Russia in Review, Feb. 1-8, 2019

This Week's Highlights:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump floated the idea of replacing the nearly defunct INF Treaty with “a different agreement, adding China and others.” If no such alternative works out, “we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far,” he said this week. Russia responded by saying it would welcome a “concrete” proposal from “our American colleagues,” according to Bloomberg.
  • Following the U.S. lead, Vladimir Putin said Russia would also pursue R&D of intermediate-range missiles, but wouldn't deploy them in Europe or elsewhere unless the U.S. does. Anonymous “high-ranking” government sources reportedly told the Kommersant newspaper that, with the INF’s demise, Russia would develop land versions of the Kalibr-NK and Tsirkon missiles. Meanwhile, Russia conducted a partially successful test of its developmental nuclear-powered cruise missile, the Burevestnik, on Jan. 29, according to U.S. government sources cited by Bloomberg. 
  • The U.S. departments of Justice and Homeland Security said Feb. 5 that foreign actors did not significantly influence the midterm congressional elections last year, despite reports of hacking attempts leading up to the vote, RFE/RL reported.
  • Russia’s trade with the U.S. grew to $25 billion last year, up by 7.9 percent over 2017. Both Russia’s trade surplus and exports grew significantly, according to Russian customs service data reported by RIA Novosti.
  • The U.S. has announced it will close its only immigration office in Russia on March 29 due to a “significant decrease in workload,” The Moscow Times reported. The paper likewise reported on a new Levada poll finding that the share of Russians who say they would “absolutely” not want to emigrate has reached a seven-year high of 61 percent, with another 21 percent saying they would “rather not” emigrate.
  • Russia has $472 billion in reserves, more than the country’s combined public and foreign debt of $453 billion and nearly three times what the IMF recommends, according to the New York Times.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly sent Russian President Vladimir Putin a telegram congratulating him with the Lunar New Year. (The Moscow Times, 02.04.19)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani will hold a meeting on Feb. 14 in Sochi. (TASS, 02.05.19)
  • The EU has welcomed a new mechanism to trade with Iran while bypassing U.S. sanctions, but criticized Tehran over its "destabilizing" ballistic missile program, its "hostile activities" on the territories of several EU member states, and its meddling in countries in the Middle East. (RFE/RL, 02.04.19)

New Cold War:

  • The United States' full withdrawal from the INF Treaty would not herald the start of a new Cold War, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said. "I don't think we're talking about the development of a Cold War," Lavrov said. "A new era has begun." (Reuters, 02.04.19)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Representatives from NATO's 29 member states signed an accession agreement with Macedonia, starting the formal process for membership. (RFE/RL, 02.06.19)
  • The leaders of NATO's member states will hold a special summit in London in December to mark the alliance's 70th anniversary. (RFE/RL, 02.06.19)
  • Returning repeatedly to the idea of a “Europe of security,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is widely expected to be Germany’s next chancellor, said the creation of an EU army to exist alongside national forces was a “logical” step “if we don’t want to be the ball being played around between Russia and the U.S. and China and the U.S.” (Financial Times, 02.05.19)
  • Russia on Feb. 7 accused Norway of pushing ahead with a military build-up which it said increased the risks of military action and required some kind of Russian response. (Reuters, 02.08.19)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • “While we followed the [INF] agreement to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms … Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can't—in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in his State of the Union address. Trump said last Feb. 1 that he is open to negotiating a wider agreement, possibly one that includes other nations. “I hope we’re able to get everybody in a big, beautiful room and do a new treaty that would be much better,” he said. (State of the Union Address, 02.06.19, AP, 02.01.19)
    • “We saw President Trump’s statement about the possibility of a new treaty, which should include other countries,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters. “When our American colleagues actually get to the point where they give us something concrete, we will look at this with interest and I hope in a positive way.” (Bloomberg, 02.07.19)
  • In what he termed a "tit-for-tat response," Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Feb. 2 that his country would suspend its involvement in the INF Treaty and accused Washington of breaching the agreement. Putin said Russia would follow the U.S. in pursuing research and development of intermediate-range missiles, which he said it wouldn't deploy in Europe or elsewhere unless the U.S. did so. The development of new weapons shouldn't pull Russia into an expensive arms race, he said. Putin also ordered the officials not to initiate any talks on disarmament. "We will wait until our partners are ready to carry out an equal, substantial dialogue with us on this very important topic—for us, for our partners and for the whole world," Putin said. (Reuters, 02.06.19, Wall Street Journal, 02.03.19, Wall Street Journal, 02.03.19)
  • Russia will exit the INF Treaty in six months as part of a symmetrical response to the U.S. pullout, Interfax cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Feb. 6. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Feb. 7 that Russia was prepared for “constructive dialogue” if the U.S. “reconsiders its destructive policy and returns to complying with the INF.” (Reuters, 02.06.19, Wall Street Journal, 02.03.19, Financial Times, 02.07.19)
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says Moscow will push to develop two new land-based missile systems before 2021 in response to Washington's planned exit from a landmark nuclear arms control agreement. Shoigu said that during 2020 and 2021, Russia "must develop a land-based version of the sea-based Kalibr system with a long-range cruise missile. … In this same time frame, we must create a land-based missile system with a hypersonic long-range missile," he said. In addition to Kalibr, Russia’s response to the demise of the INF Treaty will include development of the Zirkon missiles, “high-ranking sources in [Russia’s] state structures” told Kommersant daily. The land version of Kalibr-NK would have a range of 2,600 kilometers, which is roughly the distance between Moscow and Paris, according to the sources. In its current configuration, designed for sea platforms, Zirkon has a range of 400 kilometers, according to the daily. (RFE/RL, 02.05.19, Russia Matters, 02.04.19)
  • Russia has said the U.S. should destroy the Mark 41 Vertical Launching System deployed in NATO-member Romania in order to return to compliance with the INF Treaty. The U.S. Embassy's military attaché in Moscow was handed a note containing Russia's demand after being summoned to the Defense Ministry in Moscow on Feb. 7. (RFE/RL, 02.08.19)
  • The U.S. recently informed Western allies that Russia now has deployed four battalions of the 9M729 cruise missile, an increase from the three battalions Russia was said to have a few months ago. (Wall Street Journal, 01.31.19)
  • U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood told a U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Feb. 5 that the U.S. would reconsider its withdrawal from the INF Treaty "should Russia return to full and verifiable compliance." (RFE/RL, 02.05.19)
  • U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, who focuses on nuclear issues on the Foreign Relations Committee, called the treaty’s suspension “a tragedy that makes the world less safe.” (New York Times, 02.01.19)
  •  “Geographically, we are the ones who suffer if armament is back on the agenda,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn Feb. 1. “A debate here in Europe about an arms race will tear Europe apart again.” (Wall Street Journal, 02.01.19)
  • China on Feb. 2 said it opposed the U.S. decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty and called on the two nations to negotiate for a solution. (South China Morning Post 02.02.19)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov charged on Feb. 6 that the U.S. refusal to negotiate an extension to the New START treaty signals Washington’s intention to let it expire in 2021. He warned that time is running out to save the pact. U.S. Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson argued in Feb. 6’s phone call with reporters that there is enough time to discuss the treaty’s extension. (AP, 02.06.19)
  • German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Feb. 2 that international talks on disarmament were needed—involving the U.S., Russia, China and other countries—to look at rules for new weapons systems. He said Germany would organize an arms-control conference in Berlin in March. (Wall Street Journal, 02.03.19)

Counter-terrorism:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump has said that by next week, he will be able to declare the defeat of Islamic State's "physical caliphate." (RFE/RL, 02.06.19)

Conflict in Syria:

  • “We've done an incredible job with Syria … [N]ow you have very little ISIS and you have the caliphate almost knocked out,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview with CBS News on Feb. 3. On Feb. 5, Trump told the American people that the Islamic State has been defeated—that the only thing left is "remnants," which our allies will destroy. (The Washington Post, 02.06.19, RFE/RL, 02.04.19)
  • The Pentagon plans to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria by the end of April. U.S. President Donald Trump has declared his intention to reduce U.S. military engagement in Syria, but a new Pentagon report warned that Islamic State could then make a comeback in the war-torn country within six to 12 months and "regain limited territory." (RFE/RL, 02.04.19, RFE/RL, 02.08.19)
  • The leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey are scheduled to meet in Sochi on Feb. 14 to discuss the situation in Syria. (RFE/RL, 02.04.19)
  • Russia Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Settlement Alexander Lavrentyev, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin and Russian Defense Ministry officials met with Iran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani and Senior Assistant to Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi-Ansari in Tehran on Feb. 2 to discuss Syria. (Interfax, 02.04.19)
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Feb. 21 for talks on Iran's presence in Syria. (RFE/RL, 02.06.19)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin on Feb. 8 called on Israel to limit strikes on Syrian territory, saying that each strike raised the prospect of further conflict in the region. (The Times of Israel, 02.08.19)
  • The military police of the Russian armed forces in Syria have extended their zone of operation in the Aleppo governorate, having reached the community of Tell Rifaat northeast of Manbij. (TASS, 02.04.19)
  • Russia’s military has announced plans to showcase the weapons and equipment it seized in Syria on a tour across the country. (The Moscow Times, 02.06.19)
  • Kurdish fighters in northern Syria have apparently detained Dilovar Azimovich Dodoev, who is a close associate of fugitive Tajik police colonel Gulmurod Halimov who joined Islamic State in 2015. (RFE/RL, 02.04.19)
  • The U.S. State Department has called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens captured by U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria. (RFE/RL, 02.04.19)

Cyber security:

  • Google has started to remove certain entries from its search results in Russia in compliance with long-standing demands from the authorities, the Vedomosti business daily reported Feb. 6. (The Moscow Times, 02.07.19)
  • Apple detailed the user data it’s storing in Russia to comply with a local law that took effect in 2015. (Bloomberg, 02.05.19)

Elections interference:

  • In an interview on CBS's ''Face the Nation,'' U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated his belief that the attorney general would determine whether the public would see the results of the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller. But Trump would not say whether he would be comfortable with the results being made public. (New York Times, 02.03.19)
  • U.S. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 8 that he had not talked to U.S. President Donald Trump about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and that he had not interfered with the probe in any way. (Vox, 02.08.19)
  • The U.S. special counsel's probe into Russian election meddling is focusing on a meeting between the former Trump campaign chairman and a business associate who prosecutors say has ties to Russian intelligence. A court transcript unsealed on Feb. 7 in Paul Manafort's criminal case says an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik goes to the "larger view of what we think is going on" and what "we think the motive here is." (RFE/RL, 02.08.19)
    • Prosecutors allege that Manafort was working on Ukrainian political matters in 2018, after his indictment in the special counsel's investigation, and also revealed that a former business associate of his who was assessed by the FBI to have ties to Russian intelligence attended Trump's inaugural, according to new court filings. Manafort and Kilimnik discussed a peace plan for Ukraine on more than one occasion, including during one meeting in August 2016, while Manafort served as Trump's campaign chairman, Manafort's attorneys have said. The pair also met in December 2016, in January 2017 when Kilimnik was in Washington and again in February 2017 and as recently as the winter of 2018, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson summarized at the hearing. (The Washington Post, 02.08.19)
    • Federal prosecutors told a judge this week that Manafort might have lied to them about ''an extremely sensitive issue'' in hopes of increasing the chances that he would be pardoned for his crimes, according to a transcript of the hearing unsealed Feb. 7. (New York Times, 02.08.19)
    • It was apparently Rick Gates, deputy chairman of the Trump campaign and Manafort’s longtime right-hand man, who revealed to prosecutors that Manafort had ordered Trump campaign polling data to be sent to Kilimnik as Trump was clinching the Republican nomination in spring 2016. (New York Times, 02.08.19)
  • News reports say that U.S. prosecutors have asked the committee that planned U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration to turn over documents and records related to the event. (RFE/RL, 02.05.19)
  • The House Intelligence Committee's new Democratic leadership will scrutinize Russia's election interference and the question of whether foreign governments have leverage over Trump, his relatives or associates.. (The Washington Post, 02.06.19)
  • Russian businessman Sergei Millian who was an unwitting source for the so-called Steele dossier developed a relationship with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos in 2016. (The Hill, 02.07.19)
  • The federal judge overseeing the criminal case against longtime Trump friend Roger Stone said Feb. 1 that she is considering whether to impose a gag order after Stone went on a week-long media blitz to discuss the allegations against him. (The Washington Post, 02.04.19)
  • Ivanka Trump said in a new interview that she has "zero concern" about the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller and sought to play down the significance of a prospective Moscow real estate deal that the Trump Organization pursued while her father was running for president. (The Washington Post, 02.08.19)
  • U.S. government agencies said foreign actors did not significantly influence the U.S. mid-term congressional elections last year, despite reports of hacking attempts leading up to the vote, the Justice and Homeland Security departments announced. (RFE/RL, 02.06.19)

Energy exports:

  • Brussels’ efforts to regulate Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 have been boosted by France’s support for a proposal to apply EU energy rules to the new pipeline, despite German-led opposition. While the proposal would not stop the pipeline, the rules could change the operation and economics of the project. (Financial Times, 02.08.19)
  • Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies are backing a formal partnership with a 10-nation group led by Russia to try to manage the global oil market. (Wall Street Journal, 02.06.19)
  • The House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee on Feb. 7 unanimously passed the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels, or NOPEC, bill, but it was uncertain whether it would get a vote in the full House. The legislation would allow the Justice Department to sue members of OPEC for antitrust violations on grounds of collusion as the oil cartel looks to formalize closer ties with Russia. A senior Trump administration official said on Feb. 8 that U.S. national security depends on affordable energy, and slammed cartels when asked if U.S. President Donald Trump would support the bill. (Wall Street Journal, 02.08.19)
  • Igor Sechin, head of Russian oil giant Rosneft and one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, has written to the Russian president saying Moscow’s deal with OPEC to cut oil output is a strategic threat and plays into the hands of the United States. (Reuters, 02.08.19)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • Shares in MTS, Russia’s largest mobile operator, fell 5 percent on the Moscow exchange after the company announced a possible delisting from the New York Stock Exchange to focus on its domestically listed shares. (Financial Times, 02.08.19)

Other bilateral issues:

  • The U.S. has announced that it will close its only immigration office in Russia on March 29 over what it called a “significant decrease in workload.” “Russians have mastered other markets, they can now get different visas in different countries,” Alexander Treshchev, the head of the European Lawyers Association in Russia, said. (The Moscow Times, 02.07.19)
    • The share of Russians who say they would “absolutely” not want to emigrate has reached a seven-year high of 61 percent, according to Levada’s latest poll. (The Moscow Times, 02.04.19)
  • “Trump was in Moscow. He had contacts … on matters related to the construction of the Okhotny Ryad underground mall on Manezh Square,” former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov told Interfax. (The Moscow Times, 02.05.19)
  • Paul Erickson, a conservative U.S. political activist who has been identified as the boyfriend of admitted Russian agent Maria Butina, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in South Dakota, officials say. (RFE/RL, 02.07.19)
  • Congressional investigators expect the House Financial Services Committee to examine Deutsche Bank AG’s efforts after the 2016 election to shed a loan it made to VTB Group, a large Russian state-owned bank. (Wall Street Journal, 02.03.19)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia’s economic growth accelerated to 2.3 percent in 2018, the most since 2012, after construction surged, the Federal Statistics Service claimed in its first estimate on Feb. 4. (Bloomberg, 02.04.19)
  • Average monthly salaries in Russia's capital jumped by 11.7 percent to nearly 81,000 rubles ($1,234) last year, according to official figures from the federal statistics service. (The Moscow Times, 02.05.19)
  • Russia has $472 billion in reserves, more than the country’s combined public and foreign debt of $453 billion and nearly three times what the IMF recommends. (New York Times, 02.06.19)
  • Russian NGO Agora recorded 662,842 cases of internet censorship faced by Russian users in 2018—nearly a six-fold increase from 2017. (The Moscow Times, 02.05.19)
  • Russian news reports say that Google has agreed with national authorities to delete links to websites banned in Russia. The daily Vedomosti reported Feb. 7 that Google has reached an agreement with the Russian state media oversight agency, Roskomnadzor, to regularly receive updated lists of banned sites and delete links to them upon review. (AP, 02.08.19)
  • The Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2019 report includes criticism of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijanf, Montenegro, Serbia, Hungary and three former Soviet republics in Central Asia for contributing to what it calls "the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom." (RFE/RL, 02.04.19)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia conducted a partially successful test of its developmental nuclear-powered cruise missile, the Burevestnik, on Jan. 29, 2019, according to U.S. government sources. The test took place at Russia’s Kapustin Yar missile test range and is the 13th to date involving the missile. The test marks the first involving the Burevestnik in nearly a year. (Bloomberg, 02.06.19)
  • On Feb. 6, 2019, the Strategic Rocket Forces conducted a successful test launch of a road-mobile RS-24 Yars missile from the Plesetsk test site. (Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, 02.06.19)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A Russian court for the first time convicted a Jehovah’s Witness, Danish national Dennis Christensen, on extremism charges. (The Moscow Times, 02.06.19)
  • Russian reporter Svetlana Prokopyeva faces possible jail time over comments about a 2018 suicide bombing that was critical of the authorities. (The Moscow Times, 02.08.19)
  • The embezzlement trial of Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov has been suspended after the judge ordered new research into the groups' activities. (RFE/RL, 02.05.19)
  • Azat Miftakhov, a postgraduate mathematics student at Moscow State University who says he was tortured under detention on bomb-making accusations, has been rearrested after a brief release from custody. (RFE/RL, 02.07.19)
  • Jailed former Russian intelligence officer Vladimir Kvachkov's conviction for incitement of hatred has been annulled after the extremism article in the Criminal Code was partially decriminalized. He will be most likely released Feb. 19. (RFE/RL, 02.07.19)
  • Prison officials in Russia say the situation is under control at prison IK-7 in the Saratov region after hundreds of inmates rioted on Feb. 1. (RFE/RL, 02.01.19)
  • A court in Moscow has ordered opposition leader Alexei Navalny to take down his video investigation of Russian National Guard’s food supply contracts. (The Moscow Times, 02.06.19)
  • Dozens of buildings in Moscow and the Moscow region were evacuated following anonymous bomb threats received Feb. 5. (RFE/RL, 02.05.19)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • The Taliban is seeking the pullout of all foreign troops from Afghanistan within months, a senior official said, as the fundamentalist Islamic movement reached out to opponents of U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani at talks in Moscow. “This is the first step,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the head of the 10-member Taliban delegation in Moscow, told reporters after meeting with other Afghan factions. He said the meetings had been "very successful." Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the main issue under discussion in Moscow was that Afghanistan should be free of foreign forces, adding that there was a near-consensus on this matter. Ghani’s administration shunned the Feb. 5-6 Russian-hosted initiative, and Kabul has reportedly lodged a complaint with the U.N. over the Taliban members’ trip to Moscow. (RFE/RL, 02.07.19, The Moscow Times, 02.07.19, The Times of Central Asia, 02.08.19)
    • The U.S. promised to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by April, Russian state-run RIA Novosti reported Feb. 6, citing a Taliban representative in Moscow. U.S. President Donald Trump said on Feb. 5 that he’ll reduce the American military presence in Afghanistan. (The Moscow Times, 02.07.19)
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied that Moscow is wavering in its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro following media reports that Russia is beginning to doubt the leader’s ability to survive an opposition challenge. While Moscow has publicly backed Maduro as he faces calls to step down, Bloomberg on Feb. 6 cited unnamed sources close to the Kremlin as saying that Russia is beginning to worry over the embattled leader’s weakening hand. At least one Russian senator has publicly acknowledged that “time isn’t on Maduro’s side.” (The Moscow Times, 02.07.19)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Feb. 5 that the crisis in Venezuela could only be solved by getting the authorities and the opposition to talk to each other. (Reuters, 02.05.19)
  • The Kremlin says that moves by some major European countries to recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president amounts to foreign meddling and that Venezuelans, not foreign forces, should resolve their own domestic political issues. (RFE/RL, 02.04.19)
  • Russia is ready to engage in talks with the Netherlands about the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, Interfax news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying on Feb. 8. (Reuters, 02.08.19)
  • “By employing oligarch-funded, quasi-mercenary military advisors, particularly in countries where leaders seek unchallenged autocratic rule, Russian interests gain access to natural resources on favorable terms” in Africa, U.S. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command, told Senate hearings. (Senate.gov, 02.07.19)

China:

  • Russia’s main trading partners last year were China, with which trade amounted to $108.3 billion (an increase of 24.5 percent compared to 2017), as well as Germany ($59.6 billion, a 19.3 percent increase compared to 2017) and the Netherlands ($47.2 billion). Russia’s trade with the U.S. grew last year, totaling $25 billion, an increase of 7.9 percent compared to 2017, according to the Russian customs service. Both Russia’s trade surplus and exports grew significantly, according to the data. (RIA Novosti, 02.08.19)
  • Russia’s and China’s plans in Central Asia do not contradict each other, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Feb. 5. "We do not consider China a competitor. We are strategic partners, and the plans of Russia and China regarding that region [Central Asia] and overall regarding the Big Eurasia do not contradict each other," he said. (TASS, 02.05.19)

Ukraine:

  • The Ukrainian parliament approved in its final reading a constitutional amendment that reflects the country's strategic goal of becoming a member of NATO and the EU. During a Feb. 7 session, the amendment passed 334-17. (RFE/RL, 02.07.19)
  • "The United States in the natural course of business will be reviewing the Crimea sanctions in February … The EU is looking at additional sanctions as well. Nothing has been agreed yet, and they have a minister's meeting coming up, also in February," Kurt Volker said. (Interfax, 02.04.19)
  • Eighteen EU member states have called on the bloc to be “ready to act” in support of Ukraine in case Russia tries to undermine the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections later this year, according to a document seen by RFE/RL. (RFE/RL, 02.07.19)
  • An Interfax-Ukraine poll shows that 21.9 percent of respondents support comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 19.2 percent support Batkivschyna Party leader Yulia Tymoshenko and 14.8 percent support incumbent Petro Poroshenko as the next president of Ukraine. (Interfax, 02.04.19)
  • To date, Ukraine's Central Election Commission has registered 30 candidates to run in the election, the highest since Ukraine gained independence. (Interfax, 02.05.19)
  • Ukrainian lawmakers have voted to ban Russian citizens from serving as election monitors in the country. (RFE/RL, 02.07.19)
  • Ukrainian authorities say they are investigating allegations that Viktor Medvedchuk, a shadowy Ukrainian political operative with close personal ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has committed high treason. (RFE/RL, 02.05.19)
  • Viktor Yanukovych has again rejected his conviction by a Ukrainian court on charges of high treason over attempts to quash a 2014 pro-Western uprising known as the Maidan protests. “As some forward-minded Ukrainian politicians say, who consider themselves as such, I got scammed as a loser," Yanukovych said in reference to the February 2014 agreement he had signed with the opposition. (RFE/RL, 02.06.19, UNIAN,  02.06.19)
  • Metropolitan Epifaniy was officially installed as the leader of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine on Feb. 3. (RFE/RL, 02.04.19)
  • A court in Kiev has ruled that U.S.-born Acting Health Minister Ulyana Suprun can no longer head the ministry due to a Ukrainian regulation that says a person can be an acting minister for only one month. (RFE/RL, 02.05.19)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Kyrgyzstan's top security official Damir Sagynbaev says Bishkek is not looking into the possibility of having a second Russian military base on its territory. Earlier on Feb. 1, Kyrgyz Ambassador to Russia Alikbek Jekshenkulov told TASS that his country did not rule out opening a second Russian military base. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Bishkek earlier that Moscow is open to talks about setting up a second Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan if Kyrgyz authorities initiate the issue. (RFE/RL, 02.07.19, RFE/RL, 02.05.19)
  • Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has said there are no immediate plans to push forward the date of the country's next presidential election, which is scheduled for 2020. (RFE/RL, 02.05.19)
  • Dozens of Kazakh mothers are holding a meeting with local officials inside city hall in Almaty amid country-wide protests sparked by the deaths of five children from the same family in a house fire. (RFE/RL, 02.08.19)
  • Kazatomprom produced a total of 21,705 tU in 2018 and will continue to follow a "market-centric" approach to uranium production rather than its previous production-focused strategy, the Kazakh national atomic company said. (World Nuclear News, 02.01.19)
  • Tengiz Sydykov, the son of the former Kyrgyz ambassador to the U.S., has been sentenced to three years in a U.S. prison after he pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle weapons to Chechnya. (RFE/RL, 02.06.19)
  • A foreign citizen has been detained in Kyrgyzstan on suspicion of planning to create a criminal group for conducting a terrorist attack in the country, the State Committee for National Security says. The suspect is a citizen of one of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. (RFE/RL, 02.08.19)
  • Tajikistan has set up a special commission to assess whether the country needs to build new mosques and reopen some of the places of worship that had been closed by authorities in recent years. (RFE/RL, 02.07.19)           
  • French President Emmanuel Macron has declared April 24 as a "national day of commemoration of the Armenian genocide." (RFE/RL, 02.06.19)
  • Hungary is once again threatening to poke a hole in the EU’s long-standing arms embargo against Belarus, according to anonymous sources. (RFE/RL, 02.04.19)
  • A court in Britain has ordered the son of former Moldovan Prime Minister Vladimir Filat to hand over $650 million following an investigation by Britain’s National Crime Agency. (RFE/RL, 02.07.19)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • “In governing, we can’t operate on the basis of common sense,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Feb. 7. “First of all, we operate in terms of what is legal and illegal.” (Bloomberg, 02.07.19)
  • “Nobody is hiding it now,” said Aleksandr Abramov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics. “State spending is the economic theme of 2019.” (New York Times, 02.06.19)
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