 130,000 feet, with a nuclear or conventional 500-kilogram warhead and hit targets within a few yards. (RBTH,  08.30.16)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired two top-ranking generals from the country’s Investigative Committee: Dmitry Shershakov and Vitaly Frolov. (Moscow Times, 08.28.16)

III. Foreign affairs and trade:

Syria:

  • Vladimir Putin said Russia and the U.S. are close to striking a deal on fighting terrorists in Syria. “We’re gradually, gradually heading in the right direction,” the Russian president said. “I don’t rule out that we’ll be able to agree on something in the near future and present our agreements to the international community.” “One of the key problems is that we insist, and our U.S. partners are not opposed to this, that the so-called healthy part of the opposition should be separated from the radical groups and terrorist organizations.” (Bloomberg, 09.02.16)
  • Washington and Moscow have inched toward agreeing on a renewed cease-fire in Syria but fell short of announcing a deal after a daylong meeting between top diplomats in Geneva. "We are close," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after 12-hour talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on August 26. Kerry said that the "vast majority" of technical obstacles to a cease-fire were cleared but some issues remained unresolved. Kerry and Lavrov said their "technical teams" will continue to talk, and Kerry indicated that an agreement, if it is possible, could be reached within the next week. Kerry also said the United States is seeking to enlist neighboring countries that have influence in Syria to help separate rebel forces from the Al-Nusra group, which recently renamed itself Fateh Al-Sham Front and renounced its affiliation with Al-Qaeda. Kerry said neither Washington nor Moscow is deceived by the name change. Lavrov said on August 26th that one of the unresolved issues is the possibility of coordinating air strikes against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Syria. Speaking on Sept. 2, Larvov said Moscow and Washington have reached an understanding on a majority of issues concerning Syria. He noted that daily contacts between the Russian and U.S. diplomats, military and intelligence agencies continue "to develop this algorithm (of the fight against terrorism)." The minister added that this work would be completed before long.  (RFE/RL, 08.27.16, Washington Post, 08.28.16, Tass, 09.02.16)
  • Russia and the United States have been discussing a joint-attack on the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo since December 2015, Russia's Interfax news agency reported Monday. A coordinated operation in the city could start as early as mid-September, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified source. (Moscow Times, 08.29.16)
  • The Russian military said on Wednesday that its warplanes had carried out a strike in Syria that killed up to 40 Islamic State militants, including Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the group's senior strategist and spokesman who was heavily involved in planning attacks overseas. The Russian announcement appeared to be a direct challenge to an American claim made a day earlier that one of its drone strikes had killed the same senior figure. Pentagon officials dismissed Russia's claim. (New York Times, 09.01.16)
  • Two American fighter pilots who intercepted Syrian combat jets over northern Syria in the second half of August said they came within 2,000 feet of the planes without the Syrians aware they were being shadowed. U.S. commanders contacted the Russians by phone to seek information, but the Russians were unaware of the Syrian action. “We made it very clear to our folks from the highest levels: We’re not at war with the Russians or Syrians,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. “We’re not here to shoot down Russian or Syrian airplanes.” In the air command center in Qatar, which oversees air operations in the Middle East, Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria said he was prepared to order the pilots to down the Syrian aircraft if they threatened coalition forces. “I wouldn’t have hesitated,” he said. (USA Today, 08.26.16)
  • After Recep Erdogan met with Vladimir Putin on Aug. 9, Turkey sent a high-level military delegation to Russia to discuss its planned operation into Syria. During the discussions Russians assured Turkish officials that Moscow wouldn't target Ankara's forces if Turkey moved across the border, according to senior Turkish officials. Then Russian media reported last Friday that Moscow has asked Turkey for information on its air operations inside Syria. The Russian Defense Ministry wants “to prevent air incidents because it will be the first time when Turkish warplanes will intensively bomb targets in Syria and may meet Russian warplanes in midair,” a ministry official said, according to the newspaper Izvestia. (Wall Street Journal, 08.30.16, Washington Post, 08.26.16)
  • In 2016, from 1,000 to 1,600 employees of a Russian private military company known as the Wagner group were simultaneously present in Syria, says a source familiar with the operation. PMC fighters played a major part in recapturing the historical part of the city of Palmyra from ISIS forces, says a former officer with the group.  (RBC/RBTH, 08.26.16)
  • Russia has questioned a report by the United Nations that blames Syrian government forces for two chlorine gas attacks and said the UN Security Council cannot use the conclusions to impose sanctions. (RFE/RL, 08.31.16)

Other far abroad countries and foreign affairs in general:

  • “We do not trade territories although concluding a peace treaty with Japan is certainly a key issue and we would like to find a solution to this problem together with our Japanese friends…. I don’t think that we are closer (to a deal)  than in 1956 but anyway we have resumed our dialogue and agreed that our foreign ministers and relevant experts at the level of deputy ministers will intensify this work” Russian President Vladimir Putin said ahead of his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two met on September 2nd to discuss the development of bilateral cooperation and interaction in Asia Pacific. The meeting was held on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum, which is being held in Vladivostok on September 2–3.  Putin is visit Japan in December. (RFE/RL, 08.30.16, Bloomberg, Kremlin.ru, 09.02.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said the euro area could someday shrink in size if its stronger members sought to close ranks. "I don’t rule out that there could be some decisions made that would consolidate a group of countries with equal levels of development and, thereby, in my opinion, strengthening the euro," Putin said in an interview in Vladivostok, on Russia’s Pacific coast. Putin pointed to Russia keeping 40 percent of its currency reserves in euros as evidence that it wasn’t in his country’s interest for the 19-member bloc to "collapse." (Bloomberg, 09.02.16)
  • The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Turkish, French and German leaders in a series of meetings on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov also said Putin will discuss a need for "a new impetus in bilateral relations" with British Prime Minister Theresa May on September 4. He will also discuss the Syrian crisis with Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. (RFE/RL, 08.30.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the 71st session of the UN General Assembly in September. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will address the General Assembly on Sept. 23. (Tass, 08.29.16)
  • "The Arctic must be regarded as a space for an open and equitable dialogue...where there will be no place for geopolitical games by military blocs, backstage deals, or struggle for spheres of influence," Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a message read to Arctic Council members. (RFE/RL, 08.31.16)
  • "All of us are interested in lifting the sanctions regime as soon as possible and in the best way," French President Francois Hollande told an annual meeting with ambassadors in Paris on Aug. 30.  Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico renewed his call for the European Union to end sanctions against Russia after a meeting this week with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Czech President Milos Zeman also has also repeatedly called for ending sanctions. (RFE/RL, 08.27.16, Tass, 08.30.16)
  • Russian agents in the Czech Republic are trying to undermine the unity of European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization through an extensive online misinformation campaign, according to the Czech counterintelligence agency. (Bloomberg, 09.01.16)
  • A cargo train left south China's Guangzhou City for Russia’s Kaluga region on Aug. 28.  The new cargo train service saves 30 days compared with shipping services, and it costs just a fifth of the price for air transportation. (Tass, 08.28.16)
  • Dozens of Chechens are camping in Belarus at the border with Poland, complaining that they are "refugees" who are being prevented from entering the EU-member country by Polish authorities. (RFE/RL, 08.30.16)
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a directive lifting a nine-month ban on charter flights to Turkey. (RFE/RL, 08.28.16)
  • A feasibility study on the construction of nuclear power plants in Jordan is to be prepared in the first half of next year, Sergey Kirienko, director general of the Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom said. (World Nuclear News, 09.02.16)
  • Russia’s nuclear utility Rosatom Corp. said it held talks with Ghana to prepare for the future use of atomic energy in the West African nation. (Bloomberg, 09.01.16).

Ukraine:

  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said renewed efforts to cement a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine appeared to be taking hold. Mr. Poroshenko and separatist leaders said this week that forces from both sides would observe a so-called "quiet period" starting Thursday. It is the latest push, backed by France and Germany, to stop fighting. Speaking at a meeting of ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Potsdam, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on September 1 that the latest truce deal   had sharply reduced military activities. (Wall Street Journal, 09.01.16, RFE/RL, 09.01.16)
  • Thirteen civilians who were allegedly held incommunicado, interrogated, and tortured after being rounded up “abduction-style” have been released from a secret jail run by Ukraine’s domestic security service, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. (RFE/RL, 08.29.16)
  • Thousands of Russian armed forces have taken part in operations in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian military awards analysis by investigative group Bellingcat. Bellingcat estimates that 4300 awards “For Distinction in Combat” were given out between November 7, 2014 and February 18, 2016, which “strongly suggests larger combat operations with active Russian military involvement in this period.” At the same time the report notes that “it is possible that some awards are related to the Russian involvement in the Syrian war.” (Newsweek, Belfer Center, 09.01.16)
  • A court in Russia has jailed a Russian man for fighting against Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk. (RFE/RL, 08.30.16)
  • Frustrated relatives of people killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine have appealed to the European Union’s top diplomat to put pressure on Russia, Ukraine, and the United States to provide investigators with intelligence and radar data about the tragedy. (RFE/RL, 08.31.16)
  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's media freedom advocate called on Ukrainian authorities to carry out a thorough investigation into the death of journalist Aleksandr Shchetinin. Shchetinin, a founder of the Novy Region online news agency, was found dead in his apartment in Kyiv on August 28. (RFE/RL, 08.30.16)
  • Ukraine is to officially launch on September 1 a delayed online system that monitors the incomes and assets of government officials. The delays drew criticism from the United States and European Union, and hampered efforts to unfreeze Ukraine's $17.5 billion international bailout. (RFE/RL, 09.01.16)
  • Russians’ interest in events in Donbass has been waning, according to Russia’s state-owned VTsIOM pollster. The share of respondents who believe Russia should not be intervening in the conflict grew from 28% in January 2015 to 38% this summer, VTsIOM told Russia’s Kommersant newspaper. The share of Russians who believe Russia should recognize Donbass’ independent has remained at 23% since 2014. (Belfer Center, 08.30.16)
  • Chinese state aviation is to jointly produce the world’s largest aircraft, the An-225 Mirya, previously made by Ukraine’s Antonov Aircraft Company. (Moscow Times, 09.01.16)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The Uzbek government has confirmed the death of President Islam Karimov, six days after he was taken to hospital with a suspected brain haemorrhage. One of Asia's most authoritarian leaders, Mr. Karimov, 78, died after 27 years in power. Mr. Karimov has no clear successor. There is no legal political opposition and the media are tightly controlled. (Bloomberg. 09.02.16)
  • Russia is to found its own human rights monitoring group in the former Soviet bloc, the Izvestia newspaper reported Thursday. (Moscow Times, 09.01.16)
  • Moldovan police have fired tear gas to disperse antigovernment protesters during a parade. Many shouted "Thieves!" and "Shame on you!" as President Nicolae Timofti and other officials laid floral wreaths at a monument honoring Stephen the Great, a 15th century Moldovan hero. (RFE/RL, 08.27.16)
  • A Russian man wanted by the United States for alleged money laundering and illegal arms sales has left Armenia after being briefly detained in Yerevan. A lawyer for Sergei Mironov said on August 31 that Mironov had departed from Yerevan on a flight to Moscow. (RFE/RL, 08.31.16)

 

 

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For Academic Citation:Russia in Review.” News, , September 2, 2016.