Russia in Review, March 1-8, 2019

This Week's Highlights:

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia, according to a Kremlin spokesman who did not share dates or other details of the trip, according to Al Jazeera. Chinese President Xi Jinping is also preparing for a state visit to Russia, later this year, while Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the Belt and Road forum in Beijing, The Indian Wire reports.
  • In a decree published this week, Vladimir Putin said Russia would suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty until the U.S. “ends its violation of the treaty or until it expires,” the Financial Times reported. Meanwhile, America’s top general in Europe, Curtis Scaparrotti, told senators that the U.S. didn’t yet have a plan for proceeding in a post-INF environment, according to Voice of America.
  • Israel and Russia will work together on securing an exit of foreign forces from Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after visiting Moscow to advocate against the Iranian presence in Syria, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Turkey says it will begin patrols with Russia of Syria's northwestern Idlib region, where Ankara and Moscow have created a de-escalation zone, the AP reports.
  • At least nine tankers delivered 3.19 million barrels of Russian oil products to U.S. ports Feb. 23-March 1, filling a void left by Venezuelan oil exporters and notching the largest weekly total since 2011, according to an investment bank cited by Russian news agency RBC. In November 2018, imports of Russian oil and oil products to the U.S. averaged 1.8 million barrels a week, accounting for about 2.8 percent of U.S. imports.
  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged Angela Merkel last month to send German ships through the Kerch Strait between the Crimean peninsula and mainland Russia to show Putin that Western powers won’t surrender their access to those waters, according to officials speaking on condition of anonymity to Bloomberg. They said Merkel declined, indicating she had been willing, in coordination with the French, to send a convoy through the waterway as a one-time maneuver, but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had said that wasn’t enough to solve his problem, the news agency reported.
  • A March 7 poll by Russia's Public Opinion Research Center, or VTsIOM, found that trust in President Vladimir Putin has fallen to 32 percent, its lowest level since 2006, RFE/RL reported.

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 will visit Russia, according to Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov. Peskov did not share dates or other details of the trip. (Al Jazeera, 03.04.19)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • The U.S. has urged the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran over its recent ballistic-missile test and launches of two satellites, saying they violate the world body's resolutions. (RFE/RL, 03.08.19)

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • The chief of Russia’s armed forces endorsed on March 2 the kind of tactics used by his country to intervene abroad, repeating a philosophy of so-called hybrid war. At a conference on the future of Russian military strategy, Gen. Valery Gerasimov said countries bring a blend of political, economic and military power to bear against adversaries. Gerasimov also accused the U.S. Defense Department of using a so-called “Trojan Horse” military strategy in its interventions abroad—combining the use of domestic opposition forces and precision airstrikes to destabilize the target country. (The Moscow Times, 03.04.19, New York Times, 03.02.19)
  • Moscow will deploy new missiles with a strike range over the entirety of Europe if the U.S. puts missiles on the continent, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. warned on March 4. “We will be forced to deploy our missiles,” Anatoly Antonov said. (The Moscow Times, 03.05.19)
  • In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee March 5, European Command’s Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti called Russia the primary threat to stability in Europe and recommended the U.S. boost the number of troops it deploys to the continent on both a permanent and rotational basis. Scaparrotti said he was particularly concerned about insufficient intelligence and surveillance capabilities, as well as a shrinking advantage on the high seas. The biggest threat comes from the Kremlin’s devotion to information warfare, he said. Scaparrotti also said he wants two more destroyers to supplement the four that the Navy already stations in Rota, Spain. The extra ships would help deter "an evolving and modernizing Russian fleet," Scaparrotti reportedly said. (VOA, 03.05.19, The National Interest, 03.07.19)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • During their meeting in Vienna on March 4, Russian Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford discussed missile defense issues, the INF Treaty, New START and Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. "The focus was on the need to continue interaction aimed at preventing incidents," the statement reads. The two commanders recognized “the importance of maintaining regular communication to avoid miscalculation and to promote transparency and deconfliction in areas where our militaries are operating in close proximity,” a statement from Dunford’s office said. (TASS, 03.04.19, The Hill, 03.04.19)
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country is determined to go through with a deal to purchase S-400 missile-defense systems from Russia, despite opposition from Washington. (RFE/RL, 03.07.19)

Missile defense:

  • The Trump administration is not asking for a significant boost to the U.S. Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency budget this year. The Pentagon is expected to ask Congress for $9.4 billion for the MDA in its annual budget request, due out later this month, which actually reflects a slight decrease from $9.9 billion last year. (Foreign Policy, 03.06.19)

Nuclear arms control:

  • In a decree published on the Kremlin’s website on March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would suspend its INF Treaty obligations “until the United States of America ends its violation of the treaty or until it expires.” (Financial Times, 03.04.19)
  • Pressed by U.S. Senators on how the U.S. would proceed in a post-INF environment, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the top American general in Europe, said planning was underway. “I don't know that we have a plan today," he said. “We're still in a 6-month period here where we are looking at what our options are." (VOA, 03.05.19)

Counter-terrorism:

  • German prosecutors have charged a Russian national with plotting an attack in Germany. Federal prosecutors said on March 5 that the 31-year-old, identified only as Magomed-Ali C., had been charged by a Berlin court last month with preparing an act of violence and preparing an explosion. (RFE/RL, 03.06.19)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Israel and Russia will work together on securing an exit of foreign forces from Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after visiting Moscow to advocate against the Iranian presence in Syria. (The Moscow Times, 03.04.19)
    • Iran's foreign ministry insisted March 4 that Tehran's ties with Moscow are "strong" and shrugged off reported Israeli-Russian coordination on a withdrawal of foreign forces from Syria. (Israel National News, 03.05.19)
  • Turkey's defense minister says Turkey and Russia will begin patrols of Syria's northwestern Idlib region, where the two countries have created a de-escalation zone. (AP, 03.08.19)
    • “We are getting impatient . . . We want to continue to be partners with Turkey. On one hand we don’t want to jeopardize our partnership,” says one senior Kremlin official of Syria’s rebel-held Idlib enclave. “But on the other we don’t want Turkey to jeopardize it through their inaction.” (Financial Times, 03.06.19)
  • Despite the fact that the Islamic State has been totally dismantled in Syria, it is too early to talk about a final victory over terror in that country, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. (Interfax, 03.04.19)

Cyber security:

  • The Trump administration is now looking to work with allies to ratchet up consequences on nations that misbehave in cyberspace. The consequences could include joint announcements of criminal charges against hackers or financial sanctions. (The Washington Post, 03.07.19)
  • U.S. Army officials inadvertently disclosed sensitive information about hundreds of immigrant recruits from nations such as China and Russia, in a breach that could aid hostile governments in persecuting them or their families, a lawmaker and former U.S. officials said. (The Washington Post, 03.07.19)
  • The U.S. National Security Agency is considering ending a once-secret surveillance program that annually collects hundreds of millions of telephone call records, including those belonging to Americans, because it lacks operational value, according to people familiar with the matter. (Wall Street Journal, 03.04.19)
  • Felix Sater, a Russia-born businessman with ties to U.S. President Donald Trump, has been targeted in a U.S. lawsuit that accuses him of hacking into a Hollywood friend's electronics and accessing confidential information about her celebrity contacts. (RFE/RL, 03.05.19)

Elections interference:

  • Lawyers who have followed the Mueller investigation closely say they doubt the special counsel will present evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia beyond what he has already revealed in a string of indictments. (The Washington Post, 03.01.19).
  • The House Judiciary Committee on March 4 requested records from more than 80 organizations and Trump associates, among them former White House staff; executives from the president's real-estate business, including Trump's sons; and officials who worked for the transition and inaugural committees. Separately, the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees wrote that they were investigating what U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed in in-person and phone conversations. (Wall Street Journal, 03.05.19)
    • "This phony thing," U.S. President Donald Trump said March 3 of the Russia probe, "looks like it's dying so they don't have anything with Russia there, no collusion. So now they go in and morph into 'Let's inspect every deal he's ever done. We're going to go into his finances. We're going to check his deals. We're going to check'—these people are sick." Trump again dismissed on March 5 an expansive document request by House Democrats as nothing more than a political sideshow—and he suggested the White House might not cooperate. Trump called Democrats' efforts ''a disgrace to our country'' and a "big, fat, fishing expedition." (New York Times, 03.05.19, Wall Street Journal, 03.05.19, AP, 03.03.19)
    • The House Intelligence Committee has hired Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor with a history of trying securities fraud, racketeering and international organized crime, to lead its investigation of U.S. President Donald Trump's alleged ties to Russia. (The Boston Globe, 03.06.19)
  • Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has handed over new documents to a congressional panel during a "very productive" eight-hour meeting, the intelligence committee's chairman said. Cohen reportedly handed over documents to the committee that showed edits made to a false written statement he gave to the panel in 2017 about a Trump real estate project in Moscow. In his public testimony, Cohen told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that Trump's attorneys, including Jay Sekulow, had reviewed and edited the statement he provided to Congress. (RFE/RL, 03.07.19)
    • Michael Cohen directed his attorney last spring to inquire about the possibility of a presidential pardon, weeks after federal agents raided his properties, Cohen's lawyer said March 6, apparently contradicting his testimony before a House committee last week. Cohen himself has claimed to the House Intelligence Committee that he discussed the subject of a pardon with U.S. President Donald Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow, bringing another of Trump's representatives into an ongoing dispute over precisely who opened discussions about the matter. (Wall Street Journal, 03.06.19, The Washington Post, 03.07.19)
    • Michael Cohen filed a lawsuit March 7 claiming the Trump Organization broke a promise to pay his legal bills and owes at least $1.9 million to cover the cost of his defense. (AP, 03.07.19)
  • William Barr, the U.S. attorney-general, has decided not to recuse himself from the special counsel's investigation, in line with advice from justice department ethics officials, according to a spokesperson. (Financial Times, 03.04.19)
  • Eight out of 10 Americans decided almost immediately about Trump campaign ties to Moscow and only about two in 10 appear to be undecided, according to new Reuters/Ipsos polling. About half of Americans believe U.S. President Donald Trump tried to stop federal investigations into his campaign, the survey found. Barring bombshell revelations, the survey results suggest the investigation’s influence on voters in the 2020 campaign may already have run its course. (Reuters, 03.08.19)

Energy exports:

  • At least nine tankers delivered 3.19 million barrels of Russian oil products to U.S. ports between Feb. 23 and March 1, filling a niche left by Venezuelan oil exporters, according to investment bank Caracas Capital Markets, RBC reported on March 6. That’s the largest weekly shipment of Russian oil products to the U.S. since 2011. In November 2018, imports of Russian oil and oil products to the U.S. averaged 1.8 million barrels a week, accounting for about 2.8 percent of U.S. imports. (Russia Matters, 03.06.19)
  • During daily threat briefings, U.S. President Donald Trump has pressed his intelligence briefers on why Berlin is allowing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia to go forward if Germany is truly worried about Moscow’s aggression. (New York Times, 03.04.19)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • In a phone conversation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan and the Korean peninsula. (Interfax, 03.04.19)
  • Russia’s foreign ministry has announced a deal with the U.S. embassy to cut fees for all types of U.S. visas to $160, the current cost of single-entry business and tourist visas valid for one year. (The Moscow Times, 03.04.19)
  • The U.S. and the EU are coordinating their strategy in the Western Balkans to foil Russian meddling in the volatile region, Matthew Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, told reporters March 7 in Zagreb. (AP, 03.08.19)
  • Russia says two U.S. citizens detained in the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk will be deported for alleged violations of immigration laws. The Interfax news agency on March 7 identified the two as Kole Brodowski and David Udo Hague and described them as volunteers with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. (RFE/RL, 03.08.19)
  • The U.S. Justice Department will escalate its crackdown on illegal foreign influence operations in the U.S., John Demers, the head of the Justice Department's national security division, said. (New York Times, 03.07.19)
  • The ice cover in the Bering Sea is at its lowest on record for this time of year. It shrank from 566,000 square kilometers (219,000 square miles) to 193,000 square kilometers between Jan. 27 and March 3, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. (Bloomberg, 03.06.19)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • A poll by Russia's Public Opinion Research Center, or VTsIOM, released on March 7 found that trust in Russian President Vladimir Putin has fallen to 32 percent, its lowest level since 2006. (RFE/RL, 03.08.19)
  • Ninety-eight Russians with a combined wealth of $421 billion were included in Forbes magazine’s annual list of billionaires published March 5. The richest Russian on the list was Leonid Mikhelson, CEO of the Novatek gas giant, who came in 32nd place overall with an estimated net worth of $24 billion. The Russian billionaires’ total wealth topped Russian citizens’ bank deposits, which totaled 27.7 trillion rubles ($420.7 billion) last month. (The Moscow Times, 03.06.19, The Moscow Times, 03.05.19)
  • The salaries of Russian government officials increased on average by 5.4 percent to 126,600 rubles ($1,957) per month in 2018. (The Moscow Times, 03.04.19)
  • Olga Golodets, one of Russia's two female deputy prime ministers, said at a recent conference that women's average pay in Russia is equivalent to 70 percent compared to men's wages. (AP, 03.08.19)
  • Russian lawmakers pushed through a package of bills March 7 seeking to punish internet users and journalists for disrespecting the authorities and spreading fake news. (The Moscow Times, 03.07.19)
  • The speaker of the Russian State Duma halted an appearance by Economic Development Minister Maksim Oreshkin and told him to come back another time. The Bell suggested the "tough reception" Oreshkin got at the Duma may have been connected to remarks earlier this week that some interpreted as a sign he might seek the presidency. (RFE/RL, 03.06.19)
  • Around 30 percent of the Russian population will practice Islam within the next 15 years, Russia’s grand mufti Ravil Gainutdin has predicted, citing demographic trends. Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, an official in Russia’s Orthodox Church, agreed with Gainutdin’s forecast and predicted that “there won't be any Russians left in 2050.” According to Roman Silantyev, professor of Islamic studies at the Moscow State Linguistic University, however, predictions that Russia's Muslim population will rise dramatically are groundless: the share of Muslims has risen by no more than 1.5 percent since 1989. (The Moscow Times, 03.05.19, Interfax, 03.04.19)
  • Russian authorities have confiscated millions of dollars' worth of property from Jehovah's Witness organizations, in a move that raises concern the group is under deepening persecution despite assurances from the Kremlin that the faith isn't being targeted. (Wall Street Journal, 03.05.19)
  • The Russian exclave of Kaliningrad is the center of the world’s amber trade, with the region holding about 90 percent of the global reserves of the fossilized tree resin. It also boasts some of the oldest amber in the world—the product of a coniferous pine forest that fell into the Baltic Sea between 40 million and 50 million years ago. (Financial Times, 03.07.19)

Defense and aerospace:

  • “Russia has excellent rocket engineering & best engine currently flying,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted. (The Moscow Times, 03.08.19)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) to strengthen the protection of information related to new weapons and other sensitive data, saying that foreign intelligence agencies were beefing up activities in the country. In a speech to top FSB officials, Putin said that the agency had exposed 129 foreign intelligence officers and 465 of their agents last year. (RFE/RL, 03.07.19)
  • A court in Russia has sentenced Vladislav Khokhlachyov from the North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria to 18 years in prison on terrorism charges. (RFE/RL, 03.05.19)
  • Russian authorities say two teenagers have been detained in St. Petersburg on suspicion of being involved in the killing of Col. Yevgenia Shishkina, top investigator of economic crimes and corruption. (The Moscow Times, 03.07.19)
  • Human rights lawyer Galina Muzyka was found dead in her apartment in the Siberian city of Usolye-Sibirskoye late on March 2 under what fellow activist and regional public oversight commission member Pavel Glushchenko described as "strange circumstances," one day after she is thought to have made a cell phone video allegedly showing nine Investigative Committee employees beating a detained suspect. (RFE/RL, 03.08.19)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • India on March 7 signed a $3 billion contract for the lease of an Akula-1 class nuclear-powered attack submarine from Russia for a period of 10 years. The agreement comes after two years of negotiations on the price and other issues. Under the deal, Russia will have to deliver the submarine, to be known as Chakra III, to the Indian Navy by 2025. It will be the third Russian nuclear attack submarine to be leased to the Indian Navy. (Defense News, 03.08.19)
  • Russia will do everything possible to prevent a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, the speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, Valentina Matvienko, told Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez in Moscow. (Reuters, 03.03.19)
  • The Russian accounts of Venezuelan companies, including state oil firm PDVSA, will move to the Russian Financial Corporation Bank, which is sanctioned by the U.S. (Reuters, 03.06.19)
  • A year after a nerve-agent attack nearly killed a Russian former spy and his daughter, the enormous job of decontaminating his former home in Salisbury, England, is complete, the government announced on March 1. British Prime Minister Theresa May has visited Salisbury on the occasion of one-year anniversary. Meanwhile, the Russian government accused U.K. authorities of violating an international treaty by not granting them access to the Skripals. (New York Times, 03.02.19, RFE/RL, 03.04.19, NPR, 03.05.19)
  • An almost $9 billion global money-laundering scheme allegedly set up and run by Russia's largest private investment bank, Troika Dialog, and having close ties to the country's ruling elite has been uncovered by the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. (RFE/RL, 03.04.19)
    • Prosecutors in the Netherlands said on March 6 they are evaluating signs of Dutch involvement in a money laundering network which is alleged by a report this week to have channeled billions of euros from Russia. (Reuters, 03.07.19)
    • Troika Dialog founder Ruben Vardanyan hit back in an open letter March 7, saying the reports contained “total inaccuracies, information taken completely out of context, interpretations and pure inventions,” without elaborating. (Bloomberg, 03.07.19)

China:

  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised China's growing closeness to Russia in international affairs, saying the two giant neighbors would create a "more peaceful and stable world" by standing together. (AP, 03.07.19)
  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said that Chinese President Xi Jinping is preparing for a state visit to Russia later this year, while Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the Belt and Road forum in Beijing. (Indian Wire, 03.08.19)
  • "I think our country's weight and China's are enough to stop what is effectively an aggression against Venezuela," Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said. (Interfax, 03.04.19)

Ukraine:

  • At a Feb. 16 meeting at the Munich Security Conference, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged Angela Merkel to send German ships through the Kerch Strait between Crimea and mainland Russia to show Russian President Vladimir Putin that Western powers won’t surrender their access to those waters, according to officials. The German leader declined, they said, citing reservations from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Merkel had indicated she was willing, in coordination with the French, to send a convoy through the waterway as a one-time maneuver, but Poroshenko said that wasn’t enough to solve his problem. (Bloomberg, 03.07.19)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump on March 4 extended sanctions against Russia by another year, prolonging punitive measures that were first imposed over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The U.S. imposed travel bans and asset freezes against individuals involved in the seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula under U.S. President Barack Obama in March 2014. (The Moscow Times, 03.05.19)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has national security officials thinking about the economic angles of international flash points. When Russia seized Ukrainian sailors and ships in the Sea of Azov, officials in Washington began studying the implications to shipping. White House officials argued that the Europeans would have the most leverage given their dominance of the industry. But they also argued that by raising the costs of shipping, the Russians were “shooting themselves in the foot,” a senior administration official said. (New York Times, 03.04.19)
  • Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, called for bolstering Ukraine's defenses against Russian aggression, in eastern Ukraine as well as in the Black Sea. Scaparrotti told U.S. senators that Washington could provide “sniper systems, ammunition" to strengthen Ukraine's forces. He also said Washington might consider boosting naval defenses in the Black Sea, though he did not specify how. (RFE/RL, 03.06.19)
  • Marie Yovanovitch, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said the chief of the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Nazar Kholodnytskyy, should be replaced to ensure the integrity of the anticorruption institutions. (RFE/RL, 03.07.19)
  • Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who built a lucrative career consulting for Ukrainian politicians, has been sentenced to 47 months in prison. The sentence, handed down on March 7, followed Manafort’s conviction in August on bank- and tax-fraud charges, and was significantly less than what prosecutors had sought. His conviction did not deal directly with questions of possible Russian interference. The judge ordered Manafort to pay $25 million in restitution and a $50,000 fine. Next week, a judge in Washington, D.C. federal court will sentence him for the two conspiracy charges, which each carry a maximum penalty of five years. Those charges include more serious allegations: acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukraine, money laundering and witness tampering. (RFE/RL, 03.08.19, New York Times, 03.08.19)
    • U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted March 8 that both U.S. Judge T.S. Ellis and Paul Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, during Manafort’s March 7 hearing “stated loudly and for the world to hear that there was NO COLLUSION with Russia. But the Witch Hunt Hoax continues.” But Ellis did not say that—he only said that Manafort wasn’t appearing before his court for any crimes related to collusion with Russia. (Vox, 03.08.19)
  • The EU has extended asset freezes on former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and 11 other Ukrainians suspected of embezzling state funds. (RFE/RL, 03.04.19)
  • EU ambassadors have agreed to impose asset freezes and visa bans on eight Russians involved in the capture and jailing of 24 Ukrainian seamen in an incident near the Kerch Strait in November. (RFE/RL, 03.06.19)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has fired a close ally, Oleh Hladkovskyy, from the post of first deputy chairman of the National Security and Defense Council amid allegations that Hladkovskyy's son was involved in smuggling spare parts of military equipment from Russia. (RFE/RL, 03.04.19)
  • The presidential candidacy of comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy is gaining momentum, according to results released on March 5 in the latest poll conducted by the Rating Sociological Group. Among those that have already decided to vote, 25.1 percent will cast their ballot for Zelenskiy, compared to 16.6 percent for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and 16.2 percent for ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. (bne IntelliNews, 03.05.19)
  • Members of Ukraine’s ultranationalist National Militia were granted permission by the Central Election Commission to officially monitor Ukraine's presidential election on March 31. (RFE/RL, 03.07.19)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says he will visit Georgia later this month to meet with the republic's leadership and attend a joint military exercise. The NATO-Georgia Exercise 2019 will take place between March 18 and March 29 at the Krtsanisi National Training Center. Troops from 23 NATO members and partner countries will participate in the exercise. (RFE/RL, 03.06.19)
  • EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said that Georgia had made "great steps" in the implementation of a political and trade agreement with the bloc. (RFE/RL, 03.05.19)
  • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and European Council President Donald Tusk have met in Brussels for talks on relations between Yerevan and the EU and on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. (RFE/RL, 03.05.19)
  • Estonia’s opposition liberal Reform Party has scored a victory over the ruling center-left Center Party of Prime Minister Juri Ratas, according to final results of the March 3 presidential election in which the far right also emerged with increased support. (RFE/RL, 03.04.19)
  • Belarus will seek better ties with the West even though this provokes "hysterics" from its traditional ally Russia, long-serving President Alexander Lukashenko said on March 5, a day after lifting a cap of five U.S. diplomats in his country. "Ideally, the western and eastern directions of Belarusian foreign policy should balance each other," he said. (Reuters, 03.05.19)
  • The U.S. has charged Gulnara Karimova, the elder daughter of the late president of Uzbekistan, with bribery and corruption. The charges stem from an alleged bribery scheme involving Russia’s largest mobile-phone provider, MTS. The Moscow-based company, whose shares trade on U.S. stock exchanges, on March 7 announced it had reached an agreement with U.S. prosecutors under which it would pay $850 million to settle bribery and corruption charges related to its business in Uzbekistan. (RFE/RL, 03.08.19)
    • Uzbekistan's top prosecutor says that Karimova has been ordered to prison after a court found she had violated terms of her house arrest. (RFE/RL, 03.06.19)
  • Long-isolated Uzbekistan easily met the $1 billion target it had set for its debut sovereign bond offering in February, in a deal where investors submitted eight times more orders than bonds sold. (Wall Street Journal, 03.05.19)
  • Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry says the head of the Taliban's political office in Qatar has expressed interest in cooperating with Tashkent in order to push Afghanistan's peace process forward. (RFE/RL, 03.05.19)
  • For decades, China has suppressed the language and faith of its Muslim citizens. But until recently, the effort has been contained largely within China's own borders. Now the sweep has come to include the fluid region where Chinese nationals and Kazakh citizens long moved freely back and forth between their countries. Roughly 200,000 Chinese nationals became citizens of Kazakhstan so they could live there after the country of 18 million gained independence in 1991. (The Washington Post, 03.03.19)
  • Sharoffidin Gadoev, a prominent Tajik opposition activist, says he was abducted, tortured and forced to appear in propaganda videos before being released amid international pressure on Dushanbe over his case. (RFE/RL, 03.06.19)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • When asked by a Luxembourg journalist whether he and his fellow citizens should fear that new Russian hypersonic nuclear missiles could “land in [their] vegetable gardens,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said: “Our hypersonic missiles are highly accurate and reliable, so there is no threat to your gardens.” (Russia Matters, 03.05.19)