This page features the weekly news and analysis digests compiled by Russia Matters. Explore them by clicking "Read More" below the current week's highlights and subscribe using the subscribe links throughout the site, like the one below, to receive our digests via email. Past digests are available in the News Archive, which is accessible via the link on this page.
This Week’s Highlights
- U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the information Russia paid militants linked to the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan thus far had not been corroborated by defense intelligence agencies, but vowed that the Pentagon will find out if it's true, RFE/RL reports. The head of U.S. Central Command, Frank McKenzie, says he is “not convinced” that any Russian bounties paid to Taliban militants resulted in the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to RFE/RL.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the insistence by the United States that China join New START suggests Washington has already decided not to prolong the pact, RFE/RL reports. “Frankly, to my regret, Washington has de facto taken the START treaty hostage by insisting” on making it a trilateral accord, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov told a webinar, The Washington Post reports.
- "I don't see how Russia could benefit from the trade war between Washington and Beijing," Sergei Lavrov said at the Primakov Readings. Russia is ready to act as a mediator in U.S.-Chinese relations only if the sides ask to do so, he said.
- Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline overcame another major obstacle to completion July 6, as Denmark granted permission for the pipeline to continue being laid with the use of less technologically advanced ships, potentially negating the impact of U.S. sanctions against the project, The Moscow Times reports.
- Moscow has told the U.S. embassy to "mind your own business" after Washington's diplomatic mission on July 7 raised concern about a clampdown on journalists in Russia, AFP reports. Russia’s FSB detained former Russian journalist Ivan Safronov on high-treason charges on July 7. His lawyers say he was charged on July 8 for allegedly passing secret information to the Czech Republic in 2017, RFE/RL reports. Separately, journalist Taisiya Bekbulatova, who is reported to be a friend of Safronov, was detained on the same charge, according to the BBC. Russian authorities have also launched an investigation into media publisher Pyotr Verzilov for failing to inform authorities he has a foreign passport, RFE/RL reports. This week also saw a Russian court find Svetlana Prokopyeva guilty of “justifying terrorism” in a controversial case, RFE/RL reports.
- Austrian police are investigating whether the murder of a Russian asylum seeker outside Vienna over the weekend was a political assassination, according to RFE/RL. AFP reports the police have arrested two Russians from Chechnya over the fatal shooting. The dead dissident has posted material online critical of Ramzan Kadyrov. According to Bellingcat, in 2012 the FSB shared with German intelligence a wanted list including 19 Chechens, five of whom have since been assassinated, according to The Washington Post.
This Week’s Highlights
- A New York Times article on June 26 revealed U.S. President Donald Trump was informed in March that Russia allegedly offered bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, and reportedly the president ignored the matter. Why might Russia mount such an operation, asks Stanford’s Asfandyar Mir, if not to enable the Taliban in taking over Afghanistan? One explanation, according to Mir, is that this is a calculated Russian ploy to coerce the U.S. away from either harming Russian personnel or encroaching on Russian interests. A second explanation is that Russia is using Afghanistan in its asymmetric strategy of raising the costs for the U.S. across the Middle East and South Asia. And third, writes Mir, this could simply be the work of rash Russian local operatives.
- Kremlin watchers say it makes scant political sense for the Russian government to offer bounties to the Taliban for the lives of Americans in Afghanistan, reports Alan Cullison for the Wall Street Journal. Moscow has a record of killing its enemies abroad, Cullison writes, but they have been perceived traitors and former rebels from Chechnya, not outsiders. Andrei Serenko, an expert at the Center for the Study of Contemporary Afghanistan in Moscow, told the New York Times that Russia has no real desire to see the United States leave Afghanistan. All the same, he said, Russia has been preparing for an eventual pullout by cultivating ties to the Taliban as well as to various Afghan warlords.
- Russia will not disappear, of course, and so it is essential to develop a revised approach to U.S.-Russia relations, argue Kennan Institute director Matthew Rojansky and Prof. Michael Kimmage Instead of friend or foe, it’s time for Russia to be viewed as the third neighbor of the United States. For Americans, Russia should be made less foreign, with all the irritations and all the benefits of connection. However unavoidable, conflict should be contained and balanced against cooperation. Russia, our third neighbor, must be a country with which the United States can manage to live.
- Perhaps the key question about the July 1 nationwide vote on changing the Russian constitution is why President Vladimir Putin needed it at all, writes Carnegie’s Tatiana Stanovaya. The referendum was intended by Putin as a way to renew his political mandate in order to impose decisions on the elite, but its legitimacy is dubious. In his quest to put the clans in their place, Putin is unilaterally drawing new red lines, making the relationship more pragmatic and less of a team effort, according to Stanovaya. Deprived of their claim to the future, the elites will inevitably continue to look around for a successor, just without distracting Putin from his “normal work routine.”
- Something very unusual is unfolding in the run-up to Belarus’s presidential election on Aug. 9, writes journalist Artyom Shraibman. President Alexander Lukashenko has accused Russian puppet masters of interference, and has in turn been criticized by the EU and United States for arresting those “puppets.” Consequently, the election threatens to ruin Minsk’s relationship with both Moscow and the West, just at a time when the dire state of the country’s economy means it is in serious need of external support.