Russia in Review, Sept. 17-24, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

  • U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley met Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov in Helsinki on Sept. 22 for six hours. “We need to put in place policies and procedures to make sure that we increase certainty, to reduce uncertainty,” Milley said after the meeting, RFE/RL reports. Milley also said allowing military service chiefs to form stronger relationships with their Russian counterparts and allowing observers at exercises are ideas worth exploring. The Russian Defense Ministry said that “during the meeting, the military leaders discussed issues of mutual interest, including reducing the risk of incidents in the course of military activities. The meeting was constructive.”
  • The U.S. House of Representatives has agreed to add legislation to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (NDAA-2022) that would place sanctions on Russia's Nord Stream 2, according to RFE/RL. The House also approved an amendment to the NDAA-2022 that would ban U.S. citizens from buying or selling newly issued Russian sovereign debt on both primary and secondary markets, while its Rules Committee also passed an amendment which recommends the U.S. administration consider imposing sanctions against 35 Russian citizens, including Russian ministers and major businessmen.
  • The U.S. has vowed to support European countries hit by an energy supply crunch blamed on Russia and to “stand up” to suppliers accused of manipulating prices, the Financial Times reports. The International Energy Agency has called on Russia to send more gas to Europe, while the Kremlin has suggested that the current supply crunch proves the need for more pipelines, according to the Financial Times.
  • Since early September, Russia has been stepping up its military attacks and airstrikes in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib and its surroundings, Al Monitor reports. Some believe the escalation is a prelude to a Syrian government offensive to take Idlib, the country’s last rebel stronghold. Others, meanwhile, believe the activity is merely to gain leverage in the upcoming tripartite summit between Russia, Turkey and Iran in Sochi in late September.
  • Germans will head to the polls Sept. 26 for the country’s general election. The Social Democrats’ candidate, Olaf Scholz, is leading in the polls with around 25 percent, VOA reports. "I also say that Russia and other countries need to accept that European integration will continue," he told DW in August. "If we want to ensure joint security in Europe, then it's about the European Union and Russia." He said he would push for a new strategy toward dealing with Russia and other eastern European countries.
  • The ruling United Russia party retained a two-thirds majority in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, following elections that have been criticized as neither free nor fair by Russia’s opposition and the West. A number of Russian opposition leaders denounced the results as blatantly falsified, with jailed activist Alexei Navalny accusing the Kremlin of stealing the elections and a group of Russian parliamentary candidates calling for rallies to protest what they saw as fraudulent results. Sergei Shpilkin, a well-known Russian analyst of election fraud, estimates that actual support for United Russia was about 33%. The U.S. State Department criticized the crackdown on Kremlin critics leading up to the vote, saying it kept Russian citizens from being able to exercise their civil rights, while the U.K. called the elections a “serious step back for democratic freedoms.”


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Kazatomprom has joined Rosatom and several other major companies in the nuclear sector to co-found the Group of Vienna, a new platform for dialogue under the leadership of the director-general of the IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi. The group intends to meet regularly to discuss "the latest developments in the nuclear field and their contribution to addressing key challenges." The first meeting of the Group took place Sept. 22 within the 65th Annual General Conference of the IAEA in Vienna. (Interfax, 09.23.21, World Nuclear News, 09.23.21)
  • During the General Conference of the IAEA on Sept. 23, heads of regulatory authorities and other senior regulatory officials in the fields of nuclear, radiation, transport and radioactive waste safety and nuclear security met at the Senior Safety and Security Regulators’ Meeting to discuss regulatory challenges and share good practices. The conference concluded Sept. 24 with resolutions adopted on strengthening the agency’s work in the areas of nuclear science, technology and applications, safety and security and safeguards. Head of Russia’s Rosatom Alexei Likhachev and head of Rostekhnadzor Alexei Ferapontov took part in the general conference. (IAEA, 09.23.21, IAEA, 09.24.21, Rostekhnadzor, 09.20.21, Rosatom, 09.20.21)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • The foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council discussed Afghanistan and Iran on the sidelines of the 76th session of the U.N. General Assembly. (TASS, 09.23.21)
  • EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks in New York Sept. 23 to discuss further cooperation on Libya and the Iranian nuclear program. (Interfax, 09.24.21)
  • British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Lavrov held a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, discussing the need for Tehran to return to talks on the JCPOA. (TASS, 09.23.21)
  • New Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi wants talks with world powers to revive the landmark 2015 nuclear deal to lead to the removal of all U.S. sanctions. “The Islamic Republic considers useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions," Raisi told the U.N. General Assembly in a prerecorded speech Sept. 21. (RFE/RL, 09.21.21)
  • The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran’s Chief Mohammad Eslami met and held talks with the director-general of Rosatom on Sept. 20 on the sidelines of the IAEA's 65th General Conference. During the meeting, the two sides reviewed bilateral cooperation and projects.  (MNA, 09.20.21)
  • A senior U.S. official has expressed growing impatience at a lack of Iranian movement toward talks on reviving the JCPOA and cited fears of a "Plan B" that keeps Tehran on a dangerous atomic path. But the unnamed official also said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had not attached any date to when U.S. patience might run out on the negotiations. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)

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

  • U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley met Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov in Helsinki for six hours on Sept. 22:
    • “We need to put in place policies and procedures to make sure that we increase certainty, to reduce uncertainty, increase trust to reduce distrust, increase stability to reduce instability in order to avoid miscalculation, and reduce the possibility of great power war,” Milley said Sept. 23. “That’s a fundamental thing that we should try to do, and I am going to try to do it,” he said. Milley said allowing military service chiefs to form stronger relationships with their Russian counterparts and allowing observers at exercises are ideas worth exploring. Milley said that military-to-military contacts with Russia have worked in the past to de-escalate tense situations. Without being specific, he said there were “a couple of incidents that occurred between us and the Russians over the last two years” that triggered calls between Milley and Gerasimov.
    • A statement from the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested that more open communication was discussed. “The meeting was a continuation of talks aimed at improving military leadership communication between the two nations for the purposes of risk reduction and operational deconfliction,” the statement said.
    • The Russian Defense Ministry said that “during the meeting, the military leaders discussed issues of mutual interest, including reducing the risk of incidents in the course of military activities. The meeting was constructive."
    • Milley and Gerasimov were also to discuss their countries' differing views on U.S. presence in Central Asia. The Biden administration has earlier said it can conduct surveillance and strikes in Afghanistan from "over the horizon.” But officials also concede that without a presence there, their ability to address threats is limited. U.S. security officials would like to strike more intelligence- or base-sharing agreements with neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, a move Russia opposes. (The Wall Street Journal, 09.22.21. RFE/RL, 09.22.21, The Washington Post, 09.22.21, RFE/RL, 09.24.21, Kommersant, 09.22.21)
  • The chiefs of the General Staffs from the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization have agreed to coordinate their work for preventing threats emanating from the territory of Afghanistan, Gerasimov said Sept. 23. The meeting of the military delegations of Russia, India, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Belarus was held on the sidelines of the SCO’s Peace Mission 2021 anti-terror drills running at the Donguz practice range in the Orenburg Region in the Urals. (TASS, 09.23.21)
  • Gerasimov held bilateral talks with colleagues from China and India on the sidelines of the Peace Mission. Gerasimov and China’s Li lauded bilateral military cooperation and confirmed the commitment "to the maximally efficient use of the acquired potential" for deepening the interaction. A similar opinion was expressed on Russian-Indian military cooperation at Gerasimov's meeting with India’s Rawat. (Interfax, 09.23.21)
  • The acting head of Afghanistan's Taliban-led government, Mullah Muhammad Hassan Akhund, has met in Kabul with representatives from Russia, China and Pakistan, according to a Taliban official Sept. 21. During the meeting the representatives of the Taliban movement stressed the importance of relations with the three countries in the context of the situation in Afghanistan, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. (TASS, 09.22.21, RFE/RL, 09.22.21) 
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed that the approach to Russia and China should be based on the common values shared by both London and Washington, said Johnson's spokesman following talks between the two politicians Sept. 22. Johnson added that he is looking forward to the Democracy Summit, which will take place Dec. 9-10. (TASS, 09.21.21)
  • When Biden and the leaders of Japan, Australia and India convene at the White House on Sept. 24, they'll be meeting in person for the first time to cement an emerging partnership of four Indo-Pacific countries, known as the Quad, united in their misgivings about China. But one crucial leg of the bloc—India—also has lingering concerns about the United States. (The Washington Post, 09.24.21)
  • Russian Ambassador to the U.K. Andrei Kelin does not expect new members to join the AUKUS partnership. The Chinese authorities believe AUKUS contradicts international nuclear non-proliferation accords, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said. (TASS, 09.24.21)
  • The CIA has removed its top officer in Vienna following criticism of his management, including what some considered an insufficient response to a growing number of mysterious health incidents at the U.S. Embassy there, said current and former U.S. officials. (The Washington Post, 09.24.21)

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • Russia and China participated in a multinational anti-terrorism military exercises as the countries seek to fill a regional security void left by the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Russian state media reported Sept. 20. The two powers held the Peace Mission 2021 drills in Russia's Orenburg region near the Kazakh border from Sept. 20-24 under the banner of the SCO. (AFP, 09.20.21)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Sept. 23 again urged eight key countries which have not yet signed or ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), to do so without delay. The stance of eight countries prevents CTBT from becoming a full-scale document, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a statement on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the treaty's opening for signature. CTBT has not been ratified by the United States, China, Egypt, Israel and Iran and not signed by India, Pakistan and North Korea. (TASS, 09.23.21, U.N. News, 09.23.21)


  • FBI Director Christopher Wray said Sept. 22 that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan raises concerns that the country will become a magnet for terrorism groups to plot and direct attacks. (The Washington Post, 09.22.21)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Having failed in its attempt to rebuild the Syrian Army and have it assume the lead in the war, Russia has been quietly reinforcing its contingent in Syria, which some estimates now put as high as 13,000. (Foreign Policy Research Institute, Sept. 2021)
  • The outbreak of violence in Daraa, located in southern Syria close to the Jordanian border, underscores how anti-government resistance continues to simmer even in areas recaptured by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. The fighting also highlights the limits of reconciliation efforts—long advocated and supervised by Assad’s Russian allies as a way to pacify the country—and the inability or unwillingness of Russia to keep Syrian government forces in check. (The Washington Post, 09.19.21)
  • Since early September, Russia has been stepping up its military attacks and airstrikes in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib and its surroundings. Some believe the escalation is a prelude to a Syrian government offensive to take Idlib, the country’s last rebel stronghold. Others, meanwhile, believe the activity is merely to gain leverage in the upcoming tripartite summit between Russia, Turkey and Iran. The summit, slated for the end of September, will bring together Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, as part of the Astana peace process. (Al Monitor, 09.23.21)
    • A visit by Erdogan to Russia for talks with Putin is being prepared, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sept. 20. Erdogan would arrive in Sochi on Sept. 29 to discuss the situation in Syria, in particular, in Idlib. Erdogan also stated in late August that in the course of his upcoming visit to Russia, he was going to discuss with Putin the details of purchasing the second regiment set of S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. (TASS, 09.20.21)

Cyber security:

  • The U.S. has imposed sanctions on a Russian-based cryptocurrency exchange over its alleged role in facilitating illegal payments from ransomware attacks. The Treasury Department action on Sept. 21 targeted SUEX, in what officials said was the first sanctions leveled against a cryptocurrency exchange laundering money for cybercriminals. The Biden administration is making swift progress on its master strategy to combat ransomware. The administration plans to move as early as this week to place sanctions on financial exchanges that facilitate ransomware payments. But any reduction in attacks may still be far off. (RFE/RL, 09.21.21, The Washington Post, 09.20.21)
  • A ransomware attack believed to be the work of Russian hackers has forced an association of corn and soy farmers based in the U.S. state of Iowa to take its systems offline. New Cooperative said in a statement that the attack was “successfully contained” and that it had quickly notified law enforcement. (RFE/RL, 09.22.21) 
  • The FBI refrained for almost three weeks from helping to unlock the computers of hundreds of businesses and institutions hobbled by a major ransomware attack this summer, even though the bureau had secretly obtained the digital key needed to do so. The key was obtained through access to the servers of the Russia-based criminal gang behind the July attack. The FBI held on to the key, with the agreement of other agencies, in part because it was planning to carry out an operation to disrupt the hackers, a group known as REvil, and the bureau did not want to tip them off. (The Washington Post, 09.21.21)
  • The EU is urging Russia to adhere to the norms of "responsible state behavior" after a cyberattack campaign targeted several member states. "Some member states observed malicious cyberactivities, collectively designated as Ghostwriter, and associated these with the Russian state," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement Sept. 24. "Such activities are unacceptable as they seek to threaten our integrity and security, democratic values and principles, and the core functioning of our democracies," he said. (RFE/RL, 09.24.21)
  • Moscow stands ready to provide evidence of cyberattacks on Russia’s electoral system carried out from Germany, if Berlin is interested, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Sept. 21. According to Ella Pamfilova, who heads the Central Election Commission, its website has experienced powerful cyberattacks, some of which were carried out from the U.S. (50%), Germany (25%), Russia (10%) and China (5%). (TASS, 09.21.21)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • The U.S. House of Representatives has agreed to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (NDAA-2022) that would place sanctions on Russia's Nord Stream 2 project, potentially putting into jeopardy an agreement reached between the Biden administration and Germany in July. The House on Sept. 22 unanimously passed a package of amendments to NDAA-2022, including the sanctions legislation. The bill would still require approval in the Senate and Biden's signature to become law. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)
  • Nord Stream 2 still seems likely to be approved, according to the existing timetable, but a cold winter could force regulators to move faster. Final approval for Nord Stream 2 from Germany's pipeline regulator and the European Commission is expected to take between six to eight months. (The Wall Street Journal, 09.23.21)
  • The U.S. has vowed to support European countries hit by an energy supply crunch blamed on Russia and to “stand up” to suppliers accused of manipulating prices. U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the rise in prices had “raised serious concerns and questions on the reliability of the existing supply and security in Europe.” Russia is Europe’s biggest supplier of gas and accounts for about 40% of imports. Gazprom has fulfilled its long-term contracts to European customers but has restricted additional top-up sales, while allowing its own storage facilities in Europe to fall to low levels. (Financial Times, 09.22.21)
  • The International Energy Agency has called on Russia to send more gas to Europe to help alleviate the energy crisis, becoming the first major international body to address claims by traders and foreign officials that Moscow has restricted supplies. (Financial Times, 09.21.21)
  • The Kremlin has suggested that the current supply crunch proves the need for more pipelines. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Sept. 22 that Europe needed to buy more gas from Russia if it wanted to increase transit flows via Ukraine. Gazprom’s chief executive Alexei Miller last week said the company was meeting its supply obligations and was ready to increase production if needed. But he warned prices could rise further in the winter because of shortages in underground facilities. (Financial Times, 09.22.21, Financial Times, 09.21.21)
  • Gazprom did not book any of the additional capacity available in transit pipelines running through Ukraine in auctions for October. The company also reserved only a third of the space it was offered on the Yamal gas pipeline, which goes through Poland. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.21.21)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • Rusal says it has stolen a march on its rivals in the race to market a greener mass-produced aluminum, through a deal with Budweiser for “ultra-low” carbon beer cans. The Russian company will provide the brewer with 5 million cans made from aluminum that has been produced using a technology that eliminates carbon dioxide from the smelting process. (Financial Times, 09.20.21)

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Biden used his debut address to the U.N. on Sept. 21 to call for ''relentless diplomacy'' on climate change, the pandemic and efforts to blunt the expanding influence of autocratic nations like China and Russia. He laced his discussion with a series of choices that essentially boiled down to backing democracy over autocracy, a scarcely veiled critique of both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin. ''We're not seeking—say it again, we are not seeking—a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,'' he said. Biden explicitly referred to the targeting of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of western China. He also said “we all must defend the rights of LGBTQI individuals ... whether it’s Chechnya or Cameroon or anywhere.” (The New York Times, 09.22.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.21.21)
    • Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov took umbrage at Biden’s U.N. speech mentioning his Kremlin-loyal southern Russian region in his calls to protect LGBT rights. Writing on the popular Telegram messaging app, Kadyrov ridiculed the U.S. president for leading “the world’s most problematic, aggressive country.” (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.21.21)
  • The U.S. State Department cast doubt Sept. 20 on the integrity of Russia's parliamentary election, saying a government crackdown on critics had "prevented" citizens from exercising their civil rights. "The Sept. 17-19 Duma elections in the Russian Federation took place under conditions not conducive to free and fair proceedings," said State Department spokesperson Ned Price, adding that the crackdown "prevented the Russian people from exercising their civil and political rights." He said the government had used laws against alleged extremist organizations, foreign agents and undesirable organizations, a move that "severely restricted political pluralism" in the vote. The United States' mission to the OSCE  has criticized Russia's recent national elections as taking place under conditions "not conducive to free or fair" voting and called Moscow's claims of outside interference as "baseless allegations" to distract from a flawed process. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.20.21, RFE/RL, 09.23.21).
  • The U.S. House of Representatives has approved an amendment that would ban U.S. citizens from buying or selling newly issued Russian sovereign debt on both primary and secondary markets. The amendment, added to the draft of the NDAA-2022, by voice vote, is part of Congress's effort to punish Moscow for alleged interference in U.S. elections. The bill is expected to pass the House with broad support late this week. Its fate in the Senate is unclear. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)
  • The U.S. House of Representatives’ Rules Committee passed an amendment to the NDAA-2022, which recommends the U.S. administration consider imposing sanctions against 35 Russian citizens, including Russian ministers, major businessmen, public figures and journalists per the "Global Magnitsky Act." The list includes Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, the Central Election Commission’s Ella Pamfilova, First Deputy Administration head Sergey Kiriyenko, Minister of Agriculture Dmitry Patrushev and Health Minister Mikhail Murashko. The list also includes Russian National Guard Director Viktor Zolotov, Federal Security Agency Director Alexander Bortnikov, Investigative Committee Chairman Alexander Bastrykin, St. Petersburg governor Alexander Beglov and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin. (TASS, 09.22.21)
  • A top manager of Russian natural-gas producer Novatek has been arrested in the U.S. on tax-evasion charges related to offshore bank accounts allegedly holding tens of millions of dollars. The U.S. Justice Department said Sept. 23 that Mark Gyetvay was arrested after a federal grand jury in Florida indicted him the day before. Novatek is Russia's biggest independent producer of natural gas. (RFE/RL, 09.24.21)
  • Russia has designated the Church of Scientology an “undesirable organization” Sept. 24, effectively banning it within the country and putting its members at risk of jail time. Russia has previously attempted to prohibit the Church of Scientology, a religion that is recognized in some countries but considered by others to be a cult, since it arrived in the country. Tens of thousands of people across Russia are estimated to be members. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.24.21)
  • Throughout the Trump presidency there was much speculation about his relationship with Putin and whether the Russians “had something” on the U.S. president. Fiona Hill, a former official in Trump’s National Security Council, favors a simpler explanation in her new book. Trump, she writes, suffered from “autocrat envy.” He was “fixated on authoritarians in general, not Putin in particular.” “People like Putin, who was simultaneously an autocrat and reputedly super-rich, were an elite of their own. This was the group Trump wanted to see himself in—the internationally very rich, very powerful and very famous.” This was not a mere matter of strongman chic. Trump “wanted to govern like them. He wanted raw power.” (Financial Times, 09.24.21)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Russian health authorities say 828 coronavirus-related deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, a record daily total during the pandemic. The anti-coronavirus crisis center said on Sept. 24 that 21,379 new coronavirus cases had been found in the past 24 hours, slightly down from 21,438 cases the previous day. (RFE/RL, 09.24.21) 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.
  • Russia's Central Election Commission has validated the results of last week's State Duma elections in the face of opposition allegations of irregularities in favor of the Kremlin-backed ruling United Russia party. Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova told a news conference Sept. 24 that United Russia took 324 seats in parliament—19 fewer than the last election in 2016—giving it a supermajority in the legislature, which allows it to change the constitution amid Putin's efforts to cement his grip on power ahead of a possible run in the 2024 presidential election. The Communist Party took 57 seats in the vote, while the A Just Russia-For Truth party received 27. The Liberal Democratic Party secured 21 seats and the New People party won 13. In addition, Rodina, the Party of Growth and the Civic Platform will send one deputy each. Five independent candidates will also have mandates in the State Duma. The election commission said the United Russia party won 49.82% of the ballots, compared to 18.93% for the runner-up Communist Party. (RFE/RL, 09.24.21)
  • A Russian researcher known for detailed analyses of past elections says fraud was a major factor in the State Duma election victory of United Russia. Sergei Shpilkin said that, without vote manipulation, the Kremlin-backed party would have likely received around 31-33% of ballots in the party-list voting—not the nearly 50 % reported by the Central Election Commission.  Alexei Kouprianov, a biologist and big data analyst, also estimated that real support for United Russia was around 30%, not the 50% recorded in the official results. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.21.21, RFE/RL, 09.22.21, Meduza, 09.23.21)
  • A group of Russian parliamentary candidates said Sept. 23 they are uniting to abolish electronic voting and called for nationwide rallies to protest the results of last weekend’s elections. Russia’s opposition has raised questions over the election results’ legitimacy after the ruling. E-voting results reversed opposition candidates' early leads secured in the offline vote and Kremlin-endorsed candidates saw huge swings in their favor and won every district after online votes were tallied. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.23.21)
  • A group of independent municipal and regional deputies has launched a petition demanding all results from the Sept. 17-19 elections across Russia be invalidated due to numerous violations and irregularities in the voting. The Association of Independent Municipal and Regional Deputies said Central Election Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova failed to ensure "fair and transparent" elections, and "in fact your [Pamfilova's] actions led to the exact opposite result." (RFE/RL, 09.22.21) 
  • Jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny has accused the Kremlin of using "intimidation and repression" to steal parliamentary elections. He said the vote was neither free nor fair and also accused Google and Apple of acting as the Kremlin's "accomplices" after the companies removed his voting app during the country's parliamentary election last week. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.23.21, RFE/RL, 09.21.21, The New York Times, 09.20.21, The Wall Street Journal, 09.20.21)
  • Anastasia Vasilyeva, the chief of the Physicians' Alliance NGO, accused Navalny's now-defunct Anti-Corruption Foundation of leaving her and her team without any support after "using" them, saying that Navalny's associates Leonid Volkov, Ivan Zhdanov and Maria Pevchikh, who currently live outside of Russia, "are ruining everything that we once created." (RFE/RL, 09.17.21)
  • An Estonian newspaper is reporting that Russian opposition politician Lyubov Sobol has settled in Estonia with her young daughter after fleeing her homeland this summer following her conviction and sentencing at a Moscow court on charges widely seen as politically motivated. (RFE/RL, 09.22.21)
  • Russia's government has approved measures aimed at halving the number of abortions carried out in the country before 2025, according to a document published on its website. The plan is part of the government's latest long-term blueprint for improving the demographic situation in the country through 2025, amid a recently resumed decline in population growth after a decade of sluggish but stable increases. (RFE/RL, 09.22.21)
  • A Russian plan to build more floating nuclear power plants advanced this month after two subsidiaries of Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, signed a cooperation agreement to power a remote mining facility on Siberia’s northeastern tip. The new agreement unites Atomflot, Rosatom’s nuclear icebreaker wing, and Atomenergomash, its engineering division, in an effort to build what officials have called “streamlined” floating nuclear plants, each based on a pair of 55 megawatt RITM-200 reactors. (World Nuclear News, 09.20.21)
  • “Digital” mining has started at the Khokhlovskoye uranium deposit in Russia, Rosatom subsidiaries announced. Operators have full information on the process and its environmental effects, as well as a simulation of their options. “We can control the technology at a depth of 500 meters and, if necessary, simulate the processes occurring in the ore body," explained Viktor Svyatetsky, first deputy general director and executive director of Rosatom's mining subsidiary ARMZ. (World Nuclear News, 09.23.21)
  • The reactor pressure vessel for the second new reactor under construction at Russia's Kursk II nuclear power plant has been delivered to site. Made from nickel-free steel it can give the plant service life of up to 100 years, Rosatom said. (World Nuclear News, 09.20.21)
  • A new unicorn emerged discreetly earlier this year in the globalized Russian-speaking startup entrepreneur community. InDriver, a ride-hailing app founded in Yakutsk, Siberia, back in 2012, was valued at $1.23 billion as it raised $150 million this past February from leading North American funds, reports East-West Digital News. The Siberian-born unicorn is now among the world’s top ride-hailing apps. (bne IntelliNews, 09.23.21)
  • Russia’s biggest petrochemicals company Sibur has closed a deal to take over 100% of its Tatarstan-based rival TAIF in an equity swap that will leave the shareholders of TAIF with 15% of the merged company and bonds, the companies announced Sept. 24. (bne IntelliNews, 09.24.21)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The Russian Army reportedly conducted a mock nuclear attack against NATO troops in Poland during a large-scale Zapaz-2021 military exercise. An unnamed Russian source said that the main purpose of the exercise was to simulate counter-attacks in case of large-scale war with the U.S. and its NATO allies. During the military exercise, the Russian military conducted dummy bombing runs involving long-range precision live-fires. As part of the exercise, a pair of Tu-22M3 bombers simulated an attack on the American military command structure in Poland and a nuclear-capable artillery unit conducted realistic live-fire exercises. (Defense Blog, 09.20.21)
  • Zapad-2021 engaged several types of Russian unmanned aerial vehicles. The strike drones included Inokhodets, Orlan-10 and Forpost. Still experts polled by believe Russia lags behind other countries in drone creation and exports. "So far, we have not seen a single Russian drone in combat. We have seen them at drills and Syrian ranges. It is completely unacceptable that Russia does not have a major number of drones," director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Ruslan Pukhov said. (TASS, 09.22.21)
  • Russia’s ICBM modernization rate is well on pace to exceed 80% in the next several years if it hasn’t already. The Kedr ICBM is slated to begin replacing Russia’s Yars units—and any older systems still in service by that point—in the early 2030s. (The National Interest, 09.19.21)

Emergencies, security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Forest fires this year covered the largest area of Russia since satellite imaging began, a Greenpeace expert has said. In 2021, 18.2 million hectares were covered by fire, up from the previous record of 18.1 million hectares in 2012, according to a report from Greenpeace Russia. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.22.21) 
  • All six crew members of an aircraft that crashed during a technical flight in Russia's Far East region of Khabarovsk have died. “The remains of the deceased were found at the crash site. There are no survivors," a representative of the emergency services said a day after the Antonov An-26 disappeared. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)
  • Six people were killed when a gunman opened fire at a university in the Russian city of Perm, leaving more than two dozen wounded in an incident that is becoming less of a rarity in a country with strict regulations over gun ownership. Russia's Investigative Committee said that it had detained the shooter shortly after the attack on Sept. 20 at Perm State University, located around 870 miles east of Moscow. The gunman was a student and was injured during the encounter, said the agency, which handles probes into major crimes. (The Wall Street Journal, 09.20.21)
    • A senior investigator in Russia’s Perm region died by suicide days after the rare campus shooting, Russian media reported Sept. 23. The body of Sergei Sarapultsev, who headed the Russian Investigative Committee’s Perm region branch, was found dead in his home. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.24.21)
  • Five climbers died after a blizzard on Mount Elbrus, Russia's emergencies ministry said Sept. 24, in one of the worst tragedies in recent years on Europe's highest peak. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.24.21)
  • British police have filed charges against a third person in the Novichok assassination attempt on Sergei Skripal, the former Russian double agent who was poisoned in 2018. "Police enquiries uncovered evidence to show that ‘Sergei Fedotov’ is an alias for ‘Denis Sergeyev’ and that he is a member of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU," a police statement said. (RFE/RL, 09.21.21)
  • The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia was responsible for the "assassination" of former Russian security officer Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. Litvinenko, an outspoken critic of Putin, fell ill on Nov. 1, 2006, after he drank tea that was poisoned with polonium-210, a rare, highly radioactive isotope. He died several days later in the hospital. (RFE/RL, 09.21.21)
  • Russia's FSB has ratcheted up the charges against jailed Crimean Tatar politician Nariman Dzhelyal over the alleged sabotage of a pipeline last month. He was initially accused of complicity in committing sabotage, but his lawyer said Sept. 23 he was later reclassified as a full participant in the alleged plot. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)
  • A court in the city of Volgograd in southwestern Russia sentenced four Jehovah’s Witnesses to more than six years in prison each on extremism charges Sept. 23. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.24.21)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Germans will head to the polls Sept. 26 for the country’s general election. The Social Democrats’ candidate, Olaf Scholz, is leading in the polls with around 25%. "I also say that Russia and other countries need to accept that European integration will continue," he told DW in August. "If we want to ensure joint security in Europe, then it's about the European Union and Russia." He said he would push for a new strategy toward dealing with Russia and other eastern European countries. (VOA, 09.21.21, DW, 08.22.21)
  • Putin signed a decree extending until Dec. 31, 2022, certain special economic measures against countries that have imposed sanctions against Russia. The document was published online Sept. 20. (TASS, 09.20.21)
  • France's defense minister has warned her Malian counterpart against hiring Russian private security firm Wagner to fight Islamic militants in the Sahel. "Such a choice would be one of isolation," French Defense Minister Florence Parly told reporters Sept. 20 after meeting Defense Minister Col. Sadio Camara during a visit to Mali. A Malian Defense Ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Camara assured Parly that no decision had been made. (RFE/RL, 09.21.21)
  • The French government said Sept. 23 it was in talks with Moscow about suspending a contested law barring French champagne producers from labeling their bubbly "champagne" on bottles sold in Russia. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.23.21)
  • Britain on Sept. 20 criticized Russian parliamentary elections as a "serious step back for democratic freedoms," after claims of voter fraud and intimidation. The U.K. government said the Russian authorities' actions "undermine political plurality" and were "at odds with the international commitments that Russia has signed up to.” (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.20.21) 
  • Researchers at Cardiff University found that the reader comment sections of Western media outlets such as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, Fox News and Der Spiegel are increasingly being manipulated by propagandists, who then point to pro-Kremlin comments as evidence of sympathy for the Russian government in the West. Having conducted a “penetration test” of 18 high-profile national news outlets across the U.K., U.S., France and Germany, researchers found that no identity checks are made, online pseudonyms can be easily changed and that there is a “consistent lack of moderation and oversight.” (Financial Times, 09.22.21)


  • The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the NDAA-2022. The bill provides for $300 million in security assistance to Ukraine and proposes to increase the presence of U.S. troops on NATO's eastern flank in Poland, Romania and the Baltic states. Earlier, some Congress members included an amendment attached to the NDAA-2022 that would pressure the Biden administration to sell or transfer new air and missile defense systems to Ukraine, including potentially sending an Iron Dome battery. (Ukrinform, 09.22.21, Politco, 09.14.21, Ukrinform, 09.24.21)
  • Ukraine on Sept. 20 launched joint military exercises with the U.S. and other NATO countries as tensions with Russia remain high over the Kremlin-backed insurgency in the country's east. The annual Rapid Trident military exercises, taking place in western Ukraine until Oct. 1, involve some 6,000 soldiers from 15 countries. (AFP, 09.20.21)
  • The U.S. State Department regrets Russia’s decision not to extend the mandate of an OSCE border observer mission at Russia’s Gukovo and Donetsk checkpoints on the border with Ukraine, spokesperson Ned Prince said. (TASS, 09.17.21)
  • The U.S. does not recognize the Russian Duma elections on sovereign Ukrainian territory, the State Department said. (Reuters, 09.20.21)
  • Ukraine's president has called on the U.N. to do more to respond to the ongoing war in Ukraine's east, where government forces continue to face off against Kremlin-backed separatists in a seven-year-war that has killed more than 13,200 people. Volodymyr Zelenskiy also used his Sept. 22 speech before the U.N. General Assembly to highlight what appeared to be a brazen assassination attempt in Kyiv that targeted a key aide earlier the same day. In his speech, Zelenskiy suggested that the U.N. needed to "wake up" and tackle the world's most pressing problems. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)
  • The U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report showing a surge in violence in eastern Ukraine. The report said the number of cease-fire violations in the conflict zone "considerably increased" from Feb. 1 to July 31, compared with the previous six months. Moreover, it noted a 51% increase in the number of civilian casualties, including the deaths of 13 people by "active hostilities," while dozens of injuries resulted from mine-related incidents and the handling of explosive remnants of war. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)
  • A hail of bullets ripped through a car transporting Serhiy Shefir, a top aide of Zelenskiy, in what senior officials have called an attempt to intimidate the country's leadership as it tries to tackle corruption. Shefir was unharmed. (RFE/RL, 09.22.21)
  • Ukrainian lawmakers have approved a draft bill directed at limiting the influence of oligarchs. The second and final reading of the proposed legislation—known as "the oligarch law"—was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada Sept. 23. The draft law, which must still be signed by Zelenskiy, would introduce a legal definition for an oligarch, create a register of tycoons and impose limitations on their activities such as blocking them from financing political parties. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)
  • Ukraine's parliament has passed a law defining anti-Semitism and banning it in the country. The Verkhovna Rada on Sept. 22 approved a second reading of the bill, sending it to Zelenskiy for his signature to become law. (RFE/RL, 09.22.21)
  • The Ukrainian President’s office estimates the growth of Ukraine’s GDP at 3.8% in 2021. (Ukraine Business News, 09.19.21)
  • Ukraine’s real GDP increased by 5.7% year on year in 2Q21, the State Statistics Service reported Sept. 20, improving its preliminary estimate of 5.4% y/y. Meanwhile, the economy declined 0.7% quarter on quarter on a seasonally adjusted basis (versus a previously reported decline of 0.8% q/q). (bne IntelliNews, 09.21.21)
  • Ukraine’s State Statistics Service has published new data on exports of Ukrainian goods. In January-July 2021, exports grew by 33.4%, with the market to the EU increasing by almost 50%. Significant growth is taking place in most major sectors of the economy, including the machine-building industry which increased by almost 30%. (Ukraine Business News, 09.19.21)
  • Westinghouse Electric Company and Ukrainian company NT-Engineering LLC have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation to implement maintenance optimization and system repair projects for VVER reactors. They said the work will increase the safety levels and performance of Ukrainian VVERs, improving annual power output and reducing operational costs. (World Nuclear News, 09.23.21)
  • According to the results of a study conducted by the Rating sociological group in Ukrainian regions, 17% of residents in Ukraine’s Severodonetsk categorized their attitude toward Russia as very warm, 30% as warm, 34% as neutral. In Mariupol, 14% have a very warm attitude, 38% warm, 25% neutral. In Kharkiv, the figures are 12%, 27% and 30%, respectively; in Odessa, 9%, 31%, 34%. The worst attitude toward Russia is in Lviv, where only 1% said they felt very warm toward Russia and 3% warm, 18% neutral. Some 58% of residents said they felt very cold toward Russia and 17% said cold. (Interfax, 09.18.21)
  • Ukraine's government has extended the country's state of emergency until the end of the year as officials deal with a surge in coronavirus infections. (RFE/RL, 09.20.21)
  • The U.S. is permitting a company owned by Ukrainian tycoon Igor Kolomoyskiy to sell a Texas building the government froze as part of a civil money-laundering case so that it can pay down the property’s back taxes and other debts.  (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The EU has summoned Georgia's envoy to Brussels, Vakhtang Makharoblishvili, after leaked files alleged the country's security agency spied on the bloc's diplomats and others. EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell told reporters Sept. 22 that the alleged spying by "a close friend and partner like Georgia" raised serious questions about the relationship between the two and compliance with diplomatic norms. Georgian media have reported that thousands of leaked files, released by a whistleblower last week, showed the State Security Service eavesdropped on Hartzell, U.S. diplomats, Israel's ambassador and other diplomatic missions in Tbilisi. (RFE/RL, 09.22.21)
  • The Taliban says two high-ranking Kyrgyz officials have traveled to Kabul for talks with the group’s leadership. The acting foreign minister in the Taliban-led government, Amir Khan Muttaqi, met with the deputy chairman of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council, Taalatbek Masadykov, and the head of the Foreign Policy Department of the Kyrgyz presidential administration, Jeenbek Kulubaev. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)
  • The London Bullion Market Association suspended Kyrgyzaltyn OJSC, Kyrgyzstan's state-owned gold producer, from its list of acceptable refiners. The move was prompted by accusations from a London unit of trading firm StoneX Group Inc. that the Kyrgyz refiner had failed to deliver a half metric ton of gold bars. (The Wall Street Journal, 09.20.21)
  • Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has called on the Taliban to form an inclusive government in Afghanistan with the participation of all political and ethnic groups in order to allay tensions in the war-torn country. In a prerecorded video message to the U.N. General Assembly, Rahmon reiterated his concerns over recent developments in Afghanistan, calling them a "serious threat to regional security and stability." (RFE/RL, 09.24.21)
  • Tajikistan has begun releasing the first group of prisoners under a mass amnesty affecting some 16,000 people. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)
  • Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has issued a pardon to more than 2,000 prisoners ahead of the former Soviet state's Independence Day on Sept. 27. State media reported Sept. 20 that the authoritarian president signed a decree releasing 2,064 prisoners based on the "principles of mercy and humanism bequeathed by our great ancestors." (RFE/RL, 09.22.21) 
  • Kazakhstan will switch from its current Russian dialing code, +7, to its own national international dialing code, +997. (RFE/RL, 09.21.21)
  • Ostrovets 2 is at the hot test stage of commissioning and should begin generating electricity next year, Belarusian Energy Minister Viktor Karankevich said on the sidelines of the IAEA's General Conference. (World Nuclear News, 09.22.21)
  • Poland says it has mounting evidence that Belarus, backed by Russia, is orchestrating the wave of illegal immigrants pouring across its borders and into the EU. (RFE/RL, 09.20.21)
  • A court in Belarus has extended the pretrial detention of Sofia Sapega, who was arrested along with her boyfriend, opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich, in Minsk after authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko ordered a passenger plane they were on diverted as it flew over the country. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)
  • In a speech before the U.N. General Assembly, President Maia Sandu again called for the departure of Russian troops from Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region. Some 1,400 Russian troops are still stationed in Transdniester, which declared independence from Moldova in 1990, ostensibly to protect Soviet-era arms depots. (RFE/RL, 09.23.21)


IV. Quoteworthy

  • No significant developments.