Russia in Review, Sept. 21-28, 2018

This Week’s Highlights:

  • The Russian economy “remains in many effects semi-feudal, especially in underdeveloped regions where there’s no trace of competition,” Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service chief Igor Artemyev said, according to The Moscow Times.
  • September 2018 marked the first month since the 2014 ruble crisis that Russia hasn’t sold any ruble debt, Bloomberg reports.
  • Russia overtook the U.S. as the world's biggest exporter of wheat in 2016, and again beat the U.S. in 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal
  • Residents of a village in Russia's Far East told Kommersant and The Washington Post on Sept. 28 that they recognized a suspect in recent nerve-agent poisonings in Britain, a man reportedly named Ruslan Boshirov, as former fellow villager Anatoly Cheipiga. Some of them said Cheipiga left Berezovka upon graduating from the local school to study at the Far Eastern Combined Arms Command Academy.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the U.N. Security Council: “Dialogue between Russia and the United States, the two largest nuclear powers, is of special importance for strengthening the WMD nonproliferation regime. It was our two states that were at the cradle of the common framework for multilateral cooperation to stop WMD from falling into the hands of non-state actors and to combat acts of nuclear terrorism. We still consider this interaction to be of fundamental importance not only for Moscow and Washington, but for the entire international community.” (Russian Foreign Ministry, 09.26.18)
  • The 62nd regular session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in 2018 concluded on Sept. 21 with resolutions adopted to further strengthen the IAEA’s work in the areas of nuclear science and technology, safety, security, safeguards and technical cooperation. Delegates also adopted resolutions on nuclear and radiation safety and on nuclear security. (IAEA, 09.21.18)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a U.N. Security Council meeting on Sept. 27 that recent "positive developments" in relations between North and South Korea  should lead to relief from some of the strict sanctions imposed on Pyongyang. Russia backed China's call to review the sanctions, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, backed by Western allies on the council, opposed the calls for easing. (RFE/RL, 09.28.18)
  • Seeking to maintain leverage in discussions on North Korea's denuclearization efforts, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with North Korea's foreign minister at the U.N. the same day that Ri Yong Ho met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP, 09.28.18)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • The EU’s three biggest member states have agreed to a deal with Russia and China to set up a special payments system to facilitate trade with Iran as global powers step up measures to protect a nuclear deal with Tehran after the U.S. re-imposed sanctions. In a joint statement on Sept. 25, the foreign ministers of China, Russia, Germany, the U.K. and France agreed to “assist and reassure economic operators pursuing legitimate business with Iran,” including its oil exports. After high-level talks between EU and Iranian officials at the U.N. late on Sept. 24, the two sides issued a statement saying that they remain determined "to protect the freedom of their economic operators to pursue legitimate business." (RFE/RL, 09.25.18, Financial Times, 09.25.18)
  • The U.S. has sharply criticized an EU plan to help Iran get around U.S. sanctions by establishing alternative ways to pay for Iran's trade with European companies. U.S. President Donald Trump this week also called at the U.N. General Assembly for "all nations to isolate" the Iranian government for as long as its leadership continues policies of "aggression" in the Middle East and beyond. (RFE/RL, 09.26.18, RFE/RL, 09.25.18)
  • Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sept. 28 vowed Russia will do "everything possible" to preserve the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal despite the U.S. withdrawal. (RFE/RL, 09.28.18)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Speaking after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, "NATO and Russia have serious disagreements on a number of issues, which make our dialogue even more important." (RFE/RL, 09.25.18)
  • Construction of a permanent U.S. military base in Poland would entail “destruction” of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told Rossiiskaya Gazeta. (Russia Matters, 09.26.18)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • A session of the American-Russian consultative commission on the New START treaty will be held within the next couple of weeks in Geneva, said the director of the department of non-proliferation and arms control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, Vladimir Yermakov. Regarding the INF Treaty, Yermakov said Russia was “ready to discuss any issues relating to the treaty with our American partners, in any format.” Yermakov added that there was “not a very big possibility” of Russia signing any brand new arms control agreements in the next few years. (TASS, 09.25.18, Financial Times, 09.25.18)


  • Russia and its neighbors are on a manhunt for 9,000 suspected terrorists, including 5,000 fighters who took direct part in armed conflicts, according to Andrei Novikov, the head of the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Anti-Terrorism Center. (The Moscow Times, 09.26.18)
  • Supporters of international terrorists no longer want to go abroad to participate in hostilities there, but, acting on their leaders' orders, they stay in Russia to set up cells and plot terrorist acts, the Russian National Antiterrorism Committee said. (Interfax, 09.25.18)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Russia will supply an S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Syria within two weeks, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Sept. 24. He said the decision to send the sophisticated missiles to Syria was made in response to Israel's disregard for the safety of Russian military personnel. Israeli pilots, he said, had intentionally maneuvered near the Russian plane to shield themselves from attack by Syria, putting the Russian crew at risk. ''The Israeli crews, who knew perfectly well the situation in the air, found cover behind the Russian airplane, which led to its destruction and the deaths of 15 members of the service,'' Shoigu said. Unlike Syria's older weapons, the S-200, the newer missiles have an electronic system to avoid hitting friendly airplanes. (Reuters, 09.24.18, New York Times, 09.24.18)
  • A spokesman for Russia's Defense Ministry said Sept. 23 that Moscow rejected specific claims presented personally last week by Israel's Air Force commander that put responsibility for the plane on Syria. Spokesman Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the Israeli jets had used Russia's airborne reconnaissance plane as a screen to take the fire from the Syrian S-200 antiaircraft missiles. (Wall Street Journal, 09.23.18)
  • The behavior of Israeli pilots in Syria is radically different from that of U.S. aircraft, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. "We have an active channel of communication to prevent air incidents, with both sides giving prior notice about plans to use aviation in various parts of Syria. This allows for timely measures to rule out any situations posing threat to Russian and U.S. militaries in the air and on the land," he said. (Interfax, 09.23.18)
  • The sole reason for the delivery of an S-300 air defense missile system to Syria is the security of Russian troops, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. (Interfax, 09.25.18)
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against delivering an advanced air-defense system to Syria, saying it will further destabilize the region. He also said that Israel "will continue to defend its security and its interests" by staging bombing raids on Iranian military targets in Syria. Netanyahu and Putin have also reached an agreement that the two countries’ militaries will hold a meeting soon to discuss coordination on Syria (RFE/RL, 09.25.18, TASS, 09.25.18)
  • U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Sept. 24 that the delivery would be a "major mistake" and a "significant escalation" in Syria’s seven-year war. Washington's claims about the threat of escalation in Syria as a result of deliveries of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Damascus are groundless; this decision was taken following a thorough analysis, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in response. (RFE/RL, 09.24.18, Interfax, 09.25.18)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump told the U.N. Security Council that Russia and Iran enabled "butchery" by the Syrian regime, but also thanked them for "slowing down" a new offensive in Syria's Idlib Province. (RFE/RL, 09.26.18)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry began to reinforce electronic warfare in Syria. The first complexes have been delivered by Il-76 airlifters to Hmeimim airbase. Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad by telephone that S-300 air defense weapons would also be delivered. (TASS, 09.25.18)
  • The number of Russian civilians traveling to Syria reached record levels this year, according to official figures published by a Russian security service. The data does not include Russian servicemen or explain what the civilians are doing in Syria. (Reuters, 09.28.18)

Cyber security:

  • U.S. intelligence worker Nghia Hoang Pho has been sentenced to 66 months in prison for transferring top-secret material to a home computer that was allegedly accessed by Russian intelligence through Kaspersky software. (RFE/RL, 09.26.18)
  • Cybersecurity firm ESET appears to have caught elite Russian hacking group Fancy Bear using a technique so advanced, it hadn’t ever been seen in the wild until now. ESET found what’s known as a UEFI rootkit, which is a way to gain persistent access to a computer that’s hard to detect and even harder to clean up, on an unidentified victim’s machine. (Wired, 09.27.18)

Elections interference:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump, citing denials from his deputy attorney general that he once sought Trump's removal from office, has said he is leaning toward keeping Rod Rosenstein in his job overseeing an investigation into Russian election activities. “I’d much prefer keeping Rod Rosenstein," Trump said on Sept. 26. Rosenstein suggested last year that he secretly record Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office for being unfit. Rosenstein has agreed to speak privately with lawmakers following reports that he had discussed secretly recording Trump. (AP, 09.28.18, RFE/RL, 09.27.18, New York Times, 09.21.18)
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller asked questions about the relationship between U.S. President Donald Trump and the billionaire Russian-Azerbaijani family who arranged the June 2016 meeting between Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin, according to a participant of the meeting. Rob Goldstone, who worked as a publicist for the Agalarov family and contacted Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 on their behalf, said he spent roughly eight hours talking to Mueller's team in March. He said Mueller's investigators were particularly interested in how the relationship between Trump and the Agalarov family began, as well as a 2013 trip by Trump to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant.  (Wall Street Journal, 09.24.18)
  • Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to U.S. President Donald Trump, has provided information to prosecutors investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, his lawyer said. (Financial Times, 09.20.18)
  • The House Intelligence Committee voted Sept. 28 to release almost all of the transcripts of interviews it conducted as part of an investigation into Russian election meddling. The panel concluded earlier this year, when Republicans issued a highly-disputed report criticizing the intelligence community's finding that the Kremlin favored U.S. President Donald Trump during the 2016 election. (The Washington Post, 09.28.18)
  • A Russian-born American Trump campaign donor contacted a Russian official during the 2016 elections and boasted about his access to the candidate and the campaign, according to emails obtained by the Dossier Center, an investigative project funded by former oligarch-turned-Putin-critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Simon Kukes, a Texas-based oil executive who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, wrote an email to the vice president of Russia’s state-run railway firm in July 2016, at the height of the campaign for U.S. president, claiming that he was actively involved in developing a strategy for the Trump campaign. (Newsweek, 09.28.18)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump accused China of "attempting to interfere" in the 2018 midterm elections in a speech to the U.N. Security Council on Sept. 26, saying that Beijing doesn't want his party to win because of their growing trade dispute. Facing accusations of interfering in U.S. elections, China and Russia had the opportunity to respond in front of the world Sept. 28 at the U.N. General Assembly. "China will not be blackmailed or yield to pressure," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the U.N. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke next and denounced what he said are “baseless accusations” of Russian interference in foreign affairs and lashing out at U.S. policies in Iran, Syria and Venezuela. (AP, 09.28.18, Wall Street Journal, 09.26.18, AP, 09.28.18)
  • During a visit to Banja Luka, the administrative center of Republika Srpska, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sept. 21 that Moscow respected Bosnia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and was not interfering in the country's elections. (RFE/RL, 09.27.18)
  • The Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity says it has uncovered an extensive online effort to suppress voter turnout for a critical referendum in Macedonia on changing its name to accelerate its bid to join NATO and the European Union. (RFE/RL, 09.27.18)

Energy exports:

  • "Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course," U.S. President Donald Trump said at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25. Even as he took a swipe at them, German diplomats were seen laughing in the audience. Trump also took aim at Saudi Arabia and its refusal to lead an increase in oil production, telling the U.N. that OPEC members were “as usual ripping off the rest of the world.” (CBS News, 09.25.18, Financial Times, 09.25.18)
  • In the first half of the year, the U.S. delivered 9.8 million tons of LNG globally, with 59 percent of its exports going to Asia and only 4 percent to Europe. (Wall Street Journal, 09.26.18)
  • Oil prices jumped more than 2 percent, hitting a four-year high, after OPEC and other global producers declined to announce an immediate increase in production. Benchmark Brent crude on Sept. 24 hit its highest since November 2014 at $80.94 per barrel, before falling back to around $80.65. The world's top oil producers, including OPEC members and non-members such as Russia, ruled out any immediate extra increase in output at a meeting over the weekend in Algeria. (RFE/RL, 09.24.18)
  • Russia’s Sakhalin-1 consortium, led by ExxonMobil, has agreed to pay Russian energy giant Rosneft $230 million in an out-of-court settlement of an oil production dispute, an executive of an Indian consortium partner said Sept. 28. (Reuters, 09.28.18)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • U.S. sanctions will weigh on Russia’s economic growth but are unlikely to imminently deprive Moscow of its investment-grade rating, the head of Fitch Ratings Sovereigns group said on Sept. 25. Fitch expects Russia’s economic growth to slow to 1.5 percent in 2019 from 2.0 percent this year, before picking up to 1.9 percent in 2020. (Reuters, 09.25.18)
  • The U.S. Treasury has extended a deadline for the full imposition of crippling sanctions against the aluminum empire of Oleg Deripaska, giving the oligarch another three weeks to find a way to win a full reprieve. (Financial Times, 09.22.18)
  • U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is introducing an amendment that would lift U.S. sanctions on Russian lawmakers, The Daily Beast has learned. The amendment, which was planned to be introduced at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Sept. 26, stipulates that existing U.S. sanctions on members of the Russian Federal Assembly will be lifted if Moscow if agrees to lift its own sanctions on certain American members of Congress. (Daily Beast, 09.25.18)
  • “We are using this matrix-managed ‘task force’ approach to help cope with the challenges presented by implementing sanctions against Russia pursuant to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ashley Ford said. (U.S. State Department, 09.25.18)
  • The U.S. Congress is unlikely to pass any new sanctions on Russia, including proposals that would affect its sovereign debt and energy projects, until after the November elections. (Bloomberg, 09.27.18)
  • Russia's space chief has cast doubt on cooperation with the U.S. to build a joint space station orbiting the moon, though the agency he leads scrambled to clarify that Moscow has not abandoned the plan. (RFE/RL, 09.22.18)
  • The CIA is rededicating itself to the kinds of missions that defined the agency for most of its seven-decade existence, focusing on foreign nations that challenge or threaten the U.S., its director Gina Haspel said Sept. 24. (The Washington Post, 09.24.18)
  • The prestige of the CIA’s Mission Center for Europe and Eurasia had waned after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and it was forced at one point to surrender space to counterterrorism officers. But the agency’s so-called Russia House later reclaimed that real estate and began rebuilding, vaulting back to relevance as Moscow reasserted itself. (The Washington Post, 09.19.18)
  • Russian citizen Maria Butina, who was recently detained in the U.S., can now sleep normally, do physical exercises and talk to other detainees during the day now that her detention regime has been eased, her father, Valeriy Butin, said. (Interfax, 09.26.18)
  • Around a third of Russians who received visitor visas to the U.S. this year have reportedly done so in neighboring countries as bilateral tensions pushed back wait times for U.S. visa seekers. At least 46,100 of 136,100 U.S. visitor visas were granted to Russians outside the country between September 2017 and August 2018. (The Moscow Times, 09.28.18)
  • The Anglo-American School in St. Petersburg has shut its doors after 43 years in operation—the latest casualty of diplomatic tensions between Russia and the West. (The Moscow Times, 09.28.18)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Candidates of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party lost to nationalist challengers from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia in run-off votes to elect regional governors in Khabarovsk and Vladimir, while the party’s candidate withdrew from the Khakassia race after being forced into a second round. A candidate of Russia’s Communist party is expected to win the run-off on Oct. 7 in Khakassia. The defeats announced Sept. 24 come amid nationwide anger at government plans to raise the retirement age by five years, triggering protests and sending Putin’s personal popularity to a low not seen for more than a decade. (Financial Times, 09.24.18)
  • The LDPR and Communist Party have violated tacit agreements with the Kremlin by pushing aggressively to have their candidates win in some of the governors’ elections in Russian regions and will be punished for that, a source close to the Kremlin told Vedomosti. The two parties will be forming coalition governments in Khakassia, Khabarovsky Krai and the Vladimir region after their candidates were elected as governors in these provinces. (Russia Matters, 09.24.18)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced three governors on Sept. 26, including in the Primorye region, where election officials declared the second round of voting invalid due to violations. A third round is expected in three months. Following the rare electoral defeats, Vedomosti reported that up to 10 more governors could be on the chopping block this year. (The Moscow Times, 09.27.18)
  • Russian lawmakers have approved a divisive bill to raise the retirement age  by five years despite nationwide protests and falling approval ratings for the ruling party and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier, Russians staged demonstrations across the country on Sept. 22 to protest the plans. Thousands attended a Moscow demonstration organized by the Communist Party and other leftist groups. Police, cited by Interfax, put the crowd at 3,000. Organizers said as many as 20,000 had turned out. Protests were also held in numerous other cities across Russia. (The Moscow Times, 09.27.18, RFE/RL, 09.22.18)
  • Russian lawmakers have made it a criminal offense to fire workers in the five years before their retirement as the government seeks to mitigate anger over plans to raise the pension age. (The Moscow Times, 09.25.18)
  • A survey by independent Russian polling organization Levada suggests fewer citizens are now prepared to go out on the street against the Russian government's plans to raise the pension age than last month. The number of respondents saying that they are willing to attend such a demonstration has dropped from 53 percent to 35 percent since the last such poll in August, according to results published on Levada's website on Sept. 27. (Levada, 09.27.18)
  • Russia's highest-profile opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny, stepped out of a jail on Sept. 24 after serving a 30-day sentence for organizing a protest, only to find a row of police officers waiting to arrest him again. A police spokesman told Interfax that Navalny had once again been detained, charged with violating a law on organizing street protests. The offense this time carries a maximum sentence of 20 days in jail. Navalny had spent 110 days in jail since last year on six separate convictions. (New York Times, 09.24.18)
  • An agreement to draw up borders between the Russian republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia has sparked protests in the volatile North Caucasus region, according to local media. On Sept. 26, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Ingushetia’s Yunus-Bek Yevkurov signed a deal on the “equivalent exchange” of two unpopulated areas, Interfax reported. Kadyrov later told the agency that “both republics won” in the exchange. (The Moscow Times, 09.26.18)
  • Four in five Russians will reportedly get a digital profile that will document personal successes and failures in less than a decade under the government’s comprehensive plans to digitize the economy. (The Moscow Times, 09.28.18)
  • The Russian economy remains inefficient because of the state’s grip on major sectors, Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) watchdog has said. “Our economy remains in many effects semi-feudal, especially in underdeveloped regions where there’s no trace of competition,” FAS chief Igor Artemyev said. (The Moscow Times, 09.26.18)
  • The Russian Finance Ministry said it won’t sell ruble bonds, known as OFZs, for a fourth straight week to stabilize the market after the threat of U.S. sanctions spooked investors. That makes September the first month since the 2014 ruble crisis that the country hasn’t sold any ruble debt. (Bloomberg, 09.25.18)
  • Russia exported more than 40 million tons of wheat in the year ending in June, around 50 percent more than the previous year, and the highest level for any country in the past quarter-century. Russia overtook the U.S. as the world's biggest exporter of wheat in 2016, and again beat the U.S. in 2018. Agriculture exports, at $20.7 billion in 2017, have overtaken the arms industry as Russia's No. 2 earner. (Wall Street Journal, 09.23.18)
  • Russia’s Gazprom gas giant has ceded the first spot in a global ranking of 250 energy firms released by the S&P Global Platts market assessment firm. Gazprom dropped to 17th after a year on top of the table, allowing Texas-based ExxonMobil to regain its 12-year reign atop the ranking. Russia’s oil major LUKoil climbed from sixth to second place. (The Moscow Times, 09.24.18)
  • Russian Railways is the country's biggest employer, with some 900,000 workers—more than 1 percent of Russia's entire labor force and around 45 times as many workers as its U.S. counterpart, Amtrak. (Wall Street Journal, 09.26.18)
  • The Russian Ministry of Finance has set up a new department of 35 employees to monitor external restrictions and appointed Dmitry Timofeyev its acting director. (Interfax, 09.27.18)

Defense and aerospace:

  • It's a terrifying weapon: a nuclear-powered cruise missile that can fly anywhere on the planet. In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his nation had successfully tested just such a machine. But new satellite imagery of a remote Russian test site suggests that the missile may not be working as well as claimed. "Russia seems to be closing up shop," says Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert who led the new analysis. "That suggests to me that the program may be experiencing some developmental challenges." (NPR, 09.25.18)
  • The Russian military has deployed coastal defense missile systems in the Arctic amid increased military activity in the region. (The Moscow Times, 09.25.18)
  • Russia reportedly plans to arm its most advanced fighter jet, the Su-57 multipurpose fighter jet that is still in development, with the new R-37M, a powerful hypersonic air-to-air missile that can take aim at aircraft nearly two hundred miles away, making them a potential threat to critical U.S. air assets. (Business Insider, 09.27.18)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russia’s Dozhd TV channel is reporting that Russian private military company “Patriot” may be involved in the killing of three Russian journalists, Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguev and Kirill Radchenko, in the Central African Republic this past summer. (Russia Matters, 09.28.18)
  • A former officer in one of Russia’s intelligence agencies told the independent television network Dozhd that he survived an attempted poisoning in August 2018. The man, who only agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, suspects that he was targeted because he was investigating the activities of various private military companies. The officer says he started investigating information about mercenary casualties after one of his close friends died in eastern Ukraine. (Dozhd/Meduza, 09.28.18)
  • The head of Russia’s Supreme Court says the judiciary should halt "pointless" criminal cases over online speech if investigators fail to demonstrate criminal intent by Internet users who post allegedly extremist content. The remarks by Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev at a Sept. 25 legal forum in Vladivostok come amid a sharp rise in the number of criminal cases in Russia over memes, reposts and other social-media content that authorities deem to be hate speech. (RFE/RL, 09.25.18)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • On Sept. 26, investigative websites Bellingcat and The Insider claimed to have unmasked the true identity of Ruslan Boshirov as Anatoly Chepiga, a highly decorated colonel in Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU. Bellingcat said the man was born in a small town in Russia’s Far East and went to the Far Eastern Combined Arms Command Academy. Bellingcat said Chepiga served several stints in Chechnya, and that his military academy listed him among graduates bestowed with the Hero of Russia award in December 2014. (Financial Times, 09.26.18, The Moscow Times, 09.26.18, CBS News, 09.26.18)
  • Two people in a village in Russia's Far East told The Washington Post on Sept. 28 that they recognized a suspect in recent nerve-agent poisonings in Britain as a former fellow villager. "It's true, he's our guy," said Alla, who described herself as a onetime family friend and, like some others interviewed for, spoke on the condition that she not be fully identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. "For us simple residents, this is all just crazy." She was referring to Anatoly Chepiga, a highly decorated military officer whom investigative journalists this week identified as one of the suspects in the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England. Another resident of Berezovka told The Post that the man who called himself Boshirov resembled his former schoolmate Chepiga. (The Washington Post, 09.28.18)
  • Russia’s Kommersant said its reporters located and interviewed several residents of the far eastern settlement of Berezovka—where Anatoly Chepiga's family had lived for a while—and they allegedly confirmed that one of the two men whose photos had been circulating in media is indeed Anatoly Chepiga. The Berezovka residents told Kommersant that Chepiga graduated from a local school in 1996 and was admitted to the Far Eastern Combined Arms Command Academy. They also claimed that they knew he had served in conflict zones. However, one of Berezovka's female residents told Kommersant that Chepiga was “almost bald” when she saw him last time—that and that the way he looks makes her believe he "doesn't quite look like" the man on the photos. (Russia Matters, 09.27.18)
  • A third Russian military intelligence officer who carried out a reconnaissance mission before the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal has been identified by counter terrorism police and the security services, the Telegraph newspaper reported on Sept. 27. (The Moscow Times, 09.28.18)
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May told the U.N. General Assembly that Russia was "blatantly" violating a range of international norms, from seizing territory to using a chemical weapon to poison the Skripals. (RFE/RL, 09.27.18)
  • Russia is still critically dependent on imports in the field of radio electronics and foreign competitors are trying to increase the gap in technology not only via economic methods, but also through sanctions, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at a meeting devoted to import substitution in the field of electronics. (RIA Novosti, 09.25.18)
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said allegations from British-based investigative group Bellingcat and others can't be the basis for a Russian inquiry, adding that Moscow expects British officials to produce the government's information. He also said that a likeness between a Russian intelligence colonel and a suspect in the Skripal poisoning case does not prove they are the same person, comparing the resemblance to that of impersonators posing as Lenin. (AP, 09.28.18, Reuters, 09.28.18)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used his speech at the U.N. Security Council meeting to repeat Moscow’s accusations that Britain was hiding information in the case of the Skripals. “There has been an increase in rhetoric—under the guise of ‘highly likely’—in connection to the Salisbury case,” he said. (Financial Times, 09.26/18)
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed the report by Bellingcat in a social media post late on Sept. 26, calling it "an attempt to distract attention from the main question: what happened in Salisbury?" "When will any sort of evidence be presented about the complicity of anyone in what London calls the poisoning in Salisbury?" she added. Zakharova said the release of the report was deliberately timed to coincide with British Prime Minister Theresa May's address at the U.N. Security Council "during which she again aired accusations against Russia."  "It's a typical conspiracy theory," Frants Klintsevich of the defense committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, said. (The Moscow Times, 09.26.18, RFE/RL, 09.27.18)
  • EU ambassadors have agreed on a new mechanism to sanction people anywhere in the world blamed for using chemical weapons. (RFE/RL, 09.26.18)
  • Russian dissident activist Pyotr Verzilov, who was discharged from a German hospital this week after making significant progress in his recovery, says he is "convinced" he was poisoned by Russia's intelligence services. Verzilov has been given a police guard for his own protection. (RFE/RL, 09.27.18, Reuters, 09.25.18)
  • A Russian national has reportedly been detained in Finland on suspicion of money laundering a day after large-scale police raids in southwest Finland. Finnish police detained three suspects—and released one of them—in the unprecedented operation, according to national media. The raid allegedly targeted a real estate firm chaired by a dual Russian-Maltese citizen. (The Moscow Times, 09.24.18)
  • A Russian detained in Norway on suspicion of illegal intelligence activities at the Norwegian parliament can be held for two weeks, a Norwegian court ruled on Sept. 26. The Borgarting Court of Appeals said there was evidence that Mikhail Bochkaryov had collected information from computer and wireless networks at the parliament last week, upholding decision by a lower court. The Russian Foreign Ministry has demanded Norway lift "the absurd charges" and release Bochkaryov. (The Moscow Times, 09.26.18)
  • The whistleblower who warned Danske Bank’s management about an unparalleled 200 billion euro money laundering scheme was a British executive working in the Danish lender’s Estonian branch. In several emails to the bank’s top management in Copenhagen seen by the FT, Howard Wilkinson laid out how a U.K.-based limited liability partnership called Lantana Trade “apparently” had beneficial owners that included “the Putin family and the FSB.” The Kremlin told the FT: “President Putin has nothing to do with the mentioned bank.” (Financial Times, 09.26.18)
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May has revealed that the threat of a crackdown on the flow of suspicious Russian money into the U.K. is already deterring potential criminals and prompting suspects to alter their behavior in efforts to avoid having their assets frozen. (Financial Times, 09.25.18)
  • Roman Abramovich is mulling a sale of Chelsea, frustrated by his British visa problems and concerned about the potential fallout should the U.S. expand sanctions against wealthy Russians and target him. He’s reportedly already rejected bids for the club in excess of $2.3 billion—which would be a world-record price for a sports team. (Bloomberg, 09.25.18)
  • A Russian court has waived immigration rules for a Briton who spent two weeks inside a St. Petersburg airport with an expired residence permit. (The Moscow Times, 09.26.18)
  • India has quietly approved a $5.43 billion program to buy five S-400 Triumf air defense systems from Russia, just a week before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Oct. 5 visit to the country. (Defense News, 09.28.18)
  • Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is expected to make a visit to Russia in the coming weeks for a discussion on relations between Moscow and the EU, as well as the situation in Ukraine and in Syria. (TASS, 09.25.18)
  • A deal aimed at creating Europe's largest independent oil and gas exploration and production company took a step forward this week as German chemicals group BASF SE and LetterOne Group, which is run by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman, said they had reached a formal agreement to merge their energy businesses. (Wall Street Journal, 09.28.18)
  • According to the Japan External Trade Organization, Japanese companies accounted for just 0.03 percent of direct foreign investments in Russia in 2017. (Russia in Global Affairs/Nikkei Asian Review, 09.20.18)
  • According to a Pew Research Center report last year, fewer than 10,000 South Africans live in Russia. Last April, Russia scrapped tourist visa requirements for South Africans, meaning all planned visits by South Africans are no longer reviewed in advance. "I want them [South Africa’s white farmers] to know that Russia can be their mother country, too," said Vladimir Poluboyarenko, who assists the human rights ombudsman in the agricultural heartland of Stavropol. (The Washington Post, 09.23.18)
  • Tehran recently hosted a conference on Afghanistan, attended by China, Russia, India, Iran and envoys from Kabul. Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev represented Russia at the talks. In his address to the leading regional powers, he outlined a gloomy picture of what is happening in the country, whose security, together with Afghan forces after the overthrow of the Taliban regime, is provided by a contingent from the U.S. and NATO. In Russia's view, a repetition of the Syrian-Iraqi scenario with Islamic State in Afghanistan is quite possible. (Kommersant/TASS, 09.27.18)


  • The Chinese portion of the 2.2 kilometer Amur bridge was completed in 2016, but the much shorter Russian section remained missing. However, this year Russia’s construction is under way, raising expectations that the first year-round link across the 4,200 kilometer Sino-Russian frontier may be finished this year. (Financial Times, 09.25.18)


  • A top U.S. official has met with the Ukrainian foreign minister in New York to discuss “cooperative efforts against Russia’s malign influence,” among other things, the State Department says. A statement said the September 25 meeting between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly also touched upon Russia’s “use of energy projects to extort and intimidate Ukraine and other European allies,” as well as Kyiv’s progress in implementing political and economic reforms. (RFE/RL, 09.26.18)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko delivered a fiery condemnation of the international community in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, accusing the U.N. of failing in its core mission to prevent wars of aggression. "Ukraine made its sovereign decision to live its way and to promote the free world based on democratic values and rules," Poroshenko said. "Russia punishes Ukraine for this decision." (Wall Street Journal, 09.27.18)
  • Almost two-thirds of Ukrainians think their country is not moving in the right direction, while 64 percent are in favor of radical changes in the country, according to a sociological survey conducted by the Rating Sociological Group. (Interfax, 09.25.18)
  • Of Ukrainians who said they would definitely take part in the presidential elections in March 2019, 7.1 percent will support Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, according to a survey conducted jointly by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, the Razumkov Center and the Socis Center. Meanwhile, according to a survey conducted by the Social Monitoring Center and the Oleksandr Yaramenko Ukrainian Institute for Sociological Research, if the elections were held next Sunday, 18 percent of Ukrainians who are ready to vote and have chosen a candidate (13 percent of all respondents) would cast ballots for Yulia Tymoshenko. (BNE Intellinews, 09.24.18)
  • European lawmakers have praised Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, who has been on a hunger strike in a Russian prison for more than four months, as a defender of “the supremacy of law and values over brute force and deception.” The center-right European People's Party, the biggest political group in the European Parliament, nominated Sentsov for this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. (RFE/RL, 09.28.18)
  • A convicted sex offender has been placed in pre-trial detention for two months in Russia on reported charges of spying for Ukraine. Crimean software engineer Yevgeny Yanko was sentenced to 19 years behind bars in April for sexually assaulting 23 minors in the city of Sevastopol between 2005 and 2016. (The Moscow Times, 09.25.18)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The Moldovan Constitutional Court has suspended the powers of the country's Russia-friendly president amid a standoff over ministerial appointments with his opponents in Chisinau's pro-Western government. (RFE/RL, 09.24.18)
  • Moldovan President Igor Dodon says he will host his Turkish counterpart in Chisinau in October, weeks after Moldova expelled seven citizens of Turkey, in a move criticized by human rights organizations. (RFE/RL, 09.26.18)
  • Some 2,000 Russian and Kyrgyz troops are getting ready to launch joint counterterrorism exercises in eastern Kyrgyzstan. (RFE/RL, 09.25.18)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited Azerbaijan and hailed the increasingly close economic ties between the two ex-Soviet neighbors. Putin said during the visit that Russian companies have created 700 joint ventures in Azerbaijan and their investments in the oil-rich Caspian nation have exceeded $1.5 billion. (AP, 09.27.18)
  • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s bloc has scored a landslide victory in municipal elections in the capital, Yerevan. The Central Election Commission said on Sep. 24 that Pashinyan’s My Step bloc received 81 percent of the votes, far more than enough to have its top candidate, popular actor and producer Hayk Marutian, installed as mayor of Yerevan. Pashinian says that the nation should hold fresh parliamentary elections “very soon” in light of his bloc’s landslide victory in the mayoral race. (RFE/RL, 09.24.18, RFE/RL, 09.25.18)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, where he will attend a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on Sept. 28. (RFE/RL, 09.27.18)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • No significant developments.