News

Russia in Review

July 29, 2016

Abstract

Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for July 22-29, 2016

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • The IAEA has clinched agreements with Russia’s nuclear- and health-safety watchdogs to initiate what the agency has described as a  “practical arrangements' process whereby concrete actions to achieve higher standards of radiation safety across all levels in the nuclear field will be implemented,” according to a July 26 report by the World Nuclear News. (Belfer Center, 07.26.16)
  • The United Kingdom in partnership with the United States recently concluded a successful technical engagement that demonstrated the ability of both countries to conduct forensic analysis after a nuclear weapon detonation in order to assist attribution of responsibility. (DTRA, 07.29.16)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Russia has strengthened its southwestern flank as NATO builds up its military presence near its borders and next-door Ukraine remains unstable, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday.  "Since 2013 ... we have formed four divisions, nine brigades and 22 regiments," he said. "They include two missile brigades armed with Iskander missile complexes, which has allowed boosting fire power to destroy the potential adversary." (Reuters, 07.18.16)
  • "I'm proud to stand by our allies in NATO against any threat they face, including from Russia,'' Hillary Clinton said as she accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president Thursday. (Wall Street Journal, 07.29.16)
  • The 15th annual Sea Breeze naval exercises have been underway this week on the Black Sea. Co-hosted by the Ukrainian and U.S. navies, the drills include personnel from 13 nations including Britain, Turkey, Romania and Georgia. (RFE/RL, 07.26.16)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied allegations by Bulgaria’s defense minister that Russian aircraft have been crossing into Bulgaria’s responsibility zone of NATO airspace. (RFE/RL, 07.25.16)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • The Russian Defense Ministry has issued requests for proposals for a system designed to monitor the compliance of the United States with the provisions of New START Treaty. The terms of the tender have been published on the governmental acquisition website. (Tass, 07.27.16)

Counter-terrorism:

  • Swedish police have detained a Russian citizen declared internationally wanted on terrorism charges, the Aftonbladet news website reported Friday. Russia has issued warning notices on 260 individuals overseas who are believed to be preparing terror attacks, director of Russia's Federal Security Service Aleksander Bortnikov announced earlier this week. (Moscow Times, 07.29.16)
  • The United States on July 25 approved the release of former Red Army ballet dancer Ravil Mingazov who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for nearly 14 years. (RFE/RL, 07.26.16)

Cyber security:

  • U.S. President Barack Obama has publicly tied Russia to the recent theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee. The Wall Street Journal on July 27 quoted the U.S. leader as saying that he knew “experts have attributed this to the Russians." Members of the U.S. intelligence community have told Obama’s staff that they have ‘‘high confidence’’ that the Russian government was behind the theft, the New York Times reported on July 26. Russian government hackers have also breached the computers of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, individuals familiar with the matter told Washington Post. However, according to one U.S. official cited in the July 27 issue of the Washington Post, no “evidentiary connection to any Russian intelligence service and WikiLeaks” has been drawn. And director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Thursday the U.S. intelligence community was not ready to "make the call on attribution" as to who was responsible, according to Business Insider. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, believes "Russian state actors" may have been involved in the leak of the emails to help Donald Trump. Both Trump and his staff rejected Mook's suggestion of Russian involvement on behalf of the Republican candidate, according to RFE/RL. Trump also said his call for Russia to find Hillary Clinton's e-mails was “sarcastic.” The Kremlin has denied allegations that the Russian government hacked the DNC emails. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he raised the issue of the hacking in a July 26 meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who brushed aside the allegations. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, also refuted claims that Moscow was behind the hack.( Belfer Center, 07.29.16)
  • The White House on July 26 issued new guidelines on how government agencies should respond to major cyberattacks. White House counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco named Russia and China as cyber adversaries that have become more assertive. (RFE/RL, 07.26.16)
  • Submarines represent an important component of America's cyber strategy. They act defensively to protect themselves and the country from digital attack, but — more interestingly — they also have a role to play in carrying out cyberattacks, according to two U.S. Navy officials at a recent Washington conference. (Washington Post, 07.29.16)
  • The Republican platform, adopted last week in Cleveland, calls on the United States to ‘‘respond in kind and in greater magnitude’’ to cyberattacks. ‘‘Russia and China see cyber operations as part of a warfare strategy during peacetime,’’ it says. ‘‘Our response should be to cause diplomatic, financial and legal pain.’’ (New York Times, 07.28.16)
  • The Russian Interior Ministry publicly announced its search to buy software that will allow them to spy on social network users. (Moscow Times, 07.28.16)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia and Turkey are discussing construction of two lines of the pipeline Turkish Stream, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said. (Tass, 07.29.16)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • Asked whether he would recognize Crimea as Russia's territory and if he would consider lifting anti-Russian sanctions, Donald Trump said, "We'll be looking at that. Yeah, we'll be looking." Trump has also said he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin is a better leader than President Barack Obama. (Sputnik, 07.27.16, Boston Globe, 07.28.16)
  • "I have nothing to with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia — for anything,” Donald Trump said at a news conference. ''Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?'' George Stephanopoulos asked Paul Manafort, Mr. Donald Trump's campaign chairman. ''No, there are not,'' Mr. Manafort shot back. ''That's absurd. And, you know, there's no basis to it.'' (New York Times, 07.25.16, Washington Post, 07.28.16)
  • Some analysts actually think Vladimir Putin would see his interests better served by a President Hillary Clinton. "If I'm in the Kremlin, I'd love to see Hillary in office," said one former U.S. intelligence official. "She's incredibly predictable and not willing to do confrontation." (Washington Post, 07.28.16)

II. Russia news.

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired Russia's top customs official, four regional governors, four presidential envoys and an ambassador. (RFE/RL, 07.28.16, MT, 07.29.16)
  • Despite a 0.1 percent increase to Russian GDP in June, the first half of 2016 saw an overall decrease.  (Moscow Times, 07.28.16)
  • The ruble has returned the most of any major world currency in 2016 after Brazil’s real and Japan's yen. (Bloomberg, 07.26.16)
  • More than 40 percent of Russian families struggle to find the money to buy food or clothes, a study by Moscow’s Higher School of Economics revealed Wednesday. (Moscow Times, 07.27.16)
  • Presidential advisor Andrei Belousov is to prepare a new medium-term growth strategy program for the Russian economy, offering a new alternative to plans set forward by former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. (Moscow Times, 07.25.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has labeled the ban on Russia’s track-and-field team from competing in this summer's Olympic Games as “open discrimination.” The International Olympic Committee ruled Sunday that international sporting federations had the right to exclude Russian sportspeople from the competition, but stopped short of banning the whole squad.   (RFE/RL, 07.27.16)

Defense and Aerospace:

  • No significant developments.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Sergei Bondarenko, regional deputy chief in Russia's Federal Security Service, has been found dead in his home in Stavropol. (Moscow Times, 07.27.16)
  • The Russian Federal Security Service has reportedly searched the office of top customs official Andrei Belyaninov.  The raids, including on two of Belyaninov’s properties, as well as his office, are linked to the criminal investigation against St. Petersburg businessman Dmitry Mikhalchenko. (RFE/RL, Moscow Times, 07.26.16)

Foreign affairs and trade:

  • Syria:
    • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he hopes to announce in early August details of a U.S. plan for closer military cooperation and intelligence sharing with Russia on Syria. Kerry made the comments on July 26 after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Kerry told reporters that there had been progress in recent days on moving forward with the plan. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier in the day that he talked with Kerry about taking steps toward more coordination in Syria. United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said on July 26 the trilateral Russia-U.S.-UN talks on Syria in Geneva have yielded certain progress. "Our aim is to proceed with a third round of intra-Syrian talks towards the end of August," the U.N. envoy stressed.(Tass, 07.26.16, RFE/RL, 07.26.16)
    • Asked whether he trusted Russia to live up to the terms of a potential deal on Syria, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford said: "We're not entering into a transaction that's founded on trust. There will be specific procedures and processes in any transaction we might have with the Russians that would account for protecting our operational security." The talks are "based on a transaction and on mutual interest to the extent ... we're able to identify that with the Russians," Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said. "They're not based on trust." U.S. defense and intelligence agencies have reportedly had strong reservations about sharing intelligence with the Russians or cooperating in a way that could reveal sensitive U.S. military methods, techniques, and procedures. (Washington Post, 07.26.16, RFE/RL, 07.26.16)
    • Russia enabled pro-regime forces to complete the physical encirclement of Aleppo City on July 28. The UN special envoy for Syria has urged Russia to leave the creation of any humanitarian corridors around Aleppo to the United Nations and its partners. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said on July 29 that Russia’s operation in Aleppo is solely humanitarian.  Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said four corridors will be established for leaving the city. (Tass, 07.29.16,Institute for Study of War, RFE/RL, 07.29.16)
    • The leader of al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Nusra Front on Thursday said his rebel group had severed ties with the international terrorist organization in a bid to stop Russian and U.S. airstrikes on opposition-held areas of the country. (Wall Street Journal, 07.28.16)
    • The Russian Defense Ministry said on July 22 that Russian serviceman Nikita Shevchenko was killed in Syria by a self-detonating bomb planted on a roadway. (RFE/RL, 07.23.16)
    • Russian and Syrian forces have renewed their use of widely banned cluster bombs against civilians and rebels in northern Syria, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on July 28. (RFE/RL, 07.28.16)
    • The Syrian Air Force has received a batch of Su-24M2 (NATO reporting name: Fencer-D) frontline bombers supplied by Russia, according to the AMN news agency.(Tass, 07.28.16)
    • Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump seemed to back the idea of closer cooperation with Russia in the battle against Islamic State and Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Nusra Front. "Wouldn't it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of [Islamic State]?" he said. (RFE/RL, 07.26.16)
  • Other countries:
    • Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for supporting Ankara during a recent attempted coup. “Russia gave us unconditional support during the attempted coup,” Cavusoglu said on the Haberturk TV channel. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister says President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Russia on August 9 for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  (RFE/RL, 07.26.16, Moscow Times, 07.25.16)
    • The decision to gun down the Russian warplane returning from an anti-terrorist mission in Syria in November 2015 was taken by the Turkish pilot personally, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek told journalists on July 26. (Tass, 07.26.16)
    • China and Russia will hold "routine" naval exercises in the South China Sea in September to strengthen military cooperation, China's Defense Ministry has said. (RFE/RL, 07.29.16)
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting European Union and NATO-member Slovenia this weekend, signaling a bid to maintain ties amid simmering tensions between the Kremlin and the two Western-led blocs. (AP, 07.29.16)
    • Russia failed in a bid to overturn an EBRD ban on new Russian investment. (Reuters, 07.26.16)
    • Volkswagen has opened its first export market outside the former-Soviet block for Russian-made cars. A new shipment deal with Mexico will see several hundred Volkswagen Polos transported to Central America from an automobile manufacturing plant in Kaluga, a source close to the factory confirmed.  (Moscow Times, 07.26.16)

Russia's neighbors:

  • Ukraine:
    • Ukrainian government said on July 24th that six Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 12 injured in the last 24 hours in fighting against Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. The Ukrainian military said on July 25th that three soldiers have been killed and three others wounded in fresh clashes between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the country's volatile east. (RFE/RL, 07.24.16, RFE/RL, 07.25.16)
    • The OSCE’s peace monitoring mission in Donbass now has about 100 budgeted yet unfilled positions, partly because European public employees are loath to interrupt long summer vacations. ''We call them deaf, dumb and blind,'' said the Ukrainian military nurse who ordered the observers out of her field hospital. She offered only her nickname, Romashka, a typical practice for soldiers here. ''They know nothing. They see nothing. They are too soft.''(New York Times, 07.28.16)
    • Ambassador Daniel Baer, head of the U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said have accused Russia of continuing to supply separatist fighters with fuel and weapons and creating a "deteriorating security situation" in the region that is as bad as it was a year ago. (RFE/RL, 07.29.16)
    • IMF spokesman William Murray said on July 28 that the IMF's executive board would not vote on a release of the next portion of Ukraine's $17.5 billion bailout package until at least mid-August, after the board returns from a two-week break. (RFE/RL, 07.29.16)
    • Ukraine has banned 243 Russian companies from operating on its territory because of their cooperation with companies on Donbass territories not controlled by Kiev. (Tass, 07.29.16)
    • Poland’s lower house of parliament, the Sejm, has voted to declare World War II-era killings committed by Ukrainian nationalists against Polish civilians “genocide” in a move that could provoke tensions between the two neighbors. (RFE/RL, 07.22.16)
  • Other neighbors:
    • The situation remained calm during the night around the police station stormed and seized by an armed group in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, on July 17. The armed group continues holding three hostages. Thousands of locals have rallied around the gunmen, urging the government to negotiate and make concessions. According to the Armenian Ministry of Health, 11 people, among them four police officers, are still in hospital after clashes between police and protesters last week. (Tass, 07.28.16,  RFE/RL, 07.29.16)
    • The International Monetary Fund agreed on July 26 to provide Moldova with $179 million in loans over three years if the government carries out economic reforms.  (RFE/RL, 07.27.16)
    • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to hold a joint meeting with foreign ministers of five Central Asian states in Washington on August 3, a State Department official says.  (RFE/RL, 07.29.16)

 

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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, , July 29, 2016.