Russia in Review, Aug. 27-Sept. 3, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

  • U.S. President Joe Biden said on the occasion of withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan: “We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia.  ... And there’s nothing China or Russia would rather have, would want more in this competition than the United States to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan.”
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sept. 1 that the U.S. army tried to "engrain their norms" in Afghanistan for two decades, which he characterized as a futile exercise, AFP reports. Putin also said that the United States' 20-year campaign in Afghanistan ended in "only tragedies, only losses."
  • Biden hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the White House on Sept. 1. Before the meeting, Biden approved a new $60 million security assistance package for Ukraine that included Javelin shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, according to AFP. During their meeting, Biden assured Zelenskiy that the United States opposes "Russian aggression.” However, during the meeting Biden showed no sign of moving on requests to open NATO to the eastern European country.
  • Putin’s approval rating has taken a hit in the last two months, falling from 66% in June to 61% as of August and with 37% disapproving, according to the Levada Center—his worst result since May 2020 when the pandemic struck, bne IntelliNews reports.
  • Putin on Aug. 31 ordered law enforcement officers and army staff receive $200, as he seeks support for his unpopular United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections later this month, according to AFP. The cash handouts follow earlier one-time payments for pensioners of $135 ahead of lower house State Duma polls in September, with United Russia's ratings hit by rising prices coupled with falling wages.
  • "Around 80% of the inflight systems on Russia's [ISS] segment have reached the end of their service period," Vladimir Solovyov, chief engineer of the Energia rocket and space corporation, told the RIA Novosti news agency. "This means that literally a day after the systems are fully exhausted, irreparable failures may begin," Solovyov added, AFP reports
  • Agricultural output in Russia has grown by almost 50% since 1991, according to the Financial Times. Agricultural exports have more than trebled in that time to over $30 billion last year, having jumped by a fifth in money terms over 2019. Russia has tripled its 2020 beef exports, and doubled those of pork, both in tons and dollar revenue year on year.

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • A Russian research expedition has rediscovered the location of the container with two damaged reactors from the Soviet navy submarine K-19, dumped in Ambrosimova Bay in 1965. (Barents Observer, 09.02.21)
  • Four small modular reactors will power the huge Baimskaya copper and gold mining development in the Russian Arctic, according to an agreement signed by Rosatom subsidiary Atomflot. The company's director general, Mustafa Kashka, said the deal was significant for the whole global market for small reactors. (World Nuclear News, 09.03.21)
  • The U.S. Department of State congratulates Kazakhstan on the 30th anniversary of the closing of the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapons test site, saying it "demonstrated Kazakhstan's clear commitment to nuclear security and nonproliferation." (Interfax, 08.31.21)
  • The U.S. Department of Energy and Norway’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries signed a memorandum of understanding to advance a cooperative project to eliminate all of Norway’s highly enriched uranium (HEU) by downblending it to low-enriched uranium—a shared nonproliferation goal. (U.S. Department of Energy, 09.02.21)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

  • U.S. President Joe Biden said on the occasion of withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan: “We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia. ... And there’s nothing China or Russia would rather have, would want more in this competition than the United States to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan.” (The White House, 08.31.21)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sept. 3 that Russia wants Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to join the international order as soon as possible to help strengthen stability in the region.    "Russia is not interested in the disintegration of Afghanistan. If this happens, then there will be no one to talk to.” He also said that it is unacceptable to forcefully impose democracy on other countries and asserted that unlike the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Soviet troop withdrawal had been well organized. (TASS, 09.03.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.03.21, Bloomberg, 09.03.21)
  • Putin said Sept. 1 that the U.S. army tried to "engrain their norms" in Afghanistan for two decades, which he characterized as a futile exercise. He also said the United States' 20-year campaign in Afghanistan ended in "only tragedies, only losses." (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.01.21)
  • The Kremlin on Aug. 30 welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron's proposal to create a "safe zone" in Afghanistan's capital Kabul to protect humanitarian operations. "This is certainly a proposal that must be discussed," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. He said that it was "very important" to discuss all aspects of "such a zone." (AFP, 08.30.21)
  • Russia has urged Western countries not to freeze Afghanistan's gold and foreign exchange reserves abroad following the Taliban’s takeover of the country. In an interview with the state-run Rossiya 24 broadcaster, Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan, warned that such a move ultimately harms ordinary Afghans. (AFP/The Moscow Times, 08.29.30)
  • Pope Francis criticized Western involvement in Afghanistan in an interview released Sept. 1, saying it showed the flaws of exporting Western values and nation-building. Speaking about the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan over the past couple of weeks, the pope said “all eventualities were not taken into account” when the Western allies left. (The New York Times, 09.01.21)
  • NATO’s secretary general called on Russia Sept. 3 to be open about its “Zapad-2021” military exercises and the troop numbers involved as alarm grows in Poland, the Baltics and Ukraine about Moscow’s intentions. “Russia should behave in a predictable and transparent way,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters. The main phase of the exercises is due to start Sept. 10. (Reuters, 09.03.21)
    • Russia is not mandated to give reports to NATO about military drills it conducts keeping in mind the lower status of the dialogue that the alliance is responsible for, Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs Leonid Slutsky said. (TASS, 09.03.21)
  • The Democratic-controlled Congress is on track to increase the military budget by roughly $24 billion more than what Biden had requested, after over a dozen moderate Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee joined Republicans on Sept. 1 in pushing through a measure to substantially raise the cost of the annual defense policy bill. (The New York Times, 09.03.21)
  • An employee of a German security company contracted by the Bundestag has gone on trial on espionage charges after being accused of passing floor plans of buildings used by the German parliament to the Russian secret services. The 56-year-old suspect, identified only as "Jens F.", did not make any statements at the opening of the trial in Berlin on Sept. 1. (RFE/RL, 09.01.21)
  • Estonia says it won't issue a visa to a Russian diplomat in response to Moscow's expulsion of one of the Baltic country's diplomats from Russia last month. (RFE/RL, 08.30.21)

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • Gazprom Neft has started to move away from the U.S. dollar to China's yuan in settlements for fueling planes in China, Gazprom Neft's CEO Alexander Dyukov said Sept. 3. The deal has been reached with China's national jet fuel operator, he said. (Reuters, 09.03.21)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.

Counter-terrorism:

  • Russia’s FSB has detained 31 chieftains and members of an interregional structure of the Katiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad terrorist organization. According to the FSB, the terrorist cell members recruited and transported adherents to active combat zones, financed the members of the terrorist group located in Syria and incited terror-related crimes. (TASS, 08.25.21)
  • The Tbilisi City Court ordered on Sept. 2 that five residents of the Pankisi Gorge accused by the prosecution service of being members of the ISIL terrorist organization be placed under arrest. According to the Georgian prosecution service, the ISIL members were planning to migrate to Syria and join the hostilities. (Interfax, 08.26.21)

Conflict in Syria:

  • All of Russia’s latest weapon systems have been tested in the counter-terror operation in Syria, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Aug. 30. “In Syria, where we have tested over 320 [types of weapons], in fact, we have tested all the weapons, except for easy-to-understand versions," Shoigu said. (TASS, 08.30.21)
  • Syrian government forces shelled rebel-held parts of the volatile southern city of Daraa Aug. 30 killing at least one person, while insurgents killed four soldiers after Russia-brokered talks to end the presence of opposition fighters in the area collapsed. (AP, 08.30.21)

Cyber issues:

  • Russia said Sept. 2 that Google and Apple's refusal to remove jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's app ahead of elections could be seen as interference in the country's domestic affairs. Last month Russian communications watchdog Roskomnadzor demanded that Google and Apple remove Navalny's app from their stores. On Sept. 2, Roskomnadzor ramped up pressure on the Western tech giants by saying they could be held criminally liable if they continue to refuse to comply with Russian law. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.02.21)
  • Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly Service has warned Apple over what it called the technology giant's "abuse of its dominant position" in the distribution of apps. (RFE/RL, 08.30.21)
  • Russia has blocked access to six VPN services which authorities say allow access to illegal online content in violation of Russian law. The country’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Sept. 3 it had blocked access to some of the world’s largest VPN providers, including Nord VPN and Express VPN, following an investigation. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.03.21)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Gazprom needs to store nearly as much natural gas at home to keep Russians warm this winter as it currently ships to its top customer, Western Europe, every day, Bloomberg calculations show. The Russian gas giant has just two months to build its depleted inventories to the record levels it’s targeting, a goal Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov expects Gazprom to meet. That will require pumping into underground storages sites in Russia supplies equal to about 80% of daily exports to Western Europe. (Bloomberg, 09.03.21)
  • OPEC and a group of Russia-led producers said they agreed to continue increasing oil production in measured steps, resisting for now recent U.S. pressure to open the group's spigots wider. At a virtual meeting Sept. 1, the group chose to continue moving gradually with that plan, boosting output in monthly installments of 400,000 barrels a day through the latter end of 2022. (The Washington Post, 09.01.21)
  • Hungary has worked out all details and issues of a long-term gas delivery agreement with Russia that will replace one expiring in the autumn, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjaro announced Aug. 30 after meeting with Gazprom's CEO Alexey Miller. The agreement, to be signed at the end of September and coming into force from Oct. 1, will be in force for 10+5 years, with an option to modify delivery volume after the tenth year. (bne IntelliNews, 08.31.21)
  • The first gas delivery via Nord Stream 2 may take place in the coming heating season before the end of 2021, said Gazprom Chairman Alexei Miller on Sept. 2. (TASS, 09.02.21)
  • The Russian government is considering allowing state-owned oil producer Rosneft to ship gas to Europe via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a move that could preempt the imposition of volume restrictions by the EU. (RFE/RL, 09.03.21)
  • Russia welcomes the interest of other countries in using the Northern Sea Route and is not going to impose any restrictions on them, Putin said Sept. 3 at a plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum. (TASS, 09.03.21)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • Russian internet company Yandex will pay $1 billion to buy out Uber from joint ventures in food and grocery deliveries, logistics and autonomous driving. The all-cash deal gives Yandex full control of Yandex. Eats, rapid grocery delivery service Yandex.Lavka, and logistics business Yandex.Delivery, as well as its separately held autonomous vehicle division, the company said Aug. 31. (Financial Times. 08.31.21)

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • The defense team of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is serving a lengthy prison term in Russia on espionage charges he calls trumped up, has requested he be handed over to the U.S. to finish serving his sentence. Whelan’s lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told Russian media he has sent a request to the High Court of Mordovia, the region where Whelan is serving his sentence. The court has yet to set a date for the hearing, he said. (RFE/RL, 09.03.21)
  • Switzerland said Aug. 31 it had rejected a request from Russia to extradite a Russian businessman, who is already fighting extradition to the U.S. over suspicions of large-scale insider trading. The Swiss justice ministry confirmed Swiss media reports that it had recently rejected a Russian request to extradite Vladislav Klyushin. According to Russian opposition media, the businessman was very close to senior Kremlin official Alexey Gromov. (AFP, 08.31.21)
  • The special counsel who investigated Russia’s 2016 election interference, Robert Mueller, scrutinized “a member of the news media suspected of participating in the conspiracy” to hack Democrats and make their emails public, the Justice Department disclosed Sept. 1. The deputy attorney general at the time, Rod Rosenstein, who was overseeing the Russia investigation, approved a subpoena in 2018 for the unnamed person’s phone and email records. (The New York Times, 09.01.21)
  • The Russian Orthodox Church is under tremendous pressure from the U.S., which set itself a goal of destroying the unity of world Orthodox Christianity, Lavrov said Aug. 30. (TASS, 08.30.21)

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Here’s a link to RFE/RL’s interactive map of COVID-19’s spread around the world, including in Russia and the rest of post-Soviet Eurasia.
  • Russia has registered 18,856 new confirmed COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours. The total number of infections has reached 6,975,174 cases, the anti-coronavirus crisis center told journalists Sept. 3. The number of COVID-19 fatalities in Russia over the past 24 hours has increased by 799 compared to 798 the day before. In all, 185,611 patients died of the infection. (TASS, 09.03.21)
  • Russia recorded almost 64,000 excess fatalities in July as a brutal third wave of the coronavirus pandemic swept through an under-vaccinated population and overwhelmed hospitals. In a report released late Aug. 27, the Rosstat state statistics service said 215,000 people died in July 2021—more than in any single pre-pandemic month for at least the last 15 years. (The Moscow Times, 08.30.21)
  • Russia could see a renewed surge of the coronavirus as early as this month, top health officials have warned. "We expect a rise [in coronavirus cases], this is natural,” said Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s consumer protection watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, which has led COVID-19 response efforts along with the Health Ministry and the prime minister’s office. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.02.21)
  • Around 45.4 million people in Russia have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine and 38.5 million have received both shots, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said Sept. 3. (TASS, 09.03.21)
  • Russia’s seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Russia Manufacturing PMI index posted 46.5 in August, down from 47.5 in July, the third successive monthly deterioration in operating conditions across the Russian manufacturing sector. The decline in the health of the sector was the biggest since November 2020 and any result less than the 50 no-change mark represents a contraction. (bne IntelliNews, 09.01.21)
  • Russia’s central bank says a new financial crisis on the scale of the 2008 collapse could happen in less than 18 months if global inflation is not kept in check. The report, published Sept. 2, said that global gross domestic product growth could slow to just 1.1% as higher interest rates prompt investors to dump risky assets. (Financial Times, 09.03.21)
  • Russia has banked its allocation of Special Drawing Rights issued by the International Monetary Fund, lifting its international reserves by $20 billion to a new all-time high of $615.6 billion as of Aug. 27, the Central Bank of Russia reported Sept. 2. (bne IntelliNews, 09.03.21)
  • Russian flag carrier Aeroflot sharply narrowed its second-quarter year-on-year losses. The airline reported a quarterly net loss of 2.6 billion rubles ($35.2 million) compared with a loss of 35.8 billion rubles during the same period in 2020. (Financial Times, 08.31.21)
  • Russia has finished pouring concrete for the foundation slab of its new BREST-OD-300 lead-cooled fast reactor at the Siberian Chemical Combine's (SCC's) Seversk site. It is part of an overall program to close the nuclear fuel cycle. (World Nuclear News, 08.24.21)
  • Metals miner Nornickel said it will participate in the design and building of Russia's first dual-fuel liquefied natural gas (LNG) and diesel icebreaker to prepare for more capacity in the environmentally sensitive Arctic region. (Reuters, 09.03.21)
  • The approval rating for Putin has taken a hit in the last two months, falling from 66% in June to 61% as of August and with 37% disapproving, according to independent pollster the Levada Center—his worst result since May 2020 when the pandemic struck. (bne IntelliNews, 08.30.21)
  • A court in Russia's North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria has given a suspended two-year prison sentence to an activist who has no hands after finding him guilty of attacking police. The city court in Kabardino-Balkaria's capital, Nalchik, convicted and sentenced Aslan Iritov, the leader of Volny Aul (Free Village) rights organization, on Sept. 2. (RFE/RL, 09.03.21)
  • Navalny says he has distributed the financial part of the Boris Nemtsov Prize, 10,000 euros ($11,850), he received in February, among the families of four political prisoners. (RFE/RL, 09.03.21)
  • Interfax has quoted two sources as saying that Kira Yarmysh, the spokeswoman for Navalny, has left Russia after a court restricted her freedom for allegedly violating coronavirus protocols by urging people to rally in support of the Kremlin critic. (RFE/RL, 08.30.21)
  • Russia's Ministry of Digital Development and Mass Communications has promised to change its controversial instruction to web designers that told them "to avoid images of non-Slavic people" in advertisements and websites for state services. (RFE/RL, 08.27.21)
  • The prosecution has asked a court in the Russian city of Ufa to sentence a woman to four years in prison because she sent a small amount of money to the elderly mother of a jailed opposition activist. (RFE/RL, 09.03.21)
  • Reporters Without Borders says the Russian state is "tightening its grip" on the Internet, "drastically" restricting freedom of the press and of expression ahead of September’s parliamentary elections. (RFE/RL, 08.31.21)
  • A leaked audio recording published by the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper Sept. 2 has revealed alleged efforts to coordinate “falsification” of votes in Russia’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Russia’s Central Election Commission Sept. 3 announced it has launched a rapid-response inquiry into the recording. According to Novaya Gazeta, the recording was made by an unnamed participant in a training session of election workers in the Moscow region city of Korolyov. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.03.21)
  • Eleven endangered species are now “likely extinct” within Russia, according to a Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology assessment cited by Kommersant. These species include the European sea sturgeon, crested ibis, western capercaillie, Jankowski's Bunting, monk seal, onager and Przewalski's horse, the assessment said. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.03.21)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Putin on Aug. 31 ordered law enforcement officers and army staff receive $200, as he seeks support for his unpopular United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections in September.  The cash handouts follow earlier one-time payments for pensioners of $135 ahead of lower house State Duma polls in September, with United Russia's ratings hit by rising prices coupled with falling wages. (AFP, 08.31.21)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry signed 41 contracts worth 500 billion rubles ($6.8 billion) with 27 defense enterprises during Army 2021 for the delivery of 1,300 new weapon systems and the refurbishment of 150 existing systems, while Rostec's Rosoboronexport arms exporter inked deals worth 2 billion euros ($2.36 billion), Russian officials said at the defense exhibition in Kubinka from Aug. 22 to 28. (Jane’s, 09.01.21)
  • Combat robotic systems will be engaged in Zapad-2021 (West-2021) joint Russia-Belarus strategic drills, Shoigu said. "Mine-clearing robots are only the beginning. Simultaneously, work is underway to develop combat strike robots. I believe that you certainly will see them at Zapad-2021 drills, and not just one or two robots. By now, it involves industrial production and there are already dozens of combat strike robots, and the weapons they employ operate at a distance of up to 5 kilometers," he told Zvezda TV. (TASS, 08.30.21)
  • Russia's Defense Ministry signed the first contract for a prototype of the Shturm (Project Storm) unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) system based on the T-72 main battle tank at the Army 2021 defense exhibition. (Jane’s, 09.01.21)
  • "Around 80% of the inflight systems on Russia's [ISS] segment have reached the end of their service period," Vladimir Solovyov, chief engineer of the Energia rocket and space corporation, said. "This means that literally a day after the systems are fully exhausted, irreparable failures may begin," Solovyov added. (AFP, 08.31.21)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office says it has registered a sharp increase in the filing of corruption cases across the country since the start of the year. According to the office's latest report published Aug. 30, there were some 24,500 cases of alleged corruption officially registered in Russia between Jan. 1 and June 30, the highest figure in the last eight years.  The report says almost half the cases were related to bribes, of which one-third were for amounts of 10,000 rubles ($135) or less. (RFE/RL, 08.31.21)
  • A joint group of forces has conducted more than 4,000 security operations in the North Caucasus over the past five years, neutralizing 250 militants and destroying nearly 30 militant training bases, the Russian Guard said Sept. 3. (Interfax, 09.03.21)
  • The European Court of Human Rights on Aug. 31 faulted Russia's government for failing to investigate the abduction and assassination a decade ago of one of the country's most prominent human rights defenders, Natalya Estemirova. The court ruled that Russian authorities had failed to thoroughly investigate the murder, and it pointed to contradictions in the evidence file that ''led to doubt that the investigation had been effective.'' It awarded Ms. Estemirova's relatives 20,000 euros, or about $23,600, in damages. But the court also ruled that the authorities could not be held directly responsible for the killing. (The New York Times, 08.31.21)
  • A court in Russia's northwestern region of Pskov has ruled that the mass killings of Soviet citizens in the area during World War II were an act of genocide. According to the court ruling on Aug. 27, 75,000 civilians and 377,000 military personnel were killed during the war in the Pskov region, which at the time was divided between the Leningrad and Tver regions. (RFE/RL, 08.27.21)
  • Siberian politician and businessman Anatoly Bykov, one of the most powerful men in the Krasnoyarsk region, has been found guilty of ordering the murder of two men more than 25 years ago. (RFE/RL, 08.31.21)
  • Police in Spain have detained notorious Georgian organized crime boss Levan Abuladze—known in the criminal underworld by the nickname Levan Sukhumsky—who has been on the run since December 2020 when he escaped from a Russian court building where he had been brought for a pretrial hearing. (RFE/RL, 09.03.21)

 

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Agricultural output in Russia has grown by almost 50% since 1991. Agricultural exports have more than trebled in that time to over $30 billion last year, having jumped by a fifth in money terms over 2019. Russia has tripled its 2020 beef exports, and doubled those of pork, both in tons and dollar revenue year on year. Half of the beef went to China, after it opened its market to Russian cattle producers last year. According to Rusagrotrans data compiled based on U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, Russia accounts for a third of Middle Eastern and African wheat imports, 10% of those in Asia and supplies about a fifth of the planet’s total wheat demand. (Financial Times, 09.02.21)
  • In the spring of 2019, an emissary of Catalonia’s top separatist leader traveled to Moscow in search of a political lifeline. In Moscow, the emissary, Josep Lluis Alay, a senior adviser to the self-exiled former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, met with current Russian officials, former intelligence officers and the well-connected grandson of a KGB spymaster. The aim was to secure Russia’s help in severing Catalonia from the rest of Spain, according to a European intelligence report, which was reviewed by The New York Times. (The New York Times, 09.03.21)
  • BBC journalist Sarah Rainsford has left Russia as a result of a de facto expulsion that the British broadcaster called an assault on media freedom amid a dispute with Moscow over the treatment of foreign journalists. Rainsford is one of two BBC English-language correspondents in Moscow and was told to leave after Moscow accused London of discriminating against Russian journalists working in the U.K. (RFE/RL, 08.31.21)

Ukraine:

  • U.S. President Joe Biden hosted Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the White House on Sept. 1:
    • The meeting lasted two hours instead of the scheduled one hour. Afterwards, the two leaders published a joint statement announcing plans to “reinvigorate” the Strategic Partnership Commission. (FPRI, 09.02.21)
    • Biden assured Zelenskiy that the U.S. opposes "Russian aggression," but he showed no sign of moving on requests to open NATO to Ukraine. "I would like to discuss with President Biden his vision, his government's vision of Ukraine's chances to join NATO and the timeframe," Zelenskiy said. But Biden has made clear he considers Ukraine far from ready to join—and the U.S. far from ready to step over what Russia sees as a bright red line. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.02.21)
    • Biden sought to reassure Ukraine of Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to its sovereignty. Biden said he wanted “a Europe whole, free and at peace”, that Washington opposed “Russian aggression” and that he hoped to visit Ukraine again. (Financial Times, 09.01.21)
    • Biden has approved a new $60 million security assistance package for Ukraine that included Javelin shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles. (Defense Blog, 09.02.21)
    • Regarding Nord Stream 2, the joint statement published after the meeting underscores that both parties “continue to oppose” the Russian pipeline as a threat to European energy security. The U.S. also promised to provide another $45 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine this year, as well as an additional $12.8 million in pandemic-related aid. (FPRI, 09.02.21)
    • Zelenskiy concluded his remarks at the White House by handing over a list of Ukrainian prisoners held captive in Russia, Crimea and the uncontrolled territories of eastern Ukraine. “There are 450 people, maybe more,” he said. “And we would like to have your assistance in freeing them and bringing them back to our country.” (FPRI, 09.02.21)
    • “In terms of visits to the Oval Office, we had chancellor Merkel here several weeks ago,” a U.S. official added. “But otherwise, president Zelenskiy is the second European leader that is going to be having a meeting in the Oval Office.” (Financial Times, 09.01.21)
  • Speaking to reporters Sept. 1, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Ukraine still needs to meet several tests before becoming a NATO member, and that the decision is not one the U.S. can make alone. (The Washington Post, 09.01.21)
  • Zelenskiy met on Aug. 31 with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to request help in Ukraine's unequal struggle with Russia. Austin highlighted a new $60 million package for Ukraine that includes Javelin anti-armor systems. He said the U.S. has committed $2.5 billion for Ukraine's defense since 2014. Austin and his Ukrainian counterpart signed a new defense cooperation deal at the Pentagon aimed at improving Ukraine’s military institutions and capabilities on Aug. 31. The Biden administration has now provided more than $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine this year, a U.S. official said. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.02.21, The New York Times, 09.01.21, Defense Blog, 09.02.21)
  • Ukraine and the U.S. have agreed to "deepen and intensify" their strategic cooperation in energy. Nuclear power leads a suite of agreements with a project to complete Khmelnitsky unit 4, followed up with four new AP1000 units at a total value of $30 billion. (World Nuclear News, 09.01.21)
  • Forceful statements affirming enduring U.S. commitment to Ukraine have emerged in recent days from Biden’s team, most notably at the recent Crimea Platform launch in Kyiv from U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. She reassured her Ukrainian hosts that “our support will remain concrete and substantial. We have provided some $4.9 billion in security and development assistance to Ukraine since 2014 alone.” (Ukraine Business News, 08.30.21)
  • Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s security council, has predicted that Washington would abandon Ukraine’s pro-Western leadership, as it had the Afghan government. “Was the ousted pro-American regime in Kabul saved by the fact that Afghanistan had the status of a principal U.S. ally outside NATO?” Patrushev said to Russia’s Izvestia newspaper. “A similar situation awaits supporters of the American choice in Ukraine.” (Financial Times, 08.30.21).
  • Russia has refused to extend the mandate of international observers to monitor two border crossing points with Ukraine, a U.S. official said. “The United States deeply regrets that the Russian Federation has indicated that it will not join consensus to extend the mission’s mandate and financing arrangement at the end of September,” Courtney Austrian, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, said in a Sept. 2 statement. (RFE/RL, 09.03.21)
  • A Ukrainian court has extended by two months the house arrest of Viktor Medvedchuk, a Kremlin-leaning lawmaker and tycoon who is accused of supporting fighters in two eastern provinces. (RFE/RL, 09.02.21)
  • The international team investigating the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine seven years ago appealed Sept. 2 for Russians in the city of Kursk to come forward with information about the deployment of the missile that investigators say downed the plane, killing all 298 people on board. The call for witnesses included an emotional video featuring the parents of one of the victims, 29-year-old Australian Victor Oreshkin. (AP, 09.02.21)
  • The Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs has announced that that by the end of 2021, Ukraine will receive 22 French helicopters under a contract signed in 2018 with French company Airbus Helicopters SAS. (Ukraine Business News, 08.30.21)
  • Oxford Economics has just downgraded the forecast for Ukraine’s GDP growth in 2021 to 4% from 4.4% in the July forecast.  (Ukraine Business News, 08.30.21)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Tajik Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda says his country is unable to host many refugees from neighboring Afghanistan, as thousands look to flee after Taliban insurgents took control of the country. Some 5,000 Afghan government troops have already entered Tajikistan as they fled from Taliban advances in recent weeks. The troops were later sent back to Afghanistan. (RFE/RL, 09.02.21)
  • Hundreds of Tajiks from the southern town of Kulob say they're prepared to join anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan. The Afghan fighters are based in the Panjshir Valley, a predominantly ethnic-Tajik region that has repelled Taliban incursions in the past. Some Tajik officials say it would be illegal for volunteers to cross the border to join the fight—but others say the call to arms nevertheless sends a message to the Taliban. (RFE/RL, 08.27.21)
  • The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe on Sept. 1 announced plans to build a border-guard facility on the Tajik-Afghan-Uzbek border, where tensions have risen in recent months as Taliban fighters captured Afghan regions that abut Central Asia's post-Soviet republics. (RFE/RL, 09.01.21)
  • Tajikistan has awarded posthumously two former Afghan political figures, Ahmad Shah Masud and Burhanuddin Rabbani, with the country's third-highest honor, the Order of Ismoili Somoni. (RFE/RL, 09.02.21)
  • A close relative of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been given a fine while some others received prison sentences over a stabbing incident that occurred in the Central Asian nation in May. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official at the Danghara district court in the southern Khatlon region told RFE/RL the decision was handed down in late July in the case against Amriddin Nakhshov, the 35-year-old nephew of Rahmon's wife. Nine other co-defendants were also found guilty. (RFE/RL, 09.02.21)
  • Kazakhstan's Defense Minister Nurlan Ermekbaev has resigned after a series of explosions last week in the nation's south that left at least 15 people dead. Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev accepted Ermekbaev's resignation letter, presidential spokesman Berik Uali said. (RFE/RL, 08.31.21)
  • Kyrgyzstan owes $1.8 billion to China, which is over 40% of its total external debt, estimated at $4.8-5 billion. As of October 2020, Tajikistan, the poorest country in Emerging Europe, had external debt of $3.2 billion, after it increased by $238 million during the year, according to an analysis by the Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting. Tajikistan’s single largest creditor since 2008 is the Export-Import Bank of China. (bne IntelliNews, 09.01.21)
  • Kazakhstan has ordered Airbus A400M Atlas military transport aircraft to outfit its Air Force fleet. (Defense Blog, 09.02.21)
  • German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says Uzbekistan is willing to open its borders to people fleeing from Taliban rule in Afghanistan who are on a German list of those in need of being evacuated from the war-torn country. (RFE/RL, 08.30.21)
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has urged reporters to wait for statements by Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, responding to a question about the Moscow-Minsk integration program. Earlier on Aug. 31, Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Vladimir Semashko said Putin and Lukashenko would discuss all roadmaps and integration maps on Sept. 9. According to the envoy, these documents can be signed in Minsk on Sept. 10 at a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. (TASS, 08.31.21)
  • Lukashenko says his country will soon receive a huge military hardware consignment from Russia. Lukashenko said dozens of aircraft and air defense systems, including "probably" S-400 missile systems, will be delivered from neighboring Russia to Belarus "in the near future." (RFE/RL, 09.01.21)
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda has imposed a state of emergency in parts of two regions bordering Belarus amid an influx of migrants from the former Soviet state. The Sept. 2 decision came following a request by his government earlier in the week. The emergency rules would ban demonstrations in a thin strip along the border as well as require people to carry identity documentation. (RFE/RL, 09.02.21)
  • Poland has detained 13 activists for trying to destroy part of a fence along the border with Belarus that has been erected to help stem the flow of illegal migrants crossing into the country. (RFE/RL, 08.30.21)
  • Belarus has ordered the closure of the country’s largest independent journalists' organization as a crackdown on media and civil society intensifies following last year's disputed presidential election. The order to liquidate the Belarusian Association of Journalists came on Aug. 27 after the Supreme Court upheld a lawsuit filed by the Justice Ministry. (RFE/RL, 08.28.21)
  • Moldova’s pro-Western president led the country in celebrating three decades of independence from Soviet rule, vowing to “build a prosperous and free Moldova.” About 1 million of a total of 3.5 million Moldovans live abroad, mainly in the EU. (RFE/RL, 08.28.21)
  • Yerevan has accused Azerbaijani snipers of opening fire on Armenian military positions near the border, the latest in a series of deadly incidents between the two neighbors since they fought a six-week war over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region last year. (RFE/RL, 09.01.21)

 

IV. Quoteworthy

  • “Vladimir Putin had just become president,” says a market consultant in Moscow, who asks to remain anonymous. “And he was told in a meeting that Russia imported more than 50 percent of its food. His face went pale.” “Putin has since made it his goal to ensure better food security in the country,” adds the person who attended the meeting in 2000. “He dreads dependency. And now Russia is number one in wheat, and is having others depend on it.” (Financial Times, 09.02.21)