Russia in Review, Nov. 19-24, 2021
This Week’s Highlights
- According to Kommersant, the Biden administration initially proposed creating four working groups for the renewed U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability: on doctrines, space, nuclear weapons and new technologies. But the Russian negotiators opposed a rigid separation of certain issues, in particular space and missile defense, according to the daily. In the end the negotiators agreed to have two working groups and their first consultations will be held in Geneva in December, Kommersant reports.
- Moscow and Washington are discussing the details of a possible new meeting between the Russian and U.S. presidents, several news outlets report citing Russian officials. Ukraine would be on the agenda, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was cited as saying. His deputy Sergei Ryabkov said the Russian side is giving Washington detailed clarifications regarding its stance on the situation in Ukraine and described the importance of the planned summit as "huge."
- The U.S. has shared intelligence, including maps, with European allies showing a buildup of Russian troops and artillery in preparation for a rapid, large-scale push into Ukraine from multiple locations, Bloomberg reports. In the U.S. assessment, Putin could be weighing an invasion early next year. The Biden administration is weighing sending military advisers and new equipment including weaponry to Ukraine, according to CNN.
- As Chinese and Russian diplomats work out the details of a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a working meeting Nov. 23 with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, TASS reports. The two ministers agreed to ramp up interaction between their countries’ armed forces to conduct strategic military drills and joint patrols. "Our armed forces are interacting on the ground, at sea and in the air. The number of operational and combat training measures is growing," Shoigu was quoted as saying.
- The United States and the European Union will “soon” impose more economic pain on Belarus for creating a migrant crisis on its border with the EU, RFE/RL cites a U.S. special envoy as saying. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the migrant crisis along his country’s border the "greatest attempt to destabilize Europe" since the Cold War and warned that the worst could be yet to come, The Moscow Times/AFP report.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant developments.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- The head of the United Nations' atomic agency says talks he held in Tehran this week about Iran's nuclear program proved inconclusive. Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), met with the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and the Islamic Republic's foreign minister as he specifically sought to convince Iran to reinstall four of the IAEA's cameras at a centrifuge-parts workshop in Karaj that Iran claims was the victim of apparent sabotage. (RFE/RL, 11.24.21)
- Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley agreed to jointly push a political settlement of the Iranian nuclear problem during their latest phone conversation, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Nov. 19. (TASS, 11.19.21)
Great power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
- “This month, in the course of the U.S. Strategic Command’s Global Thunder exercise, 10 strategic bombers practiced using nuclear weapons against Russia … simultaneously from the west and east,” Russian Defense Minister Shoigu said, adding that the closest the bombers flew to Russian borders was 20 kilometers. On Nov. 24 Shoigu said the country needed to further develop its armed forces in the face of "increased NATO activity" on its borders. (TASS, 11.23.21, Reuters, 11.24.21)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed officials at a Nov. 18 Foreign Ministry meeting to begin talks on developing a system of security guarantees, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists the following day. According to Peskov, the talks will be held not only with European partners, but "with everyone who has a say in ensuring European security… A document is a form; it should involve some joint agreements, while how they are recorded is an issue for negotiations," he added. (TASS, 11.19.21)
- In an apparent allusion to legal NATO operations in the Black Sea, Peskov said that "we are being accused of some kind of unusual military activity on our territory by those who have brought in their armed forces from overseas." Peskov on Nov. 21 accused NATO of concentrating a "military fist" near Russia's borders and urged the alliance to stop providing modern weapons to Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 11.21.21)
China-Russia: Allied or aligned?
- The foreign ministries of China and Russia are working on the details of a possible visit by Russia’s president to Beijing for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games in China, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Nov. 23. "This time Chinese leader Xi Jinping has invited his good friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin, to come to the Winter Olympics in Beijing," the diplomat said. (TASS, 11.23.21)
- During a video call on Nov. 23, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, signed a plan for military cooperation for 2021-2025. The two ministers agreed to ramp up interaction between their countries’ armed forces to conduct strategic military drills and joint patrols. (TASS, 11.23.21, AP, 11.23.21)
- "You’ve successfully countered the pressure and deterrence from the U.S., as well as military threats from the U.S.," Wei said. (TASS, 11.23.21)
- "Our armed forces are interacting on the ground, at sea and in the air. The number of operational and combat training measures is growing," Shoigu said, noting that Russia and China had held the first Sibu/Interaction 2021 joint operational and strategic exercise on Chinese territory this year. (TASS, 11.23.21)
- China-Russia relations have been developing at a high level with fruitful outcomes in various fields of cooperation, a top Chinese legislator told a meeting on Sino-Russian parliamentary cooperation Nov. 23. This demonstrates the staunch mutual support and the breadth and depth of China-Russia "back-to-back" strategic coordination, Li Zhanshu, chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, told the meeting. (Xinhua, 11.23.21)
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
- According to Kommersant, the Biden administration initially proposed creating four working groups for the renewed U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability: on doctrines, on space, on nuclear weapons and on new technologies. But the Russian negotiators opposed a rigid separation of certain issues, in particular space and missile defense, according to the daily. In the end, the negotiators agreed to have two working groups, Kommersant reported: on the principles and goals of future arms control and on potentials and activities with a possible strategic effect. On the Russian side, these groups will be headed by Vladimir Leontyev, deputy director of the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Foreign Ministry, and Vasily Boryak, deputy director of the ministry’s North America Department. On the U.S. side, the groups will reportedly be headed by Senior Bureau Official Alexandra Bell of the State Department's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance and Eric Desautels, identified as the bureau’s acting deputy assistant secretary. The groups are interdepartmental and include representatives of both countries' defense ministries, as well as officials from other specialized departments. The first consultations of the working groups will be held in Geneva in December, according to Kommersant. (Russia Matters, 11.21.21)
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- Russian troops have started to patrol the line of contact between the areas controlled by the international antiterrorist coalition and the Russian contingent along the 40th meridian in eastern Syria. (Interfax, 11.22.21)
- Russian Special Presidential Representative on Syria Alexander Lavrentyev and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to discuss the situation in Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Nov. 22. The Russian delegation also met in Tehran with the deputy secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and held negotiations with the Iranian foreign minister's senior assistant for special political affairs. (TASS, 11.22.21)
- See “Security, law-enforcement and justice” below.
Energy exports from CIS:
- Russia's state-controlled Gazprom told Moldova on Nov. 22 that it will cut off gas to the country in 48 hours if it does not pay tens of millions of dollars for recent deliveries. (RFE/RL, 11.23.21)
- The United States has announced further sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, citing Russian-linked Transadria Ltd. and its Marlin vessel. A Nov. 22 statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the action "is in line with the United States' continuing opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the U.S. government's continued compliance with the Protecting Europe's Energy Security Act of 2019 (PEESA)." (RFE/RL, 11.23.21)
- The U.S. and several other countries will tap their national strategic petroleum reserves, senior Biden administration officials said Nov. 23, in an attempt to bring down gasoline prices that have become a big contributor to inflation. Other countries participating in the release include China, India, Japan, South Korea and the U.K., the White House said. The U.S. will release 50 million barrels, officials said. (Wall Street Journal, 11.23.21)
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- Russia has demanded that 13 foreign, mostly U.S. technology companies be officially represented on Russian soil by the end of 2021 or face possible restrictions or outright bans. Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok are among the tech entities addressed in the demand. Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Nov. 24 that foreign software could become unavailable in Russia at any time and the management of state-owned companies must be held responsible for fulfilling the requirements of transitioning to domestic software. (Reuters, 11.23.21, The Hill, 11.23.21, Interfax, 11.24.21)
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- Moscow and Washington are discussing the details of a possible new meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden where Ukraine will be on the agenda, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a press conference on Nov. 22. "During the next contact between our presidents, whose time and other parameters are being discussed now, the subject of Ukraine will definitely be addressed one way or another," Lavrov said. Russia does not see any point in setting up new negotiating formats on Ukraine, he added. On Nov. 21, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov described the importance of a Biden-Putin summit as "huge." Russia needs "to explain to them [the U.S.] in detail what is happening," Ryabkov said of the prospective online meeting, which Moscow says could take place before the end of the year. (RFE/RL, 11.21.21, TASS, 11.22.21, Interfax, 11.22.21)
- The Kremlin said Nov. 24 that it opposes U.S. President Joe Biden’s “divisive” democracy summit after Russia did not appear on the list of invitees. Around 110 countries have been invited to the virtual summit, including the United States' major Western allies, and snubbing Russia and China. The long-advertised meeting will take place online Dec. 9-10 ahead of an in-person meeting at its second gathering next year. The list of invitees from the former Soviet world includes Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia as well as the three Baltic states that are now members of the European Union and NATO. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.24.21)
- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Nov. 20 warned the shadowy Russian mercenary group Wagner against involvement in Mali as he pressed for a civilian transition in the troubled country. On a visit to Senegal, Blinken said that the United States was “contributing to efforts with Mali and partners in support of stability” in the war-ravaged country. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.21.21)
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- Here’s a link to RFE/RL’s interactive map of COVID-19’s spread around the world, including in Russia and the rest of post-Soviet Eurasia.
- Russia on Nov. 24 confirmed 33,558 COVID-19 infections and 1,240 deaths. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.24.21)One-quarter of Russia's World War II veterans have died during the pandemic, according to an analysis by the Vedomosti business daily published Nov. 22. Some 312,600 veterans of what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War died between April 2020 and October 2021, Vedomosti reported, citing Labor Ministry data. (The Moscow Times, 11.22.21)
- The Khanty-Mansi autonomous region 2,700 kilometers east of Moscow has become the first in the country to impose self-isolation rules for residents who haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.23.21)
- Leading Russian doctors on Nov. 24 invited celebrities and politicians with anti-vaccine views to visit COVID red zones in hospitals and see for themselves the dramatic effects of the pandemic. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.24.21)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he has taken part in testing a powdered coronavirus vaccine that is administered nasally, which was developed by the Gamaleya Research Center. Putin said he underwent the procedure the day after receiving a booster shot with a third dose of COVID vaccine, as the country struggles with a fresh wave of the virus. (Interfax, 11.24.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.21.21)
- Russia is losing increasing amounts of its Arctic coast each year as climate change accelerates natural erosion processes, a phenomenon that could catalyze new ecological disasters, scientists have warned. An amount of shoreline roughly the size of central Moscow now collapses into the sea every year, Stanislav Ogorodov, the head geo-ecological scientist at Moscow State University, told the state-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper Nov. 19. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.22.21)
- The Moscow City Court has pressed pause on a hearing about shutting down the Memorial Human Rights Center, one of Russia's oldest human rights organizations, in order to give prosecutors time to address the defendants’ questions. According to Memorial, the court opened the preliminary hearing on Nov. 23 but quickly adjourned the proceedings until Nov. 29 after prosecutors were unable to answer all the questions put to them by a defense team led by lawyer Ilya Novikov. (RFE/RL, 11.23.21)
- The website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said that the Pervorechensk District Court in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on Nov. 22 acquitted Dmitri Barmakin, who was charged with organizing the activities of an extremist group. The court's verdict says that Barmakin "is subject to acquittal due to the absence of corpus delicti (proof of a crime) by the defendant's actions" just because he had "exercised the right to freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution of Russia." (RFE/RL, 11.23.21)
- Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has filed another lawsuit against Correctional Colony No. 2 in the Vladimir region where he is serving a prison sentence that he and his supporters consider politically motivated. Navalny's lawyer Vadim Kobzev told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper on Nov. 24 that his client's lawsuit concerns the colony's decision to label him "a person inclined to commit crimes of a terrorist or extremist nature." (RFE/RL, 11.24.21)
- Another associate of jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny has left the country fearing persecution amid an ongoing crackdown against the defunct organizations associated with the Kremlin critic, which were labeled as extremist earlier this year. Irina Fatyanova headed Navalny's network of regional campaign groups in St. Petersburg until Navalny's team disbanded in April. (RFE/RL, 11.24.21)
- A second lawyer for jailed Russian journalist Ivan Safronov, who is charged with high treason, has fled the country. Yevgeny Smirnov told investigative journalists from The Insider on Nov. 23 that he is now in Georgia, adding that he had decided to leave Russia after an internal disciplinary investigation had been initiated against him by the Federal Security Service, or FSB. (RFE/RL, 11.24.21)
Defense and aerospace:
- The newest Russian Armata T-14 main battle tank will enter mass production later than expected, multiple sources have told Defense Blog. The industry sources said that the delivery of new Armata tanks in serial configuration could be delayed until 2024 due to technological hurdles. (Defense Blog, 11.22.21)
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of the chief executive of a leading Russian cybersecurity company, Group-IB, who was arrested in September on charges of treason. The Lefortovo District Court on Nov. 23 ruled that Ilya Sachkov must stay in pretrial detention until at least Feb. 28, 2022. (RFE/RL, 11.23.21)
- This week marked the 15th anniversary of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko’s death in London on Nov. 23, 2006, after being poisoned by a rare radioactive compound, polonium-210. In 2021 the European Court of Human Rights established that Russia was involved in the murder and ordered the country to pay $137,000 to Litvinenko’s widow, Marina Litvinenko. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.23.21)
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- After two months of talks, German parties on Nov. 24 were set to announce a new government that will see Olaf Scholz, from the center-left Social Democrats, take over from Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years in power. (The Washington Post, 11.24.21)
- The U.S. has shared intelligence, including maps, with European allies showing a buildup of Russian troops and artillery to prepare for a rapid, large-scale push into Ukraine from multiple locations. In the U.S. assessment, Russian President Vladimir Putin could be weighing an invasion early next year. The information lays out a scenario where troops would cross into Ukraine from Crimea, the Russian border and via Belarus, with about 100 battalion tactical groups—potentially around 100,000 soldiers, covering extensive territory and prepared for a potentially prolonged occupation. Two of the people said about half that number of tactical groups was already in position. The two people said that Moscow had also called up tens of thousands of reservists on a scale unprecedented in post-Soviet times. They explained the role of reservists in any conflict would be to secure territory in a later phase after the tactical battalions paved the way. (Bloomberg, 11.21.21)
- American and British intelligence officials are increasingly convinced that President Vladimir Putin of Russia is considering military action to take control of a larger swath of Ukraine. Russia has not yet decided what it intends to do with the troops it has amassed near Ukraine, American officials said, but the buildup is being taken seriously and the United States is not assuming it is a bluff. Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, traveled to Brussels this week to brief NATO ambassadors about American intelligence on the situation and a possible Russian military intervention in Ukraine. (New York Times, 11.19.21)
- U.S. officials say Russia's ultimate plan remains unclear. "There is no smoking gun or decisive indicator of Putin's intentions," said one defense official. Still the U.S. is warning of the possibility of the worst-case scenario that Moscow attempts regime change in Kiev. "You don't achieve that goal by carving out another chunk of the eastern Donetsk region," said one person familiar with the intelligence. "It's got to be something more than that. If that's [Putin's] goal, then you don't do that by doing something small." (CNN, 11.23.21)
- Asked about the Russian military activity, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Nov. 22 that the administration is concerned and has "had extensive interactions with our European allies and partners in recent weeks, including with Ukraine." She added that the U.S. has also had “discussions with Russian officials about Ukraine and U.S.-Russian relations in general." (CNN, 11.23.21)
- On Nov. 20, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Washington's concerns about the Russian troop buildup were "widely shared" by U.S. allies. "We don't know what President Putin's intentions are. But we do know what's happened in the past. We know the playbook of trying to cite some illusory provocation from Ukraine or any other country and using that as an excuse for what Russia plans to do all along," Blinken said. (RFE/RL, 11.21.21)
- Russia sent troops to a site in Crimea called Cape Opuk and moved a larger number to a former warehouse complex near the Russian town of Pavlovsk. The deployments put Russian tanks, howitzers and Iskander short-range ballistic missiles within striking distance of Ukraine's border, according to a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). (New York Times, 11.19.21)
- A new CSIS satellite imagery analysis shows that there has recently been a 17% increase in the number of military structures used for storage and billeting troops outside the Russian town of Yelnya, home of the 144th Guards Motorized Rifle Division. CSIS analysis also shows a continuing surge of military equipment and personnel from the 41st Combined Arms Army, which is normally garrisoned over 2,000 miles away in Novosibirsk. (CSIS, 11.17.21)
- Russia and Ukraine both held military exercises on Nov. 24 amid rising tensions prompted by reports of a large Russian military buildup near the Ukrainian border that has raised fears of a possible invasion. Russia staged military drills in the Black Sea, south of Ukraine, saying it needed to sharpen the combat readiness of its conventional and nuclear forces because of what Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called "the growing activity of NATO countries near Russia's borders." Ukraine, meanwhile, staged exercises of its own near its northern frontier, which it said were meant to beef up preparedness for a potential spillover of a months-long migrant crisis on the border between European Union member Poland and Belarus. (RFE/RL, 11.24.21)
- The Biden administration is weighing sending military advisers and new equipment including weaponry to Ukraine, multiple sources familiar with the deliberations tell CNN. The package could include new Javelin anti-tank and anti-armor missiles as well as mortars, the sources said. Air defense systems, such as Stinger missiles, are also under consideration, and the Defense Department has been pressing for Mi-17 helicopters be sent to Ukraine. (CNN, 11.23.21)
- Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) has introduced an amendment to NDAA-2022 that would trigger a cascade of sanctions against top Russian officials, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, major financial institutions, sovereign debt transactions and more in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Axios, 11.19.21)
- One of the people familiar with the conversations between the U.S. and its allies said a potential joint response to Russian aggression in Ukraine needed to be agreed upon soon among allies that would be unequivocal and overwhelming if implemented, adding there was still a window of opportunity to deter Putin. It’s unclear at this stage if that would include a possible military response. (Bloomberg, 11.21.21)
- Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed "current questions of international security," Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Nov. 23. The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed the call, saying in a statement that Gerasimov and Milley discussed "security-related issues of concern." "The phone call is a continuation of communication between both leaders to ensure risk reduction and operational de-confliction," it said. (RFE/RL, 11.24.21)
- On Nov. 19, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with Lt. Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, the commander in chief of Ukraine's military, to discuss Russia's ''concerning activity in the area,'' the Joint Staff said in a statement. The two spoke again on Nov. 22. (CNN, 11.23.21, New York Times, 11.19.21)
- "I do not believe in this," Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said of a large-scale offensive by Russia and the seizure of Ukrainian territory in an interview with the Ukrainian service of the Voice of America. Speaking to The Washington Post, however, Reznikov said he believed Putin was at an inflection point, deciding whether to "go through the Ukrainian border and burn the bridges, or he is still bargaining and trying to find something interesting for him." During his meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Reznikov requested military assistance. He said Ukraine had "powerful" ground forces but needed to enhance its air and naval capacities to deter Russian threats. (Interfax, 11.20.21, The Washington Post, 11.21.21, RFE/RL, 11.21.21)
- The Russian side is giving Washington detailed clarifications regarding its stance on the situation in Ukraine, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said. "The Americans have voiced a series of questions for us, including with regard to Ukraine. They need a detailed clarification on what is going on, and we're doing this," Ryabkov said. "But for the contact to take place, it requires to be thoroughly prepared, and that's what we're doing." (Interfax, 11.22.21)
- “Any movement of Russian troops within our territory does not pose a threat to anyone and should not cause concern to anyone," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. Reports alleging that Russia might be preparing a military invasion of Ukraine could serve as a smokescreen for aggressive plans on the part of Kyiv to use force to solve the problem of Donbas, he said Nov. 22. Peskov also said that Russia will not attack Ukraine and is not harboring “aggressive” plans, but it remains “deeply concerned about provocative actions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the line of contact” as well as “preparations for a possible military solution to the Donbas problem.” The United States is “escalating” the tense situation between Kyiv and Moscow by sending weapons and military advisers to Ukraine, he said Nov. 23. "There's a way out [of tensions around Ukraine]. NATO must stop provocative activities in proximity of our borders; NATO must stop promoting its political and military infrastructure toward our borders,” Peskov said. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.22.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.23.21, Interfax, 11.22.21, AP, 11.23.21)
- Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) accused the U.S. and the EU of encouraging the conflict in Ukraine’s southeast. “We … are concerned that such aggressive propaganda stimulates the Kyiv regime to ramp up its military group in Donbas, to restore artillery shelling of civilian objects," the agency’s press service said Nov. 22. "The provocative policy of the U.S. and the EU, which deliberately reinforces Kyiv’s feeling of permissiveness and impunity, is causing extreme concerns," the statement says. The SVR dismissed growing Western allegations that Moscow is planning an invasion of Ukraine. "The United States and its allies continue to pump … weapons to Ukraine, [and] push it toward using such weapons, including unmanned aerial vehicles for the purposes of military provocations," the SVR said. (TASS, The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.22.21)
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu discussed Ukraine by phone on Nov. 19. "We called for taking our concerns regarding Turkish-Ukrainian military-technical collaboration, which, inter alia, promotes Ukraine's further militarization, as seriously as possible," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. The Ukrainian armed forces used a Bayraktar drone bought from Turkey in Donbas for the first time on Oct. 26. Ukraine’s defense minister has said his agency would buy a new shipment of Bayraktar drones from Turkey in 2022. (Interfax, 11.22.21)
- Two patrol boats given to the Ukrainian Navy by the United States arrived at the Black Sea port of Odessa aboard a cargo ship, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry has said. Earlier this month, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said the two Island-class patrol boats were “part of the more than $2.5 billion in security assistance the U.S. has provided Ukraine since 2014.” (RFE/RL, 11.24.21)
- Ukraine will participate as an observer in NATO's Dynamic Move 2022 command post exercise to take place in Belgium Jan. 31-Feb. 8, 2022, the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Facebook. (Interfax, 11.22.21)
- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a second loan tranche worth nearly $700 million to Ukraine, giving a boost to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government as it struggles to meet reform targets set by the lender. (RFE/RL, 11.22.21)
- An Iranian military court began a hearing over the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in 2020 that killed 176 people. Some 10 military personnel of various ranks were present at the Nov. 21 hearing in Tehran, as well as the families of victims and lawyers for both sides. (RFE/RL, 11.22.21)
- See also “U.S.-Russian relations in general” above.
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- The United States and the European Union will “soon” impose more economic pain on Belarus for creating a migrant crisis on its border with the EU, a top U.S. diplomat has said. U.S. Special Envoy to Belarus Julie Fisher told a Wilson Center conference on Nov. 22 that strongman Alexander Lukashenka “bears full responsibility” for the crisis that has left thousands of migrants from the Middle East stranded between the EU and Belarus and that action must be taken to change his behavior. “The United States and the EU have both made it clear that more sanctions pressure is coming soon,” she said. (RFE/RL, 11.23.21)
- Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called the migrant crisis along the Belarus-Polish border the "greatest attempt to destabilize Europe" since the Cold War and warned that the worst could be yet to come. Morawiecki posted on Twitter on Nov. 21 that Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenka has launched a "hybrid war" against the European Union. The same day, Poland reported an attempt by about 100 "very aggressive" would-be migrants to cross the border. Poland said Nov. 20 that Belarus has changed tactics in the border crisis by now directing smaller groups of migrants to multiple points along the European Union's eastern frontier. (RFE/RL, 11.21.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.21.21)
- Poland says groups of migrants have made new attempts to illegally cross the border from Belarus and warned against interpreting recent moves by Minsk to repatriate some of the migrants as a de-escalation of the crisis on the European Union's eastern frontier. The Polish officials issued the warning on Nov. 23 as top EU officials said the 27-nation bloc was readying a fifth package of sanctions against Belarus for mounting a "hybrid attack.” (RFE/RL, 11.24.21)
- Germany has again rejected a proposal by Alexander Lukashenka that it take in some 2,000 migrants currently in the former Soviet republic after Belarus's authoritarian ruler accused European officials of failing to engage with Minsk on solving the problem and warning it could lead to armed conflict. (RFE/RL, 11.23.21)
- Belarus's authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenka has told the BBC it is "absolutely possible" his forces helped migrants cross into Poland but denies that Belarus invited the migrants in the first place. (BBC, 11.20.21)
- When asked how he had gone about destroying civil society, including the closure of 270 non-governmental organizations since July, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka said: "We'll massacre all the scum that you [the West] have been financing. Oh, you're upset we've destroyed all your structures! Your NGOs, whatever they are, that you've been paying for." (BBC, 11.20.21)
- Belarus's oldest newspaper, Niva, was banned as “extremist” on the 115th anniversary of its establishment in the latest assault on independent media since last year’s disputed presidential election. (RFE/RL, 11.24.21)
- A high-level delegation of European officials led by the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrel, has held talks in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, with foreign ministers from Central Asia over the situation in neighboring Afghanistan. Turkmenistan was represented by a deputy foreign minister. (RFE/RL, 11.22.21)
- The former president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has decided to give up the leadership of the ruling Nur-Otan party, a move that strengthens the position of the current president, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev. (RFE/RL, 11.23.21)
- Kazakh national nuclear company Kazatomprom has signed a framework agreement with Genchi Global to invest in the newly established ANU Energy OEIC Limited physical uranium fund, meaning the fund can begin operations. Meanwhile, Kazatomprom has exercised an option to buy back uranium previously sold to Yellow Cake Plc. Last week a subsidiary of Russia’s Rosatom said it had delivered a first shipment of low-enriched uranium from Russia to a Kazakh-Chinese fuel-assemblies plant in Kazakhstan, which has been described as heralding a new phase of nuclear cooperation between Nur-Sultan and Beijing. (World Nuclear News, 11.23.21, Eurasianet, 11.18.21)
- On Nov. 28, voters in Kyrgyzstan return to the polls to cast ballots in a rerun of last year’s parliamentary elections. (RFE/RL, 11.21.21)
- Two former Kyrgyz prime ministers charged with corruption related to the Kumtor goldmine have been transferred to house arrest from pretrial custody in a detention center. A court in Bishkek made the ruling on Nov. 20 concerning Joomart Otorbayev and Temir Sariyev. The two are among several former prime ministers and other senior officials arrested in connection with the Kumtor project in recent months. (RFE/RL, 11.22.21)
- Uzbekistan's State Security Service (DXX) and its Interior Ministry have detained a group of alleged members of a banned Islamic group in the Tashkent region. In a joint statement on Nov. 23, the DXX and the ministry said those detained are suspected of being members of Katiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, a group that was labeled as terrorist and banned in the Central Asian nation in 2016. It did not reveal the exact number of detainees or their identities. (RFE/RL, 11.24.21)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin will host Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev this week, the Kremlin said on Nov. 23 amid renewed fighting in recent days between the Caucasus neighbors. The meeting will take place in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi on Nov. 26, the Kremlin said in a statement, adding that the talks were organized at Putin's initiative. Pashinyan and Aliyev also will meet in Brussels next month to discuss border clashes and advancing diplomacy, the European Union said. (RFE/RL, 11.23.21, RFE/RL, 11.21.21)
- Armenia's Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said Armenia is prepared for normalization with Ankara despite "huge Turkish support" for Azerbaijan during the 2020 fighting. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has rejected what he calls "corridor logic" for resolving remaining problems, and Mirzoyan told Le Figaro that the demand for an "extraterritorial" corridor was out of the question. (RFE/RL, 11.21.21)
- Georgian Justice Minister Rati Bregadze says that former President Mikheil Saakashvili may appear in court for his trial hearings, as Saakashvili has called off his 50-day hunger strike and is now receiving medical care in Gori military hospital. (Agenda.ge, 11.23.21)
- “There’s a great joke that captures what this is all about: Russia and America will fight each other until there are no Ukrainians left,” said Yevgeny Popov, a lawmaker and co-host of 60 Minutes, Russian state television’s most popular talk show. “America’s far away, that’s a geopolitical advantage. And the missiles and anti-missile systems and tanks and troops and bases […] are in Ukraine. Why should we put up with that?” (Financial Times, 11.20.21)