Russia in Review, Oct. 23-30, 2020
This Week’s Highlights
- Russia has offered to stop the deployment of the controversial 9M729 missile system in an attempt to restart talks on arms control in Europe in the latest outreach by the Kremlin that could de-escalate military tensions, the Financial Times reports. However, the U.S. chief arms control negotiator Marshall Billingslea rejected the proposal, according to his Twitter, while U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the U.S. would be ready to deploy intermediate- and shorter-range missiles in Europe, if necessary, to deter Russia, TASS reports.
- "My biggest concern is that we give a foreign adversary more credit than they're actually due," said Brig. Gen. Joe Hartman, the election security lead for the military's U.S. Cyber Command, which is working with the National Security Agency to protect the election from foreign threats. Whether it's Russia, Iran or others, he said, their attempts so far to push disinformation have fallen flat, according to The Washington Post.
- Despite many areas of disagreement in Russia-U.S. relations, the two countries' security services are continuing to cooperate, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, according to Interfax. "Very good working contacts have been established at the operational level, and at the level of the commands of our military units," Putin said of U.S.-Russian contacts in Syria. There is also U.S.-Russian exchange of information on counter-terrorism efforts, he added, noting that Moscow takes the U.S. activities in Afghanistan precisely as counter-terrorism efforts.
- At least one out of every five Russian lawmakers currently have or have had COVID-19, The Moscow Times reports. All of Russia's regions are currently experiencing shortages of doctors to fight the coronavirus, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Oct. 30, and Russia has reinstated a nationwide mask mandate starting Oct. 28. Additionally, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, his ministry said Oct. 27.
- Talks between the top diplomats of Azerbaijan and Armenia and international mediators have begun in Geneva as the parties look for a deal strong enough to bring a halt to fighting over Nagorno Karabakh, RFE/RL reports.
- Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko closed the borders to the countries west of Belarus and shook up his security team on Oct. 29, as he grapples to find a way out of the deadlock in his confrontation with the population, bne IntelliNews reports. Lukashenko also ordered his security chiefs Oct. 30 to crack down on protesters and "take no prisoners" in his grimmest warning yet after months of demonstrations, The Moscow Times reports.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
Nuclear security and safety:
- The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine is to become a "testing ground" for South Korean technologies for the treatment of radioactively contaminated materials, Oleksandr Skomarokhov, deputy director of radioactive waste management at Chernobyl, announced. (World Nuclear News, 10.30.20)
- The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) plans to establish an association of nuclear energy regulators and organizations that provide scientific and technical support. A draft memorandum on this was approved at the 21st meeting of the CIS commission on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. (World Nuclear News, 10.28.20)
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said that Iran has begun construction of an underground centrifuge assembly plant near its nuclear facility at Natanz. IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said the facility seems to be a replacement for one that exploded in July in what Tehran called a sabotage attack. “They have started, but it is not completed,” Grossi said. “It’s a long process.” (RFE/RL, 10.28.20)
New Cold War/saber rattling:
- U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Oct. 28 that the U.S. would be ready to deploy intermediate- and shorter-range missiles in Europe, if necessary, to deter Russia. The statements by O’Brien cause bewilderment, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Oct. 29. (TASS, 10.29.20)
- O’Brien says the world is realigning geopolitically between democratic and authoritarian states as more countries realize the threat posed by China. … He listed Russia, Iran and China as among the world’s authoritarian regimes and said other states “are moving in that direction.” He described some of the authoritarian states as “pseudo” democracies run by one party or a strongman. (RFE/RL, 10.28.20)
- Turkey on Oct. 24 dismissed U.S. criticism that the Russian defense systems it has bought are not compatible with Ankara's NATO commitments. The Pentagon on Oct. 23 strongly condemned the first test of a Russian-made S-400. "We have been clear and unwavering in our position: an operational S-400 system is not consistent with Turkey's commitments as a U.S. and NATO ally," said U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. (The Moscow Times, 10.24.20)
- The Russian military said Oct. 27 it has successfully test-fired a new missile of the country’s anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense system at the Sary-Shagan proving ground in Kazakhstan. (Defense Blog, 10.29.20)
- Russia has completed trials of its S-300V4 air defense system. Test launches confirmed it can down existing targets and prospective weapons, including hypersonic missiles. Experts believe the S-300V4 with new missiles will provide reliable defense against foreign designs 10-15 years ahead, the Izvestia daily writes. (TASS, 10.30.20)
- Russia has offered to stop deployment of a controversial missile system in an attempt to restart talks on arms control in Europe following the collapse of a Cold War moratorium, in the latest outreach by the Kremlin that could de-escalate military tensions. The Kremlin said in a statement: “While remaining committed to our consistent position on the 9M729 missile’s full compliance with the former INF Treaty, the Russian Federation stands ready, as a gesture of goodwill, not to deploy 9M729 missiles in the European part of the country, but only provided that NATO countries take reciprocal steps.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later told reporters it was a “new initiative” aimed at “multipronged de-escalation.” (Financial Times, 10.26.20)
- The U.S. chief arms control negotiator Marshall Billingslea rejected the proposal and said so did the German government, according to his twitter account. According to the director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) Corporation Michael Kofman, Moscow’s offer is unacceptable to NATO because it presumes a full ban on the deployment of U.S. intermediate-range missiles in Europe, while Russia will still have a similar mobile system that can be deployed to the West. (TASS, 10.30.20, Kommersant, 10.30.20, Russia Matters, 10.30.20)
- A treaty aimed at destroying all nuclear weapons and forever prohibiting their use has hit an important benchmark, with Honduras becoming the 50th country to ratify the accord—the minimum needed for it to enter into force as international law. However, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is not binding on those nations that refuse to sign on to it. The treaty will not contribute to nuclear arms limitation and Russia considers its promotion as a mistake, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Oct. 29 regarding the treaty’s upcoming entry into force on Jan. 22, 2021.(New York Times, 10.25.20, TASS, 10.29.20)
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- Airstrikes against a training camp for Turkish-backed rebels in northwest Syria killed dozens of fighters on Oct. 26, according to a rebel spokesman, who estimated that more than 170 people had been either killed or wounded. The strikes killed at least 75 soldiers from the Sham Legion, a rebel group that falls under the Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL), an umbrella rebel group in northwest Syria. Russia accuses Sham Legion of sending some of its troops to Libya and Azerbaijan to fight as mercenaries on behalf of Turkey. (The Washington Post, 10.26.20)
- Turkey has begun withdrawing from military observation posts in regime-held enclaves in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria, but the move looks more like an omen of war for the region than a sign of reconciliation and retreat. The outpost at Morek, one of several encircled by Syrian government forces since their capture of the key M5 highway in February, was evacuated Oct. 19-20, with others expected to follow suit. Turkey has been under growing Russian pressure to leave the surrounded outposts. (Al Monitor, 10.22.20)
- The U.S. has placed sanctions on a Russian government research institute connected to the development of computer malware capable of targeting industrial safety systems and causing catastrophic damage. The U.S. Treasury Department announced Oct. 23 that the Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics had been added to the sanctions list. (RFE/RL, 10.23.20)
- Sen. Bob Menendez, the highest-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is calling on the Trump administration to impose targeted sanctions on five Russian nationals indicted last week by the Justice Department for a series of cyberattacks. (RFE/RL, 10.29.20)
- "My biggest concern is that we give a foreign adversary more credit than they're actually due," said Brig. Gen. Joe Hartman, the election security lead for the military's U.S. Cyber Command, which is working with the National Security Agency to protect the election from foreign threats. Whether it's Russia, Iran or others, he said, their attempts so far to push disinformation have fallen flat. "Their platforms have been exposed," he said. (The Washington Post, 10.30.20)
- The Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity division is mounting the largest operation to secure a U.S. election, aiming to prevent a repeat of Russia's 2016 interference and to ward off new threats posed by Iran and China. On Election Day, DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency will launch a 24/7 virtual war room, to which election officials across the nation can dial in at any time to share notes about suspicious activity and work together to respond. (The Washington Post, 10.30.20)
- The source of some of the most critical allegations in former British spy Christopher Steele’s dossier is 40-year-old Russian public-relations executive Olga Galkina. In 2016, Galkina was working in Cyprus at an affiliate of XBT Holding SA, which is owned by Russian internet entrepreneur Aleksey Gubarev. That summer, she received a request from an employee of Steele to help unearth potentially compromising information on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump's links to Russia. Galkina was the source, for instance, of the dossier's contention that Webzilla played a central role in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee, according to people familiar with the matter. (Wall Street Journal, 10.29.20)
- U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden believes Moscow could have masterminded a campaign of disinformation against him. An interviewer asked him whether the information leak from his son Hunter’s laptop is linked to attempts to spread disinformation attributed to Russia. "From what I've read and know the intelligence community warned the president that [Rudy] Giuliani was being fed disinformation from the Russians. And we also know that Putin is trying very hard to spread disinformation about Joe Biden," he claimed. (TASS, 10.25.20)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that he is not aware of any criminal business interests in Ukraine attributed to Biden’s son by the press, but this is none of Russia's business anyway. "This is none of our business. This concerns the U.S. and Ukraine," Putin said. "But I see no criminality there. At least we know nothing about it," Putin said. (Interfax, 10.26.20)
- The British government is facing a legal challenge over its refusal to launch an independent inquiry into possible Russian interference in U.K. elections as recommended by parliament’s intelligence and security committee. Six MPs and peers lodged a judicial review challenge on Oct. 29 alleging that the government’s inaction breaches its legal obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantee citizens’ rights to free and fair elections. (Financial Times, 10.28.20)
Energy exports from CIS:
- Members of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus are concerned a U.S. bill to expand sanctions on Nord Stream II to Europe could be dropped from the 2021 National Defense Authorization. (RFE/RL, 10.28.20)
- Brent crude oil, the international benchmark, dipped below $37 a barrel on Oct. 29, with the $2 fall taking losses for the week to more than 10 percent, the worst weekly performance in more than six months. Russia will correlate its production of fossil fuels to the needs of the global market, Putin said. Putin also said Oct. 29 that the U.S. is acting to the detriment of its companies by limiting their work in the energy sector in Russia. (Xinhua, 10.29.20, Interfax, 10.30.20, Financial Times, 10.29.20)
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- Despite many areas of disagreement in Russian-U.S. relations, the two countries' security services are continuing to cooperate, Putin said:
- Moscow supported the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from the start, Putin recalled in an interview. The U.S. troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan gives rise to many risks, Putin said. Russia will have to "spend additional money" to maintain stability, whereas the presence of Americans in Afghanistan is contributing to stability in the country, he said. Putin described as strange Biden's statement at the televised debates with Trump that Russia is paying bounties for the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan. Such statements "sound strange to say the least and are absolutely unfounded," Putin said.
- There is U.S.-Russian interaction aimed at settling the crisis in Syria, Putin said. "Very good working contacts have been established at the operational level, and at the level of the commands of our military units," he said. Putin gave as an example when the U.S. asked Russia for assistance in the search for their citizen who was arrested in Syria for espionage, and the Russian authorities "managed to convince our partners, and they released him." The U.S. citizen was transported to Moscow and handed over to U.S. officials. "This cooperation is reciprocal, and, in general, this certainly could be even better, but, on the whole, we are pleased with this," Putin said.
- There is also a U.S.-Russian exchange of information on counter-terrorism efforts, he added, noting that Moscow takes the U.S. activities in Afghanistan precisely as counter-terrorism efforts, Putin said. Putin said he even thanked Trump, because the information obtained from the U.S. helped prevent a number of terrorist attacks in Russia. "We, in turn, are trying to return the favor, we have an agreement with the U.S. president, with the current head of state that if such information appears from both sides we will share it and help each other in this respect," he said. (Interfax, 10.26.20)
- Putin says his country is ready to work with any U.S. president, regardless of who wins next week's election. "We are analyzing all developments [around the upcoming U.S, presidential election on Nov. 3]. We will accept any decision made by the American people and will work with any administration. I hope that the decision will be well-weighed," Putin told a plenary session of the VTB Capital Forum Russia Calls on Oct. 29 in Moscow. (RFE/RL, 10.29.20)
- Biden believes Russia poses the biggest threat to the U.S. on the international arena, he said in an interview with CBS published Oct. 25. The interviewer asked the former vice president which country he thinks to be the most dangerous for the US. "Well, I think the biggest threat to America right now in terms of breaking up our security and our alliances is Russia," he said. "Secondly, I think that the biggest competitor is China." (TASS, 10.25.20)
- U.S. fund manager Michael Calvey and his fund, leading Russia-based private equity fund Baring Vostok, have confirmed they reached a deal with former Russian partners in a corporate dispute over their joint investment Vostochny Bank, that is widely believed to have led to a criminal case and Calvey’s jailing. (bne IntelliNews, 10.28.20)
- Whistle-blower Edward Snowden will become a father by the end of the year and his child is eligible to be a citizen of Russia. Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said on Oct. 29 that his client and his wife, Lindsay Mills, were expecting the child's birth sometime in late December. (RFE/RL, 10.29.20)
- Only 16 percent of Russians polled said that Trump would be better for Russia than Biden, a substantial decrease from 2016 when 60 percent of those polled considered Trump the best candidate for Russia, according to new polling from the Levada Center. The majority, some 65 percent, responded that, for Russia, it was irrelevant who won the U.S. presidential election. (Russia Matters, 10.27.20)
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- Russia confirmed 18,283 COVID-19 cases Oct. 30, bringing its official number of cases to 1,599,976 and setting a new one-day record for infections. In the past 24 hours, 355 people have died. (The Moscow Times, 10.30.20) 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.
- All of Russia's regions are currently experiencing shortages of doctors to fight the coronavirus, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Oct. 30. Russia has reinstated a nationwide mask mandate starting Oct. 28. The federal health watchdog agency, Rospotrebnadzor, also urged the governors of Russia’s 85 regions to order restaurants and entertainment venues to close by 11 p.m. Despite what a Kremlin spokesman described as “maximum pressure” on the nation’s health care system, Putin on Oct. 29 assured Russians there would be no repeat of a spring lockdown that hobbled the economy and sent his approval ratings tumbling. (The Moscow Times, 10.30.20, The Moscow Times, 10.28.20, The Washington Post, 10.27.20, VOA, 10.29.20)
- At least one out of every five Russian lawmakers currently have or have had the coronavirus. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, his ministry said Oct. 27. (The Moscow Times, 10.27.20, The Moscow Times, 10.26.20)
- Russia has applied to the World Health Organization for accelerated registration and prequalification of its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. (The Moscow Times, 10.27.20)
- According to the forecast of the Russian Ministry of Economy, Russia's GDP contracted by 3.8 percent in July-September and by 3.5 percent year-on-year in January-September. Russia’s real disposable income—the money people actually have to spend on themselves—has gone negative again in September, down 5 percent. Unemployment started to fall slightly in September and the unemployment rate was 6.3 percent. (bne IntelliNews, 10.26.20)
- The board of the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) at the second to last policy meeting of 2020 on Oct. 23 resolved to keep the key interest rate unchanged at 4.25 percent, in line with expectations. As reported by bne IntelliNews, the CBR kept the key interest rate flat at 4.25 percent in its policy meeting on Sept. 18. Inflation remains in check, and the bank struck a conservative note due to rising geopolitical risks. Mounting fears of the impact of a second wave of COVID-19 are also likely to keep the rate flat. (bne IntelliNews, 10.26.20)
Defense and aerospace:
- Over 15,000 troops and more than 3,000 weapon systems participated in the final combat readiness check of Russia’s Strategic Missile Force, the Defense Ministry reported Oct. 26. During the final combat readiness check, the personnel of Topol-M and Yars intercontinental ballistic missile systems held maneuvers in forests on large areas. (TASS, 10.26.20) Also see section on Russia’s general foreign policy.
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- Russian military scientists continued working on the Novichok nerve agent’s development long after Moscow said it destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles, an international investigation said Oct. 23. (The Moscow Times, 10.23.20)
- Police in Russia’s republic of Tatarstan have shot and killed a teenager after he attacked a police station with Molotov cocktails and injured one officer with a knife while calling the officers "enemies of Allah," authorities said Oct. 30. (The Moscow Times, 10.30.20)
- A shoot-out between representatives of police units in Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya has left two people dead, according to several local media reports. (RFE/RL, 10.27.20)
- A court in Russia has refused to release a Jehovah's Witness, Danish citizen Dennis Christensen, who was sentenced to six years in prison on extremism charges that have been condemned by rights groups in Russia and abroad. (RFE/RL, 10.27.20)
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- The dispute between Turkey and Greece over energy-rich waters in the Mediterranean should be settled on the "basis of international law," Lavrov said Oct. 26. Their differences "must be resolved on the basis of international law, the international convention on the law of the sea...that is the key to normalize relations," Lavrov said after talks with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias. (The Moscow Times, 10.26.20)
- A Russian group offered to send 10,000 soldiers to Catalonia to help the region achieve independence in 2017, according to a judge who is investigating the alleged misuse of public money to fund the failed separatist bid. (Politico, 10.28.20)
- Russia has opened a Defense Ministry representative office and donated 10 armored vehicles to the Central African Republic in Moscow’s latest effort to expand its influence on the continent, Reuters reported. (The Moscow Times, 10.26.20)
- Russia and Mongolia have started the Selenga 2020 exercise at the Burduny training range in Buryatiya in East Siberia. In all, about 650 servicemen and more than 100 items of military hardware will take part in the maneuvers. (TASS, 10.30.20)
- The Libyan Government of National Accord has agreed to release Russian political operatives accused of vote meddling. (The Moscow Times, 10.28.20)
- Russia has gradually moved to re-open its borders after grounding nearly all international flights this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Aug. 1, Russia resumed direct flights to Tanzania, Turkey and the U.K. Nearly four months later, regular international flights now connect Russia with more than 10 countries and additional air links with Cuba, Serbia and Japan are expected to resume from Nov. 1. (The Moscow Times, 10.29.20)
- The grand mufti of Russia’s southern republic of Chechnya has joined a growing chorus of Muslim figures and countries condemning France over its assertion of the right to mock religion following the murder of a French schoolteacher. (The Moscow Times, 10.28.20)
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
- Beijing has cautiously welcomed Putin’s suggestion that a military alliance between Russia and China is possible. Beijing’s official response to Putin’s comments was non-committal, but a foreign ministry spokesman said they “demonstrate the high level and special nature of our bilateral ties.” (South China Morning Post, 10.26.20)
- "Russia has no need to strike a formal military alliance with China against the United States now. Such union would tie hands of both parties, and would scare the neighbors, India in particular, who would be forced to abandon partnership with Russia and cooperate closer with the U.S.," Carnegie Moscow Center director Dmitry Trenin pointed out. (TASS, 10.30.20)
- The volume of agricultural exports from Russia increased in January-September 2020 by 14 percent year-on-year and reached $20.3 billion, the Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture said Oct. 30. China remains the leader among the importing countries with 3.2 million tons of Russian food products worth $2.8 billion delivered, 24 percent more than in the same period in 2019. (TASS, 10.30.20)
- Investigators of Russia’s Federal Security Service charged Tomsk scientist Alexander Lukanin with high treason in favor of an Asian country, a source in law-enforcement agencies told TASS on Oct. 29. A source specified for TASS that Lukanin had been detained on suspicion of handing over to China secret Russian developments "related to alternative food sources." (TASS, 10.29.20)
- Trump would focus in a second term on getting Putin to side with him in his confrontation with China, Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and formerly the top Russia and Europe adviser on Trump's National Security Council, said. (RFE/RL, 10.28.20)
War in Karabakh:
- Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said the civilian death toll had risen to at least 40, with more than 130 wounded in shelling by Azeri forces. More than 90,000 civilians, or 60 percent of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, have fled their communities due to attacks from Azeri forces, according to local officials. The Azeri prosecutor's office said that Armenian forces had killed at least 90 Azeri civilians in air assaults, and at least a dozen more had died in the most recent attack on Ganja, according to authorities on the ground. Putin has said that, according to information Moscow has, the total number of victims is approaching 5,000. (Wall Street Journal, 10.30.20)
- Talks between the top diplomats of Azerbaijan and Armenia and international mediators have begun in Geneva as the parties look for a deal strong enough to bring a halt to fighting. A U.S.-brokered ceasefire in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh broke down on Oct. 26. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Oct. 27 called on the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia to abide by the ceasefire. The U.S. said it believes “there is no military solution to this conflict,” following a phone call between national security advisor Robert O’Brien and Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan on Oct. 29. (RFE/RL, 10.30.20, Financial Times, 10.26.20, bne IntelliNews, 10.28.20, The Moscow Times, 10.30.20)
- Russia is open to Azerbaijan reclaiming seven areas surrounding the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenia has controlled for 26 years, Putin said. Putin also said on Oct. 29 that Turkey should be among the countries involved in talks to end the fighting. (bne IntelliNews, 10.29.20, The Moscow Times, 10.30.20)
- When commenting on Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan’s statement in which he had supported the idea of deploying Russian peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed out that "peacekeepers are always deployed to conflict zones only with the consent of both opposing parties." (TASS, 10.30.20)
- Azerbaijani forces were closing in on the town of Shusha, the second largest in the region, on Oct. 29 evening, the leader of Nagorno-Karabakh said. (The Moscow Times, 10.30.20)
- Russia has reportedly set up a small military outpost on the border of Armenia in an apparent attempt to keep Azerbaijan’s offensive from spilling over into Armenian territory. (The Moscow Times, 10.28.20)
- The Russian military has reportedly shot down nine Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 drones that were flying near its Gyumri military base in Armenia. (Eurasian Times, 10.21.20)
- Iranian troops have been moved to the Azerbaijan-Iran border amid conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, multiple news outlets reported. (Defense Blog, 10.24.20)
- The defense army of Nagorno-Karabakh captured a terrorist from the Syrian city of Hama fighting as a mercenary for Azerbaijan in Karabakh. (TASS, 10.30.20)
- Ukrainians on Oct. 25 voted in local elections that were considered a test for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and likely dealt a setback to his party, according to early polls. The ruling Servant of the People (SOTP) Party got hammered in Ukraine’s regional elections, where the governorships and mayor’s offices in the main towns were up for grabs. SOTP is expecting to take about 30 percent of the overall votes in the election, down from the 64 percent it won in the 2019 snap parliamentary elections. Out of nine major cities and regional centers across Ukraine, no candidate of the presidential party appears to have been elected mayor. (AFP, 10.26.20, bne IntelliNews, 10.27.20)
- Zelenskiy has urged parliament to disband and re-establish the country’s constitutional court after its judges this week dealt a severe blow to Western-backed anti-corruption efforts. Legislation submitted by Zelenskiy on Oct. 30 would also cancel the constitutional court’s recent ruling that neutered the powers of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention to punish public servants for filing false information in their asset declarations. The asset register set up in 2016 was regarded as a linchpin of efforts to crack down on official corruption. (Financial Times, 10.30.20)
- Dozens of Belarusian IT companies and at least 2,000 Belarusian workers have moved to Ukraine in the three months since Alexander Lukashenko violently cracked down on post-election protests. (Ukraine Business News, 10.25.20)
- Ukraine says it plans to buy more than 40 military drones from Turkey and wants to establish a large-scale assembly plant to build the unmanned combat aircraft. It comes as the two countries signed military cooperation agreements on Oct. 16, deepening their defense partnership, which is seen as an effort to counterbalance Russia's dominance in the Black Sea region. (RFE/RL, 10.28.20)
- Belarus' self-appointed President Alexander Lukashenko closed the borders to the countries west of Belarus and shook up his security team on Oct. 29. Border crossings to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine were all closed to anyone other than Belarusian citizens and diplomats. Lukashenko ordered his security chiefs Oct. 30 to crack down on protesters and "take no prisoners" in his grimmest warning yet after months of demonstrations. Lukashenko also fired his Interior Minister, Yuri Karaev. (bne IntelliNews, 10.30.20, The Moscow Times, 10.30.20, Telegraph.by, 10.29.20)
- On the final day of what Belarus's opposition has called the "People's Ultimatum"—a demand that Lukashenko resign or face a nationwide strike—tens of thousands of protesters marched in Minsk on Oct. 25 before police cracked down with stun grenades. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the main challenger, demanded that Lukashenko resign by Oct. 26 to make way for a new election, end police violence against protesters and release all political prisoners. The first day of a general strike ordered by Tikhanovskaya got off to a mixed start with some workers laying down their tools, but the majority of state-owned enterprises were functioning as normal. (bne IntelliNews, 10.27.20, The Washington Post, 10.26.20)
- Pompeo has held a phone call with Lukashenko as pressure mounted on the authoritarian ruler ahead of the opposition ultimatum to end his reign or face increased nationwide protests and strikes. The State Department told RFE/RL on Oct. 24 that Pompeo demanded the release of a Belarusian-American political strategist Vitali Shkliarov, whose detention the U.S. government has called "unjust." Shkliarov was then released and returned to the United States. (RFE/RL, 10.24.20, The Moscow Times, 10.28.20)
- The board of the Ministry for Emergency Situations of Belarus has issued a permit for the power start-up of unit 1 of the country's first nuclear power plant, Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom announced. (World Nuclear News, 10.26.20)
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- Acting Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov says he will step down before the end of the year to become eligible to run in a presidential election in January 2021. The move allows him to skirt a law that prohibits acting presidents from seeking the presidential office. (RFE/RL, 10.26.20)
- Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, who holds the dubious distinction of being the only post-Soviet autocrat in power longer than Belarus's Lukashenko, has been sworn in for his fifth term in office. The Oct. 30 inauguration ceremony took place at the Palace of the Nation in the capital, Dushanbe. (RFE/RL, 10.30.20)
- No significant developments.