This page features the weekly news and analysis digests compiled by Russia Matters. Explore them by clicking "Read More" below the current week's highlights and subscribe using the subscribe links throughout the site, like the one below, to receive our digests via email. Past digests are available in the News Archive, which is accessible via the link on this page.
This Week’s Highlights
- The U.S. has notified Russia that it is withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty on May 22, but “may reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the Treaty,” RFE/RL reports. The U.S. has long complained about what it says is Russia’s refusal to allow flights over Kaliningrad, as well as along Russia’s border with Georgia, according to the Financial Times. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the conditions set by the U.S. in regard to the treaty are completely unacceptable, but that Russia remains committed to the treaty. German and British governments said they remain committed to the treaty, Interfax reports.
- Asked if the U.S. would pull out of New START, Trump’s national security adviser Robert O'Brien said no, RFE/RL reports. He also said the U.S. would “look forward to negotiating with both Russia and China on a new arms control framework,” Financial Times reports. Trump’s arms control negotiator Marshall Billingslea is planning to meet with his Russian counterpart soon to discuss a new U.S. proposal for a far-reaching accord to limit all Russian, Chinese and U.S. nuclear warheads that would replace the New START accord, according to the Wall Street Journal. However, Billingslea said this week the United States is prepared to send Russia and China “into oblivion” in order to win a new nuclear arms race, Reuters reports.
- A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has called for the Department of Commerce (DOC) to extend the Russian Suspension Agreement (RSA), as recommended by the Nuclear Fuel Working Group, according to World Nuclear News. The current RSA, which has been amended several times since the original 1992 agreement, expires this year and is under review by the DOC. It currently sets a maximum cap for imports of Russian uranium to 20 percent of the U.S. market.
- The Office of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General has launched an investigation into high treason and abuse of office by former president Petro Poroshenko, TASS reports, after current president Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on his law enforcement agencies to investigate leaked audio of private phone calls several years ago between Joe Biden, John Kerry and then-president Poroshenko, and said the conversations "might be perceived, qualified as high treason,” The Washington Post reports. The recordings showed that Biden, as he has previously said publicly, linked loan guarantees for Ukraine in 2015 to the ouster of Viktor Shokin, then the country's prosecutor general. In 2016, the two also discussed firing Arseniy Yatsenyuk from the post of prime minister, according to the tapes.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin warned May 22 that a second wave of the coronavirus epidemic could hit Russia this fall as he noted that the country’s current outbreak is stabilizing, The Moscow Times reports. Russia confirmed 8,894 new coronavirus infections May 22, bringing the country’s official number of cases to 326,448. Russia is expected to register a spike in mortality for the month of May, Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said, AFP reports. As the virus spread in Russia, its nominal GDP shrank by 28 percent in April, bne IntelliNews reports, and Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov has estimated the lockdown costs Russia's economy $1.3 billion each day in lost output, according to the Wall Street Journal. At the same time, Russia is still running a triple surplus: the trade balance, currency account and federal government are all reporting surpluses of $3.8 billion, $1.8 billion and 0.2 percent of GDP respectively, according to bne IntelliNews.
- “Russia is not just a country, it’s really a separate civilization. If we want to preserve this civilization, we should focus on high-level technology and its future development,” Putin said in an interview. Putin told state television that “it would be impossible to secure the future of our civilization” without artificial intelligence, genetics and unmanned vehicles, as well as hypersonic weapons.
This Week’s Highlights
- Many analysts focused on Washington’s Open Skies treaty withdrawal as a sign of worsening relations with Russia, but Washington Post columnist David Ignatius sees hope in U.S.-Russia relations. At a time of increasing rhetorical confrontation with China, Ignatius writes, the United States is expanding its engagement with Moscow on arms control, humanitarian assistance to Russia for COVID-19 and other issues of mutual concern.
- Unlike INF or START, Open Skies has never been a major pillar of arms control. There are several conclusions that other countries should draw from this, writes Carnegie’s Dmitri Trenin. One is that the 50-year-old arms control regime that helped keep the Cold War cold is beyond repair and people who continue to care about global stability and security need to begin discussing ways of moving toward a new global strategic regime. In addition, the strategic field has extended way beyond nuclear weapons, which used to be the prime object of arms control.
- American officials believe that if they renew the New START Treaty too quickly, or for too long, China will feel no pressure to join, according to The Economist. The problem, however, is that neither China nor Russia is keen on trilateral talks. All three countries could begin discussing the risks that arise from emerging technologies, from cyber-attacks on nuclear command-and-control networks to the use of artificial intelligence in early-warning systems.
- For several months now, there have been predictions that the new coronavirus pandemic would cause problems between Russia and China, writes Ivan Zuenko, a research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Center for Asia Pacific Studies. However, Zuenko argues it’s clear that this will not seriously impact relations. The anti-Chinese rhetoric issuing forth from Washington, along with the collapse of oil prices and growing dependence of Russia on Chinese consumption, are far more effective in bringing the two countries closer together than any COVID-19-related unpleasantness at the border is in driving them apart.
- When Ukraine’s comedian-turned-presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy swept the election a year ago, he vowed to uproot corruption, jail the country’s top crooks, stop Russia’s war against Ukraine and attract billions of dollars in foreign direct investment, writes former Kyiv Post business editor Ilya Timtchenko, A year after Zelenskiy’s inauguration, none of these grand promises are even close to being fulfilled—and many Ukrainians are losing patience. Brookings’ Steven Pifer writes that Zelenskiy should consider how the approval ratings of his predecessors Yushchenko and Poroshenko plummeted when they failed to meet the reform expectations that brought them to the presidency. Zelenskiy still has time to justify the high hopes generated in spring 2019; if, however, his election turns out to be just another false start, Pifer writes, he will most likely become another one-term Ukrainian president.