Russia in Review, June 22-29, 2018

This Week’s Highlights

  • U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16 after what will likely be a tense gathering with NATO allies.
  • One source told CNN that President Donald Trump believes he can strike a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a so-called exclusion zone in southwest Syria that will allow the U.S. to "get out ASAP." The United States has reportedly told Syrian rebel factions they should not expect military support to help resist the government’s latest offensive.
  • The U.S. will take the unprecedented step of imposing sanctions on a NATO ally when Turkey receives a Russian S-400 missile defense system, according to a U.S. State Department official testifying before Congress.
  • After Moscow announced plans to sharply raise the retirement age, confidence among Russians in Putin declined to 42 percent in mid-June from 45 percent a week earlier, the lowest level since December 2013, according to a state-run polling company. It said Putin’s approval rating fell from 77 percent to 72 percent, the worst result since March 2014, the month he signed an order absorbing Crimea into Russia.
  • Newly released court filings reveal that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort received a $10 million loan from Kremlin-connected Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Environmentally significant information about radioactive waste should never be secret and concealing information about the disposition of this waste from those who live closest to it is unacceptable, said a joint statement from three Russian ecological non-profits, including Greenpeace and Bellona. (Bellona, 06.29.18)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • Russia's ambassador-at-large Oleg Burmistrov discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula with Mark Lambert, director of the Office of Korean Affairs at the U.S. State Department, in Moscow, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on June 29. (Reuters, 06.29.18)
  • South Korea’s state-run Korea Gas Corp (KOGAS) and Russian state gas company Gazprom will conduct a joint pipeline study for the long-planned and much derided trans-Korea gas pipeline project, which is back on the agenda, buoyed by hopes North and South Korea can make peace. (Reuters, 06.29.18)
  • See also “Missile defense” section below.

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russian oil major Rosneft is preparing to halt Iranian oil imports from November after a communication from the Kremlin. The company has already started cutting its oil imports from this month. European refiners are cutting purchases of Iranian oil faster than expected as the U.S. prepares to re-impose sanctions on Iran, threatening a more severe impact than the last round of punitive measures in 2012 even though the EU has not joined in. (Reuters, 06.29.18)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The U.S. will take the unprecedented step of imposing sanctions on a NATO ally when Turkey receives a Russian S-400 missile defense system, according to a U.S. State Department official testifying before Congress. (Bloomberg, 06.27.18)
  • U.S. commanders are worried that if they had to head off a conflict with Russia, the most powerful military in the world could get stuck in a traffic jam due to its European allies’ bureaucracy and inadequate infrastructure. During at least one White House exercise that gamed out a European war with Russia, the logistical stumbles contributed to a NATO loss. (AP, 06.24.18)
  • “Russia is increasing its military capacity on the Crimean peninsula practically every day; we are talking about new naval capacities, new frigates, new submarines,” Romanian Defense Minister Mihai Fifor has said. Romania plans to increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP this year from 1.81 percent, and “demonstrate that it is a pillar of stability and security,” according to Fifor. The move would allow Romania to add to the 700 soldiers it sends to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan that provides training, advice and assistance to local security forces. Fifor proposed increasing the number to 900, pending approval from the country’s top defense body and parliament. (AP, 06.25.18)
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg played down worries about next month’s Trump-Putin summit saying it was in line with the alliance’s own policies, which advocated dialogue with Moscow. Others were less sanguine. “There is unease about this meeting, just as there is unease about Trump,” said one senior NATO diplomat. “What is he going to say, what is his preparation, is he aware of the symbolism? U.S. containment of Russia is going further than Europe would want … but if Trump then strikes up a friendship with Putin, it could leave us more in the dark about U.S. policy,” the diplomat said. (Reuters, 06.28.18)

Missile defense:

  • The U.S. military wants to install missile defense radar in Hawaii to identify any ballistic missiles that are fired from North Korea or elsewhere, officials said June 26. (AP, 06.26.18)

Nuclear arms control:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia’s prospective nuclear weapons are years and even decades ahead of foreign designs. Putin on June 28 said the new weapons represent a quantum leap in the nation's military capability. He said Russia has achieved a "real breakthrough" in designing new weapons. He singled out the new Avangard hypersonic vehicle and the new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, which are set to enter service in the next few years, and also mentioned the Kinzhal hypersonic missile already in service. (AP, 06.28.18)


  • The U.S. cut a planned $2 million pledge for the U.N. Counterterrorism Office on June 27 and downgraded its presence at a conference on the issue. The funding cut was made over a decision by the U.N. counterterrorism chief, Vladimir Voronkov, a former Russian diplomat, to close part of an inaugural conference to nongovernmental interest groups, a U.S. official said. When asked if the decision had anything to do with Voronkov being Russian, the U.S. official said "it matters" and that Voronkov had come under "tremendous pressure by his home country" on the conference. (Reuters, 06.27.18)

Conflict in Syria:

  • President Donald Trump once again raised the idea of pulling the U.S. out of Syria this week—this time privately during a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House, according to two diplomatic sources familiar with the sit-down. The two leaders discussed Syria at length. One source told CNN that Trump believes he can strike a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a so-called exclusion zone in southwest Syria that will allow the U.S. to "get out ASAP." The Kremlin said on June 29 that Putin and Trump will have a detailed, “thoroughly exhaustive discussion” about Syria at their July 16 summit. (CNN, 06.28.18, Reuters, 06.29.18)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said June 28 that Russia has withdrawn 1,140 military personnel and 13 warplanes from Syria in the last few days. (Reuters, 06.28.18)
  • A year-old cease-fire in southwestern Syria, long cited by the Trump administration as a test of whether the U.S. and Russia can work together in the conflict, is on the verge of collapse amid an accelerating offensive by the Syrian government and its allies. The U.S. and Russian governments this week accused each other of failing to adhere to the agreement. Russia’s Defense Ministry said on June 27 that Moscow had not abandoned a deal on a de-escalation zone in southern Syria, Russian news agencies reported. The announcement came a day after the Russian military's main air force base in Syria had announced an end to the ceasefire agreement, reached with the U.S. and Jordan last year, citing breaches by insurgent groups. (The Washington Post, 06.28.18, Reuters, 06.27.18, Newsweek, 06.26.18)
  • Washington warned the offensive in the region risks widening the conflict. It called on Russia to restrain its ally and warned of the repercussions of the fighting but didn’t elaborate on how it intends to salvage the de-escalation zone negotiated by Russia, Washington and Jordan last year. (AP, 06.23.18)
  • The United States has told Syrian rebel factions they should not expect military support to help resist the offensive, according to a copy of a message sent by Washington to the commanders of rebel Free Syrian Army groups in the area. (Reuters, 06.26.18)
  • The U.N. human rights chief warned June 29 of a "catastrophe" in southern Syria where government forces are on the offensive against insurgents, driving more people to flee their homes and live in miserable conditions in open areas close to the border with Jordan. Opposition activists reported violence, even during a 12-hour truce that was reportedly brokered by Russia and Jordan and went into effect at midnight June 28, saying more than 100,000 people have fled their homes since the government offensive began on June 19. The U.N. had said earlier this week that some 50,000 people had been displaced within the first week of the offensive. Fighting escalated on June 26 as government forces pushed deeper into rebel-held territories in Daraa province. Two days earlier, opposition sources and the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian jets had struck rebel-held areas in southern Syria, which would be the first such attacks since Moscow helped establish a ceasefire there in July 2017. The offensive is aimed at recapturing the strategic area bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sworn to recapture the sensitive strategic area and the army began ramping up its assault there earlier this month, threatening a “de-escalation” zone agreed to by the United States and Russia last year. (AP, 06.29.18, AP, 06.26.18, The Washington Post, 06.26.18, Reuters, 06.26.18, RFE/RL, 06.24.18, Reuters, 06.23.18)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry meanwhile said al-Qaida-linked fighters had attacked 12 areas in the southern de-escalation zone where rebels had switched sides and allied with the government. It said that the attacks were repelled with support from the Russian Aerospace Forces and that 70 insurgents were killed, with no losses on the government side. The ministry also said it would ensure security for U.N. aid convoys entering the area. (AP, 06.25.18, TASS, 06.25.18)
  • Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. Syria envoy, warned on June 27 of a full-scale battle in the country’s southwest, an area covered by a “de-escalation” ceasefire agreement, but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ambassador said it was the army’s duty to fight terrorism anywhere. Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia supported him. “The cities of Daraa and Sweida, as well as residential areas that have embraced de-escalation, are being subjected to shelling by jihadis,” he said. (Reuters, 06.27.18)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned that Russia could walk away from the global chemical weapons watchdog after member nations voted to allow the group to assign blame for chemical attacks. On June 26 a special session of the OPCW passed a British-led proposal, backed by Western powers including France, Germany and the United States, but opposed by Russia, Iran and Syria. The proposal would give the world body greater powers to assign responsibility for violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Russia said that the vote called the future of the organization itself into question. "The OPCW is a Titanic which is leaking and has started to sink," Russian Industry Minister Georgy Kalamanov told reporters. (AP, 06.29.18, Reuters, 06.26.18, The Moscow Times, 06.28.18)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. presidential national security adviser John Bolton discussed Syria, among other topics, during their June 27 meeting in Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The meeting was closed to media and lasted about two hours. (TASS, 06.27.18)

Cyber security:

  • Ukraine’s cyber police say that hackers from Russia are infecting Ukrainian companies with malicious software to create "back doors" for a large, coordinated attack. The hackers are targeting companies, including banks and energy infrastructure firms, in a roll out that suggests they are preparing to activate the malware in one massive strike, cyber police chief Serhiy Demedyuk said. Ukrainian police are working with foreign authorities to identify the hackers. The Kremlin denied the allegations. (Reuters, 06.27.18)
  • Romania faces Russian aggression on a daily basis in the Black Sea, and is fending off a wave of cyberattacks and political interference, Romanian Defense Minister Mihai Fifor said on June 25. (AP, 06.25.18)
  • Cyberattacks are fueling concerns among analysts that Mexico’s presidential vote on July 1 may become a target for hackers. A warning came last December, when former U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that there was evidence of Russian interference in Mexico’s campaign, although he didn’t elaborate. Russia was mentioned again this month when candidate Ricardo Anaya’s team said a website it created to publish information questioning ties between Lopez Obrador and a contractor, was shut down by "an attack." The Anaya campaign said the hack originated in Russia. (Bloomberg, 06.25.18)
  • See also the “Elections interference” section below.

Elections interference:

  • Newly released court filings reveal that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort received a $10 million loan from Kremlin-connected Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, Reuters reports. (RFE/RL, 06.28.18)
    • A personal assistant to Manafort granted an FBI agent access to a storage locker in Virginia, allowing the government to secure evidence that Manafort is trying to suppress, according to testimony June 29 in a federal court. Meanwhile, Manafort is appealing a judge’s order revoking his bail and ordering him jailed for allegedly tampering with witnesses, and his attorneys want a judge to bar any mention of Manafort’s connections to the president at his Virginia trial. Manafort’s lawyers argue that because Manafort’s alleged crimes occurred before he served on Donald Trump’s campaign, any mention of his connections to Trump are irrelevant. (Reuters, 06.29.18, Bloomberg, 06.25.18, AP, 06.23.18)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump on June 28 said Russia continues to deny interference in the U.S. presidential election shortly before the White House and Kremlin simultaneously announced his first bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” Trump said on Twitter. (Bloomberg, 06.28.18)
  • The Russian government is prepared to refute allegations of its meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election when President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sit down for their first official summit next month, a Kremlin spokesman said June 29. "If the U.S. president raises this issue, the Russian president absolutely will be ready to repeat once again that Russia had nothing to do with it and could not have anything to do with this thing that is surrounded by so many insinuations," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. (CNN, 06.29.18)
  • Republicans accused top federal law enforcement officials on June 28 of withholding documents from them and demanded details about surveillance tactics during the Russia investigation in a contentious congressional hearing that capped days of mounting partisan complaints. The House Judiciary Committee hearing marked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s first appearance before Congress since an internal DOJ report criticizing the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email. FBI Director Christopher Wray also appeared at the hearing. Earlier the Justice Department said it has given House Republicans new classified information related to the Russia investigation after lawmakers had threatened to hold officials in contempt of Congress or even impeach them. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said the department has partially complied with subpoenas from the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees after officials turned over more than a thousand new documents, most related to the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation and the handling of its probe into Clinton’s emails. (AP, 06.29.18, AP, 06.23.18)
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller added four assistant U.S. attorneys to the case against Russian entities and people accused of running an online influence operation targeting American voters—an indication that he is preparing to hand off at least one prosecution to others when his office completes its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The new prosecutors are not joining Mueller’s team, but rather are being added to the case so that they could someday take responsibility for it when the special counsel ceases operation. The case could drag on for years because the indictment charges a number of Russians who will probably never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom as Russia does not extradite its citizens. (The Washington Post, 06.22.18)
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller says former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn is not ready to be sentenced yet. That suggests Flynn is still in the process of cooperating with investigators. (AP, 06.29.18)
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is asking a federal judge to set a sentencing date for former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Prosecutors say in a new court filing that Papadopoulos could be sentenced as early as Sept. 7. The move suggests prosecutors may be wrapping up at least a part of the investigation soon. (AP, 06.22.18)
  • FBI agent Peter Strzok, a central target of allegations by U.S. President Donald Trump and his allies of investigative bias and misconduct, has been subpoenaed to appear for closed-door questioning before two House committees. (Bloomberg, 06.25.18)
  • Concord Management and Consulting LLC, a Russian company accused of helping fund a propaganda operation to sway the 2016 presidential election in Donald Trump's favor, asked a federal judge on June 25 to dismiss charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. (Reuters, 06.25.18)
  • Eight of the tech industry’s most influential companies, in anticipation of a repeat of the Russian meddling that occurred during the 2016 presidential campaign, met with U.S. intelligence officials last month to discuss preparations for this year’s midterm elections. The May 23 meeting at Facebook’s headquarters was also attended by representatives from Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oath, Snap and Twitter. (New York Times, 06.25.18)
  • Businessman Arron Banks’s journey from a lavish meal with a Russian diplomat in London to the raucous heart of Trump country was part of an unusual intercontinental charm offensive by the wealthy British donor and his associates, a hard-partying lot who dubbed themselves the “Bad Boys of Brexit.” Their efforts to simultaneously cultivate ties to Russian officials and Trump’s campaign have captured the interest of investigators in the United Kingdom and the United States, including special counsel Robert Mueller. (The Washington Post, 06.28.18)
  • As a whole, the Steele dossier now appears to be a murky mixture of authentic revelations and repurposed history, likely interspersed with snippets of fiction or disinformation, an Associated Press review finds. (AP, 06.29.18)

Energy exports:

  • OPEC nations and oil-producing countries not in the cartel said June 23 they have agreed to share increased oil production a day after OPEC announced it would pump more crude oil—a move that should help contain the recent rise in global energy prices. Russia and other oil-producing allies said they would endorse a nominal output increase of 1 million barrels of crude oil per day. (AP, 06.23.18)
    • The joint deal by OPEC and other oil-producing allies to raise output demonstrates the strength of the Russia-Saudi energy alliance, which will help stabilize the market for many years to come, Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, said on June 25. (Reuters, 06.25.18)
  • Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on June 26 he discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia and Moscow's plan to expand its Nord Stream gas pipeline to Germany, which has irked Washington, in talks with U.S. Treasury and Energy secretaries. (Reuters, 06.27.18)
  • The leaders of the Baltic states and Poland signed a long-awaited deal on June 28 to connect their power grids to the European Union grid by 2025 and break their energy relationship with Russia. (Radio Poland, 06.28.18, The Moscow Times, 06.28.18)
  • Bulgaria launched a tender this week for a new gas link with Turkey in a push to persuade Russia to extend the second part of the TurkStream pipeline to its border rather than Greece’s, alarming some EU officials. (Reuters, 06.26.18)
  • See also “Iran’s nuclear program and related issues” section above.

Bilateral economic ties:

  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is calling for tariffs on U.S. imports in response to duties that Washington has placed on foreign steel and aluminum. (AP, 06.27.18)

Other bilateral issues:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16 after what will likely be a tense gathering with NATO allies. The White House said they will "discuss relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national security issues." Trump expressed enthusiasm for the sit-down on June 27. "I've said it from day one, getting along with Russia and with China and with everybody is a very good thing," Trump said. "It's good for the world, it's good for us, it's good for everybody." He said they would discuss Syria, Ukraine and "many other subjects." The Kremlin said they would discuss “the state and future outlook for developing Russian-American relations, as well as topical international issues.” It will be the first formal summit meeting for Trump and Putin. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said June 28 that Moscow has “pragmatic and realistic” expectations for the summit given the number of issues to be addressed. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was "no specific idea" to invite Trump to the World Cup final match on July 15 in Russia. (AP, 06.28.18, Wall Street Journal, 06.28.18, New York Times, 06.28.18, AP, 06.28.18, CNN, 06.29.18)
    • Finland has a long tradition of hosting U.S.-Russian summits, particularly during the Cold War, when the country was a neutral buffer state and its capital, Helsinki, served as a gateway between the Communist East and the West. (AP, 06.28.18)
    • When the men in the White House and the Kremlin meet, history always takes note—but how the encounters get recorded may be as different as the leaders of Russia and the United States. (AP, 06.29.18)
    • Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was quoted as saying June 28 that if Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump make steps toward cooperation, their meeting will go down in history as a major landmark. (AP, 06.28.18)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton on June 27 that Bolton’s visit to Moscow raised hopes for a full restoration of relations between Russia and the United States. Bolton said he was looking forward to discussing “how to improve Russia-U.S. relations and find areas where we can agree and make progress together.” Bolton held talks in Moscow on June 27 with Yuri Averyanov, first deputy secretary of Russia's Security Council. The two discussed possible cooperation between their countries' respective security councils. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also met with Bolton and they discussed Syria, Ukraine and bilateral relations, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. (Reuters, 06.27.18, AP, 06.27.18, Reuters, 06.27.18, Reuters, 06.27.18, Reuters, 06.27.18)
  • The U.S. needs to "up its game" in the Arctic and deal with an increasingly important and developing part of the world, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said. The U.S. and Russia have both expressed interest in boosting Arctic drilling, and Russia has bolstered its military presence in the north. (Reuters, 06.25.18)
  • The Russian Foreign Ministry said that a possible meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is under discussion, RIA news agency reported June 28. Pompeo says the U.S. must be assertive but flexible in dealing with both Beijing and Moscow. Pompeo sees room for limited cooperation with Russia even as the U.S. confronts its revisionism. “There are many things about which we disagree. Our value sets are incredibly different, but there are also pockets where we find overlap,” he says. (Reuters, 06.28.18, Wall Street Journal, 06.25.18)
  • The politicians in the U.S. Democratic Party are losers and don’t have the guts to accept that they lost the 2016 presidential election, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an exclusive interview with Britain’s Channel 4 on June 29. (Newsweek, 06.29.18)
  • A SpaceX rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, before dawn on June 29 carrying equipment and fresh supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) crew. (RFE/RL, 06.29.18)
  • Russian tycoon Ziyavudin Magomedov, arrested on embezzlement charges, has stepped down from the board of Virgin Hyperloop One, a spokesman for the U.S. tech venture told Reuters. (Reuters, 06.28.18)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • The Kremlin on June 25 shrugged off a rare fall in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity ratings caused by plans to sharply raise the retirement age. Confidence among Russians in Putin declined to 42 percent in mid-June from 45 percent a week earlier, the lowest level since December 2013, according to state-run polling company VTsIOM. It said Putin’s approval rating fell from 77 percent to 72 percent, the worst result since March 2014, the month he signed an order absorbing Crimea into Russia. (Reuters, 06.25.18, Bloomberg, 06.25.18)
  • Authorities have approved union-led protests against the Russian government’s proposed retirement age hike in 30 cities, including one to be held in Kazan, a World Cup host city, a major labor union said. (The Moscow Times, 06.26.18)
  • Copies of a newspaper in rural southern Russia were reportedly seized by authorities after it covered the government’s controversial proposal to raise the retirement age, sparking censorship fears. Authorities in the North Caucasus region of Stavropol “strongly recommended” that local newspaper editors avoid covering the reforms in case of unrest, a source in the regional administration told the local website. (The Moscow Times, 06.26.18)
  • Members of the United Russia ruling party have reportedly been instructed to sign a pledge promising not to criticize the controversial retirement age hike until July 28, according to an anonymous party member in the region of Stavropol. In a joint study with the Higher School of Economics’ Institute of Demography, RBC reported June 27 that up to 17.4 percent of men and 6.5 percent of women may not live to reach retirement by the time the reform is rolled out. (The Moscow Times, 06.27.18, The Moscow Times, 06.27.18)
  • Russia’s government will reportedly lower its forecast for economic growth next year as a plan to raise value-added tax keeps monetary policy tight and curtails expansion. Under the updated view, gross domestic product will grow 1.4 percent in 2019, compared with a previous projection of 2.2 percent. (Bloomberg, 06.27.18)
  • Russia's Gazprom expects record high gas sales this year in Europe, CEO Alexei Miller said on June 29, downplaying the threat posed by imports of U.S. liquefied natural gas. (Reuters, 06.29.18)
  • Russia has been reveling in the World Cup’s feel-good factor, as the atmosphere in host cities changes with the outpouring of support and encounters with foreign fans. The World Cup is even making Russia look almost gay-friendly. (Financial Times, 06.29.18, AP, 06.29.18)
  • Russia has increased its government subsidies for the World Cup by $13 million amid concerns over the legacy of the tournament. Two government orders allocate an extra 481.6 million rubles ($7.6 million) for temporary World Cup infrastructure and 334.2 million rubles ($5.3 million) to the state company responsible for maintaining the stadiums. That takes total spending on the World Cup to around 679 billion rubles ($10.7 billion), not including some key spending on infrastructure. Analysis by Russian business news outlet RBK has put the total closer to $14 billion, which would make this year’s World Cup the most expensive ever. (AP, 06.27.18)
  • Russia’s central bank said on June 29 that it would spend an extra 217 billion rubles ($3.45 billion) on recapitalizing three failed top-10 lenders, taking the total bill for bailing them out to nearly 3 trillion rubles. The central bank has decided to split the three banks’ assets into “good” and “bad” and shift their non-performing assets to the planned “bad bank,” which would have assets of 2.1 trillion rubles. (Financial Times, 06.29.18, Reuters, 06.25.18)
  • Russia is still considering tapping the global debt market later this year in the autumn, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said. (Reuters, 06.26.18)
  • Pavel Maslovskiy is set to return to the helm of Petropavlovsk, the Russian gold miner he co-founded, along with two former directors, including former British diplomat Roderic Lyne. (Financial Times, 06.29.18)
  • St. Petersburg election commission head Viktor Pankevich has resigned after fielding criticism over “systemic” violations during local and national elections he oversaw over the past two years. (The Moscow Times, 06.27.18)
  • On June 26, the Russian Supreme Court passed a resolution to provide guidance to lower courts for administrative cases concerning freedom of assembly. Amnesty International said the resolution includes “several progressive recommendations,” while other points remain “restrictive.” (RFE/RL, 06.27.18)
  • Russian activists on June 26 held a covert protest on a central Moscow thoroughfare popular with fans watching the World Cup, calling on the Kremlin to release Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. (Reuters, 06.26.18)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has replaced his representative in the Urals federal district, Igor Kholmanskikh—a former tank-factory foreman Putin had elevated to the post after the obscure manager offered to help him quash opposition protests—with Nikolai Tsukanov, a former Kaliningrad governor who had been his representative in northwestern Russia since 2016. (RFE/RL, 06.26.18)
  • Russia is struggling with the storage and handling of 30 billion metric tons of waste, with the problem most acute in at least 10 regions, Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Buksman told Interfax. Toxic landfills are putting the health of 17 million Russians at risk, and the State Duma estimates there are almost 11,000 landfills and 40,000 garbage dumps in urban areas, protected forests and rural regions. (The Moscow Times, 06.28.18)
  • Russian news reports say that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, whose 23 years as president of the world governing body for chess has been shadowed by controversy, will not seek another term in office. (RFE/RL, 06.29.18)

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant developments.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian police early on June 27 said they received multiple bomb threats in the World Cup host city of Rostov-on-Don, prompting the evacuation of bars and restaurants across the city, but no explosives were found. On June 29 a man was detained at Moscow's Domodedovo airport after falsely stating he was carrying an explosive device, the airport said in a statement. (RFE/RL, 06.27.18, Reuters, 06.29.18)
  • Russian authorities this week brought fresh legal action against an acclaimed researcher into Stalin's purges, accusing him of sexual misconduct toward his underage daughter, in what human rights groups see as a trumped-up attempt to shut down his work at a time when the government is seeking to gloss over Soviet-era crimes. Yuri Dmitriev has now been charged with committing violent acts of a sexual nature, the state-run TASS news agency reported. (AP, 06.29.18, The Moscow Times, 06.28.18)
  • Opposition activist Alexei Navalny’s brother, Oleg, was released from prison June 29 after serving a 3.5-year sentence in a case widely regarded as politically motivated. Meanwhile, a Moscow court has extended by one year the five-year suspended prison sentence given to Alexei Navalny on his embezzlement conviction. (Meduza, 06.29.18, RFE/RL, 06.25.18)
  • Russian activist Vladimir Dubovsky, the coordinator of opposition politician Alexei Navalny's regional team in the Far East, was rearrested shortly after finishing a 15-day jail term. (RFE/RL, 06.27.18)
  • Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov has won a lawsuit against Alexei Navalny, with a Moscow court ordering the opposition politician to retract a bribery claim against the billionaire. (RFE/RL, 06.26.18)
  • Nikita Belykh, an ailing former regional governor who was sentenced to eight years in prison on a politically charged bribery conviction in February, has been moved from a Moscow detention center to a prison whose location was not revealed where he is expected to serve his sentence. (RFE/RL, 06.25.18)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • Germany has been assured by the United States that any sanctions imposed on Russia will not affect the building of pipelines from Russia, a spokeswoman for Germany's economy ministry said. (Reuters, 06.29.18)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin called Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on his election victory, and the two leaders discussed deepening and improving bilateral ties in the phone call. Putin and Erdogan reiterated the importance of cooperation on regional issues, especially on Syria. (Reuters, 06.25.18)
  • Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on June 27 the renewal of European economic sanctions against Russia should not be automatic. Italy also wants to resume lending to Russian firms from the European Investment Bank, the EU's financial arm, and from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. (Reuters, 06.27.18, Financial Times, 06.28.18)
  • Russia's communications watchdog has informed French state television channel France 24 that it is in violation of Russian media law and could have its broadcast license cancelled. The June 29 move by Roskomnadzor came one day after France's media watchdog reprimanded Russia's RT satellite TV channel over what it said was a misleading report on alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The French agency said RT's translation of comments by Syrians was incorrect. (AP, 06.29.18)
  • Russia has imposed more trade barriers against the EU than any other country in the world, according to the bloc’s annual report. (The Moscow Times, 06.28.18)
  • The European Union has called on Russian authorities to drop the criminal cases against human rights activists Oyub Titiyev and Yuri Dmitriyev, saying they are facing "questionable" charges. (RFE/RL, 06.27.18)
  • A lawyer for Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov says France has dropped charges of alleged money laundering from tax fraud. (Financial Times, 06.28.18)
  • England's political leaders are welcome to change their minds and come to Russia to support their team at the World Cup now that it has advanced to the knockout stage, the Russian organizers said on June 29. (Reuters, 06.29.18)
  • Two Argentina soccer fans who missed their side's World Cup match in Russia against Croatia because of a travel mix up were given tickets to Argentina's following game—courtesy of President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin said on June 29. (Reuters, 06.29.18)
  • A Brazilian World Cup fan, Rodrigo Vicenti Dinardi, has been arrested in St. Petersburg as part of an extradition request from Brazil on charges of armed robbery. (AP, 06.25.18)


  • China and Russia, emboldened by the Trump administration’s retreat on human rights issues and its drive to cut spending at the United Nations, are quietly seeking to scale back programs in U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world that protect civilians from violence and sexual exploitation, according to diplomats and confidential documents. (Foreign Policy, 06.26.18)
  • The value of the deals that Chinese companies are striking under the country’s big global plan—called the Belt and Road Initiative—is smaller than a year ago, according to new data. Chinese officials themselves are sounding a cautious note, voicing worries that Chinese institutions need to be careful how much they lend under the program—and make sure their international borrowers can pay it back. (New York Times, 06.29.18)


  • European Union leaders agreed on June 29 to extend their economic sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea from Kiev and backing rebels fighting government troops in east Ukraine, an EU official said. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says Russia hasn’t done anything more to respect a Ukraine peace agreement that would justify lifting EU sanctions at the end of next month. (Reuters, 06.29.18, Reuters, 06.22.18, AP, 06.25.18)
  • Asked if U.S. President Donald Trump recognizes Russia's annexation of Crimea, his national security adviser John Bolton said that that is "not the position of the United States," and that sanctions against Russia over Ukraine should remain in force. Bolton discussed Ukraine, among other topics, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their June 27 meeting in Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The meeting was closed to media and lasted about two hours. (UNIAN, 06.27.18, TASS, 06.27.18)
  • Ukraine said on June 28 that a flare up in fighting in breakaway eastern regions had claimed the lives of five government soldiers and at least 15 fighters allied to Russian-backed separatists. “Russia’s occupying forces stepped up military attacks overnight,” Ukraine’s armed forces said in statement detailing the clashes north and south of Donetsk, the separatist stronghold. (Financial Times, 06.28.18)
  • Ukraine's envoy to the Trilateral Contact Group, Yevhen Marchuk, says the Russian side at the negotiations in Minsk categorically rejects Ukraine's proposal on the introduction of monitoring by the observers of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission over the uncontrolled section of the Russian-Ukrainian border in the occupied part of Donbas. (UNIAN, 06.27.18)
  • Russia's energy ministry said it had conducted the first test of a German-made electricity turbine that was installed in Crimea in contravention of European sanctions. The testing indicated that Russia is getting closer to being able to commission the turbines and to start using them to generate electricity for Crimea, which has suffered occasional blackouts since the annexation, when it was cut off from the Ukrainian grid that had supplied much of its electricity. (Reuters, 06.29.18)
  • Information about Crimea and war-torn eastern Ukraine is appearing less frequently on Russian state-backed news channels, as interest gradually wanes four years after the events. Russia’s four major state-run television stations now primarily mention Crimea and the Donbass when there is a relevant anniversary date, according to the Medialogia firm’s analysis published by Kommersant. (The Moscow Times, 06.25.18)
  • A new bill would make April 19 a public holiday in Russia, marking the anniversary of Russia’s 18th century accession of the Crimean peninsula into the Russian Empire. The contemporary referendum to “reunify” Crimea with Russia—rejected by most of the international community—marks a “logical continuation of the history of Russian Crimea,” the bill’s text reads. (The Moscow Times, 06.26.18)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and other Ukrainian leaders have been “sentenced” to life imprisonment by the Ukraine’s People’s Tribunal, a televised court created by separatists in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic. (RFE/RL, 06.26.18)
  • See also “Cyber security” and “Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations” sections above.

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Latvia's public prosecutor accused its central bank chief on June 29 of accepting the offer of a 500,000-euro bribe, in a case that has rocked faith in the Baltic state and cast a cloud over the euro currency bloc. (Reuters, 06.29.18)
  • Georgia has denied two Syrian airlines access to its airspace in retaliation for Damascus recognizing the statehood of two Georgian breakaway regions last month, according to the head of Georgia’s Air Navigation Service. (Reuters, 06.27.18)
  • A Georgian court has sentenced former President Mikheil Saakashvili in absentia to six years in prison after convicting him of abuse of power. (RFE/RL, 06.29.18)
  • The U.N. General Assembly backed a call from Britain, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine and seven other countries for Russia to withdraw its troops from Moldova's separatist region of Transdniester. The nonbinding resolution—the first to demand Russian withdrawal from the region—was adopted by a vote of 64 to 15 late on June 22. (RFE/RL, 06.22.18)
  • Moldova's Central Electoral Commission has confirmed the Supreme Court's decision to invalidate the recent mayoral election in the capital, Chisinau. Thousands of people demonstrated in the city on June 24 to protest the nullification of the results, which had shown a victory for a pro-Western candidate. (RFE/RL, 06.29.18, RFE/RL, 06.24.18)

Teaser photo shared on Flickr under a CC BY 2.0 license.