Russia in Review, April 19-26, 2019

 This Week’s Highlights:

  • This week’s summit between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un—the first between the Russian and North Korean leaders—has proved to be as underwhelming as expected. While the two spent twice as much time talking face-to-face as had been planned, they neither announced any major agreements nor appeared to have achieved any progress toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
  • President Trump has ordered his administration to prepare a push for new arms-control agreements with Russia and China after bristling at the cost of a 21st-century nuclear arms race, according to administration officials cited by The Washington Post. The aim of the nascent effort, a senior administration official said, is to bring Russian nuclear weapons unregulated by treaties under new limits and to persuade China to join an arms-control pact limiting or verifying its capabilities for the first time. According to the AP, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said Moscow is closely following reports that the U.S. would like to reach such a deal and is “willing” to negotiate.
  • After the Commerce Department recommended that U.S. nuclear power plants source 25 percent of their uranium fuel domestically, Trump is expected to waive quotas for fuel from “friendly jurisdictions” such as Canada and Australia but impose them on supplies from countries including Kazakhstan, Russia and Uzbekistan, the Financial Times reports.
  • In a departure from his administration’s previous policy, Trump has expressed support for Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, who has been leading an assault on Tripoli, The Guardian and other media have reported. Meanwhile, an aide to Haftar—who has likewise enjoyed support from Vladimir Putin—is visiting Moscow, according to Reuters.
  • Chinese leader Xi Jinping tells dozens of heads of state at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing that China will enhance transparency and ensure financial sustainability in his signature initiative, according to multiple media reports. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who was second to speak after Xi, said Belt and Road meshes perfectly with the Eurasian Economic Union. Putin also said ahead of his visit to Beijing that Russia-China ties are now “the best they have been in their entire history.”
  • Putin appeared to extend an olive branch to Ukraine’s president-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy in his first public comments since last weekend’s vote, while tightening the screws on a Russia-occupied area of the country, the Wall Street Journal reports. “We want and are prepared to fully normalize our relations, but we cannot do that unilaterally,” Putin said, days after signing a decree making it easier for people in eastern Ukraine to obtain Russian citizenship.
  • Ukraine's GDP is 24 percent smaller now than it was in 1993 and its incomes are 17 percent lower, according to The Washington Post. Meanwhile, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili writes in a Fox News op-ed that “Ukraine has become the poorest country in Europe, while [President] Poroshenko’s personal income increased nearly a hundredfold last year.”

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • After a series of successful and comprehensive tests, including on its twin KLT-40 reactor system, the floating nuclear power plant Akademik Lomonosov is ready to start commercial operations, Russia's Rosatom announced. (World Nuclear News, 04.24.19)
  • The EU and U.N. on April 25 launched a joint project to prevent acts of nuclear terrorism through the promotion of universal ratification and effective implementation of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. (Xinhua, 04.25.19)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met for their first summit in the Russian Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on April 25. The talks between Putin and Kim did not appear to have yielded any major breakthrough. The Kremlin had said prior to the summit no major agreements would be signed nor joint statements issued during the meeting. (The Washington Post, 04.24.19,  Reuters, 04.24.19, Russia Matters, 04.25.19)
    • Putin said after the talks that an agreement with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons would not be possible "without international guarantees" and that it was unlikely that "any agreements between two countries will be enough." "They [North Koreans] only need guarantees about their security. That's it. All of us together need to think about this," Putin said. He said he believed any U.S. guarantees might need to be supported by the other nations involved in previous six-way talks on nuclear issues. Such guarantees would have to be legally binding, and secure North Korea's sovereignty, said Putin. Putin said he and Kim had a "substantial discussion" and exchanged views on how to defuse the standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. (RFE/RL, 04.25.19, The Washington Post, 04.26.19, Reuters, 04.24.19)
    • Putin said Kim had asked him to discuss the conclusions of their meeting with China and the U.S., whose talks over the dictatorship’s nuclear weapons program have stalled. The Kremlin intends to brief the U.S. on the contents of the summit as soon as the Russian delegation returns to Moscow, said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. (AP, 04.26.19, Financial Times, 04.25.19)
    • "We do share interests with the United States. We stand for full denuclearization," Putin said after the meeting, but he also took a veiled swipe at Washington for trying to strong-arm North Korea. "We need to ... return to a state where international law, not the law of the strongest, determines the situation in the world," Putin said. (RFE/RL, 04.25.19, The Washington Post, 04.26.19)
    • Putin told reporters after the summit that he and Kim had discussed plans for a railway link and a pipeline from Russia via North Korea to South Korea, according to Kommersant and RBC. Putin said that he and Kim also discussed the “solutions available” that could allow thousands of North Korean migrant workers, who send home remittances critical to the country’s ailing economy, to avoid deportation this year as demanded by U.N. sanctions. However, the summit ended with no public promise from Moscow of economic assistance to mitigate the pressure of sanctions. According to RBC, Russian-North Korean trade declined by 56 percent in 2018, totaling a meagre $32 million. (Wall Street Journal, 04.25.19, Russia Matters, 04.25.19, Financial Times, 04.25.19)
    • Kim said on April 25 he had a "very meaningful exchange of views on issues of mutual interest" with Putin, adding that they had "discussed ways of peaceful settlement." (RFE/RL, 04.25.19)
    • Kim boarded his private train April 26 and headed back to Pyongyang after directing some harsh criticism at Washington during his first summit with Putin, saying the U.S. negotiated in “bad faith” when he met with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi two months ago. (AP, 04.26.19)
    • When Kim met Putin in Vladivostok on April 25, one man was conspicuous by his absence. Until now, Kim Yong Chol had been at the forefront of North Korea’s diplomatic outreach and in charge of denuclearization talks with the U.S. (The Washington Post, 04.25.19)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said, “I see where President Putin in Russia made the statement that it's great to be able to help us with Kim Jong-un and North Korea. We want to get rid of the nuclear weapons.” (RealClear Politics, 04.26.19)
  • During a visit to Russia last week Steve Biegun, the U.S. State Department’s pointman for North Korea negotiations, urged Moscow to maintain sanctions against the isolated country. In response, Russian officials said they would expel North Korean laborers in December. (The Washington Post, 04.23.19)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will meet with Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at a summit in Russia this August. It has previously been reported that the summit may take place on August 14-15. (RFE/RL, 04.26.19)

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • Russia has launched a special-purpose, nuclear-powered submarine, Belgorod, that is believed capable of carrying nuclear-tipped Poseidon underwater drones that when fully developed could threaten U.S. coastal cities. (RFE/RL, 04.23.19)
  • The U.S. Coast Guard’s new strategy for the Arctic calls for upgrading ships, aircraft and unmanned systems there, an effort to make sure the U.S. is “projecting sovereignty” into an area increasingly contested by Russia and China, the service’s top officer Adm. Karl Schultz said. (The Washington Post, 04.22.19)
  • "Having carefully observed our dependencies on space, China and Russia have developed new technologies, strategies, tactics and asymmetric capabilities specifically intended to deny our freedom of operation in space. While we would prefer space remain free from conflict, they have made space a war-fighting domain," acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote earlier this month. (The Washington Post, 04.25.19)
  • Japan has dispatched its most advanced ocean research vessel to join the search for its missing F-35 stealth fighter as it scrambles to recover the ultra-sensitive technology before Russia or China get there first. (Financial Times, 04.23.19)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Russia will start delivering its S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey in July, the head of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport said. (Reuters, 04.24.19)

Missile defense:

  • Speaking at a security conference in Moscow, senior Russian Gen. Viktor Poznikhir blamed the U.S. missile defense systems for enabling the country to deliver a “surprise missile and nuclear strike on Russia.” “It’s possible that [U.S.] space assets could be used to launch a preemptive strike against Russian and Chinese targets,” he said. (The Moscow Times, 04.25.19)

Nuclear arms control:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered his administration to prepare a push for new arms-control agreements with Russia and China after bristling at the cost of a nuclear arms race, according to administration officials. The aim of the nascent effort, a senior administration official said, is to bring Russian nuclear weapons unregulated by treaties under new limits and to persuade China to join an arms-control pact limiting or verifying its capabilities for the first time. (The Washington Post, 04.25.19)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on April 26 Moscow is closely following reports that the U.S. would like to reach a nuclear weapons deal with both Russia and China, and is “willing” to negotiate. Ryabkov also said that Russia “would like to convince” the U.S. to adopt a joint statement that would condemn any use of nuclear weapons. In October, Russia sent the U.S. a draft joint declaration on how to prevent nuclear war, only to never hear back from Washington, Kommersant reported. “Nuclear war cannot be won and it must never be unleashed,” Kommersant quoted Russia’s draft joint declaration as stating. (AP, 04.26.19, The Moscow Times, 04.19.19)


  • Russia’s Federal Security Service has detained members of the Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad terror group in Russia’s Far Eastern Primorsky Region who planned attacks against businesspeople and were going to travel to Syria to take part in hostilities there. (TASS, 04.23.19)
  • A man from Abakan, the capital of Russia's internal republic of Khakassia, is under investigation on suspicion of funding ISIS, the FSB said. (Interfax, 04.23.19)

Conflict in Syria:

  • The Syrian sea port of Tartus will be leased to Russia for 49 years for transport and economic uses over the coming week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said after meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Interfax, 04.22.19)
  • Russia and Turkey are busy organizing joint patrols in the Idlib demilitarized zone in Syria, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said. (Interfax, 04.22.19)
  • The Syrian government and armed opposition groups have failed to agree on the makeup of a constitutional committee during two-day talks in Kazakhstan that were led by Russia along with Iran and Turkey. (Al Jazeera, 04.26.19)
  • The U.S. took no part in the third conference on the liquidation of the Rukban refugee camp in Syria, according to the head of the Russian National Defense Control Center, Mikhail Mizintsev. The Assad regime in Syria continues to forcefully evacuate the residents of that refugee camp along the border with Jordan, with some 1,000 civilians leaving the camp recently due to inhumane and degrading conditions, local sources said April 22. (Interfax, 04.22.19, Daily Sabah, 04.22.19)
  • A militant band of women loyal to the Islamic State is terrorizing others who fled the battlefront for the al-Hol displacement camp in northeastern Syria. "They treat us like dogs!" yelled one woman, who said she was from Russia. 27-year-old Hanifa, who said she is from Russia's Dagestan region, spotted a woman without a face veil. "I don't like this," she said. "Women should cover their faces." (The Washington Post, 04.20.19)

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Elections interference:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump on April 23 said he was opposed to former and current White House officials testifying before Congress in relation to the Mueller investigation following the publication of the special counsel’s report last week. Trump suggested April 24 that he would ask the Supreme Court to intervene if Democrats move to impeach him. Trump also said in a tweet that he had never asked then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, directly contradicting a detailed account in Mueller's report. (Wall Street Journal, 04.25.19, Financial Times,  04.23.19, The Washington Post, 04.24.19)
  • In one camp, a faction of Democrats determined to pursue impeachment of Trump was emboldened by Mueller's report, seizing on Mueller's detailed findings to revive calls for delivering the ultimate congressional censure. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team have tamped down talk of impeachment, with a sense among top Democrats that the Mueller report has changed nothing when it comes to the impeachment question. (The Washington Post, 04.21.19)
  • FBI Director Christopher Wray, responding to a question April 26 about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said he believes the U.S. rival "poses a very significant counterintelligence threat." (CNN, 04.26.19)
  • White House senior adviser and U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner said April 23 that investigations into election interference by Russia have been "way more harmful" than the interference itself, which he characterized as "a couple Facebook ads." In a rare public appearance, Kushner spoke about the special counsel and congressional investigations at the Time 100 Summit in New York. (The Washington Post, 04.23.19)
  • Rudolph Giuliani, U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney, said April 21 there is "nothing wrong" with a campaign accepting information from Russians, defending the Trump team's efforts to obtain damaging material about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 race. (The Washington Post, 04.21.19)
  • In the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, she tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as homeland security secretary: preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election. Trump’s chief of staff told her not to bring it up in front of the president, according to administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. (New York Times, 04.23.19, New York Times, 04.24.19)
  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry falsely claimed on April 19 that special counsel Robert Mueller "admitted" his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election did not find evidence of Russian meddling. The Kremlin rejected Mueller's report, calling it inconclusive in establishing any such meddling and damaging to U.S.-Russia relations. (RFE/RL, 04.19.19, The Washington Post, 04.22.19)
  • When the report by special counsel Robert Mueller came out last week, YouTube recommended one video source hundreds of thousands of times to viewers seeking information, a watchdog says: RT, the global media operation funded by the Russian government. (The Washington Post, 04.26.19)
  • Konstantin Kilimnik, a dual citizen of Russia and Ukraine who was a longtime business associate of Paul Manafort's, said he is perplexed that he became the focus of special counsel scrutiny and eventually faced criminal charges as a result of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (The Washington Post, 04.19.19)

Energy exports:

  • Russia will hold talks with Poland, Belarus and Ukraine about how to solve a problem of polluted Russian oil being pumped through the Druzhba major pipeline serving Europe. The problem arose last week when an unknown Russian producer contaminated oil with high levels of organic chloride that can destroy refining equipment. (Reuters, 04.26.19)
  • Ukraine plans to offer Russia at least 60 billion cubic meters of its gas transit capacity annually for ten years in talks scheduled for May, Naftogaz said. (Reuters, 04.25.19)
  • Manfred Weber, the center-right candidate to head the EU’s executive branch is speaking out against Nord Stream 2. (AP, 04.26.19)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • When asked about several Russian businessmen featured in the Mueller report, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said they had briefed Putin on their activities and contacts in the U.S. "They reported the most important [contacts] and probably didn't mention other, less important ones," he said. "It isn't presidential level." The businessmen in question are Petr Aven, Sergei Gorkov and Kirill Dmitriev. The report also described an "all-hands" meeting between Putin and Russia's top businessmen during which the Russian president focused on the prospect of more U.S. sanctions. (Wall Street Journal, 04.19.19, The Washington Post, 04.22.19)
    • Alfa-Bank chairman Peter Aven told the special counsel’s office that he met with Putin in late 2016 and the Russian president suggested that the U.S. would impose more sanctions on Russian interests and individuals, recommending that Aven take steps to protect himself and the bank. Aven then attempted to establish communication with the incoming Trump administration, but his request was ultimately turned down, according to Mueller’s report. (Wall Street Journal, 04.19.19)
    • The Mueller report says Russian banker Sergei Gorkov met with Jared Kushner on Dec. 13, 2016. However, the report draws no conclusions on the nature of the meeting, which occurred after Kushner was appointed as a Trump adviser. (The Washington Post, 04.22.19)
    • In late November 2016, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, told Rick Gerson, a friend of Jared Kushner, that he had been instructed by Putin to come up with a plan for “reconciliation” between the U.S. and Russia. Dmitriev and Gerson worked together on a two-page proposal for how the nations could cooperate on a variety of fronts. Dmitriev also met Erik Prince, the founder of the private military contractor Blackwater, in the Seychelles islands in January 2017. Prince told Mueller's investigators a version of his meeting with Dmitriev that is at odds in several key respects with his sworn testimony to the House Intelligence Committee. Congressional officials said they are considering whether the discrepancies are egregious enough to refer the matter to the Justice Department to pursue possible perjury charges against Prince. (New York Times, 04.24.19, The Washington Post, 04.21.19)
  • The uranium market is on tenterhooks as U.S. President Donald Trump decides whether to impose tariffs or import quotas on the nuclear fuel. A more likely result is that the White House waives quotas on uranium sourced from “friendly jurisdictions” such as Canada and Australia but imposes them on supplies from countries including Kazakhstan, Russia and Uzbekistan. (Financial Times, 04.22.19)
  • The Trump administration delegated Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale to join Russia Ambassador Anatoly Antonov for the annual celebration of the “Elbe River Linkage” of U.S. and Soviet troops in Germany during World War II, according to AP. (Russia Matters, 04.26.19)
  • Maria Butina, who has admitted to working as a Russian agent to infiltrate an influential U.S. gun rights group and make inroads with conservative activists, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on April 26.  The judge also ordered Butina to be deported to Russia immediately after she finishes her prison sentence, which is expected in March 2020. (RFE/RL, 04.26.19, Reuters, 04.20.19)
  • Russian-born socialite Anna Sorokin has been found guilty of theft of services and grand larceny in New York, facing up to 15 years in prison and deportation to Germany. (The Moscow Times, 04.26.19)
  • Russia has criticized the U.S. for imposing a travel ban on Chechnya's prime minister, Muslim Khuchiyev, promising an unspecified response to the move. (RFE/RL, 04.26.19)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • The Central Bank of Russia on April 26 said it would keep its key interest rate unchanged at 7.75 percent. The bank also forecast that annual inflation will return to 4 percent in the first half of 2020. In March inflation was at 5.3 percent. (The Moscow Times, 04.26.19)
  • Russia’s public finance watchdog has uncovered 772.7 billion rubles ($12.12 billion) in government spending violations last year. The volume of total violations has decreased substantially from 1.87 trillion rubles in 2017 as detections increased by 43 percent, the RBC news website reported April 23. (The Moscow Times, 04.23.19)
  • Some 5.2 million out of more than 11 million liters of inspected alcohol were found to be sold in Russia illegally in 2018, Russia’s Federal Alcohol Market Regulation Service said. (The Moscow Times, 04.19.19)
  • Half of Russia’s Orthodox Christians do not know the origins of Easter, according to a state-run poll published on April 26. (The Moscow Times, 04.26.19)
  • Russian authorities raided the meeting spaces of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Siberia and the country’s Far East late last week, detaining five worshippers and holding two in pre-trial detention. (The Moscow Times, 04.23.19)
  • Yury Kartyzhev has been convicted of "insulting human dignity" and expressing "disrespect" toward "organs of state power" after he called Russian President Vladimir Putin an obscene word online. He's the first person to be convicted under the newly amended law on insulting authorities. (RFE/RL, 04.25.19)

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant developments.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russia's Federal Security Service says that two alleged members of a group led by late Chechen separatist field commander Shamil Basayev that attacked Dagestan in 1999 have been apprehended. (RFE/RL, 04.24.19)
  • FSB Col. Kirill Cherkalin, who has been detained in Moscow on suspicion of taking multiple bribes, is on the Russian government’s interagency commission on preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in addition to heading the FSB sub-department that keeps an eye on Russia's banking sector, according to Kommersant. (Russia Matters, 04.25.19)
  • Jewish officials say a fire was set at the largest yeshiva at the Torat Chaim school in an eastern Moscow suburb as the faithful were gathered there before the start of the Jewish Passover holiday. (RFE/RL, 04.20.19)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • European officials are hoping U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise expression of support for the Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar can be reversed amid division in Washington over U.S. policy on the north African country. Russia's military has long voiced backing for Haftar and a high-ranking aide to the commander visited Moscow on April 24. (The Guardian, 04.23.19, Reuters, 04.24.19)
  • According to multiple government and military sources in Khartoum, a Russian company tied to “oligarch” Yevgeny Prigozhi designed a disinformation campaign that Sudan’s leader Omar al-Bashir began to implement before he was deposed in a coup earlier this month. (CNN, 04.25.19)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 23 instructed the Foreign Ministry to report on formats for Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s possible participation in the opening of a major new mosque in Crimea; the report is due June 1. (Russia Matters, 04.26.19)


  • Chinese President Xi Jinping told attendees at his Belt and Road Forum on April 26 that China would enhance transparency and ensure financial sustainability in his signature initiative. He also said that Beijing would eliminate anticompetitive subsidies to Chinese firms, a practice that has angered many foreign trading partners, including the U.S. and the EU. The high-profile meeting brings together dozens of heads of states, including Russian President Vladimir Putin (RFE/RL, 04.25.19, Wall Street Journal, 04.25.19)
    • Putin was the second speaker at the Belt and Road Forum after Xi. He said that China's infrastructure initiative meshes perfectly with the goals of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Putin said relations between China and Russia are developing in all spheres at a "very considerable" speed. Putin also called China’s infrastructure initiative "immensely timely and successful." Putin also met with Xi on the sidelines of the conference.Prior to the forum Russia has approved its first project designed specifically for the Belt and Road Initiative—a toll road linking Kazakhstan with Belarus. (RFE/RL, 04.25.19, Bloomberg, 04.26.19, AP, 04.26.19)
    • Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbaev spoke third at the at the Belt and Road Forum, a position reflecting his significance to China's infrastructure initiative. (RFE/RL, 04.25.19)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Russia-China ties in an interview. “It would be no exaggeration to say that our countries have approached this anniversary with relations the best they have been in their entire history,” Putin said. (AP, 04.26.19)
  • The “Joint Sea 2019” Russian-Chinese drills taking place from April 22 to April 27 will feature ships and submarines along with fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and marine units. Russia was also among countries that sent warships to China’s port city of Qingdao for a naval parade marking 70 years since the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy. (Straits Times, 04.22.19, AP, 04.26.19)
  • Novatek, Russia’s top independent gas producer, on April 25 signed binding deals on the conditions to sell a 20 percent stake in its second Arctic gas liquefaction project to Chinese partners. (Financial Times, 04.25.19)
  • Crude oil imports by China from Russia, China’s top supplier on an annual basis between 2016 and 2018, reached 5.39 million tons last month, or 1.26 million bpd, trailing behind Saudi Arabia. That is down 7.7 percent from a year earlier. (Reuters, 04.25.19)


  • Actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, winning some 73.22 percent of the votes cast in the second round of Ukraine’s presidential elections compared to Poroshenko’s 24.45 percent. That is the largest victory margin in Ukraine’s history as an independent nation. The only region Poroshenko won this weekend was Lviv. In the first round, he’d also won in the Ternopil region. (Meduza, 04.22.19)
    • “To all citizens of post-Soviet countries: Look at us,” Zelenskiy said in his victory speech. “Anything is possible.” (Kyiv Post, 04.21.19)
    • As president, Zelenskiy will have the power to nominate top officials, including the foreign minister, defense minister, prosecutor general and head of the SBU security and intelligence service. He already announced that he plans to remove Attorney General Yuriy Lutsenko. Also, Oleksandr Danylyuk, who is Zelenskiy’s chief foreign policy adviser, has been described in the Ukrainian press as a potential foreign minister. (The Washington Post, 04.22.19, Meduza, 04.22.19)
    • Zelenskiy has earlier pledged to hold a referendum on whether or not Kiev should join NATO if he is elected president. (RFE/RL, 04.18.19)
    • Zelenskiy has earlier said that Crimea’s return to Ukrainian control would only be possible under new leadership in Russia. He has also said that he had a plan for a “powerful information war” to achieve a ceasefire in the Donbass and ruled out granting special status to the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. (The Moscow Times, 04.23.19)
    • Zelenskiy has called on the government and the state energy company Naftogaz to hold talks with the IMF in order to lower the household price for natural gas as of May 1. (RFE/RL, 04.24.19)
    • A poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology on April 9-14 asked respondents, "Which of the things listed in the card would you like the next president to do in his first 100 days?" Thirty nine percent of respondence said reduce utility tariffs; 35.5 percent said submit to Parliament bills on the withdrawal of immunity from deputies, judges and the president; and 32.4 percent said to start or speed up investigation of the most resonant corruption crimes. Some 23.3 percent of respondents expect a new president to start negotiations with Russia. (Interfax, 04.16.19)
    • Western leaders were quick to shower Zelenskiy with congratulations for his victory. Trump called and the U.S. administration pledged continued support for Kiev. British Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted that she was looking forward to working with Zelenskiy, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited the incoming head of state to visit Berlin. On April 22, the EU formally congratulated Zelenskiy and made clear it expected the new leader to pursue specific reforms, including fighting corruption. (Wall Street Journal, 04.22.19)
    • On April 22, the first official Kremlin response came via Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who wrote that there are “chances for improving relations.” It’s "too early" to talk about congratulating Zelenskiy or to comment on potential cooperation with Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on April 22, and Russia would judge the president-elect by his deeds. Outgoing Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s policy has suffered a “total failure,” which manifested in his election loss, Putin said in his first remarks on the Ukrainian vote. On April 25, Putin appeared to extend an olive branch to Ukraine’s president-elect in his first public comments since the vote, while tightening the screws on a Russia-occupied area of the country. “We want and are prepared to fully normalize our relations, but we cannot do that unilaterally,” Putin said. (Wall Street Journal, 04.25.19, The Moscow Times, 04.22.19, Reuters/The Moscow Times, 04.25.19)
    • When Zelenskiy, the Jewish comedian recently elected the president of Ukraine, announced that he was running, the chief rabbi for the eastern Ukrainian region where Zelenskiy grew up was shocked by the hostile reaction from Zelenskiy's fellow Jews. ''They said, 'He should not run because we will have pogroms here again in two years if things go wrong,''' said Rabbi Kaminezki. (New York Times, 04.25.19)
    • “You could say the IMF killed Poroshenko,” said Balazs Jarabik, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “No sane government would do austerity after this.” (Financial Times, 04.24.19)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree simplifying the procedure for people living in parts of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists to obtain Russian citizenship. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin urged Ukrainian citizens in areas held by Russia-backed separatists "not to accept Russian passports." (RFE/RL, 04.24.19)
    • Both Poroshenko and Zelenskiy have condemned the move. Ukraine's foreign minister called Putin’s decision "aggression and interference" in Kiev's affairs. (RFE/RL, 04.25.19, Reuters/The Moscow Times, 04.25.19) 
    • The U.S. State Department criticized Russia's move, saying Moscow "through this highly provocative action, is intensifying its assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity." (RFE/RL, 04.25.19)
    • European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the decree was "another attack on Ukraine's sovereignty by Russia." (RFE/RL, 04.25.19)
    • In a joint statement on April 25, France and Germany—the European guarantors of the 2015 Minsk agreements—said Putin's decree "goes against the spirit and aims" of the Minsk process. (RFE/RL, 04.25.19)
    • French Ambassador to the U.N. Francois Delattre asserted that "the solution to this crisis is not to hand out Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens" but to respect commitments made to end the conflict. (RFE/RL, 04.26.19)
    • The OSCE has also criticized Putin's decision. (RFE/RL, 04.26.19)
  • Lawmakers in Kiev approved a bill boosting the use of the Ukrainian language across state administration and media. The bill says "the only official state language in Ukraine is the Ukrainian language." Poroshenko has vowed to sign the language measures into law. (Bloomberg, 04.25.19, RFE/RL, 04.25.19)
    • Zelenskiy has criticized the bill as a set of "prohibitions and punishments" that will complicate bureaucratic procedures and "increase the number of officials instead of reducing them." (RFE/RL, 04.25.19)
    • Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow that the bill contradicts the Ukrainian Constitution and promotes the "Ukrainization" of the country. (RFE/RL, 04.25.19)
    • The approval of the language law may further deepen a rift with neighboring Hungary, which claims the law violates the rights of ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine’s west. (Bloomberg, 04.25.19)
  • Ukraine has become the poorest country in Europe, while Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s personal income increased nearly a hundredfold last year, according to Mikheil Saakashvili. Ukraine's GDP is actually 24 percent smaller now than it was in 1993—the first year we have reliable figures for it—and its incomes are 17 percent lower. (The Washington Post, 04.23.19, Fox News, 04.23.19)
  • Volodymyr Groysman, the Ukrainian prime minister, said on April 23 that he would split from Petro Poroshenko’s party to form his own group, while a probe has also been launched into three of Poroshenko’s top allies. (Financial Times, 04.24.19)
  • Ukraine on April 26 marked the 33rd anniversary of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, when a combination of human errors and negligence caused one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history. (Xinhua, 04.26.19)
  • Ukrainian lawmaker Nadia Savchenko has returned to parliament a week after she was unexpectedly released from jail, where she had been held for more than a year over allegations that she plotted a terrorist attack on parliament. (RFE/RL, 04.23.19)
  • Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been transferred to a minimum-security prison near Scranton, Pa., to serve his federal prison sentence. Manafort was sentenced March 13 to 7½ years in prison for conspiring to hide tens of millions of dollars earned through undisclosed lobbying for a Russia-aligned politician in Ukraine and conspiring to tamper with witnesses. (The Washington Post, 04.23.19)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka has announced that the country’s next presidential election will be held in 2020, but the parliamentary elections will be held in 2019. (RFE/RL, 04.19.19)
  • France marked its first "national day of commemoration of the Armenian genocide" on April 24. (France24, 04.24.19)
  • Clashes broke out on April 21 in Georgia’s northeastern Pankisi Gorge region between police and residents protesting the construction of a hydropower plant. (RFE/RL, 04.21.19)
  • Two Saudi sisters, who say they fled their own country because of “oppression,” have applied for asylum in Georgia but still feared they could be reached by their family and forced back to Saudi Arabia. (RFE/RL, 04.19.19)
  • Kazakhstan's Nationwide Social Democratic Party, the only registered party in the country that positions itself as opposition to the government, has decided to boycott an early presidential election scheduled for June 9. (RFE/RL, 04.26.19)
  • The head of Tajikistan’s Antimonopoly Service has been dismissed amid criticism over the government's decision to increase Internet fees. (RFE/RL, 04.23.19)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • No significant developments.