Russia in Review, Nov. 5-12, 2021

This Week’s Highlights 

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden may hold a video conference call by the end of this year, and then meet in person at the beginning of next year, Kommersant reports. Meanwhile, the U.S.-Russian row over diplomatic missions has reached the point where diplomats of the two countries do not rule out a scenario in which they will have to actually close these missions, according to the paper.
  • The U.S. Justice Department has charged a Russian and a Ukrainian for their role in a July ransomware attack on the Florida-based software firm Kaseya, Reuters and RFE/RL report, while Biden said he was following through on a promise he made to Putin during their June summit, according to Bloomberg.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have signed an updated text to a charter on a strategic partnership that says Washington supports Ukraine's "right to decide its own future foreign policy course free from outside interference, including with respect to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO," RFE/RL reports.
  • The U.S. is raising the alarm with European Union allies that Russia may be weighing a potential invasion of Ukraine, Time and The Moscow Times report. But the Kremlin’s Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with journalists Nov. 12 that "Russia is not a threat to anyone" and that "the movement of our armed forces on our territory should not be a cause for concern," according to RFE/RL.
  • Russia’s and France’s defense and foreign ministers discussed the prevention of military incidents in Paris on Nov. 12, with the French side warning their Russian counterparts of serious consequences over the deteriorating security situation in Ukraine, Devdiscourse reports.
  • Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko said this week that Minsk "must respond" if the EU takes new punitive measures over the refugee crisis on the Poland-Belarus border, and raised the possibility of cutting off transit through a pipeline that carries Russian natural gas through Belarus to Europe, RFE/RL reports, but the Kremlin sought to reassure Russia's gas customers that Russia has always met its contractual commitments to European customers. Meanwhile, Russia and Belarus announced suddenly that they were conducting joint military drills near Belarus's border with Poland while Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers continue to fly patrols over Belarus, according to RFE/RL. 
  • The Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office has asked the Supreme Court to shut down the international branch of one of the country’s most prominent human rights groups, Memorial, RFE/RL reports.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Russia's nuclear power plant operator Rosenergoatom has strengthened operational safety by addressing the findings of a review which took place in 2018, an IAEA team of experts has concluded. The team also encouraged the company to continue its efforts in improving its safety performance. (World Nuclear News, 11.10.21)
  • The Safety Aspects of Long-Term Operation (SALTO) mission to unit two of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant at Metsamor reviewed the improvements in preparedness, organization and programs related to long-term operation against the IAEA safety standards. "The team observed that the ANPP improved preparedness for safe LTO," said Gabor Petofi, SALTO team leader and IAEA senior nuclear safety officer. (World Nuclear News, 11.08.21)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, have called in a telephone conversation for the Iran nuclear deal to be restored to its original form. "The parties focused on the situation around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran's nuclear program and the prospects for resuming the Vienna negotiations on the JCPOA," the Russian Foreign Ministry said Nov. 6. (RFE/RL, 11.06.21)

Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

  • The military and political situation in Europe is deteriorating while NATO keeps beefing up its military presence near the Russian borders, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting of the Russia-France Council in the 2x2 format Nov. 12. At the same time Russia deems it important to work together with France in addressing security problems to de-escalate tensions in Europe and prevent military incidents, Shoigu said during the meeting, which focused on strategic stability, European security and arms control, according to the Russian side. Lavrov said after talks with French counterparts that they had discussed an increased presence of NATO naval forces in the Black Sea. In their turn French foreign and defense ministers warned their Russian counterparts of serious consequences over the deteriorating security situation in Ukraine and called on Russia to re-engage in talks over Ukraine by holding a ministerial meeting soon. The French ministers were also to raise their government’s concern over the Kremlin's activities in West Africa during the meeting. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly met their Russian counterparts Sergei Lavrov and Shoigu on the sidelines of a conference on Libya in Paris. (Interfax, 11.12.21, TASS, 11.12.21, Reuters, 11.09.21. Devdiscourse, 11.12.21, RFE/RL, 11.10.21, Reuters, 11.11.21)
    • In comments on Nov. 7, Shoigu called the presence of the U.S. Navy in the Black Sea a provocation after another ship entered the strategic waters. “This is an almost constant attempt to test us, to check how ready we are, how much we have built the entire [defense] system off the Black Sea coast,” Shoigu.  Shoigu said other countries are doing it as well but did not name any nation in particular. (RFE/RL, 11.08.21)
  • The Pavel Derzhavin patrol ship has joined in measures to track the activities of U.S. Navy ships in the Black Sea, the Russian Defense Ministry said Nov. 12. The Russian military said earlier that the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva missile cruiser and the Admiral Essen frigate equipped with cruise missiles are monitoring the U.S. naval ships' movements in the Black Sea. (Interfax, 11.12.21)
  • Envoys of the Troika Plus meeting (Russia, Pakistan, China and the United States) which was held in Islamabad, urged the Taliban to cut ties with all terrorist groups and deprive them of the opportunity to act on Afghan territory, according to a joint statement of the Troika Plus meeting reported Nov. 11 following the meeting of the group. (TASS, 11.12.21)
  • U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Thomas West’s words about the need to cooperate with Russia and China on the Afghan issue are a positive signal, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing Nov. 10. (TASS, 11.10.21)
  • U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to hold a virtual summit on Nov. 15, their most high-profile meeting yet following phone calls in February and September. It comes at a moment of immense uncertainty and flux in the U.S.-China relationship, and its outcome has the potential to set the two sides on a course they will follow for the remainder of Biden’s presidency, for better or for worse. (Quincy Institute, 11.12.21)

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • The Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, has ratified a protocol extending the Russian-Chinese notification agreement for ballistic missile launches and space rocket launches until 2030. The protocol extending the agreement containing Moscow and Beijing's obligations to notify each other of missile launches until Dec. 16, 2030, was signed Dec. 15, 2020. (Interfax, 11.10.21)
  • The trade turnover between China and Russia grew by 30.9% year-on-year to $115.6 billion in the first 10 months of 2021, Chinese customs statistics show. Russian visible imports from China rose by 30.6% to $52 billion, and Chinese imports from Russia grew by 31.2% to $62.75 billion, China's customs authority reported. (Interfax, 11.08.21)
  • Construction of a 960-kilometer gas pipeline from Russia to China via Mongolia will begin in 2024, Mongolia's Montsame News Agency said, citing Deputy Prime Minister Sainbuyan Amarsaikhan. (Interfax, 11.11.21)
  • Russia and China have signed a contract for the joint development of a heavy helicopter, Andrey Boginsky, head of the Russian Helicopters holding, said at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (TASS, 11.08.21)
  • Russia and China abstained in a U.N. Security Council vote Nov. 12 to extend a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic as the United States called on Russia to investigate accusations of abuse by Russian contractors in the country. (Reuters, 11.12.21)
  • In January 2021 [an] interview given by Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi proposed three new principles to replace China’s traditional ‘three don’ts’ (don’t form alliances, don’t enter confrontations and don’t target third countries). In China’s relations with Russia the ‘three don’ts’ would be replaced by ‘three no’s’: no end lines, no forbidden areas and no upper limits,” according to an article by Igor Denisov and Alexander Lukin in Russian Politics. (Russia Matters, 11.11.21)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Arms control:

  • Tensions are rising as new challenges and threats emerge in the field of non-proliferation and global arms control, Lavrov said at a meeting of the collegiums of the Russian and Belarusian Foreign Ministries. According to him, Russia and Belarus plan to discuss the situation following the U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty. Lavrov also said that Moscow and Minsk continued to call for searching for ways to ensure predictability and restraint in the missile field following the termination of the INF Treaty (TASS, 11.12.21)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • Russia arranged for the Syrian army to enter into some areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, in an attempt to organize the situation in the east of the country. Earlier, Russian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Moscow is exerting intensive efforts to contain the military escalation in northern Syria, following the military drills and exercises carried out by various parties. The Russian military police intensified direct contacts between the Syrian army and the SDF leadership, including the regional Kurdish forces. (Aawsat, 11.08.21)
    • The U.S. support for separatist tendencies in northeastern Syria may make the Kurdish problem topical not only for Syria but for other countries of the region, Lavrov said Nov. 9 after talks with visiting Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See's Secretariat of State. (TASS, 11.09.21)
    • Russian military vehicles have unloaded large numbers of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines in northern Syria's countryside of Tal Rifaat, which is controlled by the YPG/PKK, Anadolu Agency reported Nov. 5. Russian Novosti has reported that Turkey is preparing to launch two new military operations in Syria that could start at any moment without prior announcement. (Middle East Monitor, 11.06.21)
  • Israel’s alleged aerial strike in Syria on Nov. 8 would be the seventh action of its kind in about a month. On the strategic level, it is evident—over two weeks after the summit between Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett—that Russia is not especially concerned about an Israeli attack on Iranian targets. The fact that some of the most recent attacks were carried out relatively close to Russian forces, near Homs and especially near Tartus, may indicate preliminary Israeli consideration for the safety of Russian soldiers. (Haaretz, 11.11.21)
  • An ISIS terror suspect wanted by the Russian government was arrested at an airport in Colombia while waiting to connect to a flight to Guatemala, Colombian authorities revealed Nov. 5. Vladimir “Ali” Taranetc arrived at El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá on a flight from Istanbul Airport on Nov. 4 and was scheduled to continue on to La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. (Daily Mail, 11.05.21)

Cyber security:

  • The U.S. Justice Department has charged a Russian and a Ukrainian for their role in a July ransomware attack on the Florida-based software firm Kaseya that impacted up to 1,500 businesses around the world. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Nov. 8 that the U.S. also seized $6.1 million of illicit proceeds from Russian ransomware hacker Yevgeny Polyanin, who remains at large. The other suspected ransomware attacker, Ukrainian Yaroslav Vasinskiy, was arrested in Poland last month, and the U.S. has requested his extradition. At a June summit, Biden warned Putin that Russian hackers should steer clear of 16 critical sectors of the U.S. economy. On Nov. 8, Biden said he was following through on his promise to Putin. (RFE/RL, 11.09.21, Reuters, 11.08,21, Bloomberg, 11.08.21)
    • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has declined to comment on a remark made by Biden, who said he has kept his promise to Putin to catch hackers all over the world amid news of the U.S. indictment of Polyanin on cyberfraud counts. (Interfax, 11.09.21)
  • A New York City judge has sentenced Alexander Zhukov, a Russian national behind what has been described as one of the most sophisticated digital fraud operations in the history of the Internet, to 10 years in prison. Zhukov, who referred to himself as the "king of fraud," was also ordered to pay more than $3.8 million in forfeiture. Zhukov's scheme used thousands of infected computers around the world to falsely inflate web traffic to dummy websites and defraud advertisers. (RFE/RL, 11.11.21)
  • White House National Cyber Director Chris Inglis testified on Capitol Hill Nov. 3 that there had been a “decrease” in the number of cyberattacks against U.S. companies traced back to Russia, but stressed that the reason was not clear. “We have seen a discernible decrease. It’s too soon to tell whether that is because of the material efforts undertaken by the Russians or the Russian leadership,” Inglis said during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing. (The Hill, 11.03.21)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Alexander Lukashenko said this week that Minsk "must respond" if the EU takes new punitive measures and raised the possibility of cutting off transit through a pipeline that carries Russian natural gas through Belarus to Poland and farther into Europe. But Kremlin spokesman Peskov sought to reassure Russia's gas customers Nov. 12 by citing a previous presidential statement saying Russia, a major supplier of gas to the region, has always met its contractual commitments to European customers. (RFE/RL, 11.12.21)
  • Russian state gas group Gazprom has begun to fill the storage at five underground facilities in Germany and Austria for November, acting on a promise from Putin after it let volumes of gas in Europe fall to unusually low levels. Gazprom said on Twitter Nov. 9 it had “determined the volumes and routes for transporting the gas,” without adding any further details. Dutch natural gas futures, the European benchmark, dropped as much as 12% to €64.14 per megawatt-hour after Gazprom data showed flows to Europe via Ukraine and Poland increased Nov. 10. (Financial Times, 11.09.21, Oil Price, 11.11.21)
  • Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman has warned that moving too fast from gas to renewable energy would be “dangerous and irresponsible,” arguing that the recent energy crisis can be partly blamed on the industry being undervalued. (Financial Times, 11.06.21)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • Texas-based Uranium Energy Corp (UEC) has agreed to buy Uranium One Americas Inc. (U1A) from Rosatom's Uranium One Group. The acquisition will create "hub-and-spoke" operations in Wyoming for UEC, centered on U1A's Irigaray plant, and will position it as the largest American uranium mining company, UEC said. (World Nuclear News, 11.09.21)

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Putin and Biden may hold a video conference call by the end of this year, and then meet in person at the beginning of next year, Kommersant reported Nov. 10. (Russia Matters, 11.10.21)
  • The U.S.-Russian row over diplomatic missions has reached the point where diplomats of the two countries do not rule out a scenario in which they will have to actually close these missions, Kommersant reported Nov. 10. (Russia Matters, 11.10.21)
  • A court in Russia has confirmed the refusal of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mordovia to consider a request by former U.S. marine Paul Whelan to serve out in his home country the rest of his prison term on espionage charges that he says are fake. Whelan's lawyers said immediately after the decision was announced that they would appeal the ruling, calling it a move to "evade the implementation of justice" for the American. Meanwhile, former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed has begun a hunger strike at the Russian prison where he is serving a nine-year sentence. Biden and Putin discussed exchange of prisoners between their countries during their summit in June, with Putin publicly referring to Reed’s case. However, the sides have so far not yet managed to find a solution to the exchange of prisoners , Kommersant reported Nov. 10. (Russia Matters, 11.10.21, RFE/RL, 11.08.21, RFE/RL, 11.09.21)
  • An analyst who contributed to a 2016 dossier of allegations regarding former U.S. President Donald Trump's ties to Russia has pleaded not guilty to charges that he repeatedly lied to the FBI about his sources of information. Igor Danchenko appeared briefly Nov. 10 in Alexandria federal court. Attorney Mark Schamel, said in a statement this week that his client's work as a researcher is "above reproach." (The Washington Post, 10.10.21)
  • A Russian court has ordered Google to pay 2 million rubles ($28,085) for violating the country's rules on banned content. (RFE/RL, 11.08.21)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Daily COVID-19 deaths in Russia have topped 1,200 for a fourth consecutive day as a surge in infections from the coronavirus continues. The coronavirus crisis center said Nov. 12 that 1,295 people had died from COVID-19 over the previous 24 hours, with 40,123 new cases detected. (RFE/RL, 11.12.21) 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.
  • More than half of Russians (56%) believe that people who are now in power in Russia are concerned only with their material and professional well-being, according to the Levada Center pollster. This indicator has grown over the past few years, reaching the 2011 level (54%). Only 16% believe that the people in power are a good team, leading the country on the right path—the smallest percent since 2013, according to the results of a poll conducted across Russia by Levada in September. (Levada Center/Russia Matters, 11.09.21)
  • The Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office has asked the Supreme Court to shut down the international branch of one of the country’s most prominent human rights groups, Memorial, for failure to comply with requirements of the controversial law on "foreign agents." A hearing about the prosecutor's case is scheduled for Nov. 25. (RFE/RL, 11.11.21, AFP, 11.12.21)
    • Russia’s moves aimed at closing the rights group Memorial are “regrettable” and would deal a “devastating blow” to civil society in the country, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, the secretary-general of the CoE, a pan-European rights body, said. (RFE/RL, 11.12.21)
    • A third of Russians (34%) have in one way or another heard about the classification of Meduza, Dozhd and other mass media outlets as foreign agents, while 65% have not heard anything about it, according to Levada’s Oct. 21-27 poll. (Russia Matters, 11.12.21)
  • One of Russia's top human rights lawyers has been added to a Russian registry of "foreign agents" along with four associates. Ivan Pavlov, who has defended jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny, his organizations and journalist Ivan Safronov, was added to the list by the Justice Ministry on Nov. 8. Maksim Zagovora, Valery Vetoshkin, Yelena Skvortsova and Maksim Olenichev—former members of Pavlov's team known as Komanda 29—were also added to the list. (RFE/RL, 11.09.21)
  • Russia on Nov. 8 declared the main group defending LGBTQ rights a "foreign agent" as part of a continuing crackdown on media outlets and rights groups. The Russian LGBT Network, which was set up in 2006 and operates in several regions, was entered in the justice ministry's register of foreign agents, which already includes journalists, lawyers and activists. (AFP, 11.09.21)
  • The former head of Navalny's support group in Russia's Bashkortostan region has been detained on extremism charges. Activist Olga Komleva told RFE/RL that Lilia Chanysheva was detained on Nov. 9 in Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, after police searched her home. (RFE/RL, 11.10.21)
  • A Russian court has extended the pretrial detention of Andrei Pivovarov, the former executive director of the pro-democracy Open Russia movement. On Nov. 11, a court in the southern city of Krasnodar ruled that Pivovarov must be remanded in custody for another six months. He was first detained in late May when he was taken off a Warsaw-bound plane just before takeoff from St. Petersburg. (RFE/RL, 11.11.21)
  • The Russian economy was on track to post its strongest growth in 13 years and expand by 4.7% in 2021, Putin said Nov. 12, voicing a more optimistic forecast than those of the central bank and the government. (Reuters, 11.12.21)
  • A string of recent underwhelming stock market launches and abandoned deals has taken the shine off of Russia’s record-breaking wave of initial public offerings (IPOs). Two mega deals have been scrapped in the last week—carsharing firm Delimobil and discount alcohol retailer Mercury Retail—with analysts and investors pointing to high asking prices, strong international competition for investors’ cash, Russia’s shallow pool of institutional funds and fears company owners could be seeking to cash out at the top of the market. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.11.21)
  • Moscow plans to relocate more than 150,000 residents into new high-rise buildings by 2024 as it accelerates the pace of the demolition of dilapidated, Soviet-era homes. (RFE/RL, 11.07.21)
  • The action plan for Russia's population policy program until 2025 is about to start. The plan is the final step in the population policy guidelines adopted by Putin in 2007. In addition to the measures for the whole population, the measures at the current stage are aimed in particular at families with children but also at the elderly. (bne IntelliNews, 11.12.21)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia is developing an advanced, never-before-seen S-550 missile system, the Russian Defense Ministry announced Nov. 9. Reports suggested the model is a revival of a late Soviet project shuttered in a deal with the U.S. Shoigu said the orders came from Putin at a recent meeting with military top brass. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.10.21)
  • The military training center of the Russian Ground Forces of the General Forces Academy has patented a protection system of critically important facilities in the form of an electric cupola against drones, Rospatent said. (TASS, 11.12.21)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A prominent NGO that tracks abuses in Russia’s prison system has released a new leaked video that shows inmates being sexually assaulted in a notorious prison hospital at the heart of a national torture scandal. “These terrifying videos are unpleasant to watch and will cause stress and indignation,” Vladimir Osechkin, the founder of the rights group, said in a video published on the NGO’s YouTube channel Nov. 9. Russian authorities have added Osechkin to the country's list of wanted criminals after that publication. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.10.21, RFE/RL, 11.12.21)
  • Russian prosecutors on Nov. 10 dismissed the criminal case against a former prison inmate who leaked videos of torture inside a Russian jail and is now seeking asylum in France. Last month, the NGO published footage of abuse at a prison in the central city of Saratov. The videos were leaked by Sergei Savelyev—a Belarus national who had served time there for drug trafficking. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.11.21)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • The battle over the end of coal and fossil fuel subsidies dominated the debate at the U.N. COP26 climate summit in Glasgow Nov. 12, as negotiations come down to the wire on the last scheduled day. A commitment on coal and fossil fuels was weakened but still on the table in updated versions of the “cover decisions” published on Nov. 12, after being included for the first time at this COP. Oil-dependent nations including Saudi Arabia and Russia have pushed back against the inclusion of fossil fuels in the text while Russia’s special envoy for climate Ruslan Edelgeriyev has expressed concern over the lack of consensus among the delegates at the summit. (Financial Times, 11.12.21, TASS, 11.12.21)
  • Russia's exports jumped 41.4% year-on-year to $343.8 billion in 9M 2021, and imports increased 28.9% to $213.5 billion. Trade turnover rose 36.3% to $557.3 billion. Fuel and energy accounted for 53.2% of Russian exports in 9M 2021, up from 52% a year before. Russia's main trading partners among non-CIS countries in 9M 2021 were China, trade with which rose 32% year-on-year to $98.9 billion; Germany, up 39.8% to $40.9 billion; the Netherlands, up 54.4% to $28.7 billion; and the United States, up 47.7% to $26.2 billion. (Interfax, 11.11.21)
  • The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation could raise its efficiency by developing cooperation with other regional organizations, Putin said, speaking by video link at the group’s summit. (TASS, 11.12.21)
  • Moscow hopes that the new government of Sudan will approve an agreement on deploying a Russian military base in the African country, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said. (TASS, 11.12.21)
  • "We realize the need to support Mali's ability to combat terrorism," Lavrov said during talks in Moscow with his Malian counterpart. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.11.21)
  • Five Czech parties have signed a power-sharing deal to form a coalition government following the country's parliamentary elections last month, vowing to anchor foreign policy to the EU and NATO, while putting relations with Russia and China "under review." (RFE/RL, 11.08.21)


  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have signed an updated text to a charter on a strategic partnership that provides for cooperation between the two countries on security and defense, democracy and the rule of law, as well as the economy, including in the energy sector. On defense matters, the charter says Washington supports Ukraine's efforts to maximize its status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner to promote interoperability and Ukraine's "right to decide its own future foreign policy course free from outside interference, including with respect to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO." (RFE/RL, 11.11.21)
    • At the meeting with Kuleba, Blinken warned that Russia would be making a “serious mistake” if it were to try to repeat what it did in 2014 in Ukraine, and he said Washington was concerned by reports of “unusual Russian military activity" near the Ukrainian border. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Russian movement was "unusual in its size and scope." "It's not exactly clear what the Russian intentions are," he said. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.12.21, RFE/RL, 11.10.21)
      • “This is very different than what we saw in April,” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, a member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, said Nov. 11. What we’re seeing now “certainly leads to the conclusion that Russia has different intentions this time.” (Politico, 11.11.21)
    • At the meeting with Blinken, Kuleba said he appreciated U.S. support for his country, but he also renewed Ukraine's complaints about Nord Stream 2. Ukrainian officials say Nord Stream 2 could cost their country $2 billion in annual transit revenue. (The New York Times, 11.10.21)
  • CIA Director Bill Burns held a rare conversation with Putin in Moscow last week, to convey "serious" U.S. concerns about Russia's military buildup along the Ukrainian border and to attempt to determine Russian intentions, two sources with direct knowledge told CNN. When asked about the topics touched upon during this phone conversation, Peskov said they were "Bilateral relations, the crisis situation in the diplomatic practice and an exchange of views on regional conflicts." (CNN, 11.08.21, AFP, 11.08.21)
  • The U.S. is raising the alarm with EU allies that Russia may be weighing a potential invasion of Ukraine as tensions flare between Moscow and the bloc over migrants and energy supplies. With Washington closely monitoring a buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border, U.S. officials have briefed EU counterparts on their concerns over a possible military operation, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. The EU said Nov. 12 that it was alarmed by Russian military activities close to Ukraine's border.  "We continue to watch the situation and the information we gathered so far is rather worrying," EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said. (Time, 11.11.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.12.21)
  • Peskov said in a conference call with journalists Nov. 12 that "Russia is not a threat to anyone" and that "the movement of our armed forces on our territory should not be a cause for concern." He was responding in part to U.S. media reports suggesting Washington had raised concerns with its European allies about an attack by Russian forces. Peskov lashed out at adversaries he accused of provocations and of efforts at "containment" near Russia's borders, including in the Black Sea region. (RFE/RL, 11.12.21)
  • The U.S. and its allies are training in the Black Sea to study the possible theater of operations in the event of Kyiv staging an offensive in southeastern Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry said Nov. 9. (Interfax, 11.09.21)
  • “The deployment [of Russian units in the vicinity of Ukraine] does constitute a buildup, and not just north, or east of Ukraine,” according to CNA’s Michael Kofman. Elements of Russia’s 41st Combined Arms Army, 1st Guards Tank Army and 58th Combined Arms Army are “reinforcing permanently based units of the 20th and 8th CAA & 22nd Army Corps in Crimea,” according to Kofman. “I don't see indicators that a Russian military offensive is imminent. Hence this is not a situation likely to unfold in the coming days or weeks. I would look to the winter, maybe after the holidays. Either way, I doubt a political decision has yet been made,” Kofman wrote. (Russia Matters, 11.09.21)
  • Russian proposals have not been included in a document drafted by France and Germany for a Normandy-format meeting of foreign ministers, an informed source told Interfax. "The Germans and the French are now interpreting the Minsk Agreements differently, they call Russia a party to the conflict and demand the fulfillment of certain obligations. Our participation will lead to nothing under such circumstances," the source said. (Interfax, 11.09.21)
  • Denys Kulikovskiy, a suspected guard from a notorious jail in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, has been detained in Kyiv. (RFE/RL, 11.09.21)
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has signed into law a bill intended to curb the political influence of the country's oligarchs. Passed by parliament in September, the legislation introduces a legal definition for an oligarch, creates a register of tycoons and requires officials to declare contacts with oligarchs or their representatives. It also prohibits oligarchs from financing political parties, political ads or demonstrations, and excludes them from privatization of state assets. Ex-President Petro Poroshenko says he has sold two television stations to current and former employees to comply with the new law. (RFE/RL, 11.05.21, RFE/RL, 11.09.21)
  • The staff at Ukraine’s English-language newspaper The Kyiv Post announced efforts to relaunch as an “independent” publication Nov. 11, days after its owner shuttered it amid a dispute over editorial independence. The Kyiv Post’s publisher, real estate developer Adnan Kivan, made the shocking announcement Nov. 8 that the newspaper will close “for a short time” after 26 years in circulation, effective immediately. Its reporters accused Kivan of attempting to “infringe” on their editorial independence with plans to add a Ukrainian-language edition. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.12.21)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • With a growing number of desperate migrants mainly from war-torn countries in the Middle East and North Africa amassing at its border, Poland has deployed 15,000 troops, put up a fence topped with barbed wire and approved construction of a wall on the frontier with Belarus. Poland has also closed the Bruzhi-Kuznica border crossing at the border with Belarus. Concern is growing for more than 2,000 migrants—mainly Kurds from the Middle East—who are trapped at the Belarussian-Polish border, with the U.N. calling their plight "intolerable" and demanding action. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.10.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.12.21, RFE/RL, 11.09.21)
  • On Nov. 12, Belarusian and Russian officials announced suddenly that they were conducting joint military drills near Belarus's border with Poland. The Belarusian Defense Ministry said via Telegram that a "joint battalion tactical group" of paratroopers at the Gozhsky range in western Belarus were a response to the "buildup of military activity" near its border. They reportedly include Russian Il-76 aircraft and Belarusian helicopters. In addition, Russian air force planes have been flying patrols over Belarus this week, including two Tu-160 strategic bombers on Nov. 11 that were accompanied by Belarusian Su-30S fighter jets. Twice this week, the nuclear-capable Russian bombers flew over Belarus near Poland. Lukashenko noted in a press conference that the Russian warplanes were capable of carrying nuclear weapons. (The Wall Street Journal, 11.12.21, RFE/RL, 11.12.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.11.21, Politico, 11.11.21)
  • Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said its neighbors' military activities—particularly in Poland—are unrelated to the migrant crisis and may signal they "are ready to unleash a conflict in which they want to involve Europe in solving their internal political problems, as well as problems related to relations within the European Union." (The Wall Street Journal, 11.12.21)
  • Putin and Lukashenko on Nov. 9 discussed a migrant stand-off on the border between Poland and Belarus. In a statement, Lukashenko's press office said the pair had "noted a particular concern over the deployment of regular Polish troops to the border." Earlier on Nov. 9, the Kremlin said it was "very carefully watching" the migrant stand-off on the EU's eastern border. "It is a real problem that concerns Belarus and Poland. We are, of course, very concerned," Peskov said. (AFP, 11.09.21)
  • A senior U.S. national security official broke the situation down this way: “Putin is putting the capabilities in place for a very quick military intervention into either Belarus or Ukraine.” The official said it’s unlikely Putin would stage a military intervention into Belarus, but that the Russian leader likely wants to have equipment in place in case he decides there’s a need to do so. (Politico, 11.11.21)
  • Putin and Germany's outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel held their second phone conversation in two days on Nov. 11 to discuss the migrant crisis at the EU-Belarus border. Putin suggested restoring contacts between the EU states and Belarus to resolve the issue during that second call. During the first call, Merkel told Putin that the “use of migrants by the Belarusian regime was inhuman and unacceptable and asked [Putin] to influence the regime in Minsk,” according to Merkel’s spokesperson, who described the situation as “state-sanctioned human trafficking.” (Guardian, 11.10.21, CTGN, 11.12.21)
  • The European Council has partially suspended its visa-facilitation agreement with Belarus over the "hybrid attack" Minsk has launched against the EU by fostering a migrant crisis along the Poland-Belarus border. The European Council is also asking its executive branch, the European Commission, to create legal arrangements to allow the EU to finance border walls and other immediate measures in response to what they said is a hybrid attack from Belarus. (RFE/RL, 11.09.21, The Wall Street Journal, 11.11.21)
  • Russia is not among the countries the EU is considering sanctioning over the migrant crisis on the Poland-Belarus border, a senior EU official said Nov. 11 after reports suggested Brussels could punish Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot for what it called “human trafficking.” Bloomberg previously reported that the European Commission was considering sanctioning Aeroflot alongside Belarus’ Belavia, Turkish Airlines, FlyDubai and other officials for allegedly helping move people mainly from the Middle East to the EU borders. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.12.21)
  • Belarus’ flagship carrier Belavia announced Nov. 12 it will no longer transport passengers from three Middle East countries from Turkey to Minsk as the migrant standoff on the Poland-Belarus border placed it at risk of EU sanctions. Belavia said the ban on passengers from Syria, Iraq and Yemen goes into effect immediately and is the result of “the decision of Turkey’s competent authorities.” Meanwhile Turkey has banned citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen from flights from its airports to Belarus, in a move to stem the flow of migrants to the EU’s borders. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 11.12.21, Financial Times, 11.12.21)
  • Noted Belarusian activist Mikalay Dzyadok has been sentenced to five years in prison over his participation in unsanctioned rallies held last year to protest against official election results that Lukashenko a sixth consecutive term in office. (RFE/RL, 11.10.21)
  • The Unbreakable Brotherhood 2021 exercise, which involves the collective peacekeeping forces of the CSTO, began at the training range of the Kazan Higher Tank Command School on Nov. 8. The exercise involves military contingents from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. In this exercise, the troops will practice stage-by-stage planning and organization of a peacekeeping operation using the experience gained by Central Military District troops in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh. (Interfax, 11.08.21)
  • Around 150 U.S.-trained Afghan pilots are preparing to depart Tajikistan to be relocated to the U.S. after nearly three months of detention, pilots and U.S. Embassy officials said.  The 143 pilots and about 100 other Afghans, including journalists, are waiting at the airport in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, for a flight organized by the U.S. government that appears to have been delayed, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported Nov. 9. A U.S. Embassy representative told RFE/RL that the group will be taken to a third country for processing before being granted immigration rights in the United States. (RFE/RL, 11.09.21)
  • Kyrgyz authorities have apprehended an alleged leader of the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group, which is banned in the mostly Muslim Central Asian nation. The State Committee for National Security said that the suspect, an Uzbek citizen whose identity was not disclosed, had been detained Nov. 4 in the southern Osh region that borders Uzbekistan. (RFE/RL, 11.11.21)
  • An international rights group is expressing concern about the condition of former Uzbek diplomat Kadyr Yusupov—who activists say was wrongly convicted—after reports he was beaten while in prison and refused treatment afterward. Yusupov is currently in Prison Colony No. 4 in the city of Navoi, serving a sentence of 5 1/2 years after being convicted of treason at a closed trial in January 2020. (RFE/RL, 11.10.21)
  • Shavkat Mirziyoev has taken the oath of office, beginning his second term as Uzbekistan's president Nov. 6 in Tashkent. (RFE/RL, 11.06.21)
  • Armenians and Azerbaijanis have commemorated the first anniversary of the ending of their bloody six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh in starkly different ways, highlighting the continued tensions over the breakaway region. (RFE/RL, 11.09.21)
  • The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met late on Nov. 10 for the third time in less than two months for talks hosted by their French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian and attended by OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov also met with Le Drian as well as the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group separately before their face-to-face talks held in Paris. Le Drian tweeted afterwards that he brought them together to “help reduce tensions” between Armenia and Azerbaijan. (Massispost, 11.11.21)
  • Biden’s aides are still shaping the agenda for the Dec. 9-10 virtual Summit for Democracy, and much of their work is confidential. The list of invited governments has not been made public, although Politico managed to obtain one compilation Nov. 4. Armenia is on that list. (Politico, 11.04.21, Armenpress, 11.05.21)
  • Hundreds of supporters of jailed former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili have gathered in the capital to hold rallies demanding the politician's transfer to a civilian medical clinic as his health fails due to a hunger strike. (RFE/RL, 11.12.21)


IV. Quoteworthy

  • Head of Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources Svetlana Radionova on the Chinese citizens collecting plants classified as endangered species in Russia for consumption in China: “The ‘Big Chinese Brother’ quite literally vacuums everything that can be scooped up.” (, 11.10.21)