Russia in Review, Jan. 15-22 2021

This Week’s Highlights


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Russian conscript Ramil Shamsutdinov has been sentenced to 24 1/2 years in prison Jan. 21 for gunning down eight fellow soldiers in what he said was retaliation to hazing, Russian media reported. The conscript served in a unit which is reportedly part of the Defense Ministry’s 12th Main Directorate, which is responsible for nuclear weapons. (The Moscow Times, 01.21.21, Russia Matters, 01.21.21)
  • Gen. Nikolai Antoshkin, the commander of a perilous helicopter firefighting operation in which he and other pilots braved radiation exposure to contain the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, died on Jan. 17. He was 78. (New York Times, 01.18.21)
  • U.S. President Joe Biden on Jan. 20 appointed David Huizenga, the National Nuclear Security Administration associate principal deputy administrator to serve as the acting head of the Department of Energy. (CNN, 01.20.21)
  • The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited have announced the completion of a multi-year campaign to repatriate 161 kilograms of highly enriched uranium liquid target residue material from Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, Canada, to the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina. (NEI Magazine, 01.18.21)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, said the North Korean nuclear problem has “gotten worse” and that the new administration is planning a full review of Washington’s approach to Pyongyang. (The Korea Herald, 01.20.21)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Blinken said the incoming administration would seek a “longer and stronger” nuclear agreement with Iran as he laid out a foreign-policy vision for the next four years. However, Blinken also said Washington is a “long way” from reaching a new accord with Tehran, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Biden’s pick to lead the nation’s spy bureaucracy, Avril Haines. (RFE/RL, 01.20.21)

Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • U.S. officials said Biden is ruling out a "reset" in bilateral relations with Moscow as many new U.S. presidents have done since the end of the Cold War. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was committed to holding Russia “to account for its reckless and adversarial actions.” (RFE/RL, 01.22.21, The Washington Post, 01.21.21)
  • Blinken told lawmakers Jan. 19 that sanctions passed by Congress to target Moscow will be "extremely helpful in being able to impose . . . costs and consequences" on Russia. Current U.S. threats include "a world of rising nationalism, receding democracy, growing rivalry with China, Russia and other authoritarian states, mounting threats to a stable and open international system, and a technological revolution that is reshaping every aspect of our lives, especially in cyberspace," according to Blinken. “Together, we are far better positioned to counter threats from Russia, Iran, North Korea and to stand up for democracy and human rights,” he said. (Wall Street Journal, 01.19.21, The Washington Post, 01.21.21, Rev, 01.19.21, New York Times, 01.19.21)
  • Lloyd Austin, whom the U.S. Senate on Jan. 22 confirmed as the first Black secretary ever to run the U.S. Defense Department has told a Senate committee earlier this week that:
    • The extension of the New START Treaty is in the national security interest of the U.S., Austin said in answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee Advance Policy Questions. Austin said that he believed it "is in the national security interests of the United States and its allies and partners to pursue formal, verifiable arms control agreements that reduce the nuclear threats from Russia and China." "Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons through arms control is a very important strategic objective," he noted.
    • "The United States has a long history of cooperation with Russia in the Arctic region, and it is my hope that can continue. I have serious concerns, however, about the Russian military buildup in the region and Russia’s aggressive conduct in the Arctic and around the world.”
    • He will review the U.S. force presence in the Middle East to address challenges from Russia and China. "If confirmed, I will make it a high priority to review our force posture in this region to ensure the strength of our deterrence along NATO’s Eastern and Southern Flanks and our continued mobility in response to crises,” he said.
    • "Russia’s strategic goals in the Black Sea include maintaining access to the Mediterranean Sea and facilitating the defense of the Russian homeland,” he said.
    • Russia should be held responsible if found to be the culprit behind the recent cyber attack against IT company SolarWinds. “I truly believe that the [FBI] and the [NSA] have given Russia credit for this, they have attributed this activity to Russia, and if that’s the case, I think Russia should be held accountable,” he added. “That’s my personal belief.” (TASS, 01.19.21, TASS, 01.19.21,  FARS, 01.20.21,, 01.19.21, Wall Street Journal, 01.22.21, Financial Times, 01.21.21)
  • Avril Haines, Biden's pick for director of national intelligence, took questions from senators Jan. 19 in a confirmation hearing before being confirmed in her new post:
    • She included North Korea, along with China, Iran and Russia, as countries that pose threats to U.S. national security, in a written answer to the questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of her confirmation hearing. She also mentioned other evolving transnational threats, including climate change, cyberattacks, terrorism and the pandemic.
    • "It was pretty alarming that we found out about it through a private company rather than finding out about it ourselves," she said of the alleged Russian hacks of U.S. government agencies.
    • "China is adversarial and an adversary on some issues," Haines said, "and on other issues, we try to cooperate with them." She noted that tackling climate change is one area where the U.S. has sought Beijing's cooperation.  (The Washington Post, 01.19.21, The Korea Herald, 01.21.21)
  • The U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center has published a new version of its widely referenced Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report. Information about Russian ballistic and cruise missile programs dominate the report, but less so than in previous versions. The most significant data reduction is in the cruise missile section where the report no longer lists countries other than Russia, China and Iran. Also, in some descriptions of missile program developments, the report appears to be out of date and not updated on recent developments. This includes the Russian SS-X-28 (RS-26 Rubezh) shorter-range ICBM, which the report portrays as an active program but only presents data for 2018. (Federation of American Scientists, 01.19.21)
  • The Russian Foreign Ministry has expelled two Dutch diplomats in a tit-for-tat move after the expulsion for espionage of two Russian diplomats from The Hague last month. (RFE/RL, 01.18.21)
  • A poll of 15,000 Europeans in 11 countries conducted for the European Council on Foreign Relations has revealed that in no surveyed country would a majority want to take Washington’s side in a conflict with Russia. “Amazing only 36 percent of respondents in Poland and 40 percent in Denmark say that their country should side with the U.S. in such a scenario,” write Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard in their analysis of the poll conducted for ECFR by Datapraxis and YouGov in November and December 2020. (Russia Matters, 01.19.21)

NATO-Russia relations:

  • "There is a need to rebuild trust between Europe and the United States," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview. "I don't believe in 'America alone.' I don't believe in 'Europe alone.' I believe in North America and Europe together." "It is no secret that we had, I had, difficult discussions with him [former U.S. President Donald Trump] on issues ranging from arms control, Russia, burden sharing and many other issues," said Stoltenberg. (The Washington Post, 01.22.21)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Arms control:

  • Biden on Jan. 21 proposed a five-year extension with Russia of New START, which expires on Feb. 5. "The United States intends to seek a five-year extension of New START, as the treaty permits," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “This extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time,” Psaki said. “New START is the only remaining treaty constraining Russian nuclear forces and is an anchor of strategic stability between our two countries,” she said. (AFP, 01.21.21, New York Times, 01.22.21, Financial Times, 01.22.21)
  • Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan was to convey the New START extension proposal to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, on Jan. 21 afternoon. (AP, 01.20.21)
  • “Extending the treaty’s limitations on stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons until 2026 allows time and space for our two nations to explore new verifiable arms control arrangements that could further reduce risks to Americans,” said John Kirby, the new Pentagon spokesman. He added the U.S. needed New START’s intrusive inspection and notification regime, arguing that its loss would risk weakening America’s understanding of Russia’s long-range nuclear forces. (Financial Times, 01.22.21)
  • “We can only welcome the political commitment to extend this document,” Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said on Jan. 22. Peskov said Russian officials would study the Biden administration’s offer before formally agreeing to an extension. “Russia and its president are in favor of preserving this agreement [New START],” Peskov told reporters. (Prima News, 01.20.21, New York Times, 01.22.21)
  • "The most important and, probably, top priority area is the absolutely abnormal situation in the sphere of arms control. We have heard about the Biden administration’s plans to resume dialogue with us on these topics, including plans to try to agree the extension of the New START. We will be waiting for concrete proposals. Our position is well known and it is still in force,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. (TASS, 01.18.21)
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Jan. 21 called on the U.S. and Russia to extend New START and to later broaden it. “We should not end up in a situation with no limitation on nuclear warheads, and New START will expire within days,” Stoltenberg said. "I don't see the treaty's extension as the end, but the beginning of an effort to further strengthen international nuclear arms control," he said in a statement. "So agreements that cover more weapons and also include more nations like China should be on the agenda in the future." (RFE/RL, 01.22.21, The Moscow Times, 01.22.21)
  • U.S. officials said they hoped a quick renewal of New START could provide a foundation for new arms control arrangements, potentially including China. "We believe it's absolutely urgent for China to take on greater responsibility, transparency and restraint for its nuclear weapons arsenal," said a senior U.S. official. (The Washington Post, 01.21.21)
  • U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the entry into force Jan. 22 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the first nuclear disarmament instrument in more than two decades. The treaty, endorsed by 51 states, mandates assistance, such as medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support to all victims under their jurisdiction. (VOA, 01.22.21)


  • Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya, says regional security forces and police have killed six armed militants led by Aslan Byutukayev in a special operation. Byutukayev was a close associate of the late leader of the so-called Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz), Doku Umarov. Umarov and Byutukayev took responsibility for the bombing attack in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in January 2011. (RFE/RL, 01.20.21)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Russia will not "chase" the U.S. military out from Syria or engage in hostilities, but it does engage in a dialogue with Washington, trying to ensure compliance with certain rules, Lavrov said Jan. 18. "We have contacts with the U.S. in the military—not because we recognize the legitimacy of their presence there, but simply because they have to act within certain boundaries," the minister pointed out. "We cannot chase them out of there, we will not engage in hostilities, of course. But, since they are already there, we engage in a dialogue on the so-called de-conflicting, in which we seek to ensure compliance with certain rules,” Lavrov said. (TASS, 01.18.21)
  • Russia calls on Israel to provide evidence to prove its claims about threats coming from Syria, Lavrov said on Jan. 18. "We, Russia, don’t want the Syrian territory to be used against Israel, neither do we want the Syrian territory to be used as an arena for Iranian-Israeli confrontation, as many want it to be," he noted. (TASS, 01.18.21)
  • Syrian and Israeli officials reportedly held a meeting last month at the Russian air base in Hmeimim, Syria. The Russia-sponsored meeting tackled several issues, including Israel’s demand for Iran to pull out its militias from Syria. (Asharq Al-Awsat, 01.18.21)
  • Russian warplanes carried out 40 airstrikes in Deash areas in Syria on Jan. 17, the Syrian Observatory reported. Russia targeted areas in Aleppo, Hama and Raqqa throughout the day, the Britain-based war monitor reported. (Arab News, 01.17.21)
  • Head of the Russia-Syria Joint Monitoring Centre Dmitry Suntsov announced on Jan. 18 the deployment of additional Russian military units to northeastern Syria. Suntsov confirmed that an additional Russian military police unit of 300 had been deployed to the city of Hasaka in northeastern Syria to strengthen the joint observation posts with the Syrian regime forces, and to contribute to calming the conflict in the region. (Middle East Monitor, 01.19.21)

Cyber security:

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden had asked the U.S. intelligence community for an assessment of Russia’s suspected involvement in the massive Solar Winds hack of the U.S. government and major businesses. Biden’s order for a study of the SolarWinds hacking comes as intelligence officials have quietly concluded that more than a thousand Russian software engineers were most likely involved in it, according to people involved in the investigation. (RFE/RL, 01.22.21, New York Times, 01.21.21)
  • “One of the great challenges that we face in the United States in particular is the asymmetry of the threat in cyber,” Biden’s pick to lead the nation’s spy bureaucracy, Avril Haines, said. “It is relatively easy for adversaries to hold at risk what are high-value assets to the United States, given how much we rely on cyber and digital work for our economy.” (New York Times, 01.21.21)
  • Parler, a social-media website popular with U.S. right-wing groups, has partially returned online with the apparent help of a Russian-based technology company. (RFE/RL, 01.19.21)
  • Hackers manipulated stolen data related to coronavirus vaccines before publishing it on the dark web, according to the European Medicines Agency. It was a tactic that cybersecurity analysts say aims to sow mistrust and confusion. (Wall Street Journal, 01.21.21)

Elections interference:

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. intelligence community would assess whether Russia was involved in any interference in the 2020 election. (RFE/RL, 01.22.21)
  • Former U.S. President Donald Trump authorized the declassification of documents related to the FBI’s Russia investigation, the inquiry that clouded his first years in office and that he has sought retribution for ever since. (New York Times, 01.19.21)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russian state gas company Gazprom acknowledged there is a risk that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline could be suspended or cancelled after the U.S. on Jan. 19 slapped sanctions on a Russian ship involved in the construction. The U.S. informed Germany that it would impose sanctions on the Russian-owned ship, German officials said Jan. 18. According to ship-tracking data, the Fortuna is still anchored in the Baltic Sea near Rostock, in northern Germany, Reuters reported. (New York Times, 01.18.21, al Jazeera, 01.19.21)
  • German authorities have granted permission for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to continue despite U.S. sanctions threats and opposition from environmental groups. (RFE/RL, 01.15.21)
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Jan. 21 said she had not changed her mind about Nord Stream 2, which she has always backed. But she suggested she would be in favor of a wide-ranging discussion with the U.S. about Europe’s energy relationship with Russia, in which “we put everything on the table.” (Financial Times, 01.21.21)
  • A powerful Russian icebreaker has crossed the Northern Sea Route for the first time at this time of year as ice coverage shrinks in the rapidly melting Arctic. The liquefied natural gas tanker Christophe de Margerie made it through the Chukchi Sea and into the Bering Strait on Jan. 16 after 10 days in thick sea ice. (Barents Observer, 01.19.21)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • As Biden took his oath of office Jan. 20, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov shrugged off the prospect of diplomatic differences under Biden. "Nothing will change for Russia. Russia will continue to live just the way it has lived for hundreds of years, seeking good relations with the U.S.," Peskov said. "Whether Washington has reciprocal political will for that will depend on Mr. Biden and his team." (The Washington Post, 01.21.21)
  • "We don’t need to do anything to express a desire to have normal relations with the U.S. which would reflect the mutual responsibility of the two largest nuclear states for international security on a global, regional and all other levels. We made such offers. So the Biden administration also knows about it perfectly well,” Lavrov said. (TASS, 01.18.21)
  • Russia is waiting for a response from the Biden administration to a set of proposals aimed at overcoming differences between Moscow and Washington, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Jan. 21. Zakharova expressed hope that the Biden administration will pursue "a more balanced [political] course, without aggravating the already excessively confrontational Russian-U.S. relations." (Business Standard, 01.22.21)
  • Zakharova urged the Biden administration to "promptly take all necessary measures" to restore phone communication at the Russian Consulate General in New York. On Jan. 19, all phone lines at the Consulate General were reported to be down, along with additional issues with cell phones and Internet connection. (Business Standard, 01.22.21)
  • Janet Yellen, Biden’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, on Jan. 19 told lawmakers she expected to quickly launch a review of U.S. sanctions policy if she and her top deputy were confirmed for their posts. (Reuters, 01.19.21)
  • On Jan. 17, Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called for the immediate release of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader detained in Moscow. "Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable," Sullivan wrote on Twitter. "The Kremlin's attacks on Mr. Navalny are not just a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard." (The Washington Post, 01.21.21)
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the United States would investigate Russia's suspected poisoning of Navalny, who was arrested over the weekend upon his return from life-saving medical treatment in Germany. (RFE/RL, 01.22.21)
  • NASA is considering reducing its presence in Russia. NASA reportedly has around 90 employees and Russian service staff in Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and other spaceflight offices around Moscow. The move is linked to the U.S. discontinuing regular flights aboard Russian spacecraft. (The Moscow Times, 01.21.21)
  • U.S. federal authorities said they have arrested Capitol rioter Riley June Williams and are investigating claims from a "former romantic partner" that Williams stole a laptop or hard drive from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The ex-partner, identified only as W1 in court filings, told the FBI that Williams "intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service," a criminal complaint states. (The Washington Post, 01.19.21)
  • Paul Erickson, the former boyfriend of the Russian operative Maria Butina, was among those granted clemency in the final hours of the Trump administration. Erickson was briefly pulled into the investigation of Trump by Rob Mueller, the special counsel. (New York Times, 01.20.21)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia confirmed 21,513 new coronavirus cases and 580 deaths on Jan. 22 compared to 21887 cases and 612 deaths on Jan. 21. (The Moscow Times, 01.22.21) Here’s a link to RFE/RL’s interactive map of the virus’ spread around the world, including in Russia and the rest of post-Soviet Eurasia. For a comparison of the number and rate of change in new cases in the U.S. and Russia, visit this Russia Matters resource. 
  • Russia has launched a mass coronavirus vaccination campaign opened to all Russians in a bid to stem the spread of the virus without reimposing a new nationwide lockdown. (RFE/RL, 01.18.21)
  • The Russian government is considering issuing coronavirus health certificates that could ease travel and commerce for people who have been vaccinated or who have antibodies from surviving the disease, while sharply limiting the liberties of others. (New York Times, 01.19.21)
  • Net inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) came in at just $1.4 billion in 2020. The inflow of $1.4 billion last year was down more than 95 percent compared with the $29 billion of FDI Russia secured in 2019. The last time Russia saw such a low level of FDI was in 1994. (The Moscow Times, 01.20.21)
  • At the end of 2020, the size of Russia’s additional energy revenue fund was $183 billion. Tax revenue is transferred to Russia's National Welfare Fund when the price of crude oil is higher than the reference price specified in the budgetary rule. The fund has approximately $115 billion in highly liquid public sector bonds from major OECD countries. (bne IntelliNews, 01.22.21)
  • Last year was the warmest in Russia’s recorded history, the national weather service said this month as global temperatures reached record highs. (The Moscow Times, 01.20.21)
  • Unit two of the Leningrad II nuclear power plant in western Russia passed one terawatt hours of electricity production on Jan. 15, a milestone in its four months of pilot operation that started in November last year. (World Nuclear News, 01.18.21)
  • The Anti-Corruption Foundation of Alexei Navalny issued a fresh investigation on Jan.19, shining a spotlight on a Black Sea mansion allegedly built for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The investigation alleges the luxurious estate on the Black Sea's exclusive Gelendzhik Bay cost at least 100 billion rubles ($1.35 billion). The investigation has been seen by over 50 million people, just two days after its release. (RFE/RL, 01.19.21, bne IntelliNews, 01.22.21)
  • Navalny could next month get up to three and a half years in prison as part of an old embezzlement case he says is politically motivated, Bloomberg cited two unnamed sources close to the Russian leadership as saying. He could get another 10 years in prison as part of a new criminal case alleging that he stole supporters' donations, the news agency reported. (The Moscow Times/Bloomberg, 01.22.21)
  • Navalny has said he does not plan to commit suicide and thanked his supporters in his first statement since being jailed in one of Moscow’s most notorious prisons upon his return to Russia. (The Moscow Times, 01.22.21)
  • Russian authorities are cracking down ahead of anti-government protests scheduled in at least 50 Russian cities on Jan. 23 following the arrest of Navalny. Russian authorities have detained Navalny’s supporters and are restricting online information about the protests, which the Kremlin said are illegal. (Time, 01.22.21)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Valery Gerasimov has been elected President of the Academy of Military Sciences of the Russian Federation. He replaced Gen. Makhmut Gareev as the head of the academy on Dec. 25. Gerasimov is the longest serving chief of Russian General Staff since the tsarist times. Previous chiefs of General Staff have been typically given posts in the Security Council upon retirement. (VPK, 01.19.21, Russia Matters, 01.19.21)
  • For the first time, the Russian Air Force has conducted a mass launch of 6 AN-124 (NATO reporting name Condor) cargo aircraft, practicing the combat capability of safely and swiftly launching a large number of heavy aircraft. Air Force officials said the total force launch effort was an opportunity for personnel to train together on a larger scale than normal. (Defense Blog, 01.16.21)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Kirill Chuprov, a police officer in the Russian city of Samara, has been placed under house arrest on suspicion of leaking data that may have helped the Bellingcat investigative group identify the alleged poisoners of Navalny. Chuprovmay face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. (RFE/RL, 01.19.21)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Armin Laschet, the newly elected leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats, is coming under mounting scrutiny over statements he has made in the past defending Putin and the Assad regime in Syria. In March 2014 he described as the “marketable anti-Putin populism” that was spreading in Germany. He quoted Henry Kissinger as saying: “Putin’s demonization is not a policy, but an alibi for the absence of one.” Perhaps his most controversial foreign policy intervention was in 2014, when he accused the U.S. of supporting Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria. (Financial Times, 01.19.21)
  • European Council chief Charles Michel told Putin that he would launch a "strategic debate" on EU-Russia relations when he convenes a summit of all 27 EU leaders in March. Michel also demanded the "immediate release" of Russian opposition activist Navalny. (AFP, 01.22.21)
  • World leaders have called on Russia to release Navalny, who was detained minutes after he landed in Moscow following five months of recovery from nerve agent poisoning in Germany. The Kremlin has said it will ignore demands from Western countries to release Navalny. (The Moscow Times, 01.18.21, Financial Times, 01.19.21)
  • Albania says it is expelling Russian diplomat Alexei Krivosheev for allegedly violating lockdown rules aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus in the Adriatic country. (RFE/RL, 01.21.21)
  • The head of the Council of Europe has expressed “great concern” after the Association of Schools of Political Studies of the Council of Europe was added to the list of “undesirable” organizations in Russia. (RFE/RL, 01.16.21)
  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has expressed concern after a Russian court handed a long prison sentence for hooliganism to  university mathematics student Azat Miftakhov who says he was tortured while in custody. (RFE/RL, 01.21.21)
  • Russian authorities have applied for registration of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in the European Union, the country's sovereign wealth fund financing the vaccine said Jan. 20. (AFP, 01.20.21)
  • Hungary has become the first EU country to grant approval to the Russian state-developed COVID-19 vaccine, the first time a member state has broken ranks to give unilateral emergency approval for a vaccine.  (Financial Times, 01.21.21)
  • Russia told the U.N. this week it plans to withdraw the 300 "military instructors" it sent to the Central African Republic at the end of 2020 for the presidential election, diplomats told AFP Jan. 15. (The Moscow Times, 01.15.21)

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • "We really have a very close strategic relationship with the People's Republic of China," Lavrov said during his annual press conference held in an online format. "We can talk endlessly about Russian-Chinese cooperation that embraces a very wide range of spheres, almost all spheres of human activity, and the activities of states," he added, in response to a question from Xinhua. (Xinhua, 01.19.21) 
  • "We see no limits for development of strategic partnership of China and Russia, there are no forbidden areas for us," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. She underscored that "the China’s and Russia’s unity is unwavering, and their friendship is strong." According to the spokeswoman, last year, the bilateral relations were "christened by the novel coronavirus pandemic and withstood the trial by time." (TASS, 01.19.21) 
  • Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 18 restricting the purchase of unmanned aircraft systems from the so-called "adversary countries," namely Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, the White House press service said. (TASS, 01.19.21) 
  • Saudi shipments to China in 2020 were rose 1.9 percent from a year earlier to 84.92 million tons, or about 1.69 million barrels per day. Russia was a close second with shipments of 83.57 million tons, or 1.67 million barrels per day, up 7.6 percent from 2019. (Reuters, 01.20.21) 
  • Gazprom has started the design and survey work for the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline in line with the presidential assignment, Chief Executive Officer of the gas holding Alexei Miller said on Jan. 19 at the meeting with Putin. (TASS, 01.19.21) 
  • For the first time ever, the Chinese jets will be powered by domestically made engines instead of Russian ones. (Nikkei, 01.22.20) 


  • Biden’s secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken told U.S. senators that he backed inviting Georgia into NATO, if the former Soviet republic meets the requirements. Blinken rejected the view of Sen. Rand Paul that expanding NATO could lead to war with Russia, saying Moscow risked invading its southern neighbor in 2008 precisely because it was not part of the Western military alliance. (RFE/RL, 01.20.21)
  • Blinken told U.S. senators that he backed giving Ukraine lethal weapons to defend itself against Russian aggression while serving in the Obama administration. Obama did not give the green light for deliveries of lethal weapons though, Trump did. However, Blinken warned U.S. efforts to support Ukraine must include fighting corruption. (RFE/RL, 01.20.21)
  • Ukrainian manufacturer of jet engines Motor Sich has agreed to a record $800 million contract with People’s Liberation Army for turbofan AI-322 engine production, according to multiple reports. The JL-10 is a new type of supersonic jet trainer and light combat aircraft developed by the state-run Aviation Industry Corporation of China, or AVIC. (Defense Blog, 01.17.21)
  • The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv announced that the Ukrainian Armed Forces has received a new batch of 20 HMMWV M1151 armored vehicles along with 84 boats. “Nothing could stop the delivery of 20 humvees to Ukrainian Land Forces and Special Operations Forces along with 84 boats for the Ukrainian Navy as part of the Ukrainian Security Assistance Initiative,” the Embassy said in a Facebook post Jan. 15. (Defense Blog, 01.15.21)
  • “Don’t think that from tomorrow there will only be harmony between us,” Merkel told reporters just a day after Biden’s inauguration. “There will also be arguments about how best to do things for our two countries.” Merkel emphasized that she did not always see eye-to-eye with Biden either, saying that when he was vice-president, they had clashed on the wisdom of selling weapons to Ukraine. (Financial Times, 01.21.21)
  • Ukrainian investigators formally notified Oleksandr Tupytskyi—the head of Ukraine’s constitutional court—that he is a suspect in a witness tampering case, the state investigation bureau said on Jan. 19. Ukrainian prosecutors said in December they were investigating Tupytskyi in connection with the suspected bribery of a witness that had taken place in 2018. (Reuters, 01.19.21)
  • The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development saw its investments in Ukraine fall by 26.2 percent to 812 million euros in 34 projects in 2020 compared to 2019. (bne IntelliNews, 01.21.21)
  • Ukraine has a happiness index of just 14 percent, which means Ukrainians are the fifth unhappiest nation on earth, according to an annual survey by Swiss-based pollster Gallup International, which surveyed people in 41 countries. The poll shows that Ukrainians are slightly happier than Armenians and Hong Kongers. The unhappiest country is North Macedonia, where the happiness index is -3 percent. The happiest people live in Kyrgyzstan, where the score is 85 percent, followed by Kazakhstan with 78 percent and Colombia and Ecuador with 77 percent each. (Kyiv Post, 01.18.21)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The European Court of Human Rights has concluded that Russia committed rights violations—including torture and preventing people from returning to their homes—after a five-day war with Georgia in 2008, a ruling the Caucasus nation immediately hailed as a victory. (RFE/RL, 01.21.21)
  • Armenia plans to extend the service life of its nuclear power unit in Metsamor beyond 2026 and has not abandoned plans to build a new unit, ARKA news agency reported on Jan. 14, following cabinet approval of the government's new energy strategy to 2040. (World Nuclear News, 01.20.21)
  • After nearly 30 years of talks, arguments and threats, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have agreed to jointly develop the disputed “Friendship” hydrocarbon field that lies in the Caspian Sea about midway between the two countries. (RFE/RL, 01.22.21)
  • The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) says Turkmenistan has registered Russia's Sputnik-V vaccine against COVID-19. (RFE/RL, 01.18.21)
  • The former deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan's Customs Service, Raimbek Matraimov, has changed his last name after being placed on the U.S. Magnitsky sanctions list for his alleged involvement in the illegal funneling of hundreds of millions of dollars abroad. (RFE/RL, 01.20.21)
  • Belarusian officials say they have taken their new Russian-built nuclear power plant offline after a generator protection system was tripped during testing procedures, marking the second minor mishap since the reactor entered commercial service in early November.  (Bellona, 01.18.21)
  • Four Russian-made Mi-35 attack helicopters will arrive for the Air Force and Air Defence Forces of the Republic of Belarus in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to sources in the Belarusian Defense Ministry. (Defense Blog, 01.19.21)
  • The International Ice Hockey Federation says it has decided to move the 2021 World Championship from Minsk due to safety and security issues that are "beyond its control." (RFE/RL, 01.18.21)


IV. Quoteworthy

  • "This will be the first post-Soviet U.S. administration that has not come into office vowing to forge a warmer relationship with Russia," said Angela Stent, a senior intelligence official on Russia during the George W. Bush administration. (The Washington Post, 01.21.21)

NB: The Jan. 15, 2021 issue of Russia in Review replicated The Moscow Times’ misidentification of Biden adviser Nicholas Burns as incoming CIA chief William Burns. We have corrected the relevant news item.