Russia in Review

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Yuri Mokrov, a senior executive at Russia’s Mayak nuclear processing plant suspected of being behind a spike of radioactivity over Europe this fall admitted on Dec. 13 that the isotope recorded does emerge as part of the plant’s production cycle but said its levels are negligible. (AP, 12.13.17)
  • Donor nations backing the cleanup of Andreyeva Bay, one of Russia’s most deviling Cold War legacy projects, have agreed to put more funding toward removing damaged and broken nuclear fuel rods lurking at the site. (Bellona, 12.12.17)
  • President Donald Trump intends to nominate Lisa Gordon-Hagerty of Virginia to be undersecretary for nuclear security at the Department of Energy. Gordon-Hagerty is president of Tier Tech International, Inc., a national security consulting company. (The White House, 12.11.17)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed the crisis over North Korea's nuclear program in a phone call. The two heads of state discussed "the situation in several crisis zones, with a focus on solving the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula," the Kremlin said in a Dec. 14 statement, which noted that Trump had initiated the phone call. The White House said the two "discussed working together to resolve the very dangerous situation in North Korea." Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Dec. 15 that Putin and Trump "spoke in favor of establishing dialogue and setting up contacts with the North Korean side, and agreed to exchange information and initiatives" regarding such efforts. (RFE/RL, 12.15.17)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went to the United Nations to call out Russia and China for giving North Korea an economic lifeline, saying their refusal to sever ties raises questions about their commitment to resolving what he called America’s “greatest national security threat.” (Bloomberg, 12.15.17)
  • At his annual press conference on Dec. 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. against resorting to a “catastrophic” use of force over North Korea’s nuclear program, urging diplomacy to resolve the crisis. "The [U.S.] has put Russia in the same box as Iran and North Korea, and at the same time wants Russia to solve the problem of North Korea. … It is provoking North Korea … North Korea doesn’t see a solution other than to develop weapons of mass destruction. Both sides need to stop escalating this situation,” Putin said. (Bloomberg, 12.14.17, The Moscow Times, 12.14.17)
  • Moscow has welcomed a new U.S. offer of talks with North Korea, with senior Russian officials calling it constructive and the "only correct approach" to tension over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. The Russian remarks on Dec. 13 came after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered talks with North Korea "without pre-conditions"—a shift from previous U.S. demands that Pyongyang accept giving up its nuclear weapons as the goal of any talks. (RFE/RL, 12.13.17)
  • The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Dec. 13 that Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov had held talks with China’s ambassador to Russia Li Hui about Moscow and Beijing coordinating action on North Korea at the U.N. Security Council. (Reuters, 12.13.17)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said on Dec. 15 that Russia was not ready to sign on to new sanctions on North Korea that would strangle the Asian country economically, the Interfax news agency reported. He was also cited as saying that pressure on North Korea was approaching “a red line” (Reuters, 12.14.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Dec. 8 that he believes the chances of dialogue to resolve the tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program are low. Lavrov also said that the US had indicated to Moscow in September that no more U.S. military exercises around the Korean peninsula were planned until the spring, a message the Russian government took as a signal that Washington was ready to “create the conditions for dialogue” with North Korea. The situation on the Korean Peninsula risks moving into a “hot phase,” Lavrov warned on Dec. 11. (Reuters, 12.11.17, Financial Times, 12.08.17)
  • The crisis over North Korea’s weapons programs must be resolved through talks, not war, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Dec. 14, while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of the danger of “sleepwalking” into conflict. (Reuters, 12.14.17)
  • Russia sent a military delegation to North Korea this week. Victor Kalganov, vice director of Russia’s National Defense Command Center, was pictured at Pyongyang’s airport alongside three other officials from the country’s defense ministry in an image released by the state-run KCNA news agency. (RFE/RL, 12.15.17, NBC, 12.13.17)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said U.S. threats to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran are hampering efforts to end the nuclear crisis with North Korea. (RFE/RL, 12.09.17)
  • The United States has concrete evidence that Iran was supplying weaponry to the Huthi rebels in Yemen, in violation of United Nations sanctions, the U.S. ambassador to the world body has charged. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will present what she says is "irrefutable evidence" that Iran has violated its international obligations at a press conference on Dec. 14, the U.S. mission at the UN said. (RFE/RL, 12.15.17)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • "If we maintain a presence in a Germany that is a part of NATO, there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east,” U.S. Secretary of State James Baker told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, according to a collection of documents uploaded by the George Washington University’s National Security Archive. That, he made clear, was the concession the Western bloc was offering in exchange for keeping Germany in NATO. Gorbachev replied that, in any case, "a broadening of the NATO zone is not acceptable." "We agree with that," Baker responded. In simultaneous talks, Central Intelligence Agency Director Robert Gates put the same proposal to KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov. (GWU’s National Security Archive, 12.12.17, Bloomberg, 12.13.17, National Interest, 12.13.17)
    • As late as March, 1991, six months after Germany became one country, British Prime Minister John Major was still assuring Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov that NATO was not going eastward, and that he "did not himself foresee circumstances now or in the future where East European countries would become members of NATO." (GWU’s National Security Archive, 12.12.17, Bloomberg, 12.13.17)
  • President Vladimir Putin said at his annual press conference that Russia would pay proper attention to the development of its army and navy, but it would not be dragged into a new arms race with the United States. (Reuters, 12.14.17)
  • Donald Trump’s “America First” doctrine, to be laid out next week when he unveils his National Security Strategy, holds that nation states are in perpetual competition and the U.S. must fight on all fronts to protect and defend its sovereignty from friend and foe alike. National security adviser H.R. McMaster said the new strategy, the first of Trump’s administration, would identify threats to the United States and its interests from “revisionist powers” like Russia and China, “rogue regimes” like Iran and North Korea, and non-state actors like terrorist groups and criminal enterprises. (AP, 12.14.17)
  • This week, national security adviser H.R. McMaster tore into Russia for pioneering “new generation warfare” involving campaigns of “subversion and disinformation and propaganda” to pit Americans against each other and destabilize democracies.  (Washington Post, 12.13.17)
  • The head of Britain’s military, Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach, says Russia could try to sever undersea communications cables, and protecting them is a defense priority for NATO. (AP, 12.15.17)
  • The outgoing U.S. Army Europe commander says America’s continued commitment to European security in the face of Russian aggression is in Washington’s interest. Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said on Dec. 15 in Wiesbaden that the U.S. wants Russia to be “once again part of the international democratic community,” according to prepared remarks. (AP, 12.15.17)
  • NATO on Dec. 12 extended Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s tenure for two more years as the head of the world’s biggest military alliance. (AP, 12.12.17)
  • President Vladimir Putin said at his annual press conference that Russia would pay proper attention to the development of its army and navy, but it would not be dragged into a new arms race with the United States. (Reuters, 12.14.17)
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