Russia in Review, Aug. 4-11, 2017

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

Nuclear security:

  • South Carolina is suing the U.S. government to recover $100 million in fines it says the Energy Department owes it for not removing one metric ton of plutonium stored there. A 2000 U.S. treaty with Russia required each country to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. The U.S. began building a mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility, the MOX project, at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina for this purpose. (Reuters, 08.08.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump on Aug. 10 said he did not believe Iran was living up to the spirit of the 2015 Iran nuclear weapons program deal. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it is a pity the Trump administration was casting doubt on the deal. (Reuters, 08.11.17)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • In Germany, the U.S. is spending $1 billion on a hospital an Army general describes as the most ambitious medical construction project the military has ever undertaken. (Wall Street Journal, 08.11.17)
  • Macedonia’s new government is stepping up efforts to join NATO, arguing that NATO membership will protect it from Russia “interfering” in its affairs, the country’s defense minister said. (Bloomberg, 08.08.17)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Arms control:

  • A Russian military surveillance plane flew through secure airspace over Washington on Aug. 9, passing near the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and other government buildings. The reconnaissance mission by the unarmed Russian Air Force Tu-154 had been agreed by U.S. authorities under the Treaty on Open Skies. (The Moscow Times, 08.10.17)


  • Turkish law enforcement detained a Russian citizen suspected of planning to down American military aircraft using a drone, Turkish media reports. The man, identified as Renat Bakiyev, was detained in the city of Adana. (The Moscow Times, 08.10.17)
  • A federal appeals court scheduled new arguments for December regarding the conviction of Irek Hamidullin, a former Russian military officer sentenced to life in prison for leading a Taliban attack on U.S. forces. Hamidullin says he should be treated as a prisoner of war and shielded from prosecution. (AP, 08.10.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Russian Armed Forces' General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov discussed the situation in Iraq and Syria and a de-escalation area in southwestern Syria with Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford on Aug. 8. (Interfax, 08.09.17)
  • The U.S. and Russia still have areas of potential cooperation, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert said. "If you look at the ceasefire in southwest Syria, that has now taken hold and, for the most part, succeeded for nearly a month now. That is an example of good U.S.-Russian cooperation," Nauert said. (TASS, 08.03.17)
  • A Russian checkpoint in the Syrian province of Daraa, where a de-escalation area was established in July, daily checks about 1,000 vehicles and 1,500 persons. (Interfax, 08.07.17)
  • The submarine Krasnodar is ending its voyage from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and will soon arrive at Sevastopol. According to earlier reports, the Krasnodar submarine has been on duty in the Mediterranean Sea while on its way from the Baltic Sea since mid-May. (Interfax, 08.09.17)
  • The advanced Russian-made Mil Mi-28UB dual-control helicopter is to be tested in Syria. (TASS, 08.08.17)
  • Russia will present an exposition at the Army 2017 International Military-Technical Forum to demonstrate its counterterror operation in Syria and weapons seized from terrorists. (TASS, 08.08.17)
  • A special commission in Dagestan will be working to repatriate children who were taken to Iraq and Syria by parents influenced by terrorist organizations, Dagestan leader Ramazan Abdulatipov said. At least 48 children from Russia have been identified in Mosul. (Meduza, 08.04.17, Interfax, 08.11.17)
  • The Syrian army stepped up shelling and air strikes on last rebel-held enclaves in Damascus on Aug. 7, its heaviest bombardment in a two-month campaign. From the strategic Qasyoun Heights overlooking Damascus, elite army units pounded the Jobar district. (Reuters, 08.07.17)
  • Russia is anticipating difficulties in ensuring a cease-fire in the last of the four safe zones in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Manila Aug. 6. (AP, 08.06.17)
  • The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused members of the United Nations Security Council of blocking Russia's suggestion to condemn shelling of the Russian embassy in Damascus, saying it encourages terrorist attacks. (Interfax, 08.04.17)
  • A senior U.S. State Department official said nearly a third of territory reclaimed from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria since 2014 has been won in the past six months, due to new policies adopted by the Trump administration. (The Washington Post, 08.07.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said establishing Syria's new and most difficult de-escalation area in Idlib is under way but it won't be easy to reach an agreement on it. Syria was a central issue in the meeting between Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Manila. (Interfax, 08.07.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has held talks with EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini. They discussed Russia-EU relations and relevant issues on the global agenda, including the situation in Syria and Ukraine. (Interfax, 08.07.17)
  • Saudi Arabia, a main backer of Syrian rebels, said Aug. 6 it still supported an international agreement on the future of Syria, and President Bashar al-Assad should have no role in any transition to bring the war there to an end. (Reuters, 08.06.17)
  • Carla Del Ponte, the former prominent war-crimes prosecutor, is quitting a U.N. commission investigating human rights violations in Syria, claiming it “does absolutely nothing.” (RFE/RL, 08.06.17)

Cyber security:

  • Cyber-spying group APT 28 with suspected links to Russian military intelligence was probably behind a campaign targeting hotel guests in eight mostly European countries last month, researchers at security firm FireEye said. (Reuters, 08.11.17)
  • Snapchat, without the company’s knowledge, became the first major Western Internet company to be registered by Moscow’s federal censor, Roskomnadzor, as an “information distribution organizer.” By July 1, 2018, an amended law will require information distribution organizers to store months of user data, and make it available to  Russian law enforcement upon request. As of now, Snap, Inc. does not intend to comply with the law. (Meduza, 08.10.17, Gizmodo, 08.10.17)
  • Moscow-based cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab said on Aug. 9 it would withdraw antitrust complaints made in Europe against Microsoft after the U.S. company agreed to change how it delivers security updates to Windows users. (Reuters, 08.10.17)

Elections interference:

  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he has told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Moscow's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election created "serious mistrust" between the two countries. He said he tried to help Lavrov "understand just how serious this incident had been and how seriously it had damaged the relationship between the U.S. and the American people and the Russian people, that this had created serious mistrust and that we simply have to find some way to deal with that." (RFE/RL, 08.07.17)
  • FBI agents raided the home of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort late last month, using a search warrant to seize documents and other materials. Trump said Aug. 10 that he was surprised by the raid, calling it “pretty tough stuff.” On Aug. 10, a spokesman said Manafort is no longer represented by Washington law firm WilmerHale. Going forward, Manafort will be represented by Miller & Chevalier. 
    • Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has recently sent subpoenas to global banks for account information and records of transactions involving Manafort, some of his companies and his long-time business partner, Rick Gates. The special counsel has also reached out to other business associates, including Manafort’s son-in-law and a Ukrainian oligarch. 
    • Donald Trump Jr. and Manafort have started turning over documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the panel’s investigation. Manafort also alerted authorities to the controversial June 2016 meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., other campaign representatives and a Russian lawyer promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton. He disclosed the meeting to lawmakers about three months ago in response to a congressional request for any information related to Russia during his time on the campaign. (Bloomberg, 08.10.17, AP, 08.10.17, The Washington Post, 08.09.17, Bloomberg, 08.08.17, Bloomberg, 08.10.17)
  • Congressional investigators want to question Rhona Graff, Trump’s longtime personal secretary, about Donald Trump Jr.'s emails about meetings with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. (Business Insider, 08.11.17)
  • Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Aug. 6 that the investigation into the Russian election interference is continuing apace, even as Trump dismissed it as “a total fabrication.” Rosenstein said special counsel Robert Mueller can investigate any crimes that he might discover within the scope of his probe. Investigators working for Mueller have asked the White House for documents related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump said Aug. 10 that he hasn't given firing Mueller any thought. (The Washington Post, 08.06.17, CNN, 08.10.17, Reuters, 08.05.17)
  • In his first public appearance since returning from Washington, Sergei Kislyak said his meeting with Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn was part of his job description. “Any diplomat, Russian or not, works to better understand the political situation of the place where he is stationed,” Kislyak said. “I was instructed [by Moscow] not to discuss the issue of sanctions,” Kislyak insisted. “We don’t discuss sanctions with anyone. And be certain that I fulfilled my instructions faithfully.” (The Moscow Times, 08.07.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • U.S. oil producers have been given assurances that their projects in Kazakhstan will not be affected by the new round of sanctions against Moscow, easing energy industry fears that the broad restrictions will not hit investments with indirect links to Russia. (Financial Times, 08.08.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • In response to new sanctions, Russia will speed up work on reducing dependency on U.S. payment systems and the dollar as a settling currency, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. (Reuters, 08.07.17)
  • The U.S. is set for steady economic growth, while the U.K. and Russia appear to be heading for slowdowns, according to leading indicators released Aug. 8 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (Wall Street Journal, 08.08.17)

Other bilateral issues:

  • Asked on Aug. 7 how he felt about Putin’s order to greatly reduce the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia, Trump said, “I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down our payroll.” “As far as I'm concerned, I'm very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll. We're going to save a lot of money.” U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice chastised Trump for his comments. ''This is insulting to U.S. diplomats,'' she wrote on Twitter. ''Diplomats don't get fired for getting kicked out of a hostile foreign country.'' (The Moscow Times, 08.11.17, New York Times, 08.10.17)
  • After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Aug. 6 his country was ready for more engagement with the U.S. on North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and other pressing matters, even as Moscow braced for new sanctions. Lavrov said they also discussed cybersecurity and that Tillerson agreed to continue a dialogue between U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. "We felt the readiness of our U.S. colleagues to continue dialogue. I think there's no alternative to that," Lavrov said after meeting with Tillerson on the sidelines of an international gathering in Manila. (AP, 08.06.17, Reuters, 08.06.17, Wall Street Journal, 08.07.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked him for details about Moscow’s recent retaliatory action against American sanctions. Lavrov says he explained how Russia will carry out its response. But Lavrov isn’t giving out details. Tillerson said the U.S. will respond by Sept. 1 to Moscow’s move to expel U.S. diplomats. "We should find places we can work together. … In places we have differences, we're going to have to continue to find ways to address those," Tillerson said. (AP, 08.06.17, AP, 08.06.17, RFE/RL, 08.07.17)
  • Washington could force Russia to close one of four consulates in the U.S. as part of an escalating diplomatic rift over fresh U.S. sanctions. Russian authorities on July 28 ordered the U.S. reduce the number of employees in its diplomatic missions in Russia to 455, equal to the number of Russian staff in the U.S. (The Moscow Times, 08.11.17)
  • A wide majority of Americans see Russia as a threat to the U.S., a new CNN poll shows. The poll showed that nearly 90% of respondents see Russia as either a “very serious,” “moderate” or “slight” threat to the U.S., while 10% view it as “no threat at all.” Some 35% said Russia represents a “very serious threat,” while 27% see it as a “moderate” threat and 17% view it as a “slight” threat. In a June 2009 survey, 68% saw Russia as a threat, while 31% saw it as no threat. (RFE/RL, 08.10.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Sales of new cars and light commercial vehicles in Russia increased by 18.6% year-on-year in July to 129,685 units. (Reuters, 08.08.17)
  • The Russian Finance Ministry has permission to swap up to $4 billion of debt maturing in 2018, 2028 and 2030 into new notes, according to a decree published on the government’s website Aug. 8. The price of the exchange won’t exceed the current market value. (Bloomberg, 08.08.17)
  • The Russian food embargo comes at a price. Official statistics show food prices have increased 1.5 times in the last three years after Russia banned imports of many European foodstuffs. (Reuters, 08.08.17)
  • Russia has 36,400 agricultural enterprises and 174,600 farmers, and although the broader economy has been in the grip of recession over the past two years, agricultural output has grown from 4.3 trillion rubles in 2014 to 5.6 trillion rubles in 2015, stimulated partly by Moscow’s food embargo. (Financial Times, 08.11.17)
  • Russian authorities will unroll healthcare reform nationwide in time for presidential elections next year. (The Moscow Times, 08.07.17)
  • Valery Fyodorov, head of the state-owned VTsIOM polling agency, said opinion polls show that Russians are increasingly insecure about the future and that “revolutionary attitudes” tend to appear after the end of a crisis. (RFE/RL, 08.08.17)
  • Sergei Udaltsov, a prominent Russian opposition activist who was released Aug. 8 after nearly five years in custody, has vowed to revive his dormant Levy Front movement and hold new protests. But at a news conference in Moscow Aug. 10, Udaltsov said some of Putin’s opponents are too pro-Western and that he would not support Aleksei Navalny, who is seeking to run for president in March. (RFE/RL, 08.10.17)
  • A Moscow court on Aug. 10 sentenced Russian journalist Alexander Sokolov to three and a half years in jail for extremism, in a case Sokolov described as “Orwellian." Sokolov, who has been in custody since his arrest in 2015, and three co-defendants were found guilty of advancing the program of a radical left-wing organization called the People's Will Army after it was banned in 2010. (The Moscow Times, 08.10.17)
  • Russians have marked the 80th anniversary of a campaign of deadly political repression by former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin known as the Great Terror. (RFE/RL, 08.07.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Over 60 countries have sent observers to the 2017 International Army Games in Russia. Russia’s military personnel are the front-runners in the overall team standing after 16 contests held over the first 10 days of this year’s games. (TASS, 08.09.17)
  • Russia’s first fifth-generation fighter jet will receive the designation Su-57. (The Moscow Times, 08.11.17)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A Russian court will begin the bribery trial of former Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev, the highest-ranking government official to be arrested on corruption charges since the Stalin era, on Aug. 16. The head of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, will appear as a witness in the trial. (RFE/RL, 08.08.17, The Moscow Times, 08.08.17)
  • The Moscow City Court on Aug. 8 canceled plans to deport gay Uzbek journalist Khudoberdi Nurmatov following outcry from human rights defenders. (The Moscow Times, 08.08.17)
  • The North Caucasus Regional Court on Aug. 11 found Ukrainian citizen Artur Panov guilty of planning a terrorist attack in the city of Rostov-on-Don, and sentenced him to eight years in prison on terrorism charges. Panov's co-defendant, Russian citizen Maksim Smyshlyaev, was sentenced to 10 years on the same charges. (RFE/RL, 08.11.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Aug. 11 announced a peace plan involving North Korea freezing missile tests in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea halting large scale military exercises. Russia has also put its eastern air defense systems on high alert following an exchange of nuclear threats between neighboring North Korea and the U.S. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the Trump administration is working with its allies on a diplomatic solution. He also pointed out the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted last week to characterize North Korea’s statements as a “threat to the world’s community.” He asked, “How often do you see France, China, Russia, the U.S. voting unanimously on any issue?” Trump said on Aug. 11 that a military option against North Korea was "locked and loaded.” The tweet came a day after he told reporters that his previous warning that any further threats from North Korea "will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen" may have been too soft. (AP, 08.10.17, RFE/RL, 08.11.17, Newsweek, 08.11.17, Telegraph, 08.11.17)
  • The EU has widened sanctions against Russian companies and persons, including Deputy Energy Minister Andrei Cherezov and a department head at the ministry, Yevgeny Grabchak, over the illegal diversion of four Siemens gas turbines from southern Russia to Crimea. (RFE/RL, 08.04.17)
  • Germany may have to accept Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea as a "permanent provisional arrangement," head of the Free Democratic Party Christian Lindner said Aug. 5. (Reuters, 08.06.17)
  • Indonesian state trading company PT Perusahaan Perdagangan Indonesia and Russian state conglomerate Rostec have signed a preliminary deal to trade Sukhoi SU-35 jets for commodities like palm oil and coffee. (Reuters, 08.06.17)
  • Slightly more than a third of Russians (39%) are aware of the recent statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the pending delivery of Russian S-400 air defense systems, the Public Opinion Foundation said. (Interfax, 08.11.17)
  • A British court on Aug. 4 refused to extradite Russian businessman Georgy Shuppe accused of organizing the murder of retail tycoon Aleksander Mineyev in Russia, saying there was little solid evidence against him. (RFE/RL, 08.05.17)
  • New sanctions imposed on Venezuela are not constructive, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Aug. 10, hailing the creation of the Latin American nation's constituent assembly as a basis for moving towards stability. (Reuters, 08.10.17)
  • Venezuela’s unraveling socialist government is increasingly turning to ally Russia for the cash and credit it needs to survive—and offering prized state-owned oil assets in return. (Reuters, 08.11.17)
  • Police in Kosovo detained six Russian citizens and five Serbian citizens who crossed the border with Serbia illegally. The group left Kosovo after each paying a 250 euro ($295) fine. (RFE/RL, 08.09.17)


  • No significant developments.


  • A total of 427,240 Ukrainian citizens have asked Russia for asylum since January 2014, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. According to a bulletin released on Aug. 8, 9,600 Ukrainians have asked for asylum in Germany, 9,300 in Italy, 4,300 in Poland, 3,500 in France and 3,100 in Sweden since January 2014. (Interfax, 08.08.17)
  • As many as 3,178 Ukrainian army servicemen have been killed since the beginning of the operation in eastern Ukraine. (Interfax, 08.08.17)
  • The number of cease-fire violations in Donbas has increased over the week, according to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. The cease-fire did not improve in the past week, with the SMM recording a 55% increase in cease-fire violations compared with the previous week. (Interfax, 08.08.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Donald Trump’s special representative for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, will soon make his first trip to Moscow, a commitment that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made during the Aug. 6 meeting with his Russian counterpart in the Philippines. Tillerson said that at the meeting Lavrov indicated "some willingness" to resolve tensions over Ukraine. (AP, 08.06.17, Wall Street Journal, 08.07.17)
  • Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the leader of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, says his plan to create a country called Little Russia has failed. (RFE/RL, 08.10.17)
  • The Zhuravka-Millerovo rail bypassing Ukraine in the Rostov and Voronezh regions is of special significance for safe transportation to southern Russia, Defense Minister Army Gen. Sergei Shoigu said. (TASS, 08.08.17)
  • At least 99 people have drowned in Ukraine in the past week as sweltering heat drove people to rivers, lakes and the Black Sea for relief, officials say. (RFE/RL, 08.07.17)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Putin visited the breakaway region of Abkhazia on Aug. 8 to meet regional officials and reaffirm Kremlin support for the territory’s separatist ambitions. Putin’s visit coincided with the nine-year anniversary of hostilities breaking out between Georgia and Russia over a second breakaway region, South Ossetia, in 2008. Putin's visit to Abkhazia was "inappropriate," the U.S. State Department said. (The Moscow Times, 08.09.17,  Reuters, 08.09.17)
  • Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov has reiterated Tashkent's intention of forging closer cooperation with other Central Asian countries. Kamilov said on Aug. 11 that President Shavkat Mirziyoev has from the start advocated "close cooperation with all countries in the region" to solve all "vitally important issues." (RFE/RL, 08.11.17)
  • Uzbekistan’s government says its plan to abandon a requirement for Uzbek citizens to seek the authorities’ permission to leave the country will make it much easier for them to travel abroad. (RFE/RL, 08.08./17)
  • Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev was recorded this week describing his personal hatred for the country's powerful public prosecutors, calling them "thieves" and "arrogant" during a meeting with local activists. (RFE/RL, 08.04.17)
  • Tajikistan on Aug. 8 accused Iran of backing high-profile killings in the wake of the Central Asian country's 1990s civil war, including the assassination of former parliament chairman Safarali Kenjaev in 1999. (RFE/RL, 08.09.17)
  • Former Transdniestrian President Yevgeny Shevchuk’s flight from Tiraspol may signal the culmination of holding company Sheriff’s consolidation of power in Transnistria, giving the country’s leaders a chance to devise a strategic development program for the first time in 20 years. (Carnegie Moscow Center, 08.07.17)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • No significant developments.