News

Russia in Review

August 12, 2016

Abstract

 

Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for August 5-12, 2016

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

Nuclear security:

  • Rosatom is planning to shut down and decommission the Chemical-Metallurgical Plant of the Seversk Chemical Combine. The plant was established in 1961 to produce uranium and plutonium components for nuclear weapons. (IPFM, 08.12.16)
  • China carried out first drills aimed at testing the country's preparedness for possible nuclear security emergency.(Sputnik, 08.07.16)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russia has fulfilled 50 percent of the contract for the delivery of S-300air defense missile systems to Iran, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said.(Tass, 08.10.16)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • NATO went out of its way Wednesday to insist that Turkey - whose president this week visited Moscow and promised a new level of cooperation with the man he repeatedly called his "dear friend," Russian President Vladimir Putin - remains a "valued ally" whose alliance membership "is not in question." "For the first time in recent memory, there is serious discussion of Turkey's NATO membership," Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said. And some Turkish officials, he said, are questioning whether Turkey should move toward Russia.  (Washington Post, 08.10.16,  08.11.16)
  • Russia’s ultra-modern weaponry and tactics would give it a battlefield edge if faced with British troops, a U.K. Defense Ministry report has found. The report warned that NATO countries were “scrambling to catch up” to Russia’s hybrid tactics employed in eastern Ukraine.  Russia’s BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher was cited as a particular strategic weakness. (Moscow Times, 08.10.16)
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense said Russia's Black Fleet would conduct training exercises in the eastern Mediterranean starting next week, including drills to test the fleet's ability to deal with threats "of a terrorist nature." (Wall Street Journal, 08.11.16)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.

Counter-terrorism:

  • The European Union has added two Russian citizens to its sanctions list of people with links to the Al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorist organizations. The EU said that Aslan Byutukayev, 41, from Russia's North Caucasus region and Ayrat Vakhitov, 39, from Russia's Tatarstan region had been added to the list a day earlier and the "regulation should enter into force immediately."  (RFE/RL, 08.10.16)
  • A burned-out car with the bodies of two men was found on August 8 in the southeastern village of Dyuzlyar in Dagestan. A preliminary probe indicated the two were transporting an explosive device when it accidentally detonated inside the vehicle. On August 10 a federal judge was gunned down in Dagestan’s western Shamil district. On August 11, Daghestani police killed four suspected militants in Dagestan's western district of Botlikh. On August 12 two traffic police officers were killed by unknown attackers near Dagestan’s western city of Izberbash. The attackers shot the police officers dead and took away their firearms.   (RFE/RL, 08.09.16, 08.11.16, 08.12.16.)
  • The Samarkand Regional Court in Uzbekistan's southeast has jailed five local residents for intending to join militants of the Islamic State extremist group in Syria. (RFE/RL, 08.12.16)
  • A court in Tbilisi has sentenced Georgian citizen Davit Borchashvili to 12 years in jail on charges of fighting alongside Islamic State militants in Syria (RFE/RL, 08.10.16)
  • A court in the northwestern Kazakh city of Aqtobe found three men guilty on August 11 of "spreading terrorist ideas” using the WhatsApp application on their smartphones and sentenced them to prison terms between 6 1/2 and eight years. (RFE/RL, 08.11.16)
  • Ukrainian authorities say they have blocked “several channels” being used by militants traveling to fight with the Islamic State) extremist group. (RFE/RL, 08.11.16)

Cyber security:

  • U.S. officials are discussing whether to respond to computer breaches of Democratic Party organizations with economic sanctions against Russia, but they haven't decided about how to proceed, according to several people familiar with the matter. (Wall Street Journal, 08.12.16)
  • The FBI has high confidence the Russian government hacked U.S. Democratic Party groups and the personal e-mails of political operatives, according to a person familiar with the findings. "This is an electronic Watergate,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. (Bloomberg, 08.11.16)
  • Weeks before the Democratic convention was upended by 20,000 leaked e-mails released through WikiLeaks, another little-known website began posting the secrets of a top NATO general, billionaire George Soros’ philanthropy and a Chicago-based Clinton campaign volunteer. Security experts now say that site, DCLeaks.com, with its spiffy capitol-dome logo, shows the marks of the same Russian intelligence outfit that targeted the Democratic political organizations. (Bloomberg, 08.11.16)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • During his meeting with Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized Turkey's desire to realize a proposed Russia-backed natural-gas pipeline called Turkish Stream. Erdogan said agreements reached with Russia on equal financing of the Turkish Stream. (Wall Street Journal, 08.10.16, Tass, 08.11.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says he's eager to discuss new energy and transportation projects in the Caspian Sea region with his counterparts from Azerbaijan and Iran. The August 8 meeting is the first time the three countries have held such a gathering, and the three leaders said the new format should help improve ties.(RFE/RL, 08.08.16)
  • From July through September, global production of crude oil will fall behind demand by almost one million barrels a day, according to the International Energy Agency. (Wall Street Journal, 08.11.16)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • Russia’s national regulator fined Alphabet Inc.’s Google 438 million rubles ($6.75 million) for violating antitrust rules on tablets and mobile phones. (Moscow Times, 08.11.16)
  • Russian antitrust authorities charged U.S. tech giant Apple on August 8 with fixing the retail prices for iPhones in the country.   (RFE/RL, 08.09.16)

Other bilateral issues:

  • A CNN/ORC poll last week showed 48 percent of Americans thought the Russian government was indeed trying to influence the results of the U.S. election. Slighly fewer — 44 percent — said they didn't think so. A new Bloomberg Politics National Poll, meanwhile, shows 42 percent of Americans say they bothered "a lot" by Donald Trump's praise for Vladimir Putin, with 27 percent saying they're bothered "a little." (Washington Post, 08.12.16)
  • This week Donald Trump released a new roster of economic advisers, including businessman Howard Lorbe who has had extensive investments in Russia and tried to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow. (Washington Post, 08.11.16)
  • Fifty of the nation’s most senior Republican national security officials have signed a letter declaring that Donald J. Trump ‘‘lacks the character, values and experience’’ to be president and ‘‘would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.’’ Some of the signatories said in recent interviews that they decided to sign the letter once they heard Mr. Trump invite Russia to hack Mrs. Clinton’s email server and say that he would check to see how much NATO members contributed to the alliance before sending forces to help stave off a Russian attack. (New York Times, 08.10.16)
  • Michael Morell, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency has said that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump may be an "unwitting agent" of the Kremlin.  (RFE/RL, 08.06.16)
  • U.S. officials allegedly offered convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout a reduced sentence in return for testimony against Igor Sechin, the head of state-owned oil company Rosneft, the RIA Novosti news agency reported Tuesday. (Moscow Times, 08.09.16)
  • "Around the world, governments continued to tighten their regulatory grip on religious groups, and particularly on minority religious groups and religions which are viewed as not traditional to that specific country," the State Department said  in its annual religious freedom report, citing Angola, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Eritrea, Burma, Russia and Vietnam. (Washington Post, 08.11.16)

II. Russia’s domestic news.

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed long-term ally Sergei Ivanov as head of the presidential administration, the Kremlin announced Friday. Putin has placed Ivanov in the role of special representative to the president for ecology and transport. Ivanov’s former deputy, Andrei Vaino, has been named as his replacement on the recommendation of his predecessor. The 44-year-old used to work in the Russian Embassy in Japan before joining the presidential administration. (Moscow Times, RFE/RL, 08.11.16)
  • More than 180,000 Russians have signed a petition calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev after his remarks about teachers' pay sparked outrage earlier this week. (RFE/RL, 08.06.16)
  • According to a new sociological survey by the independent polling agency the Levada Center, Vladimir Putin has become less likeable in the eyes of Russians over the past year and a half. Respondents who describe Putin as “likeable” have dropped from 37 percent in March 2015 to 29 percent in late July.  (RBC/Meduza, 08.08.16)
  • Russia’s gross domestic product lost 0.6 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier after a decline of 1.2 percent in the previous three months, the Federal Statistics Service said on Thursday. That was better than all but four forecasts in a Bloomberg survey of 19 economists, whose median estimate was for a 0.8 percent drop.(Bloomberg, 08.11.16)
  • According to information provided by Rosstat, the beginning of August saw the appearance of deflation in Russia as prices for consumer goods fell by 0.1 percent. (RBTH, 08.11.16)
  • A Russian government decree published this week indicates the country plans to construct 11 new nuclear power reactors by 2030 - including two BN-1200 sodium-cooled fast neutron reactors. The document, which covers "territorial planning for energy" for the period, also identifies six points for radioactive waste disposal. (World Nuclear News, 08.10.16)
  • President Vladimir Putin agreed to ban Rosneft PJSC from bidding for the controlling stake in smaller producer Bashneft PJSC that the government plans to auction off as early as next month. (Bloomberg, 08.09.16)
  • The decision to ban Russian athletes from next month's Rio Paralympic Games over doping allegations was a grave abuse of human rights, according to the head of the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) (Aljazeera, 08.08.16)

Defense and Aerospace:

  • The Russian Navy will deploy the Bastion-P mobile coastal defense missile system  to the Kuril Islands in late Summer 2016, according to a source in the Russian defense industry.(Tass, 08.08.16)
  • The Russian Navy is to hide a city of 50,000 people behind a giant smoke screen for a military training exercise later this week. Severomorsk, one of the largest cities in Russia's northern Murmansk region, will be covered in fake fog for three days as part of the exercise for Russia's Northern Fleet. (Moscow Times, 08.10.16)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A high-ranking Russian politician described as a "godfather" figure helped Moscow-based mobsters launder money through banks and properties in Spain, according to Spanish investigators. When he was deputy speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, the Spanish Civil Guard alleges that Alexander Torshin had helped the Taganskaya crime syndicate launder its profits. Torshin, who is now serving as deputy head of the central bank, denies any wrongdoing and said his ties to the alleged Taganskaya leader in Spain, Alexander Romanov, are purely social. Torshin hasn’t been charged or summoned in relation to the report. (International Business Times, 08.09.16, Bloomberg, 08.08.16)
  • Russia's Federal Security Service has offered phone companies the use of its own wiretap systems to enforce the country's new anti-terrorism legislation. (Moscow Times, 08.10.16)

III. Foreign affairs and trade:

Syria:

  • Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says there has been no letup to the fighting between rebels and government forces in Aleppo despite a three-hour cease-fire declared by the Russian military, which is fighting alongside the government. Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, said on August 10 that it would observe a daily three-hour cease-fire starting on August 11 to facilitate the delivery of aid supplies to residents of Aleppo who are caught in the fighting. (RFE/RL, 08.11.16)
  • Russia is to convert its Hmeimim airbase in Syria into a full-fledged military base with a permanent air force contingent, the Izvestia newspaper reported Thursday. The airbase's expansion has been made possible by a Russian-Syrian bilateral agreement. New radio equipment and air control systems are to be installed at the base, while existing runways will be expanded so as to allow landing of An-124 strategic airlifters, said one source at Russia's Ministry of Defense.(Moscow Times, 08.11.16)
  • 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).
  • Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer who now studies Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Russians had built a capable intelligence network in Syria, giving them a better understanding of the terrain and location of rebel forces. That has allowed Russian troops to call in precision airstrikes, making them more effective against the rebels. (New York Times, 08.08.16)
  • On August 8  six of Russia’s long-range Tu-22M3 bombers delivered a massive strike against the facilities of the Islamic State terrorist organization in areas near the Syrian city of Palmyra, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported. Tu-22M3 bombers also attacked positions of the Islamic State near the Syrian city of Raqqa on August 11, according to a statement posted on the web site of the Russian defense ministry. The bombs hit an arsenal, fuel depots, a training camp and a chemical warfare plant, according to the statement. (Belfer Center, 08.12.16, Tass, 08.08.16)
  • For the first time since Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Russian military for the past year has been in direct combat with rebel forces trained and supplied by the CIA. (New York Times, 08.08.16)

Other far abroad countries and foreign affairs in general:

  • Presidents Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey pledged to repair relations after nine months of open antagonism during their meeting in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. During the talks Erdogan called Putin "my dear friend Vladimir."  In discussions he called "constructive," Putin said that Russia would gradually lift economic sanctions from Turkish companies. The Turkish president chose Russia for first trip abroad since failed military coup. Erdogan noted that the Russian had been the first foreign leader to call him. Moscow and Ankara are also to collaborate on action in Syria via a newly established department consisting of diplomats, military and intelligence officials, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced Wednesday. The collaboration was approved during the meeting between Putin and Erdogan.  Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday, “we have always called on Russia to carry out anti-Daesh operations together.” (Moscow Times, 08.10.16, Foreign Policy, 08.01.16, Washington Post, 08.10.16, New York Times, 08.11.16, Financial Times,  08.09.16)
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin today inaugurated unit 1 of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. Together with J Jayalalithaa, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, where the plant is based, the two leaders conducted the inauguration via a video conference. (World Nuclear News, 08.10.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister Theresa May have agreed to meet "in the near future" to try to improve poor relations between Moscow and London, the Kremlin said.  (RFE/RL, 08.10.16)

Ukraine:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine's government of "terror" on August 10 after a Russian security agent and a soldier were allegedly killed in Crimea thwarting saboteurs. "This is a very dangerous game…. We obviously will not let such things slide by," Putin said. He said Russia would take "serious" measures to ensure security in Crimea and  pledged a “very serious” response as he blamed Kiev for pursuing “terror” activities. Putin has also held a meeting with his Security Council to discuss additional security measures for Crimea and called it "pointless" to have international four-way talks over the Ukraine crisis next month amid the rising tension over Crimea. The next meeting in the Normandy 4 format was due to take place on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, on September 4-5. Putin may cut diplomatic ties with Ukraine if there’s no other option left, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said.(RFE/RL, 08.11.16, 08.10.16, Bloomberg, 08.12.16, RFE/RL, 08.11.16)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hit back that Moscow's claims of Ukrainian saboteurs in Crimea were "senseless and cynical." Poroshenko has also put his country's forces on combat alert. He also ordered the Foreign Ministry to organize phone calls with Vladimir Putin and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. He also sought to speak with other leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the meantime Ukrainian military said it had conducted planned exercises involving fighter and bomber aircraft. (RFE/RL, 08.10.16, Moscow Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg,08.12.16)
  • In a statement released on August 10, Russia’s Federal Security Service said that it confronted one group of Ukrainian saboteurs in an operation late on August 7 and early on August 8, breaking up what it claimed was a Ukrainian spy network. According to Russian media reports, seven armed Ukrainian intelligence officers, dressed in Soviet camouflage gear, traveled across the Perekopsky Gulf to Crimea in a fleet of small motorboats on the night of Aug 6. The men evaded detection from Russian border patrol guards and came ashore near the town of Armyansk, according to Russia's Kommersant. The FSB said  the situation escalated late on August 8 and in the early hours of August 9. FSB said that Ukrainian and Russian citizens were eventually arrested and an arms cache  had been recovered. On questioning, the men reportedly revealed that they were one of a number of sabotage groups sent to Crimea by Ukrainian intelligence. Their aim had been to set off a series of non-fatal explosions in Crimean resorts which would have “killed tourism” in the region.  Ukraine's military intelligence service has categorically denied Russia’s claims.(RFE/RL, 08.10.16, Moscow Times, 08.11.16)
  • Washington’s ambassador to Ukraine said that the United States had seen nothing so far that corroborates the Russian allegations." Putin wants more war. Russia escalates, desperately looks for casus belli against Ukraine, tests [the] West's reaction," a spokesman for Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, Dmytro Kuleba, wrote on Twitter.(RFE/RL, 08.10.16)
  • "The EU calls for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, including in eastern Ukraine where all parties—including Russia—must fully engage in the complete implementation of the Minsk accords," said the spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic. (Wall Street Journal, 08.11.16)
  • The Kremlin announced the start of war games in the Black Sea. The Russian drills — which will last from August 11 to 13 — are part of the already planned Caucasus-2016 naval exercises by the Russian Defense Ministry in the region, but their timing has left Ukrainian officials worried that the heightened military activity could escalate quickly into a direct conflict with Moscow. Russia has deployed S-400 Triumph air defense systems in Crimea. (Foreign Policy, 08.11.16, Xinhua, 08.12.16)
  • Kyiv said that Russia had amassed more troops in recent days equipped with more modern equipment on Ukraine's border with Russian-annexed Crimea. "These troops are coming with more modern equipment and there are air assault units. In recent days, we see a strengthening of the units that are at the border. Their number increased," Oleh Slobodyan, the spokesman for the Ukrainian border guards, said on August 11. Ukraine's military intelligence service alleged on August 12 that Russia was planning "large-scale provocative actions through the contact line in Ukraine’s east” .At the same time Ukraine said it had not so far seen any significant increase in fighting in its eastern Donbas region in the last few days. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said on August 12 that "the cease-fire has not been observed by the illegal armed groups, but the average number of shelling incidents is pretty much at the same level."   (RFE/RL, 08.11.16, RFE/RL, 08.12.16)
  • The head of Ukraine's National Police, Vadim Troyan, said Thursday that Kiev had opened criminal proceeding regarding the possible abduction of Yevhen Panov, a Ukrainian resident who was named by the FSB as the main perpetrator of one attempted attack. (Wall Street Journal, 08.11.16)
  • Luhansk militant leader Igor Plotnitsky has reportedly been released from hospital after assassination attempt. Plotnitsky was wounded "as a result of a powerful explosion that occurred near his car" in Luhansk.  (RFE/RL, 08.07.16, Ukraine Today, 08.06.16)
  • Ukraine’s chief anticorruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytskiy said Mykola Chaus, a judge in Kyiv’s Dniprovskiy district court, was caught by anticorruption detectives accepting a $150,000 bribe on August 9 from an unnamed figure. But Kholodnytskiy said Chaus cannot be detained because he has immunity from prosecution under Ukraine’s constitution.(RFE/RL, 08.10.16)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian met on August 10 to discuss Armenia’s ongoing dispute over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Moscow meeting came  two days after Putin discussed an OSCE-sponsored peace plan in Baku with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Iranian President Hassan Rohani. (RFE/RL, 08.10.16)
  • An Armenian prosecutor has demanded a life sentence for a Russian soldier charged with killing a family of seven. The prosecutor in the northwestern Armenian city of Gyumri urged on August 12 that Valery Permyakov be given life for last year’s killing.(RFE/RL, 08.12.16)
  • Belarus has asked Russia to replace top-of-the line nuclear reactor after an accident last month. (Interfax, 08.11.16)
  • Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev vowed to send back to Turkey anyone in Kazakh schools found to have "terror links" to exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen that Turkey blames for a failed coup.  (RFE/RL, 08.06.16)
  • Kazakh authorities say they have detained six officials from the Defense and Finance ministries on embezzlement and corruption charges. (RFE/RL, 08.10.16)
  • Russia says it will return the skull of a leader of the Kazakh national liberation movement, Keiki Batyr, to Kazakhstan for burial. (RFE/RL, 08.12.16)

 

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For Academic Citation:Russia in Review.” News, , August 12, 2016.