News

Russia in Review

August 19, 2016

Abstract

Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for August 12-19, 2016

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

Nuclear security:

  • Former American senator Richard Lugar said: “Today, of course, we have Russians who do not want to work with us on nuclear and chemical arms control….I went over to Russia in summer 2012 to visit the foreign office. They were amenable to try and think of how the timeline might be extended, but over at the war office they were not interested. They really wanted the U.S. to wrap things up and move on, and there was a lack of appreciation for our work together.” (Nukes of Hazard, 08.17.16)
  • “Whether the US could have maintained control of the weapons (at Incirlik) in the event of a protracted civil conflict in Turkey is an unanswerable question,” according to authors of a report published by the Stimson Center. (Defense News, 08.15.16)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there is no "standoff" in relations between Russia and the West, predicting improved relations between Moscow and Berlin in the coming years. Speaking at a university in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg ahead of talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Steinmeier urged Russia and the West to take advantage of "the opportunities of the Russia-NATO Council" in easing tensions during "particularly difficult times." Lavrov claimed that NATO “did not wish to discuss reestablishing relations” and had ignored Russia's attempts to improve ties. (RFE/RL, 08.14.16, Moscow Times, 08.15.16)
  • Top Pentagon officials say that because of Russian and Chinese advances, the U.S. military's "overmatch" has diminished. Planners can no longer guarantee a president that the United States could prevail in the early days of a conventional conflict; they fear that the United States might lose "escalation dominance.” Pentagon officials say they decided over the past year to reveal some formerly top-secret weapons programs because the disclosure would complicate Russian and Chinese military planning.  (Washington Post, 08.17.16)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • The governments of Japan, South Korea, France and Britain have all privately communicated their concerns about a potential declaration by President Barack Obama of a "no first use" nuclear-weapons policy for the United States. The proposal has also run into opposition from top cabinet officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (Wall Street Journal, 08.13.16, Washington Post, 08.15.16)
  • It all comes down to one word - "limited" - that defines the type of nuclear strike that the United States guards against by tightly controlling the number of ballistic missiles in the country's defensive arsenal .But now Congress is planning to remove that word and potentially replace it with a more "robust" substitute, letting the next president significantly ramp up production, modernization and development of defensive weapons aimed against bigger nuclear powers. (Washington Post, 08.15.16)

Counter-terrorism:

  • “I also believe that we could find common ground with Russia in the fight against ISIS. They too have much at stake in the outcome in Syria, and have had their own battles with Islamic terrorism,” Donald Trump said on Monday. (Heavy.com, 08.15.16)
  • “I saw the relation with Russia as necessary to the U.S., for the interests of the U.S. We worked very closely with them on the Sochi Olympics. We were working closely with them on the Iranian nuclear deal. We beat Hitler because of our relationship with the Russians, so anybody that looks on it as anything but a relationship that's required for mutual supporting interests, including ISIS, … that's really where I'm at with Russia,” ex-DIA chief Michael T. Flynn said. Flynn also said that he was he first U.S. officer ever allowed inside the headquarters of the Russian military intelligence  when still running DIA.(Washington Post, 08.15.16)
  • Two men armed with axes were killed after attacking a traffic police station outside of Moscow. Officials said two police officers at the station were seriously wounded in the August 17 incident. The Islamic State terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack and its Amaq News Agency has released a video purportedly showing the two attackers, who were identified as Uthman Mardalov and Salim Israilov. Both are natives of Chechnya. (RFE/RL, MK.ru, 08.18.16, Moscow Times, 08.19.16, Long War Journal, 08.19.16)
  • Russian officials say four suspected members of an illegal armed group were killed by security forces in an operation at an apartment building in St. Petersburg. The individuals were added to the list for alleged participation with militant groups in Kabardino-Balkaria. (RFE/RL, MK.ru, 08.17.16)

Cyber security:

  • Some of the most powerful espionage tools created by the National Security Agency's elite group of hackers have appeared mysteriously online. Edward Snowden, Nicholas Weaver and some of the former NSA hackers say they suspect Russian involvement in the release of the cache, though no one has offered hard evidence. Whoever obtained the source code apparently broke into either the top-secret, highly compartmentalized computer servers of the NSA or other servers around the world that the agency would have used to store the files.  (Washington Post, New York Times, 08.17.16)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia is open for talks with other major oil producers on freezing output as the market is unlikely to balance until next year, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said. (Bloomberg, 08.15.16)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • Representatives of international organizations, including from the United States, have accepted an invitation to monitor the upcoming elections to Russia’s lower house of parliament, Ella Pamfilova, chairperson of the Russian Central Election Commission, said on Aug. 16. (Tass, 08.16.16)
  • The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has added two more foreign nongovernmental organizations to the list of undesirable organizations in the country: U.S.-based International Republican Institute and the Media Development Investment Fund.(RFE/RL, 08.18.16)
  • Donald Trump is arguably the first major party candidate since World War II to speak about Russia so warmly — a tone all the more striking because he criticizes just about everybody else. (Washington Post, 08.17.16)
  • Russia has proposed cutting the number of cosmonauts at the International Space Station from three to two -- a plan NASA is studying to see whether it poses risks to other crew members. (RFE/RL, 08.16.16)
  • A Russian lawmaker's son who U.S. prosecutors say orchestrated a hacking scheme that resulted in about $170 million in fraudulent credit-card purchases goes on trial this week in the state of Washington. Jury selection starts on August 15 in the federal trial of Roman Seleznyov.(RFE/RL, 08.14.16)
  • The two whistleblowers who helped expose Russia's systematic athletics doping program are believed to be on the run again, reportedly looking for new safe haven in the United States after their whereabouts were compromised earlier this week. (Washington Post, 08.15.16)

 

II. Russia’s domestic news.

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia’s MICEX Index hit a historic high on Monday as oil prices continued to move upwards. The MICEX reached 1977.19 points during morning trading, surpassing its previous record set April 16. This year’s historic valuations are the highest since 2007. (Moscow Times, 08.16.16)
  • After depreciating against almost all of its 11 ex-Soviet peers for two years, the Russian currency has gained versus every one of them in 2016. Nigeria’s naira’s lost almost half its value against the dollar since mid-2014, the most among the currencies of OPEC members and more than Russia’s ruble, which is down 47 percent. (Bloomberg, 08.16.16, Bloomberg, 08.17.16)
  • Russia may harvest between 114 and 116 million tons of wheat this year, a record for post-Soviet Russia, the head of the Russian Grain Union Arkady Zlochevsky said Tuesday. That record harvest may make Russia  world’s biggest wheat exporter for the first time.  (Moscow Times, 08.16.16, Financial Times, 08.18.16)
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has postponed the privatization of oil producer Bashneft, in a surprise move his spokeswoman said was approved by President Vladimir Putin. (RFE/RL, 08.17.16)
  • Rosneft PJSC’s second-quarter profit decreased 34 percent, coming in better than estimated on costs even as a recovery in oil prices sputtered out at below last year’s levels. Net income fell to 89 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) (Bloomberg, 08.15.16)
  • The number of Russian work permits for foreigners, most of them issued to citizens of former Soviet republics, has dropped by about 1 million since 2014, according to Capital Economics. (Bloomberg, 08.16.16)
  • Despite an economic contraction since the start of 2015, unemployment in Russia has now dropped for three straight months to near the lowest in a year. (Bloomberg, 08.16.16)
  • In a study by fDi Intelligence Russia ranked as the best balanced commodity economy in terms of its FDI, followed by Belgium, Malaysia, Belarus and Ukraine. (Financial Times, 08.15.16)
  • A Russian fast reactor has reached full power. Unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant started operating at 100% power for the first time today. The BN-800 fast neutron reactor is scheduled to enter commercial operation later this year. (World Nuclear News, 08.17.16)
  • Russian Education Minister Dmitry Livanov has resigned from his post less than a month before the country's parliamentary elections. President Vladimir Putin has appointed Olga Vasilyeva, a former education representative within the presidential administration, to the position. (Moscow Times, 08.19.16)
  • Prominent Russian human rights lawyer Mark Feigin has been barred from leaving Russia in a move he says is aimed at preventing him from defending Crimean Tatars at an Organization for Security and Cooperation event in Warsaw. (RFE/RL,  08.18.16)

Defense and Aerospace:

  • Russia is building large numbers of underground nuclear command bunkers in the latest sign Moscow is moving ahead with a major strategic forces modernization program. U.S. intelligence officials said construction has been underway for several years on “dozens” of underground bunkers in Moscow and around the country.( Washington Free Beacon, 08.15.16)
  • At the end of 2016 the Russian Defense Ministry will receive the first delivery of the renewed NK-32 engines for the Tu-160M2 strategic missile-carrying bombers. According to the developers, the new engine will help the plane fly up to the stratosphere at an altitude of 60,000 feet. (RBTH, 08.16.16)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A court in the Russian city of St. Petersburg has jailed three members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir organization.  (RFE/RL, 08.17.16)
  • A court in Russia's St. Petersburg has convicted Vladimir Barsukov, a high-profile reputed mafia kingpin, of murder and attempted murder and has sentenced him to 23 years in prison. (RFE/RL, 08.18.16)
  • A Russian man has cut off two of his fingers in a grisly quest for justice after his wife reported being raped in police custody -- and was then accused of filing a false claim. (RFE/RL, 08.16.16)

III. Foreign affairs and trade:

Syria:

  • Russia said Thursday it would stop attacks on Aleppo for 48 hours next week to allow delivery of humanitarian aid, indicating it would also prevent the Syrian government from bombing there, provided the United States could guarantee a similar pause by the "so-called moderate opposition." Russia's defense minister has earlier Moscow and Washington are getting closer to an agreement that would help defuse the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Syrian city Aleppo. " At the same time Shoigu claimed that in the past Washington had not informed Russia of the locations of Islamic State and al-Nusra Front fighters. We have asked our [American] colleagues, to please tell us where the moderate opposition is, where our planes shouldn’t attack. They couldn’t tell us,” Shoigu said. (Washington Post, 08.19.16, Moscow Times, 08.15.16, RFE/RL, 08.16.16)
  • Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that the key to the solution of the crisis in Syria is trilateral talks between Turkey, Russia and  Iran. (Daily Sabah, 08.16.16)
  • The Russian military has conducted air strikes in Syria using warplanes based in Iran, becoming the first foreign military to operate from Iran’s soil since at least World War II. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the air strikes were carried out by Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 strike fighters that took off from the Hamadan air field in Iran on August 16th. On August 17th several morel Su-34 strike fighters left the Hamadan air field in northwestern Iran to strike targets in Syria's Deir ez-Zor province. On August 18th Tu-22 bombers  and Su-34s strike fighters took off from bases in Russia and Iran again to strike ISIS in Syria.   (RFE/RL, Moscow Times, New York Times, 08.16.16, RFE/RL, 08.17.16, Tass, 08.18.16)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry has advised U.S. Department of State officials to check their knowledge of international law following the latest statements regarding the use of an airdrome in Iran by Russian warplanes. The U.S. Department of State said earlier that it was looking into whether Russia’s actions were in compliance with the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2231. "There are no reasons to suspect Russia of breaking the U.N. resolution," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. "Russia hasn't supplied or transferred Russian military planes to Iran." (Tass, 08.17.16, Wall Street Journal, 08.18.16)
  • Officials in Iran have acknowledged that Russian warplanes are using an Iranian air base but only for refueling purposes and insist that no Russian troops are stationed on Iranian soil. (RFE/RL, 08.18.16)
  • Russian warships of the Black Sea Fleet conducted three launches of the Kalibr cruise missiles on al-Nusra Front targets in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said. (Sputnik, 08.19.16)
  • The death in Syria of a Russian soldier from the North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria has been reported, the republic’s governor has said. His death brings the Russian toll of officially reported combat deaths in Syria to 19.  (RFE/RL, 08.12.16)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied Western mass media reports on a supposed airstrike allegedly carried out by Russia’s aviation on a neighborhood in the Syrian city of Aleppo on August 17. (Tass, 08.19.16)
  • The Russian and Syrian militaries have violated international law by dropping incendiary munitions on areas populated by civilians, including recent strikes around the Syrian cities of Idlib and Aleppo, a new report by a leading human rights group said Tuesday. (Washington Post, 08.16.16)

Other far abroad countries and foreign affairs in general:

  • Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed the desire to meet Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in his native Yamaguchi Prefecture. They will also meet in Vladivostok in early September. (RBTH, 08.13.16)

Ukraine:

  • "We're not going to cut our relations, despite the reluctance of the current authorities in Kiev to have full diplomatic ties at ambassador level. We nevertheless will create opportunities for the development of contacts and their support,” Vladimir Putin said on Friday during a session of the country’s Security Council in Crimea. “It is clear why this has been done - because [Ukraine] does not want to or cannot, for whatever reasons, fulfill the Minsk agreement,” Putin said when commenting on what the Russian government claims was a plot by Ukrainian special services to stage acts of sabotage in Crimea. Kyiv has denied the existence of any such plot while European Union President Donald Tusk said Russia’s account of the events was "unreliable.” (Russia Today, RFE/RL, 08.19.16)
  • Ukraine’s president said on August 18 the likelihood of an escalation of the conflict with Russia and Russia-back separatists in eastern Ukraine “remains significant” and said he cannot rule out “a full-scale Russian invasion.” Speaking in the Lviv region, Poroshenko said that if the situation in eastern Ukraine and the region of Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014, continues to deteriorate, “we will have to impose martial law and order mobilization.” (RFE/RL, 08.18.16)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had no intention of breaking diplomatic ties with Ukraine and was discussing the possibility of organizing joint talks with Ukrainian, Russian, French and German officials aimed at resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine. However, he also noted that Russia plans to take “exhaustive measures” against Ukraine in response to what it called an attempted terrorist attack in the annexed Crimean peninsula. Mr. Lavrov's comments Monday, at a joint press conference after a meeting with German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier,  Speaking to reporters after the meeting in Yekaterinburg, the two ministers affirmed their support for the Minsk process aimed at resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine Lavrov said Moscow is prepared to provide "irrefutable" evidence of an alleged plan by Kyiv to launch sabotage attacks in Crimea. Steinmeier said the worsening situation in Ukraine in recent weeks is "worrisome" and called on both Moscow and Kyiv to investigate the alleged sabotage plot.(RFE/RL, 08.15.16, Wall Street Journal, 08.15.16, Financial Times, 08.15.16.)
  • An assessment by Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency says 165 Russian troops, part of an air defense battery from the 60th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, have been operating inside separatist controlled areas of eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials believe the new troops have been operating there for at least a week. (Wall Street Journal, 08.19.16)
  • Russian military forces are carrying out "logistical exercises" in and around the Crimean Peninsula. The current exercises are the forerunner of a much larger war-games exercise planned in the region for September. (RFE/RL, 08.19.16)
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has urged Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko "to do his part to avoid escalating tensions" with Russia over Crimea, the White House said. (RFE/RL, 08.13.16)
  • Western officials believe both Kiev and Moscow are jockeying for position as Europe prepares to debate the extension of tough economic sanctions. These expire in January unless rolled over. (Wall Street Journal, 08.19.16)
  • Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has stated in an interview that Ukraine should become a neutral state and should enshrine its neutrality in its constitution.  (Moscow Times, 08.18.16)
  • Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev says Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is "inclined to finding compromises" to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists. (RFE/RL, 08.16.16)
  • Authorities in Ukraine say they have detained an Uzbek citizen believed to have been fighting alongside Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk (RFE/RL, 08.17.16)
  • Trump campaign chairman and chief strategist Paul Manafort resigned on Friday, following a staff shake-up this week that reduced his role in the campaign. Earlier Manafort has slammed the New York Times after the newspaper published a story reporting that secret ledgers in Ukraine show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine's newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. In one entry dated October 11, 2011, Larry King is listed as the recipient of a $225,000 advance for an "interview." King's signature is not on the page. FBI officials recently formed a partnership with the Ukrainian bureau, which made the revelations. Manafort may have also helped former Yanukovych's government funnel millions of dollars to U.S. lobbyists in a way that obscured the source of the funding. The revelations also point to an outsize role for former senior member of the Party of Regions Vitaly A. Kalyuzhny in directing money to both Republican and Democratic advisers. Mr. Kalyuzhny was a founding board member of a Brussels-based nongovernmental organization, the European Center for a Modern Ukraine that hired the Podesta Group. That group received $1.02 million to promote an agenda generally aligned with the Party of Regions. (Politico, New York Times, 08.15.16, Washington Post, 08.18.16, RFE/RL, 08.17.16, RFE/RL, 08.19.16, New York Times, Washington Post, 08.19.16)
  • Ukraine missed a deadline to fully launch a system for officials to declare their assets electronically, falling short of a requirement needed to unlock billions of frozen international aid. (Bloomberg, 08.15.16)
  • According to the Kyiv-based Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a media watchdog that tracks attacks on reporters in Ukraine, the Prosecutor-General's Office logged 113 criminal offenses -- including physical attacks, damage to property, and obstruction of activities -- committed against journalists in the first half of 2016.. (RFE/RL, 08.15.16)
  • Urenco is to supply uranium enrichment to Ukraine under a contract signed by the country's national nuclear company Energoatom and the enrichment firm owned by Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. (World Nuclear News, 08.18.16)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The drafting of an agreement on the activation of a Russian-Armenian Combined Force is in the final stages, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov has told the media in the wake of the negotiations between the defense ministers of the two countries, Sergei Shoigu and Seiran Oganyan. (Tass, 08.19.16)
  • A Yerevan appeals court has granted bail to Armen Martirosian, deputy chairman of the opposition Heritage party, who was charged in connection with a recent rally. (RFE/RL,  08.17.16)
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Zakir Hasanov, have discussed bilateral military cooperation between the two countries during talks in Baku. (RFE/RL, 08.15.16)
  • Azerbaijan said it has launched a criminal investigation into supporters of Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for last month's aborted coup. (RFE/RL, 08.16.16)
  • Sandra Roelofs, wife of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, will run for a single-mandate parliamentary seat from the Zugdidi municipality in the western region of the Samegrelo region.. (RFE/RL, 08.19.16)
  • Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has prolonged a moratorium on land privatization and land leasing to foreigners until December 2021. (RFE/RL, 08.18.16)
  • Qurbon Mannonov, a leading member of a banned opposition party in Tajikistan jailed for purportedly showing support for the extremist Islamic State (IS) group in his town has reportedly died in jail. (RFE/RL, 08.16.16)
  • Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has proposed to parliament a mass amnesty law that would release more than 12,000 convicts. (RFE/RL,  08.17.16)
  • Tajikistan's government has quietly asserted the right of authorities to control the content of both state-run and privately owned broadcasters in a move that appears aimed at tightening officials' already firm grip on news and mass media. (RFE/RL,  08.17.16)
  • A public commission in Kyrgyzstan has concluded that Tsarist Russia's mass crackdown on an uprising by Kyrgyz in 1916 was genocide.  (RFE/RL, 08.16.16)
  • The Moldovan Foreign Ministry has complained to Russian diplomats over a recent military exercise involving Russian troops on the territory of Transdniester. (RFE/RL, 08.18.16)

 

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For more information on this publication: Please contact US-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism
For Academic Citation:Russia in Review.” News, , August 19, 2016.