News

Russia in Review

August 8, 2016

Abstract

Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for July 29-August 5, 2016

 

 

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

 

Nuclear security:

  • A secret group of fewer than 10 people — formed in April 2014 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office — discovered that getting a license and then ordering enough materials to make a dirty bomb was strikingly simple in one of their three tries. Sellers were preparing shipments that together were enough to poison a city center when the operation was shut down. (Washington Post, 08.04.16.)
  • Ukraine’s Rivnenskaya NPP hosted an anti-terrorism exercise by the country’s National Guard and Security Service on July 29th. The exercise featured simulation of blocking and eliminating groups of saboteurs, according a statement posted on the web site of the national NPP operator, Energoatom on August 1sy. (Belfer Center, 08.03.16.)
  • Former director of the Federal Security Service’s economic security department Yuri Yakovlev is going to become first advisor to the director general of Rosatom and then his deputy, Kommersant reported on August 5th. General Yakovlev will supervise the military component of this corporation’s activities, a Rosatom official told Kommersant. (Belfer Center, 08.05.16)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The Russian Defense Ministry has invited NATO experts to hold consultations in Moscow in September on the military-political situation in Europe, deputy minister Anatoly Antonov said on August 1. "NATO military experts are invited to Moscow in September 2016 for consultations on the military-political situation in Europe," Antonov said. The Defense Ministry of Finland said in a statement on August 2 that Russia’s proposal to hold consultations in September with NATO military experts on the military-political situation in Europe is interesting. (Tass, 08.01.16, 08.02.16)
  • On July 31 the Polish Defense Ministry said that its F-16 planes intercepted a light Russian plane over Czestochowa, which had reportedly violated the country’s airspace. After the landing at Radom airport he was detained by police only to be released a short while later. (Tass, 08.03.16)
  • Almost half of all Norwegians believe Russia and President Vladimir Putin pose a “real security threat” to their country, according to Norwegian daily tabloid Dagbladet. (Newsweek, 08.02.16)
  • Estonia could introduce a five kilometer security buffer along its border with Russia, the TASS news agency reported Thursday. (Moscow Times, 08.04.16)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to seek a new United Nations Security Council resolution that would call for an end to nuclear testing, a move that leading lawmakers are calling an end run around Congress. Top administration officials, including Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, briefed lawmakers and congressional staffers this week about President Obama's decision to push for the U.N. action this September, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Washington Post, 08.04.16)
  • America's National Nuclear Security Administration gave the green light this week for a major, multi-billion dollar upgrade of the B61 airborne nuclear bomb. Sergey Ryabkov, deputy head of the Russian foreign ministry, claimed the new upgraded American warheads would be significantly less powerful. As a result, Pentagon chiefs would be more willing to use the device as they would have a less catastrophic impact, he argued. (Express.co.uk, 08.04.16)
  • U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James would be "concerned" if the US implemented a formal no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons, at a time when the White House reportedly is considering such a move. (Defense News, 08.03.16)

Counter-terrorism:

  • The number of terror crimes recorded in Russia has soared by 73 percent since the start of the year, a report by First Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Buksman revealed Wednesday. The number of crimes classed as "extremist" or "terrorist" in nature reached 830 and 1313 respectively. (Moscow Times, 08.03.16)
  • A nine-minute video posted to YouTube on July 31 through a messenger account used by the Islamic State (IS) group calls on IS militants to carry out attacks in Russia. Such threats will not affect the policy of fighting against terrorism pursued by the Russian authorities, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on August 1. (RFE/RL, 07.31.16, Tass, 08.01.16)
  • A Kyrgyz security official says as many as 600 Kyrgyz citizens have joined Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq. The figure includes 100 women, a spokesman for the Kyrgyz State Committee for National security, Rakhat Sulaimanov, told RFE/RL on August 3. According to Sulaimanov, more than 70 Kyrgyz citizens had been killed in the past years while fighting on the side of Islamic militant groups. Kyrgyz authorities also say they have detained a 20-year-old man on his way to join the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria. Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has signed into law amendments allowing the authorities to deprive those convicted of terrorism of their citizenship. (RFE/RL, 08.01.16, 08.04.16, 08.03.16)
  • Citing the Boston Marathon bombers and the settlement of Somalis in Maine, Donald Trump raised the prospect of terrorists infiltrating the country as refugees. "We're letting people come in from terrorist nations that shouldn't be allowed," Trump said. "This could be the great Trojan horse of all time." (The Boston Globe, 08.05.16)

Cyber security:

  • U.S. President Barack Obama said the alleged Russian hack of Democratic Party computers, if confirmed, would not dramatically change already troubled relations between the two countries. Obama said "the United States already has a lot of differences with Russia on a whole bunch of issues, but I think that we've been able to try to stay focused on those areas where we still have a common interest." "If, in fact, Russia engaged in this activity, it's just one on a long list of issues that me and Mr. Putin talk about and that I've got a real problem with," he added. (RFE/RL, 08.03.16)
  • "We know that Russian intelligence services hacked into the DNC and we know that they arranged for a lot of those e-mails to be released and we know that Donald Trump has shown a very troubling willingness to back up Putin, to support Putin," U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said.(RFE/RL, 07.31.16)
  • John O. Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, made clear that while spying on each other’s political institutions is fair game, making data public — in true or altered form — to influence an election is a new level of malicious activity, far different from ordinary spy vs. spy maneuvers. ‘‘When it is determined who is responsible for this,’’ Brennan, said, choosing his words carefully to avoid any direct implication of Russia, there ‘‘will be discussions at the highest levels of government about what the right course of action will be. Obviously interference in the U.S. election process is a very, very serious matter.’’ (New York Times, 08.01.16)
  • American firms Fidelis Cybersecurity and ThreatConnect said in statements on August 1 that the Internet domains and registrants used to hack the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee computers point to a Russian hacking group, Fancy Bear, that is linked to Russian intelligence services. (RFE/RL, 08.01.16)
  • The Kremlin has rejected allegations that Moscow was behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee computers. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on August 1 that Clinton's comments were “of the preelection rhetoric genre and do not contain anything tangible."  (RFE/RL, 08.01.16)
  • Russia’s Federal Security Service has found a cyber-spying virus in computer networks of 20 state authorities and defense industry companies. The virus attack was aimed at "information resources of the state authorities, scientific and defense companies, enterprises of the defense industry and other objects of the country's critically important infrastructures."   (Tass, 07.30.16)
  • The equipment necessary to implement controversial new anti-terror laws is not produced in Russia, the Izvestia newspaper reported Thursday, citing unidentified sources close to the Communications Ministry. Some of the required hardware is not mass produced anywhere in the world, said MTS spokesman Dmitry Solodovnikov.  (Moscow Times, 08.04.16)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russian oil output rose 1.8 percent in July, extending a run of year-on-year gains to 24 months. Production climbed to 10.85 million barrels a day, according to data from the Russian Energy Ministry’s CDU-TEK unit. (Bloomberg, 08.02.16)
  • The Polish antitrust regulator has filed a formal objection against Russia’s proposed “Nord Stream 2” gas pipeline. (Foreign Policy, 08.05.16)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent a greetings telegram to U.S. President Barack Obama on the occasion of his 55th jubilee but no telephone conversation is scheduled between the leaders for the time being, press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov told TASS on August 4. (Tass, 08.04.16)
  • Donald Trump backtracked on claims that he’s had “a relationship” with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid questions about his embrace of a traditional U.S. adversary at a time Russia’s been implicated in hacking Democratic Party computers. “I have no relationship with Putin,” Trump said. “He said very nice things about me, but I have no relationship with him.”  (Bloomberg, 07.31.16)
  • Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said on August 1 he had had two meetings with the Republican candidate for the White House, Donald Trump, who is the Republican candidate for U.S. presidency and the man had produced an encouraging impression on him. . (Tass, 08.02.16)
  • "It sounds very attractive, but it could end as a catastrophe for everyone," one lawmaker in Russia's upper house of parliament said this week of a potential Donald Trump presidency, requesting anonymity to speak frankly about the U.S. elections. The problem? "He is unpredictable." (Washington Post, 08.04.16)
  • Sixty percent of Russian respondents are unfamiliar with Donald Trump's background and policies, the state-run VTsIOM pollster reported Monday. Of those who knew about the Republican Party presidential candidate, 34 percent of respondents said they would expect an improvement in U.S.-Russian relations if Trump were to become president.  (Moscow Times, 08.01.16)
  • ‘‘Of course they see a U.S. conspiracy behind every bush and ascribe far more impact than we’re actually guilty of, but that’s their mind-set,’’ director of U.S. national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr said. ‘‘And so I think their approach is they believe we are trying to influence political developments in Russia, trying to effect change, and so their natural response is to retaliate and do unto us as they think we’ve done unto them.’’ (New York Times, 08.01.16)
  • Andrey Vavilov, the chairman of SuperOx, which is part of Skolkovo's nuclear-research cluster, donated between $10,000 and $25,000 to the Clinton's family charity. Skolkovo Foundation chief and billionaire Putin confidant Viktor Vekselberg also gave to the Clinton Foundation through his company, Renova Group. (Wall Street Journal, 08.01.16)
  • The state-of-the-art technological research coming out of Skolkovo raised alarms among U.S. military experts and federal law-enforcement officials, according to president of the Government Accountability Institute Peter Schweizer. Research conducted in 2012 on Skolkovo by the U.S. Army Foreign Military Studies Program at Fort Leavenworth declared that the purpose of Skolkovo was to serve as a "vehicle for world-wide technology transfer to Russia in the areas of information technology, biomedicine, energy, satellite and space technology, and nuclear technology." (Wall Street Journal, 08.01.16)
  • An increasing number of Americans are facing visa problems or deportation from Russia due to worsening political ties, the Kommersant newspaper reported Tuesday. Twenty-five U.S. citizens had their residence permits annulled in the first half of 2016, compared to just two in 2014. (Moscow Times, 08.02.16)

 

 

II. Russia’s domestic news.

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia's economy is continuing to decline “after hitting rock bottom,” a report by Moscow's Higher School of Economics revealed Monday. The construction sector contracted by a record 10 percent, falling below levels recorded during the 2009 global crisis.  Turnover in the retail sector also fell by 3.1 percent, down some 15 percent in total compared to pre-sanction levels in 2014. Industrial production in the last six months also decreased by 0.1 percent (Moscow Times, 08.01.16)
  • The Purchasing Manager’s Index fell to 49.5 from a 19-month high of 51.5 in June, according to a statement released by Markit Economics on Monday. It slipped below the threshold of 50 that separates contraction from growth for the first time since May. (Bloomberg, 08.01.16)
  • Russian political parties and candidates are receiving covert state funding through government contracts and subsidies, a report by independent election monitor Golos revealed Thursday. Private companies are more likely win government contracts if they pledge part of their fee to Kremlin-friendly political parties, the report claims.  (Moscow Times, 08.04.16)
  • The number of alcoholics in Russia has dropped by a third in the course of the last seven years, the country’s Federal Consumer Protection Service, Rospotrebnadzor, announced Friday. (Moscow Times, 07.29.16)
  • An outbreak of anthrax, a deadly bacterial disease that is rare in developed countries, has hit a remote region of northern Russia, killing a 12-year-old boy and sending 90 other people to hospitals. (New York Times, 08.03.16)
  • International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach called for an overhaul of the global anti-doping system while he defended not invoking the "nuclear option" and banning all Russians from the Rio Olympics this week. (RFE/RL, 08.03.16)

Defense and Aerospace:

  • Russia’s Airborne Force is planning to start forming an air assault regiment in Dzhankoi in Crimea next year. (Tass, 08.03.16)
  • The Russian anti-terror operation in Syria has demonstrated success in the military reform and the aspiration to strengthen Russia’s positions in the international community, Japan’s Defense Ministry said in an annual report. (Tass, 08.03.16)
  • Russia's state-owned military technology firm Rostec has seen its net profit soar by 281 percent to 99 billion rubles ($1.4 billion). The company earned half of all revenues from state defense orders, with another 20 percent coming from the export of arms and military equipment.  (Moscow Times, 08.03.16)
  • Russia’s new Tupolev Tu-160M2 Blackjack supersonic strategic bomber is expected to make its first flight in late 2018 and enter into full-rate production by 2021. (National Interest, 08.04.16)
  • Robots designed for chemical warfare defense are soon be integrated into Russia’s military, the Interfax news agency reported Thursday.  (Moscow Times, 08.04.16)
  • The teams of the Russian and Chinese military are on the first and second places, correspondingly, after the first six days of the International Army Games 2016. (Tass, 08.04.16)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russia's western region of Kursk has topped a new list of the most corrupt regions in the country, a report by the Prosecutor General’s Office revealed Wednesday. The Kursk region, which shares a border with Ukraine,  reported 257 corruption-related offenses, a 189 percent increase on the same period in 2015. (Moscow Times, 08.03.16)
  • Mayor of the Russian city of Yaroslavl Yevgeny Urlashon Wednesday was found guilty of soliciting bribes and sentenced to 12 ½ years in a high-security prison. (AP, 08.03.16)

 

 

III. Foreign affairs and trade:

Syria:

  • U.S. President Barack Obama says he's not sure he can trust Russia to cooperate with the United States in fighting extremists and ending the civil war in Syria but he nevertheless is exploring the possibilities. "The violations of this cessation have grown to the point where it just barely exists, particularly up in the northwestern part of the country," Mr. Obama added. "So we're going to test and see if we can get something that sticks, and if not, then Russia will have shown itself very clearly to be an irresponsible actor on the world stage that is supporting a murderous regime." (RFE/RL, Wall Street Journal, 08.05.16)
  • The United States has called on Russia and the Syrian government to stop their offensive operations in Aleppo. "It is critical that Russia restrain both itself and the Assad regime from conducting offensive operations, just as it is our responsibility to get the opposition to refrain from engaging in those operations," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. (Moscow Times, 08.02.16)
  • Syria state media says a total of 169 civilians, mostly women over the age of 40, have left besieged eastern parts of Aleppo through a "safe corridor" that Moscow and Damascus say they have set up to evacuate people from opposition-held parts of the city.  (RFE/RL, 07.31.16)
  • The Kremlin says all five aboard a Russian military helicopter downed in Syria have been killed. The Defense Ministry said an Mi-8 transport helicopter had been shot down over the province of Idlib but that the fate of the five people onboard -- three crew members and two officers -- was unknown. A Syrian group said on August 4 that it has the bodies  and is demanding the release of prisoners in exchange for the bodies. (RFE/RL, 08.01.16, 08.04.16)
  • The Russian military has charged that Syrian militants used a toxic agent against civilians in Aleppo, killing seven and sickening another 23 people. The head of Russian military's Reconciliation Center at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Lieutenant General Sergei Chvarkov, said  the attack was launched by Nour el-Deine Zengi.(RFE/RL, 08.04.16)
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has slammed as a false information release the media reports that toxic gas was allegedly dispersed in the area where a Russian helicopter was earlier shot down in Syria. (Tass, 08.02.16)

Other far abroad countries and foreign affairs in general:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin joined his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor at Slovenia’s Russian Chapel and unveiled a monument to Russian troops during a visit on Saturday, Slovenian state news agency STA reports. Slovenia has described Putin's one-day visit as strictly informal, but said his talks with officials would also focus on economic and bilateral issues. (Newsweek,08.01.16)
  • Vladimir Putin is to visit to Paris in October to inaugurate a Russian cultural center and Russian cathedral. (Wall Street Journal, 08.02.16)
  • The 21st regular meeting of the Russian and Chinese prime ministers will be held in St. Petersburg on November 7-8. (Tass, 08.02.16)
  • Chinese and Russian producers of non-stainless steels were hit by the European Union with five-year tariffs as high as 36.1 percent after the EU found that imports from the two countries unfairly undercut manufacturers in Europe such as ThyssenKrupp AG and ArcelorMittal. (Bloomberg, 08.04.16)
  • Heilongjiang, the Chinese region just 50 miles from here across the Amur River, has more than 38 million people, more than 200 times the population of the Jewish Autonomous Region. (New York Times, 07.31.16)
  • The police in Rio de Janeiro say a Russian diplomat who was the victim of an attempted robbery near the Olympic Park shot the assailant dead, but the Russian Embassy has denied its employees were involved. (RFE/RL, 08.05.16)

Ukraine:

  • The U.N. Human Rights Office said in a statement on Wednesday that it documented 69 civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine in June, including 12 dead. This was nearly the double the number a month ago and the highest figure since August 2015. (AP, 08.03.16)
  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is demanding unfettered access across eastern Ukraine after one of its monitoring missions there was threatened at gunpoint by Russia-backed separatists. (RFE/RL, 08.01.16)
  • Ukraine will not accept the newly appointed Russian ambassador, the Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister for European Integration, Olena Zerkal, said Wednesday. However, Moscow said that it expects Ukraine to consider its proposed new ambassador Mikhail Babich after Kiev earlier outright rejected the candidate, the Interfax news agency reported Thursday. (Moscow Times, 08.04.16)
  • Russia’s International Uranium Enrichment Center and Ukraine’s Nuclear Fuel state company have signed a new contract on the deliveries of uranium raw materials from Ukraine to Russia in 2016. Ukraine delivers its uranium to Russia for enrichment and the subsequent fabrication of nuclear fuel for its nuclear power plants.   (AP, 08.03.16)
  • Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Information Policy Tetyana Popova has announced her resignation, citing what she described as attacks on journalists and freedom of speech. (RFE/RL, 08.03.16)
  • The United States would trigger a third world war if they were to retake Crimea for Ukraine, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump claimed Monday.  “I know it [the annexation] exactly. That was two years ago. I mean, do you want to go back, do you want to have World War III to get it back?", he said. (Moscow Times, 08.02.16)
  • "He's not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He's not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want," Donald Trump said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos. "Well, he's already there, isn't he?" Stephanopoulos responded. Trump then: "OK -- well, he's there in a certain way. But I'm not there.” (CNN, 07.31.16)
  • Republicans in Congress have long pressed for more assistance to Ukraine to push back against Vladimir Putin, including lethal aid. But all references to giving lethal aid to the Ukrainian government were kept out of the party platform. Mr.  Donald Trump acknowledged in an ABC interview that the language had been watered down, but he said he had nothing to do with it.  Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort said on “Meet the Press” that the platform changes on Ukraine “absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign” or him specifically. (New York Times, 08.01.16, Bloomberg, 07.31.16)
  • When the government of President Petro O. Poroshenko called snap parliamentary elections for October 2014, just eight months later, Paul Manafort rallied the dispirited remnants of Mr. Viktor Yanukovych’s party. It was Manafort who had argued for a new name for the movement — the Opposition Bloc, or Oppo Bloc, as it was called. (New York Times, 08.02.16)
  • A Ukrainian nationalist website has published an e-mail archive that contains copies of identification cards and personal information about Ukrainian and international journalists. (RFE/RL, 08.04.16)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The remaining opposition gunmen holed up in a police station in Yerevan have laid down their arms, ending a two-week standoff with the Armenian authorities, which has left two police officers dead. Three Armenian opposition politicians accused of organizing mass disturbances have been sent to pretrial detention. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian promised to form a government of "national accord" within months, but vowed it would not include "terrorists and their defenders," in an apparent reference to an armed opposition group that surrendered after a two-week standoff with Yerevan police.  He has also dismissed the first deputy director of the country’s National Security Service, Hrant Yepiskoposian. (RFE/RL, 08.02.16, 08.04.16, 07.31.16)
  • Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili has appointed Levan Izoria as the country's new defense minister. (RFE/RL, 08.02.16)
  • On July 19, Abdufattoh Ghoib, the head of Tajikistan's Customs Service, announced that the Tajik government was considering making an application to enter the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union  (RFE/RL, 08.01.16)
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is welcoming the foreign ministers from the five Central Asian states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- to Washington. Their meeting, dubbed the C5+1, follows up on the inaugural session of the group, which was held last year in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. (RFE/RL, 08.03.16)
  • Kazakh officials say two police officers have died after sustaining gunshot wounds in an attack last month. (RFE/RL, 08.01.16)
  • Kyrgyz authorities have arrested member of the opposition People's Parliament movement Toigonbek Kalmatov who is suspected of involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the government. (RFE/RL, 08.01.16)
  • Tajikistan has jailed 170 people for complicity in an armed attempt by a deputy defense minister to topple President Emomali Rahmon last year, the country's prosecutor-general says. (RFE/RL, 08.04.16)
  • Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and other authoritarian governments have reportedly acquired cyber tools used by Western law enforcement and have been using them to hack and harass dissidents. (RFE/RL, 08.03.16)
  • Russian telecommunications company Mobile TeleSystems will sell its stake in Uzbek mobile operator Universal Mobile Systems (UMS) by the end of August, sources close to the operator tell RFE/RL. (RFE/RL, 08.05.16)
  • Russia's Rosatom has offered to replace the reactor shell its workers dropped during installation work last month at Belorussia's first nuclear power plant, in Ostrovets, in the Grodno region. (World Nuclear News, 08.02.16)

 

Back issues of Russia in Review are available here.If you wish to either unsubscribe from or subscribe to Russia in Review, please e-mail Simon Saradzhyan at simon_saradzhyan@hks.harvard.edu.

 

For more information on this publication: Please contact US-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism
For Academic Citation:Russia in Review.” News, , August 8, 2016.