Russia in Review, May 7-14, 2021
This Week’s Highlights
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken have agreed to meet in Reykjavik on May 20 on the sidelines of the Arctic Council and also discussed a potential U.S.-Russian summit.
- A teenage gunman on May 11 set off an explosion and opened fire at a school in Kazan, the regional capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, killing nine people. Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 13 said the deadly school shooting “has shaken” the country and ordered the government to revise school security protocols and tighten control over civilian gun ownership.
- U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.S. government has “strong reason” to believe that the hackers behind a cyber attack that shut the Colonial petroleum pipeline, a group called DarkSide, were based in Russia, but it does not believe the Kremlin was involved in the attack. DarkSide avoids targeting computers that use languages from former Soviet republics, cyber experts say.
- Putin said May 14 that Ukraine was becoming “anti-Russia” and that Moscow would be ready to react to what he said were threats to its own security after a Kyiv court placed under house arrest Kremlin-friendly tycoon and politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who is under suspicion of treason Meanwhile, the European Union says Russia is trying to gradually absorb parts of eastern Ukraine, according to a document the bloc shared this week with member states.
- Only 16 percent of Russians viewed last month’s nationwide protests in support of Navalny positively, according to a poll by the Levada Center published May 13, a signal of flagging momentum for his embattled opposition groups.
- Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan has turned to the Russia-led CSTO after accusing Azerbaijani troops of crossing Armenia’s southern border and trying to stake claim to territory. He cited the “explosive situation” in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik Province where Azerbaijani troops reportedly advanced several kilometers into Armenian territory early on May 12 and refused to pull back. The Armenian Defense Ministry said later on May 13 Azerbaijani forces also breached two other sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. During a call with Pashinyan, Putin stressed the need for "strict observance" of the cease-fire agreement, and "reaffirmed [Moscow's] commitment to active mediation efforts and close contacts with Yerevan and Baku, aimed at ensuring stability in the region," according to the Kremlin.
- Putin submitted a bill on May 11 to withdraw Russia from the Open Skies Treaty after the United States’ exit last year. “All the procedures for withdrawing … should be completed by the end of May,” Leonid Slutsky, chair of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, said. Meanwhile, Putin and Biden "have agreed to explore strategic stability discussions on a range of arms-control and emerging security issues," Robert Wood, the U.S. ambassador for disarmament, said. Lavrov backed up Wood's comments, saying that Moscow had proposed discussing arms control and security matters if the bilateral summit were to take place.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant developments.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- No significant developments.
Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
- U.S. President Joe Biden joined a videoconference of the presidents of NATO's eastern flanks in Bucharest May 10. The main topics of discussion at the summit included security in the Black Sea region and the situation around Ukraine. Eastern European NATO states would like a bigger presence of allied military forces on the bloc's eastern flank, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said at the event. (Interfax, 05.10.21, Reuters, 05.10.21)
- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a meeting with counterparts from China and Russia on May 7 that the United States would ''push back forcefully'' against those in violation of international rules, even as he acknowledged his own country's violations under the Trump administration. Blinken's counterparts, Foreign Ministers Wang Yi of China and Sergei Lavrov of Russia accused the U.S. of hypocrisy and of defining international rules in terms designed to assert Western dominance in the world. Lavrov attacked a U.S. proposal to hold a "Summit for Democracy," saying such a gathering would only deepen fissures on the international stage. (AFP, 05.07.21, The New York Times, 05.08.21)
- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said May 7 at the EU-U.S. Future Forum that Washington’s foreign policy efforts are not aimed at containing Russia or China. “They are sovereign nations who want to have a place in the world. We just want to make sure that that place is not one of aggression—[that] it is not a place where human rights are abused.” (Atlantic Council, 05.10.21)
- Adm. Alexander Moiseyev, commander of Russia’s Northern Fleet, said NATO navy ships’ presence in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea have reached levels unseen since World War II. Moiseyev charged that NATO drills have edged closer to Russian borders and noted increasingly frequent flights by U.S. nuclear-capable strategic bombers. (AP, 05.13.21)
- The French Defense Ministry said a Russian jet escorted three French military planes over the Black Sea on May 11 and 12. Earlier on May 12, Russia’s defense ministry was cited by Interfax as saying that Russia had scrambled a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet to escort two French fighter jets and a refuelling aircraft over the Black Sea. (Reuters, 05.12.21)
- Czech authorities plan to demand at least $47 million in compensation from Moscow for a deadly 2014 arms depot explosions it blames on Russian spy agencies, Finance Minister Alena Schillerová said May 8. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he has asked the European Council to condemn Russia for its alleged involvement in the deadly explosion. (The Moscow Times, 05.10.21, RFE/RL, 05.08.21)
- A Danish court on May 10 sentenced a Russian man to three years in prison followed by expulsion from Denmark with no possibility of return, after he was found guilty of espionage. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.11.21)
- The space race appears set for a relaunch following the news that Russia is to send an actor and director to the International Space Station in October, with the ambition of making the first feature film in space. While there, they could encounter some fellow filmmakers: Tom Cruise and American director Doug Liman, who are also due to travel to the ISS in October to make a movie. Russia also announced plans May 13 to take Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to the International Space Station (ISS) in December, in a bid to resurrect its space tourism program in the face of U.S. competition. (The Guardian, 05.13.21 The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.13.21)
China-Russia: Allied or aligned?
- No significant developments.
The U.S. State Department recently approved the potential sale to Canada of more than $1.7 billion worth of AEGIS Combat Systems, according to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency. (Defense Blog, 05.11.21)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted a bill on May 11 to withdraw Russia from an international treaty that allowed surveillance flights after the United States’ exit last year. “All the procedures for withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty should be completed by the end of May, we definitely won’t delay here,” Leonid Slutsky, chair of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, said. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.11.21)
- Putin and Biden "have agreed to explore strategic stability discussions on a range of arms-control and emerging security issues," Robert Wood—the U.S. ambassador for disarmament—said May 11. Lavrov backed up Wood's comments, saying that Moscow had proposed discussing arms control and security matters if the bilateral summit were to take place. (RFE/RL, 05.11.21)
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- The Russian Defense Ministry is working to expand its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus; it plans to construct a floating dock in 2022. (Al Monitor, 05.10.21)
- Russian troops have blocked and turned around a U.S. military convoy in northeast Syria, the Russian military said May 13, accusing it of violating deconfliction arrangements in the country. The U.S. Defense Department declined to comment. (The Moscow Times, 05.14.21)
- Israeli-licensed military drones first took off from Syrian Air Force bases to stalk opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, shortly after Russia’s 2015 intervention. The Russian variant of the Israeli Aerospace Industries Searcher II, redubbed "Forpost" by its operators, has played a pivotal role in rescuing the Assad regime since then. (Haaretz, 05.09.21)
- The Biden administration is bracing for a showdown with Russia over the delivery of U.N aid to millions of Syrians outside Assad’s control, a flow that Moscow is poised to block in July. At stake is the U.N.'s use of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Syria and Turkey. (The Wall Street Journal, 05.10.21)
- The U.S. Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records of three Washington Post reporters who wrote about the federal investigation into ties between Russia and former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, the newspaper said May 7. (RFE/RL, 05.07.21)
- Former Trump White House counsel Donald McGahn is expected to answer questions “as soon as possible” in a closed session with House lawmakers about former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, according to an agreement outlined in court filings May 12. (The Washington Post, 05.12.21)
- Biden said the U.S. government has “strong reason” to believe the hackers behind a cyber attack that shut the Colonial petroleum pipeline were based in Russia as he urged Americans to not panic over temporary fuel shortages. “We do not believe the Russian government was involved in this attack. But we do have strong reason to believe that the criminals who did the attack are living in Russia. That is where it came from,” Biden said May 13. “We have been in direct communication with Moscow about the imperative for responsible countries to take decisive action against these ransomware networks,” he added, noting he hoped to discuss the issue with Putin. DarkSide avoids targeting computers that use languages from former Soviet republics, cyber experts say. Russia’s embassy in the United States rejected speculation that Moscow was behind the attack. (Financial Times, 05.14.21, RFE/RL, 05.10.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.11.21, The New York Times, 05.13.21, Reuters, 05.12.21)
- Two Russian nationals are among four men who have pleaded guilty to cybercrimes that targeted banks and companies across the U.S., resulting in millions of dollars of losses, the Justice Department said May 7. The four men provided so-called “bulletproof hosting” services to a network of cybercriminals, according to court documents. (RFE/RL, 05.08.21)
Energy exports from CIS:
- Fears are growing in Berlin of a Russian-led cyber campaign against Annalena Baerbock, the leader of Germany’s Green party, after she pledged to block the Nord Stream 2 project. (The Guardian, 05.13.21)
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- Lavrov and Blinken spoke by phone and have agreed to meet in Reykjavik on May 20 on the sidelines of the Arctic Council, the Russian Foreign Ministry said May 12. They also discussed a potential summit, according to the readout of the call. Additionally, Blinken repeated his call on Russia to release detained Americans in the country and provided Lavrov with an overview of U.S. policy toward North Korea, according to the State Department. The department also said Blinken reaffirmed Biden’s “resolve to protect U.S. citizens and act firmly in defense of U.S. interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies.” (Reuters, 05.12.21, Reuters, 05.12.21, AP, 05.12.21)
- When asked about the possibility of meeting Putin in June during a planned trip to Europe, Biden responded: “I'm confident we'll be able to do it. We don't have any specific time or place. That's being worked on.” When asked whether Moscow had officially agreed to the proposed summit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "We continue to analyze the situation.” (RFE/RL, 05.07.21)
- After suspending most consular services to its nationals and putting a stop to issuing visas on May 12 due to a drastic reduction of its staff following tit-for-tat sanctions, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said May 14 it will temporarily resume some consular services. The embassy announced that it will resume “routine U.S. citizen services” through July 16 after the Russian government informed it of the “intent to postpone” a Russian ban on hiring local residents. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.12.21, AP, 05.14.21)
- The 10 diplomats to be expelled from Russia as part of Russia’s retaliation to sanctions from Washington, including the U.S. Embassy’s spokeswoman, have until May 21 to leave the country, Kommersant reported May 12. (The Moscow Times, 05.12.21)
- The U.S. State Department has labeled Russia among the world's worst offenders of religious freedom. (RFE/RL, 05.13.21)
- U.S. officials suspect that Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU, may be behind alleged attacks that are causing mysterious health issues among U.S. government personnel across the world. (Politico, 05.13.21)
- The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey seized an illicit shipment of weapons from a stateless ship in the international water of the North Arabian Sea May 6-7. The cache of weapons included dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launchers. (Defense Blog, 05.09.21)
- Peter Dzibinski Debbins, a former U.S. Army Green Beret who admitted divulging military secrets to Russia over a 15-year period is scheduled to be sentenced on espionage charges May 14. (AP, 05.14.21)
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- Russia on May 14 confirmed 9,462 new coronavirus cases and 393 deaths. Moscow saw a spike in infections with 3,818 cases over the past 24 hours, the highest daily count since January, as Russia returned from an extended non-working period designed to prevent a third wave of the pandemic. (The Moscow Times, 05.14.21) Here’s a link to RFE/RL’s interactive map of the virus’ spread around the world, including in Russia and the rest of post-Soviet Eurasia. For a comparison of the number and rate of change in new cases in the U.S. and Russia, visit this Russia Matters resource.
- Russia's consumer health watchdog on May 13 denied a report that the country had recorded its first cases of the COVID-19 variant first found in India, which some preliminary studies show spreads easily. The denial came after Kommersant reported that authorities in the city of Ulyanovsk had recorded 16 cases of the variant among Indian students. (Reuters, 05.13.21)
- Putin will likely remain in self-isolation despite receiving both doses of one of Russia’s domestically made coronavirus vaccines. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.10.21)
- The majority of Russians (62 percent) are still not ready to be vaccinated with the Sputnik V vaccine, according to a poll by the independent Levada Center published May 12. The results are the latest sign that Russians are largely still skeptical of the domestically-produced vaccine amid Russia’s attempts to boost its slower-than-hoped vaccination campaign. (The Moscow Times, 05.12.21)
- Russia's annual consumer price inflation in April 2021 slowed down to 5.5 percent from 5.8 percent year-on-year in March, according to the latest data from the Rosstat statistics agency. (bne IntelliNews, 05.11.21)
- Russia’s foreign exchange holdings soared by $1 billion in the last week of April to hit $590.5 billion as of May 1, the Central Bank of Russia has announced. Russia’s economy is on track to grow by nearly 4 percent in 2021, the upper boundary of the previously expected range. (bne IntelliNews, 05.11.21, Reuters, 05.13.21)
- Russian oil giant Rosneft said May 14 that its earnings were back in the black in the first quarter after oil prices recovered following Moscow's production deals with OPEC. Rosneft reported a net profit of 149 billion rubles ($2 billion) in the first quarter, compared with a loss of 156 billion rubles in the same period last year. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.14.21)
- By early April there were 5.5 million foreigners in Russia—42 percent fewer than a year prior. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin estimated the shortage of migrant workers in construction alone to have reached between 1.5 million and 2 million people. “We have had very few migrants remaining over the past year. And we badly, badly need these migrants to implement our ambitious plans,” Peskov said last month. (Financial Times, 05.08.21)
- Russia's parliament will next week debate a bill to ban members of "extremist" organizations from being elected as lawmakers, in a move targeting supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. The legislation can affect not only senior members and activists of Navalny's political network but tens of thousands of Russians who supported its work with donations. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.11.21)
- Lithuania-based Leonid Volkov, an ally of Navalny said May 13 his team could no longer organize formal street protests after a Russian state crackdown, but that “spontaneous” protests would take their place. (Reuters, 05.09.21)
- Only 16 percent of Russians viewed last month’s nationwide protests in support of Navalny positively, according to a poll by the Levada Center published May 13, a signal of flagging momentum for his embattled opposition groups. (The Moscow Times, 05.13.21)
- Agents of Russia's court bailiffs service have initiated enforcement proceedings against RFE/RL's Russian branch over unpaid fines accrued because of violations of the country's controversial "foreign agents" laws. Russian authorities also froze the news outlet’s Moscow bank accounts in connection with the proceedings. (RFE/RL, 05.14.21, Reuters, 05.14.21)
- Russia has labeled the media outlet VTimes as a "foreign agent," a move that will require it to label itself as such and subject it to increased government scrutiny. (RFE/RL, 05.14.21)
- Foreign technology companies will be forced to open offices in Russia or face penalties such as advertising bans under draft legislation, a senior lawmaker said May 13, in a fresh move by Moscow to exert greater control over Big Tech. (Reuters, 05.13.21)
- Apple has lodged a legal challenge against the Russian antitrust authority’s $12 million fine over unfair competition. (The Moscow Times, 05.12.21)
- Yegor Ligachyov, a former member of the Soviet Communist Party's Politburo who was once seen as Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev's right-hand man, has died at the age of 100. (RFE/RL, 05.08.21)
- Russia’s Arctic and Far North regions could become arable in as soon as 20 to 30 years as climate change accelerates permafrost melt, opening up vast swathes of land to agriculture, the country’s environment minister said. (The Moscow Times, 05.12.21)
- Russia wants to use the huge natural gas resources of its Yamal peninsula in the Arctic for gas chemical projects and the production of liquefied natural gas (LNG), Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov said. (Reuters, 05.14.21)
Defense and aerospace:
- Putin vowed that Russia will "firmly" defend its national interests and denounced the return of "Russophobia" on May 9 as the country marked the 76th anniversary of victory in World War II. In his address at the main Victory Day parade on Moscow's Red Square, Putin hailed the Red Army's defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 but did not mention any role of the Western Allies. Putin also sent congratulations to fellow members of the Commonwealth of Independent States over their roles in the Allied victory, and called for "brotherly friendship and mutual assistance" to mold their future relations. (RFE/RL, 05.09.21, RFE/RL, 05.09.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.09.21)
- TASS reported that work will soon commence on Russia’s next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile. “Research work on Kedr has been financed under the current state arms procurement program, which is in effect until 2027. Technological development will begin in 2023-2024,” a defense industry insider source told TASS. Kedr is a solid-fueled ICBM system that, like its Yars predecessor, will come in both mobile and silo-based variants. (The National Interest, 05.07.21)
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- A teenage gunman on May 11 set off an explosion and opened fire at a school in Kazan, the regional capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, killing nine people. Officers detained the 19-year-old shooter, whose official motive remains unclear but who had reportedly announced plans to commit the massacre on social media. (RFE/RL, 05.11.21, The Moscow Times, 05.12.21)
- Putin on May 13 said that the deadly school shooting “has shaken” the country and ordered the government to revise school security protocols and tighten control over civilian gun ownership. (AP, 05.13.21)
- Russia should do away with online anonymity to prevent future repeats of the shooting, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament has said. (The Moscow Times, 05.12.21)
- A group of lawmakers in the State Duma have introduced a bill that would ban lawyers from recording meetings with their convicted clients inside penitentiaries, a move that has sparked sharp criticism from rights activists as a way of muzzling prisoners. (RFE/RL, 05.12.21)
- Eduard Shmonin, a Russian journalist who believes he was targeted by investigators for his expose on massive oil theft in western Siberia, has been convicted on blackmail and pornography charges and sentenced to eight years in prison. (RFE/RL, 05.14.21)
- Moscow’s metro service has fired more than 40 people, many of whom believe they were sacked for their anti-Kremlin views or for registering support for Navalny, a trade union head said. (Reuters, 05.14.21)
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- Russia condemned attacks on civilians after violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, and urged both sides to refrain from escalating violence. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.09.21)
- Putin and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May 13 jointly called for an end to fighting between Israel and Palestinians as the conflict continued to escalate. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.13.21)
- Lavrov said May 12 that a meeting of four international mediators for resolving the intensifying Israeli-Palestinian conflict is urgently required. Speaking at a joint briefing with Guterres after talks in Moscow, Lavrov said: "I think we came to a common conclusion that the most urgent task is calling a meeting of the quartet of international mediators: Russia, the United States, the U.N. and the European Union." (Reuters, 05.12.21)
- Sergei Vershinin, a Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, called on Israel May 12 to "immediately" stop all settlement activities in the Palestinian Territories. (Reuters, 05.12.21)
- Russia has announced the expulsion of the Romanian Embassy's deputy military attache in response to Bucharest's decision to expel a Russian diplomat. (RFE/RL, 05.11.21)
- India on May 14 started inoculating its population with Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, the jab's developers said. V.K. Paul, a top health adviser to India’s central government, said May 13 that New Delhi had received a shipment of the vaccine and would also begin its domestic manufacture by July. (The Moscow Times, 05.14.21, The Washington Post, 05.14.21)
- As Latin America struggles against a deadly third wave of the pandemic, China has shipped more than half of the 143.5 million doses of vaccines delivered to the region’s 10 most populous nations. Russia, despite considerable diplomatic noise around its vaccine efforts, has only supplied 8.7 million doses of its Sputnik V jab, mostly to Argentina. (Financial Times, 05.09.21)
- Russian authorities have been having so many problems producing second doses of Sputnik V that Russia probably will be unable to supply enough to people who already got the first dose, Mexican officials said May 10. (AP, 05.11.21)
- Russia’s deal to sell Sputnik V to Germany is dead. (bne IntelliNews, 05.10.21)
- Slovakia's health minister said May 12 that the EU member would start offering Sputnik V in June, months after Bratislava's purchase of the coronavirus jabs triggered a government crisis. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 05.12.21)
- Greece will open to tourists who have received the Sputnik V vaccine from May 14, the country’s tourism minister has said. It is the first European country to open its borders to Sputnik V recipients. (The Moscow Times, 05.14.21)
- The European Union says Russia is trying to gradually absorb parts of eastern Ukraine, according to a document the bloc shared this week with member states. In the paper, seen by Bloomberg, the EU says steps by the Kremlin such as organizing illegitimate elections and issuing passports to locals are “aimed at de facto integration of Ukraine’s non-governmental-controlled areas into Russia.” (Bloomberg, 05.13.21)
- Putin said May 14 that neighboring Ukraine was becoming “anti-Russia” and that Moscow would be ready to react to what he said were threats to its own security. (Reuters, 05.14.21)
- Kyiv says it does not expect that next month's NATO summit will produce a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine because some members of the military alliance worry that such a move would provoke Russia. (RFE/RL, 05.11.21)
- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had a telephone conversation with Putin to discuss, among other things, Ukraine's aspirations for NATO membership. (UNIAN, 05.10.21, RFE/RL, 05.08.21)
- A Kyiv court on May 13 placed under house arrest Kremlin-friendly tycoon and politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who along with Taras Kozak, another pro-Russian lawmaker, is under suspicion of treason. Prosecutors had also asked the judges to set bail at more than 300 million hryvnyas ($10.8 million). (RFE/RL, 05.14.21, Financial Times, 05.11.21)
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking at a meeting with the foreign ministers of the Benelux countries on May 7, thanked them for starting their visit to Ukraine with a trip to Donbass at their own initiative. (Interfax, 05.07.21)
- The World Bank has approved a $90 million project to help Ukraine buy COVID-19 vaccines and improve infrastructure for vaccine storage and logistics. (RFE/RL, 05.11.21)
- Facebook has taken down a network of hundreds of fake accounts and pages targeting people in Ukraine and linked to individuals previously sanctioned by the United States for efforts to interfere in U.S. elections, the company said. (Reuters, 05.07.21)
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan on May 13 accused Azerbaijani troops of crossing the southern border and trying to stake claim to territory. He cited the “explosive situation” in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik Province where Azerbaijani troops reportedly advanced several kilometers into Armenian territory early on May 12 and refused to pull back. The Armenian Defense Ministry said later on May 13 Azerbaijani forces also breached two other sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Pashinyan claimed about 250 Azerbaijani soldiers currently remain within Armenia’s internationally recognized borders. (RFE/RL, 05.13.21)
- Pashinyan invoked Article 2 of the Russia-led CSTO’s founding treaty committing the bloc to "immediately launch the mechanism of joint consultations" on a collective response to threats facing a member state. (RFE/RL, 05.14.21)
- During a May 13 call with Pashinyan, Putin stressed the need for "strict observance" of the cease-fire agreement, and "reaffirmed [Moscow's] commitment to active mediation efforts and close contacts with Yerevan and Baku, aimed at ensuring stability in the region," according to the Kremlin. (RFE/RL, 05.14.21)
- U.S. military planners are looking for options to base forces and equipment in Central Asia and the Middle East after American and allied troops leave Afghanistan in the coming months. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would be preferable, according to some military and Biden administration officials. (The Wall Street Journal, 05.08.21)
- Putin says Russia is working on strengthening its military base in Tajikistan to boost regional security as the situation escalates in Afghanistan. During a meeting with his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon on May 8, Putin also said that Russia is helping to “strengthen Tajikistan’s armed forces.” (RFE/RL, 05.09.21)
- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has signed into law a long-debated and sensitive bill that bans selling and leasing agricultural land to foreigners in the oil-rich Central Asian state. (RFE/RL, 05.13.21)
- Police in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, have detained at least nine protesters who have been picketing the Chinese consulate for 93 days to demand the release of relatives they say are being "illegally" held in China. (RFE/RL, 05.12.21)
- There have been minor skirmishes along Kyrgyzstan's southern border with Uzbekistan's Sokh exclave but officials say the situation was quickly brought under control. Uzbek officials have yet to comment on the situation. (RFE/RL, 05.14.21)
- Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has pardoned 100 inmates on the eve of the Eid al-Fitr Islamic holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. (RFE/RL, 05.13.21)
- Uzbekistan's Supreme Court has sentenced 17 people to prison terms of between four and 10 years for corruption and misconduct over a deadly dam burst last year. (RFE/RL, 05.11.21)
- Jenish Moldokmatov, a Kyrgyz opposition politician and an outspoken critic of Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, has been arrested on a charge of organizing "mass disorder" in October over anti-government rallies protesting the official results of parliamentary elections. (RFE/RL, 05.10.21)
- In a joint statement on May 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR), International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Amnesty International criticized the authoritarian leadership of Turkmenistan for "threatening" the relatives of dissidents living abroad. (RFE/RL, 05.13.21)
- Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has pardoned hundreds of inmates on the occasion of a religious holiday, including jailed Jehovah's Witnesses. (RFE/RL, 05.10.21)
- The Tbilisi City Court has ruled to release from pretrial detention Nika Melia, the leader of the opposition United National Movement (ENM), after the European Union posted his bail to help end the country's protracted political crisis. Melia has said he plans to speak soon with self-exiled former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who Melia said should be allowed to return to the country. (RFE/RL, 05.10.21, RFE/RL, 05.14.21)
- Armenia's parliament failed to elect a prime minister for the second time on May 10, triggering its own dissolution in a final move toward early elections on June 20. (RFE/RL, 05.11.21)
- Lukashenko has signed a decree allowing the transfer of presidential powers to the country's Security Council if he is killed or otherwise unable to perform his duties. (RFE/RL, 05.09.21)
- Lukashenko downplayed a criminal complaint filed in Germany on behalf of 10 Belarusians alleging that the strongman has committed crimes against humanity. Lukashenko referred on May 7 to the German lawyers who filed the case as the "heirs of fascism" and said they were in no position to judge him. (RFE/RL, 05.07.21)
- Belarusian opposition figure Maryya Kalesnikava has been charged eight months after her arrest last year for urging people to protest against a disputed presidential election that left Lukashenko in power. (RFE/RL, 05.13.21)
- Eleven Belarusian student activists and a teacher have gone on trial in Minsk amid a deepening crackdown on participants in nationwide protests against the disputed results of last year’s presidential election. (RFE/RL, 05.14.21)
- A barge carrying equipment to help Baltic states access Europe’s power grid passed under a bridge between Lithuania and Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave on May 14, as the former Soviet republics seek to end their reliance on electricity supplied by Moscow. (Reuters, 05.14.21)
- No significant developments.