Russia in Review, March 29-April 5, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • During a meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. President Donald Trump predicted “we'll get along with Russia,” according to The New York Times. A day later, a meeting of NATO foreign ministers agreed on a new set of measures on enhancing security in the Black Sea region. The Moscow Times reports that before the meeting, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said NATO planned to expand its surveillance in the region to ensure safe passage for Ukrainian ships in an area effectively controlled by Russia.
  • Fifty-four percent of Russians expect their country’s relations with the West will return to pre-Crimean annexation levels, according to a Levada poll. Western countries also top the list of destinations that Russians would like to move to, according to a recent Gallup poll. As many as 20 percent of Russians would like to relocate from Russia, according to the poll.
  • Russia has extensively deployed electronic warfare capabilities to hide Russian President Vladimir Putin’s location, according to a new report by U.S.-based conflict research group C4ADS. The report suggests that GPS spoofing extends far beyond previously recorded instances in Moscow and St. Petersburg, The Moscow Times reports.
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on April 5 gave blood, urine and hair samples to prove he is not a drug or alcohol abuser ahead of a serious debate in a sports arena with runoff opponent Volodymyr Zelensky, RFE/RL reports.
  • Nearly half of Russian respondents oppose uniting Belarus and Russia into a single country, according to a survey by state-funded VTsIOM pollster, The Moscow Times reports.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • The Belarusian State Committee of Forensic Enquiries has formed a special radiological forensics unit for working on ionizing radiation sources, Belarusian TV reported. The unit’s specialists were dispatched to help investigate the origins of 5 kilograms of radioactive substances found in a “bucket” in Minsk in mid-March, according to the report. (Russia Matters, 04.05.19)
  • Members of the U.S.-Russian Elbe Group met in Iceland to discuss a range of issues on the bilateral agenda, including nuclear terrorism. The meeting took place in Reykjavik, Iceland on March 26-29, according to a statement posted on the Belfer Center’s website. The members of the Elbe Group are senior retired military and intelligence flag officers, all of whom have strong connections back to their governments. (Russia Matters/Belfer Center, April 2019)
  • FSB Gen. Vladimir Lebedev told a Russian newspaper that he found nuclear facilities in the Kaluga region’s city of Obninsk to be poorly protected from nuclear terrorism during his work in that region in 1993-1996. “It was then that our vulnerability to the threat of nuclear terrorism manifested itself in the Kaluga region. The nuclear facilities in Obninsk were poorly protected and very vulnerable,” he said. (Russia Matters, 04.05.19)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is likely to visit Russia in the near future following an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Our invitation has been handed over," Kremlin presidential aide Yuri Ushako said April 3. "The dates will be agreed on.” (Korea Times, 04.04.19)
  • Russian Minister of the Interior Vladimir Kolokoltsev beganwas on a three-day trip to Pyongyang on April 1this week. On April 2, Kolokoltsev met with Kim Yong Nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, according to the regime's propaganda mouthpiece the Korea Central News Agency.. While in Pyongyang Kolokoltsev said the two countries should intensify exchanges between their respective law enforcement agencies. (Korea Times, 04.04.19)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova expressed skepticism toward Washington's recent allegations that Iran was behind the deaths over 600 U.S. troops in Iraq and warned against launching any new wars in the Middle East. (Newsweek, 04.04.19, NK News, 04.03.19)

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • Fifty-four percent of respondents told the Levada Center in March that Russia’s relations with the West will return to pre-Crimean annexation levels, up from 46 percent last year. Meanwhile, 34 percent said they expect the “new Cold War” to continue. (The Moscow Times, 04.01.19)
  • Britain said on April 3 it had scrambled Typhoon jets to monitor two Russian "Blackjack" bombers which approached the United Kingdom's airspace. (Reuters, 04.03.19)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The foreign ministers of NATO member countries gathered in Washington on April 4. The ministers agreed on a new package of measures to enhance NATO’s situational awareness in the Black Sea region and strengthen support for NATO partners there, Georgia and Ukraine. They also discussed Russia’s ongoing violation of the INF Treaty. (NATO, 04.04.19)
    • Ukraine and NATO will monitor freedom of navigation through the Kerch Strait, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin has said. Prior to the meeting, U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said NATO plans to expand its surveillance in the Black Sea to ensure that Ukrainian ships travel safely through an area effectively controlled by Russia. (Kyiv Post/Interfax, 04.05.19, Russia Matters, 04.05.19, The Moscow Times, 04.03.19)
  • During their April 2 meeting, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg thanked U.S. President Donald Trump for his "strong commitment” to the military alliance, while the president pressed his demands that the allies do more to pay for their own defense. In the Oval Office, Stoltenberg sat stone-faced as Trump criticized Germany for ''not paying their fair share.'' The president also predicted: ''I think we'll get along with Russia.'' (New York Times, 04.02.19, RFE/RL, 04.02.19)
  • “As you know China is spending a lot of money on military, so are we, so is Russia and those three countries I think can come together and stop the spending and spend on things that maybe are more productive toward long-term peace,” U.S. President Donald Trump said April 4. “I think it’s much better if we all got together and we didn’t make these weapons,” he said. (Reuters, 04.04.19)
  • The U.S. has halted deliveries to Turkey related to the F-35 fighter-jet program in response to Ankara's decision to move ahead with the purchase of the Russian S-400 air-defense system. (RFE/RL, 04.01.19)
    • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence voiced U.S. opposition to Turkey's purchase of a Russian air-defense system, saying Ankara must decide between remaining a key NATO partner or risk endangering the military alliance with the deal, which he said "poses great danger to NATO,” telling Ankara it is "reckless." (RFE/RL, 04.03.19)
    • Washington and Ankara on April 4 disagreed about the formation of a "working group" to settle differences over Turkey's purchase of a Russian missile-defense system that U.S. and other NATO officials vehemently oppose. (RFE/RL, 04.05.19)
  • According to a new study by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, just over 8 in 10 Americans, or 83 percent, of roughly 2,400 respondents said that the United States should remain in NATO. (The Washington Post, 04.02.19)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • With Russia deploying new nuclear-capable missiles in Europe, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called on Moscow to return to compliance with the INF Treaty. “We must not be naive. An agreement that is respected by one side will not keep us safe,” he said in his address to the U.S. Congress. (Financial Times, 04.03.19)
  • The U.S. State Department has released new data on New START, which shows that both the U.S. and Russia remain in compliance with the treaty. According to the data, which shows compliance as of March 1, 2019, Russia has remained below the treaty limits in all three categories: the number of deployed delivery systems, the number of warheads on these deployed systems and the total number of deployed and non-deployed systems. The U.S has also remained below treaty limits in the first two categories, but its number of deployed and non-deployed systems remains at the 800 system maximum allowed by the treaty. (Russia Matters, 04.03.19)
  • The demise of the only U.S.-Russia arms control pact limiting deployed nuclear weapons would make it harder for each to gauge the other's intentions, giving both incentives to expand their arsenals, according to a study by CNA Corporation. (Reuters, 04.01.19)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • The lease of parts of the Syrian port of Latakia by Iran, which will commence next October, will end Russia’s exclusive presence in the coastal district. (Asia Times, 04.05.19)
  • A Russian court has convicted former military officer Denis Khisamov of fighting alongside Islamic State militants in Syria and sentenced him to 19 years in prison. (RFE/RL, 04.02.19)
  • The lease of parts of the Syrian port of Latakia by Iran, which will commence next October, will end Russia’s exclusive presence in the coastal district. (Asia Times, 04.05.19)

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Elections interference:

  • Some of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have told associates that Attorney General William Barr failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for U.S. President Donald Trump than Barr indicated, according to government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations. (New York Times, 04.03.19)
  • Attorney General William Barr and other Justice Department officials believe the special counsel’s investigators fell short of their task by declining to decide whether U.S. President Donald Trump illegally obstructed the inquiry. (New York Times, 04.03.19)
  • The House Judiciary Committee voted April 3 to authorize subpoenas to obtain special counsel Robert Mueller's full report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, laying down a marker in a constitutional power struggle that could end up in the courts. The committee’s chairman Jerry Nadler has said that Attorney General William Barr should send the report to Congress without redactions. (The Washington Post, 04.03.19, RFE/RL, 03.30.19)
  • U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Marco Rubio have introduced legislation threatening tough sanctions to discourage Russia from meddling in U.S. elections. The Deter Act is intended to sanction Russia's banking, energy and defense industries, and sovereign debt for election interference. (RFE/RL, 04.04.19)

Energy exports:

  • "If Germany persists in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, as President Trump said, it could turn Germany's economy into literally a captive of Russia," U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said. (RFE/RL, 04.03.19)
  • Russian oil production may increase again this year if a global oil deal to cut output is not extended once it expires before July 1, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said. (Reuters, 04.05.19)
  • "If Germany persists in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, as President Trump said, it could turn Germany's economy into literally a captive of Russia," U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said. (RFE/RL, 04.03.19)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump says he will "probably" talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping about the situation in Venezuela, which finds Washington on the opposite side of the crisis from Moscow and Beijing. (RFE/RL, 03.30.19)
  • Russia on March 30 dismissed U.S. concerns about "specialists" it has sent to Venezuela under a military cooperation deal. “This is not about any 'military contingents,'" Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement. (RFE/RL, 03.30.19)
  • Venezuela's deputy foreign minister Ivan Gil said on April 4 he does not rule out that more Russian military personnel may arrive in Venezuela under agreements already concluded with Russia, Interfax reported. (Reuters, 04.04.19)
    • Russia has opened a training center in Venezuela to help the country's pilots fly Russian-made military helicopters, Russian state-owned industrial conglomerate Rostec said on April 1, Moscow's latest gesture of support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Reuters, 04.02.19)
  • Colombia on April 2 rejected a Russian warning against foreign military intervention in Venezuela and said it supported a peaceful transition to democracy in the neighboring South American country. (Reuters, 04.03.19)
  • “As you know China is spending a lot of money on military, so are we, so is Russia and those three countries I think can come together and stop the spending and spend on things that maybe are more productive toward long-term peace,” U.S. President Donald Trump said April 4. “I think it’s much better if we all got together and we didn’t make these weapons,” he said. (Reuters, 04.04.19)
  • Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal asked the IRS on April 3 for six years of U.S. President Donald Trump's personal and business tax returns. Congressional Democrats think that the information contained in his tax returns could be critical to answering many of their questions, including whether he has financial foreign-government ties that could cloud his judgment on foreign policy matters related to Russia or Saudi Arabia. (The Washington Post, 04.04.19)
  • A Russian court fined Twitter 3,000 rubles ($46) on April 5 for failing to supply information to Russia's authorities on where it stores its Russian users' personal data. (Reuters, 04.05.19)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • A new high of one in five Russians (20 percent) now say that they would like to leave Russia if they could. Since 2014, the percentage of working-age Russians who say they would like to move has at least tripled, jumping from 14 percent to 44 percent among 15 to 29-year-olds, from 7 percent to 22 percent among those between the ages of 30 and 45 and from 3 percent to 9 percent among those aged 46 to 60. (Gallup, 04.04.19)
  • A record high of one in five Russian citizens (20 percent) would like to move permanently to a different country, according to the findings of a Gallup poll conducted in Russia in 2018 and unveiled on April 4. In comparison, some 17 percent of Russians said they wanted to leave Russia for another country in 2017, according to Gallup, which has been polling Russians on this issue since 2007. Germany is the most popular destination, according to the 2018 poll. Of Russians who would like to move, 15 percent picked that European country, while 12 percent picked the U.S. Canada, Spain and Japan were each chosen by 5 percent of those Russians who would like to move, while France attracted 4 percent. (Russia Matters, 04.05.19)
  • Russia’s 23 richest billionaires grew richer by more than $20 billion in the first three months of 2019, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. (The Moscow Times, 04.02.19)
  • More than one-fifth of Russian households do not have access to indoor plumbing, according to official statistics obtained by the RBC news website on April 2. Russia leads the developed world with the worst sanitation record, according to the London-based WaterAid NGO. (The Moscow Times, 04.02.19)
  • Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources has calculated that the Arctic needs some $160 billion of new investment to realize a presidential demand to ratchet up shipping traffic through the Northern Sea Route, a new report shows. (Bellona, 04.02.19)
  • Russian authorities are seeking unprecedented control over the internet with a new law that would more effectively filter information coming into the country and allow Russia to cut itself off from global online traffic in a crisis. "Under the pretext of our own security, they're trying to sell us a second-hand, beta version of the Chinese firewall," said Sarkis Darbinyan, a lawyer and member of Roskomsvoboda, a Moscow-based internet-freedom advocacy group. (Wall Street Journal, 04.01.19)
  • Russian regulators have blocked more than 1,000 online news stories ruled by a court as defamatory toward Andrei Kostin, the head of VTB Bank, leading lawyers to decry the mass censorship as “legal nihilism.” (The Moscow Times, 04.05.19)
  • The Federal Security Service (FSB) has raided several buildings in Russia belonging to the Church of Scientology in connection with a fraud investigation that authorities say involves the embezzlement of more than 800 million rubles ($12 million) by people affiliated with the U.S.-based religious group. (RFE/RL, 03.29.19)
  • A Russian court has found Jehovah’s Witness Sergei Skrynnikov guilty of being a member of the now-banned religious group—the second such ruling against the group’s believers this year. (RFE/RL, 04.01.19)
  • A Moscow court has extended the term of house arrest for theater director Kirill Serebrennikov and two associates until July in an embezzlement trial that the defendants and their supporters contend is politically motivated. (RFE/RL, 04.02.19)
  • A regional outpost of Russia’s Kommersant business newspaper received a written death threat in an attack on its Yekaterinburg office over the weekend, police said. (The Moscow Times, 04.01.19)
  • Russia plans to open a treatment center to “rehabilitate” the adherents of banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir in the annexed Crimean peninsula, according to Ruslan Balbek, a member of the State Duma’s Social and Religious Organizations Committee. (The Moscow Times, 04.03.19)
  • Natalia Fileva, chairwoman and co-owner of Russia's second largest airline S7, died when a private jet she was in crashed near Frankfurt, the company said. (The Moscow Times, 04.01.19)

Defense and aerospace:

  • “In accordance with the 2018-2027 state armament program, the Navy is to get over 180 ships and vessels of new projects," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian military chiefs, according to TASS. (The National Interest, 04.04.19)
  • An Ilyushin Il-112V military transport turboprop completed its maiden flight south of Moscow. (The Moscow Times, 04.01.19)
  • The Russian military tested the telepathic effects of parapsychology in its wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and the early 2000s, a news magazine run by the Russian Defense Ministry has claimed. (The Moscow Times, 04.03.19)
  • Behind the perimeter of a Russian Defense Ministry base in southern Russia stand three barrack buildings where two witnesses say they have seen private fighters being billeted before they are dispatched to fight in Syria. Yet court documents list them as a children's vacation camp. (Reuters, 04.04.19)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russia has extensively deployed electronic warfare capabilities to hide President Vladimir Putin’s location, a U.S.-based research group said in a recent report. The report by the C4ADS conflict research group suggests that GPS spoofing extends far beyond previously recorded instances in Moscow and St. Petersburg. (The Moscow Times, 04.04.19)
  • Russian authorities believe the April 2 explosion that injured four people at a St. Petersburg military and space academy was a deliberate attack. (The Moscow Times, 04.03.19)
  • At least two suspected members of the Islamic State have been killed in a shootout with police in the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria that took place overnight on April 3. (The Moscow Times, 04.03.19)
  • Several suspects on trial over a deadly blast in the St. Petersburg subway in 2017 have alleged that they were tortured in custody as authorities sought people with connections to the man they say blew himself up. (RFE/RL, 04.03.19)
  • Russian Federal Security Service investigators have charged blogger Alibek Mirzekhanov from the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan with inciting terrorism, a source in the law enforcement agencies told TASS. (TASS, 04.01.19)
  • Russian Internet businessman Georgy Fomchenkov has been sentenced to seven years in prison for state treason, in a case linked to a major scandal at Russia's main security agency. Fomchenkov is one of four men prosecuted in connection with the investigation into the Center for Information Security, the cyberunit for the FSB. (RFE/RL, 04.01.19)
  • A Russian prosecutor says that Frode Berg, a Norwegian jailed on espionage charges, has acquired classified information on Russian nuclear submarines. (AP, 04.02.19)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to thank him for help finding long-missing Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel 's remains, capping over a week of high-profile diplomatic huddles as some polls showed him gaining ground before Israel's election on April 2. Putin said Russian military personnel, assisted by Syrian forces, helped find Baumel's remains. The two discussed the Syrian settlement process by phone prior to the meeting. (Wall Street Journal, 04.04.19, Interfax, 04.01.19)
  • The only nations that win out from the U.K.’s anticipated departure from the European Union are the region’s largest adversaries—Russia and China, according to Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra. (Bloomberg, 04.05.19)
  • Arianespace says it has successfully launched a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana carrying four telecommunications and Internet satellites. (RFE/RL, 04.05.19)
  • Russia wielded gifts and political office to maintain control of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) last year, according to a Financial Times investigation. (The Moscow Times, 04.05.19)


  • China swung to a bilateral deficit of $6.4 billion on total trade with Russia of $111 billion in 2018, according to International Monetary Fund trade flow data. That was the first time since 2006 that the balance was in Russia’s favor. (Bloomberg, 04.04.19)


  • Ukraine’s Central Election Commission announced on April 4 that Volodymyr Zelensky secured 30.24 percent of vote in the first round of the presidential election, while incumbent Petro Poroshenko received 15.95 percent. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko came in third with 13.40 percent. The commission said 18.9 million eligible voters took part in the election. Turnout was 62.8 percent. (RFE/RL, 04.04.19)
  • Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said that she believes the vote was "rigged" but will not contest the results in court. (RFE/RL, 04.02.19)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on April 5 gave blood, urine and hair samples to prove he is not a drug or alcohol abuser and clear the path to a serious debate in a sports arena with his runoff opponent, comedian Volodymyr Zelensky. (RFE/RL, 04.05.19)
  • "The least-worst scenario would be probably to have Poroshenko," a senior EU official said. "If I take this comedian, nobody knows what exactly his program is, who is really behind him, what is his theme." (Wall Street Journal, 04.03.19)
  • Ukraine says two of its soldiers have been killed and two others wounded in clashes with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry on April 3 also said that Ukrainian armed forces killed three separatists and wounded eight others. (RFE/RL, 04.03.19)
  • The frigate FHH333 Toronto of the Canadian navy and the frigate F81 Santa Maria of the Spanish navy, which form part of the NATO maritime group, anchored at the Odessa sea port on April 1. (Interfax, 04.02.19)
  • The family of the only American killed when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in 2014 have filed suit against two Russian banks and U.S. money-transfer firms for allegedly providing services to Russia-backed separatists accused of shooting the plane down over Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 04.05.19)
  • The Ukrainian government has banned unscheduled flights to Russia after a recent visit to Moscow by presidential candidate Yuriy Boiko and Opposition Platform—For Life party official Viktor Medvedchuk. (RFE/RL, 04.03.19)
  • The Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation expired on April 1, 2019. (Interfax, 04.01.19)
  • Prosecutors have accused Kirill Vyshinsky, the head of Russia's state-run RIA Novosti's office in Ukraine, of publishing "anti-Ukrainian" articles and materials at the beginning of his treason trial in a Kiev court. Vyshinsky called his arrest a "political order." (RFE/RL, 04.05.19)
  • Russian lawmakers have accused Ukraine of bringing 1.5 trillion rubles ($23 billion) in losses to the Crimean economy in the 23 years that the peninsula was part of independent Ukraine. (The Moscow Times, 04.04.19)
  • According to a March 2019 Levada Center poll, 71 percent of Russians do not see the annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law, and 62 percent of Russians think the annexation has brought more good than harm to Russia. However, only three in ten (29 percent) would like the same for Donetsk and Luhansk. A plurality think these self-declared republics should be independent states (46 percent). (Chicago Council, 04.03.19)
  • Russia won a dispute about “national security” at the World Trade Organization on April 5, in a ruling over a Ukrainian transit dispute that may also affect global automobile tariffs that could be imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump. (Reuters, 04.05.19)
  • The authorities in Ukraine say they have seized heroin worth about $60 million in raids in the country's center and west. (RFE/RL, 03.31.19)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Some 48 percent of Russian respondents oppose uniting with neighboring Belarus into a single country, according to a state-funded survey by the state-funded VTsIOM pollster published on the 20th anniversary of the countries’ integration project. (The Moscow Times, 04.02.19)
  • The foreign ministers of the EU and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will meet on May 13 to endorse an extension of the Eastern Partnership Program. (RFE/RL, 04.05.19)
  • Belarusian border guards have detained four Russian nationals suspected of attempting to smuggle migrants from South Asia to the EU via Belarus and Russia. (RFE/RL, 04.01.19)
  • Construction workers in the Belarusian city of Brest have unearthed a World War II-era mass grave thought to contain the remains of over a thousand murdered Jews from the city's ghetto. (RFE/RL, 04.01.19)
  • Armenia and Azerbaijan have described the latest meeting of their leaders as "positive" and "constructive," saying they agreed to strengthen the cease-fire regime in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone and continue their dialogue. (RFE/RL, 03.30.19)
  • Kazakhstan’s new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has vowed to preserve a pro-Russian foreign policy as his arrival in Moscow signaled he does not plan to deviate from his predecessor’s course. (The Moscow Times, 04.03.19)
  • A bill that initially had been drafted as a way to prosecute former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has, instead, preserved former presidents’ immunity from prosecution. Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan's parliament passed the bill in its final reading on April 4 by a vote of 111 to 3. (RFE/RL, 04.04.19)
  • A Swiss lawyer for Gulnara Karimova, the elder daughter of the late president of Uzbekistan, has met with his client in an Uzbek prison. (RFE/RL, 04.03.19)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • No significant developments.