Russia in Review, Jan. 27-Feb. 3, 2017

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant developments.

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • European and Russian officials weighed in on the legality of Iran’s missile tests, after the U.S. called for an emergency United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting to discuss a reported launch. A spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said “the Iranian ballistic-missile program was not part” of the 2015 nuclear pact and “hence the tests are not a violation of it. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the UNSC resolution calls on Iran only to abstain from launching missiles able to “carry nuclear warheads.”  In the meantime, U.S. President Donald Trump is planning to impose new sanctions on multiple Iranian entities. (Bloomberg, 01.31.17, Reuters, 02.03.17)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon’s Strategic Command are working on a new evaluation of whether the Russian and Chinese leadership could survive a nuclear strike and keep operating. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Strategic Command will evaluate the post-attack capabilities of the two nuclear powers. (Bloomberg, 01.29.17)
  • On Jan. 30 the U.S. military deployed thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry to Poland, the Baltic States and southeastern Europe in its biggest build-up since the Cold War. The first joint training exercises in Poland for U.S. troops and their Polish counterparts began that same day. A U.S. armored brigade of 3,500 troops from Fort Carson, Colorado deployed to the town of Zagan in southwestern Poland as a deterrence force on NATO’s eastern flank. “The last American tank left Europe three years ago because we all hoped Russia was going to be our partner. And so we had to bring all this back,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. Army ground forces in Europe, said. (AP, 01.30.17, AP, 01.31.17, Reuters, 01.31.17)
  • The German army command said it was sending about 200 vehicles, including 30 tanks, by train to Lithuania along with 450 troops, the first of whom arrived last week. The transports will continue until late February. (Reuters, 01.31.17)
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed on the importance of NATO during their first call since Trump’s inauguration. In his call to French President François Hollande, Trump also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to NATO and noted the importance of all members of the alliance sharing the costs. (AP, 01.28.17, Wall Street Journal, 01.29.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 to launch what he called a “great rebuilding of the Armed Forces” that is expected to include new ships, planes and weapons and the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. (AP, 01.27.17)
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance is closely following reports about growing Russian influence in the Balkans and is cooperating with regional allies to strengthen their ability to resist outside interference. (AP, 02.02.17)

Missile defense:

  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has shelved a plan to meet with Ukrainian officials about the alliance's missile-defense system, Western officials said, a new sign that the alliance is trying to avoid provoking Russia. NATO had considered meeting with Ukraine to discuss the possibility that debris or an errant interceptor could fall on their territory if the alliance's missile-defense system were used. (Wall Street Journal, 02.02.17)

Nuclear arms control:

  • Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned on Jan. 27 that "it all looks as if the world is preparing for war." “I propose that a Security Council meeting at the level of heads of state adopt a resolution stating that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought,” he wrote. (TIME, 01.26.17, NBC, 01.27.17)
  • The presidents of the U.S. and Russia should “recognize that a nuclear war would be catastrophic for humanity, must never be fought and that their countries bear a special responsibility to cooperate to reduce the nuclear danger and prevent further proliferation,” according to former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock. (, 01.27.17)


  • The fight against Islamic State is “a top priority” for Moscow and Washington, and Russia is ready to discuss military, diplomatic and intelligence cooperation with the U.S. in combating terrorism “at any time,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. (Bloomberg, 01.30.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump signed three executive actions on the afternoon of Jan. 28, including one directing the Pentagon to draft a plan to destroy the Islamic State. Trump's directive orders his new defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, to submit a strategy within 30 days to defeat the Islamic State. Trump and his top advisers could decide to increase coordination with Russia and even Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to seize the Syrian city of Raqqa. (The Washington Post, 02.02.17, The Washington Post, 01.28.17)
  • The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State has boosted support for its Syrian allies, supplying armored vehicles for the first time as they prepare for a new phase in their campaign to capture the Syrian city of Raqqa, a spokesman for the militia said on Jan. 31. (Reuters, 02.02.17)
  • During his campaign, U.S. President Donald Trump associated Islam with terrorism and criticized former U.S. President Barack Obama for declining to use the phrase ''radical Islamic terrorism.'' Russian President Vladimir Putin has, for more than a decade, been doing the same thing Obama did. He has never described terrorists as ''Islamic'' and has repeatedly gone out of his way to denounce such language. (New York Times, 02.01.17)
  • Russian authorities claim to have “liquidated” more than 140 alleged terrorists working in Russia in 2016. Attacks thwarted by the police included a plot targeting the World Hockey Championship in May, said Igor Kulyagin, the head of the government’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee. Kulyagin claimed that 24 of those killed had been identified as high-level officers within their respective terrorist groups, including the “odious leader” of the North Caucus branch of the Islamic State, Vilayat Kavkaz. (The Moscow Times, 01.31.17)
  • Authorities said on Jan. 30 that two police officers and three alleged militants have been killed in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region of Chechnya. (RFE/RL, 01.30.17)
  • Russian security forces have killed three suspected militants during a firefight in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan. (AP, 01.29.17)
  • Also see sections on Syria and Other Bilateral Issues below.

Conflict in Syria:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s idea of creating safe zones in Syria would require the coordination of the U.N. and other international organizations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Jan. 30. Lavrov also said on Feb. 1 that Trump should be more specific about his proposal, noting that attempts to implement a similar policy in Libya had been tragic. (Reuters, 02.01.17, The Peninsula, 01.31.17)
  • Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry says the co-sponsors of the Syrian peace talks will meet in the Kazakh capital, Astana, on Feb. 6 to monitor implementation of the cease-fire in war-torn Syria. (RFE/RL, 02.02.17)
  • Six Russian Tu-22M3 bombers carried out airstrikes against new ISIL targets in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province on Jan. 30, destroying two command posts, arms depots, a large number of military equipment and terrorists, the Russian Defense Ministry said. In the meantime, Syrian armed forces appear to have retaken the contested Barada Valley area north of Damascus, the capital's main source of water, signaling a possible end to a war-induced shortage that has left millions of inhabitants thirsty and dirty for six weeks. (Al Manar, 01.30.17, New York Times, 01.31.17)
  • Russia has reinforced its military presence on the ground in Aleppo with a police unit drawn largely from the Muslim-majority region of Chechnya. "I am a Sunni Muslim, a Chechen," Maj. Ruslan Numakhadjiev, the unit's commander, said. The commander said the troops were part of a deliberate effort to reach out to the local population in an area that was once the center of Sunni resistance to the Damascus regime. (Wall Street Journal, 02.01.17)

Cyber security:

  • Two former Federal Security Service (FSB) officers and a manager at Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab have been charged with treason and accused of betraying Russia in the interests of the United States, a lawyer representing a fourth suspect in the case said on Feb. 1. Sergei Mikhailov, Dmitry Dokuchayev and Ruslan Stoyanov have been "charged with state treason and cooperating with U.S. intelligence services," the lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, said. Pavlov said investigators from the FSB believe that Mikhailov, Dokuchayev and Stoyanov—the Kaspersky Lab manager—gave Russian state secrets to U.S. intelligence or security services, but that "the CIA does not figure in the case." However, Interfax quoted "sources familiar with the situation" as saying that Mikhailov and Dokuchayev were suspected of relaying confidential information to the CIA. According to Novaya Gazeta, the FSB believes Mikhailov tipped off U.S. officials to information about Vladimir Fomenko and his server rental company, “King Servers.” (RFE/RL, 02.01.17, The Moscow Times, 01.31.17)
  • Only trained Special Forces could have been behind last year's cyberattack on the U.S. Democratic Party, Vladimir Rubanov, the former head of the KGB's analytics department, has claimed. (The Moscow Times, 01.30.17)
  • The Kremlin said on Feb. 3 that allegations made by British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who accused Russia of spreading lies and attacking critical infrastructure with hackers, were "baseless" and a source of regret. (Reuters, 02.03.17)
  • Hackers have breached dozens of email accounts at the Czech Foreign Ministry in an attack resembling the one against the U.S. Democratic Party that the former Obama administration blamed on Russia, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said on Jan. 31. (Reuters, 01.31.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump postponed signing an executive order on cybersecurity on Jan. 31. Trump intends to give ultimate responsibility for protecting the federal government's computers to the White House's budget and management office, according to a senior administration official. (USA Today, 01.31.17, CNN, 01.31.17)
  • Several institutions in Norway have been targeted by hackers believed to be linked to Russia, the Norwegian security service (PST) has warned. On Feb. 3, PST officials told Norwegian media that nine email accounts had been targeted. The Labor Party, defense and foreign ministries and the security service itself were among those hit, it said. They said the hacker group had been identified as APT 29, also known as Cozy Bear, the group that has been linked to the attack on the Democratic National Committee during the U.S. election campaign. (BBC, 02.03.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia has cut its oil and gas condensate production in January by around 100,000 barrels per day. (Reuters, 02.01.17)
  • During his visit to Budapest this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed that one way or another, Russia would find a way to supply Hungary with the gas it needs. Russian supplies now account for at least 60% of Hungary’s gas consumption. “We will do everything to ensure supplies to Hungary,” Putin said. (AP, 02.02.17)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • In their phone conversation on Jan. 28, U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged cooperation in fighting Islamic State terrorists. The Kremlin also said Putin and Trump spoke in particular about Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran’s nuclear program, the situation on the Korean peninsula and the Ukraine crisis. The official readout provided by the White House made no mention of Ukraine, however, or of the information-warfare operation to influence the American election. White House press secretary Sean Spicer did confirm that the two leaders discussed working together in eradicating the Islamic State group and “resolving problems around the world, including Syria.” He also said that no decision has been made on sanctions and “that really wasn’t brought up” in the call with Putin. “What I will tell you is that it was a positive call,” White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said. The Kremlin also claimed the sanctions were not discussed, though the Kremlin’s readout of the call said “the sides stressed the importance of rebuilding mutually beneficial trade and economic ties.” (AP, 01.28.17, Bloomberg, 01.28.17, New York Times, 01.29.17,, 01.28.17)
  • The phone conversation between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 28 went well “in a political and personal sense,” and was based on “the national interests of each country,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow. There was “mutual respect and a desire by both leaders to communicate without moralizing,” he said. (Bloomberg, 01.30.17)
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump may meet before this year's G20 summit in July. (The Moscow Times, 01.30.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump on Feb. 2 denied that his administration is rolling back sanctions on Russia after the Treasury Department announced a change to penalties enacted by former U.S. President Barack Obama in response to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. “I haven't eased anything,” Trump told reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. The Treasury Department earlier in the day amended Obama’s additional Russian sanctions—levied in December—to allow United States technology companies to export products to Russia. The directive, issued on Feb. 2, authorizes IT companies looking to import, distribute or use certain information technology in Russia to pay up to $5,000 in a calendar year for licenses that might be issued by the Russian Federal Security Service. (The Hill, 02.02.17,RFE/RL, 02.02.17)
  • “I’m absolutely opposed to lifting sanctions on Russia,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Jan. 29 on ABC’s “This Week” program. “If anything, we ought to be looking at increasing them.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Jan. 27 called on Trump to reject the “reckless course” of easing sanctions. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it would be a “huge mistake for American foreign policy” to remove the sanctions “until the reasons those sanctions were put in place are resolved.” (Bloomberg, 01.28.17, AP, 01.28.17)
  • Some offices of the National Security Council, such as cyber, have been expanded, while others have been collapsed. Former U.S. President Barack Obama's separate directorates on Europe and Russia have now been combined, a U.S. official said. (The Washington Post, 01.29.17)
  • Top Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives called Feb. 1 for an investigation of U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, over his ties to the Russian propaganda outlet, Russia Today. (AP, 02.01.17)
  • Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief, won Senate confirmation as secretary of state. (Bloomberg, 02.01.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has beaten Russian leader Vladimir Putin to become Russia's most-talked about public figure. According to data from media analytics company SCAN, Trump was mentioned 202,000 times in the Russian press in January 2017.  Putin was mentioned a mere 147,000 times. (The Moscow Times, 02.01.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump is now part of a three-pronged attack on the European Union along with radicalized Islam and Russia's Vladimir Putin, Guy Verhofstadt, one of the EU's top officials and its chief Brexit negotiator, said on Jan. 30. Donald Tusk, president of the European Union, also put the United States in a “threat” category on Jan. 31. In a letter to 27 EU leaders before the Feb. 3 summit in Malta, Tusk mentioned the Trump administration as part of an external “threat” together with China, Russia, radical Islam, war and terror. (Reuters, 01.30.17, AP, 01.31.17)
  • Felony riot charges have been dropped against three journalists, including Alexander Rubenstein, a reporter with Russian state-funded RT television, who were caught up in violent protests in Washington on Jan. 20. (RFE/RL, 01.31.17)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted 0.2% last year after an upwardly revised decline of 2.8% in 2015, Russia’s Federal Statistics Service said on Feb. 1. Two days before the Federal Statistics Service report, the Economy Ministry issued a release saying 2016 GDP was down 0.6%. (Bloomberg, 02.03.17)
  • Russia’s Finance Ministry has proposed devaluing the ruble by 10%, according to media reports. Russia is to spend more than 113 billion rubles ($1.9 billion) during the next month in an effort to weaken the ruble. If the U.S. eases its curbs, the Russian currency would appreciate 5% to 10%, according to a majority of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, with 41% of respondents predicting a gain of 1% to 5%. (Financial Times, 02.02.17, The Moscow Times, 01.31.17, Bloomberg, 01.30.17)
  • Every fifth Russian enterprise has suspended investments, according to a poll of company managers by Russia’s Higher School of Economics. As many as 54% of the polled managers said Western sanctions directly impact their investment activities, the Russian edition of Forbes reported on Jan. 31. (Russia Matters, 01.31.17)
  • Russian vodka exports soared by 14% last year, with the country selling 49 million liters of the spirit abroad in 2016. (The Moscow Times, 02.02.17)
  • Citing data from leading Russian travel agencies, Kommersant reported on Feb. 1 that the number of Russians going abroad for vacations more than once a year has halved since 2014. (RFE/RL, 02.01.17)
  • According to a survey carried out by state pollster VTsIOM, Russians today most fear international conflict and rising prices. (The Moscow Times, 01.30.17)
  • Russia was ranked 131 out of 176 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2016, the same as in 2015. (RBTH, 02.02.17)
  • In their recent forecast of irregular leadership changes, Michael D. Ward of Duke University and Andreas Beger of Ward Associates, estimate that the risk of a coup in Russia is about 6%, which places it in the top 20 countries risk-wise. If one were to occur, the odds are 2 to 1 that if would fail. (The Washington Post, 01.31.17)
  • The International Paralympic Committee has moved to bar Russian athletes from participating in qualifiers for the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games, saying Moscow had not done enough to provide guarantees against doping. (RFE/RL, 01.30.17)
  • The head of one of Russia's most prominent anti-Kremlin organizations has been hospitalized in Moscow. Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., the head of opposition group Open Russia, remains in serious condition. (The Moscow Times, 02.02.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia’s workhorse Proton-M rockets will be out of service for three and a half months because of engine problems, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. (AP, 01.28.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin held a video-conference with Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG at the Kremlin on Jan. 26 to mark the start of flight-testing for the new Mikoyan MiG-35 Fulcrum-F fighter. (The National Interest, 01.27.17)
  • Preliminary data already shows that Russia's defense industry grew by more than 10% in 2016. (The Moscow Times, 02.01.17)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Igor Sechin, head of Russia's biggest oil company Rosneft, set up a personal meeting with government minister Alexei Ulyukayev for what was in fact a law enforcement sting, after which state investigators charged the minister with receiving a $2 million bribe, two sources familiar with the case told Reuters. (Reuters, 02.01.17)
  • The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to pay opposition activist Aleksei Navalny $68,000 in compensation for unlawful arrests and other rights violations. Navalny has been convicted twice on financial crimes charges he says were trumped up by the Kremlin as retribution for his opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny’s current trial began after the Supreme Court threw out a 2013 conviction and ordered a retrial. In the retrial, prosecutors have asked a Russian judge to convict Navalny and hand him a suspended five-year sentence, a punishment he said was meant to bar him from running for president in 2018. (RFE/RL, 02.02.17, RFE/RL, 02.03.17)
  • A former Russian youth leader has been found guilty of justifying terrorism after publishing an anti-LGBT rant in support of the gunman who opened fire on a U.S. gay bar. Ramil Ibragimov, the now ex-president of the Tatarstan Union of Young Innovators, was fined 50,000 rubles ($832), but escaped a three-year jail term. (The Moscow Times, 02.01.17)
  • Deutsche Bank AG was fined $629 million by U.K. and U.S. authorities for compliance failures that saw the bank help wealthy Russians move about $10 billion out of the country using transactions that were likely thinly veiled attempts to cover up financial crime. (Bloomberg, 01.31.17)
  • Authorities in Britain say two London financial traders found guilty of conspiring to defraud a Russian bank of $178 million have been sentenced to long jail terms. (RFE/RL, 01.27.17)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Hungary on Feb. 2 to discuss prospective energy projects with its leader, who has cozied up to Moscow despite Russia-West tensions. During their meeting both Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban expressed dissatisfaction with the EU’s sanctions regime against Moscow, claiming it had cost billions in bilateral trade between the two countries In Hungary, Russia has agreed to finance 80% of an estimated $12 billion to build two Rosatom VVER-1200 reactors. Russia is ready to raise that to 100% by “tweaking” the deal, Putin said at a joint briefing with Orban. Putin and Orban said Feb. 2 that they also talked about the possibility of extending prospective Russian pipelines to Hungary. (AP, 02.02.17, Financial Times, 02.02.17, AP, 02.02.17, Bloomberg, 02.03.17)
  • Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany’s Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) domestic intelligence agency, said that the Kremlin is seeking “to influence public opinion and decision-making processes” because “we have a parliamentary election this year.” (Financial Times, 01.29.17)
  • Russia said on Jan. 30 it was appealing to the World Trade Organization to settle a dispute with the European Union over anti-dumping duties imposed on its steelmakers. (Reuters, 01.30.17)
  • Poland’s government says it is taking Russia to the United Nations’ principal court over the continuing probe into the 2010 death of Poland’s president in a plane crash in Russia and Moscow’s refusal to turn over the wreckage. (AP, 02.01.17)
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to travel to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the first half of March. (Reuters, 02.03.17)
  • Russia expects the head of the U.N.-backed Libyan government, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, to visit Moscow in February, the latest sign of Russia's desire to play a greater role in the divided country. (Reuters, 02.03.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Feb. 1 that an invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet in Moscow was still in force. (Reuters, 02.01.17)
  • On Feb. 3, Norway announced it had chosen Germany's Thyssenkrupp to deliver four submarines to its navy, part of a wider military upgrade. This comes amid tensions between Norway and Russia, which share a border. (BBC, 02.03.17)


  • Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze's office said four Ukrainian soldiers died and 17 more were wounded in shelling in eastern Ukraine overnight from Feb. 2 to Feb. 3. Authorities said one civilian and an emergency serviceman had also been killed and two other civilians injured. Two Ukrainian troops were killed overnight from Feb. 1 to Feb. 2 and 10 others wounded, the government said, while rebels said one of their fighters was killed. Ukraine said on Feb. 1 that two of its soldiers had been killed and 10 other servicemen were wounded in the previous 24 hours. On Jan. 31, Kiev said three of its soldiers were killed over the previous 24 hours. At least 16 more have been killed in fighting from Jan. 1 to Jan. 30, including seven on Jan. 29 to Jan. 30, according to Kiev. European monitors on Feb. 1 reported over 10,000 explosions over 24 hours in the eastern Donetsk region, the highest number ever recorded. The violence was concentrated in the town of Avdiyivka, near the separatist stronghold of Donetsk. The government evacuated some of the town’s 22,000 residents after many lost heating and power amid freezing winter temperatures. (RFE/RL, 02.03.17, AP, 02.02.17, AP, 02.02.17, Bloomberg, 02.03.17, RFE/RL, 02.02.17, RFE/RL, 01.30.17)
  • Ukrainian military authorities say that an unarmed military transport plane was hit by antiaircraft fire from a Russian naval vessel over a disputed area of the Black Sea. (RFE/RL, 02.01.17)
  • The Ukrainian military reported that 17 of its soldiers were killed in the December battles. (RFE/RL, 01.30.17)
  • Analysis of satellite imagery by the U.S.-based Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a group that uses open-source material to investigate conflicts, gives more credence to the Ukrainian version of why there has been an upsurge of hostilities in eastern Ukraine: that the separatists fired first on Ukrainian positions and then went on the offensive, but lost ground again later. (Financial Times, 02.02.17)
  • Ukrainian forces anxious to show their newfound strength have gone on what many in Ukraine are calling a "creeping offensive” in the Donbas area. Observers say the Ukrainians appear to be trying to create new facts on the ground, while officials and commanders insist they are fighting to stop the flow of contraband. (RFE/RL, 01.30.17, RFE/RL, 01.31.17)
  • Ukraine said it wants a new round of international talks once the warring factions can agree on a lasting cease-fire. (Bloomberg, 02.03.17)
  • In her first address to the U.N. since her appointment last month as U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley condemned Russia's “aggressive actions” in the Donbas region and warned that Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia will not be lifted until Crimea is returned to Kiev. U.S. President Donald Trump made warmer relations with Russia the centerpiece of his foreign policy during the campaign, and European leaders had been steeling for him to lift sanctions they and former U.S. President Barack Obama imposed on Russian President Vladimir Putin after he annexed Crimea. But on Feb. 2, Trump's United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, sounded a lot like her predecessor, Samantha Power. (Reuters, 01.31.17, The Moscow Times, 02.03.17, RFE/RL, 02.03.17, New York Times, 02.02.17)
  • Kate Byrnes, charge d'affaires ad interim for the U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the outbreak of fighting had left 17,000 people in the Ukrainian city of Avdiyivka without water, electricity or heat amid winter conditions. "We understand 2,500 of these individuals are children." (Wall Street Journal, 02.02.17)
  • Russia is testing U.S. President Donald Trump with a surge of violence in eastern Ukraine, and the U.S. president should give Ukraine the lethal aid it needs to defend against the attacks, Sen. John McCain said in a letter to Trump on Feb. 2. (Reuters, 02.03.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 2 accused Ukraine of starting the latest escalation to rally support from the new U.S. administration and other Western powers. “Kiev is trying to use the fighting it provoked itself as a pretext to refuse to observe the Minsk agreement and blame Russia," Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters Feb. 1. (AP, 02.01.17, AP, 02.02.17)
  • A recent flare-up of hostilities in eastern Ukraine shows the need for a swift resumption in dialogue between the United States and Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Feb. 1. (Reuters, 02.01.17)
  • The European Union called for "the fighting [in eastern Ukraine] to stop immediately," saying it violated a cease-fire and put civilians at "grave risk." (RFE/RL, 01.31.17)
  • On Jan. 31, European Union President Donald Tusk mentioned Russia’s “aggressive policy towards Ukraine” along with “worrying declarations by the new American administration.” On Feb. 2, Tusk said "we are reminded again of the continued challenge posed by Russia's aggression in eastern Ukraine.” (AP, 02.01.17, RFE/RL, 02.02.17)
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her concerns over the ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine ahead of talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Berlin on Jan. 30. (DPA, 01.30.17)
  • Germany and France agree that any moves to lift sanctions against Russia must be tied to progress in the peace process for eastern Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Jan. 28. (Reuters, 01.28.17)
  • According to information Berlin possesses based on, among other things, reports from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s mission in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian military forces are currently trying to shift the front line in their favor, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Jan. 30. According to Berlin's interpretation of the events, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wants to do just about anything to prevent an end to the sanctions against Russia, the paper claimed. (Russia Matters, 01.30.17)
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia on Feb. 1 to use its "considerable influence" with rebels in eastern Ukraine to end what he described as "the most serious spike in violations" of a shaky truce there in a long time. (Reuters, 02.01.17)
  • Eight EU member states are calling for more cooperation between the United States and the European Union in pushing for reforms in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.31.17)
  • The United Nations’ political chief is calling on the international community to help revitalize peace negotiations between Ukraine’s government and Russian-backed separatists to prevent the current crisis from becoming “a catastrophe.” (AP, 02.02.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to put the question of NATO membership to a referendum. Speaking to German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost, Poroshenko claimed most Ukrainians wanted to be part of the military alliance.  "Four years ago, only 16% were in favor of joining NATO. Now it's 54%," he said. The president promised to “do everything in his power” to join NATO if the Ukrainian people voted for it. (The Moscow Times, 02.02.17)
  • Ukrainian nationalists have vowed to indefinitely block a railway line into eastern Ukraine to protest against trade with Russia-backed separatists. (RFE/RL, 01.28.17)
  • Russian media reports say Valery Bolotov, former leader of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's Luhansk region, has died in Russia at the age of 46. (RFE/RL, 01.27.17)
  • Ukraine’s gross domestic product advanced about 2% last year, the Economy Ministry said Feb. 3. (Bloomberg, 02.03.17)
  • The International Monetary Fund is demanding that Ukraine raises the retirement age from 60 to 63 by 2027 to alleviate losses at the state pension fund, Social Minister Andriy Reva said in an interview. The government wants the thresholds to remain unchanged, instead seeking to widen the pool of contributors to eliminate the deficit—145 billion hryvnia ($5.4 billion) last year—by 2024, he said. (Bloomberg, 02.03.17)
  • Ukraine showed a 2 point improvement, from 27 to 29 out of 100 possible points, on the 2016 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, while the increased number of countries assessed caused Ukraine’s rank to decline to 131 out of 176 from 130 out of 168 a year ago, Transparency International Ukraine has reported on its website. (Kyiv Post, 01.25.17)
  • Ukraine takes the number one spot for large countries, those with a current population of over 20 million, in demographic decline. U.N. projections show Ukraine’s 2015 population of 44.8 million falling 21.7% by 2050. (Forbes, 02.01.17)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • A new border zone between Russia and Belarus will damage bilateral relations, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has claimed. The president slammed the Kremlin's decision to introduce border controls in the Bryansk, Smolensk and Pskov regions as “reckless” and “purely political.” The move has been widely seen as a reaction to Belarus' decision to soften visa rules for citizens from more than 80 countries. The Kremlin said on Feb. 3 that it had not imposed any controls on its border with Belarus and that integration with the country was a priority for Moscow. (The Moscow Times, 02.03.17, Reuters, 02.03.17)
  • Armenian troops captured Azerbaijani soldier Elnur Huseynzade wearing military uniform in the buffer zone on the contact line between Karabakh and Azerbaijani forces, press secretary of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defense Ministry Senor Hasratian said. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defense Ministry said on Feb. 1 that the Azerbaijani armed forces' saboteurs had attempted an incursion. Azerbaijan has denied that the man captured by separatist forces is an Azerbaijani soldier. (Interfax, 02.02.17, RFE/RL, 02.02.17)
  • Security forces in Azerbaijan have killed four alleged extremists that the government suspects were plotting terror attacks, the country’s State Security Service says. (RFE/RL, 02.01.17)
  • A court in Armenia has sentenced three men to three years in prison each in connection with the 2016 seizure of a Yerevan police station. (RFE/RL, 02.02.17)
  • The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to approve visa liberalization for Georgia, paving the way for Georgians to travel to the European Union's Schengen zone without obtaining visas. Georgians are likely to be able to travel visa-free to the Schengen zone starting in late March or early April, diplomats say. (RFE/RL, 02.03.17)
  • Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev will travel to Moscow in the next two or three months to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Reuters, 02.01.17)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • No significant developments.