Russia in Review, July 12-19, 2019

This Week's Highlights:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump sent a delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan to Geneva this week to meet with Russian counterparts and pursue an arms control treaty that would cap China’s nuclear arsenal as well as Russia’s and the United States’. During the talks, the U.S. delegation “underscored concerns about Russia’s development and deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons,” according to a State Department statement. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the two sides had a detailed discussion on the possible extension of New START.
  • During confirmation hearings in the Senate this week defense secretary nominee Mark Esper said, “We are at war in the cyber domain now battling countries like Russia and China who are doing everything from stealing technology to influencing elections to put[ting] out disinformation about the United States.” He also said Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system “fundamentally undermines the capabilities of the F-35” fighter jet. Military analyst Konstantin Makienko wrote that the S-400 deal “is a sign of a possible tectonic shift in global geopolitical alignments,” according to the Financial Times.
  • “Show me anyone who isn’t critical of Russia nowadays,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters when asked about new European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen’s “strict” view of his country, Bloomberg reported.
  • According to multiple press reports, advisers to the “Normandy Four” leaders working toward a resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine have reached a prisoner-swap agreement. Kiev included the Ukrainian sailors detained in Russia on its swap list and has also proposed exchanging Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is jailed in Russia, for Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, in detention in Ukraine. (A Kiev court ruled on July 19, however, to extend Vyshinsky’s pre-trial detention for another two months, according to the Kommersant daily.) Pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk said the swap could take place within a matter of days. Meanwhile, Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE have announced an “indefinite” ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, hailed by analysts as a significant step toward ending the five-year conflict.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People Party is supported by 52 percent of the Ukrainians who intend to vote in the July 21 parliamentary elections, while a party led by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s associate Viktor Medvedchuk is polling in second place with about 10 percent,  according to a survey cited by the AP. But Zelenskiy’s party’s edge doesn’t necessarily ensure a majority in the legislature: Of the 424 seats to be filled, only 225 of them will be chosen by a national party list.
  • Half of Russian workers earn salaries of less than $550 a month, The Moscow Times reports. Moscow ranks third among the world’s cities for its number of billionaire residents, after New York and Hong Kong.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Georgian state security service agents arrested an Armenian citizen on July 11, who, as the Georgian side reported, is suspected of being the owner of radioactive substances found on the Armenian-Georgian border. According to the investigation results, the Armenian citizen tried to transfer the radioactive isotope Thorium 232, packaged in four packs, from Armenia to Russia via Georgia. (Armenpress, 07.16.19)
  • Three units have been unplugged at the Kalinin nuclear power plant in Russia after a short circuit. (The Moscow Times, 07.18.19)
  • Only 30 percent of Russian respondents currently believe that a second Chernobyl could happen in the coming years, down from 69 percent in 2000, according to polling by the Levada Center. (The Moscow Times, 07.17.19)
  • Such is the level of radiation still pouring from the bowels of the destroyed core of Reactor Four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that even this year, the engineers who built a seal between its roof and the colossal metal hangar were only able to work for five minutes each day. (Financial Times, 07.12.19)
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano is expected to announce his resignation early next week, two diplomats said, although it could be months before he leaves. The Iranian nuclear deal between Russia and China on one side and the U.S. on the other side could easily spill over into the decision-making process for Amano's replacement. (Wall Street Journal, 07.18.19)
  • The Trump administration over the last two years has undone or diminished numerous Department of Homeland Security programs that were created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to help detect and avoid incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. (The Hill, 07.18.19)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russia has signaled its willingness to join an EU payments channel designed to circumvent U.S. sanctions banning trade with Iran and has called on Brussels to expand the new mechanism to cover oil exports. Moscow’s involvement in the channel, known as Instex, would mark a significant step forward in attempts by the EU and Russia to rescue the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. (Financial Times, 07.18.19)
  • "The U.S. is flexing its muscles by seeking to discredit Tehran and blame all the sins on the Islamic Republic of Iran," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. "This creates a dangerous situation: a single match can start a fire. The responsibility for the possible catastrophic consequences will rest with the United States." (Newsweek, 07.17.19)
  • "A lot of progress has been made. We'll see what happens. But a lot of progress has been made," U.S. President Donald Trump told a cabinet meeting on July 16, referring to Washington's efforts to persuade Tehran to negotiate over its missile program. (RFE/RL, 07.17.19)

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said during his Senate confirmation hearings: “We eventually won in the Cold War because Russia did not have the economic might to win at the end, and they were using force.” (C-SPAN rush transcript, 07.16.19)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Turkey will cooperate with Russia on the production of advanced missile defense systems, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said as the country continues to defy its NATO allies with purchases of Russia’s S-400 system. Russia has sent new components of the S-400 to a military air base near Ankara. Turkey's Defense Ministry tweeted on July 14 about the landing of a fifth and sixth Russian cargo plane at Murted air base. (RFE/RL, 07.14.19, The Moscow Times, 07.16.19)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said July 16 that the U.S. will cancel the purchase of more than 100 F-35 fighter jets by Turkey because of its acquisition of a Russian antimissile defense system, even as his administration indicated it was still wrestling with sanctions mandated under U.S. law. (The Washington Post, 07.17.19)
    • Russia is prepared to sell Turkey some of its most advanced fighter jets, the Su-35s, Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov said on July 18. (Defense News, 07.18.19)
  • Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said during his Senate confirmation hearings: “Acquisition of the S-400 fundamentally undermines the capabilities of the F-35 and our ability to maintain that overmatch in the skies going forward.” (C-SPAN rush transcript, 07.16.19)
  • "By accepting delivery of the S-400 from Russia, [Turkish] President Erdogan has chosen a perilous partnership with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin at the expense of Turkey's security, economic prosperity and the integrity of the NATO alliance," said a joint statement by U.S. Sens. Jim Risch, Bob Menendez, Jim Inhofe and Jack Reed. (Wall Street Journal, 07.13.19)
  • Konstantin Makienko, deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Russian defense think-tank, said Russia’s S-400 deal with Turkey was “more than a kind of revolution in the arms market.” Writing in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily, he said: “This is a sign of a possible tectonic shift in global geopolitical alignments.” (Financial Times, 07.18.19)
  • Russia’s S-400 is the “best all-around” missile defense system out there, U.S. intelligence firm Stratfor has said in a new report, but the system is severely limited if operating alone. (The Moscow Times, 07.16.19)
  • David Cattler, a veteran of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency who now has a senior position with the director of national intelligence, will take over the top NATO intelligence post at the end of the year. (New York Times, 07.19.19)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump sent a high-level delegation to meet with Russian counterparts in Geneva to pursue an arms control treaty that for the first time would cap the nuclear arsenals of not just the two largest powers, but China as well. The U.S. delegation was led by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov led the Russian delegation. During the talks, the U.S. delegation made clear that a commitment to full and verifiable treaty compliance is necessary for effective arms control and underscored concerns about Russia’s development and deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons and lack of transparency with regard to existing obligations, according to a July 17 statement by the State Department. Ryabkov said the two sides had a thorough discussion on the extension of New START, but made no progress on the INF treaty. (New York Times, 07.16.19, Politico, 07.16.19, U.S. State Department, 07.17.19,, 07.17.19)
    • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concern about sending Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson to head the U.S. delegation meeting in Geneva after it was revealed that she had failed to disclose her ties to the boyfriend of Russian foreign agent Maria Butina. Pompeo then dispatched his deputy, John Sullivan, to lead the delegation instead. The delegation to Geneva also included Tim Morrison, who is taking over as Trump's top Russia adviser on the National Security Council. (New York Times, 07.16.19, Politico, 07.16.19)
  • Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said during his Senate confirmation hearings:I think the INF Treaty served us, but only works if both parties comply. … We need to prepare air missile defenses to defeat those intermediate-range missiles … Then the other part is to make sure that we develop our own conventional INF-range missiles to deal not just with Russia but China.” (C-SPAN rush transcript, 07.16.19)
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg pledged a "measured, defensive" response if Russia did not come back into compliance with the INF Treaty by the Aug. 2 deadline. "We have to be prepared for a world ... with more Russian missiles," he said. (BBC, 07.18.19)
  • A document accidentally published by a NATO-affiliated body has hit headlines across Europe this week, seeming to affirm a longstanding open secret that is technically still classified: precisely where in Europe the U.S. stores its nuclear weapons. (Fox News, 07.17.19)

Counterterrorism cooperation:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • Two months of intensive airstrikes by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies, coupled with a fierce ground assault on rebel-controlled Idlib province, have killed hundreds of people and caused massive displacement while achieving little to no gain for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It marks a rare case of a military campaign that has not gone his way since Russia intervened in 2015. (Reuters, 07.10.19, AP, 07.16.19) 
  • Russia on July 18 denied allegations by Syrian rebels that Russian special forces or ground troops were fighting in the campaign for the rebel-held region of Idlib. (Reuters, 07.18.19)
  • Russia on July 16 said Israel was behind a series of airstrikes on targets in Syria on July 15, adding that those attacks threatened to destabilize the region. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said six Israeli fighter jets operating inside Lebanese airspace conducted the predawn raid, which reportedly targeted Iranian and pro-Iranian positions in the country, specifically those tied to the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah and other Shiite terror groups in the region. (Times of Israel, 07.15.19)
  • Last summer, Israel shot down a Russian military drone near the line that separates Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from the rest of Syria. That drone was designed in Israel. (Intercept, 07.16.19)
  • The impounding last week off the coast of Gibraltar by British marines of an Iranian tanker loaded with oil destined for war-wracked Syria may force Damascus to turn to Russia to help alleviate its acute fuel shortages, say analysts and diplomats. (VOA, 07.15.19)

Cyber security:

  • Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said during his Senate confirmation hearings:Clearly, cyber is a domain of warfare. We are at war in the cyber domain now battling countries like Russia and China who are doing everything from stealing technology to influencing elections to put[ting] out disinformation about the United States.” (C-SPAN rush transcript, 07.16.19)
  • Statistical analysis highlights the high rate of criminalization of the digital sphere in Russia. Over the past 17 years (2001-2018), the general number of crimes committed using computerized telecommunications technologies increased from 1,300 to 174,674. This dynamic does not look like it is changing: to date in 2019, 97,524 such crimes were registered … The majority of them are listed as fraud (52 percent), theft (19 percent) and drug trafficking (11 percent). (PONARS Eurasia, July 2019)
  • Suspected nation-state hackers from Russia, Iran and elsewhere have launched nearly 800 cyberattacks against political organizations over the past year that have been detected by Microsoft, with the vast majority of the attempts targeting groups based in the U.S. (Wall Street Journal, 07.17.19)
  • U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer told the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission in a letter sent on July 17 that viral app FaceApp, whose developer is based in Russia, required users to provide "full and irrevocable access to their personal pictures and data." (RFE/RL, 07.18.19)
  • Ukraine has arrested alleged major computer hacker Mykhailo Rytikov, who has been sought by the U.S. for years. (AP, 07.16.19)
  • Hackers stole thousands of Bulgarians' personal financial data and distributed it from a Russian-based email in an attack possibly related to the purchase of new F-16 fighter jets from the U.S., the government said on July 16. (The Moscow Times, 07.16.19)

Elections interference:

  • Former special counsel Robert Mueller and two House panels struck a deal to reschedule his congressional testimony for July 24 and agreed to give lawmakers more time to question him about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by U.S. President Donald Trump. (The Washington Post, 07.14.19)
  • Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said during his Senate confirmation hearings:This [election interference] will be an ongoing threat for some time. Obviously Russia is the principal issue, but there are other countries that want to influence or change our elections.” (C-SPAN rush transcript, 07.16.19)
  • Google set up a searchable database of political ads last summer, following calls for greater transparency in the wake of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. Nearly a year later, the search giant's archive of political ads is fraught with errors and delays, according to campaigns' digital staffers and political consultants.  (Wall Street Journal , 07.17.19)
  • A federal judge on July 16 barred Roger Stone from all communications through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook until after his trial. (The Washington Post, 07.16.19)

Energy exports:

  • The European Commission and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline company are heading toward legal arbitration in their dispute, with a risk of huge fines for EU taxpayers and uncertainties for the Gazprom-led company that are even more difficult to evaluate. The deadline Nord Stream 2 has given the European Commission in an attempt to settle the dispute elapsed on July 12. (Euroactiv, 07.19.19)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • The Trump administration still has not imposed a second round of sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain despite receiving a proposed sanctions package in March from the State and Treasury departments. The reason for the lack of action is shrouded in mystery. The White House did not offer a comment for this story. (The Hill, 07.18.19)
  • The U.S. and Russia on July 17 accused each other of using children as political hostages after dozens of teachers at an English-language school in Moscow patronized by the children of Western diplomats were left without visas. (Reuters, 07.17.19)
  • A team of four Russians and two Americans—sent to Moscow by NASA—have emerged from the four-month Sirius-19 experiment, designed to imitate conditions on a flight to the moon. (BBC, 07.18.19)
  • Pyotr Kikilyk, 75, has been detained in Russia for attempting to install a plaque commemorating Richard Nixon’s visit to the small mining town of Degtyarsk in 1959. (The Moscow Times, 07.16.19)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • The Kremlin raised the possibility of changing Russia’s constitution after a top lawmaker proposed bolstering parliament’s powers, in a move that could help to extend Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule. The idea of constitutional amendments, including allowing parliament a say in forming the government, received “a widespread response” and are “a matter for discussion,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said. (Bloomberg, 07.17.19)
  • Half of Russian workers earn salaries of less than 35,000 rubles ($550) a month, despite a small increase in average monthly income over the past year, according to newly released official data. (The Moscow Times, 07.19.19)
  • Moscow ranks third among the world’s cities for its number of billionaire residents, after New York and Hong Kong, according to a recent study from real estate agency Savills. (The Moscow Times, 07.19.19)
  • Russia, Brazil, Bangladesh and Mexico are among the world’s 10 most populous countries today. By 2100, they are projected to be overtaken by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Egypt—none of which are currently in the top 10, according to recently released population projections from the U.N. (Pew, 07.10.19)
  • Greenpeace Russia has named Moscow and St. Petersburg the most polluted cities in the country with the highest concentration of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic particle released from diesel fumes. (The Moscow Times, 07.19.19)
  • The head of Russia’s Rosneft oil giant has asked the government for a 2.6 trillion ruble ($41.3 billion) tax break in exchange for large-scale investment in the Arctic, Vedomosti reported. (The Moscow Times, 07.15.19)
  • Russia's nuclear power sector "continues to benefit" from supportive government policy, in contrast to "tighter restrictions" in Western Europe owing to environmental concerns and growing competition from renewables, S&P Global Ratings says. (World Nuclear News, 07.12.19)
  • Taxi, the ride-sharing joint venture co-owned by Russian search giant Yandex and U.S. tech group Uber, has agreed to buy Russia’s largest taxi company Vezyot, dramatically increasing its share of its largest market. (Financial Times, 07.15.19)
  • On the evening of July 16, Moscow residents protested for the third day straight to demand that opposition candidates be permitted to register for September’s Moscow City Duma elections. (Meduza, 07.16.19)
  • The daughter of Natalya Estemirova, the Russian rights activist who was abducted and killed 10 years ago, said she blames Russian President Vladimir Putin, the leader of Chechnya “and the whole system that they have built” for her mother’s death. (RFE/RL, 07.15.19)
  • The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has listed Viktor Kudryavtse, a jailed 75-year-old researcher at a Russian rocket and spacecraft design facility who is charged with treason, as a political prisoner. (RFE/RL, 07.12.19)

Defense and aerospace:

  • A Russian Proton-M rocket successfully delivered a cutting-edge space telescope into orbit July 13 after days of launch delays, Russia’s space agency said. The telescope aims to conduct a complete x-ray survey of the sky by 2025, the first space telescope to do so. (AP, 07.13.19)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 20-trillion-ruble ($300 billion) weapons-buying binge has left the country’s defense industry with a massive hangover of debt.  “We’ve appealed to the president to clean up this loan portfolio,” which Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said totals more than 2 trillion rubles, costing as much in annual payments as the entire industry earns in profits. (Bloomberg, 07.16.19)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Four Moscow police officers have been dismissed over a drug-trafficking case launched against investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who was released on June 11 amid a public outcry and accusations that the drug possession case against him was fabricated. (RFE/RL, 07.16.19)
  • Russian police have violently detained two National Guardsmen suspected of planting drugs on an underage victim in St. Petersburg and demanding a bribe, as seen in a video published by the news website. (The Moscow Times, 07.18.19)
  • The former owner of Russia’s largest independent oil refinery said its director has been arrested in Moscow. In a statement on July 14, New Stream group said Dmitry Mazurov was arrested by the Investigative Committee on July 13 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport when he arrived back in Russia. (RFE/RL, 07.15.19)
  • Roman Ruzhechko, a suspect in a Russian probe into a major oil pipeline contamination earlier this year, has asked for political asylum in Lithuania, a Vilnius district court spokesman told Reuters on July 19. (Reuters, 07.19.19)
  • New rules could grant Russian authorities the power to ground international flights if Russian airlines fail to provide personal information about passengers or if they pose a “security threat.” (The Moscow Times, 07.19.19)
  • Authorities in Russia have arrested a 77-year-old researcher at a Russian rocket- and spacecraft-design institute on treason charges. Ksenia Pervovlasenko, a spokeswoman for Moscow's Lefortovo district court, said on July 15 that Sergei Meshcheryakov was placed under house arrest. (RFE/RL, 07.15.19)
  • The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta has published more videos purportedly showing inmates at Corrective Colony No. 1 in the city of Yaroslavl being tortured and abused by guards. (RFE/RL, 07.17.19)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • India and Russia have agreed on a new payment method to avoid risks created by the U.S. threat of sanctions and banking restrictions. The arrangement would enable India to pay the first installment soon for two warships that Russia is building for its navy. Defense contracts will be settled in rubles and rupees under a payment agreement reached by the central banks of Russia and India. (Bloomberg, 07.15.19)
  • In a phone call, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French leader Emmanuel Macron agreed July 18 on the need to "consolidate efforts" to save the Iran nuclear deal, the Kremlin said. Putin and Macron also discussed ways to settle a separatist conflict in Ukraine and Macron also accepted an invitation to come to Moscow next May for events marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over the Nazis during World War II. (AFP, 07.18.19)
  • “The Kremlin doesn’t forgive weakness,” incoming president of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen told Die Welt in an interview July 18. “From a position of strength we should stand by Russian sanctions.” (Bloomberg, 07.19.19)
  • “Show me anyone who isn’t critical of Russia nowadays,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters when asked about the incoming president of the European Commission and her “strict” view of his country. (Bloomberg, 07.19.19)
  • Italy’s Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini bowed July 16 to days of pressure and agreed to respond to questions in Parliament about allegations that an associate sought Russian money for Salvini’s pro-Moscow League party. (AP, 07.16.19)
  • Russia’s state railway company appointed Christian Kern, the former chancellor of Austria, to its management board this week, continuing a trend of retired European politicians landing lucrative posts in Russia. (The Moscow Times, 07.19.19)


  • The U.S., Russia, China and Pakistan have called on the Taliban to immediately agree to a cease-fire and to direct negotiations with the Afghan government. (RFE/RL, 07.13.19)
  • Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said during his Senate confirmation hearings in reference to Russia’s relations with China:In some places, they're coordinating. In some places cooperating. In other paces it's a consonance of interest. And in some areas, they are competing. We've talked about the Arctic. That's one area ... where Russia does not want China. Nor do we want China [there].” (C-SPAN rush transcript, 07.16.19)
  • A delegation from the Cyberspace Administration of China, which oversees national cyber policy, met officials at Russia's state communications watchdog in Moscow on July 17. (Reuters, 07.18.19)
  • Ambassadors of Russia and 36 other states from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America jointly signed a letter to the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council praising China's ''contribution to the international human rights cause.'' (New York Times, 07.13.19)
  • As China looks to diversify its soybean supply away from the U.S., Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan agreed with Russian counterparts to “deepen trade in soybeans and other agricultural products” during a meeting this week. However, one Chinese analyst said that, “in the long run, it is almost impossible for Russian soybeans to replace American soybeans” as “currently Russia's soybean output is even less than China's.” (South China Morning Post, 07.18.19)


  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s “Servant of the People” party is supported by 52 percent of the Ukrainians who intend to vote in the July 21 parliamentary elections, according to a survey by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology. But that edge doesn’t necessarily ensure a majority in the legislature. Of the 424 seats to be filled, only 225 of them will be chosen by a national party list. A party led by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest associates, tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk, is polling in second place with about 10 percent. (AP, 07.18.19)
  • Two thirds (67 percent) of Ukrainians approve of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's activities, according to a new poll by the International Republic Institute. The survey also shows a continued increase in support for the country's further integration with the West: 59 percent of Ukrainians favor EU integration and 53 percent support NATO integration. (bne Intellinews, 07.15.19)
  • Advisers to the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine—the so-called Normandy format for talks aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine—have reached an agreement on a prisoner swap between Kiev and Russia-backed separatists. (RFE/RL, 07.16.19)
  • Russia, Ukraine and an OSCE body have announced an “indefinite” ceasefire in eastern Ukraine that analysts hail as a substantial step toward ending the five-year conflict. (The Moscow Times, 07.18.19)
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 19 outlined the details of an impending prisoner swap with Russia, saying that Kiev is willing to release jailed Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky in exchange for Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov. However, a Kiev court ruled on July 19 to extend Vyshinsky’s pre-trial detention for another two months in what Russian daily Kommersant interpreted as a sign he won’t be exchanged for Sentsov anytime soon. In a separate development, Kiev has included 24 sailors detained in Russia in the lists of held persons whom the Ukrainian and Russian human rights commissioners intend to swap. However, this week has seen a Moscow court prolong by three months the pretrial detention of these sailors. (AP, 07.19.19, Russia Matters, 07.19.19. Interfax, 07.15.19, RFE/RL, 07.17.19)
  • A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers dedicated to Ukrainian issues has introduced legislation to sanction members of Russia’s Federal Security Service over their roles in taking 24 Ukrainian crewmen captive last November near the Kerch Strait. (RFE/RL, 07.19.19)
  • The European Parliament has overwhelmingly voted to pass a resolution calling on Russian authorities to immediately release and return "all illegally and arbitrarily detained Ukrainian citizens" held in Russia and in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists. (RFE/RL, 07.18.19)
  • One Ukrainian soldier was killed in action, another three were wounded in action in Donbass on July 15, the press center of the Joint Forces Operation has said. (Interfax, 07.16.19)
  • Italian police have seized a large cache of combat weapons, including an air-to-air missile, in raids on far-right extremist groups. The police said the raids had been part of an investigation into Italian far-right members who participated in the Russian-backed insurgency in Ukraine's Donbass. (Politico, 07.15.19)
  • An Italian court has sentenced Ukrainian National Guardsman Vitaliy Markiv to 24 years in prison for his role in the deaths of an Italian photojournalist and his translator during fighting near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk in 2014. (RFE/RL, 07.12.19)
  • Relatives of victims killed in the 2014 downing of a passenger jet over Ukraine marked the anniversary of the tragedy, an incident that international investigators have blamed on Russia and the separatist forces it backs in the region. The EU and victims’ families called on Russia to accept its role in the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on the fifth anniversary of the crash. (RFE/RL, 07.17.19, The Moscow Times, 07.17.19)
  • Kurt Volker, the special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, says Russia’s move to fast-track the granting of citizenship to all residents of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk runs counter to efforts to achieve peace. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has ordered an overhaul of the process for granting Ukrainian citizenship, in response to a Russian decree expanding the number of Ukrainians who can apply for fast-track Russian passports. (RFE/RL, 07.19.19, Reuters, 07.18.19)
  • "The prospects of boosting Ukrainian-U.S. relations in new political conditions and opportunities for stepping up security cooperation between Ukraine and the U.S. were discussed" during the Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Danylyuk’s meetings with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton; Gen. Keith Kellogg, national security advisor to the U.S. vice president; and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker. (Interfax, 07.15.19)
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has initiated the beginning of the renewal of Ukraine’s diplomatic corps. Twelve heads of embassies worldwide, including the ambassador to the U.S., will be replaced. (Interfax, 07.15.19)
  • The law on Ukraine's state language came into force on July 16, two months after former President Petro Poroshenko endorsed it before leaving office. The Law on Securing Ukrainian Language as the State Language declares Ukrainian "the only official state language in Ukraine." (RFE/RL, 07.16.19)
  • Ukraine's Constitutional Court has upheld a law that equates communism to Nazism and bans the dissemination of its symbols, a law that has prompted angry protests from Moscow. (RFE/RL, 07.17.19)
  • Ukraine’s off-the-books “shadow” economy was 30 percent of the nation’s GDP last year, two percentage points below the 2017 level, claims the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. (Ukraine Business News, 07.16.19)
  • Ukraine’s finance ministry received record-high receipts of 33.3 billion hryvnia ($1.27 billion) from placing hryvnia and U.S. dollar-denominated bonds on July 16. Just 1.6 percent of Ukraine’s hryvnia-denominated sovereign bonds were held by foreign investors in December. This has since jumped to 15.3 percent, according to Ministry of Finance Data. (bne Intellinews, 07.18.19, Financial Times, 07.17.19)
  • Riding the wave of foreign investor demand for Ukraine bonds, Naftogaz placed two tranches of Eurobonds for the equivalent of $1 billion, at rates just above the sovereign. (Ukraine Business News, 07.15.19)
  • Austria's justice minister has approved the extradition of Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash to the U.S., where he has been charged as part of an alleged bribery scheme, but his extradition was put on hold as his defense team immediately filed a court motion to reopen the case. (RFE/RL, 07.16.19)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenka, in St. Petersburg on July 18 to discuss further integration within the Russia-Belarus Union State. Lukashenko called on Putin to resolve all disputes and develop an integration strategy before Dec. 8, which marks the 20th anniversary of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. (RFE/RL, 07.18.19, TASS, 07.18.19)
  • U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale congratulated Moldova's new Prime Minister, Maia Sandu, and expressed U.S. support for her government during a July 13 meeting in the Moldovan capital. (RFE/RL, 07.13.19)
  • Speaking in Brussels on July 15, the EU's enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, said 14.5 million euros of EU aid targeting public administration as well as vocational training would be transferred “in the next couple of days” to Moldova. (RFE/RL, 07.15.19)
  • About one in four Moldovans lives abroad, according to estimates by the U.N. Development Program, while the resident population fell by 500,000 to 2.8 million between the censuses of 2004 and 2014. (New York Times, 07.15.19)
  • Among the 15 EU member states that registered a negative natural population change in 2018, deaths outnumbered births the most in Bulgaria (6.6 percent), Latvia (4.9 percent) and Lithuania (4.1 percent). (bne Intellinews, 07.15.19)
  • Uzbekistan has decided it now wants to build four nuclear power units and not just two as previously stated, Alisher Sultanov, the country's energy minister, said in an interview. (World Nuclear News, 07.12.19)
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Moldova's new pro-European government to continue on the path of reforms and step up the fight against widespread corruption, saying Berlin would offer Chisinau its support. (RFE/RL, 07.16.19)
  • Kyrgyzstan's former president, Almazbek Atambaev, has been formally summoned for a third time by the Interior Ministry in Bishkek for questioning in an unspecified criminal investigation—a move that comes after he refused to comply with two earlier subpoenas. (RFE/RL, 07.18.19)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • No significant developments.

The original version of this news digest incorrectly gave the date of the C-SPAN rush transcript of Mark Esper's confirmation hearings as July 17, 2019; it was July 16.