Russia in Review, Aug. 21-28, 2020
This Week’s Highlights
- After weeks of telling Western powers to stay out of Belarusian affairs, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Aug. 27 that a Russian military contingent is ready to intervene on behalf of embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko “if necessary,” The Washington Post reports. Putin’s first public comments on the post-election unrest in Belarus are the most definitive indication that Moscow is backing its longtime ally after nearly three weeks of mass protests calling for Lukashenko’s ouster. Lukashenko said on Aug. 28 he had agreed with Putin that their countries could unite their troops in the event of a threat from the West, the Belta state news agency reported, according to Reuters. Additionally, Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement Aug. 25 it had warned the United States and European Union against imposing sanctions on Belarus and interfering in its internal affairs, Reuters reports.
- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun traveled to Vilnius, Moscow and Kyiv on Aug. 24-27 to meet with senior government leaders to discuss a range of regional and international issues. On his Aug. 25 visit to Moscow, Biegun met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov. During these meetings, they discussed the full range of bilateral and regional issues, according to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The visit by Biegun to the Russian capital marked an intensifying U.S. effort to find a peaceful solution in Belarus, according to VoA.
- In the most violent skirmish in months between U.S. and Russian forces in Syria, a vehicle collision in the eastern part of the war-torn country left American troops with concussions, two U.S. officials said Aug. 26, the Associated Press reports. One official said Russian vehicles sideswiped a light-armored U.S. military vehicle, injuring four Americans. The official said two Russian helicopters flew above the Americans, and one of the aircraft was within about 70 feet the vehicle.
- Russian police are conducting a preliminary investigation into the apparent poisoning of Alexei Navalny following pressure from Western governments, the Financial Times reports. German doctors treating Navalny said their clinical findings indicate he was poisoned, according to the Financial Times. In a statement, the Berlin hospital Charité said that a team of doctors had examined Navalny upon his arrival, and that clinical findings indicated “intoxication by a substance from the drug class cholinesterase inhibitors.”
- Putin’s approval rating has jumped to 66 percent, one of its highest levels since the start of the year, as Russia continues its steady recovery from the coronavirus outbreak, the independent Levada Center polling agency said Aug. 27.
- A Russian nuclear submarine surfaced near Alaska during navy exercises, the U.S. military said Aug. 28, The Moscow Times reports. Russia’s Defense Ministry announced Aug. 27 that its nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Omsk and missile cruiser Varyag fired at targets in the Bering Sea as part of its “Ocean Shield 2020” drills, the biggest such drills in the area since Soviet times.
- The Ukrainian government has tightened lockdown measures, including closing its borders to foreigners, in an effort to contain the country's coronavirus outbreak, RFE/RL reports. The border closure that takes effect on Aug. 28 was expected, but was moved up a day during an emergency session of parliament.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant developments.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- The current situation around the Korean Peninsula was in focus of consultations between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov and visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, the Russian foreign ministry said on Aug. 25. "The sides exchanged views on the current situation around the Korean Peninsula. It was stressed that it is important to continue to coordinate efforts of all the parties concerned in the interests of settling problems of the sub-region by political and diplomatic means and establishing a reliable mechanism of peace and security in Northeast Asia," the ministry said. (TASS, 08.25.20)
Iran and its nuclear program:
- Iran has agreed to give International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors access to two suspected former nuclear sites. A joint statement said Iran was doing so in good faith to resolve outstanding issues related to nuclear safeguards. The agreement came during a visit to Tehran by the IAEA's director general. (BBC, 08.26.20)
- The president of the U.N. Security Council on Aug. 25 rejected the Trump administration’s demand to restore all U.N. sanctions on Iran, a move that drew an angry rebuke from the U.S. ambassador who accused opponents of supporting “terrorists.” (AP, 08.25.20)
New Cold War/saber rattling:
- A Russian nuclear submarine surfaced near Alaska during navy exercises, spooking American commercial fishing vessels in the area, the U.S. military said Aug. 28. Russia’s Defense Ministry announced Aug. 27 that its nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Omsk and missile cruiser Varyag fired at targets in the Bering Sea as part of its “Ocean Shield 2020” drills, the biggest such drills in the area since Soviet times. Alaskan media reported that local pollock fishermen had a close encounter with the Russian vessels. (The Moscow Times, 08.28.20, AP, 08.28.20)
- U.S. Northern Command and NORAD are closely monitoring the Russian submarine. "We closely track vessels of interest, including foreign military naval vessels, in our area of responsibility," U.S. Northern Command said on Twitter. (RFE/RL, 08.28.20)
- A former Army Green Beret captain was accused on Aug. 21 of violating espionage laws after federal investigators said they uncovered evidence he joined the military at the behest of Russian intelligence operatives and had betrayed the United States for years. Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins was arrested on a conspiracy charge of providing national defense information to Russia in an elaborate spying operation that appeared to begin in 1996, prosecutors said. Debbins admitted to contacts with Russian intelligence agents in a written statement in the past year, federal prosecutors said Aug. 27. (New York Times, 08.21.20, The Washington Post, 08.28.20)
- Sweden has stepped up its military readiness because of the “heightened security situation” in the Baltic Sea as tensions in the region reached their highest level since the cold war. Swedish television on Aug. 25 broadcast footage of armored vehicles disembarking from the ferry on the island of Gotland, alongside holidaymakers driving campervans, as the Scandinavian country sought to send a strong signal to Russia over its increased military activity. (Financial Times, 08.25.20)
- The Turkish Armed Forces have signed a contract for the second batch of S-400 air defense systems, also known as the SA-21 Growler, according to Rosoboronexport. (Defence Blog, 08.23.20)
- Russia’s state arms group Almaz-Antey Group has unveiled the newest Abakan air defense system during the Army-2020 international military and technical forum on Aug. 22. The new Abakan system is an anti-ballistic missile defense system designed to strike ballistic targets, according to the company officials. (Defence Blog, 08.23.20)
Nuclear arms control:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- In the most violent skirmish in months between U.S. and Russian forces in Syria, a vehicle collision in the eastern part of the war-torn country left American troops with concussions, two U.S. officials said Aug. 26. One official said Russian vehicles sideswiped a light-armored U.S. military vehicle, injuring four Americans. The official said two Russian helicopters flew above the Americans, and one of the aircraft was within about 70 feet the vehicle. (AP, 08.26.20)
- The Russian military on Aug. 27 blamed U.S. troops for the collision. In Aug. 27’s statement, the Russian Defense Ministry said Gen. Valery Gerasimov had a phone call Aug. 26 with U.S. Gen. Mark Milley to discuss the incident. In the call, Gerasimov pointed out that the Russian military had notified the U.S.-led coalition about the route of a Russian military police convoy. Several hours later, the Pentagon denied the Russian allegations. (AP, 08.27.20, Military Times, 08.27.20)
- "Another Russian-Turkish joint patrol took place on the route in the Hasakah province. The Russian military police continued patrolling Membij in the Aleppo province," a Russian Defense Ministry official said Aug. 21. (Interfax, 08.24.20)
- Russian and Syrian forces searched for and fought notional saboteurs in the port of Baniyas on Syria’s Mediterranean coast during joint drills, the Chief of Russia’s Tartus naval base, said on Aug. 21. (TASS, 08.21.20)
- A Russian major-general was killed in Syria last week, but the incident has not yet led to escalation or repercussions. Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Gladkikh was killed along with the commander of the local National Defense Forces during a patrol, according to reports. A “roadside bomb” killed him, according to footage posted online and reports by Rudaw, Al-Monitor and other channels. On Aug. 18, the Russian general was traveling in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province when an improvised explosive device went off. Two Russian servicemen were wounded, according to Rudaw. (The Jerusalem Post, 08.23.20)
- Syrian authorities have agreed to give Russia additional land and coastal waters in order to expand its military air base at Hmeimim, a Russian government document published on Aug. 26 showed. The agreement, signed by representatives of the two countries on July 21 and effective as of July 30, concerns an area of land and sea near Syria's northern Latakia province. (Middle East Eye, 08.22.20)
- Russia is slated to deliver advanced Mikoyan MiG-35 fighter jets to Hmeimim Air Base, Hebrew-language outlet Mako reported Aug. 24. (i24 News, 08.24.20)
- U.S. forces clashed with Syrian troops in the northeast village of Tal Dahab on Aug. 17, killing at least one soldier and wounding two others, state media said, while the U.S. military said it responded to small arms fire near a Syrian checkpoint. (AP, 08.17.20)
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Mideast peace process, Syria and bilateral cooperation, the Kremlin press service said on Aug. 24. "The sides discussed the situation in Syria and noted mutual interest in continuing coordination of the Syrian track with an aim of countering international terrorism," the Kremlin said. Putin also said Russia stands for a fair solution of the Palestinian problem and hopes that Israel’s agreement with the United Arab Emirates will promote stability and security in the Middle East. (Interfax, 08.24.20, TASS, 08.24.20)
- Elon Musk said on Aug. 27 that Tesla's factory in Nevada was a target of a "serious" cybersecurity attack, confirming a media report that claimed an employee of the company helped the FBI thwart the attack. News website Teslarati said that the electric carmaker was the unnamed company in a statement issued by the U.S. Justice Department on Aug. 25 about a Russian national's arrest, in connection with a planned attack on an unidentified company. (Reuters, 08.27.20)
- American intelligence and law enforcement agencies have not found evidence indicating that foreign governments are trying to interfere with mail-in balloting ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, officials said on Aug. 26. (Reuters, 08.26.20)
- Former CIA director John Brennan was told during eight hours of questioning on Aug. 21 that he was not the target of any criminal inquiry as part of a divisive Justice Department examination into the Russia investigation’s origins. John Durham, the United States attorney leading the Justice Department’s investigation, interviewed Brennan on a “wide range” of subjects, including the agency’s inquiry and the related intelligence report that the Obama administration made public in January 2017. (New York Times, 08.21.20)
Energy exports from CIS:
- Officials in Berlin and Brussels are furious that the Trump administration is using the same type of sanctions employed against companies doing business with North Korea or Iran against an ally and a European project in which American companies play no part. Even those German officials who are critical of Nord Stream 2 say America is being a counterproductive bully by threatening such secondary sanctions against a close ally’s state-owned company, and that the European Union, through existing regulations and diversification, could handle an unexpected Russian cutoff. (New York Times, 08.25.20)
- Germany has a duty to do what it can to help get to the bottom of the apparent poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Aug. 28, but she argued that the issue shouldn't be linked to the fate of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, whose completion the U.S. wants to prevent. (AP, 08.28.20)
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun traveled to Vilnius, Moscow and Kyiv on Aug. 24-27 to meet with senior government leaders to discuss a range of regional and international issues. On his Aug. 25 visit to Moscow, Biegun met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov. During these meetings, they discussed the full range of bilateral and regional issues, according to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The visit by Biegun to the Russian capital marked an intensifying U.S. effort to find a peaceful solution in Belarus. (TASS, 08.23.20, Prensa Latina, 08.24.20, U.S. Embassy in Russia, 08.26.20, VoA, 08.26.20)
- In comments made in a statement released after talks between Lavrov and Biegun in Moscow, Russia's foreign ministry said on Aug. 25 it had warned the United States and European Union against imposing sanctions on its ally Belarus and interfering in its internal affairs. "During discussions over the current situation in Belarus, the Russian side there should not be any attempt to pressure Minsk, either through sanctions or politically," the statement said. (Reuters, 08.25.20)
- Authorities in Far East Russia harassed a New York Times journalist filming a report on an LGBT activist who faces criminal pornography charges for body-positive drawings, the activist said. (The Moscow Times, 08.24.20)
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- Russia confirmed 4,829 new coronavirus infections Aug. 28, bringing the country’s official number of cases to 980,405. Over the past 24 hours 110 people have died, bringing the total official toll to 16,914. (The Moscow Times, 08.28.20) 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. For a comparison of the number and rate of change in new cases in the U.S. and Russia, visit this Russia Matters resource.
- German doctors treating Navalny for a suspected poisoning said Aug. 28 he is still in an induced coma but his condition is stable and his symptoms are improving. (AP, 08.28.20)
- German doctors treating Navalny said their clinical findings indicate he was poisoned. In a statement, the Berlin hospital Charité said that a team of doctors had examined Navalny upon his arrival, and that clinical findings indicated “intoxication by a substance from the drug class cholinesterase inhibitors.” Navalny has been receiving urgent medical care at Charité since Aug. 22, when he was flown from Siberia. (Financial Times, 08.24.20)
- Russian police are conducting a preliminary investigation into the apparent poisoning of Navalny following pressure from Western governments. Police in Tomsk, the Siberian city where Navalny spent several days last week before falling unconscious on a flight to Moscow, said on Aug. 27 they had “recovered more than 100 objects that may constitute evidence” from the activist’s hotel room and other places he visited, as well as reviewing security camera footage. They claimed they had found “no strong or narcotic substances” when retracing Navalny’s steps. (Financial Times, 08.27.20)
- Putin on Aug. 27 praised a coronavirus vaccine that Russia approved for use earlier this month as effective and safe, a clear bid to address international skepticism about the shots that have only been studied for two months in a few dozen people. In an interview with the state Rossia 24 TV channel, Putin insisted that the world’s first vaccine against coronavirus to receive a government go-ahead was approved “in strict accordance with Russian laws” that are in line with “international practice and regulations.” (AP, 08.27.20)
- The mayor of Moscow invited residents Aug. 26 to join trials of the coronavirus vaccine that Russia approved for use earlier this month. In his invitation, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin appeared to announce the kind of broad studies scientists say should precede a licensed vaccine would be launched soon. He said the “post-registration research” will last six months and involve 40,000 people. (AP, 08.26.20)
- Putin’s approval rating has jumped to one of its highest levels since the start of the year as Russia continues its steady recovery from the coronavirus outbreak, the independent Levada Center polling agency said Aug. 27. At 66 percent in August, Putin’s approval rating went up by six percentage points in a month and almost reached the high 60s in January and February, according to Levada’s results. (The Moscow Times, 08.27.20)
- The Russian government has no idea how many state-owned enterprises (SOEs) there are, a new report from the Audit Chamber argues. Data on the number of SOEs from Rosimushestvo, Rosstat, and the Federal Tax Service differ widely, with figures ranging from under 1,000 to over 1,600. (bne Intellinews, 08.28.20)
- Mortgage subsidies introduced in Russia this year to stimulate the economy have fueled a surge in apartment prices even after incomes plunged by the most since 1998. In Moscow, prices have jumped by 10 percent in the past three months, according to Andrey Ryabinsky, a co-owner of MITS, a Moscow-based group of construction and real-estate companies. (Bloomberg, 08.28.20)
Defense and aerospace:
- Russia’s Kronstadt company has unveiled a concept for the newest stealth unmanned aircraft during the sixth International Military and Technical Forum Army-2020. The new aircraft, called the Grom (Thunder), is to be a runway-independent, reusable unmanned air vehicle capable of a broad range of operational missions. (Defence Blog, 08.24.20)
- Russia has released previously classified footage of the world’s largest nuclear explosion, caused when the Soviet Union detonated the so-called Tsar Bomba almost 60 years ago. The hydrogen bomb, which carried the force of 50 million tons of conventional explosives, was detonated in a test in October 1961, 4,000 meters over the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago above the Arctic Circle. (Reuters, 08.28.20)
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- Russia's FSB has detained a member of the Islamic State who collected funds for the group and recruited Russians to fight in Syria, the FSB said in a statement. (TASS, 08.24.20)
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- Germany would be ready to impose diplomatic sanctions against Russia if it concludes that Russian state agencies were behind Navalny’s poisoning, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Aug. 28. (Reuters, 08.28.20)
- The Kremlin on Aug. 28 hailed Shinzo Abe's contribution to bilateral ties between Moscow and Tokyo after the Japanese Prime Minister announced his resignation for health reasons. (The Moscow Times, 08.28.20)
- The U.N.-backed government in Libya has announced a ceasefire in the civil war which pits it against eastern-based forces headed by Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general who has been trying to seize power. (Financial Times, 08.21.20)
- Austria has announced the expulsion of a Russian diplomat reported to be involved in economic espionage. Russia hit back, announcing that a diplomat with the Austrian Embassy in Moscow had been declared persona non grata. (RFE/RL, 08.24.20)
- Russia is expelling a diplomat from the Norwegian embassy in Moscow, foreign ministries in both countries said on Aug. 28, in a tit-for-tat move after Oslo expelled a Russian diplomat on suspicion of espionage last week. (Reuters, 08.28.20)
- Local media aBamako.com in Mali reported that the junta leaders, who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to step down, were in Russia on a training program organized by Russian armed forces ahead of the Aug. 18 military coup. "It's difficult for me to judge how reliable this information is because Moscow has said nothing about it," Russian expert Irina Filatova, Research Professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, told DW. She noted that the Kremlin and Mali have established strong ties and Russia has been supplying some military equipment to Mali. (Deutsche Welle, 08.26.20)
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
- According to RIA Novosti, Russia and China are collaborating on a new submarine design. The project is being coordinated by Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation. (Forbes, 08.27.20)
- After weeks of telling Western powers to stay out of Belarusian affairs, Putin said Aug. 27 that a Russian military contingent is ready to intervene on behalf of embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko “if necessary.” Putin’s first public comments on the post-election unrest in Belarus are the most definitive indication that Moscow is backing its longtime ally after nearly three weeks of mass protests calling for Lukashenko’s ouster. (The Washington Post, 08.27.20)
- Lukashenko said on Aug. 28 he had agreed with Putin that their countries could unite their troops in the event of a threat from the West, the Belta state news agency reported. Earlier on Aug. 28, Lukashenko ordered half of the country's army enter combat preparedness in response to what he said were threats from the West. Russian and Belarusian recon troops conducted joint assault exercises Aug. 27. (Reuters, 08.28.20, The Moscow Times, 08.28.20)
- The Belarusian opposition's Coordination Council said on Aug. 27 it was unacceptable for Russia to have set up armed forces of any kind for use in Belarus. (Reuters, 08.27.20)
- Merkel warned Putin not to intervene militarily in Belarus, after Putin said he would send a newly-created reserve police force there if pro-democracy protests turned violent. (Financial Times, 08.28.20)
- Belarusian authorities detained three opposition leaders on Aug. 24. Sergei Dylevsky and Olga Kovalkova, both members of the opposition council, were detained in Minsk on Aug. 24. Separately, Alexander Lavrinovich, a leader of the strike at the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant, was also detained, according to local media reports. (FT, 08.24.20)
- Authorities in Belarus detained at least 260 protesters and 17 journalists Aug. 27, human rights activists said as opposition rallies continued more than two weeks after the country's disputed election. Belarusians have taken to the streets every day since the Aug. 9 vote in which Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory. Approximately 100,000 demonstrators massed in central Minsk on Aug. 23 to demand the resignation of Lukashenko, who flew over the scene of the banned protest in a helicopter and called the marchers "rats." (The Moscow Times, 08.28.20, The Moscow Times, 08.24.20)
- Lukashenko accused NATO on Aug. 28 of hatching aggressive plans and threatened neighbors Lithuania and Poland with counter-sanctions. “Military support is evident—the movement of NATO troops to the borders,” Lukashenko said earlier in the week, according to Belta, claiming his opponents aimed to install a new president who would call on Western powers for support. “They then bring in troops—and you can put an end to Belarus,” he said. NATO has denied building up forces near the Belarus border and insisted that its presence in eastern Europe is purely defensive. (AP, 08.28.20, Financial Times, 08.23.20)
- Belarus’s armed forces have been put on full combat alert by Lukashenko, the Defense Ministry reported on Aug. 22. He also has called on the ministry’s leadership to take all measures on protecting the country’s territorial integrity, paying a special focus on its western part. (Defence Blog, 08.22.20)
- Belarus’s Defense Ministry announced on Aug. 24 that its armed forces will receive a batch of modern BTR-82A armored personnel carriers from Russia. The Defense Ministry has also confirmed that Belarus and Russia signed an accord for Moscow to supply Minsk with “advanced air defense systems.” (Defence Blog, 08.25.20, Defence Blog, 08.25.20 )
- A Russian government plane which is used to carry senior government officials, including the head of the FSB security service, landed in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Aug. 26, flight tracking data showed. This was its second such flight in just over a week. The same plane had made a quick trip to Belarus and back in the early hours of last Aug. 26, tracking data showed last week. (Reuters, 08.26.20)
- Lukashenko said he had agreed the refinancing of a $1 billion loan with Putin and the issue would be discussed by the country's prime ministers in talks on Aug. 27, the RIA news agency reported. However, Belarus has not yet asked the Russian Finance Ministry to refinance a $1 billion loan, the ministry was quoted by TASS as saying on Aug. 27. (Reuters, 08.27.20, Reuters, 08.27.20)
- Putin said on Aug. 27 that a group of Russians who were detained in Belarus prior to its Aug. 9 election and accused of being mercenaries had been lured to Belarus by a Ukrainian-U.S. intelligence operation. (Reuters, 08.27.20)
- The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on up to 20 senior Belarus officials suspected of election fraud and the crackdown on protesters and is likely to put Lukashenko on its list at some point, the bloc’s foreign ministers said Aug. 28 at a meeting in Berlin. In Vienna, the OSCE offered to mediate between the two sides in Belarus (AP, 08.28.20)
- Lukashenko, facing a nearly three-week popular uprising since a disputed election, threatened on Aug. 28 to cut off European transit routes across his country if sanctions are imposed. (Reuters, 08.28.20)
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on behalf of the United States and the American people, has congratulated the people of Ukraine on the 29th anniversary of the country's independence. “The United States rejects Russia's attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Russia returns full control of all Ukrainian territory to Ukraine,” he wrote. (Interfax, 08.24.20)
- The fall in Ukraine’s GDP in the second quarter of 2020 was 11.4 percent compared to the same period in 2019, against 1.3 percent in the first quarter, the State Statistics Service said. (bne Intellinews, 08.18.20)
- When commenting on a statement by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who had said that such a meeting could be held in September, a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry said she is unaware of preparations for a meeting of the top diplomats from the Normandy Four countries. (TASS, 08.24.20)
- The Ukrainian government has tightened lockdown measures, including closing its borders to foreigners, in an effort to contain the country's coronavirus outbreak. The border closure that takes effect on Aug. 28 was expected, but was moved up a day during an emergency session of parliament. (RFE/RL, 08.28.20)
- Ukrainian doctors recorded another 2,438 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council reported on Aug. 28. The highest number of confirmed cases was last reported on Aug. 22 when 2,328 people contracted the disease. The number of infected people has reached 114,497 and fatalities have climbed to 2,451. (TASS, 08.28.20)
- There is no point in talking about replacing Minsk as a venue for talks of the Trilateral Contact Group for the settlement in Donbass now, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said. (Interfax, 08.24.20)
- Responding to a question by the Social Monitoring pollster as to what solutions to the problem of the uncontrolled territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions they would support, 32.6 percent of Ukrainians said they support the idea of giving them special status, which envisages autonomy in Ukraine, 23.3 percent spoke about official recognition that these regions cannot return to Ukraine in the coming few years and their isolation from Ukraine, 20.8 percent spoke for further military action until Ukraine restores control over these territories militarily and 23.3 percent were undecided. (Interfax, 08.24.20)
- Zelenskiy told Euronews in an exclusive interview that if he were in the Belarusian leader's place he would "definitely" hold a new presidential election in one month—and invite foreign groups to observe it. (Euronews, 08.22.20)
- Ukraine has frozen contact with Belarus and joined the European Union in condemning the recent elections in its northerly neighbor as not free or fair, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Aug. 28. (Reuters, 08.28.20)
- German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Aug. 24 lauded "significant progress" toward establishing peace in conflict-ridden eastern Ukraine, after meeting with his counterpart in the country's capital. (Deutsche Welle, 08.24.20)
- Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Aug. 27 it had detained a serviceman in Siberia for having allegedly passed state secrets to Ukraine. (Reuters, 08.27.20)
- The head of Ukraine's Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office says he has resigned after five years in the post. Nazar Kholodnytskiy made the announcement in a Facebook post on Aug. 21, saying he had quit of his own free will. (RFE/RL, 08.21.20)
- Iran says analysis from the black boxes of a downed Ukrainian passenger plane shows it was hit by two missiles 25 seconds apart and that those on board were still alive after the first strike. (RFE/RL, 08.23.20)
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- The existing international mediation mechanism to contain conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan “does not seem fit-for-purpose,” according to the former U.S. diplomat who served as one of its three co-chairs from 2006 to 2009. The Minsk Group of the OSCE has mediated between Azerbaijan and Armenia since 1992. Co-chaired by the U.S., Russia and France, its role has been thrown back into the spotlight by the military skirmishes that broke out between the neighboring states in July, marking the second most serious flareup in fighting between the two adversaries since their 1994 ceasefire following their war over the Nagorno Karabakh breakaway territory. (bne Intellinews, 08.28.20)
- Kazakhstan has signed a deal to get supplies of Russia's first potential COVID-19 vaccine once clinical trials are complete, the Central Asian nation's government said on Aug. 26. (Reuters, 08.26.20)
- No significant developments.