Russia in Review, July 1-10, 2020
This Week’s Highlights
- U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the information Russia paid militants linked to the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan thus far had not been corroborated by defense intelligence agencies, but vowed that the Pentagon will find out if it's true, RFE/RL reports. The head of U.S. Central Command, Frank McKenzie, says he is “not convinced” that any Russian bounties paid to Taliban militants resulted in the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to RFE/RL.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the insistence by the United States that China join New START suggests Washington has already decided not to prolong the pact, RFE/RL reports. “Frankly, to my regret, Washington has de facto taken the START treaty hostage by insisting” on making it a trilateral accord, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov told a webinar, The Washington Post reports.
- "I don't see how Russia could benefit from the trade war between Washington and Beijing," Sergei Lavrov said at the Primakov Readings. Russia is ready to act as a mediator in U.S.-Chinese relations only if the sides ask to do so, he said.
- Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline overcame another major obstacle to completion July 6, as Denmark granted permission for the pipeline to continue being laid with the use of less technologically advanced ships, potentially negating the impact of U.S. sanctions against the project, The Moscow Times reports.
- Moscow has told the U.S. embassy to "mind your own business" after Washington's diplomatic mission on July 7 raised concern about a clampdown on journalists in Russia, AFP reports. Russia’s FSB detained former Russian journalist Ivan Safronov on high-treason charges on July 7. His lawyers say he was charged on July 8 for allegedly passing secret information to the Czech Republic in 2017, RFE/RL reports. Separately, journalist Taisiya Bekbulatova, who is reported to be a friend of Safronov, was detained on the same charge, according to the BBC. Russian authorities have also launched an investigation into media publisher Pyotr Verzilov for failing to inform authorities he has a foreign passport, RFE/RL reports. This week also saw a Russian court find Svetlana Prokopyeva guilty of “justifying terrorism” in a controversial case, RFE/RL reports.
- Austrian police are investigating whether the murder of a Russian asylum seeker outside Vienna over the weekend was a political assassination, according to RFE/RL. AFP reports the police have arrested two Russians from Chechnya over the fatal shooting. The dead dissident has posted material online critical of Ramzan Kadyrov. According to Bellingcat, in 2012 the FSB shared with German intelligence a wanted list including 19 Chechens, five of whom have since been assassinated, according to The Washington Post.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
Nuclear security and safety:
- Kazatomprom has announced it is extending for one month its reduction in operations due to COVID-19. Kazakhstan's government last week announced a second two-week lockdown after a national surge in coronavirus cases followed the lifting of an earlier lockdown. (World Nuclear News, 07.06.20)
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- Russia, which has a veto in the U.N. Security Council, will oppose U.S. efforts there to reimpose sanctions on Iran’s sale or purchase of weapons that are to be lifted in October as part of the Iran nuclear deal, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said July 8. The U.S. has no legal or technical grounds to trigger the snapback sanctions against Iran, and Russia will not support such a move, he said. (The Washington Post, 07.08.20, The National Interest, 07.08.20, TASS, 07.08.20)
- A U.N. expert has concluded that a U.S drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq early this year constituted an "arbitrary killing" that was "unlawful." “Maj. Gen. Soleimani was in charge of Iran military strategy, and actions, in Syria and Iraq. But absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the U.S. was unlawful,” wrote Agnes Callamard in the report released July 7. (RFE/RL, 07.07.20)
New Cold War/saber rattling:
- Top Pentagon officials have said that the U.S. will respond if the U.S. military is able to corroborate reports that Russia paid militants linked to the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the information thus far had not been corroborated by defense intelligence agencies, but vowed that the Pentagon will find out if it's true. "And if it is true, we will take action," he said, without specifying what action might be taken. While the threats were taken seriously, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, they had not yet been found credible. (RFE/RL, 07.10.20)
- The head of U.S. Central Command says he is “not convinced” that any Russian bounties paid to Taliban militants resulted in the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie spoke on July 7 about the alleged bounties. “I found it very worrisome. I didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” said McKenzie. (RFE/RL, 07.08.20, AP, 07.07.20)
- Intercepted electronic data showed large financial transfers from Russia’s military intelligence agency, known as the GRU, to a Taliban-linked account, according to American officials. Officials also identified an Afghan contractor as a key middleman between the GRU and militants linked to the Taliban who carried out the attacks. (New York Times, 07.03.20)
- Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden assailed U.S. President Donald Trump over reports that Russia had secretly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, saying that lawmakers should ''demand the facts.'' (New York Times, 07.01.20)
- U.S. media reports of a Russian bounty program to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are a “downright lie,” Moscow’s ambassador in Washington said July 8, and are “poisoning the atmosphere of cooperation” on Afghan peace between the two countries. “No concrete evidence has been presented,” Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said. At the same time, he acknowledged that the matter was being discussed between the two governments. (The Washington Post, 07.08.20, The National Interest, 07.08.20)
- While dismissing reports of Russian bounties for American scalps as ''fake news,'' Aleksei Zhuravlyov, a member of the Russian Parliament, said, ''Let's suppose we paid'' the Taliban, and then asked how many Americans had perhaps been killed as a result. ''At most 22,'' he responded. (New York Times, 07.04.20)
- Andrei Serenko, an expert at the Center for the Study of Contemporary Afghanistan in Moscow, said Russia has no real desire to see the United States leave Afghanistan. All the same, he said, Russia has been preparing for an eventual pullout by cultivating ties to the Taliban as well as to various Afghan warlords. It has done this with money and other inducements in the hope of shaping future Afghan events and securing a useful instrument to poke Washington. (New York Times, 07.04.20)
- Kremlin watchers say it makes scant political sense for the Russian government to offer bounties to the Taliban for the lives of Americans in Afghanistan. Moscow has a record of killing its enemies abroad, but they have been perceived traitors and former rebels from Chechnya, not outsiders. (Wall Street Journal, 07.06.20)
- Russia’s advanced S-500 air defense system is capable of destroying hypersonic weapons and satellites in near space, the head of Russia’s air and space forces has said. Sergei Surovikin, the head of Russia’s Aerospace Forces, said this capability will allow the S-500 to destroy low-orbit satellites, as well as hypersonic and space weapons, in addition to its primary targets, intermediate-range ballistic missiles. (The Moscow Times, 07.03.20)
- Late last year, 10 Russian submarines slipped out of their bases on Russia's Arctic coast and set an underwater course westward toward the North Atlantic. Deployments such as this, one of the largest exercises since the Cold War, are a demonstration of the strength and ambition of the Russian navy not only to defend its homeland but also to project power into the Atlantic, say NATO military officials and analysts. (Wall Street Journal, 07.02.20)
- France has suspended involvement in a NATO Mediterranean Sea mission over an incident with Turkish warships, in a sign of deepening tensions between the two members of the alliance. Paris said July 8 that it had written to NATO to pull out temporarily from Operation Sea Guardian off the coast of war-racked Libya, until it receives responses to requests about the run-in with Ankara. (Financial Times, 07.01.20)
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he is "not particularly optimistic" about a possible extension of New START. Lavrov said on July 10 that the insistence by the United States that China join the treaty, a move that was quickly rejected by Beijing, suggests Washington has already decided not to prolong the pact once it expires in February next year. (RFE/RL, 07.10.20)
- “The Chinese factor was in the center of discussion in Vienna between our delegations,” Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said July 8. “Frankly, to my regret, Washington has de facto taken the START treaty hostage by insisting” on making it a trilateral accord, he said. (The Washington Post, 07.08.20)
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- A Russian bid to get the U.N. to reduce cross-border humanitarian aid to war-torn Syria was voted down by the Security Council July 8, an official said. Authorization for the aid, which comes through two crossing points on the Turkish border—at Bab al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region—expires July 10. Under its resolution, Moscow had wanted to abolish the first crossing point and put a time limit of six months on the second. On July 10, Russia and China vetoed a last-ditch attempt by Western members of the U.N. Security Council to extend the approval for the cross-border humanitarian aid across two border crossings for the next six months. This was the second veto on the issue by Russia and China this week. (The Moscow Times, 07.09.20, Reuters, 07.10.20, The Moscow Times, 07.08.20)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 1 denounced the United States for imposing new sanctions on Syria's regime during the coronavirus pandemic. The Caesar Act imposing new U.S. sanctions in Syria came into force in mid-June, with the first batch of designations targeting 39 people or entities, including President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma. (AFP, 07.01.20)
- About 240 Russian children may remain in Syria, with efforts currently underway to return 70 of them back home, Under Secretary General of the U.N. Office of Counter-Terrorism Vladimir Voronkov said. (TASS, 07.06.20)
- No significant developments.
- The Supreme Court announced on July 2 that it would decide whether Congress may see parts of the report prepared by Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election. As a practical matter, the move means that the full report will almost certainly not be made available before the 2020 election, if at all. (New York Times, 07.03.20)
Energy exports from CIS:
- Gazprom’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline overcame another major obstacle to completion July 6, as Denmark granted permission for the pipeline to continue being laid with the use of less technologically advanced ships, potentially negating the impact of U.S. sanctions against the project. The decision could allow Russia to complete the final 120 kilometer stretch of pipeline through Danish waters using its own vessels. Construction was put on hold in December 2019 after the U.S. introduced sanctions against the project which effectively blocked Western companies from providing vessels to lay pipelines. (The Moscow Times, 07.06.20)
- The worst effects of the coronavirus on global oil demand have passed but will continue to echo, the International Energy Agency said July 10. The IEA said global oil demand in the first half of 2020 plunged by 10.75 million barrels a day, down roughly 11 percent from last year. It forecast oil demand would be down by 5.1 million barrels a day in the second half of the year. (Wall Street Journal, 07.10.20)
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- Russia is not in talks with the U.S. about its potential role at an expanded Group of Seven (G7) summit later this year, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said July 4. Ryabkov also noted that Russia has proposed holding a summit of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. (RFE/RL, 07.04.20)
- A lawyer for former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was convicted of espionage in Russia last month, says her client's 16-year prison sentence has begun. Olga Karlova said on July 3 that Whelan remained in the Lefortovo detention center in Moscow and it was not clear when he will be transferred to a penal colony, which usually happens after a convict's sentence takes effect. (RFE/RL, 07.03.20)
- A U.S. citizen has pleaded guilty after fleeing the country with her daughter and national-security materials that she hoped to offer Russia in exchange for Moscow's assistance. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of West Virginia said in a statement on July 6 that Elizabeth Shirley, who once served at the U.S. Air Force, Air Force Reserves and Navy Reserves, had admitted to unlawfully retaining a document containing national-defense information and to international parental kidnapping. (RFE/RL, 07.07.20)
- Rebecca Ross, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy, on July 7 expressed concern about a clampdown on journalists in Russia. "Watching arrest after arrest of Russian journalists—it's starting to look like a concerted campaign against #MediaFreedom," she tweeted. "Mind your own business," the Russian foreign ministry tweeted in response late July 7. (The Moscow Times, 07.08.20)
- Putin on July 10 mocked a rainbow LGBT pride flag hung from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, suggesting it reflected on the orientation of the diplomats. (AFP, 07.03.20)
- The U.S. Justice Department said July 9 that Roger Stone should report to prison next week as ordered by his sentencing judge despite his concerns about the deadly novel coronavirus. Stone was the last person charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. He was convicted in November and sentenced to 40 months in prison on charges of lying and witness tampering in the congressional investigation. (The Washington Post, 07.10.20)
- Trump's combative relationship with U.S. intelligence agencies has made it difficult for officials to speak candidly to him or the public about national-security threats throughout his tenure, particularly those involving Russia, current and former officials said. (Wall Street Journal, 07.06.20)
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- Russia confirmed 6,635 new coronavirus infections July 10, bringing the country’s official number of cases to 713,936. (The Moscow Times, 07.10.20) 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 issued new statistics for deaths linked to COVID-19 in April and May, indicating a mortality rate more than triple the level shown in previous official data. The Federal Statistics Service on July 10 reported 15,277 deaths linked to the virus in that two-month period, including those of 9,192 where COVID-19 was reported as the main cause. That compares with a figure of 4,831 deaths from coronavirus in April-May reported previously by the government. (Bloomberg, 07.10.20)
- Around half of Russia’s doctors believe that official statistics undercount the number of coronavirus cases in the country while one in 10 say the numbers are too high, Vedomosti reported July 7. Russia has previously attributed its low mortality figures, which stood at 10,494 as of July 7, to mass testing and scrupulous autopsies determining the exact cause of death. (The Moscow Times, 07.07.20)
- A Siberian village has surrounded itself with trenches to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after officials said an infected shaman caused an outbreak among the local population. (The Moscow Times, 07.07.20)
- Putin has signed a decree that will bring into force a sweeping package of constitutional amendments that among other things open a path for him to stay in power until 2036, if he chooses to take part in two more presidential elections. Putin signed the decree hours after the Central Election Commission announced the final results of the national vote. The Kremlin has hailed the landslide victory that saw almost 78 percent of ballots approving the package of more than 200 changes to the constitution as "a triumphant referendum on trust in President Vladimir Putin.” (RFE/RL, 07.03.20)
- The only Russian region to have voted against Putin’s constitutional reforms this week will not merge with its larger neighbor, its pro-Kremlin leader has said. The Nenets autonomous district in the Arctic, Russia’s least populous subject with 44,000 residents, voted 55 percent to 44 percent against the reforms. Nationwide, election officials said that Russians backed the constitutional changes in a 78 percent to 21 percent vote. (The Moscow Times, 07.03.20)
- Lawyers for Ivan Safronov, a former reporter and adviser to the chief of Russian space agency Roskosmos, say they have appealed their client's pretrial arrest on a high-treason charge he rejects. The lawyers say he was charged on July 8 for allegedly passing secret information to the Czech Republic in 2017 about Russian arms sales in the Middle East. The FSB said that Safronov was suspected of working for the intelligence service of an unspecified NATO country, passing on “classified information about military-technical cooperation, defense and the security of the Russian Federation.” Safronov has denied the charges. Separately on July 7 journalist Taisiya Bekbulatova was detained after police raided her flat. Bekbulatova, the chief editor of independent news magazine Holod Media, is reported to be a friend of Safronov. (RFE/RL,07.09.20. RFE/RL, 07.08.20, New York Times, 07.07.20, BBC, 07.07.20)
- Kommersant, Vedomosti, Meduza, RBK, Proyekt, Mediazona, The Bell, Bumaga and the Russian version of Forbes magazine issued editorials supporting Safronov. (RFE/RL, 07.08.20)
- Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for Russia to drop charges against dozens of Russian journalists facing fines or detention for peacefully protesting in solidarity with colleagues who are being criminally prosecuted for their work. (RFE/RL, 07.10.20)
- The Committee to Protect Journalists has called for Russian authorities to immediately release Safronov. (RFE/RL, 07.09.20)
- The St. Petersburg City Court has sentenced military analyst Vladimir Neyelov to seven years in prison after convicting him of treason. Neyelov worked with Moscow's Center for Strategic Forecasting and specialized in Russia's private security firms. He was often quoted in the media speaking about the Wagner security group, which is controlled by financier Yevgeny Prigozhin. (RFE/RL, 07.02.20)
- Russia has launched an investigation into activist and media publisher Pyotr Verzilov for failing to inform authorities he has a foreign passport on the same day he finished a 15-day jail sentence for swearing at police. (RFE/RL, 07.06.20)
- Prosecutors have asked a court in Russia's northwestern Karelia region to sentence Yury Dmitriyev, a Russian historian and human rights activist, to 15 years in prison on charges of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter—an allegation he and his supporters deny. (RFE/RL, 07.07.20)
- A Russian court has found journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva guilty of “justifying terrorism” in a controversial case widely criticized as an attack on freedom of speech. The court ordered Prokopyeva to pay a fine of 500,000 rubles (about $6,950). Prokopyeva’s supporters in the courtroom shouted "Shame" and "She is not guilty" as the judge read out the verdict. (RFE/RL, 07.06.20)
- Police in Moscow have raided the homes of several opposition activists and city council members planning protests against Russia’s newly adopted constitution, the opposition MBKh Media news website reported July 9. (The Moscow Times, 07.09.20)
- Four Jehovah’s Witnesses have been detained on charges of extremism in southern Russia, investigators said July 9 amid an ongoing crackdown against the religious organization. (The Moscow Times, 07.10.20)
- According to Russian federal statistics agency Rosstat, an estimated 4.5 million people were out of work at the end of May—a number that has soared 85 percent since March. Before the double crises hit, Russia had 1.3 million people listed as unemployed, according to official figures. The jobless rate now stands at 6.1 percent, compared with 5.8 percent in April. (The Washington Post, 07.04.20)
- The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Russia Services Business Activity Index registered 47.8 at the end of the second quarter, up notably from 35.9 in May, Markit said in a press release on July 3. (bne IntelliNews, 07.04.20)
- Russia's state environmental watchdog said metals producer Norilsk Nickel should foot the estimated $2 billion bill for damages caused by a massive fuel spill at the company’s operations in the Arctic. Rosprirodnadzor said it had sent a request for "voluntary compensation" to a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, putting the damage to Arctic subsoil and water resources at 147.8 billion rubles ($2.06 billion). Nornickel on July 8 said it was contesting the fine. (RFE/RL,07.06.20, The Moscow Times, 07.09.20)
- Russia broke all recorded heat records in the first six months of the year, and the head of the country’s weather service has warned of “dangerous weather events” to come in July. (The Moscow Times, 07.06.20)
- The Copernicus Climate Change Service said in a statement on July 7 that last month was the hottest June on record for Russia's Arctic Siberian region, where temperatures averaged more than 5 degrees Celsius above normal, and more than a degree higher compared to 2018 and 2019, the two previous warmest Junes. Siberia’s unprecedented heat wave will continue through July, experts have warned. Forecasts show that five Siberian regions, including one in the Arctic, will experience temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius in early July. (RFE/RL, 07.07.20, The Moscow Times, 07.08.20)
Defense and aerospace:
- No significant developments.
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- Austrian police are investigating whether the murder of a Russian asylum seeker outside the capital of Vienna over the weekend was a political assassination. The police have arrested two Russians from Chechnya over the fatal shooting. The dead dissident has posted material online critical of Ramzan Kadyrov. According to Bellingcat, in 2012 the FSB shared with German intelligence a wanted list including 19 Chechens, five of whom have since been assassinated. (AFP, 07.05.20, RFE/RE, 07.06.20, The Washington Post, 07.06.20, Reuters, 07.03.20)
- According to Bellingcat, in 2012 the FSB shared with German intelligence a wanted list including 19 Chechens, five of whom have since been assassinated. (The Washington Post, 07.06.20)
- Foreign intelligence agencies are behind the string of killings on European soil of Chechen nationals who criticized the Russian region’s ruling elite, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said July 9. (The Moscow Times, 07.09.20)
- Sergei Furgal, the detained governor of Russia's Far Eastern Khabarovsk region, has been sent to pretrial detention on charges of attempted murder and ordering the killing of two local businessmen. The Basmanny district court in Moscow on July 10 ruled that the 50-year-old, who has pleaded not guilty, must be held under pretrial arrest until Sept. 9. (RFE/RL, 07.10.20, The Moscow Times, 07.10.20)
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- The Dutch government is taking Russia to the European Court of Human Rights over the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Analysts say countries very rarely bring lawsuits against other countries in the Strasbourg-based court, with only 24 so-called “inter-state applications” filed in its nearly 70-year history. “Achieving justice for the 298 victims of the downing of Flight MH17 is and will remain the government’s highest priority,” Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in a statement. (The Moscow Times, 07.10.20)
- Britain has imposed sanctions on more than two dozen Russian individuals in connection with the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky as relations between the two nations remain frayed over what London calls Moscow's destabilizing acts. The list of 25 sanctioned Russian officials announced on July 6 includes Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of the powerful Investigative Committee who is considered a member of Putin’s inner circle, as well as judges and prosecutors. Russia has threatened to respond with reciprocal measures to the sanctions. (RFE/RL, 07.06.20, RFE/RL, 07.07.20)
- The EU has called on Russia to probe reports of irregularities in a national, nonbinding plebiscite that approved a sprawling package of constitutional amendments that, among other things, would open the possibility for Putin to remain in power until 2036. (RFE/RL, 07.02.20)
- Russian officials have described Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque as “an unacceptable violation of religious freedom,” while a spokesman for Putin called on Erdogan to take into account the Hagia Sophia’s “very deep sacred spiritual value” for Russians. The leader of Russia's Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, said on July 6 he was "deeply concerned" by calls in Turkey to alter the status of the Hagia Sophia. (The Moscow Times, 07.06.20, Financial Times, 07.09.20)
- Russian health officials have recommended restarting international flights to 13 countries, including nine members of the EU and China, the RBC news website reported July 9. The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Norway and Poland are the other EU members on the list, with Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam also greenlit. (The Moscow Times, 07.09.20)
- Rosatom Service and MVM Group have formed a joint venture in Hungary to provide service and maintenance to nuclear industry facilities, conventional sources of power generation, renewable energy and oil and gas in Europe, they announced July 9. The new company, European Power Services Ltd., will start work at the Paks nuclear power plant. (World Nuclear News, 07.10.20)
- A Russian court has sentenced to four years in prison one of several North Korean poachers detained on charges of attacking Russian border guards last year, authorities said July 3. In one of several flare-ups between the allies, 18 North Korean poachers were alleged to have attacked 11 Russian border guards with “improvised items” in the Sea of Japan in September 2019. (The Moscow Times, 07.03.20)
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
- "I don't see how Russia could benefit from the trade war between Washington and Beijing. In this case, we won't gain any benefit, either in relations with the European Union or in relations with India, which are traditionally friendly and don't depend on the current situation and which I don't expect to undergo any change," Lavrov said during an online session of the Primakov Readings. Russia is ready to act as a mediator in U.S.-Chinese relations, only if the sides ask to do so, he said. (Interfax, 07.10.20, TASS, 07.10.20)
- Russia and India could sign contracts for the sale of 33 fighter jets soon as New Delhi deals with heightened tensions with China and Pakistan, Interfax reported July 9. India’s defense ministry said it has approved procurement of 21 Mig-29 for nearly $1 billion and 12 Su-30MKI for $1.4 billion. It has also approved an upgrade to its existing fleet of 59 MiG-29s. (The Moscow Times, 07.03.20)
- Russian health officials have stepped up border controls and are warning residents in Western Siberia not to hunt and eat marmots after neighboring Mongolia and China reported three cases of bubonic plague. Top infectious diseases specialist Vladislav Zhemchugov said on July 6 he isn’t concerned that a recent outbreak of bubonic plague in Mongolia and northern China will spread to Russia. (The Moscow Times, 07.07.20, The Moscow Times, 07.06.20)
- The U.S. has imposed sanctions on senior Chinese officials for “horrific and systematic” human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minority groups in the western Xinjiang region. “The United States will not stand idly by as the Chinese Communist Party carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. (RFE/RL, 07.09.20)
- There was a net outflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) from Ukraine in the first quarter of this year of $1.451 billion, reversing the trend of inflows of the last several years, according to data from Ukrstat. Ukraine has been attracting foreign investment but at disappointingly low levels. New FDI in 2019 was $1.9 billion, the State Statistics Service said. About one quarter, or $506 million, was from Cyprus, presumably offshore Ukrainian or Russian money. The next four sources were: Russia with $396 million; the Netherlands with $262 million; The United Kingdom with $212 million; and Germany with $119 million. (bne IntelliNews, 07.05.20)
- Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal expects the signing of a memorandum on receiving 1.2 billion euros of Macro-Financial Assistance from the EU on or around July 20. (Interfax, 07.06.20)
- The governor of Ukraine's central bank, Yakiv Smoliy, has resigned because of “systematic political pressure that denied fulfillment” of his duties. The NBU has previously complained of being subjected to pressure, including over its decision in 2016 to nationalize Ukraine's largest lender, PrivatBank. (RFE/RL, 07.01.20)
- "The judicial branch has turned into an elite outfit servicing the money flows from various financial clans. It is already very distant from the problems of ordinary Ukrainians and public interests," Ukraine’s head of the executive committee of the National Reforms Committee, Mikheil Saakashvili, said. (Interfax. 07.04.20)
- "We are preparing for a full-scale military confrontation [with Russia], realizing that if this happens, then, unfortunately, it will be a lot of losses—both for our soldiers and the civilian population. Many people don't understand this now, although the country has been fighting for seven years," Ukrainian Naval Forces Commander Rear Adm. Oleksiy Neyizhpapa said. (Interfax. 07.06.20)
- Ukraine’s security service said it has detained an alleged Russian agent in Kyiv suspected of overseeing separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. The SBU security service identified the suspect as Ukrainian citizen Andrei Nikolayevich, whose last name was only given as the initial K. (The Moscow Times, 07.08.20)
- No one on the world stage has the right to demand any action by Ukraine, including the adoption of a law on the special status of Donbass, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said. The president was asked whether reports saying Russia had demanded that Ukraine present a bill on the special status of Donbass by July 6 were true. (Interfax, 07.04.20)
- Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said he does not have any information on "steps toward Russia" by the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics amid statements by Donbass political leaders on these republics’ inclusion in Russia in the near future. (Interfax, 07.06.20, Dialogu.ua, 07.06.20)
- Facebook said it has taken down a network of “coordinated, inauthentic” Ukrainian social-media pages tied to a digital advertising agency in the nation’s capital as it seeks to combat the spread of disinformation. The U.S.-based social-media giant said in a July 8 statement that the Ukrainian network aimed its work at a domestic audience and was “particularly active” during the nation’s 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections. (RFE/RL, 07.08.20)
- A U.S. Army officer who played a high-profile role in Trump's impeachment proceedings is retiring from the military over alleged "bullying" and "retaliation" by the president, his lawyer said July 8. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who served as a national security aide at the White House until earlier this year and was up for promotion to colonel, will leave the military instead. (The Washington Post, 07.08.20)
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- Kazakhstan has labelled a Chinese claim that it is being ravaged by a pneumonia outbreak that is deadlier than the coronavirus as "fake news." The Kazakh Health Ministry said in a statement July 10 that a spike in cases was due to its including the classification of pneumonia cases where COVID-19 symptoms were present but the patients tested negative, which is in line with World Health Organization guidelines. (RFE/RL, 07.10.20)
- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has warned his cabinet that they may be fired if the situation around the coronavirus fails to improve. (RFE/RL, 07.10.20)
- A long-delayed mission from the World Health Organization has arrived in Turkmenistan, the only Central Asian nation that has not officially registered a single coronavirus case. (RFE/RL, 07.07.20)
- Uzbekistan will impose a second lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus as cases spike in Central Asia's most populous nation of 32 million people. (RFE/RL, 07.08.20)
- The Supreme Court of Austria has invalidated an extradition order for Tajik opposition activist Hizbullo Shovalizoda, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison on extremism charges his supporters reject, after his arrival to Dushanbe from Vienna earlier this year. (RFE/RL, 07.10.20)
- Paval Sevyarynets, a co-chairman of the nonregistered opposition Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, has received his fifth consecutive 15-day jail term for allegedly calling on people to participate in an unsanctioned rally. (RFE/RL, 07.08.20)
- The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus says the country's "already dire" human rights situation has deteriorated further over the last year, amid a widening crackdown on civil society ahead of a presidential election. (RFE/RL, 07.10.20)
- The European Commission has approved the disbursement of a further 30 million euros ($33.8 million) in macro-financial assistance to Moldova aimed at helping the country cover its external financing needs. (RFE/RL, 07.10.20)
- The Moldovan government is in remote negotiations with the IMF with the aim of securing a new arrangement with a $550 million financial package attached. (bne IntelliNews, 07.09.20)
- Lithuania's media watchdog on July 8 banned Russian broadcaster RT, echoing a move by neighbor Latvia, after it found a key figure at the station was on an EU sanctions list. (The Moscow Times, 07.08.20)
- Estonian industrial production retreated 17.7 percent year on year in May, working-day adjusted data from Statistics Estonia showed on June 30. The year on year May decline follows a fall of 16.9 percent year on year the preceding month. (bne IntelliNews, 07.06.20)
- No significant developments.