Russia in Review, March 26-April 2, 2021
This Week’s Highlights
- U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on April 2 amid a broad push by the U.S. to show its support for Kyiv against heightened Russian military pressure along Ukraine's border, the Wall Street Journal reports.
- NATO says it scrambled fighter jets 10 times on March 29 amid what it called an unusual level of Russian air activity over Europe, according to RFE/RL.
- Russia's top diplomat Sergei Lavrov said April 1 that the country's relations with the United States and its allies have “hit the bottom” and no date has been set for sending Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov back to Washington, the Associated Press reports. Antonov earlier said he expects to return to the U.S. in the near future, according to The Moscow Times.
- "We view NATO as a classic example of a military union; we don't need that kind of union," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said of Russia and China. "Moscow and Beijing are not allying against anyone whatsoever," he said, according to reports by Interfax and TASS.
- Suspected Russian hackers stole thousands of U.S. State Department officials’ emails last year, according to two Congressional sources familiar with the intrusion, Politico reports.
- U.S. visas and services for American citizens will only be available in Moscow after the U.S. slashed operations at its remaining Russian consulates, according to The Moscow Times.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant developments.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- Russia’s Embassy in Pyongyang said diplomats in the country are facing an acute shortage of essential goods sparked by coronavirus restrictions and noted an ongoing exodus of foreign diplomats from the isolated country. (The Moscow Times, 04.01.21)
Iran and its nuclear program:
- The U.S. will attend international talks on the Iranian nuclear agreement on April 6. The negotiations in Vienna will be an attempt to bring JCPOA “back to life” after U.S. President Joe Biden said Washington was prepared to rejoin if Tehran came back into compliance, a senior EU official said. While no direct talks between officials from Washington and Tehran are anticipated, the presence of both countries at the same gathering would be an important step. Negotiators expect to focus exclusively on reviving the nuclear deal, not in expanding talks to try to rein in Iranian activity in other areas such as military advancements. (Financial Times, 04.02.21, The Washington Post, 04.02.21, RFE/RL, 04.01.21)
- The virtual consultations between the parties to the JCPOA on the Iranian nuclear program "were quite businesslike and will continue," Mikhail Ulyanov, Permanent Representative of Russia to International Organizations in Vienna, said. (Interfax, 04.02.21)
Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/saber rattling:
- NATO says it scrambled fighter jets 10 times amid what it called an unusual level of Russian air activity over Europe. Alliance warplanes were scrambled on March 29 "to shadow Russian bombers and fighters during an unusual peak of flights over the North Atlantic, North Sea, Black Sea and Baltic Sea," NATO said in a statement. "In all, NATO aircraft intercepted six different groups of Russian military aircraft near Alliance airspace in less than six hours," the statement said. (RFE/RL, 03.30.21)
- Rome has ordered the expulsion of two Russian officials over an escalating espionage case that Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio called an "extremely serious incident" between the NATO member state and Russia. The Kremlin has responded by saying it hopes ties with Italy can be preserved despite the dispute. Italian police announced on March 31 that they had detained an Italian Navy captain together with a Russian military official on suspicion of spying. NATO documents were allegedly among the files passed on by the naval officer. (Financial Times, 03.31.21, RFE/RL, 03.31.21)
- Biden has directed the Pentagon to begin removing some military capabilities and forces from the Gulf region in the first steps of an effort to realign the U.S. global military footprint away from the Mideast, changes that come as Saudi Arabia endures rocket and drone attacks from inside Yemen and Iraq. (Wall Street Journal, 04.02.21)
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken challenged Russia on March 29 by calling for the reopening of border checkpoints for moving food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies into war-ravaged Syria. Russia has earlier proposed that Turkey reopen three crossing points in Syria’s Idlib and Aleppo. Meanwhile the U.S, has announced nearly $600 million in new humanitarian assistance in response to the war in Syria, noting that it is aimed at helping people who have faced “innumerable atrocities,” including air strikes carried out by the regime and its ally, Russia. (The National News, 03.29.21, Reuters, 03.23.21, RFE/RL, 03.30.21)
- Leading human rights groups in Russia have condemned the country’s role in abuses in Syria, including its participation in the bombing of civilian targets. The condemnation comes in a 198-page report, billed as the first report on the deadly conflict by Russian rights groups, including the prominent Memorial human rights center and several other organizations. The report includes more than 150 interviews with witnesses and survivors based in Russia, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Germany, Belgium and other countries. (RFE/RL, 04.02.21)
- Russian National Guard personnel have accomplished about 10,000 combat missions on the territory of Syria since 2018, National Guard Commander Viktor Zolotov said. (TASS, 03.24.21)
- Suspected Russian hackers stole thousands of State Department officials’ emails last year, according to two Congressional sources familiar with the intrusion, in the second known Kremlin-backed breach on the department’s email server in under a decade. (Politico, 03.30.21)
- The "enemies" will have fictional names, but when hundreds of U.S. military personnel around the globe log on to their computers later this summer for a highly classified war game, it will be clear what a major focus of the scenarios will be—how the U.S. should respond to aggressive action and unexpected moves by China and Russia. (CNN, 03.27.21)
- No significant developments.
Energy exports from CIS:
- OPEC+, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, has agreed to increase oil output gradually over the next months. Under the latest agreement, OPEC+ countries agreed to increase production by 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May, 350,000 bpd in June and 450,000 bpd in July, Kazakhstan's Energy Ministry said. (RFE/RL, 04.02.21)
- Germany's coordinator for transatlantic relations has called for a moratorium on construction on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. "The project is a serious obstacle for a new start in transatlantic relations," Peter Beyer, a member of Merkel's conservatives, told WirtschaftsWoche, in an apparent departure from Germany's official support for the project. (RFE/RL, 03.31.21)
- Gazprom increased gas production by 10.5 percent (or by 13 billion cubic meters) in January-March 2021 year-on-year to 136.2 billion cubic meters. (TASS, 04.02.21)
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- Biden has asked Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin to join a virtual summit of 40 world leaders he is hosting on April 22 and 23 on the climate crisis. “They know they’re invited,” Biden said. The summit is expected to lay some of the groundwork for the U.N. climate change conference in Glasgow in November. (Financial Times, 03.27.21)
- Russia's top diplomat said April 1 that the country's relations with the U.S. and its allies have “hit the bottom” and no date has been set for sending the Russian ambassador back to Washington. "I would not want to describe what the Americans feel towards the Russian Federation. If their statements that we are an ‘adversary,’ ‘enemy,’ ‘rival’ or ‘contender’ conceal a desire to blame us for the consequences of their own reckless policy, then it is highly unlikely that any serious conversation could take place," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. (AP, 04.02.21, TASS, 04.01.21).
- Lavrov on April 1 warned that anti-white racism might be building in the United States and said that political correctness "taken to the extreme" would have lamentable consequences. (AFP, 04.01.21)
- Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. plans to return to Washington soon following talks in Moscow on the future of bilateral ties.“I expect [to return] in the near future,” TASS quoted Ambassador Anatoly Antonov as saying. (The Moscow Times, 03.30.21)
- U.S. visas and services for American citizens will only be available in Moscow after the U.S. slashed operations at its remaining Russian consulates, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan announced April 1. Sullivan said in a statement that the Vladivostok consulate's operations will remain suspended while the Yekaterinburg consulate will operate without visa and American citizen services. (The Moscow Times, 04.01.21)
- A Russian court has fined Twitter nearly $117,000 for failing to delete what officials describe as banned content amid growing Kremlin pressure on U.S. social-media companies. The cases all pertain to content published on their platforms in January that called on Russians to protest the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. (RFE/RL, 04.02.21)
- Russia’s Baikal telescope is not the only effort to hunt for neutrinos in the world’s most remote places, but the new Russian project will be an important complement to the work of IceCube, the world’s largest neutrino telescope, an American-led, $279 million project that encompasses about a quarter of a cubic mile of ice in Antarctica. (New York Times, 03.30.21)
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- Russia has recorded over 225,000 deaths related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in April 2020, the Rosstat statistics service said April 2, a figure that is more than double the death toll cited by the government coronavirus task force. (Reuters, 04.02.21) 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 is likely to reach “herd immunity by the end of August", according to Putin. Herd immunity is when some 70 percent of the population have anti-bodies to fight the virus from either having caught the illness or from inoculation with a vaccine. (bne IntelliNews, 03.31.21)
- Sixty-nine percent of Russian doctors trust Sputnik V as safe and effective, significantly higher than their trust levels toward foreign COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Levada Center. (The Moscow Times, 04.01.21)
- Russia has registered the world's first coronavirus vaccine for dogs, cats, minks, foxes and other animals, the country's agriculture safety watchdog said March 31. (The Washington Post, 03.31.21)
- The Russian state has around 1 trillion rubles ($13.2 billion) in unspent budget funds left over from last year to add to the 21.5 trillion rubles of budgeted spending for 2021. (bne IntelliNews, 03.28.21)
- The headline seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Russia Manufacturing PMI recovery slowed in March, but still registered 51.1, down slightly from 51.5 in February, but still above the 50 no-change mark. (bne IntelliNews, 04.01.21)
- When asked in March to name five politicians they trust most, 31 percent of respondents named Putin, according to Russia’s Levada Center pollster. The share of Russians who named Putin among the five politicians they trusted the most was 32 percent in February. At the same time, Putin’s approval rating declined from 65 percent to 63 percent over the same period, while approval of the State Duma, which is to be reelected in September, grew from 40 percent to 42 percent. (Russia Matters, 04.02.21)
- Navalny on March 31 declared a hunger strike until he receives proper medical treatment for severe back pain and numbness in his legs. Hundreds of Russian physicians have demanded authorities provide immediate medical assistance to Navalny. Russia's prison authority on April 1 rejected accusations of mistreatment of Navalny. (RFE/RL, 03.31.21, RFE/RL, 04.01.21, RFE/RL, 03.30.21)
- The head of the trauma and orthopedics department at the Russian hospital where Navalny was treated for poisoning last summer has died. The Omsk emergency hospital No. 1 said in a statement that Rustam Agishev passed away March 26. (RFE/RL, 03.29.21)
Defense and aerospace:
- Russia’s and Belarus’ strategic Zapad (West) 2021 military exercise in September will be defensive, however, certain offensive operations, including those countering hybrid and information warfare, will also be trained, Deputy Chief of the Belarusian Armed Forces General Staff Pavel Muraveiko said. (Interfax, 04.02.21)
- The troops of Russia's guards combined-arms army of the Western Military District and Belorussian servicemen have conducted a joint battalion-level tactical exercise at the Mulino range in the Nizhny Novgorod Region. Some 500 servicemen and more than 150 weapon systems were involved in the exercise, which became the second stage of preparation for Zapad-2021. (TASS, 04.02.21)
- A delegation of Russia’s Aerospace Force has wrapped up its visit to Belarus to define sites for Zapad-2021. (TASS, 04.02.21)
- The service life of UR-100N UTTKh (NATO reporting name: SS-19 Stiletto) ICBMs operational in Russia’s Strategic Missile Force may be extended by three years, CEO and Chief Designer of the Research and Production Association of Machine-Building Alexander Leonov said. (TASS, 04.02.21)
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- The Council of Europe says states across the continent last year continued to make “progress” on implementing judgments from the European Court of Human Rights despite the coronavirus pandemic. States with the highest total number of new cases at ECHR last year were Russia (218), Turkey (103) and Ukraine (84), followed by Romania (78) and Hungary (61). (RFE/RL, 03.31.21)
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have discussed possible cooperation on vaccines with Putin, the French presidency said March 30. Macron and Merkel also urged Putin during their video call to respect the rights of Navalny and to preserve his health, the Elysee Palace said in a statement. The three leaders also discussed the situation in Ukraine, Belarus, Libya and Syria and agreed to coordinate efforts so that Iran returns to full compliance with its international obligations, the statement said. (RFE/RL, 03.31.21)
- Slovakia's Prime Minister Igor Matovic last week resigned after a number of senior ministers quit to protest a deal the government struck with Moscow for Sputnik V shots. Matovic has defended the purchase, saying it would speed vaccinations. (Wall Street Journal, 04.02.21)
- In the Czech Republic, President Milos Zeman has advocated firing Health Minister Jan Blatny for refusing to authorize the Russian shot without EMA approval, something EU countries have the power to do. Blatny didn't resign. (Wall Street Journal, 04.02.21)
- In Germany, officials have said that the government is in talks with Russian counterparts to facilitate potential sales and production of Sputnik V. Merkel said last month that the EU should purchase Sputnik V if it gets approved by the EMA. If the EU wouldn't order in time, Germany would move to buy it directly, Merkel said. (Wall Street Journal, 04.02.21)
- On March 30, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Vienna is in talks with Moscow to buy one million Sputnik V shots, 300,000 of which would be delivered this month. (Wall Street Journal, 04.02.21)
- San Marino has long had close ties to Russia, and readily accepted more than 7,000 doses of Sputnik V. (New York Times, 04.02.21)
- The Russian government struck a deal with a South Korean company, GL Rapha, to make Sputnik V doses and ship them to Russia. Several planeloads arrived in December and another shipment is due soon. (New York Times, 03.28.21)
- Russia acknowledged March 29 that it was developing ties with Myanmar but said it was "very concerned" by an increase in civilian casualties at protests against military rule. More than 100 people including children were killed by security forces in Myanmar on March 27 in the deadliest weekend since February's military coup. The Armed Forces Day in Myanmar included a military parade on March 27, which was attended by Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin. At least seven other countries sent representatives, including China, India and Thailand. (AFP, 03.29.21, Financial Times, 03.28.21)
- U.N. experts have voiced concern over reports of "grave human rights abuses" by Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic, where they have been backing the government's military in the country's ongoing civil war. The alleged abuses include mass summary executions, arbitrary detentions, torture, forced disappearances, forced displacement of civilians, indiscriminate targeting of civilian facilities and attacks on humanitarian workers. (RFE/RL, 03.31.21)
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
- Lavrov said Moscow and Beijing do not plan on synchronizing counter-measures in response to the West’s sanctions "shenanigans." "We view NATO as a classic example of a military union; we don't need that kind of union," Lavrov said. "Moscow and Beijing are not allying against anyone whatsoever," he said. (Interfax, 04.01.21, TASS, 04.02.21)
- "Those who hold conversations with China and Russia alike … with disdain and insults are worthless politicians," Lavrov said. "Generally speaking, there should not be any boorish behavior with anyone. Meanwhile, the conversation with such great civilizations as Russia and China unfolds with contempt, we are told what to do. However, when we want to say something we are asked to ‘get lost.’" (TASS, 04.01.21)
- "The comprehensive strategic partnership of China and the Russian Federation will only become stronger despite changes in the global environment. It cannot be weakened," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated April 2 while commenting on a recent statement by Lavrov. "At the same time, the cooperation of China and Russia is not directed against third countries," she said. (TASS, 04.02.21)
- During the annual human rights report unveiling at the U.S. State Department, Blinken was asked if his condemnations of China and Russia could come at the expense of cooperation from the two powers on other issues, such as the military crackdown in Myanmar. Blinken suggested that no trade-off was necessary. "Whether it's China or Russia or anyone else, we're not standing against any of those countries," Blinken said. (The Washington Post, 03.31.21)
- The EU’s Josep Borrell wrote in his blog: “We would be wrong to analyze this [Russian-Chinese] relationship only from an economic point of view. The Chinese-Russian rapprochement is above all based on a rejection of democratic values and an opposition to what they see as ‘interference’ in their internal affairs.” (Russia Matters, 04.01.21)
- Chinese companies have been sending more goods by rail through Russia and Central Asia in recent months as the cost of shipping by sea increases. More than 2,000 freight trains ran from China to Europe in the first two months of this year, double the rate a year earlier when the coronavirus first hit. (Financial Times, 03.28.21, RFE/RL, 03.28.21)
- Russia has agreed a deal for more than 60 million doses of Sputnik V to be produced in China from May, the shot’s developer said March 29. (AFP, 03.29.21)
- Recent polling by the Levada Center shows the Russian public’s ambiguity about the status of China as an ally or competitor, with 37 percent of respondents believing that Russia could work with the U.S. to counter China’s growing global influence. (Russia Matters, 04.02.21)
- Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy April 2, amid a broad push by the U.S. to show its support for Kyiv against heightened Russian military pressure along Ukraine's border. The 40-minute talk between the presidents was the first since Biden's inauguration in January. Earlier this week, there were also calls between Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and their Ukrainian counterparts. (Wall Street Journal, 04.02.21)
- Austin and Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran discussed the situation in the Donbass, according to a statement published on the website of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry April 1. “Secretary Austin reaffirmed unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. He condemned recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine [and]… reiterated the U.S. commitment to building the capacity of Ukraine’s forces to defend more effectively against Russian aggression,” according to a Pentagon readout of the April 1 conversation. (Interfax, 04.02.21, Russia Matters, 04.02.21)
- The U.S. has expressed concern over the recent flare-up in hostilities. On March 29, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told Andriy Yermak, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, that the U.S. had “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic aspirations, in the face of continuing aggression.” (Financial Times, 03.31.21)
- U.S. troops in Europe were on an elevated "watch condition" as Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley spoke to Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the Russian Armed Forces chief of staff, and Ukraine armed forces Commander in Chief Ruslan Khomchak. In the past week, the U.S. military’s European Command raised its watch level from possible crisis to potential imminent crisis—the highest level—in response to the deployment of the additional Russian troops. (AFP, 03.31.21, New York Times, 03.30.21)
- "We're concerned about recent escalations of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, including violations of the July 2020 ceasefire that led to the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers on the 26th of March, and the wounding of two others," said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. (AFP, 03.31.21)
- Khomchak said March 30 that Russia is building up armed forces near Ukraine’s borders in a threat to the country’s security, accusing Moscow of pursuing an “aggressive policy” toward Kyiv. “Russia’s current escalation is systemic, largest in recent years,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. (Defense Blog, 04.01.21, Defense Blog, 04.01.21)
- The deployment of additional Russian troops across the country should not concern other states since this does not pose any threat to them, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “The Russian Federation deploys the Armed Forces on its soil as it wants to. This should not concern anyone and this is not posing any threat to anyone,” Peskov added. Moscow is taking “all the necessary measures to ensure the security of its frontiers,” he stressed. Peskov noted that “the Russian troops have never tak[en] part and are not participating in armed conflicts on Ukraine’s soil.” (Defense Blog, 04.01.21)
- Russia will take additional measures to ensure national security in response to NATO’s potential military buildup around Ukraine, Peskov said April 2. “Regrettably, the realities along the engagement line are rather frightening,” he said. Asked about chief Ukrainian delegate Leonid Kravchuk’s proposal "for the observance of full and comprehensive ceasefire" starting from April 1, Peskov said that Russia was not a party to the conflict. (TASS, 04.02.21)
- According to a recent survey from the Razumkov Center, 59 percent of Ukrainians are in favor of their country joining the EU, while 26 percent are opposed. Among respondents from central Ukraine, 63 percent are in favor and 19 percent are opposed. In the country’s east, 46 percent of respondents don’t want to see Ukraine join the EU, compared to 38.5 percent who do. In the south, opinion is split with 41.5 percent respondents for and 42 percent against. (bne IntelliNews, 03.27.21)
- Zelenskiy has upped the ante in a stand-off with the country’s constitutional court by ousting two of its judges for being threats to national security, a potentially unconstitutional move that aims to break a months’ long impasse. Zelenskiy on March 27 cancelled presidential decrees issued by his predecessor in 2013 that had appointed judges Oleksander Tupytsky, currently the court’s chief, and Oleksander Kasminin. (Financial Times, 03.27.21)
- Ukraine's prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, who would be one of the key figures in an anti-oligarch crusade, has signaled that more blows against oligarchs could come. "The oligarchs are a thing that strangles the country," she said. "As long as they exist, we cannot thrive." (The Washington Post, 03.29.21)
- Biden's son, Hunter, says in a forthcoming book that his service on the board of a Ukrainian gas firm at the center of the scandal that prompted ex-President Donald Trump's first impeachment wasn't unethical and didn't represent a lack of judgment on his part. But the 51-year-old presidential son writes in his memoirs, if given a chance, he wouldn't take the job again. (RFE/RL 03.31.21)
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- Kazakhstan adheres to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states when it concerns the rights of ethnic Kazakhs that are citizens of China residing in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Kazakh First Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Shakhrat Nuryshev said. Kazakh authorities detained at least 20 people as demonstrators staged anti-China protests in towns and cities across the Central Asian nation on March 27. (TASS, 03.31.21, RFE/RL, 03.27.21)
- Citizens in Turkmenistan have voted in members of the parliament’s upper chamber, the People's Council, for the first time since constitutional amendments in September 2020 made parliament bicameral. (RFE/RL, 03.29.21)
- Col. Scott Shaw, the outgoing head of the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, is busy briefing other service leaders, such as Army Training and Doctrine Command chief Gen. Paul Funk, on what he and his soldiers have learned from hours of poring over footage from the Nagorno-Karabakh fight. (Foreign Policy, 03.03.21.)
- The U.S. State Department will recommend against the renewal of a general license authorizing transactions with nine state-owned Belarusian companies, spokesman Ned Price said March 31. Speaking at a briefing, Price said the human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated “to what is arguably the worst point in Belarus’s independent history.” (RFE/RL, 03.31.21)
- Belarusian prosecutors opened a terrorism investigation against opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the latest move from authorities trying to quash opposition groups after months of anti-government protests. (RFE/RL, 03.29.21)
- Despite a nudge from a senior U.S. State Department official, Azerbaijan has so far refused to return more than four dozen Armenian prisoners who were captured after a bloody war for control of disputed Nagorno-Karabakh. U.S. officials say that 52 Armenians are still held by Azerbaijan, despite earlier exchanges of prisoners. An Armenian official said his government estimates that the number of captives is much higher, around 200. (The Washington Post, 03.29.21)
- Moldova's parliament on March 31 voted to introduce a 60-day state of emergency to fight the coronavirus pandemic, a decision condemned by allies of pro-Western President Maia Sandu as a ploy to delay early elections. (RFE/RL, 03.31.21)
- The Armenian parliament has adopted changes to the country’s Electoral Code that the opposition says are aimed at helping Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan win snap elections expected in June. The amendments, announced by Pashinyan, whose My Step faction dominates the National Assembly, will switch the Caucasus country's electoral system to a fully proportional one. Pashinyan announced March 28 he will resign next month but stay in office until parliamentary elections due on June 20, in an effort to curb the political crisis gripping Armenia. (AFP, 03.29.21, RFE/RL, 04.02.21)
- Armenia's prime minister has gone into self-isolation as a preventative measure against coronavirus ahead of a meeting with Putin in Moscow, officials said April 2. He is expected to meet with Putin April 7. (The Moscow Times, 04.02.21)
- Armenia’s Constitutional Court has ruled that a criminal case against former President Robert Kocharyan must be dropped, ending a legal saga over a deadly crackdown on protesters more than a decade ago. In January, Kocharyan said he would participate in any early elections. (RFE/RL, 03.27.21)
- About 62 percent of Armenian citizens want Yerevan to continue reinforcing relations with Moscow, according a survey conducted by the MPG company, the Gallup sociological service’s partner. (TASS, 03.31.21)