Russia in Review, Jan. 7-14, 2022
This Week's Highlights
- Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s lead negotiator in this week’s talks with the U.S., NATO and the OSCE on Russia’s security demands said on Jan. 13 that the talks had run into a “dead end,” according to the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. However, some comments by Ryabkov and other Russian officials indicate Moscow is not yet ready to break off the talks. Russian news reports have cited them as saying that U.S. negotiators have agreed to try formulating a written response to Russia's demands within a week. Russia’s Kommersant daily quoted Ryabkov as saying Russia needs a reaction from the U.S. and its allies “not in the form of just commentaries and oral statements, but something to which diplomats are more accustomed: some sort of text, some sort of commentary on paper.” That, he said, “would help us decide in favor of continuing a formalized dialogue.” Ryabkov’s boss, Sergei Lavrov, said Western negotiators “must try very hard” to put their proposals on paper within the next week.
- The Biden administration and its allies are assembling a punishing set of sanctions they say would go into effect within hours of an invasion of Ukraine. According to multiple news sources, these include an expanded NATO military presence in Eastern Europe; arming would-be insurgents in Ukraine; cutting off Russia’s largest financial institutions from global transactions; and imposing an embargo on exports to Russia of U.S.-made electronic components, semiconductors, smart phones and software, plus foreign-made products subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Separately, Senate Democrats, with support from the White House, on Jan. 12 unveiled a Defending Ukraine Sovereignty Act that would mandate U.S. sanctions on Putin and an array of top Russian officials.
- As the U.S. offered to provide Ukraine with help in recovering from a massive cyberattack, which Kyiv says appears to have originated in Russia, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said its officers have detained, at the request of the United States, several alleged hackers belonging to the Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware group suspected of orchestrating last year's ransomware attack on the software firm Kaseya that impacted up to 1,500 businesses around the world, RFE/RL and AFP/Moscow Times report.
- “We have information that indicates Russia has already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine. The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces,” the Financial Times quoted a U.S. official as saying.
- The Russian Defense Ministry announced Jan. 14 that troops stationed in eastern Siberia and the Far East region have been scrambled for movement across the country as part of snap drills to check their “readiness to perform their tasks after redeployment” over a large distance, according to RFE/RL. If deployed near Ukraine, officials and analysts told the Wall Street Journal, the new materiel would reinforce the Kremlin's options to use force—from large incursions to pinprick attacks. In an earlier move reported by the AFP/Moscow Times, the Russian military announced live fire exercises near Ukraine on Jan. 11; the Defense Ministry said 3,000 troops and 300 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles have been deployed across three western Russian regions bordering Ukraine and one bordering Belarus.
- Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) troops have begun to withdraw from Kazakhstan after being called in to help stabilize the Central Asian nation following deadly unrest, RFE/RL reports. Protests had been sparked by a fuel-price hike and grew violent amid an apparent standoff between loyalists of the current and former presidents.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant developments.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- The U.S. has sanctioned six North Koreans, one Russian and a Russian company for procuring goods from Russia and China for North Korea's weapons programs. The new U.S. sanctions on Jan. 12 come after a series of North Korean missile launches, including two in the past week. (RFE/RL, 01.12.22)
Iran and its nuclear program:
- Russia said Jan. 14 it was cautiously optimistic over "progress" made at negotiations to restore the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers. "There's real progress. There's real desire—primarily between Iran and the United States—to understand specific concerns and how these concerns can be considered in the general package" of documents, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.14.22)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi will conduct an inventory of the dialogue between the two countries during the Iranian leader’s upcoming visit to Russia, Lavrov said Jan. 14. (TASS, 01.14.22)
Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
- Prior to the U.S.-Russia, NATO-Russia and OSCE talks on Jan. 9, 10, 12 and 13:
- Speaking on Jan. 9, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the U.S. would be open to discussing some compromises: A return to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and a reassessment of the “scope and scale” of conventional military exercises in Europe that Russia has deemed provocative. (Foreign Policy, 01.10.22)
- NATO General-Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said on Jan. 9 the U.S.-led defense pact was prepared for “a new armed conflict in Europe” should negotiations fail. (Financial Times, 01.09.22)
- Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies ahead of his talks in Geneva the Kremlin was "disappointed" with signals coming from Washington and from Brussels. “We need to assure the curtailing of the destructive NATO activities that have been taking place for decades and bring NATO back to positions that are essentially equivalent to what was the case in 1997,” Ryabkov said Jan. 9. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.09.22, The New York Times, 01.09.22)
- On Jan. 9 Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko linked a threat of Russian military force to a breakdown in the talks. “The Europeans must also think about whether they want to avoid making their continent the scene of a military confrontation,” Grushko said. “They have a choice. Either take seriously what is put on the table or face a military-technical alternative.” (The New York Times, 01.09.22)
- Jan. 9-10 U.S.-Russia bilateral talks:
- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov held talks on Jan. 9-10. The talks began on Jan. 9 when Ryabkov and Sherman met for dinner. Ryabkov was then quoted by RIA Novosti as saying the discussion during the Jan. 9 dinner was "amazing” and "businesslike," but also "hard.” (The New York Times, 01.10.22, Russia Matters 01.10.22)
- There was no breakthrough in Geneva after almost eight hours of discussion on Jan. 10. Ryabkov sought “ironclad, legally binding” guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia would never join NATO, saying the issue “is an absolute imperative” to Russia. Sherman insisted that the demand is a "non-starter,” saying “we will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO's open-door policy.” Sherman offered reciprocal moves with Russia on de-escalation on missile placements and exercises. Ryabkov made clear that Russia was not interested in discussing the defunct INF Treaty. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.11.22, The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.11.22, The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.10.22, Financial Times, 01.10.22)
- “Today was a discussion, a better understanding of each other and each other’s priorities,” Sherman said. “It was not what we would call a negotiation.” “The talks were difficult, long, very professional, deep, concrete, without attempts to gloss over some sharp edges,” Ryabkov said. “We had the feeling that the American side took the Russian proposals very seriously and studied them deeply.” Ryabkov said they told their American counterparts they had no plans to invade Ukraine. “There is no reason to fear some kind of escalatory scenario,” Ryabkov said. (The New York Times, 01.10.22)
- After the Jan. 9-10 talks Sherman said the U.S. offered to meet again “soon” with Russia to discuss bilateral issues in greater detail, including missile deployments and military exercises. Ryabkov, meanwhile, said that Moscow favors “the continuation of dialogue” and described the talks with Sherman as having been “very professional.” (RFE/RL, 01.11.22)
- U.S. deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said Jan. 10 that he does not "see a situation in which the U.S. walks away" from talks with Russia, even if Kremlin officials take positions during this week's discussions that are considered nonstarters by the U.S. (CNN, 01.02.22)
- Jan. 12 NATO-Russia talks:
- Russia and NATO met for the first time in more than two years on Jan. 12 to address Moscow’s security demands and try to forestall what the West says is a Russian offensive in Ukraine. NATO rejected Russia's demand for a new security settlement in Europe, challenging to withdraw troops deployed near Ukraine and join talks on reducing the threat of open conflict. The Western allies received no promise that Russia will stand down its forces—which Moscow insists pose no threat to its already partially occupied neighbor—despite the threat of economic sanctions. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.13.22, The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.13.22)
- Briefing reporters in Brussels, Sherman said that NATO officials laid out for the Russians areas “where we can work together and make real progress,” including on arms control and greater transparency in military exercises. But she reiterated the U.S. position that Russia first had to pull back from threatening Ukraine. “If Russia walks away,” she said, it would be “quite apparent that they were never serious about pursuing diplomacy at all.” (The New York Times, 01.12.22)
- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said “significant differences” remained between the bloc and Russia, asserting that the alliance would not agree to Moscow’s demands for a new security architecture in Europe but wanted to continue diplomacy. He said the U.S.-led alliance was ready to reopen its missions in Moscow four months after Russia suspended them in retaliation to NATO’s expulsion of Russian envoys over spying accusations. NATO also invited the Russian envoys to return to Moscow and to advise Putin to join them for a series of confidence-building talks on limiting provocative military exercises, arms control and reciprocal limits on deploying missiles. Stoltenberg said Russia’s envoys did not reject the offer. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.13.22, RFE/RL, 01.12.22, The New York Times, 01.12.22)
- In response to NATO’s rejection of Russia’s demand to veto Ukraine’s membership aspirations, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said that “the freedom to choose ways of ensuring one’s security mustn’t be implemented in a way that infringes on legitimate security interests of others.” Grushko said Russia and NATO had no "positive agenda—none at all" and warned that the continued deterioration could lead to the "most unpredictable and most dire consequences for European security.” Grushko called on NATO to stop sending military aid and arms supplies to Kyiv. Grushko also told reporters that Russia was ready for dialogue on not deploying intermediate-range missiles in Europe, mutual limits on military exercises and ways to prevent accidental encounters. "Both Russia and NATO allies expressed the need to resume dialogue and explore a schedule for future meetings,” he said. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.13.22, The Washington Post, 01.12.22)
- Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Jan. 12 that Russia would "wait for the completion of these negotiations and the next round at the OSCE site" before deciding on further action. Prior to the Russia-NATO talks on Jan. 12 Peskov said Russia may halt security talks with the U.S. unless Washington swiftly accepts its demand that Ukraine and Georgia not be allowed to join NATO. (The Washington Post, 01.11.22, The Washington Post, 01.12.22)
- Jan. 13 OSCE talks:
- In opening comments to talks with Russia at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Zbigniew Rau, Poland’s foreign minister and chair of the security organization, warned on Jan. 13 that “the risk of war in the OSCE area is greater than ever before in the last 30 years,” citing the Ukraine crisis. (Financial Times, 01.12.22)
- “The drumbeat of war is sounding loudly,” warned Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, after the talks ended on Jan. 13. “We have to take this very seriously. We have to prepare for the eventuality that there could be an escalation.” (Financial Times, 01.14.22)
- “I don’t see any grounds to sit down in the next few days, get together again and start these same discussions,” said Ryabkov. “I don’t know exactly what happened in the OSCE,” he added, dismissively. “It seems everything is quite predictable there too.” (Financial Times, 01.14.22)
- Russia's representative to the OSCE, Alexander Lukashevich, said Jan. 13 that this week's discussions had been "really disappointing," with the U.S., NATO and other OSCE countries not providing the "very substantial, in-depth" response to Russia's proposals that Moscow had expected. “If we don’t hear constructive response to our proposals within reasonable timeframe and aggressive behavior towards Russia continues, we’ll have to take necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security,” he said. (The Wall Street Journal, 01.13.22, Financial Times, 01.12.22)
- General outcomes of the Jan. 9-13 talks:
- Sherman said on Jan. 11 the United States and Russia will convene again at the end of the week after those two meetings and “discuss the way forward.” (RFE/RL, 01.11.22)
- Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters Jan. 13 that the talks had been “unsuccessful” despite “positive elements” on issues Russia did not consider central to its demands. (Financial Times, 01.12.22)
- Ryabkov said Jan. 13 that the discussions outlining Moscow’s grievances had run into a “dead end” because the U.S. and its allies were only willing to consider issues such as arms control and force deployments, rather than the Kremlin’s main requests. Ryabkov said he sees no immediate grounds for fresh talks with the U.S. He also said Moscow couldn't exclude dispatching "military infrastructure" to Venezuela or Cuba if tensions with Washington continue to rise. (The Wall Street Journal, 01.13.22, Financial Times, 01.12.22)
- Russia’s Kommersant daily quoted Ryabkov as saying Russia needs a reaction from the U.S. and its allies “not in the form of just commentaries and oral statements, but something to which diplomats are more accustomed: some sort of text, some sort of commentary on paper.” That, he said, “would help us decide in favor of continuing a formalized dialogue.” (Kommersant, 01.13.22)
- Talks with the U.S. on security guarantees were consistent with Moscow’s expectations, Lavrov said. He said Jan. 13 that Moscow was expecting the U.S. and NATO to respond in writing to the Russian security proposals soon. "We still hope that the promises made in Geneva and Brussels will be kept, this is the promise to put U.S. and NATO proposals on paper," he said. Russian officials said earlier this week that they would wait until the end of a full week of talks before making a decision on how to continue. Interfax has earlier reported that U.S. officials had agreed to give a written response to Russia's demands within a week, citing an unnamed source close to the Russian delegation. On Jan. 14 Lavrov commented on the outcome of this week’s talks again. He said Moscow has "run out of patience" with the West and expects a written response to its demands for security guarantees within a week. (RFE/RL, 01.14.22, The Washington Post, 01.11.22, The Wall Street Journal, 01.13.22, The New York Times, 01.12.22, TASS, 01.13.22)
- Russia sanctions and Ukraine aid:
- The Biden administration and its allies are assembling a punishing set of sanctions against Russia that they say would go into effect within hours of an invasion of Ukraine. They include an expanded NATO military presence in Eastern Europe and arming would be insurgents in Ukraine. The Biden administration has also prepared a new package of military aid for Ukraine, in addition to the American military assistance that is already flowing to Kyiv. The restrictive measures, which have been prepared to be imposed in case of invasion, also include cutting off Russia’s largest financial institutions from global transactions (SWIFT) and imposing an embargo on exports of U.S.-made electronic components, semiconductors, smart phones and software to Russia as well as of foreign-made products subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Russia also could be added to the most restrictive group of countries for export control purposes, putting it in a category with Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria. (The New York Times, 01.10.22, RFE/RL, 01.09.22, NBC, 01.07.22, NBC, 01.07.22)
- Democrats in the U.S. Senate have defeated a bill that would have slapped sanctions on businesses involved in Nord Stream 2. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, needed at least 60 votes to pass. It was defeated by a vote of 55-44 on Jan. 13. Senate Democrats, with support from the White House, on Jan. 12 unveiled rival legislation to impose sweeping sanctions. The so-called Defending Ukraine Sovereignty Act would mandate U.S. sanctions on Putin and an array of top Russian officials as well as on at least three major financial institutions. It would also penalize services such as the SWIFT international banking network if they deal with sanctioned Russians. The act would provide $500 million in additional military aid to Ukraine to face off a Russian invasion, more than doubling what the Biden administration has provided in the past year. (RFE/RL, 01.13.22, The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.13.22, The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.13.22, RFE/RL, 01.14.22)
- The Biden administration is planning for a high-profile public showdown with Russia at the U.N. Security Council if Moscow intervenes in Ukraine. A senior U.S. official said Russia’s military threat strikes “at the heart of the U.N. Charter.” “There is a value to bringing attention to the crisis,” the official added. “It would demonstrate how isolated Russia is in the Security Council, and on the world stage.” It would also provide an opportunity for American officials to counter what the U.S. expects will be a wave of Russian misinformation. (Foreign Policy, 01.14.22)
- Blinken said the U.S. has raised with Russia the subject of an illness that has afflicted American diplomats as it works to find out what the ailment is and what causes it. Blinken said “virtually the entire government” is working to get to the bottom of the illness known as Havana Syndrome. Roughly 200 U.S. diplomats, intelligence officers, military officers and other government personnel, mostly based abroad, have experienced a strange and often debilitating set of symptoms. (RFE/RL, 01.14.22, The Wall Street Journal, 01.13.22)
- French President Emmanuel Macron said Jan. 7 he would be speaking to Putin in the “coming days.” The EU needed to undertake talks with Russia, Macron told reporters in Paris, adding that dialogue did not mean conceding anything. (Financial Times, 01.07.22)
- German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Jan. 14 that she will travel to Moscow next week for talks over the Ukraine crisis, even though she admitted a quick solution is unlikely to be found. (RFE/RL, 01.14.22)
- Retired Norwegian Gen. Robert Mood has penned a commentary for Aftenposten, asking “NATO that is open to everyone, including Russia?” Responding to this question, Russia’s deputy chairman of the Duma’s international affairs committee Svetlana Zhurova said: “For sane people, this is a good idea—let's unite, we will have everything in common, no one will need to fight.” The first deputy chairman of the State Duma's international affairs committee, Alexei Chepa, in turn, called the Norwegian general's proposal theoretically "absolutely correct" taking into account the changing conditions of life in the world, in Europe. (Afteposten, 01.09.22, Gazeta.ru, 01.11.22)
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
- "We are preparing an official Russian-Chinese summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin, at the invitation of China’s President Xi Jinping, will visit Beijing on Feb. 4, on the opening day of the Olympic games, and full-scale talks at the highest level will be held on the same day," Lavrov said. A meeting between Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi will take place on Feb. 3 before the Beijing Russia-China summit, Lavrov said. (TASS, 01.14.22)
- The trade turnover between China and Russia grew by 35.8% to a record $146.88 billion in 2021, China's customs authority reported. Chinese imports from Russia rose 37.5% to $79.32 billion, while China's exports of goods and services to Russia increased by 33.8% to $67.567 billion. (Interfax, 01.14.22)
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- No significant developments.
- Russia's FSB says its officers detained, at the request of the U.S., several alleged hackers belonging to the Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware group that is suspected of being behind last year's ransomware attack on the Florida-based software firm Kaseya that impacted up to 1,500 businesses around the world. According to a Jan. 14 statement from the FSB, the suspects were apprehended in Moscow, St. Petersburg, as well as other regions through a joint investigation by the FSB and the Interior Ministry. The equivalent of 426 million rubles ($5.5 million or 4.8 million euros) and 20 luxury cars were seized in the operation, the FSB said. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.14.22, RFE/RL, 01.14.22)
- "This is a significant action by Russian law enforcement against one of the most prominent ransomware gangs in the world," said Dmitri Alperovitch, chairman of the Silverado Policy Accelerator think tank. "It also serves as a signal—amidst potential significant deterioration of relations over Ukrainian conflict—to showcase the type of meaningful help Russia can provide to the U.S. if it chooses to—or not." (The Washington Post, 01.14.22)
- Several Ukrainian government websites were targeted in a massive cyberattack Jan. 13-14. The news was first reported early on Jan. 14 by the Ukrainian Ministry of Education on its Facebook page. Kyiv later said the cyberattack had not changed the content of any of the government websites targeted and that no personal data had been leaked. (RFE/RL, 01.14.22)
- "Some say the cyberattack could be the prelude for other activities, military activities," Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said. (RFE/RL, 01.14.22)
- Referring to the cyberattack on Ukraine, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde added that this is "exactly the kind of thing that we have warned of and that we are afraid of.” "If there are attacks against Ukraine, we will be very harsh and very strong and robust in our response," Linde said. (RFE/RL, 01.14.22)
Energy exports from CIS:
- Russia faced fresh criticism Jan. 12 as the International Energy Agency (IEA) accused it of squeezing gas supplies to Europe and accentuating an energy crisis across the continent. Prices for gas have soared this winter in Europe, with wholesale prices standing five times higher than last year in a number of countries. Fatih Birol, director of the IEA, said Jan. 12 that Russia could boost gas supplies by at least a third but is choosing not to. “There are strong elements of tightness in the European gas market due to Russia’s behavior,” Bloomberg quoted Birol as saying. “The current storage deficit in the European Union is largely due to Gazprom.” It calculated Russian supplies to Europe were down 25% from 2020 levels in the fourth quarter of 2021, and were 22% below pre-pandemic levels. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.12.22)
- European gas prices jumped Jan. 14 after the breakdown in security talks between Russia and the U.S. deepened concerns about supplies. The news pushed the benchmark European gas contract almost 25% higher over the last two sessions to reach 90 euros per megawatt hour. (Financial Times, 01.14.22)
- Moldova’s gas distribution company, Moldovagaz, says it has paid Gazprom for natural gas supplied in December as the country struggles to pay for higher energy prices. Moldovagaz still has until Jan. 20 to make a down payment for this month's gas bill, according to the contract with Gazprom. (RFE/RL, 01.14.22)
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- CNN Films and HBO Max announced Jan. 13 that they will be releasing a documentary about jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s nearly fatal nerve-agent poisoning. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.14.22)
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- Russia has confirmed 10,747,125 total cases of coronavirus and 319,911 deaths, according to the national coronavirus information center. Russia’s total excess fatality count since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is at least 929,000. On Jan. 13 Russia reported 21,155 new COVID-19 infections—a 17.8% increase overnight—and 740 deaths. On Jan. 14 Russia reported 23,820 new COVID-19 infections and 739 deaths. (The Moscow Times, 01.14.22) 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.
- Putin has warned Russians they have two weeks to prepare for a fresh wave of coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant after the World Health Organization warned of a "west-to-east tidal wave" of the super-contagious variant that could infect more than half of Europeans in the next two months. “We see what is happening in the world," Putin told a meeting of cabinet ministers on Jan. 12. "We have at least a couple of weeks to prepare." (RFE/RL, 01.12.22)
- Russia is set to face a new surge of coronavirus infections in the coming days as the Omicron variant sweeps through an under-vaccinated population, health officials warned Jan. 11. Anna Popova, the head of the Rospotrebnadzor consumer health watchdog, said infections could pass 100,000 a day in an “unfavorable scenario.” (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.11.22)
- Russia will delay controversial legislation over the use of coronavirus health passes for access to public spaces, officials said Jan. 14, citing “new challenges” presented by the Omicron variant. Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said the government will hold off passing the draft bill due to the “high uncertainty” of the current pandemic situation in Russia, and would seek to add new amendments to the legislation. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.14.22)
- Almost half of Russians (47%) assess the political situation in Russia as tense, while 12% assess it as critical, according to a November-December poll by the Levada Center. More than half (53%) of Russians note that their life and the lives of their family have not changed over the past year, according to the poll. (Russia Matters, 01.11.22)
- The Russian ruble and share prices of leading Russian companies fell sharply in trading Jan. 13 after Moscow appeared to rule out further talks with the U.S. and NATO. The ruble immediately fell by almost 2% against the U.S. dollar following the comments, while Russia’s leading stock market lost more than 2%. Russia’s dollar-denominated stock market, the RTS index, lost 3.2% with commodities companies among the biggest fallers. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.13.22)
- Prices rose by their highest levels in six years across the Russian economy in 2021, the country’s statistics service said Jan. 12, heaping more pressure on already struggling Russian households. Inflation, measured by the consumer prices index (CPI), for the year came in at 8.4%, Rosstat said—more than twice the country’s official target and the fastest rate of price increases since the 2015 economic crisis. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.13.22)
- Chairman of the Audit Chamber Alexei Kudrin in an interview with TASS said that thanks to the market economy created in the 1990s and 2000s, the standard of living today in Russia is 20% higher than it was in the USSR. (Kommersant, 01.13.22)
- The Bank of Russia announced its biggest reorganization of top officials in years, including the departure of First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov. Deputy Governor Dmitri Skobelkin will also depart. Both were members of the bank’s key-rate setting board. (Bloomberg, 01.14.22)
- More than 1,500 political activists and journalists left Russia in 2021 due to criminal prosecution or political pressure, according to the U.S.-based Free Russia Foundation, a pro-democracy NGO’s estimate cited by Russian media Jan. 13. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.14.22)
- Ivan Zhdanov and Leonid Volkov, two of Navalny’s closest associates, have been placed on the country’s list of “extremists and terrorists.” (RFE/RL, 01.14.22)
Defense and aerospace:
- See sections on Russia’s relations with other countries.
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- Russian investigators said Jan. 13 that six people, including two officials, had been charged over the rape and torture of prisoners in a case that drew widespread condemnation from rights groups. A prisoner advocacy group last year published harrowing footage of sexual abuse at a jail in the central city of Saratov. It was leaked by former inmate Sergei Savelyev, who fled Russia and requested asylum in France. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.13.22)
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- Russia's missile carrying cruiser Varyag and large anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs took part in the Passex Russian-Indian joint naval exercise, Russia's Pacific Fleet said Jan. 14. "During the exercise, ships of the Russian Pacific Fleet and the Indian Navy practiced communication organization, information sharing and joint maneuvers," the fleet said. (Interfax, 01.14.22)
- The U.S. has accused Russia of planning a “false-flag operation” in eastern Ukraine as part of its efforts to create a “pretext for invasion,” after diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis faltered and government websites were hit by a “massive cyber attack.” A U.S. official said on Jan. 14: “We have information that indicates Russia has already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine. The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy-forces.” (Financial Times, 01.14.22)
- The Russian Defense Ministry announced Jan. 14 that troops stationed in eastern Siberia and the Far East region have been scrambled for movement across the country as part of snap drills to check their “readiness to perform their tasks after redeployment to a large distance.” (RFE/RL, 01.14.22)
- If deployed near Ukraine, the officials and analysts said, the new materiel would reinforce the Kremlin's options to use force—from large incursions to pinprick attacks. (The Wall Street Journal, 01.14.22)
- The Russian military announced live fire exercises near Ukraine on Jan. 11 as fears of an invasion of its western neighbor remained high amid ongoing diplomatic efforts to calm tensions. The Defense Ministry said 3,000 troops and 300 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles have been deployed across three western Russian regions bordering Ukraine and one bordering Belarus. The military’s Western Military District said the motorized rifle drills will involve T-72B3 main battle tanks and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles. The drills stretch across western Russia’s Voronezh, Belgorod, Bryansk and Smolensk regions. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.12.22)
- Ukraine said on Jan. 13 that Russia had massed 106,000 troops and 1,500 tanks near its border and called for “verified withdrawal” of Russian forces, while Moscow repeated warnings that it could “take all necessary measures” to assure its security, as a third round of talks on military security in Eastern Europe failed to yield a breakthrough. (The New York Times, 01.13.22)
- Putin, Pentagon strategists believe, knows his window is limited: His battalions can mount a major invasion [of Ukraine] only in the depths of winter, when the ground is frozen enough to roll tanks and armored personnel carriers across the border. By April, mud season sets in. The worry among U.S. officials is that Russia is going through the motions of this week’s diplomacy only to declare that its concerns have not been addressed—and that Putin will attempt to seize more of Eastern Ukraine, or carry out cyber or other attacks to cripple the government in Kyiv. (The New York Times, 01.10.22)
- The U.S. is working with other NATO alliance members to arrange for the delivery of Stinger shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles requested by the government in Kyiv, current and former officials said. Ukrainian officials believe the Stinger surface-to-air missiles would help its military defend the country against low-flying Russian helicopters and drones. The Biden administration also has prepared a new U.S. package of military aid for Ukraine, in addition to the American military assistance that is already flowing to Kyiv, current and former officials said. A source familiar with the Ukrainian government’s thinking said Kyiv was hopeful that the administration was poised to approve the additional assistance. (NBC, 01.08.22)
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced an Ukrainian diplomatic initiative with Russia, the specifics of which were later published in the Russian newspaper Kommersant. The 10-point Ukrainian plan, which is bound to be highly contentious in Ukraine, begins with three confidence-building steps—a cease-fire, an exchange of prisoners and the opening of crossing points for civilians on the front line in the eastern Ukraine war—then moves to political issues. (The New York Times, 01.09.22)
- A Kyiv court has extended the house arrest of Kremlin-friendly tycoon and politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who is being held under suspicion of treason. Renat Kuzmin, a former Ukrainian prosecutor-general and Medvedchuk ally, wrote on Telegram that the Pechera district court on Jan. 10 had extended Medvedchuk's house arrest for another 60 days. (RFE/RL, 01.10.22)
- Under a national program the government adopted before the end of the year, Ukraine will invest $335 million over the next five years to increase uranium mining and processing facilities in the center of the country. (Bellona, 01.07.22)
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- On Jan. 10 Putin accused unidentified “outside forces” of interfering “in the internal affairs of our states,” echoing the Kazakh authorities’ latest claims of foreign links in the unrest. Putin vowed that the CSTO would protect its allies from “color revolutions” in its neighborhood after sending troops to quell unrest in Kazakhstan last week. He claimed that protesters had used “Maidan technologies,” and cited other pro-democracy movements that ousted Moscow-aligned rulers in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in the 2000s. Putin claimed that “destructive internal and external forces” had taken advantage of the protests to deploy “well-organized groups of militants under their control” that had “obviously trained at terrorist camps abroad.” (Financial Times, 01.10.22)
- Putin's remarks came days after 2,500 Russian, Belarusian, Armenian, Tajik and Kyrgyz troops were deployed across Kazakh cities to defend key state facilities as part of the CSTO alliance. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.10.22)
- Troops from the Russia-led CSTO have begun to withdraw from Kazakhstan after being called in to help stabilize the Central Asian nation following deadly unrest sparked by a fuel price hike amid an apparent standoff with loyalists of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The "collective peacekeeping forces...are starting to prepare equipment and materiel for loading into the planes of the military transport aviation of the Russian aerospace forces and returning to the points of permanent deployment," said a Russian Defense Ministry statement carried by Russian news agencies. "We must come home. We've completed our mission," Putin told Shoigu. (RFE/RL, 01.13.22, The Moscow Times, 01.13.22)
- Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed "a single center" for trying to seize power in the oil-rich Central Asian state. In a speech to the CSTO on Jan. 10, Tokayev did not produce any evidence to back up his claim that foreign terrorists were behind the protests. Last week’s unrest led to at least 160 people being killed and nearly 10,000 arrested (Russia Matters, 01.12.22, ABC, 01.13.22, RFE/RL, 01.10.22)
- Tokayev said on Jan. 11 that "under the country's first president, very lucrative companies and internationally known rich people appeared." "The time has come to give people what belongs to them, to provide help systemically. The government must look into such companies to define what their contributions to the For Kazakhstan's People Fund should be." Tokayev told parliament on Jan. 11 that he intended to launch a battle against the country’s entrenched inequality. But analysts say meaningful structural reform is unlikely, with wealth remaining in the hands of elites. In 2019, just 162 individuals held 50% of the country’s wealth, according to KPMG. (Financial Times, 01.12.22, RFE/RL, 01.11.22)
- Tokayev on Jan. 11 nominated Alikhan Smailov for the post of prime minister, a move that lawmakers approved hours later in parliament. Smailov served as first deputy prime minister in the previous cabinet. Former media executive Askar Umarov was named Kazakhstan’s new information minister when Tokayev reshuffled the government in response to this month’s anti-government protests that turned violent. A senior Russian diplomat said he was put off by Umarov’s alleged past remarks calling Russians “drunks” and “colonizers” with inherently poor service skills. (RFE/RL, 01.11.22, The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.13.22)
- The U.N. has rebuked Kazakhstan after the Central Asian country's troops were spotted wearing blue helmets reserved for U.N. peacekeepers during a violent crackdown on protesters last week. (The Washington Post, 01.11.22)
- Blinken denounced Tokayev’s “shoot to kill” order. Blinken also said the United States has questions about Kazakhstan’s request for assistance from a Russia-led security organization to help quell protests that have left dozens of people dead in the Central Asian country. “I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” Blinken said. In response, Russia's Foreign Ministry called Blinken's comments a "boorish attempt" at humor, and defended the deployment of CSTO troops in a Facebook post as a "totally legitimate response." (RFE/RL, 01.08.22, RFE/RL, 01.08.22, RFE/RL, 01.10.22)
- Media reports claiming that China planned to send special operations forces to Kazakhstan to help maintain order there are false, Chinese Ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui told Interfax. Chinese companies account for around 17% of oil extracted from Kazakhstan, compared with 3% by Russian companies and 30% by American companies, according to 2019 estimates by the Carnegie Moscow Center. In 2020, Kazakhstan's total trade with China was $21 billion, compared with $10 billion with Russia and $2 billion with the U.S., according to Carnegie's figures. (The Wall Street Journal, 01.09.22, Interfax, 01.12.22)
- Kazakhstan’s $170 billion economy has the 12th largest oil reserves in the world—just behind the U.S. (Financial Times, 01.13.22)
- Since 2005, the value of U.S. investment in the Kazakh economy has surpassed $45 billion, according to Kazakh authorities. Some 600 U.S. companies operate there, including Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., Dow Inc. and DuPont Inc. Kazakhstan is a key contributor to global energy supplies, producing around 2% of the oil that the world consumed each day last year, and has large reserves of precious metals and coal. It represents 40% of the world's uranium production alone. (The Wall Street Journal, 01.13.22)
- The former head of Kazakhstan's domestic intelligence agency has been detained on suspicion of high treason. Karim Masimov twice served as prime minister and is seen as a longtime associate of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a major target of public anger during the deadly unrest that erupted last week. Masimov had held the position of security chief since his appointment in 2016. (RFE/RL, 01.08.22)
- Armenia says three of its soldiers have died in fighting along the border with Azerbaijan, raising fears the Caucasus neighbors may be edging toward another war. The Armenian Defense Ministry said on Jan. 12 that the body of a third soldier had been found in an area where heavy clashes were reported the day before that Yerevan and Baku blamed on each other amid warnings that tensions along the border are escalating. (RFE/RL, 01.12.22)
- Turkey and Armenia both expressed optimism on Jan. 13 ahead of the start of talks in Moscow to normalize relations as part of a broader Russia-mediated regional peace effort involving Azerbaijan. Special envoys from Turkey and Armenia will hold the first round of direct talks in Moscow on June 14 following months of behind-the-scenes diplomacy aimed at building a broader rapprochement in the South Caucasus region. (RFE/RL, 01.14.22)
- Norwegian chemical firm Yara International has announced it is gradually reducing its imports of potash fertilizer from Belarus as a result of international sanctions on the regime of authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko. (RFE/RL, 01.10.22)
- Lithuania has terminated its state-owned railway contract with Minsk on the transportation of Belarusian potash amid U.S. sanctions imposed on Belaruskali, the potash-producing giant. The Baltic state's government on Jan. 12 approved the decision by a special commission, which noted that the agreement between Lithuanian Railways and Belaruskali was not in the interests of Lithuania's national security. (RFE/RL, 01.12.22)
- Six Lithuanians who lost relatives during Moscow's crackdown on the Baltic state's independence drive filed a lawsuit against former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Jan. 13. (AFP, 01.13.22)
- “Bluffing on the verge of a foul is a dangerous thing, but, unfortunately, it is difficult to hope that issues of this caliber can be resolved within the framework of amicable agreements at a cozy round table,” chairman of the Presidium of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov was quoted in Kommersant as saying in reference to the Russian side’s approach toward trying to attain its demands vis-à-vis the European security architecture. (Russia Matters, 01.13.22)