Russia in Review, May 21-28, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

  • Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States is toeing a dangerous line in maintaining an appropriate level of competition with China and Russia.  "We … can see it fraying at the edge," Milley said. "With history as our guide, we would be wise to lift our gaze from the never-ending urgency of the present to set the conditions for a future that prevents great power war. … Right now we are in a great power competition with China and Russia … [a]nd we need to keep it at competition and avoid great power conflict,” Fox News reports.
  • U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, the White House said in a statement on May 25. The on June 16 meeting is expected to focus heavily on preventing nuclear escalation, but Biden also plans to focus on the rising tide of cyberattacks, according to reports by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Financial Times. Meanwhile, Microsoft is saying Russian hackers have launched a new assault on government agencies and think tanks using an email marketing account of the U.S. Agency for International Development, RFE/RL reports.  
  • Putin called Russian-Chinese relations "the best in history” in a recent phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping's top diplomatic aide Yang Jiechi, who was visiting Moscow, according to Newsweek. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also described the current relationship between Moscow and Beijing as the best in history, TASS reports. Responding to Lavrov’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the China-Russia partnership has grown as solid as a rock through thick and thin, Xinhua reports.
  • Several European influencers say they have been offered money to use their social media presence to discourage their millions of followers from receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine by a suspicious agency that French officials reportedly think could be linked to Russia, according to The Washington Post. An investigation by RFE/RL found that a network of Russian marketing companies known for selling dubious nutritional supplements and pushing malware is behind a disinformation campaign to denigrate Western coronavirus vaccines.
  • The European Union is aiming to provide at least 3 billion euros to Belarus once the country starts on a democratic path with a focus on rule of law and justice reform, restructuring state-owned enterprises, and spending on infrastructure, RFE/RL reports. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised to speed up work on the proposal after a Belarusian fighter jet intercepted a Ryanair passenger flight and forced it to land in Minsk, where journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were taken off the flight and detained. Meanwhile, Putin was hosting Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi on Friday to offer the authoritarian ruler of Belarus support over the incident.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • A Safe Environment competition of nuclear, biological and chemical protection troops will take place in China as part of the international Army Games, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on May 24. (TASS, 05.24.21)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

  • The highest-ranking U.S. military officer warned against "fraying" relations with China and Russia on May 26, advising urgent action to improve global ties and prevent another "great power war." Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States. is toeing a dangerous line in maintaining an appropriate level of competition with China and Russia. "We are now in the 76th year of the great power peace following WWII. And it is under stress, we can see it fraying at the edge," Milley said. "With history as our guide, we would be wise to lift our gaze from the never-ending urgency of the present to set the conditions for a future that prevents great power war. … Right now we are in a great power competition with China and Russia … [a]nd we need to keep it at competition and avoid great power conflict." (Fox News, 05.26.21)
  • United States troops and their NATO allies intend to be out of Afghanistan by early to mid-July, well ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Sept. 11 withdrawal deadline, military officials said, in what has turned into an accelerated ending to America’s longest war. (The New York Times, 05.27.21)
  • Afghan intelligence documents suggest that Ahmad Massoud, the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud [a famed Afghan fighter who led fighters against the Soviets in the 1980s and then against the Taliban as head of the Northern Alliance the following decade], is purchasing weapons—through an intermediary—from Russia. (The New York Times, 05.17.21)

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized his country's strong ties with China during a recent phone call, calling the relations between the two countries "the best in history," according to China's state news agency Xinhua. Putin reportedly made the comments during a May 25 phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping's top diplomatic aide Yang Jiechi. Yang was visiting Moscow to discuss security and affirm China's commitment to maintaining close ties with Russia. According to Xinhua, Yang said, "China is ready to work with Russia to comprehensively implement the consensus reached by the two presidents and turn the high-level political mutual trust into more results from strategic coordination." While on his visit to Moscow, Yang also co-chaired the annual bilateral strategic security consultations with Russian security council secretary Nikolai Patrushev. (Newsweek,  05.26.21)
  • Patrushev and Yang held the 16th round of Russian-Chinese consultations on issues of strategic stability with several of the two countries’ ministries and agencies. The consultations focused on military and military-technical cooperation and international issues, spokesperson for the Russian Security Council Yevgeny Anoshin said on May 25. "There was an exchange of views on the issues of strategic stability and on the situations in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, and in the Asia Pacific region. The two sides noted similar or overlapping positions from which Russia and China speak out on current international issues, which ensures their close coordination in the foreign policy sphere," Anoshin said. (Interfax, 05.26.21, TASS, 05.25.21)
  • The current relationship between Moscow and Beijing could be characterized as the best in history, Lavrov said in an interview on May 24, adding that they have neither any restricted zones, nor any upper boundaries. He underscored that the Russian-Chinese relationship has displayed a high rate of development. “Today, their condition can be described as the best in history, largely thanks to the current model of bilateral ties that somewhat surpass the level of international cooperation within the alliances established during the Cold War," Lavrov noted. (TASS, 05.24.21)
    • The China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era has grown as solid as a rock through thick and thin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on May 25. Zhao made the remarks when asked to comment on Lavrov's remarks on bilateral relations. (Xinhua, 05.26.21)
  • Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) have invited partners to the project of an international scientific lunar station.  Roscosmos and CNSA have also  reached a verbal agreement to adapt their crewed spacecraft to each other's super heavy-lift launch vehicles (LV), Roscosmos’ Executive Director for Science Alexander Bloshenko told Interfax. (TASS, 05.28.21, Interfax, 05.24.21)
  • Beijing is interested in the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to shipping lanes in the politically fraught South China Sea. The Kremlin worries that China, which has described itself as a "near Arctic nation," may encroach on its interests. Beijing plans to build its own nuclear icebreakers that could navigate the Northern Sea Route, potentially without Russian permission. (The Wall Street Journal, 05.25.21)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Arms control:

  • Russia says Washington's decision not to rejoin an arms control deal that has allowed unarmed aerial flights over dozens of participating countries clouds the outlook for arms control discussions during next month’s planned summit between the presidents of the two countries. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov made the comments on May 28, a day after Washington informed Moscow that it would not rejoin the Open Skies Treaty, with the State Department saying the accord "has been undermined by Russia's violations" and its failure to return to compliance. (RFE/RL, 05.28.21)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • Russia on May 28 welcomed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's "decisive" victory after he claimed re-election with a landslide win in a vote criticized by the opposition and Western nations. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.28.21)
  • Three Tu-22M3 bombers made a flight to Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in Syria for the first time on May 25.  (TASS, 05.25.21)
  • The situation on the ground in Syria has stabilized, with resurging flashpoints of terrorism being snuffed out, particularly due to the joint efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran, Lavrov said. (TASS, 05.24.21)
  • “The Iranians have felt that they haven’t gotten a fair share of Syrian assets relative to their commitment—their military commitment but also their economic commitment,” according to Jihad Yazigi, the head of the Syria Report, a leading business newsletter. “They are targeting the same sectors, although they haven’t had the same success,” he said. “The Iranians provided much more economic support. But the economic benefits are going to the Russians more than … to the Iranians.” (The Washington Post 05.20.21)

Cyber security:

  • Microsoft says Russian hackers have launched a new assault on government agencies and think tanks using a USAID email marketing account. The “wave of attacks” targeted about 3,000 e-mail accounts at more than 150 different organizations, Microsoft Vice President Tom Burt said in a blog post. (RFE/RL, 05.28.21)
  • A U.S. court has sentenced a Russian citizen to 30 months in prison for his role in administering an online marketplace peddling stolen credit-card information and personal information to cybercriminals.  Kirill Victorovich Firsov was arrested in March 2020 as he arrived at JFK Airport in New York City for running, a now-defunct Russian-based online platform that allowed cybercriminals to buy and sell hacked stolen accounts. (RFE/RL, 05.25.21)

Elections interference:

  • A Facebook report released on May 26 says that Russia is still the largest producer of disinformation, a notable finding just five years after Russian operatives launched a far-reaching campaign to infiltrate social media during the 2016 presidential election campaign. (The Washington Post, 05.26.21)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Biden said his administration decided to waive sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline’s operating company because the project is almost finished, and sanctions would have harmed relations with European allies. “It’s almost completely finished,” Biden said of the gas pipeline that will bring gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. “It’s not like I can allow Germany to do something or not.... To go ahead and impose sanctions now would, I think, be counterproductive in terms of our European relations," he told reporters, adding that he was against the project since its inception. The United States formally blacklisted more than a dozen Russian ships involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, days after exempting the pipeline's Russian operator and CEO. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21, RFE/RL, 05.24.21)
  • Ukraine has stepped up its pressure on Washington over the contentious Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, appealing to the US Congress to maintain sanctions against the project. The Ukrainian parliament on May 21 overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling on U.S. lawmakers to override the Biden administration’s decision this week to drop some of the sanctions against the project.  (Financial Times, 05.21.21)
  • The International Energy Agency has warned of the drastic impact that pursuing a net-zero emissions target by 2050 could have. Among those least prepared include Iraq, Libya, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Iran, Guyana, Algeria, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, according to the World Bank. (Financial Times, 05.26.21)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • Russia's Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit by U.S. biotech company Gilead Sciences that challenged the right of a Russian government decree to allow a domestic pharmaceutical company to produce a generic version of Gilead’s antiviral drug Remdesivir without consent. (RFE/RL, 05.27.21)

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Biden will meet with Putin on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland, the White House said in a statement on May 25. The meeting is expected to focus heavily on preventing nuclear escalation.   But Biden is also expected to raise such issues, as prosecution and jailing of Alexei Navalny. And Biden plans to focus on the rising tide of cyberattacks. The Kremlin said the leaders would discuss “topical issues on the international agenda, including interaction in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the settlement of regional conflicts.” Putin’s spokesmand Dmitry Peskov said that “so far” the two leaders have no plans to sign any documents in Geneva.  The meeting will follow Biden's trip to the Group of Seven summit in England and a NATO gathering in Brussels. (The Wall Street Journal, 05.25.21, The New York Times, 05.25.21, Financial Times, 05.25.21, Kommersant, 05.27.21)
    • The announcement of the summit comes a day after a meeting in Geneva between Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council. The White House said those talks “were held in a constructive manner and, despite outstanding differences, allowed for a better understanding of each other’s positions.” Strategic stability was a key focus of the meeting. (RFE/RL, 05.25.21, Financial Times, 05.25.21)
  • A senior Russian official says Moscow is not in talks with Washington over a possible prisoner swap involving Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine jailed in Russia for spying. "Such discussions are not being conducted, and we do not intend to conduct them," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on May 28. (RFE/RL, 05.28.21)
  • Russia is increasingly pressuring Google, Twitter and Facebook to fall in line with Kremlin internet crackdown orders or risk restrictions inside the country, as more governments around the world challenge the companies' principles on online freedom. Russia's internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, recently ramped up its demands for the Silicon Valley companies to remove online content that it deems illegal or restore pro-Kremlin material that had been blocked. The warnings have come at least weekly since services from Facebook, Twitter and Google were used as tools for anti-Kremlin protests in January. (The New York Times, 05.27.21)
  • Russia's communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has given Google 24 hours to delete what it said was prohibited content as it faces the possibility of a punitive slowdown measure on it. Google faces a fine of up to 4 million rubles ($54,300) if the company does not respond to Roskomnadzor's May 24 notifications about the removal of prohibited information within 24 hours, the watchdog was quoted as saying by TASS. (RFE/RL, 05.24.21)
  • A Moscow court has fined Twitter 19 million rubles ($259,000) for failing to delete content Russia deems illegal, in the latest chapter of a long-running dispute between authorities and the social network giant. (RFE/RL, 05.28.21)
  • Court bailiffs have again visited RFE/RL’s Moscow offices on May 25 -- photographing computers and other equipment they’ve threatened to seize over unpaid fines imposed under Russia’s controversial “foreign agents” law. Once all alleged violations are adjudicated by Russian courts, they are expected to result in fines of $2.4 million. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21)
  • Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed imprisoned in Russia has tested positive for COVID-19 after prison officials denied a U.S. Embassy request to vaccinate him, his family said on May 25. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia on May 27 confirmed 9,039 new coronavirus cases and 402 deaths. Russia on May 28 confirmed 9,252 new coronavirus cases and 404 deaths. (The Moscow Times, 05.28.21) Here’s a link to RFE/RL’s interactive map of the virus’ spread around the world, including in Russia and the rest of post-Soviet Eurasia. For a comparison of the number and rate of change in new cases in the U.S. and Russia, visit this Russia Matters resource.
  • Putin said on May 26 that mandating coronavirus vaccinations would be “impractical and impossible” amid an ongoing debate on how to ramp up the country’s slow Covid-19 vaccine take-up. (The Moscow Times, 05.26.21)
  • As Russia's efforts to vaccinate its population against Covid-19 sputter, authorities have turned to a new target group: animals. Russian officials said they rolled out a homegrown animal vaccine, Carnivac-Cov, after trials showed that it generates antibodies in dogs, cats, foxes and mink. (The Wall Street Journal, 05.28.21)
  • Russia's lower house of parliament has approved the second reading of a bill that would ban supporters and members of "extremist" organizations from being elected to any post. Under the draft bill passed on May 25, leaders and founders of organizations declared "extremist" or "terrorist" by Russian courts will be banned from running for elective posts for a period of five years. (RFE/RL, 05.25.21)
  • The Russian government wants to exempt state media from financial scrutiny to avoid being labeled  “foreign agents” because they are not prone to foreign influence. The proposal comes after Russia labeled the independent news sites Meduza and VTimes “foreign agents,” jeopardizing their futures by discouraging advertisers and levying steep fines for auditing violations. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.25.21)
  • Moscow’s decision this month to add VTimes, a corporate news and economics outlet, to its list of “foreign media agents” is the first time Russia has used the label’s draconian powers to target a media organization focusing on business news, and written primarily for investors in the country’s $1.7tn economy. (Financial Times, 05.26.21)
  • Open Russia, a British-based pro-democracy movement founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, says it has decided to end its operations in Russia. The decision was made to protect its supporters from further "harassment" by the Russian authorities due to a bill toughening the law on "undesirable organizations," Executive Director Andrei Pivovarov said on May 27. (RFE/RL, 05.27.21)
  • Police on May 22 broke up a meeting of independent, elected Russian opposition figures, saying they had failed to observe coronavirus health restrictions, participants said. The May 22-23 forum brought together representatives from 30 regions to coordinate their campaign for the September legislative elections. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.24.21)
  • The Russian economy could lose more than 5 trillion rubles ($67 billion) by 2050 due to melting permafrost damage to infrastructure, Russian environmental minister Alexander Kozlov told his audience at the 9th Nevsky International Ecological Congress in St. Petersburg on May 27. The Moscow Times, 05.28.21)
  • Russia's largest online cinema ivi has announced closing a new funding round of $250mn from both external investors and current shareholders, making it one of the largest private equity deals in recent years. (bne IntelliNews, 05.26.21)
  • Putin signed a law on May 26 easing restrictions on tourists coming to Russia by allowing them to stay in the country for up to 6 months if they have hotel bookings. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.26.21)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russian plane maker Sukhoi is developing a next-generation single-engine fighter, an industry source has told TASS news agency.  The plane’s maximum speed will be above 2 Mach. (Defence Blog, 05.26.21)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A Russian court has sentenced five former police officers to several years in prison for the 2019 arrest of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov on trumped-up drug charges. (RFE/RL, 05.28.21)
  • The Moscow City Court has ruled that an extension to July 7 of the pretrial detention of former journalist Ivan Safronov, who is accused of treason, is legal. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Several European influencers say they have been offered money to use their social media presence to discourage their millions of followers from receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine by a suspicious agency that French officials reportedly think could be linked to Russia. (The Washington Post, 05.27.21)
  • A network of Russian marketing companies known for selling dubious nutritional supplements and pushing malware is behind a disinformation campaign to denigrate Western coronavirus vaccines, according to a new RFE/RL investigation. Moscow-based businesswoman Yulia Serebryanskaya has been linked with a network of companies behind a disinformation campaign aimed at discrediting some Western COVID vaccines. The woman is a veteran of political campaigns and event planning for the ruling United Russia party, and briefly ran as an independent for election in the Moscow city elections in 2019.  (RFE/RL, 05.28.21)


  • The Economy Ministry has downgraded its 2021 GDP growth forecast, to 4.1%, from 4.6%, but the Ukrainian government hopes to increase foreign investment from $420 million last year, to $3 billion this year, to $15 billion by 2025, according to the National Economic Strategy 2030 posted last week on the government’s website. (Ukraine Business News, 05.24.21)
  • Ukraine's industrial production exploded, rising 13% in April, mainly on low base effects, whereas the seasonally adjusted growth was a more modest 2.7% expansion y/y  (bne IntelliNews, 05.26.21)
  • A Ukrainian soldier was killed by a separatist sniper in the country's war-ravaged east, the military said on May 27, following an escalation of tensions between Kiev and Moscow. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.27.21)
  • Colonel Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, an elite unit of the army equivalent to Russia’s GRU, estimated that 80 per cent of the Russian troops deployed at Ukraine’s border in March and April were still in place.   (Financial Times, 05.21.21)
  • Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has criticized NATO's failure to invite Kyiv to its summit on June 14 in Brussels. "We understand the desire of the allies to hold a closed summit ... but we do not understand how it is possible not to invite Ukraine," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on May 26. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21)
  • The adoption by the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress of the Act prohibiting the U.S. government from recognizing the statements of the Russian Federation on sovereignty over Crimea testifies to the U.S. support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression, said David Arakhamia, head of the Servant of the People faction. (Interfax, 05.24.21) Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have been investigating whether several Ukrainian officials helped orchestrate a wide-ranging plan to meddle in the 2020 presidential campaign, including using Rudolph W. Giuliani to spread their misleading claims about Biden and tilt the election in Donald J. Trump’s favor, according to people with knowledge of the matter. (The New York Times, 05.27.21)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Belarus has forced a Ryanair airliner to land in Minsk to arrest Roman Protasevich, former editor of Nexta, one of the main independent Belarusian media groups. Belarusian officials said that a MiG-29 fighter jet had been scrambled to escort the airliner to Minsk following a bomb scare, which they later conceded was “false” (Financial Times, 05.24.21)
    • The 26-year-old Protasevich is facing charges of being behind civil disturbances, an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison. European leaders, suspecting that the comments were made under duress, called the video "concerning," while exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said the footage showed Protasevich had been tortured. Protasevich, says he is cooperating and admitting to charges of organizing protests in a video circulated by state TV channels on May 24. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.24.21)
      • Protasevich’s previous work experience reportedly includes reporting for Euroradio, a Minsk-based media outlet funded by the United States, and for the press service of the controversial Ukrainian volunteer Azov Battalion, frequently accused of attracting extreme-right or Neo-Nazi fighters. On May 26, Azov founder Andriy Biletsky stated on his Telegram channel that Protasevich never fought with the battalion. (, 05.24.21 cited in Jamestown, 05.24.21, Meduza, 05.28.21)
    • Sofia Sapega, a 23-year-old Russian citizen, was detailed along with Protasevich. Belarusian authorities remanded her in pretrial detention for two months after being charged with a criminal offense, her lawyer said on May 25. In a video circulated by pro-government Telegram channels, Sapega said she was an editor of an opposition Telegram channel, the Black Book Of Belarus, which publishes personal information about security officials who help Lukashenko stay in power. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21)
    • The opposition to the Belarus regime has urged Brussels to prohibit EU dealings with two dozen state-owned Belarusian companies, block key exports from Minsk and ban new foreign investment into the country in retaliation for the interception of a Ryanair flight and the arrest of an activist. (Financial Times, 05.25.21)
    • According to Lithuanian authorities, 126 passengers left on the flight from Athens, but only 121 reached Vilnius after the flight continued from Minsk, fomenting speculation that those who stayed behind in Belarus, apart from Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, carried out the operation. ” (Financial Times, 05.24.21)
    • Lukashenko has accused the west of staging a “planned provocation” that he claimed forced Belarus to intercept a Ryanair flight carrying a prominent dissident at the weekend. In his first comments since he sent a fighter jet to escort the Lithuania-bound plane to Minsk, the Belarus president told parliament he had “acted legally, protecting people according to all international laws.” Lukashenko said on May 26 that he had acted “legally” in diverting a Ryanair flight with a dissident on board and slammed the West for “crossing red lines.” (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.26.21. Financial Times, 05.26.21)
    • Belarus announced on May 25 it will close its embassy in Canada as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the forced diversion of an airliner and arrest of a prominent Belarusian journalist and said possible sanctions were on the table. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21)
    • Email provider Proton Technologies AG says it has not seen "credible evidence" to back up the claim by Belarus that it received an e-mailed bomb threat before diverting a passenger plane to Minsk. Lukashenko has claimed that Belarusian authorities on May 23 received a warning in an e-mail from Switzerland about a bomb on a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius. (RFE/RL, 05.27.21)
    • Ryanair has accused Belarus of an “act of aviation piracy” for diverting its flight from Greece to Lithuania to detain a dissident, as EU leaders weighed sanctions against the regime. (Financial Times, 05.24.21)
    • Europe's aviation regulator has urged all airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace for safety reasons as the country’s authoritarian leader, Lukashenko, defended his decision to use the military to help force the diversion of a civilian aircraft traveling between EU members Greece and Lithuania to land in the capital, Minsk, where authorities immediately arrested a journalist and his girlfriend. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21)
    • The forced landing in Minsk and subsequent detention of Roman Protasevich, former editor of Nexta was “yet another blatant attempt by the Belarusian authorities to silence all opposition voices”, said Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief. (Financial Times, 05.24.21)
    • Sanctions being explored by the EU’s 27 leaders included banning Belarus’s national carrier, Belavia, from landing at EU airports; declaring the country’s airspace unsafe; and extending travel bans and asset freezes already imposed on dozens of officials in Minsk over rights abuses, according to EU diplomats. (Financial Times, 05.24.21)
    • The North Atlantic Council, NATO's principal political decision-making body, says it supports calls for an urgent independent investigation into Belarus’s forced diversion of the Ryanair passenger jet. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21)
    • Lithuania says it is expelling two Belarusian diplomats accused of conducting activities "incompatible with their diplomatic status" amid international outrage over Belarus’s forced landing of a Vilnius-bound passenger flight in Minsk and the detention of a dissident journalist. (RFE/RL, 05.28.21)
    • U.S. transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg said on May 24 that the safety of flights operated by U.S. airlines over Belarus should be reviewed after the Eastern European country forced a commercial flight to land in order to seize a dissident on board. (The New York Times, 05.24.21)
    • Putin offered Lukashenko gave the Belarusian leader his backing as he welcomed him for talks in Sochi. The Russian leader said the West's response to the incident on Sunday was an "outburst of emotion,” adding, “At one time they forced the Bolivian president's plane to land and took him out of the plane and nothing, silence," said Putin, in a reference to a 2013 incident that saw Evo Morales' plane forced to land in Austria amid efforts to track down whistleblower Edward Snowden. (Euronews, 05.28.21)
    • Lavrov told journalists that Belarus had treated the incident with an "absolutely reasonable approach." (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.24.21)
    • “It is shocking that the west calls the incident in the airspace of Belarus ‘shocking’,” Maria Zakharova, the ministry’s spokeswoman, wrote in a post on her Facebook page, citing other examples of planes being diverted by western nations to arrest wanted people. . (Financial Times, 05.24.21)
    • Russia's state air transport agency says changes to routes from Europe to Russia as a result of the dispute between the West and Belarus over the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight to Minsk may result in longer clearance times. Rosaviatsiya said in a statement on May 28 that it had informed airlines to expect delays after Russia denied access to two European carriers that amended flight plans to skirt Belarus en route to Moscow. (RFE/RL, 05.28.21)
    • The cancellation of several European flights to Moscow after air carriers said they would not fly over Belarus was due to purely technical reasons, the Kremlin said on May 28. "Aviation authorities will give the necessary explanations, but these are technical reasons," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that the measures were taken to ensure aviation safety. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.28.21)
      • Austria on May 27 slammed Russia after it refused to allow an Austrian Airlines flight to be rerouted to avoid Belarusian airspace, resulting in the Vienna-Moscow service being cancelled. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.28.21)
  • The European Union is aiming to provide at least 3 billion euros to Belarus once the country starts on a democratic path with a focus on rule of law and justice reform, restructuring state-owned enterprises, and spending on infrastructure, according to a proposal seen by RFE/RL. (RFE/RL, 05.28.21)
  • Azerbaijan and neighboring Armenia have blamed each other for a border shoot-out that Yerevan says claimed the life of one of its soldiers amid renewed tensions between the two South Caucasus neighbors after last year's war over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijani forces have also captured six Armenian servicemen amid growing border tensions between the two South Caucasus neighbors. (RFE/RL, 05.26.21, RFE/RL, 05.27.21)
  • Kazakhstan has officially refused to grant citizenship to three ethnic Kazakhs who fled China's northwestern region of Xinjiang for illegally entering the country as they fled persecution. (RFE/RL, 05.24.21)


IV. Quoteworthy

  • The big melt in the Arctic is Russia's strategic ''worst nightmare,'' said Michael Kofman, a senior researcher at CNA, a think tank based in Arlington, Va. ''It opens an entire new theater in the event of conflict with the United States'' that will prove difficult to defend, he noted. (The New York Times, 05.24.21)