News

Russia in Review

Oct. 09, 2015

Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for October 2-9, 2015

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

Nuclear security:

  • Moldovan authorities working with the FBI have interrupted four attempts in the past five years by gangs with suspected Russian connections that sought to sell radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists. The latest known case came in February this year, when a smuggler offered a huge cache of deadly cesium — enough to contaminate several city blocks — and specifically sought a buyer from the Islamic State (IS) group. The cases in the former Soviet republic involved sting operations, and no one from jihadi groups was involved, a U.S. law enforcement official familiar with the investigations said. U.S. officials are working with Russian authorities about the smuggling, State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “I can't speak to a specific operation or investigation going on, but it is an issue that we routinely talk to Russian authorities about, and as I said, I think we believe is a shared concern between our two governments," Kirby said. U.S. President Barack Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest said: “The United States government is committed to countering the threat of nuclear smuggling and ensuring that terrorist groups who may seek to acquire these materials are never able to do so. Seizures of nuclear and radioactive materials in Moldova demonstrate the Moldovan government’s commitment to countering these tactics.” (AP, 10.07.15, CNN, 10.08.15, ForeignAffairs.co.nz, 10.08.15).
  • U.S. President Barack Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest said:” The United States and Russia, for quite some time now — I know for decades now — have been able to effectively coordinate in an effort to secure Russia’s nuclear stockpile… despite the significant differences of opinion we have with Russia in places like Syria and in Ukraine, that we have been able to effectively coordinate with them to assure — or at least take steps to prevent the proliferation of nuclear materials that are part of Russia’s stockpile. (ForeignAffairs.co.nz, 10.08.15).
  • Most of the facilities, which are needed to launch removal of spent nuclear fuel from Andreeva Guba in northern Russia, have been completed, Anatoly Grigoryev of Rosatom’s sub department for coordination and implementation of international programs, said. He said a total of 6 billion rubles have been invested in the removal project with Russian contribution accounting for 30 percent of that sum. (Regnum, 10.02.15).
  • The U.S.  Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the United States Embassy of Tajikistan, and the Government of the Tajikistan today announced the commissioning of two secure vehicles that will be used to transport radiological materials as part of a broader cooperative effort to help combat nuclear and radiological terrorism in Tajikistan and around the world.   (NNSA, 10.07.15).

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Iranian Defense Ministry announced Monday that Russia had begun delivering its advanced S-300 air defense system to Iran in accordance with an agreement struck between the two countries earlier this year. There was no other confirmation that delivery had begun. (Times of Israel, 10.05.15).

NATO-Russia relations:

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance has renewed assurances to defend "all allies against any threat," amid new tensions with Russia over its aerial campaign in Syria. Stoltenberg said NATO defense ministers meeting on October 8 gave the green light to a NATO Response Force of up to 40,000, twice the current size. ''We are implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War,'' he said before a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Thursday. After the meeting, he said, ''All of this sends a message to NATO citizens: NATO will defend you, NATO is on the ground, and NATO is ready.'' (New York Times, 10.09.15, RFE/RL, 10.08.15).
  • A resurgent Russia is creating an "arc of steel" meant to challenge and confront NATO, a top US naval officer warned Tuesday. “We are observing the manifestation of a more aggressive, more capable Russian Navy," Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of US Naval Forces Europe and commander of the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, said in Washington. “They are signaling us and warning us that the maritime domain is contested,” Ferguson said. (Defense News, 10.06.15).
  • NATO is reportedly set to open a counterespionage hub in Poland by the end of this year. A Polish Defense Ministry spokesman, Colonel Jacek Sonta, told AFP news agency that the new facility, called the NATO Counterintelligence Center of Excellence, will be established in the southern city of Krakow. (RFE/RL, 10.05.15).
  • Britain called for a return to Cold War-style planning exercises to test NATO readiness to escalate from conventional to nuclear war.  Also David Cameron has said there are circumstances in which he would launch a nuclear attack on another country. Mr Cameron’s statement comes after Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would not use nuclear bombs on another country’s population. (The Independent, 10.04.15, Telegraph, 10.08.15).
  • Michael Fallon, the British defense secretary, said his country would deploy “a small number of troops” to the Baltic countries to counterbalance Russia’s force.  The contingent would initially comprise a single company of troops or about 100 troops — the deployment is still a marked change in Britain’s posture. (Financial Times, 10.08.15, New York Times, 10.09.15).
  • Also see the Syria section.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • The number of U.S. strategic warheads counted as “deployed” under the New START Treaty has dropped below the treaty’s limit of 1,550 warheads for the first time since the treaty entered into force in February 2011 – a reduction of 263 warheads over four and a half years. Russia, by contrast, has increased its deployed warheads and now has more strategic warheads counted as deployed under the treaty than in 2011 – up 111 warheads. Yet the United States still has more launchers deployed than allowed by the treaty while Russia has been well below the limit since before the treaty entered into force in 2011. (Federation of American Scientists, 10.06.15).

Counter-terrorism:

  • "The leaders of Al-Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations are trying to respond (to Russia’s airstrikes in Syria) and initiate a new round of subversive terrorist war in our country. And it's a real threat that we should not underestimate," said head of the Federal Security Service’s Ingushetia branch Alexander Kumanyaev. (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 10.08.15).
  • The United States has hit two North Caucasus militants involved in recruiting fighters for the IS group with new financial sanctions. Also listed by the U.S. Treasury Department in its announcement on October 5 was a North Caucasus man believed to be involved in recruiting for another Islamist group in Syria. (RFE/RL, 10.05.15).
  • Local people ruled by the IS are subject to the extreme laws of police and judges who are mostly foreigners from Tunisia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Russia, France, Britain and other countries, according to more than three dozen interviews with people who live there or have fled recently. (Washington Post, 10.04.15).
  • A speaker in a 2½ minute video clip, which is dated September 2015 and entitled Address by the mudjjaheds of the Vilayat Nokhchiicho, for the first time has identified Akhmed Umarov as having succeeded late Magomed Suleymanov as leader of the Emirate Caucasus. Akhmed Umarov is  Doku Umarov's elder brother and until now the IK's official representative abroad (he lives in Turkey) and supreme Islamic judge.  (RFE/RL, 10.07.15).
  • Law-enforcers in Russia’s Ingushetia republic have detained a young woman who is wanted on Austria for suspected involvement in terrorist activities. The suspect is not a Russian citizen.  (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 10.08.15).

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told Russia there were other places Turkey could get natural gas and other countries that could build its first nuclear plant, in the wake of Russian incursions into Turkish air space during its air campaign in Syria. (Reuters, 10.08.15).
  • Russian gas giant Gazprom said its massive pipeline project with Turkey would be delayed amid rising tensions between Moscow and Ankara over Russia's intervention in the Syrian conflict. Also Gazprom has almost halved the planned capacity of its Turkish Stream gas pipeline project to 32 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year from an original capacity of 63 bcm. (RFE/RL, 10.08.15, Reuters, 10.06.15).
  • The Russian and Turkish energy ministries have agreed to draft the text of an intergovernmental agreement on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline before the elections of a new Turkish government slated for November 1, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on the Rossiya-24 news television channel on Saturday. (Interfax, 10.03.15).
  • Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told the Sochi-2015 international investment forum October 3 that Russia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries might organize a meeting between technical specialists. Novak’s remarks sent oil prices soaring by 2.3 percent in London trading, with Brent crude settling up at $49.25 a barrel.  (RFE/RL, 10.06.15).
  • Oil futures rose Thursday, briefly trading above $50 a barrel for the first time since July, as the dollar weakened and traders focused on expectations of shrinking U.S. production. Concerns about Russia's military operations in Syria also supported prices. Prices are up more than 8% on the week. (Wall Street Journal, 10.08.15).

Bilateral economic ties:

  • Russia's antimonopoly watchdog has ordered Google Inc. to rectify its antitrust law violations, potentially paving the way for a hefty fine and helping local search engine Yandex NV. The agency gave Google a deadline of Nov. 18 to stop its practice of bundling—pre-loading its own apps and services to give them priority over rivals on its Android mobile operating system.(Wall Street Journal, 10.06.15).

Other bilateral issues:

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter delivered an unusually forceful condemnation of Russian military action in Syria and Ukraine, saying Thursday that Moscow “has continued to wrap itself in a shroud of isolation,” by ignoring international norms in annexing Crimea, fueling the fight in eastern Ukraine, and throwing its weight behind embattled Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. (RFE/RL, 10.09.15).
  • The U.S. Defense Department expects to decide "fairly soon" whether to issue a waiver to United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, that would allow it to continue using Russian rocket engines, the Pentagon's top acquisition official said on Tuesday. (Reuters, 10.07.15).
  • The U.S. State Department has urged Russian authorities to find those who ordered the murder of prominent Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. (RFE/RL, 10.07.15).

II. Russia news.

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • For the first time oil and gas revenues have provided for less than half of the federal Russian budget, said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at the Sochi International Economic Forum. (RBTH, 10.02.15).
  • Russia’s government is said to be weighing unprecedented and unpopular steps that it says will revive growth, including increasing the retirement age and raising taxes on the rich, following the 2018 presidential election, according to a senior administration official. The state is also considering a new wave of selling assets that can eclipse previous privatization drives. (Bloomberg, 10.09.15).
  • The International Monetary Fund now expects Russia's economy to contract by 3.8 percent in 2015 and by 0.6 percent in 2016, down from its previous forecasts of a 3.4 contraction this year and 0.2 percent growth next year. (Reuters, 10.06.15).
  • Stigmatized for more than a year by political sanctions, Russian Eurobond issuers broke through the ice this week, prompting investors to ask whether the penalties might be the next to go. GMK Norilsk Nickel PJSC and Gazprom PJSC, Russia’s largest miner and Energy Company, had no problem raising $2.1 billion of Eurobonds. (Bloomberg, 10.09.15).
  • Rosneft's capitalization is now less on the London Stock Exchange, about $38 billion, than the $56 billion the company paid for the TNK-BP subsidiary two years ago.(New York Times, 10.05.15).
  • Russia's largest onshore oil driller is moving to become a private company in another sign of the toll a prolonged price slump is taking on the oil-services industry. Eurasia Drilling Co. said Thursday that unnamed managers and "core shareholders" had made an undisclosed offer to take the company private. (Wall Street Journal, 10.09.15).
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has celebrated his 63rd birthday by playing hockey with well-known hockey players and participants of the Night Hockey League. (RFE/RL, 10.07.15).

Defense and Aerospace:

  • The Russian government will reinstate 165 billion rubles ($2.7 billion) in spending on defense and security for 2016, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said at a government meeting Thursday. That will swell next year’s deficit to 2.4 trillion rubles, or 3 percent of economic output, according to Siluanov. (Bloomberg, 10.08.15).

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A police officer has been wounded in an attack by unknown armed men in the volatile region of Dagestan in Russia's North Caucasus. Police in Dagestan say an unknown group of armed men opened fire on a police car in the southwestern district of Tsumada on October 8. (RFE/RL, 10.08.15).
  • Three suspected members of the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir have been arrested in the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia's Urals region. (RFE/RL, 10.05.15).

Syria:

  • Defense officials in Moscow said over the last weekend that Russian jets had flown over 60 sorties against insurgents in Syria. On Monday Russia said its warplanes flew 15 sorties over Syria, targeting 10 IS (IS) targets. Three IS artillery positions in Homs Province were destroyed in one group of air strikes.   On Tuesday Russian warplanes struck IS positions in the historic city of Palmyra.  On Wednesday the Russian military launched 26 medium-range cruise Kalibr-NK missiles on from four warships in the Caspian Sea to attack targets in Syria in what became Russia’s first ever use of a cruise missile in combat. Senior United States officials said four of the cruise missiles crashed in Iran, but Russian and Iranian officials dismissed the claim. On Friday, the Russian air force carried out 67 sorties, striking 60 separate targets. Two senior IS field commanders are reportedly among some 300 militants killed in the strikes.  Russian air strikes this week have also destroyed the main weapons depots of U.S.-trained rebel group in Syria, Liwa Suqour Jabal, according to the group’s commander. (Financial Times, New York Times, RBC, 10.07.15, New York Times, 10.09.15, Wall Street Journal, 10.06.15, Russia Today, 10.09.15, Reuters, 10.07.15, RFE/RL, 10.05.15, Moscow Times, 10.04.15).
  • Russia isn't conducting operations in Syria involving its own ground troops and won't do so, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, the head of the lower house of parliament's defense committee, says, amid confusion over whether "volunteers" may be getting involved. Komoyedov, who on Monday had said it was likely that Russian volunteers would travel to Syria to fight, was also quoted as saying that Russia was blocking any attempts by its citizens to fight on either side in the Syrian conflict. Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also said Russia wouldn't send ground forces into Syria and had no intention of encouraging Russian civilians to volunteer to fight there. (Wall Street Journal, Reuters, 10.06.15).
  • Russia estimates its airstrike campaign in Syria could last three to four months, the head of the foreign affairs committee at the State Duma, Russia's parliament, said on Friday. "There is always a risk of being bogged down but in Moscow, we are talking about an operation of three to four months," Alexei Pushkov told French radio Europe 1, adding that the strikes were going to intensify. (Reuters, 10.02.15).
  • “More than 90%” of Russian airstrikes in Syria have not targeted Isis, US said. Russia has been aiming at moderate Syrian opposition who are anti-Assad, said State Department in first statement on specific figures of recent Russian strikes. . Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, earlier dismissed reports of targeting non-Isis positions, describing “the rumors” as unfounded. (AFP, 10.07.15, the Guardian, 10.01.15).
  • Over 70 percent of Russian citizens support their country’s Air Force operations against ISIS terrorists in Syria – and almost a half of them agree that it’s right to support Syria’s legitimate government and President Bashar Assad, according to the latest research released by the Levada Center.  (Russia Today, 10.08.15).
  • While U.S. officials say that the Russian forces are dropping unguided weapons, Russian footage and imagery from Syria shows that at least some of the weapons being dropped are precision-guided. (National Interest, 10.07.15).
  • Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani's  July visit to Moscow was the first step in planning for a Russian military intervention in Syria. The intervention is set out in an agreement between Moscow and Tehran that says Russian air strikes will support ground operations by Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces, said one of the senior regional sources. The agreement also included the provision of more sophisticated Russian weapons to the Syrian army, and the establishment of joint operations rooms that would bring those allies together, along with the government of Iraq, which is allied both to Iran and the United States. (Reuters, 10.06.15).
  • Syria's top general on Thursday said Russian strikes had helped government forces launch a "wide-ranging" offensive in central and northwestern Syria, where al-Qaida's affiliate as well as other insurgents had advanced toward key government strongholds in recent months. The ground offensive aims to push insurgents out of high ground that threatens the rear of Latakia, first in northern Hama Province, where Wednesday’s attacks took place, and later moving north into Idlib Province, according to the official and to diplomats and analysts in the region. But Syria Observatory for Human Rights said on October 9 that IS forces had captured Tel Suseen and Tel Qarah. (AP, 10.08.15,RFE/RL, 10.09.15, New York Times, 10.07.15).
  • Russia has built up a battalion-sized ground force inside Syria with rocket artillery and its most advanced tanks that is capable of more than just protecting its military bases in the country, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said on Wednesday. In recent weeks, Russia has deployed the IL-20 surveillance aircraft in clearest indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to ensure his troops in Syria are not reliant on Assad’s forces for targeting information. The Russian buildup of intelligence assets and tools of electronic warfare also includes the deployment of the Krasukha-4. Also the Vasily Tatishchev has sailed for the eastern Mediterranean. (Foreign Policy, 10.06.15,  Wall Street Journal, 10.07.15).
  • U.S. President Barack Obama has decided not to directly confront Russia over its new air offensive in Syria. "We're not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia. That would be a bad strategy on our part," Obama said. "This is a battle between Russia, Iran and Assad against the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people. Our battle is with ISIL," he said. (Washington Post, 10.04.15).
  • A week into Russia's military intervention in Syria, some top White House advisers and National Security Council staffers are trying to persuade President Barack Obama to scale back U.S. engagement there, to focus on lessening the violence and, for now, to give up on toppling the Syrian regime. American officials hold out little hope of being able to deter Russia from continuing its military operations in Syria or of being able to raise the political or economic cost high enough to stop them. At the same time, some officials dismiss what they call wishful thinking that the United States and Russia could come to some agreement on the way forward. ''The Russians are seeking greater cooperation, and frankly we don't want that greater cooperation,'' one senior U.S. defense official said on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly. (New York Times, 10.08.15;  New York Times, Bloomberg, 10.09.15).
  • U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter says Russia is pursuing a "losing strategy" in Syria. Carter also downgraded the semantics used to describe any Russian and American information-sharing. Mr. Carter called the conversations -- which aren't really even taking place yet -- ''basic technical discussions on safety procedures for our pilots over Syria.'' The U.S. isn't interested in any kind of strategic collaboration with Moscow in the Middle East, and only is willing to liaise to coordinate over Syrian airspace, he said. (New York Times, 10.08.15,Wall Street Journal, 10.07.15,RFE/RL, 10.05.15).
  • If Vladimir Putin's goal was "to get attention," one senior U.S. official said, "then it was brilliant. . . . If it was to end the fighting in Syria, that's where we think it's a strategic error." At the same time, the official said, "Russia is now going to be viewed as being anti-Sunni . . . attracting the ire of extremist groups," including the IS . (Washington Post, 10.08.15).
  • Russian fighter jets shadowed U.S. predator drones on at least three separate occasions high above Syria since the start of Russia’s air campaign last week, according to two U.S. officials briefed on this latest intelligence from the region. Also, the  United States says coalition aircraft have been rerouted at least once to avoid a close encounter with Russian warplanes in Syrian airspace (Fox News, 10.07.15, RFE/RL, 10.07.15).
  • NATO military officials, including the chairman of the alliance's military committee, have reached out to Russian counterparts using a hotline to Moscow, only to have their calls go unanswered. Mr. Jens Stoltenberg raised the issue of the unanswered hotline in his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sept. 29 in New York, according to a NATO official. (Wall Street Journal, 10.06.15).
  • Russia has told the United States that it is ready to resume military-to-military discussions aimed at keeping aircraft from the former Cold War foes apart as they wage parallel campaigns of air strikes in Syria, a U.S. official said on Tuesday. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter called on Moscow on Tuesday to urgently respond to proposed rules for air-to-air conduct over Syria, as he condemned Russia's "seriously irresponsible and unprofessional" violation of Turkish air space. "We are waiting for the Russians. They owe us a response," Carter told reporters. "The Russian Defense Ministry has responded to the Pentagon's request and rapidly considered the U.S. proposals to coordinate actions in the fight against the ISIL terrorist group in the territory of Syria. On the whole, the proposals may be put into practice," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Wednesday. (Interfax, 10.07.15, Reuters, 10.06.15).
  • "We have held a videoconference with our American colleagues and have begun to discuss ways of our joint work, security in that territory (Syria). We have finalized the consideration of the document submitted by the Pentagon and we will say today that we are ready to coordinate this document and to start working under it," Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 7. "In a few days we will hold the second video conference with our American partners.," Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said on Oct.6. (Interfax, 10.06.15, Interfax, 10.07.15).
  • NATO's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday rejected Russian explanations that any incursion into Turkish airspace was accidental. Moscow has maintained that one breach was accidental and brief, and denied its planes crossed again. NATO is ready to send forces to Turkey to protect the country from Russia and its mounting military campaign in Syria, the alliance’s chief has warned. “NATO has already responded by increasing our capacity, our ability, our preparedness to deploy forces . . . including in Turkey,” Stoltenberg said. (Financial Times, 10.08.15, Wall Street Journal, 10.07.15).
  • “There is an opportunity for Russia to be a collaborative, cooperative stakeholder in bringing stability,” Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told an audience at the German Marshall Fund. “Or it can go in the opposite direction and it will not just be we who have difficulties — the entire Sunni world will be opposed.” (Foreign Policy, 10.06.15).
  • Senior U.S. lawmakers have begun probing possible intelligence lapses over Moscow's intervention in Syria, concerned that American spy agencies were slow to grasp the scope and intention of Russia's dramatic military offensive there. (Reuters, 10.08.15).
  • Russia says it is "ready to establish contacts" with Syria's main Western-backed moderate opposition group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), to find a political solution to the war. Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko has asked for assistance in establishing contacts with FSA.(RFE/RL, 10.07.15, Interfax, 10.09.15).
  • Russia ended high-level military talks with Israel on Wednesday with a call on other countries to coordinate operations in Syria. The two countries discussed how they can avoid accidentally clashing while operating in Syria. (Reuters, 10.08.15).
  • In a recent interview, the leader of one of the main Kurdish factions in Syria indicated his tacit backing for the current rounds of Russian airstrikes. "We will fight alongside whoever fights [the IS ]," said Salih Muslim, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, a leading Syrian Kurdish political organization. (Washington Post, 10.02.15).
  • More than 40 Syrian insurgent groups including the powerful Islamist faction Ahrar Sham have called on regional states to forge an alliance against Russia and Iran in Syria, accusing Moscow of occupying the country and targeting civilians. Representatives of “moderate” rebel groups in Syria opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad have asked the U.S. to supply them with surface-to-air missiles to counter Russian air strikes. (Interfax, 10.06.15, Reuters, 10.05.15).
  • Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that fights side-by-side with Al Nusrah Front throughout Syria, claims to have launched rockets at the Hmeimim airbase in the Latakia province. Russian forces are stationed there.  (Long War Journal, 10.02.15).
  • President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President François Hollande of France met for over an hour at the Elysée Palace and had an ‘‘extensive discussion about Syria on the basis of three conditions,’’ a top aide to Mr. Hollande said by SMS text message.  The three conditions listed by Mr. Hollande’s aide were ‘‘strikes against Daesh,’’  ‘‘security for civilians, and a transition based on Geneva,’’ referring to the failed peace negotiations for Syria held in Geneva. (New York Times, 10.03.15).
  • The European Union does not rule out the use of sanctions on Russia if its actions in Syria are found to fall short of the tasks of counterterrorism and if it is confirmed that the targets of the Russian aviation are not ISIS, a high-ranking European official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reports on Oct. 9. (Interfax, 10.09.15).

Other foreign affairs and trade news:

  • European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Russia should be treated “decently."  "We must make efforts toward a practical relationship with Russia,” Juncker added. “It is not sexy but that must be the case. We can't go on like this." "We can't let our relationship with Russia be dictated by Washington," he said. (RFE/RL, 10.09.15).
  • Iraqi Shiite lawmakers and militia leaders are urging Russia to launch airstrikes on IS militants in their country, an escalation that would heighten tensions with Washington and increase risks of a clash between the two powers. (Wall Street Journal, 10.07.15).
  • Iraq's Kurds are pushing for the U.S. and Russia to unify their military campaigns against IS as the best means to defeat the terrorist organization and stabilize Iraq and Syria, the foreign minister of the Kurdish Regional Government said Friday. (Wall Street Journal, 10.02.15).
  • The number of migrants heading to European Union countries may reach one million this year, Russian Armed Forces General Staff Chief and First Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Valery Gerasimov has said. (Interfax, 10.08.15)
  • With the Taliban threatening to overrun large parts of Afghanistan, First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is seeking help from an old ally -- Russia. A graduate of the Soviet Military Academy and a general in the Soviet-backed Afghan army, Dostum is hoping his old links to Moscow will help him secure crucial military support for Afghanistan's besieged security forces. (RFE/RL, 10.07.15).
  • The European Union lifted prohibition on supplies of rocket fuel components to Russia. The decision was published on Friday in the Official Journal of the European Union.(TASS, 10.09.15).
  • French Agriculture Minister Stefane Le Foll is in Moscow in a bid to lift Russia's food embargo which he says has cost France at least €280 million. Le Foll’s Russian counterpart Aleksandr Tkachev says that is not possible because of EU anti-Russian sanctions. (Russia Today, 10.09.15).
  • Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear corporation, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bolivian ministry of hydrocarbons and energy on cooperation for the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The document was signed by Sergey Kirienko, Rosatom director general, and Luis Alberto Sanchez, Bolivia's energy minister. (World Nuclear News, 10.08.15).
  • Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor wants to sell its 33 percent stake in VimpelCom, currently valued at $2.3 billion. (Reuters, 10.05.15).

Ukraine

  • The Normandy Four summit ended last Friday with a call for the delay of contentious rebel plans to hold local elections this month and for both sides to begin a promised withdrawal of smaller-caliber weapons. This week has seen the withdrawal begin and rebel leaders agree to reschedule elections to February 21, 2016. (Interfax, 10.09.15, AP, 10.04.15).
  • Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, said: "We are now into an unprecedented period … of unprecedented calm," he said. (AP, 10.04.15).
  • Nearly a third of Ukraine's military losses over the past two years were non-battle casualties, according to the country's Defense Ministry figures cited by news reports. In total, 2,027 servicemen deaths have been recorded in 2014-2015 so far. The leading causes of non-battle deaths included suicide, with 171 cases, and road accidents, with 112. (Moscow Times, 10.08.15).
  • A British NGO has published a summary report claiming that a Russian Buk surface-to-air missile system shot down a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet on July 17, 2014, over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard. The Russian manufacturer of the missile system said Friday it would unveil the "real reasons" for the disaster on the same day Dutch investigators present their final report on the tragedy. (RFE/RL, 10.08.15, AFP, 10.09.15).
  • Russia may discuss the issue of Ukrainian citizen Nadiya Savchenko's handover to Ukraine to serve punishment on the Ukrainian territory after the sentence is handed out, Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said. (Interfax, 10.09.15).
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Sunday on state television that U.S. President Barack Obama promised his country new models of defensive weapons amid a cease-fire with pro-Russian separatists. Ukraine should receive new Q36 radars this fall, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said. Mr. Obama signed a memorandum last week authorizing an additional $20 million for “defense articles and services” for Ukrainian forces. (Post Gazette, 10.05.15).
  • Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, has said the United States will maintain sanctions imposed on Russia over its actions in Ukraine until the terms of the Minsk peace plan are fully implemented. (RFE/RL, 10.09.15).
  • Lawmakers in Kyiv have legalized the service of foreigners in the Ukrainian armed forces. (RFE/RL, 10.06.15).
  • The Fitch ratings agency has declared Ukraine in partial default and downgraded the cash-strapped country after it failed to make payment on bonds it has been trying to renegotiate with creditors. Fitch declared the partial default on $500 million in Eurobond obligations on October 6 after Ukraine did not make payment following a grace period. It then downgraded the country's main credit rating to "restricted default." (RFE/RL, 10.07.15).
  • Ukraine must resolve outstanding budget issues before the International Monetary Fund gives the green light on the next payout of bailout cash, the IMF said Saturday as it further cut its economic outlook for the conflict-beleaguered nation, saying the economy will contract by 11%. (Wall Street Journal, 10.03.15).
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed into law bills terminating an agreement between the Ukrainian Cabinet of ministers and the Russian government on cooperation in constructing power units 3 and 4 of the Khmelnytsky Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) and abrogating the Ukrainian law on the location, design, and construction of power units 3 and 4 of the Khmelnytsky NPP. (Interfax, 10.03.15).

Russia's other neighbors:

  • During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on October 6, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon  said the situation in Afghanistan was "getting worse by the day." "Practically, fighting is going on along more than 60 percent of the Tajik border with Afghanistan," he added. Russia has announced that it will deploy attack and military-transport helicopters to beef up its military presence in Tajikistan amid rising insecurity in northern Afghanistan (RFE/RL, 10.07.15).
  • All of the main parties reelected to the Kyrgyz parliament in the October 4 poll are pro-Russian. (RFE/RL, 10.05.15).
  • Tajik prosecutors say 23 top officials of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan have been arrested, many on suspicion of leading a deadly mutiny by a serving deputy defense minister in early September. (RFE/RL, 10.06.15).
  • Turkmenistan's president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov named the head of the presidential guard service, Lieutenant General Guichgeldy Khojaberdiev, to take over the National Security Ministry, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB. The outgoing head of the National Security Ministry, Lieutenant General Yailym Berdiev, was in turn appointed defense minister to replace Major General Begench Gundogdyev. Gundogdyev was appointed commander of Turkmen naval forces  (RFE/RL, 10.06.15).
  • Citing figures from its Uranium Marketing Annual Report, published in May 2015, the EIA said that 12 million pounds U3O8 (4616 tU) purchased from Kazakhstan was almost double the 6.5 million pounds (2500 tU) of Kazakh-origin uranium purchased by US plants in 2013.  (World Nuclear News, 10.07.15).
  • Kazakhstan's central bank raised its key interest rate from 12 percent to 16 percent on October 2 as it continues to try to bolster its oil-dependent currency, the tenge.. (RFE/RL, 10.02.15).
  • The International Criminal Court (ICC) says its prosecutor plans to investigate possible war crimes or crimes against humanity committed in the 2008 military conflict between Russia and Georgia. (RFE/RL, 10.08.15).
  • Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said he is not aware of plans to establish a Russian military air base in Belarus. "We don't need a base at the moment," Lukashenka said on October 6.  (RFE/RL, 10.06.15).
  • Brussels is set to suspend sanctions on close to 140 Belarusians, including President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, if there is no political crackdown during the October 11 presidential election.(RFE/RL, 10.09.15).
  • Russia and Armenia have signed an intergovernmental agreement on the exchange of information related to nuclear and radiation safety, (World Nuclear News, 10.07.15).
  • Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarussian journalist and prose writer, won the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time,” the Swedish Academy announced. (New York Times, 10.09.15).
  • Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has signed a decree setting December 6 as the date for the country’s referendum to change the constitution in order to establish a parliamentary republic. (RFE/RL, 10.08.15).

 

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