Russia in Review, Feb. 12-19, 2021
This Week’s Highlights
- In his speech via video link at the Munich Security Conference Feb. 19, U.S. President Joe Biden argued that that the only way to deal with Russia is to push back hard against Russian President Vladimir Putin, the New York Times reports. Russia remains intent on undermining Western democracy and must not be allowed to succeed, he said. “The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponizes corruption to try to undermine our system of governance,” Biden said, according to The Washington Post.
- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference on the results of the first day of the defense ministerial this week that NATO’s new strategic concept, which would be adopted at the alliance’s summit in 2021, would be aimed at deterring China and Russia, he said. “Back in 2010, we were working for, establishing, what we then referred to as a strategic partnership with Russia. Since then, we have seen Russia being responsible for aggressive actions against neighbors, the illegal annexation of Crimea and things have fundamentally changed. So, we need to update our strategic concept,” Stoltenberg said.
- The Biden administration is reviewing U.S. policy toward Nord Stream 2, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations, the Wall Street Journal reports. The U.S. is likely to hold off sanctioning any German entities for now over the pipeline, according to four people familiar with the matter, as the Biden administration seeks to halt the project without antagonizing a close European ally, according to Al Jazeera.
- Russians' attitudes towards the United States have improved after a long period of deteriorating sentiment that lasted the entire past year, according to the Levada Center. The center’s January 2021 poll showed that the shares of Russians with positive and negative assessments of the U.S. have become practically equal (40% versus 43%, respectively). The share of Russians with a positive view of the EU declined from 47% to 45% over the same period, while the share of Russians with a positive view of China increased from 65% in November 2020 to 75% in January 2021, according to the poll.
- In Russia, some U.S. State Department personnel appealed to Moscow for doses of its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington could not promise the delivery of U.S.-made vaccine doses in the near future, officials said, according to The Washington Post.
- EU governments are poised to pave the way for sanctions against Russia on Feb. 22 over the jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Bloomberg reports. The punitive measures are unlikely to target Russian tycoons, as Navalny and his allies have sought. Instead, the limits are likely to hit Russian officials and entities suspected to be directly involved in the case. A green light in principle from foreign ministers for the measures will be the first step of a legal process that should see sanctions formally approved by March, according to Reuters.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant developments.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- The U.S. has offered to attend joint talks with Iran on its nuclear program, in the first concrete step by the Biden administration to deliver on its promise to rejoin JCPOA. “The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union high representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program,” Ned Price, U.S. State Department spokesman, said. (Financial Times, 02.18.21)
- Iran says it will "immediately reverse" its actions that contradict JCPOA once U.S. sanctions are lifted after Washington said it was ready to revive the deal. (RFE/RL, 02.19.21)
- The Kremlin views Washington’s intention to abandon sanctions against Iran in a positive light but highlights the particular importance of returning to the JCPOA. Moscow welcomes the latest signals from the U.S. regarding the Iranian nuclear deal, including the U.S. decision to withdraw the demand for U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said. (TASS, 02.19.21, Interfax, 02.19.21)
- The IAEA has confirmed that Iran has told it that the country plans to reduce its cooperation with the U.N. atomic watchdog's inspectors as of Feb. 23. The IAEA will not stop its inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities after Feb. 23, when a law on the suspension of the use of the additional protocol to Iran’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA comes into effect, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the Vienna-based international organizations Mikhail Ulyanov said. (TASS, 02.19.21, RFE/RL, 02.16.21)
- Iran's armed forces on Feb. 16 launched a joint naval drill with Russia in the north of the Indian Ocean designed to "enhance security" of maritime trade, state television reported. (AFP, 02.16.21)
Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/saber rattling:
- In his speech via video link at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19, U.S. President Joe Biden argued that the U.S. and its European allies can take on China without descending into a Cold War, and that the only way to deal with Russia is to push back hard against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Competition with China is inevitable, but need not be a new Cold War, he said. Russia remains intent on undermining Western democracy and must not be allowed to succeed, he said. He vowed to stand up to efforts by Russia to “bully and threaten” other nations as he stressed a renewed U.S. commitment to NATO. “The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponizes corruption to try to undermine our system of governance,” Biden said. “Russian leaders want people to think that our system is more corrupt or as corrupt as theirs. But the world knows that isn’t true.” (New York Times, 02.19.21, The Washington Post, 02.19.21)
- Europeans, Biden’s aides concede, do not have the same view of China and the threat posed by its economic dominance and political influence. And the dependence of European countries on Russian energy supplies limits their enthusiasm for joining Biden in declaring that Putin will pay a price for undermining democracies. (New York Times, 02.19.21)
- Putin on Feb. 14 accused the West of using jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny to try to "contain" Russia. "Our opponents or our potential opponents ... have always relied on—and used—ambitious, power-hungry people," Putin said. Putin suggested that the wave of protests recently held across Russia in the wake of Navalny's arrest and imprisonment had also been fed from abroad. (AFP, 02.14.21)
- Russia is in talks with the U.S. on a prisoner swap involving Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine that Moscow jailed for spying, Reuters cited his Russian lawyer as saying Feb. 16 in a statement that Whelan's brother denied. (The Moscow Times, 02.16.21)
- Two French Air Force Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft and a KC-135FR aerial refueling tanker flying over international waters in the Black Sea when it was intercepted by two Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets. Russian fighters were approaching an unsafe distance to French aircraft, which posed a threat to their crews. (Defense Blog, 02.18.21)
- China and Russia should be barred from investing in the U.K. defense supply chain, British MPs have warned, as pressure mounts for the government to take a more assertive stance on potential threats posed by Beijing and Moscow in the forthcoming defense and foreign policy review. (Financial Times, 02.14.21)
- Denmark is likely to further increase its military spending in the Arctic after it unveiled a $250 million investment in surveillance capabilities in Greenland and the Faroe Islands to counter Russia’s military build-up in the region. (Financial Times, 02.14.21)
- U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a meeting of NATO defense ministers by video that members of the alliance need to maintain spending on defense to address challenges on the part of Russia, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO’s new strategic concept, which would be adopted at the alliance’s summit in 2021, replacing the 2010 concept, would be aimed at deterring China and Russia. “Back in 2010, we were working for, establishing, what we then referred to as a strategic partnership with Russia. Since then, we have seen Russia being responsible for aggressive actions against neighbors, the illegal annexation of Crimea and things have fundamentally changed. So we need to update our strategic concept,” Stoltenberg said. (TASS, 02.18.21, NATO, 02.17.21)
- Russia may take additional military and political measures, if necessary, to ensure its security, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Feb. 18, commenting on the drafting of NATO’s new strategic concept aimed at deterring Russia and China. (TASS, 02.18.21)
- Estonia’s foreign intelligence agency said Feb. 17 that Russia is counting on the COVID-19 pandemic to weaken unity in the West which would help Moscow gain a more prominent role in international affairs and lead to “declining Western influence on the global stage.” (AP, 02.17.21)
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
- No significant developments.
- German prosecutors say they have charged five Tajik men with being members of the Islamic State, accusing them of preparing acts of violence in Germany by raising funds and recruiting members for attacks. (RFE/RL, 02.15.21)
Conflict in Syria:
- Russia, Iran and Turkey, as guarantors of the settlement process in Syria, expect the United States to return to negotiations in the Astana format as an observer, Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev said. (Interfax, 02.17.21)
- The U.S.-led international coalition is building a new military base in northern Syria, Al-Hadath reported. According to the television channel, the new base will be located in the exact proximity to Syria’s border with Turkey and Iraq, near the settlement of Ain Dwar, al-Hasakah governorate. A convoy of 50 trucks entered al-Hasakah from Iraq’s territory several hours ago, Al-Hadath said. (TASS, 02.16.21)
- Compromise agreements with terrorist organizations in Syria are out of the question, the goal is to eliminate them fully, Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev said. (TASS, 02.16.21)
- "Russian air defense systems repelled an attack on the Hmeimim air base which used long-range multiple rocket launcher systems," Russian Rear Adm. Vyacheslav Sytnik, deputy head of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria, said Feb. 11. (Interfax, 02.11.21)
- The Israeli government announced early Feb. 19 that it exchanged two Syrian shepherds for an Israeli woman with Russian mediation. Israel released the two Syrian shepherds who had been captured after crossing into the Israeli-held Golan Heights hours before the woman was allowed to fly to Moscow, according to the New York Times. “I twice spoke with my friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking him to assist in her return,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. (The Moscow Times, 02.19.21)
- Israeli officials have asked Russia for humanitarian help in Syria, the media reported, as the government held a brief emergency meeting on Feb. 16, the contents of which have been censored. (Jerusalem Post, 02.16.21)
- Turkish border guards have detained five Russians, including a woman suspected of being a member of the Islamic State, and a Libyan, who were attempting to cross from Syria, officials said Feb. 17. One of the Russian nationals was a woman identified as a wanted Daesh member. (AFP, 02.17.21)
- Russia’s National Guard has made a significant contribution to stabilization in Syria, Viktor Zolotov, the force’s head, said during his working visit to Syria. (TASS, 02.12.21)
- France's cybersecurity watchdog says it has discovered a hack of French organizations that bore similarities to other attacks by a group linked to Russian intelligence. In a report released Feb. 15, the French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems said the hackers had taken advantage of a vulnerability in monitoring software sold by the Paris-based company Centreon. The Kremlin on Feb. 16 dismissed the French allegations. (RFE/RL, 02.15.21, RFE/RL, 02.16.21)
- The Biden administration has signaled that for now it is continuing its predecessor's attempt to prosecute Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, as the Justice Department filed a brief this week appealing to a British court to overturn a ruling that blocked his extradition to the United States. (New York Times, 02.13.31)
- No significant developments.
Energy exports from CIS:
- The U.S. is likely to hold off sanctioning any German entities for now over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, according to people familiar with the matter, as the Biden administration seeks to halt the project without antagonizing a close European ally. A key report to Congress that was due Feb. 9 could be out as soon as Feb. 19, and it’s expected to list only a small number of Russia-linked entities. (Al Jazeera, 02.19.21)
- A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has in a letter called on the Biden administration to brief Congress on its steps to stop Nord Stream 2. The letter named 15 Russian companies that may be involved in sanctionable work. It was signed by Mike McCall, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam Kinzinger, Ruben Gallego and Marcy Kaptur. (RFE/RL, 02.17.21)
- The Biden administration is reviewing U.S. policy toward Nord Stream 2, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations. The Biden administration has opened talks with Berlin on the future of the pipeline, including "threats of sanctions against companies involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2," a German official said. (Wall Street Journal, 02.16.21)
- Nord Stream 2 “has absolutely nothing to do with the energy supply of the United States,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "It makes sense for our American partners to be less interested in Nord Stream 2 and more interested in Texas' heat and energy supply," Peskov added. Germany is capable of determining its energy policy on its own, and Moscow sees the pressure being placed on it from the outside in order to compel it to curtail Nord Stream 2 as unfair, Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechayev said. (The Moscow Times, 02.18.21, Interfax, 02.16.21)
- Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud exchanged opinions on the implementation of the OPEC+ oil production limiting agreement, the Kremlin’s press service said Feb. 15 after their telephone conversation. Saudi Arabia plans to increase its oil output in the coming months, reversing a recent big production cut, advisers to the kingdom said, a sign of growing confidence over an oil-price recovery. (TASS, 02.15.21, Wall Street Journal, 02.18.21)
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- In December 2020, Russia slightly increased its holdings of the U.S. sovereign debt from $4.9 billion to $6.011 billion, according to documents published by the U.S. Treasury Department Feb. 16. (TASS, 02.16.21)
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry discussed climate change and the implementation of the Paris climate agreement in a call Feb. 13. They agreed to cooperate further within the Arctic Council, including developing contacts, "given the significance of climate issues on the Arctic agenda," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. (RFE/RL, 02.14.21.)
- The White House said Feb. 19 that there are no plans to invite Russia to rejoin the G-7 group of nations, a call that was frequently made by former U.S. President Donald Trump. Any invitation for Russia to join the G-7 would be made in partnership with all of the group’s members, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. (CNBC, 02.19.21)
- U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan has rejected Moscow's assertion that last year's nerve-agent poisoning of Navalny and protests prompted by his recent jailing is a strictly internal Russian affair. During his interview with Current Time, Sullivan noted that "first, the use of a chemical weapon—which is yet to be explained; a banned chemical weapon prohibited by a treaty to which Russia is a party—that is not a domestic legal issue." (RFE/RL, 02.18.21)
- "I think this is an issue that is under intense scrutiny back home in Washington about how media entities are being treated here in Russia, and I think you will see an appropriate response by the U.S. government to that," Sullivan said in reference to Russia’s "foreign agent" law. Russian regulators have hit RFE/RL, one of three foreign news organizations to be labeled as a "foreign agent," with a series of fines in recent weeks. (RFE/RL, 02.18.21)
- In Russia, some U.S. State Department personnel appealed to Moscow for doses of its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington could not promise the delivery of U.S.-made vaccine doses in the near future, officials said. (The Washington Post, 02.18.21)
- SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Feb. 14 invited Putin to a “conversation” on the popular invitation-only audio chat app Clubhouse. On Feb. 15, Peskov called Musk's tweets an “interesting proposal,” but noted that “Putin doesn't personally use social media” and “we need to understand what he has in mind.” (The Moscow Times, 02.15.21)
- Andrea Kendall-Taylor—who was in line to become the National Security Council director for Russia—did not take the job for personal reasons. (New York Times, 02.18.21)
- Russians' attitudes towards the U.S. have improved after a long period of deteriorating sentiment that lasted the entire past year, according to the Levada Center. The center’s January 2021 poll showed that the shares of Russians with positive and negative assessments of U.S. have become practically equal (40 percent versus 43 percent, respectively). At the same time, in November 2020, only 35 percent of Russians had a positive attitude toward the United States, while 51 percent had a negative attitude. It was the young Russians who had the most positive attitude toward the U.S., with some 59 percent of respondents aged 18-24 and 49 percent in the 25-39 age group saying they held positive views of the U.S. (Russia Matters, 02.19.21)
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- Russia confirmed 13,433 new coronavirus cases and 470 deaths on Feb. 19. The government coronavirus task force on Feb. 18 reported 13,447 new COVID-19 cases and said that 480 people had died of the disease in the last 24 hours. (The Moscow Times, 02.19.21, Reuters, 02.18.21) 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.
- Russia’s excess death toll—calculated by comparing the number of people who died over a given period compared with the number that would be expected given local mortality rates—stood at more than 337,000 by the end of 2020. That’s the highest figure in Europe, even after adjusting for population, and fifth in the world. (The Moscow Times, 02.19.21)
- Police arrested more than 10,000 people at Navalny-related protests on consecutive weekends in January, according to independent monitor OVD-Info, including nearly 1,500 on the day Navalny was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. Nearly 1,300 of them were sentenced to brief jail terms in Moscow and St. Petersburg alone, while more than 90 face more serious criminal charges, according to the interior ministry. At least 140 protesters were beaten by police according to Apologia Protest, a public defenders’ association that represents some of the demonstrators. (Financial Times, 02.12.21)
- Navalny this week accused Russian authorities of fabricating a libel case against him, calling the prosecution's case "obvious legal nonsense." "This is not the first criminal case fabricated against me. But this case is one that any lawyer would have laughed at from the beginning," he told the court. The prosecutor asked for a fine of just under $13,000 for allegedly libeling an elderly World War II veteran. (The Washington Post, 02.16.21)
- Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, has approved in the last reading a bill that envisages fines for those violating the country’s controversial law on "foreign agents." The law gives authorities the power to brand nongovernmental organizations, human rights groups, news media and individuals working for organizations deemed to receive foreign funding for political activity as a “foreign agent,” a label that carries pejorative Soviet-era connotations. (RFE/RL, 02.16.21)
Defense and aerospace:
- Arms dealer Rosoboronexport announced that Russia’s participation this year at the IDEX 2021 exhibition will be held without the showcase of the new T-14 Armata main battle tank and will be confined to mock-ups of modern combat vehicles. Russian military expert Alexey Khlopotov said that Rosoboronexport won’t display modern combat vehicles amid fears of arrest. (Defense Blog, 02.19.21)
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- The independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper has published new findings into the alleged extrajudicial killings of nearly 30 Chechens in 2017. The newspaper says the new evidence corroborates its 2017 investigation which claimed that Chechen security officials executed 27 of more than 100 people detained in sweeping anti-terror raids in late 2016 and early 2017. (The Moscow Times, 02.16.21)
- A man sentenced for his involvement in two terrorist attacks in Moscow in 1999 has been found dead in a Siberian prison. Media reports in Russia Feb. 15 identified the man as 65-year-old Khalid Khuguyev, who was serving his 22-year prison term in Correctional Colony No. 47 in the town of Volchanets in the Primorsky Krai region. Khuguyev was expected to be released later this year. (RFE/RL, 02.15.21)
- The FSB says it has detained 19 members of a terrorist group that was allegedly planning attacks in the North Caucasus. The FSB said in a statement Febr. 17 that the roundup of suspects began Feb. 1 in the regions of Rostov, Krasnodar, Karachai-Cherkessia and the Russian-controlled Ukrainian Black Sea region of Crimea. The suspects are allegedly members of an extremist group known as At-Takfir wal-Hijra. (RFE/RL, 02.17.21)
- The European Court of Human Rights has called for the "immediate" release of Navalny, a demand quickly rejected by the Russian government. (RFE/RL, 02.17.21)
- Russian news agencies said a court has rejected an appeal by gulag historian Yuri Dmitriyev, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison after being found guilty of sexually abusing his daughter. TASS and RIA Novosti reported that the St. Petersburg appeals court on Feb. 16 dismissed the request by Dmitriyev, who has said the charges brought by prosecutors were based on fabricated evidence. (RFE/RL, 02.16.21)
- Spain has reopened a criminal case against Kremlin-linked billionaire Mikhail Fridman over his alleged role in the deliberate bankruptcy of a Spanish tech firm, Deutsche Welle reported Feb. 17. Spain’s National Court first opened a case against the tycoon in 2019, with prosecutors accusing Fridman of market manipulation, fraudulent insolvency, business corruption and misuse of company assets. Prosecutors allege that Fridman, a lender and shareholder in Zed Worldwide, secretly engineered the company's bankruptcy so he could buy it back at a price well below its market value. (The Moscow Times, 02.18.21)
- Russian billionaire Oleg Tinkov, arrested in London on tax fraud charges, said he plans to dedicate himself to charity work including fighting leukemia, with which he was diagnosed in 2019. (AFP, 02.15.21)
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- EU governments are poised to pave the way for sanctions against Russia on Feb. 22 over the jailing of Navalny, two diplomats said. The punitive measures are unlikely to target Russian tycoons, as Navalny and his allies have sought, because some of the bloc’s member states are wary of burning all bridges with Moscow. Instead, the limits are likely to hit Russian officials and entities suspected to be directly involved in the case. A green light in principle from foreign ministers for the measures next week will be the first step of a legal process that should see sanctions formally approved by March. The travel bans and asset freezes on allies of Putin are set to be imposed in March, possibly in the run-up to an EU summit that month, after a meeting of envoys gave approval for punitive measures, diplomats said. (Reuters, 02.18.21, Bloomberg, 02.18.21)
- In an interview with FT, French President Emmanuel Macron defended his so-far fruitless attempt, since 2017, to rekindle relations with Moscow. Neither Russia nor the West had digested the end of communism, he said. “We continue sometimes to fight against an ideology or an organization that no longer exists with a geopolitical logic that no longer exists and that has continued to fracture Europe.” He added: “We have to accept that it takes time and there will continue to be disillusionment.” (Financial Times, 02.18.21)
- In a newspaper interview, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s president, defended Nord Stream 2 as one of the few bridges between Russia and Europe in an otherwise deteriorating diplomatic and security climate. Steinmeier went on to say that “for us Germans, there is another dimension”—the more than 20 million Soviet people killed in the second world war. “That doesn’t justify any wrongdoing in Russian policy today, but we must not lose sight of the bigger picture,” he said. (Financial Times, 02.15.21)
- Russia is ready to discuss all existing problems with the EU, but the framework of the relations was intentionally dismantled by Brussels, Lavrov said Feb. 15 following talks with his Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto. (TASS, 02.15.21)
- Serbia will be able to produce 20 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, President Aleksandar Vucic stated Feb. 16. “Our estimate is that we are able to produce 20 million doses. We need five to six million, and the rest can be sold in the region,” Vucic said. (bne IntelliNews, 02.17.21)
- With limited manufacturing capacity at home, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is managing Sputnik V’s distribution, has turned to partner countries boasting large drug-making capabilities. (Financial Times, 02.17.21)
- Russia is re-opening its borders to foreign students who show two negative coronavirus tests and arrive from countries with flight resumption agreements in place, authorities said Feb. 16. (The Moscow Times, 02.16.21)
- Foreign nationals may now enter Russia for work purposes as long as their employer obtains permission ahead of time, according to a decree published by the Russian government Feb. 19. (The Moscow Times, 02.19.21)
- Russia will resume flights to Egypt's Red Sea resorts in March after the lifting of a ban imposed following a 2015 attack on a Russian jet, an aviation official said. (AFP, 02.19.21)
- Russian discount retailer Fix Price is planning a London stock market listing that could value the company at more than $6 billion. The company operates more than 4,200 stores across Russia and the former USSR. (Financial Times, 02.16.21)
- The super secure Telegram messenger service, developed by Russian-born software icon Pavel Durov, is looking to raise $1 billion through a bond placement to a limited number of investors from Russia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the Kommersant daily reported citing unnamed sources Feb. 18. (bne IntelliNews, 02.18.21)
- The share of Russians with a positive view of the EU declined from 47 percent in November 2020 to 45 percent in January 2021. The share of Russians who had a negative attitude toward the EU held steady at 37 percent in that period of time, according to the Levada Center. (Russia Matters, 02.19.21)
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
- The Moscow Exchange is set to open currencies and derivatives trading three hours earlier from March, in the latest effort to drum up more demand from investors in China. Over the past five years, trades involving rubles and renminbi on the Moscow Exchange have risen 27 percent, but are still dwarfed by dollar trades. Last year, the exchange handled 986 billion rubles ($13.4 billion) worth of trades between the ruble and the renminbi, and 266.6 trillion rubles worth of trades between the ruble and the dollar. (Financial Times, 02.16.21)
- Russia is preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding with China to cooperate on a vision for an international lunar research station. An Order of the Government of the Russian Federation relating to the move was published online Feb. 11. (Space News, 02.17.21)
- The share of Russians with a positive view of China increased from 65 percent in November 2020 to 75 percent in January 2021. The share of Russians who had a negative attitude toward China declined from 24 percent to 14 percent in that period of time, according to the Levada Center. (Russia Matters, 02.19.21)
- Ukraine's army says three of its soldiers were killed by an explosive device in eastern Ukraine on Feb. 14, bringing the number of troops killed in the region this week to five, the latest casualties of a six-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists. (RFE/RL, 02.14.21)
- News reports say a bomb detonated under a car carrying a militia official with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, wounding him. Russian news agencies identified the man as Sergei Popov, leader of a police unit in a separatist-controlled part of the Donetsk region. (RFE/RL, 02.15.21)
- During a meeting with editors-in-chief of Russian media outlets, Putin recalled "people, especially children, who were wounded in Donbass." "We—and I say ‘we’ because you are the fourth power—have huge responsibility for Russia in general on our shoulders. And before making any decision, we must think about consequences of any step that we take," Putin told participants of the meeting. "We will never turn our backs on Donbass, no matter what," he said. (TASS, 02.14.21)
- Russia has slapped economic sanctions on nine Ukrainian firms, the latest in a list of businesses that it targets with such penalties. The companies targeted by "special economic measures" under the new Russian decree, which was published late on Feb. 12, include Ukrainian vessel builder Craneship, towage firm Donmar, cargo operator Transship and metal producer Maxima Metal. The decree did not say why the companies had been targeted. The latest move brings the number of Ukrainian companies sanctioned by Russia to 84. (RFE/RL, 02.13.21)
- Citing a report from the OSCE, Mil.in.ua reported that the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has spotted the Russian Kasta-2E1 radar station in Ukraine. (Defense Blog, 02.19.21)
- Ukraine will no longer transport spent nuclear fuel to Russia. The country's Centralized Spent Fuel Storage Facility will be able to accept the first batch of such fuel from Ukrainian NPPs as early as in July 2021. (Unian, 02.16.21)
- Ukraine will not abandon electricity imports from Russia until the end of this heating season, chief executive officer of Ukrainian energy company Ukrenergo Vladimir Kudritsky said Feb. 15. (TASS, 02.15.21)
- NATO says it is delivering over 9,000 liters of surface disinfectant to Ukraine in response to Kyiv’s request for international assistance to combat COVID-19. (RFE/RL, 02.17.21)
- The fall in the gross domestic product of Ukraine in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 slowed down to 0.7 percent from 3.5 percent in the third quarter and 11.4 percent in the second quarter, the State Statistics Service has said. (Interfax, 02.15.21)
- Ukraine’s trade deficit in goods and services shriveled last year to $255 million—93 percent below the level of 2019, reports the State Statistics Service. (Ukraine Business News, 02.16.21)
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- The U.S. says it has imposed visa restrictions on 43 Belarusians "responsible for undermining" the country’s democracy, including several high-ranking officials. The individuals include "high-ranking justice sector officials; law-enforcement leaders, and rank-and-file personnel who detained and abused peaceful demonstrators; judges and prosecutors involved in sentencing peaceful protesters and journalists to prison terms; and academic administrators who threatened students for participation in peaceful protests," the statement said. (RFE/RL, 02.19.21)
- Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko says he does not plan to ask for money from Russia when he holds talks in Moscow with Putin on Feb. 22. (RFE/RL, 02.18.21)
- Georgian Dream, the Caucasus nation's ruling party, has named Irakli Garibashvili as prime minister just hours after Giorgi Gakharia handed in his resignation following a court ruling that ordered the arrest of the head of the country's main opposition force. Paris-educated Garibashvili was serving as defense minister in Gakharia's cabinet before the prime minister stepped down on Feb. 18. The change, which has still to be approved by parliament, comes after the Tbilisi City Court on Feb. 17 granted a prosecution request to place Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement, in custody, in a case denounced by the opposition as a political witch hunt. (RFE/RL, 02.18.21)
- The unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has introduced a bill to add Russian as an official language alongside Armenian, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported Feb. 17. (The Moscow Times, 02.17.21)
- Tajik authorities continue negotiations to return home about 260 fellow countrymen from two camps in Syria, Foreign Minister Sirodjidin Muhriddin told a news conference on Feb. 15. (TASS, 02.16.21)
- The head of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, wrote on Facebook on Feb. 14 that he met with the head of Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security, Saimumin Yatimov, and discussed ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar's capital, Doha, bilateral security cooperation and the situation along the Afghan-Tajik border. (RFE/RL, 02.15.21)
- No significant developments.