Russia in Review, Nov. 24-Dec. 3, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Dec. 2 that U.S. President Joe Biden would ''likely'' speak directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin ''in the near future,” The New York Times reports. The Kremlin said Dec. 3 that a video call would take place next week. Kommersant reported that Dec. 7 is being discussed as the day when Putin and Biden may talk via a video conference link. “Naturally, they will touch on the issues concerning the process of implementing the Geneva arrangements," Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov said at a briefing on Dec. 1. Ushakov said the presidents will also discuss Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Syria, strategic stability and “realization of our idea of holding a summit of U.N. Security Council permanent members,” according to Interfax. Ushakov also said Putin will raise the issue of guarantees regarding the non-expansion of NATO to the east, TASS reports. Meanwhile it has been reported that U.S. diplomats have overcome a months-long standoff with the Kremlin on the granting of visas for U.S. Embassy personnel in Moscow during a meeting with Russian counterparts, according to The Washington Post.
  • Speaking at an investment forum in Moscow on Nov. 30, Putin warned the West against crossing Moscow’s “red lines” in Ukraine. At a ceremony for ambassadors at the Kremlin on Dec. 1, Putin demanded “legal guarantees” that the NATO alliance would never expand eastward, The New York Times reports. Speaking at a summit of OSCE foreign ministers Dec. 2, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would soon put forward proposals for a new European security pact which he said he hoped would stop NATO from expanding further eastwards, according to Reuters. Agreements on NATO’s non-expansion to the east must be committed to paper, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said on Dec. 3, according to TASS.
  • During his Dec. 2 meeting with Lavrov on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting, Blinken warned his Russian counterpart that Russia would face a strong reaction if it interferes further in Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal reports. Blinken also told OSCE members in Stockholm on Dec. 2 that Russia isn't living up to the "Minsk process.” Lavrov disputed Blinken's comments, later criticizing what he described as an "obsession with tying all the Minsk agreements to Russia's actions.”
  • Speaking to reporters during a Nov. 30 meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Riga, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the U.S.-led military organization must prepare for the worst as concern mounts that Russia could be preparing to invade Ukraine, the AP reports. “It’s only Ukraine and 30 NATO allies that decide when Ukraine is ready to join NATO,” he said. “Russia has no veto, Russia has no say, and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence trying to control its neighbors,” he said, according to The New York Times.
  • “We have many areas of cooperation with the People’s Republic of China. One of them is, obviously, our cooperation in third countries. This cooperation has been going on for some time and it can be expanded,” Putin, who is to visit China in February, told an investment forum in Russia Nov. 30. Russia can’t “sit on its hands” and do nothing to deepen the strategic ties with China “in the conditions when both countries have come under identical and increasingly heavy pressure from the collective West,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, TASS reports.
  • “They understand perfectly well that if they once again start a war in Donbass or somewhere else on the border with Russia, Belarus won’t stand aside,” Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko said at a Belarussian Defense Ministry meeting on military security on Nov. 29, TASS reports. Then, speaking in an interview on Nov. 30, Lukashenko for the first time recognized Crimea as part of Russia, adding that he planned to visit the peninsula with Putin, according to RFE/RL. Earlier this month, Stoltenberg said that U.S. nuclear weapons on a base in Germany could be moved further east if Berlin's new government dropped out of a nuclear-sharing deal. Lukashenko then said he would invite Russia to position nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil, RFE/RL reports.

 

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

  • A visit of inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency to check the storage sites of nuclear material in Ukraine’s temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions may take place by the end of the year, a spokesperson of the Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group on Donbass said. (Interfax, 11.29.21)
  • Russia's Kalinin nuclear power plant shows a commitment to safety, said a team assembled by the IAEA, which took some new practices away to share with the global industry. (World Nuclear News, 12.01.21)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Achievement of an interim agreement on the Iran nuclear deal is possible if the political will of Iran and the U.S. to do that is present, but it must not supplant the full restoration of the deal, Russian Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov said Dec. 1. Reports of uranium enrichment in Iran’s Fordow cause concerns, he said, adding that Tehran must bring its nuclear program in compliance with the JCPOA. In earlier remarks, Ulyanov also said that Iran, China and Russia held useful informal consultations ahead of the beginning of the Vienna talks on the restoration of the Iran nuclear deal. (TASS, 12.01.21, TASS, 11.08.21)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the situation around the Iranian nuclear deal and Afghanistan with U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on the sidelines of the OSCE Council of Foreign Ministers in Stockholm on Dec. 2. (TASS, 12.02.21)

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

  • At a ceremony for ambassadors at the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded “legal guarantees” on Dec. 1 that NATO would never expand eastward. “The threat on our western borders is, indeed, rising, as we have said multiple times,” Putin said. “In our dialogue with the United States and its allies, we will insist on developing concrete agreements prohibiting any further eastward expansion of NATO and the placement there of weapons systems in the immediate vicinity of Russian territory.” “Our Western colleagues haven’t fulfilled oral obligations” in the past, he said. (The New York Times, 12.01.21, Bloomberg, 12.01.21)
  • Speaking at an OSCE summit outside Stockholm Dec. 2, Lavrov said Moscow would soon put forward proposals for a new European security pact which he said he hoped would stop NATO from expanding further eastwards. "Turning our neighboring countries into bridgeheads of confrontation with Russia and deploying NATO forces in direct proximity to areas of strategic importance for our security is categorically unacceptable," he said. Lavrov also told the OSCE that Western arms shipments to Ukraine were encouraging Kyiv to think it could resolve its territorial problems by force and that Moscow also feared that intermediate-range U.S. missiles could appear in Europe. (Reuters, 12.02.21)
  • During his Dec. 2 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting, Lavrov said: "If NATO members continue to withdraw from the conversation on this topic or on the topic of agreements, the ideas of which were put forward by President Putin, of course we will take measures so that our security, our sovereignty and territorial integrity do not depend on anyone," he said. During their meeting Blinken and Lavrov discussed Ukraine as well as touched on issues where they have overlapping interests, including preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and the simmering dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. During the meeting, Blinken urged Moscow to abandon plans for a potential invasion of Ukraine, calling for a peaceful resolution to an intensifying showdown between Russia and the West. Blinken also said he and Lavrov would report the details of their meeting back to U.S. President Joe Biden and Putin. A senior State Department official said the talks yielded no breakthroughs. (The Washington Post, 12.02.21, CNN, 12.02.21, The Wall Street Journal, 12.02.21) See more Ukraine-related news in the Ukraine section below.
  • Agreements on NATO’s non-expansion to the east must be committed to paper and the urgent need of granting Russia such guarantees is on the current agenda, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said Dec. 3. (TASS, 12.03.21)
  • Speaking to reporters during a Nov. 30 meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Riga NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that NATO must prepare for the worst as concern mounts that Russia could be preparing to invade Ukraine. NATO foreign ministers discussed potential financial and political measures, with the aim of deterring Russia from acting, Stoltenberg said. Stoltenberg was joined in Riga by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for meetings dominated by the Belarusian migrant crisis and Russia's military buildup near Ukraine. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said “Russia would have to pay a high price for any form of aggression.” Stoltenberg said the foreign ministers also discussed what lessons to draw from its almost two-decade-long mission in Afghanistan. Developments in the Western Balkans were also on the agenda, with Finland, Sweden and the EU High Representative joining the discussion. (AP, 11.30.21, RFE/RL, 11.29.21, NATO, 12.01.21, The Wall Street Journal, 11.30.21.)
  • “It’s only Ukraine and 30 NATO allies that decide when Ukraine is ready to join NATO,” Stoltenberg said. “Russia has no veto, Russia has no say and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence trying to control its neighbors.” (The New York Times, 12.01.21)
  • Speaking at an investment forum in Moscow Nov. 30 Putin warned the West against crossing Moscow’s “red lines” in Ukraine. Putin told the forum that Moscow had developed hypersonic missiles and would be forced to respond “if NATO continued to expand its infrastructure,” including through the alliance’s potential deployment of its own similar missile systems. “If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be seven to 10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed,” Putin said. “Then we’ll have to create something similar to those who threaten us. Can you imagine? And we can already do that now,” Putin added. (Financial Times, 11.30.21)
  • Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, warned America’s adversaries not to assume that the country was weak or unwilling to take military action to defend its interests in the wake of its withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Last time, it turned out to be a series of exercises. One of the most noticeable differences between now and April is the rhetoric,” said Milley in reference to Russia’s behavior vis-à-vis Ukraine. “The public rhetoric coming out of Russia seems to be a little bit more strident than it was before.” (Financial Times, 12.03.21)
  • CIA Director William Burns delivered a confidential warning to Russia's top intelligence services that they will face "consequences" if they are behind the string of mysterious health incidents known as "Havana Syndrome" afflicting U.S. diplomats and spies around the world, according to U.S. officials familiar with the exchange. During a visit to Moscow in November, Burns raised the issue with the leadership of Russia's FSB and its Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR. (The Washington Post, 11.24.21)
  • For months, the CIA and government scientists have been working to find a cause of the chronic ailments reported by intelligence officers and diplomats—but the health incidents, known as the Havana syndrome, remain as mysterious now as they were a year ago. Intelligence officials have not found any hard evidence that points to a cause. (The New York Times, 12.02.21)
  • The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) began its northbound international strait transit en route to the Black Sea, according to the official command account of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa. (Defense Blog, 11.25.21)
  • The British army is to base hundreds of armored vehicles in Germany in a move designed to help bolster NATO as tensions with Moscow over Ukraine remain high. Under plans described as a “radical” restructuring of British land forces, the U.K. government announced on Nov. 25 that a NATO base at Sennelager, near the German city of Paderborn, would become one of three new “regional land hubs” for the British army, alongside Oman and Kenya. (Financial Times, 11.26.21)
  • In a direct warning to Moscow, head of the U.K.’s Secret Intelligence Service Richard Moore said it should be “in no doubt of our allies’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. His comments echoed those of NATO foreign ministers, including the U.K.’s Liz Truss, attending a summit in Latvia to discuss the massing of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border. (Financial Times, 11.30.21)
    • The latest insinuations by the chief of Britain’s foreign intelligence MI6 Richard Moore have largely spoiled the climate for a possible dialogue, the press-bureau of the Russian foreign intelligence SVR said on Dec. 2. (TASS, 12.02.21)
  • British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that any suggestion that NATO was provoking Russia was "clearly false," adding that "any action by Russia to undermine the freedom and democracy that our partners enjoy would be a strategic mistake." (RFE/RL, 11.30.21)
  • Japan's cabinet approved a boost in defense spending that for the first time will bring the annual total beyond ¥6 trillion, to the equivalent of $53 billion, responding to China's rapid military expansion. In October, China and Russia held a joint naval exercise in which 10 of their warships made a near-circle around Japan's main island of Honshu, passing through international waterways north and south of the island. (The Wall Street Journal, 11.26.21)
  • The U.S. plans to work with other countries to limit exports of surveillance tools and other technologies that authoritarian governments can use to suppress human rights, an alleged practice in China. The Biden administration said Dec. 2 that it would launch an initiative with friendly nations to establish a code of conduct for coordinating export-licensing policies. (The Wall Street Journal, 12.02.21)

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • Talks on organizing Putin's visit to China in February 2022 are already underway with Chinese partners, Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov said. (Interfax, 12.03.21)
  • “We have many areas of cooperation with the People’s Republic of China. One of them is, obviously, our cooperation in third countries. This cooperation has been going on for some time and it can be expanded. Why? Because we have similar approaches and principles,” Putin told an investment forum in Russia Nov. 30. Western nations against Beijing are not justified and contradict international law, and these activities against China are repulsive at times, Putin said at the forum. (Kremlin.ru, 11.30.21, TASS, 11.30.21)
    • China highly appreciates the recent statements by Putin about ties between the two countries, Wang Wenbin, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Dec. 2. “We firmly believe that that Russian-Chinese relations in the new era will be even more mature, stable and strong,” he said. (TASS, 12.02.21)
  • Washington’s pressure on Moscow is helping Russia and China to move closer, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Dec. 2. Russia can’t “sit on its hands” and do nothing to deepen the strategic ties with China “in the conditions when both countries have come under identical and increasingly heavy pressure from the collective West.” (TASS, 12.02.21)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.

Counter-terrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • Russian and Syrian military police units held a joint exercise in Aleppo province near the Idlib de-escalation zone. Commander of the Syrian military police battalion Halid Muhammad told reporters it is the first joint exercise of the forces. (TASS, 12.03.21)
  • Renewed Russian bombing of Idlib province left two civilians dead in the village of Talita, The New Arab reported Nov. 23. Then “10 children from one family were injured after the regime forces & Russia bombed their house with Krasnopol laser-guided shells in Marzaf village south Idlib,” the White Helmets NGO wrote on Twitter Nov. 29. (Russia Matters, 11.29.21)
  • The Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, according to the Joint Communique drawn up Nov. 26 following the 18th Russia-India-China online summit. (TASS, 11.26.21)

Cyber security:

  • Russian-U.S. consultations on cybersecurity are developing in a positive way, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said Nov. 27. "We’ve already had four rounds of cybersecurity consultations, and I would like to note that first positive sprouts have already appeared in this area," he said. (TASS, 11.27.21)
  • Yevgeniy Polyanin is wanted by the U.S. government in connection with some of the most damaging ransomware attacks ever to strike U.S. companies. But that hasn't crimped his lifestyle. The 28-year-old member of the REvil hacking gang is driving a $74,000 Toyota Land Cruiser and living in a trendy housing complex in the Russian city of Barnaul, the British tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail reported. (The Washington Post, 11.30.21)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Saudi Arabia, Russia and other leading oil producers have decided to stick with plans to increase supply in January despite a recent plunge in prices driven by fears of a new glut. In its statement, OPEC+ said it would continue to take stock of the pandemic, monitor the oil market closely and stood ready to make "immediate adjustments if required." It has scheduled its next meeting for Jan. 4. (CNN, 12.02.21)
  • The U.S. Senate blocked an annual defense spending bill Nov. 29 amid objections from Republicans who said there had not been enough votes on amendments, including one that would have imposed sanctions over Nord Stream 2. House and Senate leaders have said they aim to send a compromise bill to Biden for his signature before the end of the year. (RFE/RL, 11.30.21)
  • The German government has urged members of Congress not to sanction Nord Stream 2, arguing that doing so will "weaken" U.S. credibility and "ultimately damage transatlantic unity," according to documents obtained by Axios. (Axios, 11.28.21)
  • According to Handelsblatt, Nord Stream 2 may start operating without certification. However, in this case, Nord Stream 2 may be fined €1 million. (Ukraine Business News, 11.29.21)
  • "It is very important, of course, that the United States of America does not put pressure on anyone in connection with the ongoing implementation and certification of this project," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. But he noted that he does not think that the topic of Nord Stream 2 is a priority on the agenda of the bilateral contacts. (TASS, 11.29.21)
  • Russia has agreed to continue selling Serbia gas at the current price of $270 per 1,000 cubic meters over the next six months, TASS y quoted Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic as saying on Nov. 25 after he met with Putin. (Reuters, 11.25.21)
  • Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have signed a trilateral gas swap deal for up to 2 billion cubic meters per year, Iranian media reported. Under the swap deal, Iran will receive gas from Turkmenistan and deliver the same amount to Azerbaijan, Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji said. (RFE/RL, 11.29.21)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • Russia briefly banned online handmade crafts and unique goods marketplace Etsy for knockoff designer products sold by some of its vendors, Kommersant reported. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.03.21)

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Dec. 2 that Biden would ''likely'' speak directly with Putin ''in the near future.” "We are close to an agreement on a time that will suit everyone," Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said, specifying that Putin’s conversation with Biden would take place following Putin's visit to India on Dec. 6. On Nov. 29 Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that preparations for a virtual summit have reached an “advanced stage” if assessed in terms of the preparation of materials for the meeting. “At this stage, we’re not talking about face-to-face contact, but this does not diminish the significance of the event,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Kommersant on Nov. 29. Kommersant reported on Dec. 2 that Dec. 7 is being discussed as the day when Putin and Biden may talk via a video conference link, but it has not been finalized yet. (RFE/RL, 12.03.21, Russia Matters, 12.03.21, The New York Times, 12.02.21)
    • “The agenda [of the Putin-Biden talks] is obvious: this contact will be an important continuation to the Geneva talks of June 16. Naturally, they will touch on the issues concerning the process of implementing the Geneva arrangements," Ushakov said at a briefing Dec. 3. The presidents will discuss “Afghanistan and Iran, naturally, and the crisis within Ukraine, obviously, Libya, Syria," he said. They will also discuss "progress in the dialogue on strategic stability," he said. “Another issue likely to be discussed is the realization of our idea of holding a summit of U.N. Security Council permanent members," Ushakov said. Ushakov also said Putin will raise the issue of guarantees regarding the non-expansion of NATO to the east. (Interfax, 12.03.21, TASS, 12.03.21)
  • U.S. diplomats have overcome a months-long standoff with the Kremlin on the granting of visas for U.S. Embassy personnel in Moscow during a meeting with Russian counterparts in Vienna, said U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The agreement still needs to be finalized. The teams of U.S. officials, led by State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Christopher Robinson, negotiated the framework agreement during a meeting Nov. 17 with Russian envoys and plan to meet again later this month to finalize the agreements, the officials said. (The Washington Post, 12.03.21)
    •  Russia ordered U.S. Embassy staff who have been in Moscow for more than three years to leave the country by Jan. 31, a move that came a day before diplomats held talks to address the worsening relationship between the two countries. Foreign ministry officials on Dec. 1 indicated that the decision to remove the U.S. Embassy staff was in retaliation for Washington’s expulsion of more than 50 Russian diplomats by June 30, in line with previously imposed term limits. (The Wall Street Journal, 12.01.21)
    • In a daily briefing Dec. 2, the State Department's deputy spokeswoman, Jalina Porter, said the Russian diplomats must leave the country under a policy that limits them to three-year stays. ''What's happening is not an expulsion,'' she said, adding that new diplomats may take their place. (The New York Times, 12.02.21)
  • The U.S. Senate on Dec. 2 confirmed Brian Nelson as the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, a critical post for national security and foreign policy, following opposition from Senate Republicans over the administration's handling of Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. (The Wall Street Journal, 12.02.21)
  • For the first time since the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute began surveying Americans about national security four years ago, a majority of Americans—52%—named China as the nation posing the greatest threat to the U.S. That is up from 21% four years ago. Russia came in at a distant 14%—a shift from three years ago when 30% of Americans considered that country to be the biggest risk, while China came in second place at 21%. (The Wall Street Journal, 12.01.21)
  • Russia's Roskomnadzor media watchdog has filed suits against Alphabet's Google and Meta's Facebook that could see them fined as much as 10% of their local revenue. The Magistrates Court in Moscow’s Taganka district said Dec. 3 that the cases originally were filed against the two companies in October over their repeated failure to delete content that Russia considers illegal. (RFE/RL, 12.03.21)
  • The Moderna and Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines both edged the version from Pfizer and BioNTech in effectiveness in a large-scale study of five different immunization shots conducted by Hungarian researchers. (The Boston Globe/Bloomberg, 11.26.21)
  • Russian lawmakers are seeking to recognize those vaccinated against the coronavirus with foreign jabs. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.25.21)
  • A Moscow court has fined opposition activists for staging a photo op with Russian and U.S. flags near the Kremlin in solidarity with a U.S. congressional proposal not to recognize Putin’s presidency past 2024, independent media reported Dec. 1. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.02.21)

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • As many as 1,500 Russian tourists have been left stranded in South Africa as countries scramble to ban flights from the region over fears of the heavily mutated Omicron coronavirus strain, media reported Nov. 29. (The Moscow Times, 12.01.21) 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.
  • Gazprom has reported record profits for the first nine months of the year on the back of soaring gas prices. Famil Sadygov, deputy chair, said Nov. 29 that earnings of 1.55 trillion rubles ($20 billion) in the nine months to the end of September were “already higher than in any full calendar year in the company’s history.” Revenues from overall gas sales in the first nine months rose 77% from the same period in 2020 to 3.5 trillion rubles. Sales to Europe and Turkey rose 117% to 2.5 trillion rubles. (Financial Times, 11.29.21)
  • Russia’s Gazprom has gained control of the country’s largest social media network, VKontakte, following a string of deals to buy out Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov from the platform's holding company. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.03.21)
  • Russia’s Aeroflot has posted its first profit since the start of the pandemic, as travel bounced back and lockdowns began to ease over the summer. The airline posted 11.6 billion rubles ($150 million) of net income during the third quarter of 2021, according to company results published Nov. 29—up from a loss of 21 billion rubles ($290 million) in the same period last year. (The Moscow Times, 11.30.21)
  • In the past 40 years, the Arctic ice cap has halved in the warmest month of September and by 10% in the coldest month of March, according to the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute. By mid-century, the institute expects ice levels to lose another two-thirds in the summer, and to halve in winter. (Financial Times, 12.01.21)
  • Putin’s approval ratings have declined amid weeks of record COVID-19 infections and deaths capped by a partial lockdown, according to a new independent survey published Dec. 2. Russian respondents’ approval of the president’s job performance dropped to 63% in November from 67% in October, according to the Levada Center pollster. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.02.21)
  • Putin says he has yet to decide whether to run again when his current term ends in 2024. "According to the constitution, I have a right to get elected to a new term. Whether I will do it or not, I have yet to decide. ... But the existence of such a right already is stabilizing the internal political situation, which is enough at this moment," Putin said. (RFE/RL, 11.30.21)
  • Imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has paid a fine of 850,000 rubles ($11,500) in a libel case involving a World War II veteran, the press service of the Moscow court that heard the case said. (RFE/RL, 12.03.21)
  • A second former head of Navalny’s regional headquarters has fled Russia following the jailing on retroactive “extremist” charges of one of his colleagues, he said Dec. 2. Sergei Boyko headed Navalny’s headquarters in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. In September 2020, Boyko unexpectedly won a seat on the Novosibirsk city council. Now, the lawmaker is in self-imposed exile in Greece, unwilling to return to Russia for fear that a criminal case is brewing against him. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.26.21, RFE/RL, 12.02.21)
  • A court in Moscow has switched the one-year suspended sentence handed to opposition politician Lyubov Sobol, a close associate of Navalny, to actual prison time. (RFE/RL, 12.02.21)
  • Russian journalist Alexei Malinovsky and his family have been granted political asylum in France, where they fled in September fearing for their safety after police raided their house and assaulted him. (RFE/RL, 12.02.21)
  • A Russian man who disguised himself as a medical worker so he could treat his COVID-19-stricken grandmother and reveal the bleak picture of how coronavirus patients were being treated has fled the country fearing for his safety. Sergei Samborsky said he is currently in Georgia after leaving Russia. (RFE/RL, 11.29.21)
  • Russian police will probe Netflix for allegedly streaming content that contains so-called “gay propaganda” without labeling it properly, Vedomosti reported Nov. 25. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.25.21)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The Russian Navy is planning to receive the Project 955A Borei-A class and Project 885M Yasen-M class nuclear-powered submarines Knyaz Oleg and Novosibirsk by the end of this year, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. (TASS, 12.02.21)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry said its winter drills will involve 10,000 troops across more than 30 training grounds, and would also take place in Crimea and in a Russian region bordering separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.01.21) 
  • A new Russian hypersonic missile would enter service from the beginning of next year, Putin said. The missile, which can travel at nine times the speed of sound, was successfully tested in November, he added. (Financial Times, 11.30.21)
  • As part of "the completion of tests" of Russia's hypersonic missile weapons, the Admiral Gorshkov warship launched a Tsirkon missile at a target in the Barents Sea at a range of 400 kilometers, the Defense Ministry said. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.29.21)
  • Russia on Nov.25 successfully placed into orbit a military satellite believed to be part of the Kremlin's early warning anti-missile system. According to the Spaceflightnow website, which covers space launches, the launch could be delivering a Tundra satellite. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.25.21)
  • Russia has deployed its Bastion shore-based anti-ship missile systems to the disputed Kuril Islands chain in the Pacific near Japan, the Zvezda TV channel said. (Defense Blog, 12.02.21)

Emergencies, security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • The bodies of three more miners who died during explosions the Listvyazhnaya coal mine in Siberia on Nov. 25 have been recovered. Overall, 16 bodies have been recovered from the mine, and the search for 35 more victims is underway. (TASS, 12.02.21)
  • Putin has dismissed Alexander Kalashnikov as director of the Federal Penitentiary Service, the Kremlin said in a statement, after disturbing videos of torture and rape inside a jail were leaked. Putin replaced Kalashnikov with Arkady Gostev, a former deputy interior minister.  (RFE/RL, 11.25.21)

 

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Russia and India will sign 10 agreements in various areas following talks between Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said. Shoigu will attend a meeting of the Russian-Indian intergovernmental commission for military and military-technical cooperation on Dec. 6, Ushakov said, and Putin is due to pay a working visit to India that same day. (Interfax, 12.03.21)
  • For the first time in 16 years Germany’s Greens will take charge of the foreign ministry under a coalition deal reached this week with the Social Democrats and liberals that could have big implications for partners and adversaries alike. Relations with China and Russia in particular could be set for a bumpy ride. The partners call on Russia to “immediately stop” trying to destabilize Ukraine and criticized the Kremlin’s crackdown on civil rights at home. (Financial Times, 11.25.21)
  • France's Framatome and Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom have signed a new strategic cooperation agreement further expanding the companies' efforts to develop fuel fabrication and instrumentation and control technologies. (World Nuclear News, 12.02.21)
  • The EU has banned a Russian air carrier for the first time—the Kaliningrad-based charter operator Skol Airlines—for failing to meet international safety standards. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.29.21)
  • Poland's Internal Security Agency said Nov. 25 that a 66-year-old Polish man who is suspected of spying for Russia has been detained. (RFE/RL, 11.25.21)
  • The Serb member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik, met with Putin in Moscow Dec. 2 for talks that reportedly included discussion of an infrastructure project to receive Russian gas. (RFE/RL, 12.03.21)
  • A detachment of Russian Black Sea Fleet ships were set to call at the port of Alexandria in Egypt on Dec. 3 to take part in the Russian-Egyptian joint naval exercise Bridge of Friendship 2021. (TASS, 12.03.21)
  • Central African Republic universities will require students to study the Russian language, CAR media has reported as Bangui and Moscow continue to pursue activated military and economic cooperation. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.29.21)

Ukraine:

  • Biden said Nov. 26 that he is concerned about the situation in Ukraine and that "we object to anything remotely approaching" an alleged coup plot. He told reporters that he would likely talk with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Putin. In a statement on Nov. 25 honoring the millions of Ukrainians who starved to death under Joseph Stalin, Biden said the United States ''also reaffirms our commitment to the people of Ukraine today and our unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.'' (The Wall Street Journal, 11.26.21, The New York Times, 11.25.21)
  • Speaking at the conclusion of the NATO talks in Riga Nov. 30, Blinken declined to give specifics about what sort of repercussions Moscow would face in the event of an invasion but said the Biden administration was prepared to impose "high-impact economic measures" that it has withheld in the past. "We are prepared to impose severe costs for further Russian aggression in Ukraine. NATO is prepared to reinforce its defenses on the eastern flank," he said. (The Washington Post, 12.01.21)
  • "We're deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant aggressive moves against Ukraine. Plans include efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within, as well as large scale military operations," Blinken said Dec. 1. "We made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we've refrained from using in the past." (RFE/RL, 12.01.21) 
  • Blinken told OSCE members in Stockholm Dec. 2 that Russia isn't living up to the "Minsk process.” But he also struck a conciliatory note, saying the U.S. was ready to "facilitate" the "full implementation" of the Minsk peace accords. Lavrov disputed Blinken's comments, later criticizing what he described as an "obsession with tying all the Minsk agreements to Russia's actions." (The Wall Street Journal, 12.02.21, The Washington Post, 12.02.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.03.21)
  • During his Dec. 2 meeting with Lavrov on the sidelines of an OSCE meeting, Blinken warned Lavrov that Russia would face a strong reaction if it interferes further in Ukraine. "If Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences," Blinken said at the start of the 40-minute meeting. Blinken declined to rule out other forms of response the U.S. or its allies could take besides economic sanctions. (The Wall Street Journal, 12.02.21)
  • Blinken told Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting on Dec. 2 that the U.S. had "deep concerns about the aggressive posture that Russia is taking once again towards Ukraine." Kuleba said Ukraine would continue encouraging its partners to "prepare a deterrence package that will make President Putin think twice before resorting to military force." (The Wall Street Journal, 12.02.21)
  • "With the Christmas season coming, this is a time for a resumption of complete ceasefire, for prisoner exchange and for re-opening of crossing points so that families can visit," Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, told a security forum in Kyiv via a video link. "We have been encouraging both Moscow and Kyiv to work together on a package of those kinds of measures," Nuland added. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.02.21)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has suggested that any U.S. response to Russia's actions toward Ukraine would be carried out in conjunction with the international community. "Whatever we do will be done as a part of an international community," Austin said Dec. 2 while on a visit to South Korea. "The best case though is that we won't see an incursion by the Soviet Union into the Ukraine," he added, accidentally referring to Russia as the former Soviet Union. Speaking in Seoul on Dec. 2, Austin declined to say if Washington would threaten military retaliation to deter Moscow. “I don’t care to speculate on potential responses. I would just say that we’ll continue to use the best methods to address whatever the situation is that occurs,” Austin said. (RFE/RL, 12.02.21, Financial Times, 12.03.21)
  • The CIA discovered something scary in October: Russia was moving troops toward the Ukrainian border—and, unlike in previous border thrusts, was making secret plans about how to use them, according to David Ignatius. The agency also worried that the potential conflict zone didn’t appear to be just the eastern sliver of Ukraine occupied by Russian-backed separatists, which Russian troops had approached the previous April, but a much broader swath of the country. (The Washington Post, 11.30.21)
  • The U.S. is tracking enough indicators surrounding Russian military activity near Ukraine to trigger "a lot of concern," the top U.S. military officer said Dec. 2, while Ukraine's defense minister warned of a possible large-scale military offensive by Moscow next month. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to speculate about the options the U.S. might consider in the event of a Russian invasion. (RFE/RL, 12.03.21)
  • When asked what position Russia would take on Ukraine at a possible summit with the U.S., Dmitry Peskov said: "President Putin’s position is well known. It’s important to make sure that the Minsk Agreements are implemented. It’s essential to make sure that Kyiv implements its obligations. This is not yet the case." (TASS, 11.29.21)
  • Speaking to reporters on Dec. 1, Lavrov described the situation in Donbass as “disquieting.” "It turns out that they are deploying additional forces, while those that are supposed to be replaced aren't going anywhere, either," Lavrov said. "I believe that Western colleagues are perfectly aware of the situation, because Ukraine does nothing without notifying them or receiving support." (The Washington Post, 12.01.21)
  • Russia accused Ukraine on Dec. 1 of "building up its military strength" in the country's east, and said it had launched its own regular winter drills in its southern military district bordering Ukraine. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed that according to some reports, the number of troops in the conflict zone had already reached 125,000, which she said was "half of the entire Ukrainian Army." Peskov said Moscow feared Ukraine was gearing up to try to take back the separatist-held areas by force—something Kyiv has denied. (RFE/RL, 12.01.21) 
  • Washington is increasingly expanding the range of weapons delivered to Ukraine, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said.  (TASS, 11.27.21)
  • Russia is not preparing for any kind of offensive operation in Donbass, Federation Council Deputy Speaker Konstantin Kosachyov said. (Interfax. 12.03.21)
  • Zelenskiy said on Nov. 26 Ukraine's intelligence service has uncovered plans to stage a coup involving people from Russia that was due to occur the following week. Zelenskiy said he had "certain audio recordings" in which plans for carrying out such a plot on Dec. 1 or 2 were being discussed between unspecified people from Ukraine and Russia. Zelenskiy offered no evidence to support his claim but added that the suspected plotters had discussed raising “billions of dollars” and luring Ukraine’s richest oligarch Rinat Akhmetov into the operation. (Financial Times, 11.26.21, RFE/RL, 11.26.21)
    • Peskov denied the allegation of Russia being involved in the planned coup attempt. "We never do things like that," Peskov said. (RFE/RL, 11.26.21)
    • Akhmetov dismissed Zelenskiy’s claims. “The information made public by Volodymyr Zelenskiy about attempts to draw me into some kind of coup is an absolute lie . . . My position has been and will be explicit and definite: an independent, democratic and united Ukraine with the Crimea and my home region, Donbass,” Akhmetov said in a statement Nov. 26. (Financial Times, 11.26.21)
    • Russia is “absolutely” behind an alleged coup plot in Ukraine that Zelenskiy disclosed last week, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said Nov. 30. (The Moscow Times, 12.01.21)
  • Speaking in his annual address to the Ukrainian parliament on Dec. 1, Zelenskiy said the return of Crimea to Ukraine should be the country’s main goal—but stopped short of saying it should be retaken by force. “We see this as a direct threat to Russia,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.02.21)
  • Ukraine needs direct talks with Moscow in order to end the war against Russian-backed forces in its eastern Donbass region, Zelenskiy said Dec. 1. Zelenskiy was addressing parliament after Ukraine urged NATO to prepare economic sanctions on Russia and boost military cooperation with Kyiv as a way of deterring the Kremlin from launching a new attack after massing troops. (Reuters, 12.01.21)
  • According to intelligence data, the most likely time for Russia's readiness to escalate tensions will be the end of January, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov has said. (Interfax. 12.03.21)
  • Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba siad Ukraine will ask NATO to boost military cooperation with Kyiv and prepare economic sanctions as part of a “deterrence package" to prevent Russia from attacking it as the Western military alliance's foreign ministers meet for a second day in Latvia amid growing concern over a Russian military buildup near the Ukrainian border. (RFE/RL, 12.01.21) 
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country is ready to act as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia. (RFE/RL, 11.29.21)
  • Warnings by U.S. government officials about the potential threat of a Russian invasion worsened the selloff in recent days. The price of Ukraine's $1.3 billion 7.75% bond due 2024 fell to around 100 cents on the dollar on Nov. 24 from around 107 cents two weeks earlier, its lowest level since October 2020. (The Wall Street Journal, 11.26.21)
  • Ukraine will end 2021 by recording the highest dollar GDP since independence. The Minister of Economy, Yulia Sviridenko, announced that the economy will reach its highest rate of GDP in U.S. dollars ($195 billion) by the end of 2021. (Ukraine Business News, 11.29.21)
  • Russia's FSB says it has apprehended three Ukrainian nationals suspected of working for Ukraine's intelligence agencies, a claim Kyiv immediately rejected. (RFE/RL, 12.02.21)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • In an interview Nov. 30, Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko for the first time recognized Moscow-occupied Crimea as part of Russia, adding that he planned to visit the peninsula with Putin. "We all understood that de-facto Crimea is Russia's Crimea. After a referendum Crimea has become Russia de-jure as well," Lukashenko said. (RFE/RL, 11.30.21)
  • The West realizes that if it sets off a conflict on the Russian border, Minsk won’t stand aside, Lukashenko said at a Defense Ministry meeting on military security on Nov. 29, according to the BelTA news agency. "They understand perfectly well that if they once again start a war in Donbass or somewhere else on the border with Russia, Belarus won’t stand aside. And it’s clear whose side Belarus will take. They understand it, which is why they have begun to strengthen their northern border, the Ukrainian-Belarusian border," Lukashenko pointed out. (TASS, 11.29.21)
  • Earlier this month, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that U.S. nuclear weapons on a base in Germany could be moved further east if Berlin's new government dropped out of a nuclear-sharing deal—a move that would anger Russia. Lukashenko said he would invite Russia to position nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil. "Then I will propose to Putin to return nuclear weapons to Belarus," he said, adding, "We, on the territory of Belarus, are ready for this.” (RFE/RL, 11.30.21)
    • NATO does not plan to deploy nuclear weapons beyond those alliance countries where such weapons have already been present for years, Stoltenberg said Dec. 1. (TASS, 12.01.21)
  • Belarus has announced joint military exercises with Russia along its southern border as NATO gathers for a meeting to discuss its concerns about the Russian troop buildup near Ukraine. Belarusian Defense Minister Viktar Khrenin said Nov. 29 that the exercises would be held on its border with Ukraine in the "medium term." (RFE/RL, 11.29.21) 
  • During an interview on Dec. 1 Lukashenko said he was "serious" when he said last month that he intends to stop Russian gas deliveries through his country to Europe. In response to Lukashenko's statement, Peskov said Putin "expressed his understanding of [Lukashenko's] harsh responses. But, on the other hand, the president is counting on this not resulting in any breaches of our obligations toward European gas buyers, especially at such a tough time for the Europeans." (RFE/RL, 12.01.21)
  • The EU, the U.S. and key Western allies have further expanded their sanctions against Belarus's political and economic elite over alleged antidemocratic behavior, rights violations and the exploitation of migrants by Lukashenko's regime. The new EU sanctions target 17 individuals and 11 entities thought to be responsible for the crisis at the EU-Belarus border, and should come into effect on their publication later in the day in the EU's Official Journal, a legal registry. Britain, the U.S. and Canada also announced their own punitive measures targeting Belarusian entities including a complete asset freeze on a global leader in potash fertilizer, OJSC Belaruskali. (RFE/RL, 12.03.21)
  • Poland has extended a controversial state of emergency that allows the government to continue restricting access to its border with Belarus to everyone except people who live, work or study in the designated zone. (RFE/RL, 12.01.21)
  • Facebook's parent company, Meta, says it has removed dozens of fake social-media accounts "linked to the Belarusian KGB" that were used to inflame an ongoing migrant crisis on the border between Belarus and Poland. (RFE/RL, 12.02.21)
  • A Belarusian court has designated the official Telegram channel of RFE/RL's Belarus Service and some of the broadcaster's social-media accounts as extremist in a continued clampdown on independent media and civil society, (RFE/RL, 12.03.21)
  • Eleven people have been arrested in Belarus for their online comments about the deaths of two Russian paratroopers during joint Russian-Belarusian military maneuvers last month. (RFE/RL, 12.01.21) 
  • The European Council has adopted assistance measures to strengthen the military and defense capacities of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine over three years. The measures under the European Peace Facility aim to promote “domestic resilience and peace,” and do not involve the supply of lethal equipment, the Council said in a statement Dec. 2. Under the program, Georgia is to receive assistance worth 12.75 million euros. Seven million euros will be made available to help Moldova’s military while 31 million euro will be received by Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.02.21)
  • The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have expressed a willingness toward progress on border delimitation and improving economic and transport links after Putin hosted trilateral talks in Sochi. In a statement after their talks, all three pledged "to take steps to increase the level of stability and security on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and to work towards the creation of a bilateral commission on the delimitation of the state border between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia with its subsequent demarcation with the consultative assistance of the Russian Federation at the request of the parties." (RFE/RL, 11.26.21)
  • Russia says it is prepared to mediate efforts to repair relations between Armenia and Turkey following earlier reports of a request by Yerevan to facilitate such a rapprochement. (RFE/RL, 11.25.21)
  • Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) announced Nov. 26 the arrest of 15 suspects in an alleged coup plot, just two days before elections in the country's fourth major vote in a little over a year. The UKMK said the alleged plotters included lawmakers in the Jogorku Kenesh, the unicameral legislature, and former high-ranking officials but did not identify any suspects. (RFE/RL, 11.26.21)
  • Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov says the UKMK is investigating a malfunction during ballot counting in a weekend parliamentary vote, but rejected calls from several opposition parties for fresh elections. At issue is a glitch during the counting in which technical problems caused a tabulation monitor at the BShK to suddenly show that several opposition parties had fallen below the 5% barrier needed to gain entrance to parliament. (RFE/RL, 11.30.21)
  • Dozens of opposition supporters have rallied in the center of the Kyrgyz capital calling for new parliamentary elections after preliminary results showed three pro-government parties winning the vote. International observers said the elections were “competitive” and proceeded largely successfully but were marred by a lack of voter engagement, among other things. According to preliminary results, the Ata-Jurt party received 16.83% of the vote, the Ishenim (Trust) party had 13.6% and the Yntymak (Harmony) party took 10.96%. Three other parties were expected to take parliamentary seats—the new Alyans (Alliance), the opposition Butun (United) Kyrgyzstan and Yiman Nuru (Ray of Faith). (RFE/RL, 11.29.21)
  • Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has put his son Serdar in charge of the country's oil-and-gas sector, in the latest sign that the authoritarian leader could be grooming the 40-year-old to succeed him some day. (RFE/RL, 11.25.21)
  • Cable.co.uk said in a report on worldwide broadband speed in 2021 that Turkmenistan, with an Internet speed of 0.50 megabits per second (Mbps), was the slowest of all 224 countries surveyed, with it taking just over 22 hours and 34 minutes to download a movie file with a size of 5 gigabytes. (RFE/RL, 12.03.21)
  • Rare protests in Tajikistan’s remote Gorno-Badakhshan region continued for a third day on Nov. 27, after one protester was killed and five members of law enforcement were injured when a crowd stormed a local government building. Protests in Khorog broke out on Nov. 25 after security forces lethally wounded a local man wanted on charges of kidnapping. (RFE/RL, 11.27.21)
  • Aron Atabek, a poet who was until recently Kazakhstan’s longest-serving political prisoner, died on Nov. 24 less than two months after he was set free. He had spent 15 years behind bars for a crime he always insisted he had not committed. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.25.21)

 

IV. Quoteworthy

  • No significant developments.