Russia in Review

This Week’s Highlights:

  • A joint statement for Trump and Putin reportedly drafted by the Kremlin emphasizes the importance of maintaining a dialogue between the two countries’ leaders, diplomats, military and special services, as well as the development of economic ties and the promotion of contacts between people. “The American side is ready to take this draft as a basis,” but wants the document to reflect U.S. concerns about “Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections” and to contain guarantees “that this will not be repeated,” according to Russia’s Kommersant daily.
  • Ahead of the Trump-Putin summit, Trump’s national security team has been battling internally over a proposed deal that would fulfill Trump’s wish to withdraw most U.S. troops from Syria “very soon” in exchange for a promise by Russia to limit the Iranian presence near Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel according to The Washington Post.  
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 members of the GRU, a Russian military intelligence agency, on July 13, three days before the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki. They are charged with conspiring to hack Democrats in 2016 to disrupt the U.S. presidential election.
  • Russia was the world’s sixth-largest global economy in 2017 by GDP based on purchasing power parity and its trade surplus surged 42.6 percent year-on-year to $81.4 billion in the first five months of 2018.
  • U.S. Sen. John Kennedy told reporters that he said he told the Russians "to get out of Crimea and let Crimea self-determine.”

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

Trump-Putin summit in Finland on July 16, 2018:

  • The Kremlin has drafted a 2-page joint statement that Moscow would like the Russian and U.S. presidents to adopt and has submitted it to the White House for consideration, according to a July 9 report by Kommersant. The draft emphasizes the importance of maintaining a dialogue between the two countries’ leaders, diplomats, military and special services, as well as the development of economic ties and the promotion of contacts between people, according to Kommersant’s unnamed source in the U.S. Without citing anyone, Kommersant claims that “the American side is ready to take this draft as a basis,” but wants the document to reflect U.S. concerns about “Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections” and to contain guarantees “that this will not be repeated.” Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters on July 13 that the two leaders will decide in the course of the summit whether they are going to sign any kind of declaration. The summit will begin at 1:00 pm local time with a one-on-one meeting of the two leaders, who will be accompanied only by interpreters, according to Ushakov. Then the two delegations will attend a working breakfast, after which Putin and Trump will hold a press conference. (Russia Matters, 07.13.18)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said on July 12 that he will raise arms-control issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including what the U.S. says are Russian violations of the 1987 INF Treaty and the possibility of extending the terms of New START. Trump also said it would be "tremendous" if the U.S. and Russia could make headway on nuclear nonproliferation. An agreement to begin talks on the future of strategic stability—a Cold War concept of deterrence through balanced nuclear capabilities—is essential during next week’s summit in Helsinki, say officials, diplomats and analysts, given that the two key remaining U.S.-Russian arms control treaties are at risk. At a press conference on July 23, Putin’s foreign policy aid Yuri Ushakov confirmed that the INF treaty will be discussed at the summit. (RFE/RL, 07.13.18, RFE/RL, 07.13.18, Financial Times, 07.09.18, TASS, 07.13.18)
  • A compromise appears to be emerging between Russia and the U.S. that would envisage the deployment of Syrian government forces along the border frontier with Israel, with Iranian and Hezbollah troops withdrawing from the area. Reports suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump might announce such a deal at their summit on July 16. (RFE/RL, 07.12.18)
    • Ahead of the Trump-Putin summit, Trump’s national security team has been battling internally over a proposed deal that would fulfill Trump’s wish to withdraw most U.S. troops from Syria “very soon,” while endorsing Assad’s and Russia’s takeover of southern Syria. Russia, in turn, would promise to limit the Iranian presence near Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel. (The Washington Post, 07.12.18)
    • Upon meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel did not object to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regaining control over all of Syria, a vital Russian objective, and Russia had pushed Iranian and allied Shiite forces away from the Israeli border. But a commitment to keep Iranian forces tens of kilometers from Israel was a far cry from ejecting them completely from Syria, which Netanyahu has been lobbying Putin to do. And even that commitment was not confirmed by Russian officials. (New York Times, 07.12.18)
    • Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 's visit t0o Russia, Ali Akbar Velayati, top advisor to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,  said in Moscow: "His presence or absence in Russia has no effect on our strategic mission in Moscow." (Reuters, 07.12.18)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump pledged on July 12 that he will "of course" raise the issue of Russia's 2016 election meddling at his summit next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he insisted that there was little he could do if—as expected—Putin denies that Russia interfered. "Look, he may. What am I going to do? He may deny it," Trump said. "All I can do is say, 'Did you?' And, 'Don't do it again.' But he may deny it. You'll be the first to know." Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, has also vowed that Donald Trump will “drive the discussion on malign activity and election meddling.” (Financial Times, 07.10.18, The Washington Post, 07.12.18)
  • After the July 12 meeting of NATO leaders U.S. President Donald Trump said he was unable to say what will happen to Crimea, but he refused to rule out U.S. recognition of the annexation by Russia. "What will happen with Crimea from this point on, that I cannot tell you," Trump said. "But I'm not happy about Crimea." (RFE/RL, 07.12.18)
  • The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will be discussed by U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said on July 13. The Russian side would also like to discuss developing the economic ties between the two countries, Ushakov said. (TASS, 07.13.18)
  • Asked on July 10 whether he considers Russian President Vladimir Putin a friend or a foe, U.S. President Donald Trump said: “I really can’t say right now. As far as I’m concerned, a competitor. A competitor. I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, getting along with others is a good thing, not a bad thing. I’ve said that many times for many years. So we’ll see. We’re meeting with Vladimir Putin on July 16. We’ll see how that goes.” “So I have NATO, I have the U.K., which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all.  Who would think?  Who would think?  But the U.K. certainly has a—they have a lot of things going on,” he said. (White House, 07.10.18)
  • Asked on July 12 to comment on his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump said: “Well, he’s a competitor. He’s been very nice to me the times I’ve met him. I’ve been nice to him. He’s a competitor. You know, somebody was saying, ‘Is he an enemy?’ No, he’s not my enemy. ‘Is he a friend?’ No, I don’t know him well enough … I hope we get along well. I think we get along well. But ultimately, he’s a competitor. He’s representing Russia. I’m representing the United States. So in a sense, we’re competitors. Not a question of friend or enemy. He’s not my enemy. And hopefully, someday, maybe he’ll be a friend. It could happen.” Trump also said on July 12 that the summit would be "just a loose meeting" and that he would go into it "not looking for so much." (RFE/RL, 07.13.18, White House, 07.12.18)
    • "Putin is not America's friend, nor merely a competitor. Putin is America's enemy—not because we wish it so, but because he has chosen to be," U.S. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. (RFE/RL, 07.13.18)
  • NATO diplomats are making dark jokes about whether U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin could unveil a globe-shifting alliance of the sort that helped lead to World War I. Leaders and diplomats worry that Trump could halt U.S. participation in military exercises in eastern Europe to avoid "provoking" Russia. (The Washington Post, 07.08.18)
  • Finland’s Interior Ministry says it will propose reinstating border controls for travelers from Schengen pact countries several days before and after the planned summit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. leader Donald Trump. (RFE/RL, 07.10.18)

Nuclear security and safety:

  • “We will continue to improve our capabilities and technologies, including to defend against improvised explosive devices and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats, and to counter terrorist misuse of technology,” NATO leaders said in a signed declaration on July 11. “We remain deeply concerned by the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD), as well as their means of delivery and related materials, by states and non-state actors, which represents a growing threat to our populations, territory and forces,” they said. (NATO, 07.11.18)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • The Trump administration asked a U.N. panel this week to ban oil-product sales to North Korea for the rest of the year, calling out China and Russia for exports Washington alleges have often been in violation of the international body's sanctions against Pyongyang. (Wall Street Journal, 07.12.18)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Ali Akbar Velayati, top advisor to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hailed his country's "strategic relationship" with Russia on July 11 during a visit to Moscow, part of a diplomatic offensive by Tehran as it braces for renewed U.S. sanctions. (Reuters, 07.12.18)
  • Iran has touted $50 billion worth of potential Russian investments in its oil and gas sector as it seeks to deepen its relationship with Moscow, amid mounting pressure from the U.S. to curb the country’s energy exports and diplomatically isolate Tehran. (Financial Times, 07.13.18)
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