Russia in Review

This Week’s Highlights:

  • In what Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov identified as the 60th sanctions package since 2011, the U.S. on Sept. 20 blacklisted 33 Russian nationals and three entities and also imposed sanctions on the Chinese military for buying fighter jets and missile systems from Russia, Reuters and AP report.
  • The Russian Defense Ministry says Israel gave Russia only a minute’s warning before launching the attack on Syrian targets that resulted in the downing of a Russian surveillance plane by Syrian air defenses, killing 15 Russian servicemen, according to the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to send Israel's air force commander to Moscow to deliver information about the Israeli military operation above Syria, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Israeli delegation traveled to Moscow to brief about the incident, and an Israeli military official said that Israel had provided Moscow with proof it was not responsible for the accident, according to Reuters.
  • “It’s not in our interest to withdraw from the INF Treaty. I don’t think that helps solve the Russia problem,” U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, told Trump officials, Newsweek reports.
  • The White House has authorized offensive cyber operations against U.S. adversaries, in line with a new policy that eases the rules on the use of digital weapons to protect the nation, according to The Washington Post.
  • The Russian social media campaign to influence American voters included 2,700 fake Facebook accounts, 80,000 posts and an eventual audience of 126 million Americans on Facebook alone. That was not far short of the 137 million people who would vote in the 2016 presidential election, the New York Times reports.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump on Sept. 21 delayed his own order to declassify and release documents from the FBI’s Russia investigation, as the Justice Department and U.S. allies have raised security concerns about their disclosure. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, but Trump says he’s not worried about what Manafort will say, Reuters reports.
  • Russia is only three years away from maximizing its oil extraction output before costs and taxes drive down production, according to The Moscow Times.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • “In the 1990s and 2000s, we [the U.S. and Russia] actively cooperated in the field of non-proliferation,” U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told Kommersant while in Moscow. “For example, we monitored movement of nuclear materials. And our interests in this sphere still coincide,” Perry was quoted in the Sept. 17 issue of Kommersant as saying. (Russia Matters, 09.17.18)
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Russian nuclear fuel manufacturer Tenex have signed a contract for the transport of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and equipment through Russian territory to and from the IAEA LEU bank in Kazakhstan. (World Nuclear News, 09.18.18)
  • Several countries submitted their 2017 civilian plutonium declarations to the IAEA, but the U.S., China, U.K., Russia and France have not done so yet, according to the IPFM Blog. Japan reported owning a total of 47.3 tons of plutonium. Germany reported having no separated plutonium. Belgium declared no separated plutonium in storage or at reprocessing plants and "less than 50” kilograms of separated plutonium in other categories. Switzerland reported having less than 2 kilograms of plutonium. (IPFM/Russia Matters, 09.19.18)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • The U.S. and Russia reached an impasse during a U.N. Security Council debate Sept. 17 on North Korea, threatening to upset a tenuous consensus on international efforts to pressure Pyongyang with economic sanctions days before world leaders gather for an annual meeting in New York. (Wall Street Journal, 09.17.18)
  • North Korea's Kim Jong Un wants a second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump soon to hasten denuclearization, but a key goal is declaring an end this year to the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sept. 20. (Reuters, 09.21.18)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Nations that struck the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, except for the U.S., will meet on Sept. 24 in New York in what many diplomats fear may prove a quixotic effort to keep the agreement alive after U.S. sanctions targeting Iranian oil exports resume in November. (Reuters, 09.21.18)
  • Iran dismissed a U.S. offer of negotiations on Sept. 20, saying Washington had violated the terms of the last big deal they agreed, the 2015 nuclear accord. The U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, said on Sept. 19 that Washington now wanted to negotiate a treaty that included Tehran's ballistic missile program and its regional behavior. (Reuters, 09.20.18)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump will address the U.N. General Assembly's 193 member nations at the official opening on Sept. 25 and the next day chair a Security Council meeting focusing on Iran, nonproliferation and chemical weapons attacks in Syria and the Skripal poisoning Britain. (RFE/RL, 09.21.18)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump has said his administration was considering a request for a permanent U.S. military presence in Poland. Trump made the comments on Sept.18 before a meeting at the White House with Polish President Andrzej Duda. Poland has requested the deployment several times and has offered up to $2 billion in funding for a base. U.S. forces currently serve in Poland as part of NATO's back-to-back rotation program. (RFE/RL, 09.19.18)
  • The U.S. Air Force has determined it will need a nearly 25 percent boost in combat squadrons in order to support a major war with another great power such as China or Russia, signaling the largest potential increase in air power for the U.S. since the end of the Cold War. (Foreign Policy, 09.17.18)
  • While in Macedonia, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned that Russia is actively working against a referendum in Macedonia that would clear the way for the Balkan nation to join NATO, saying Russia was attempting to use its money and influence to build opposition to the upcoming referendum on changing the former Yugoslav republic’s name. (Wall Street Journal, 09.17.18, RFE/RL, 09.17.18)
  • British and French military jets were scrambled to investigate suspected Russian fighter aircraft flying over the North Sea on Sept. 20. Col. Cyrille Duvivier, a spokesman for the French Air Force, said one or several Russian planes were detected and that the actions were not hostile. (Reuters, 09.20.18)

Arms control:

  • "Russia continues to violate a series of arms control obligations that undermine the trust of the United States can place in treaties, including some that have served U.S. and allied security interests for years," U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Andrea Thomson said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Thompson noted that both the U.S. and Russia had met their New START limitations by February 2018, but that “no decision has been made at this time” about whether to extend the treaty. The Trump administration planned to use arms control treaties as leverage to pressure Russia, Thompson noted, adding that Moscow's behavior casts doubt on whether the country wants to preserve the INF Treaty. "The bottom line is that arms control with Russia is troubled because the Russian Federation apparently believes it need only abide by the agreements that suit it," U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy David Trachtenberg said at the hearings. (Voice of America, 09.18.18, Newsweek, 09.18.18)
    • “It’s not in our interest to withdraw from the INF Treaty. I don’t think that helps solve the Russia problem,” U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, told Trump officials. “What other options are being considered to try to push the Russians to again comply with the INF Treaty?” (Newsweek, 09.18.18)
    • During the hearings, senators grilled members of the Trump administration to uncover what the U.S. leader discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the summit in Helsinki in July, particularly on nuclear arms control. (Newsweek, 09.18.18)
  • The U.S. government certified Russia’s new Tu-214 surveillance plane as fit for conducting missions under the Open Skies treaty over the U.S, a U.S. State Department official told TASS. (Russia Matters, 09.18.18)
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