Russia in Review, April 5-12, 2019

This Week's Highlights:

  • Attorney General William Barr will release special counsel Robert Mueller's report "within a week," and believes U.S. intelligence agencies conducted "spying" operations against Trump's 2016 election campaign team, according to reports by The Washington Post and RFE/RL.
  • The wealthiest 3 percent of Russians owned 89 percent of all financial assets in 2018, according to joint research by the Higher School of Economics and the state-run VEB bank, The Moscow Times reported. Meanwhile, for the first time in a decade, Russia experienced a drop in population last year, with migration failing to make up for the natural population decline, the newspaper said.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, kept calling each other “my dear friend” during their discussion of potential joint operations in Syria’s Idlib province, completion of a gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey and Ankara’s purchase of S-400 weapons systems from Moscow, according to the AP.
  • Russia has replaced the commander of its troops in Syria, Kommersant reports. Col.-Gen. Andrei Serdyukov, head of Russia’s Airborne Forces, is taking over for Gen. Sergei Surovikin, commander of Russia’s Aerospace Forces. Prior to Surovikin, the Defense Ministry had mostly filled the post by rotating top commanders from Russia’s four military districts. (Russia Matters, 04.12.19)
  • The trade turnover between Russia and China in the first quarter of 2019 amounted to $24.17 billion, a 4.2 percent increase year-on-year, according to data from China’s customs administration as reported by Vesti. Russia once delivered almost no wood to China; it now accounts for more than 20 percent of China’s imports by value, according to the New York Times.
  • Ukraine’s Rating pollster said its polling early this month pointed to 51 percent popular support for sitcom star Volodymyr Zelenskiy ahead of this month’s second round of presidential elections, versus 21 percent for incumbent Petro Poroshenko, RFE/RL has reported.
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka hinted he could block Russian oil deliveries to Europe, lambasting Moscow for what he called "sanctions" against Belarusian goods, according to RFE/RL.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has launched an international procurement process for the design of facilities to manage legacy radioactive waste in Georgia.. (World Nuclear News, 04.11.19)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • A delegation of Russian lawmakers will be on an official visit to North Korea from April 11 to April 16, headed by United Russia party faction leader Sergey Neverov. (TASS, 04.08.19)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • The presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia plan to meet again tentatively on Aug. 14-15. (Interfax, 04.09.19)

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Russian air-defense missile systems could be delivered earlier than initially planned, standing by a purchase that has put the NATO member at odds with Washington. “Everything is done” on the agreement to buy the S-400 missile system and “those who ask or suggest we backtrack don’t know us,” Erdogan told reporters after talks with Putin in Moscow. “If we sign a deal on an issue, that’s a done deal. This is our sovereign right, no one can ask us to back down.” (RFE/RL, 04.10.19, Bloomberg, 04.08.19)
  • The defense ministers of 35 countries have confirmed their participation in the Eighth Moscow Security Conference scheduled to take place on April 23-25, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. NATO countries refused to attend, according to a report by Russia’s news portal. (TASS, 04.09.19, Russia Matters, 04.12.19)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • “There are terrorist groups” in Idlib, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. “Our Defense Ministry together with the Russian Defense Ministry are working on the issue and will continue doing so.” Russia expects that the hotbed of terrorism in Idlib will be eliminated by joint efforts and the situation will be normalized, Putin said following the talks. Putin also said Russia and Turkey have agreed to contribute to launching Syria’s Constitutional Committee as soon as possible. Putin and Erdogan called each other “my dear friend” throughout the talks. (AP, 04.08.19, Interfax, 04.09.19, Bloomberg, 04.08.19, TASS, 04.09.19)
  • Lawmakers from Russia, Iran and Turkey are calling for Syria’s territorial integrity to be preserved as remarks from Israel and the U.S. have renewed long-standing land disputes. (AP, 04.10.19)
  • Col. Gen. Andrei Serdyukov, commander of Russia’s Airborne Forces is taking over command of the Russian troops in Syria from the commander of Russia’s Aerospace Forces, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, Kommersant reported. Previously, the Russian Defense Ministry has mostly rotated its top territorial commanders at this post. (Russia Matters, 04.12.19)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry has rejected media reports that Su-57 stealth fighters have been redeployed to Syria, noting that Google maps featured old satellite images of the Hmeimim air base with Russia’s fifth generation fighter jets. (TASS, 04.09.19)
  • Sevil Novruzova, a lawyer from Russia's mostly Muslim Dagestan region, has helped return at least 120 people from the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate. (The Washington Post, 04.08.19)
  • Efforts to forge a political deal between Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria and the Syrian government are at a standstill and President Bashar-al Assad’s ally Russia is to blame, a Syrian Kurdish official said. (Reuters, 04.12.19)

Cyber security:

  • Russian officials have spoken out against Britain’s arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on April 11. Assange was arrested by London's Metropolitan Police after Ecuador withdrew his asylum, which had allowed him to take refuge in the country's embassy in the U.K. since 2012. (The Moscow Times, 04.11.19)

Elections interference:

  • Attorney General William Barr testified April 9 that he thinks he will be able to release special counsel Robert Mueller's report "within a week," and that he will color-code redacted information so the public will know why various material is being veiled. (The Washington Post, 04.09.19)
  • In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 10, Attorney General William Barr said he thought U.S. intelligence agencies conducted "spying" operations against Trump's 2016 election campaign team. Democratic lawmakers have questioned Barr's independence from U.S. President Donald Trump, saying his support for Trump's remarks about "spying" during the 2016 presidential election campaign undermine his position. (RFE/RL, 04.11.19)
  • “We said from the start that Mr. Mueller’s notorious investigation would find no evidence,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the International Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg. “Therefore, it was clear to us in advance that it would end up as ‘The mountain gave birth to a mouse,’ as they say.” (The Moscow Times, 04.09.19)
  • American political consultant W. Samuel Patten whose guilty plea marked the first confirmation that illegal foreign money was used to help fund U.S. President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee was sentenced to probation April 12 by a federal judge who cited his cooperation with U.S. prosecutors. Patten admitted steering $50,000 from a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician to Trump’s committee. (The Washington Post, 04.12.19)
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has warned of the risk of interference by Russia and other foreign players in the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections. (RFE/RL, 04.06.19)
  • Russian political operatives disguised as “tourists” have offered money to at least six presidential candidates in Madagascar last year in exchange for Russia's support for the eventual winner, a BBC investigation reported on April 8. (The Moscow Times, 04.09.19)

Energy exports:

  • During their meeting in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talked about the completion of a pipeline that will carry Russian gas to Turkey, the planned construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, which is to start operations in 2023, and other economic projects. (AP, 04.08.19)
  • “Russia can be in the top four main LNG exporters,” Russian LNG company Novatek’s Chief Financial Officer Mark Gyetvay said. (Bloomberg, 04.08.19)
  • U.S. sanctions on oil from Venezuela and Iran have played into Russia's hands on energy policy, according to a new Reuters report that found that refiners have turned to Russian exports to fill the gaps. (The Hill, 04.12.19)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • “This is not the best climate for business development… I think that we need to strengthen our links, both economic and political links, between the U.S. and Russia,” Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said April 11. (CNBC, 04.12.19)
  • Workers at the Ford Sollers automobile plant outside St. Petersburg will begin a partial shutdown of production, a local Ford labor union leader said April 5, to protest hundreds of impending layoffs at the plant as it moves to shut down production. (The Moscow Times, 04.05.19)

Other bilateral issues:

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on April 10 said the increased involvement of Russia, Iran and Cuba in Venezuela made Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro 's government a "true" threat to the U.S. (RFE/RL, 04.10.19)
  • The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said on April 9 the agency would soon unveil an effort to try to use U.S. assistance to counteract Russian influence around the world. (Reuters, 04.10.19)
  • Americans traveling to some parts of Russia are at risk of being kidnapped, the U.S. State Department said in an updated travel advisory on April 9. (The Moscow Times, 04.10.19)
  • Russia’s aircraft production has dropped by 13.5 percent in 2018 following two years of growth because of what experts say is a combined effect of U.S. sanctions and lower demand for warplanes. (The Moscow Times, 04.08.19)
  • Since the U.S. special counsel’s report into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election appeared to clear U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign of colluding with Moscow, long-delayed Russian share sales have begun to get going once more. The controlling shareholder of Polyus, Russia’s largest gold producer, sold almost 4 percent of the company for $390 million in an accelerated book-building this week. That followed Russian stake sales totaling close to $1 billion in March. (Financial Times, 04.05.19)
  • The U.S. Treasury Department allowed influential Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to satisfy the terms of his divorce by transferring tens of millions of dollars in stock to benefit his children as part of a deal to lift U.S. sanctions on his corporate empire. (New York Times, 04.09.19)
  • A Moscow court has extended until July 14 the house arrest of U.S. investor Michael Calvey. The Basmanny district court announced the ruling on April 12, a day after it ordered Calvey to be released from pretrial detention and placed under house arrest instead. A Moscow court ordered Philippe Delpal, a French banker and partner in Calvey’s Baring Vostok private equity group, to spend a further three months in pre-trial detention on April 9. Russia's sovereign wealth fund RDIF plans a joint investment in the next couple of months with Baring Vostok, RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev told Reuters. (Reuters, 04.11.19, RFE/RL, 04.12.19, Financial Times, 04.09.19)
  • The U.S. Embassy says officials have visited Paul Whelan at a notorious Moscow jail, and complained that Russia has yet to offer evidence to back up espionage charges filed against the former U.S. Marine more than three months ago. The U.S. ambassador to Russia has urged Moscow to either produce evidence in Whelan’s case or release him. (RFE/RL, 04.05.19,  RFE/RL, 04.12.19)
  • A court in Russia fined Facebook 3,000 rubles ($47) on April 12 for failing to tell authorities where it stores Russian user data. A court fined Twitter 3,000 rubles for a similar offense last week. (The Moscow Times, 04.12.19)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • For the first time in a decade, migration was unable to cancel out Russia’s population decline last year. A total of 124,900 foreigners arrived in Russia last year, according to research from the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. While arrivals declined by a record 4 percent between 2017 and 2018, departures skyrocketed by 16.9 percent, the institute said. (The Moscow Times, 04.09.19)
  • The wealthiest 3 percent of Russians owned 89 percent of all financial assets in 2018, according to joint research by the Higher School of Economics and Russia’s state-run VEB Bank. (The Moscow Times, 04.12.19)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia will dramatically increase its presence in the Arctic region by building new ports and other facilities and expanding its fleet of icebreaker vessels, as the competition for the area's natural resources intensifies. Putin told the leaders of Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden at the International Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg on April 9 that Russia's efforts will help quadruple the level of cargo shipments across the Arctic sea route. Twenty percent of Russia’s GDP is pulled from the Arctic, whether in minerals or through its shipping lanes. (RFE/RL, 04.09.19, New York Times, 04.12.19)
  • Russia took a step toward government control over the internet on April 11, as lawmakers approved a bill designed to route web traffic through filters controlled by Roskomnadzor, the state communications watchdog, increasing its power to control information and block messaging or other applications. (New York Times, 04.11.19)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The heavy intercontinental ballistic missile Sarmat is in the final testing phase. The hypersonic system Kinzhal and laser system Peresvet have entered combat duty, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 11 at a meeting with senior officers and prosecutors. (TASS, 04.11.19)
  • “We are moving in the direction of creating a professional army. Conscription will gradually become a thing of the past, but that requires time and adequate funding,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 12. (, 04.12.19)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • More than 1.6 billion rubles of state funds have been embezzled from Russia’s Roscosmos space corporation and the Rostec state-run defense conglomerate, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika told senators in a report cited by the state-run RIA Novosti news agency. (The Moscow Times, 04.09.19)
  • A Russian court has ordered prosecutors to seize 10.5 billion rubles ($160.7 million) worth of property belonging to Alexander Shestun, former head of the Serpukhovsky district of the Moscow region, arrested on suspicion of fraud. (The Moscow Times, 04.09.19)
  • Former deputy culture minister of Russia Grigory Pirumov has been charged with organizing a criminal network in the embezzlement of money designated for St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum. (RFE/RL, 04.08.19)
  • The High Court in London has granted a 1.34 billion pound freezing order on the assets of former Russian sports official Georgy Bedzhamov, whom authorities in Moscow are seeking over one of the country’s largest-ever bank collapses. (Financial Times, 04.12.19)
  • A Moscow court has released theater director Kirill Serebrennikov on bail after a year and a half spent under house arrest on criminal fraud charges. (The Moscow Times, 04.08.19)
  • Russian prosecutors have demanded a 14-year prison sentence for a Norwegian citizen accused by Moscow of spying on its nuclear submarines. Prosecutor Milana Digayeva on April 9 demanded that Frode Berg serve the sentence in a penal colony. (RFE/RL, 04.09.19)
  • Moscow police have detained two British citizens in central Moscow on suspicion of drug possession, the second such arrest in the past two months. (The Moscow Times, 04.07.19)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • The Indian government has agreed to buy 464 Russian battle tanks worth $1.93 billion, a defense and intelligence magazine reported April 8. (The Moscow Times, 04.09.19)
  • Russia on April 12 awarded its highest state honor to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for promoting bilateral special and privileged strategic partnership. (Economic Times, 04.12.19)
  • Saudi Arabia has received its first batch of heavy “Sunburn” flamethrower systems from Russia. (The Moscow Times, 04.10.19)
  • Three Russian ships docked in Manila in the Philippines for a five-day port call on April 8 aimed at improving navy-to-navy relations amid heightened tensions in the South China Sea. (The Moscow Times, 04.08.19)
  • The Kremlin said on April 5 it was not helping Libyan military forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar push westward, and that it supported a negotiated political settlement to Libya's problems that ruled out any new bloodshed. Saudi Arabia promised tens of millions of dollars to help pay for Haftar’s operation, according to senior advisers to the Saudi government. Haftar's planned push into the capital appears stalled on April 12 on the outskirts of the city as his Libyan National Army forces continued to skirmish with those of the internationally recognized government. (Reuters, 04.05.19, Wall Street Journal, 04.12.19, Al Jazeera, 04.12.19)
  • Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir may have been ousted by a popular revolution on April 11, but his Russian allies are continuing their operations in the country, three Russian mining contractors in Sudan told TIME after the uprising. (TIME, 04.12.19)
  • British citizen Charlie Rowley, whose partner died after being exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, was told by Russia's ambassador that Moscow could not have been behind the attacks because they would have "killed everyone," Rowley told the Sunday Mirror newspaper. (Reuters, 04.07.19)
  • Former Estonian security agent Vladimir Kulikov has been detained on suspicion of cooperating with Russian intelligence, the director of Estonia’s Internal Security Service said on April 12. (RFE/RL, 04.12.19)
  • The head of the Russian Embassy's consular department in Cairo says a group of Russian citizens who were detained in Egypt in August 2018 have been charged with extremism. Consular section chief Yusup Abakarov said a court in Cairo held its first hearing on April 9 into the case against the five Russians from Ingushetia. (RFE/RL, 04.11.19)
  • Russia has asked Interpol for the seventh time to arrest Bill Browder, a London-based Kremlin critic who leads a campaign to punish Russian officials for the 2009 death of his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, according to a letter seen by Reuters. (Reuters, 04.09.19)
  • Russian authorities have lashed out at Lithuania, announcing a criminal investigation into judges at a Vilnius court that convicted dozens of former Soviet army personnel, mostly in absentia, of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during Moscow's deadly 1991 crackdown on the Baltic nation's independence movement. (RFE/RL, 04.10.19)
  • Russia should have its voting rights in the Council of Europe restored despite the continuing conflict in Ukraine, to avoid Moscow being suspended or quitting this summer and so creating a “new dividing line” on the continent, head of the pro-democracy body Thorbjorn Jagland has warned. (Financial Times, 04.07.19)
  • Russia has breached the rights of a Chechen domestic abuse victim, a U.N. women’s rights panel ruled on April 12 in what has been called the U.N.’s first decision on domestic violence in the country. (The Moscow Times, 04.12.19)


  • The trade turnover between Russia and China in the first quarter of 2019 amounted to $24.17 billion, 4.2 percent higher than for the same period in 2018, data from the Main Customs Administration of China showed. (Vesti, 04.12.19)
  • Russia once delivered almost no wood to China; it now accounts for more than 20 percent of China’s imports by value. “If the Chinese come, nothing will be left,” Marina Volobuyeva, a resident of the Zamensky region south of Lake Baikal, told a television channel after a Chinese company secured a 49-year lease to log in the area. In 2017, China imported nearly 200 million cubic meters of wood from Russia. (New York Times, 04.09.19)


  • The Sociological Group "Rating" said its polling early this month pointed to 51 percent popular support for sitcom star Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who exploded onto the political scene late last year, versus 21 percent for incumbent Petro Poroshenko. (RFE/RL, 04.11.19)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has been repeatedly accused of turning a blind eye to corruption, has ordered the creation of a special anti-corruption court. (RFE/RL, 04.12.19)
  • Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that, if he is elected president, he is not planning to change Ukraine's course toward joining the EU, while as for its possible accession to NATO, he insisted that this should be preceded by a detailed information campaign and a referendum. (Interfax, 04.09.19)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he has accepted challenger Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s suggestion to hold a debate at Kiev's Olimpiyskiy Stadium ahead of this month's presidential runoff, but the two still appear divided on the date for the event. (RFE/RL, 04.10.19)
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to Berlin on April 12 and praised the “very close relations” the two countries have built over recent years. Poroshenko and challenger Volodymyr Zelenskiy are both in Western Europe to meet with key leaders ahead of the country’s April 21 runoff vote. (AP, 04.12.19, RFE/RL, 04.12.19)
  • Ukraine has a precision-guided missile with a range of more than 1,000 kilometers now, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said. (Interfax, 04.09.19)
  • One soldier of the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) has been killed in action and two more were wounded, the JFO said on April 9. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said on April 12 one of its soldiers has been killed and eight others wounded in clashes with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. (Interfax, 04.09.19, RFE/RL, 04.12.19)
  • The EU-China summit has called for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements aimed at resolving the situation in eastern Ukraine. (Interfax, 04.09.19)
  • Denis Pushilin, the head of self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, has said his separatist-held republic wants to join Russia as a full-fledged member. (The Moscow Times, 04.09.19)
  • Greg Craig, former White House counsel in the Obama administration, has been indicted on charges of making false statements and concealing information about work he performed in 2012 for Ukraine in a case that originated in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. (RFE/RL, 04.12.19)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Afghan security forces were battling the Taliban for a fifth day on April 8 after the militants launched a major attack in the northwestern province of Badghis, which borders Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL, 04.08.19)
  • Kazakhstan will hold a snap presidential election on June 9, the interim head of state Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has announced, moving the vote up by almost a year following Nursultan Nazarbaev's resignation last month after 30 years in power. Kazakhstan's ruling Nur Otan party will nominate its candidate for a snap presidential election on April 23, Nazarbaev said. (RFE/RL, 04.09.19, RFE/RL, 04.10.19)
  • A bill that had initially been drafted amid calls to prosecute former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev preserves former presidents’ immunity from prosecution, but also states that prosecution could be possible if the person in question loses the status of ex-president. (RFE/RL, 04.05.19)
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka has lambasted Moscow for what he called "sanctions" against Belarusian goods and hinted he could block Russian oil deliveries to Europe. (RFE/RL, 04.12.19)
  • Unit 1 of the first nuclear power plant built in Belarus has started the commissioning phase, AtomStroyExport, the engineering subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, has announced. (World Nuclear News, 04.08.19)
  • An Armenian court has rejected an appeal by former President Robert Kocharian to end his pretrial detention. (RFE/RL, 04.11.19)
  • The U.N., EU and local rights groups have expressed concerns about "hate speech" directed toward Armenia's LGBT community following reports of death threats against a transgender woman who spoke in the country's National Assembly. (RFE/RL, 04.10.19)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • “Trump is on our side,” said Vladimir Kochelayev, chairman of the board of Russian company Uralasbest, one of the world’s few remaining producers of asbestos, citing what he said were reports that the Trump administration was easing restrictions on asbestos use. (New York Times, 04.07.19)