Russia in Review, May 24-31, 2019

This Week's Highlights:

  • Bloomberg reports that Russia has rejected an Iranian request to buy S-400 missile defense systems, concerned that the sale would stoke more tension in the Middle East, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, including a senior Russian official. The request was rebuffed by President Vladimir Putin, the people said.
  • The U.S. believes Russia “probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the 'zero-yield' standard," director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Robert Ashley said in a May 29 speech, according to RFE/RL. The problem, he said, was that Russia "has not been willing to affirm" it is adhering to the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Meanwhile, Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the watchdog organization overseeing the treaty, said Ashley’s claims had already been investigated and no evidence was found that Russia has conducted low-yield tests in violation of the CTBT, The Independent reports.
  • U.S. national security advisor John Bolton, Israeli national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev will meet in Jerusalem “to discuss regional security issues,” the White House said in a statement, as reported by Haaretz. Israel Hayom quoted the Israeli premier as saying he "offered to establish a trilateral summit … in Israel, to discuss all of the regional security issues. This has never happened in the history of Israel that the two great superpowers chose to come here to discuss amongst them and with us issues that are critical for our security." Jim Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria engagement, said after a closed-door U.N. Security Council session that Washington and Moscow were studying a "step-by-step approach" to ending the eight-year war in Syria, but he added that a resolution will require "hard decisions," RFE/RL reports.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller said if he had confidence President Trump didn't commit a crime, he "would have said so," suggesting that it was Congress' job to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Citing a Rosstat report for the fourth quarter of 2018, media outlet RBC said that 48.2 percent of the Russian families surveyed could afford food and clothes but not things like a smartphone or a new refrigerator, RFE/RL reports. That figure was down from 49.8 percent year on year. The Moscow Times cited experts from to research organizations as saying that Russians’ incomes will fall for a sixth consecutive year in 2019. A Romir survey cited by the newspaper separately found Russians reported spending less on food, travel, clothes and other goods and services in 2019 than last year.
  • About 2 million Ukrainian workers have emigrated to Poland in recent years, according to the Financial Times—a significant number in a workforce of 16 million.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Rosenergoatom, the operator of Russia's Leningrad nuclear power plant, has strengthened operational safety in response to the findings of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) review in 2017, a follow-up mission has concluded. (World Nuclear News, 05.30.19)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump has downplayed recent missile launches by North Korea, saying he believes that the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, will follow through on promises he had made. (RFE/RL, 05.26.19)
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly executed his special envoy on nuclear talks with the U.S., Kim Hyok Chol, and four unidentified Foreign Ministry employees in the wake of a failed summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February. (RFE/RL, 05.31.19)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russia has rejected an Iranian request to buy S-400 missile defense systems, concerned that the sale would stoke more tension in the Middle East. The request was reportedly rebuffed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Bloomberg, 05.31.19)
  • Russia expressed support for Japan’s intention to play a role in helping ease tensions between Iran and the U.S., an official in Tokyo said on May 30 after a meeting of Japan and Russia’s foreign and defense ministers. (Reuters, 05.30.19)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and his Iranian counterpart Abbas Araqchi have discussed issues related to the 2015 nuclear deal amid increased tension between Tehran and Washington. The two diplomats "shared the hope that the situation will stabilize soon.” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on May 28 that Tehran saw no prospect of negotiations with Washington. (RFE/RL, 05.29.19)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump on May 27 denied that the U.S. is seeking regime change in Iran, dialing back hawkish rhetoric days after ordering 1,500 additional U.S. troops to the region. (The Washington Post, 05.27.19)

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • No significant developments.

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • Warsaw and Washington are close to a deal on an increased U.S. military presence in Poland, which could be announced when Polish President Andrzej Duda visits his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump next month. The deal would increase the 4,500-strong U.S. presence in Poland by at least 1,000. (Financial Times, 05.31.19)
  • Turkey's currency surged May 30 on rising speculation a looming crisis could be averted between Ankara and Washington over Turkey’s purchasing of S-400 missile-defense systems from Russia, after a telephone conversation between U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "The [Turkish] President has reiterated an earlier offer for the formation of a joint working group on Turkey's plan to procure the S-400 defense system from the Russian Federation," tweeted Fahrettin Altun, Turkey's presidential communications director. Earlier, Kathryn Wheelbarger, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, warned Turkey about the consequences of purchasing the S-400. (VOA, 05.30.19, RFE/RL, 05.31.19)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • "The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the 'zero-yield' standard," Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Robert Ashley said in a speech on May 29 that Russia could be doing tests that go "beyond what is believed necessary, beyond zero yield." The problem, he said, was that Russia "has not been willing to affirm" they are adhering to the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. (RFE/RL, 05.29.19)
    • The assertion is a "crude provocation," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 30. It also called on the U.S. “to show a responsible approach and to ratify the [CTBT], without which it is impossible for it to come into force." “The U.S. allegations ... look like a well-planned and directed attack not only and not so much on Russia as on the arms control regime, and on the entire architecture for strategic stability," Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador to the U.S. said. “Moscow is carrying out the so-called subcritical tests of nuclear weapons," at its Novaya Zemlya test site, according to Russian military expert Viktor Murakhovsk. (TASS/NG, 05.31.19, RFE/RL, 05.29.19, RFE/RL, 05.30.19, Reuters, 05.30.19)
    • Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), said the agency had already investigated the claim made by Ashley and that there no evidence to support his allegation. (Independent, 05.30.19)
    • The Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C. was skeptical of Ashley’s claim: “Ashley would only say that Russia had the ‘capability’ to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty, a capability which Russia, China and the United States have long had. He did not say that Russia has conducted or is conducting such tests.” (The National Interest, 05.30.19)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted a bill to parliament May 30 to withdraw Russia from the INF Treaty. Russia reserves the right to resume the implementation of the INF Treaty at any moment despite the bill on suspending the agreement, Russian lawmakers told Izvestia. (CNN, 05.30.19, TASS, 05.31.19)

Counter-terrorism:

  • Belgium has extradited to Moscow Immampasha Akhmadov, a Russian citizen suspected of joining the Islamic State in Syria in 2014. (RFE/RL, 05.29.19)

Conflict in Syria:

  • “U.S. National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton, Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev will meet in Jerusalem to discuss regional security issues,” the White House press secretary said in a statement. The Israeli premier said he "offered to establish a trilateral summit, meaning the U.S., Russia and Israel, in Israel, to discuss all of the regional security issues. This has never happened in the history of Israel that the two great superpowers chose to come here to discuss amongst them and with us issues that are critical for our security." (Haaretz, 05.31.19, Israel Hayom, 05.31.19)
  • Jim Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria engagement, on May 29 told reporters following a closed-door U.N. Security Council session that Washington and Moscow were studying a "step-by-step approach" to ending the eight-year war in Syria, but he added that a resolution will require "hard decisions." The comments appeared to indicate new U.S.-Russia engagement to find a peaceful solution. (RFE/RL, 05.30.19)
  • The Syrian regime and allied Russian jets have bombed at least six hospitals in the past month that were on a list shared by the U.N. with the warring parties in the hope of minimizing civilian casualties, according to Syrian doctors in rebel-held Idlib. Russia’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment. (Financial Times, 05.29.19)
  • Russia will be able to guarantee that Syria’s Idlib will not become another Raqqa, devastated by a large-scale military operation, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria. (TASS, 05.28.19)
  • The Kremlin said on May 31 it was Turkey's responsibility to stop rebels in Syria's Idlib province from firing on civilian and Russian targets, signaling it would continue to back a Syrian government offensive there despite Ankara's protests. (Reuters, 05.31.19)
  • Tehran may equip a military port near Russian bases in Syria, a diplomatic source told Nezavisimaya Gazeta, referring to a May 5 report that an Iranian oil tanker, that had been allegedly heading to Turkey but changed course, stopped at Syria's Banias port. According to the source, this port city may become Iran's military facility. (TASS, 05.27.19)
  • “One could hardly overestimate the importance of the Syrian combat experience,” the commander of Russia’s Western Military District, Col. Gen. Alexander Zhuravlyov, told the Red Star newspaper. “During various practice missions, the commanders are being trained how to establish and eliminate ‘the Syrian barrage’ and to conduct tunnel warfare and counter-SVBIED [suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device] and counter-UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] actions," he said. (TASS, 05.28.19)

Cyber security:

  • Offering the best hints yet about Russia’s upcoming national artificial intelligence strategy, Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined several pragmatic lines of effort: training programs, public-private cooperation, legislative support and efforts to build on Russia's STEM strengths. Somewhat surprisingly, he also suggested that the government would seek to enshrine and protect new intellectual property and citizens' rights. The Russian Direct Investment Fund has raised $2 billion from foreign investors to support domestic companies developing artificial intelligence. (The Moscow Times, 05.31.19, Defense One, 05.30.19)

Elections interference:

  • Special counsel Robert Mueller said if he had confidence U.S. President Donald Trump didn't commit a crime, he "would have said so," suggesting that it was Congress's job to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing. "The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal-justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing," Mueller said at the Justice Department on May 29. "Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional—even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public," he said. He also reiterated that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election campaign. (Wall Street Journal, 05.29.19, RFE/RL, 05.29.19)
    • In a tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump again said he was innocent. "Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed," he wrote. "Look, Robert Mueller should've never been chosen because he wanted the FBI job and he didn't get it," Trump said. (RFE/RL, 05.29.19, The Washington Post, 05.30.19)
    • “Many constituents want to impeach the president but we want to do what is right and what gets results,” Sen. Nanci Pelosi said at a conference in California. “The case has to be very compelling to the American people.” (Financial Times, 05.30.19)
    • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of one of the main House committees investigating aspects of the Mueller investigation, said it was now up to Congress to "respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing" by Trump. (RFE/RL, 05.29.19)
    • Kamala Harris, the Democratic senator running for president, said the signal was unmistakable. “What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral. Now it is up to Congress to hold this president accountable,” she said. (Financial Times, 05.30.19)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has said that Russia helped him win the 2016 election, a comment that contradicted months of angry denials. Trump made the remark in a tweet on May 30, but reversed himself not long after when pressed by reporters. (RFE/RL, 05.31.19)

Energy exports:

  • Russia's pipeline monopoly Transneft said on May 31 it planned to start removing tainted oil from the Belarusian pipeline on June 1. (Reuters, 05.31.19)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • New U.S. Defense Department rules list Russia alongside China, North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria as countries where satellite and launch vehicle contracts will be banned on Dec. 31, 2022. The U.S. has been trying to cut reliance on Russian-made rocket engines, eyeing 2022 as the latest deadline, amid strained relations. Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos condemned the U.S. move as “unfair competition in the international space services market.” (The Moscow Times, 05.31.19)
  • Russian private equity firm Baring Vostok wants investigators to release its American founder Michael Calvey from house arrest to attend the country’s biggest business conference next week, the company said in a statement May 27. (Financial Times, 05.27.19)
  • Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos confirmed a report that he was running for Congress. "I have some support," he said. "There's a lot of interest, actually, in it." He had his eye on the 48th Congressional District, where a Democrat had just defeated Republican Dana Rohrabacher. (The Washington Post, 05.26.19)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • A Russian state-funded survey published May 24 said that trust in Russian President Vladimir Putin slipped to a 13-year low of 31.7 percent. The Kremlin on May 30 asked the VTsIOM pollster to explain how that figure correlates with Putin’s approval rating of 65 percent in the same survey. VTsIOM published new figures on May 31 showing trust in Putin skyrocketing to 72.3 percent after the Kremlin’s criticism. (The Moscow Times, 05.31.19)
  • Some 40 percent of Russians believe their country is going in the wrong direction, a poll by the independent Levada Center polling agency said. Approval for Russia’s direction peaked at 61 percent in 2008. (The Moscow Times, 05.31.19)
  • Citing a Rosstat report on household financial situations in the fourth quarter of 2018, media outlet RBK said that 48.2 percent of families surveyed could purchase food and clothes but could not afford things like a smartphone or a new refrigerator. That figure was down from 49.8 percent in the same period a year earlier. (RFE/RL, 05.29.19)
  • Russians’ incomes will fall for a sixth consecutive year in 2019, experts from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics and Russia’s Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) said. Meanwhile, poverty levels are expected to remain around 12.9 percent this year, RBC quoted Tatiana Maleva, head of RANEPA’s Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting, as saying. (The Moscow Times, 05.29.19)
  • Russians said they spent less on food, travel, clothes and other goods and services in 2019 than last year, according to a survey by Russia’s Romir researcher. Among Russians who said they had to cut spending in 2019, 24 percent said they saved on food, 29 percent on travel and 23 percent on clothes, the survey said. Another 13 percent said they saved on alcohol and cigarettes, while 7 percent said they saved on sports and medicine each. (The Moscow Times, 05.28.19)
  • Sixty-seven percent of poll respondents said they had consumed alcohol between several times a week and less than once a month in 2019, according to Russian state-funded pollster VTsIOM. Last year’s results said 57 percent of respondents drank alcohol at the same frequency. (The Moscow Times, 05.30.19)
  • Russian cities with populations of 1 million or greater will need at least 100 years to catch up to Moscow’s level of economic development, according to research by the Strelka Consulting Bureau. The 16 cities contributed almost one-third of Russia’s GDP in 2017, more than half of which came from Moscow, according to the study. (The Moscow Times, 05.27.19)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a package of laws and decrees that prolongs the ongoing capital amnesty and repatriation drive from June 1, 2019 to Feb. 29, 2020. (The Moscow Times, 05.31.19)
  • Gazprom increased its first-quarter net profit by 44 percent over the previous year as higher gas prices offset lower gas export volumes. Gazprom on May 30 reported net profit attributable to its shareholders of 535.9 billion rubles ($8.2 billion) for January-March. Net sales to Europe and other countries increased 10 percent on the previous year to 837.4 billion rubles, it said. (Financial Times, 05.30.19)
  • Russia has launched a nuclear-powered icebreaker as it looks to strengthen its position in the Arctic Ocean to capitalize on its growing commercial potential. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia's Arctic icebreaker fleet could total 13 or more by 2035. (RFE/RL, 05.26.19)
  • Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill has claimed that Russia constructs three new churches per day less than two weeks after mass protests erupted over the construction of a new cathedral in Yekaterinburg. (The Moscow Times, 05.28.19)
  • Russia's Economy Ministry has proposed restricting access to the Unified Land Registry, or EGRN, a database widely used by journalists and anticorruption campaigners to shed light on the lifestyles of the country's elite. (RFE/RL, 05.28.19)
  • Two protesters have been hospitalized and two others detained during an ongoing rally against the construction of a new landfill near the northwestern city of Arkhangelsk, located some 1,000 kilometers north of Moscow. (RFE/RL, 05.27.19)
  • Human Rights Watch says the recent arrest of Roman Udot, a board member of the independent Golos (Voice) election-monitoring group, shows the authorities’ unwillingness to rein in “abusive tactics” by the state-affiliated television station NTV. (RFE/RL, 05.26.19)
  • Russian blogger Sergei Komandirov, who posted a meme mocking Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been charged under a controversial new law penalizing "disrespect toward the authorities." (RFE/RL, 05.28.19)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russian serviceman Artur Yepifantsev, who was filmed saying his military base had surveyed troops on their readiness to fire at protesters, has backtracked on the claims in a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry, alleging that his words had been "distorted in the worst way." (RFE/RL, 05.27.19)
  • The Russian Air and Space Forces performed a successful launch of a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from launch pad No. 4 of launch complex No. 43 at the Plesetsk space launch site. The satellite that the rocket and its Fregat boost stage delivered into orbit is a Glonass-M navigation satellite. The satellite is likely to be designated Cosmos-2534. (Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, 05.28.19)
  • Russia has launched a powerful European-made Yamal-601 communications satellite for state energy giant Gazprom from Kazakhstan. (The Moscow Times, 05.31.19)
  • Two Russian cosmonauts on the International Space Station exited the craft for a six-hour spacewalk to undertake scientific research and conduct maintenance and tidying-up work on their orbiting base. (RFE/RL, 05.30.19)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes and Jaguar Land Rover filed a complaint with Russian authorities alleging that Krasnodar judges abuse the consumer protection system to seek inordinate levels of compensation for car owners. (The Moscow Times, 05.28.19)
  • The high-profile trial of members of the New Greatness youth activist group has begun in Moscow. The eight young men and women on trial have been charged with creating an extremist group. (RFE/RL, 05.27.19)
  • A knife-wielding man attacked staffers of the Russian Communist Party newspaper in the southern city of Stavropol, leaving an editor hospitalized and wounding three others after an article he wrote was rejected, law enforcement authorities and the newspaper say. (RFE/RL, 05.27.19)
  • Former Russian museum director Sergei Koltyrin, who has conducted research at a mass grave containing the remains of thousands of people shot under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, has been convicted of having sex with a minor and sentenced to nine years in prison. (RFE/RL, 05.28.19)
  • Prominent Russian intellectuals and Soviet-era dissidents have attended an event to support gulag researcher and historian Yury Dmitriyev, who is on trial for allegedly sexually assaulting his adopted daughter, a charge he and his supporters vehemently deny as politically motivated. (RFE/RL, 05.30.19)
  • Russian border guards have detained Iraqi citizens who allegedly tried to make it illegally across the border to Norway. (The Barents Observer, 05.30.19)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

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

  • Elections to the European Parliament coming in on May 27 indicated that the long-established "grand coalition" of the European People's Party and the Socialists will no longer have a majority. But while far-right forces and nationalists recorded strong gains, powerful showings by Greens and liberals meant that parties committed to strengthening the EU retained about two-thirds of the seats—505 out of 751, according to a projection by the European Parliament. (RFE/RL, 05.27.19)
  • Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has lost a confidence vote in parliament, removing him from office over a political scandal that brought down his coalition government. The political crisis was triggered last week by a 2017 video purportedly showing his vice chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, offering contracts to a potential Russian benefactor in exchange for political donations. Brigitte Bierlein has been appointed as Austria’s first female chancellor. (RFE/RL, 05.27.19, Financial Times, 05.30.19)
  • The Kosovo government said on May 31 that Mikhail Krasnoshchenkov, a Russian national working for the U.N. mission, would not be allowed back into the country after his expulsion. The U.N. mission said on May 30 that Krasnoshchenkov had sustained injuries when he was arrested during a police anti-crime operation in Kosovo and was now in a Belgrade hospital. (Reuters, 05.31.19)
  • Russia summoned Spain's ambassador to Moscow on May 28 after acting Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell referred to the country as an "old enemy," the Russian Foreign Ministry said on May 28. (Reuters, 05.28.19)
  • Hosting Taliban delegates and Afghan politicians in an effort to promote itself as a peacemaker in Afghanistan, Russia has called for the complete withdrawal of international forces from the war-ravaged country. When members of the Taliban and Afghan politicians met in Moscow for talks, one face in particular stood out: Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban. Baradar’s comments showed that the insurgency’s leadership was willing to advance peace talks. (RFE/RL, 05.28.19, The Washington Post, 05.28.18)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on May 30 that Russia was only operating on its own territory after Japan accused Moscow of a military buildup on a chain of islands in the Pacific. (Reuters, 05.30.19)
  • Russian national Tatiana Valovaya has been appointed Director-General of the U.N. Office at Geneva. (TASS, 05.30.19)

China:

  • At the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Russia and attend the 23rd St. Petersburg International Economic Forum from June 5 to 7. In his speech at the St. Petersburg event, Xi is expected to reiterate Beijing's appeal for multilateralism, better global governance and sustainable common prosperity. (Straits Times, 05.31.19, TASS, 05.31.19)
  • The first bridge linking Russia and China across the Amur River was connected on May 31. Officials from the two countries stressed their close ties at a ceremony. The bridge, which is over 1,000 meters long, links Russia's Amur Region with China's Heilongjiang Province. Construction began three years ago. (NHK, 05.31.19)
  • With rare earths in the cross hairs of the U.S.-China trade war, there’s a sharp focus on who else can sell the critical minerals. Russia could become one supplier. The country accounts for less than 2% of global production, but owns the world’s fourth-biggest reserves. There are two projects that could come online by 2023, but they’ve been set back by delays. (Bloomberg, 05.31.19)
  • Russia has requested an official explanation from China over a reported new policy in which Russian citizens’ phones are randomly seized and searched by Chinese border guards. (The Moscow Times, 05.28.19)

Ukraine:

  • Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky should follow Greece by rejecting the International Monetary Fund’s austerity program and defaulting on its external debt, according to Zelensky’s contentious oligarch supporter. Ihor Kolomoisky’s comments in an interview with the Financial Times will ring alarm bells with Kiev’s western backers even though Zelensky has said he would stick to the terms of Ukraine’s $3.9 billion bailout. “How many times has Argentina defaulted? [ . . .] So what, they restructured it. It’s fine,” Kolomoisky said. (Financial Times, 05.25.19)
  • The aggregate state (direct) and state-guaranteed debt of Ukraine in April 2019 grew by 1.3 percent, or $1.03 billion, to $79.82 billion. (Interfax, 05.27.19)
  • About 2 million Ukrainian workers have emigrated to Poland in recent years—a significant number in a workforce of 16 million. (Financial Times, 05.30.19)
  • Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, rejected Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman's resignation after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on May 20 called on the government to step down. Only 97 lawmakers voted on May 30 in favor of Hroysman's resignation—far short of the 226 votes needed to accept Hroysman's resignation. (RFE/RL, 05.30.19)
  • Volodymyr Zelensky’s office announced on May 30 that the president had formally asked the parliament to dismiss Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak and Security Service chief Vasyl Hrytsak. The president's office added that a move to dismiss Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko was pending.  (RFE/RL, 05.30.19)
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's newly formed political party has appointed campaign adviser Dmytro Razumkov as its head and will interview prospective candidates to fill its party list ahead of snap parliamentary elections in July 21. (RFE/RL, 05.27.19)
  • The political party of former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has changed its name in a bid to rebrand itself ahead of key parliamentary elections. The Petro Poroshenko Bloc was renamed to European Solidarity at a party congress on May 24. (RFE/RL, 05.24.19)
  • Donning a bulletproof helmet and vest over business attire, Volodymyr Zelensky made his first visit as president and supreme commander in chief to the front line of the war in eastern Ukraine with Russia-backed separatists that has killed 13,000 people and shows no sign of ending. (RFE/RL, 05.27.19)
  • Russian restrictions on shipments of diesel fuel, crude oil and lubricants to Ukraine, due to come into effect June 1, could cause problems for Ukraine, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Danylyuk said. (Interfax, 05.31.19)
  • Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said on May 31 he hopes that EU sanctions on Russia will remain in place until Ukrainian territories are returned. (Reuters, 05.31.19)
  • U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker has called Russian activity in eastern Ukraine an "occupation" and has called on Moscow to start implementing its obligations under the 2015 Minsk accords. (RFE/RL, 05.29.19)
  • Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov has described reports that presidential aide Vyacheslav Surkov has tendered his resignation as rumors and declined to comment on them. (Interfax, 05.27.19)
  • The Kremlin has rejected a U.N. tribunal’s call for Russia to release 24 Ukrainian sailors detained since November 2018, and said it would continue to defend its position over the naval clash. (Financial Times, 05.27.19)
  • One Ukrainian soldier has been wounded in action in Donbass on May 28 and has been hospitalized, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said. (Interfax, 05.28.19)
  • An Mi-8 military helicopter crashed late on May 29 during a training exercise in western Ukraine, killing three crew members and their commander. (RFE/RL, 05.30.19)
  • Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who served as governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region in 2015-16, has welcomed the restoration of his Ukrainian citizenship by new President Volodymyr Zelensky as a “courageous step by a courageous and worthy president.” Saakashvili returned to Ukraine on May 29. (RFE/RL, 05.29.19)
  • Four prison guards have been injured in what Ukrainian law enforcement authorities said was a riot by inmates at a penitentiary in the Odessa region. (RFE/RL, 05.27.19)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has discussed military cooperation between Russia and Tajikistan with the Central Asian country's president, Emomali Rahmon, and its defense minister. (RFE/RL, 05.28.19)
  • German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev have discussed bilateral cooperation during Steinmeier's three-day official visit to Central Asia's most populous country. (RFE/RL, 05.28.19)
  • European Council President Donald Tusk has continued his Central Asian tour with a visit to Kazakhstan, where he held talks with interim President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev. (RFE/RL, 05.31.19)
  • Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has pardoned 764 inmates on the occasion of a religious holiday, according to state media reports. (RFE/RL, 05.30.19)
  • Banker-turned-politician Gitanas Nauseda won Lithuania's presidential runoff election after his opponent Ingrida Simonyte conceded. (RFE/RL, 05.26.19)
  • Chief editor of Sputnik's Lithuanian branch Marat Kasem has been kicked out of the Baltic nation amid growing concerns in the West over Russian state media influence. (RFE/RL, 05.29.19)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • The Energy Department announced the approval of a liquefied natural gas project in Texas, saying it would allow "molecules of U.S. freedom to be exported to the world." (The Washington Post, 05.29.19)
  • “We just believe he’s like a god. He’s a great leader for India, just like Trump and Putin, all people follow him," hotel worker Deepak Singh Bhandari said of India’s Narendra Modi shortly after he was reelected. (Financial Times, 05.24.19)