Russia in Review, Oct. 14-21, 2016

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

Nuclear security:

  • The State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, passed a bill on Wednesday to suspend a United States-Russia agreement on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium. All members of the body voted in favor; one abstained. (Meduza/Interfax, 10.19.16)
  • Some 500 residents of the closed city of Seversk in the Russian region of Tomsk staged a rally on Oct. 18 to respond to “rumors” that Rosatom might be shutting down an isotope production facility at the Siberian Chemical Combine, Interfax reported. The protesters are concerned that closing the facility, which the company’s management has denied planning, might precipitate closing of the combine, which is run by Rosatom’s TVEL subsidiary. (Belfer Center, 10.18.16)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The United States wants to send a 300-strong rotational force of U.S. Marines to Norway. Norwegian Defense Ministry spokesman Lars Gjemble said Wednesday that “a limited rotational U.S. Marine Corps presence in Norway is a possible option currently being considered.” (AP, 10.19.16)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry said on Oct. 20 that war games were held at a shooting range near the city of Luga, some 100 kilometers east of the Estonian border. The exercises featured the deployment of Iskander missiles and preparations for firing them. (RFE/RL, 10.20.16)
  • Britain has sent two warships to shadow a Russian aircraft carrier and its task force. The Admiral Kuznetsov and seven other Russian surface ships are currently in the Norwegian Sea on their way to Syria. (RFE/RL, 10.20.16)
  • A regular meeting of the Russia-NATO Council at the ambassadorial level may take place "in the foreseeable future" when there is a real agenda, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov said on Oct. 20. (Tass, 10.20.16)
  • Former U.S. Department of State official Rose Gottemoeller has succeeded Ambassador Alexander Vershbow as NATO’s deputy secretary general, the military alliance announced Monday. (Sputnik, 10.17.16)
  • “We're in very serious trouble, because we have a country with tremendous numbers of nuclear warheads -- 1,800, by the way -- where they (Russians) expanded and we didn't, 1,800 nuclear warheads,” Donald Trump claimed at the final presidential debate Oct. 19. (Real Clear Politics, 10.19.16)
  • Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman are among a group of defense giants competing to build America’s next intercontinental ballistic missile. (, 10.20.16) 
  • Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has declared victory in elections and pledged to push for closer ties to NATO and the EU. (BBC, 10.17.16)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • Russia appears to be moving ahead with a program to produce a ground-launched cruise missile despite the Obama administration’s protests that the weapon violates violated the 1987 treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, according to American officials and lawmakers. American officials are now expressing concerns that Russia is producing more missiles than are needed to sustain a flight-test program. American military officials have said that a move by Russia to actually deploy the new missile system, which is small, mobile and easily concealed, would be significant. The U.S. has called for a special meeting with Russia over alleged violations of the treaty. (New York Times, 10.19.16, RFE/RL, 10.20.16)


  • “We must not drive the terrorists from one country to another. We need to destroy them [where they are],” Army General Valery Gerasimov, head of the General Staff for Russia's Armed Forces said when commenting on the battle for Mosul. (The Moscow Times, 10.19.16)
  • The Islamic State’s Russian-language social media accounts have claimed that the notorious “executioner” Anatoly Zemlyanka was killed in the Iraqi IS stronghold of Mosul about a month ago. (From Chechnya To Syria, 10.20.16)
  • Russian authorities say they have detained six individuals in the North Caucasus for alleged links to the Islamic State militant group. Federal Security Service officials in Karachayevo-Cherkesia said on Oct. 20 that the six were detained after investigators found assault rifles, ammunition, camouflage outfits and explosives in a house. (RFE/RL, 10.20.16)
  • Two militants were killed in a special operation in the city of Derbent in Russia’s North Caucasian republic of Dagestan. (TASS, 10.16.16)
  • A military court in Russia’s city of Kazan started hearings on Oct. 20 into the case against nine men charged with terrorism-related offenses. The men, all residents of Tatarstan's central city of Chistopol, are accused of being members of the so-called Chistopol Jamaat radical Islamist group. (RFE/RL, 10.20.16)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Despite strong rhetoric against Russia's air bombardment of the Syrian city of Aleppo, EU leaders failed to agree on a tough joint statement sending a clear message to Moscow that it could face punitive measures. Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi prevailed upon other European leaders at the EU summit in Brussels on Oct. 21 to exclude tough language favored by France, Germany, the United Kingdom that would have explicitly threatened sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations that support the Syrian regime. The final EU statement strongly condemns attacks on civilians by Russia and the Syrian regime, calls for a lasting cease-fire, and declares that the EU stands ready to consider "all available options if these atrocities continue." “It is difficult to imagine that this could involve further sanctions against Russia,” Renzi told reporters after the summit.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that EU leaders agreed to consider sanctions on Russia if the "intensity of the bombing as we've seen in the past days continues." In remarks made prior to the summit Merkel said sanctions against Russia over its actions in Syria should remain an option for the European Union while U.S. and some EU nations have raised the prospect of punitive measures against Russia if the bombing continues.  However, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed skepticism about their effectiveness and Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said dialogue, not sanctions are needed. In remarks also made prior to the summit, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said no EU country had raised the idea of imposing sanctions on Russia. At a separate meeting that had also taken place before the summit, European Union foreign ministers called on Russia to end the bombing of Aleppo. (RFE/RL, 10.21.16,  Bloomberg, 10.22.16, AP, 10.18.16, Bloomberg, 10.17.16,  RBTH, 10.17.16, TASS, 10.17.16, Wall Street Journal, 10.17.16) 
  • Following the talks with leaders of France and Germany in Berlin on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would halt its bombing as long as “terrorist forces” aren’t active. Putin also said Moscow proposed to speed up adoption of a new constitution in Syria to facilitate future elections. United Nations officials said that Russia had agreed to a four-day suspension, 11 hours a day, that would end on Monday, and that they had asked for an extension of a fifth day. "What is happening in Aleppo is a war crime. One of the first demands is that the bombardments by the regime and its [Russian] backers must end," French President Francois Hollande said after the Wednesday talks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the air raids on Syria's largest city as "inhumane and cruel." She described the talks with Putin on Syria as "very hard."  (Bloomberg, 10.20.16, Reuters, 10.20.16, New York Times, 10.21.16, RFE/RL, 10.20.16)
  • The Oct. 14 meeting of the U.S. National Security Council chaired by President Barack Obama considered such options, as the shipment of arms to U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in Syria, and an increase in the quantity and quality of weapons supplied to opposition fighters, but these options were deferred until later, officials said. U.S. military action to stop Syrian and Russian bombing of civilians was even further down the list of possibilities. Russia’s completion of an integrated air defense system in Syria has made an Obama administration decision to strike Syrian government installations has created a substantial obstacle to the Syrian safe zones. “We’re not sure if any of our aircraft can defeat the S-300,” a U.S. Defense official said. The possibility of using U.S. air power in the civil war, even to patrol a safe zone for civilians, has never been favored by the Pentagon. Now, with the installation of a comprehensive, potent Russian air defense system, many military officials see it as risking a great power game of chicken, and possible war, according to senior Obama administration officials. (The Washington Post, 10.17.16)
  • Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the top United Nations human rights official on Friday called the weekslong bombardment and siege of Aleppo “crimes of historic proportions” that had turned the ancient Syrian city into a “slaughterhouse.” (New York Times, 10.21.16) 
  • Addressing a Goldman Sachs event in 2013, in one of the speeches that WikiLeaks published on Saturday, Hillary Clinton said as secretary of state she had advocated secretly arming the Syrian opposition and moving forcefully to counter the Russians, who at that point were supporting President Bashar al-Assad but had not yet fully entered the conflict (New York Times, 10.16.16)
  • "Syria will remain a hotbed of terrorism as long as the civil war aided and abetted by the Iranians and Russians continue. So I have said, look, we need to keep our eye on ISIS. That is why I want to have an intelligence surge that protects us here at home. Why we have to go after them from the air, on the ground, online. We have to make sure here at home we don't let terrorists buy weapons -- if you are too dangerous to fly, you are too dangerous to buy a gun. And I am going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria,” U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said during the Oct. 19 presidential debates. (RFE/RL, 10.20.16)
  • Talks between the United States, Russia and regional players on how to end the Syrian conflict ended in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Oct. 15 after more than four hours with no concrete action to stop the violence. (RFE/RL, 10.15.16)
  • Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on Oct. 20 that Russia has radar evidence that two Belgian F-16 fighter jets struck the Kurdish village of Hassajek near Syria's border with Turkey on Oct. 18.  A Belgian Defense Ministry spokeswoman denied the country's air force was active in the area at the time. Belgium's Foreign Ministry has also summoned the Russian ambassador to Brussels over the claim. In response, Russia has also summoned the Belgian ambassador. (RFE/RL, 10.21.16, AP, 10.21.16)
  • Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russia's military operation in Syria has revealed the shortcomings of Russian military equipment. (The Moscow Times, 10.21.16)
  • "We trust Russia and its policy,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.  “We trust Russia in everything it does,” Syrian parliamentary speaker Hadiyeh al-Abbas said. (Sputnik, 10.19.16, Tass, 10.14.16)
  • Speaker of the People's Council of Syria, the country's legislative authority, Hadiya Khalaf Abbas, told Sputnik she considered Crimea an integral part of Russia. (Sputnik, 10.19.16)
  • Senior commanders in the Sunni Palestinian Quds Brigade, known as the Liwa al Quds or the Syrian Arab Army Fedayeen, have been photographed receiving medals from Russian military officers for battlefield action. (Long War Journal, 10.14.16)
  • Almost three-quarters of Russians believe that criticism of the Kremlin's military strategy in Aleppo is an attempt to weaken the country, a survey by state-run pollster VTSIOM reported Tuesday. (The Moscow Times, 10.18.16)

Cyber security:

  • Russia’s Defense Ministry has completed work on a nationwide intranet designed exclusively for classified data. The Russian military has created its own email service for the transmission of sensitive materials, including documents marked “top secret.” (The Moscow Times, 10.19.16)
  • In an interview with NBC News released on Oct. 14, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was asked why the United States has not retaliated against Russia for meddling in the U.S. election by leaking the e-mails of top Democratic Party officials and other breaches. "We're sending a message" and Putin will get it, Biden said. Biden indicated that the U.S. response to Russia will be clandestine. At the same time, he questioned whether the Russian hacks have had "the capacity to fundamentally alter the election" on Nov. 8. Current and former U.S. intelligence officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging "clandestine" cyber operation designed to harass and "embarrass" the Kremlin leadership. (NBC, 10.14.16, RFE/RL, 10.15.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed new U.S. threats to retaliate against alleged Russian hackers, saying such statements only confirm that Washington uses cyberattacks for political purposes. Putin said he hoped Moscow-Washington ties could improve after the U.S. elections. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has also criticized the United States for "unprecedented" threats over alleged cyberattacks. (RFE/RL, 10.16.1610.15.16)
  • Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, said on Thursday that "we have acknowledged that the Russians were behind the penetrations," referring to hacks carried out against the Democratic National Committee, some of its affiliates and Clinton campaign aides. Speaking in Washington, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wouldn't reveal why U.S. officials have such a high degree of confidence that Russian officials are behind the hacking, but he said their certainty was unwavering. (Wall Street Journal, 10.20.16)
  • Mike Pence broke from his running mate Donald Trump Sunday in acknowledging that U.S. intelligence indicates Russia is behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman's emails. "I think there's more and more evidence that implicates Russia," the Indiana governor said on NBC's "Meet the Press."  (CNN, 10.16.16)
  • Former senior U.S. national security officials are dismayed at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's repeated refusal to accept the judgment of intelligence professionals that Russia stole files from the Democratic National Committee computers in an effort to influence the U.S. election. "It defies logic," retired Gen. Michael V. Hayden, former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, said of Trump's pronouncements. (The Washington Post, 10.14.16)
  • "This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government, clearly, from Putin himself, in an effort, as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed, to influence our election. So I actually think the most important question of this, finally, will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in this election, that he rejects Russian espionage against Americans,” U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said on alleged Russian hacking during the Oct. 19 presidential debates. (RFE/RL, 10.20.16)
  • On Thursday, private security researchers said they had concluded that John D. Podesta was hacked by Russia's foreign intelligence service, the GRU, after it tricked him into clicking on a fake Google login page last March, inadvertently handing over his digital credentials. SecureWorks researchers found that the Russian hackers were using a popular link shortening service, called Bitly, to shorten malicious links. The hackers made a critical error by leaving some of their Bitly accounts public, making it possible for SecureWorks to trace 9,000 of their links to nearly 4,000 Gmail accounts targeted between October 2015 and May 2016 with fake Google login pages and security alerts designed to trick users into turning over their passwords. ''The new public data confirming the Russians are behind the hack of John Podesta's email is a big deal,'' Jake Sullivan, senior policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, said Thursday.  (New York Times, 10.20.16)
  • Cyrillic script appears in some of the code Fancy Bear used to hack targets in Ukraine in 2015, according to Romanian security firm Bitdefender. Samples of some Cozy Bear malware showed they were generally compiled during business hours in Moscow. (Wall Street Journal, 10.20.16)
  • An investigation by RFE/RL's Current Time TV has determined that the Russian national accused by American officials of hacking U.S. targets and arrested earlier this month in the Czech capital is 29-year-old Moscow resident Yevgeny Nikulin. He is suspected of having hacked LinkedIn. (CNN, 10.21.16, RFE/RL, 10.20.16)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • “In the future, Russia can significantly increase oil production,” Rosneft PJSC Chief Executive Officer Igor Sechin said Thursday. (Bloomberg, 10.20.16)
  • Sometime in 2017, for the first time in 60 years, the U.S. will likely sell more natural gas to the world than it buys. Turkey, Russia’s third-biggest buyer, took its first LNG cargo from the U.S. in late September. (Bloomberg, 10.20.16)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Other bilateral issues:

  • “We think that Russia is a large important country with a military that is second only to ours, and has to be a part of the solution on the world stage, rather than part of the problem. But their behavior has undermined international norms and international rules in ways that we have to call them out on," U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters at a joint news conference with the visiting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. "Mr. Trump's continued flattery of Mr. Putin and the way he appears and the degree to which he appears to model many of his policies and approaches to politics on Mr. Putin is unprecedented in American politics," Obama said. (Reuters, 10.18.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin saw his usual statesman-like demeanor crack on Sunday, when he told journalists that Western sanctions could “screw themselves.” Speaking to Russian journalists in the Indian city of Goa, Putin refused to use the term “counter-sanctions” when discussing Russia's boycott of Western food imports, insisting that they were merely “measures to defend the economy.” (The Moscow Times, 10.17.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin was careful to avoid backing any of the U.S. presidential hopefuls— but did praise Republican candidate Donald Trump for his “calls for cooperation.” “[Democratic candidate] Ms. Clinton chose her aggressive rhetoric and aggressive stance with regard to Russia, and Mr. Trump, on the contrary, is calling for cooperation, at least against terrorism.” “We will certainly welcome anyone who wants to work with us,” he said. (The Moscow Times, 10.17.16)
  • Russia’s U.N. ambassador said that tensions with the United States are probably the worst since the 1973 Mideast war. But Vitaly Churkin said Friday that Cold War relations between the Soviet Union and the U.S. more than 40 years ago were different than U.S.-Russia relations today. “The general situation I think is pretty bad at this point, probably the worst ... since 1973,” he said in an interview with three journalists at Russia’s U.N. Mission. But Churkin said that “even though we have serious frictions, differences like Syria, we continue to work on other issues ... and sometimes quite well.” (AP, 10.15.16)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said Moscow is able to take "asymmetrical" and "painful" measures if the United States imposes tougher sanctions on the country. The White House has to blame only itself for difficulties in relations with Moscow, he said. (RFE/RL, 10.19.16, Russia Today, 10.19.16)
  • Donald J. Trump suggested on Monday that Hillary Clinton was too ''tough'' in her language about Russia, and said that if he won the election, he might meet with President Vladimir V. Putin before being sworn in. ''They insult him constantly -- I mean, no wonder he can't stand Obama and Hillary Clinton,'' Mr. Trump said, calling the tensions a ''very serious problem.'' (New York Times, 10.17.16)
  • "I don't know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good. He has no respect for her. He has no respect for our president.... [Clinton] has no idea whether it's Russia, China, or anybody else [behind the cyberattacks].... I never met Putin. This is not my best friend. But if the United States got along with Russia, wouldn't be so bad. Let me tell you, Putin has outsmarted her and [U.S. President Barack] Obama at every single step of the way. Whether it's Syria, you name it,” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said during the Oct. 19 presidential debates. (RFE/RL, 10.20.16)
  • U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said during the Oct. 19 presidential debates that Donald Trump would be a "puppet" for Russian President Vladimir Putin, if the Republican presidential nominee were elected to the White House. (CNN, 10.20.16)
  • Privately, some of Hillary Clinton’s longtime advisers are already thinking about what mix of sanctions, diplomatic isolation and international condemnation they might put together if they take office to deal with Mr. Vladimir Putin and the fragile economic state he runs, an update of the “containment” strategy that George F. Kennan formulated for President Harry S. Truman in 1947. (New York Times, 10.20.16)
  • According to a new poll by Politico/Morning Consult released Monday, almost half of Donald Trump supporters believe Russia is an ally, or at least a friendly nation to the United States. Some 19 percent of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s supporters view Russia favorably, compared to 24 percent of Trump backers. (Foreign Policy, 10.17.16)
  • Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ex-U.S. President George H. W. Bush intend to contribute to normalizing the relations between Russia and the United States. The relevant agreement was reached during a telephone talk between Gorbachev, George H. W. Bush and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, the press office said. (TASS, 10.19.16)
  • The Russian spacecraft Soyuz MS-02 successfully docked with the International Space Station, the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced on Friday. The spacecraft delivered three new crew members to the space station, Russian cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Andrei Borisenko, and American astronaut Shane Kimbrough. (The Moscow Times, 10.21.16)
  • A U.S. appeals court has disqualified lawyers for Prevezon, the company accused of laundering the proceeds of a massive Russian tax fraud, whose fallout led Washington to sanction numerous Russians and helped poison U.S.-Russian relations. (RFE/RL, 10.18.16)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Fitch Ratings upgraded its outlook for Russia's finances and economic growth, citing the "strength" of Moscow's response to the oil shock that sent Russia into recession two years ago. Fitch said on Oct. 14 that Russia's economy is slowly recovering and will grow by 1.3 percent next year after shrinking by 0.5 percent this year. (RFE/RL, 10.15.16)
  • Russia's central bank issued a report on Oct. 14 saying it should keep its benchmark interest rate at 10 percent until the end of the year to try to fight inflation. (Wall Street Journal, 10.14.16)
  • Earnings and domestic demand are still withering at a pace unprecedented under President Vladimir Putin. Retail sales dropped in September for a record 21st month, while real disposable incomes fell an annual 2.8 percent, the Federal Statistics Service in Moscow said on Wednesday. (Bloomberg, 10.18.16)
  • Russia’s Economic Development Ministry has predicted that there will be no change in Russian living standards before 2035. According to the ministry, the problem with economic growth is connected to demographic problems. By 2025 the economically active segment of the population is expected to shrink from 72.3 million to 69 million, and to 68 million in 2035. (The Moscow Times, 10.20.16)
  • The number of deaths in Russian hospitals increased in 2015 despite a massive reduction in the amount of hospital beds available, the independent Health Foundation reported Friday. The number of patients in the country's hospitals decreased by 817,000 people in 2015, the report said, whereas the number of deaths grew by 24,000. (The Moscow Times, 10.21.16)
  • The Russian government plans to cut spending within the “Maternal and Child Health Care in 2013-2020” program in 2017, allocating only 2.1 billion rubles ($33.6 million) instead of 4.7 billion ($75.2 million) (The Moscow Times, 10.19.16)
  • According to information obtained by the Russian website from anonymous government sources, officials with children studying abroad must return them to the country immediately by transferring them to Russian universities. The Kremlin, however, did not confirm this information, with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that he had heard nothing about any such order. (RBTH, 10.17.16)
  • At a news conference in Goa, India Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Kremlin journalists that they are being monitored by the United States' National Security Agency. (Interfax, 10.17.16)
  • Mikhail Fradkov, the former chief of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service may be kept from heading Russia's state railway company over fears that his association with Western sanctions could cause the firm to default, the Kommersant newspaper reported Tuesday. (The Moscow Times, 10.18.16)
  • Russia's Labor Minister Maksim Topilin has proposed introducing a tax on unemployed Russians, calling them "social parasites."  (RFE/RL, 10.21.16)
  • Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has been promoted to a newly created deputy prime minister's post. (RFE/RL, 10.19.16)
  • The Moscow-based human rights center Memorial has recognized a Chechen journalist Zhalaudi Geriyev as a political prisoner. (RFE/RL, 10.17.16)

Defense and Aerospace:

  • Russia’s government is easing the debt burden of defense companies, jettisoning the 2016 deficit target as the nation’s relations deteriorate with the U.S. and its allies. The government will increase expenditures in this year’s so-called black budget by 800 billion rubles ($12.7 billion), Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told lawmakers in Moscow on Monday. (Bloomberg, 10.17.16)
  • Just days after the Russian government's authorization of an indefinite combat mission in Syria, the State Duma is considering another military maneuver: changing the law on military service to offer short-term contracts to Russians eager to fight in specific wars. It is a move that experts say is aimed at formalizing the status of unrecognized Russian mercenary forces fighting abroad. (The Moscow Times, 10.17.16)
  • The Russian Air Force, after years of waiting, is expecting to finally receive the first five of its shiny new Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter jets sometime in 2017, Air Force Commander-in-Chief Colonel-General Viktor Bondarev said. (The Moscow Times, 10.14.16)
  • Russia has successfully tested a radio-electronic weapon. "It incapacitates electronics and other on-board equipment on enemy planes, drones and high-precision weapons. This is land equipment. At the same time it can withstand land, sea and air attacks," Rostec spokesman Leonid Khozin said. He remarked that the device "strikes" targets many kilometers away. (RBTH, 10.17.16)
  • Russia’s draft budget for 2017 envisages allocating about 173.24 billion rubles ($2.7 billion) on space activities, according to a document posted on the federal portal of draft laws and regulations. (TASS, 10.17.16)
  • Russia's space agency Roscosmos is not giving up hope that communication with a missing Mars probe can be established. The probe, known as Schiaparelli, is part of a joint mission with the European Space Agency to the Red Planet. Contact was lost just before landing. (The Moscow Times, 10.20.16)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin's former chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, says a report that the Kremlin plans to create a monolithic new security agency is false. The newspaper Kommersant reported in September that Russia plans to establish a Ministry of State Security shaped around the Federal Security Service. (RFE/RL, 10.18.16)
  • Seven alleged members of a banned Islamic group have been detained in Russia's Tatarstan. The FSB says they propagated teachings of the Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat (Messenger's Assembly) in local mosques. (RFE/RL, 10.20.16)

III. Foreign affairs and trade

General developments and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • Russia and India signed defense deals worth billions of dollars at a meeting of the leaders of the two countries in the southern India state of Goa on Oct. 15. Key agreements included deals under which India would procure Russian S-400 Triumf missile systems, joint manufacture of Russian Kamov 226T helicopters and procurement of four 11356 frigates for the Indian armed forces. India and Russia have also apparently reached an agreement for New Delhi to lease a second Project 971 Shchuka-B nuclear attack submarine. Under the biggest agreement, a group led by the Russian state oil giant Rosneft said it would pay $12.9 billion for a controlling stake in both India’s Essar Oil and the port facilities the company owns. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also remotely inaugurated a project to build two new reactors at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant and signed an agreement for the fifth and sixth reactors of the plant. Along with building the reactors, President Putin announced that technological cooperation in the field of uranium enrichment is being established with India. “Ours is a truly unique and privileged relationship,” Modi said. He said his views were aligned with Mr. Putin’s on the unstable situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East. (RFE/RL, 10.15.16, India Times, 10.15.16, Reuters, 10.15.16, The National Interest, 10.18.16, IPFM Blog, 10.19.16)
  • Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s top government spokesman, on Monday denied a Nikkei newspaper report regarding the decades-old territorial dispute between Japan and Russia. According to the report, Japan was considering seeking joint administration of the two larger islands in addition to Russia's return of the smaller pair. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday called the reports “information injections," adding that consultations were “difficult" and proceeding quietly. (Bloomberg, 10.19.16)
  • Alexey Likhachov, the new director general of Rosatom, has told the country's prime minister that Rosatom's portfolio of foreign orders is expected to reach $137 billion by the end of this year, up from $110 billion at the end of 2015. (World Nuclear News, 10.13.16)
  • The five leaders of the BRICS group of emerging economies have ended a two-day summit in India with a pledge to speed global economic recovery as well as fight terrorism and extremism, forces that they said pose a threat to regional and international peace and stability. BRICS members represent nearly half of the world's population and a quarter of its economy. (RFE/RL, 10.16.16)
  • Battalions from the Russian and Egyptian parachute corps have been working together in an exercise to capture and liberate buildings from terrorists in a village in Egypt as part of the first Russo-Egyptian military training deal, dubbed “Defending Friendship in 2016.” (RBTH, 10.21.16)
  • The Eurasian Economic Union is holding talks on the free trade zone with about 40 countries, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday at the Foreign Investment Advisory Council’s meeting. (TASS, 10.17.16)
  • Britain’s NatWest Bank has told Kremlin-funded broadcaster Russia Today that it will no longer be able to service the channel beginning in December. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that Russia is in contact with the U.K. about the issue, a day after she warned that the authorities in Moscow will respond “in a practical manner” to the move. (The Moscow Times, 10.17.16, Bloomberg, 10.19.16)
  • Due to EU sanctions and the retaliatory measures imposed by Russia, trade between Hungary and Russia dropped by nearly half in 2015, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has said. He said it is hard to imagine the EU being competitive on the world stage without “the pragmatic rebuilding of cooperation between the EU and Russia.” (AP, 10.18.16)
  • "There are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way," Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said in Beijing on Wednesday. (The Washington Post, 10.20.16)
  • French President François Hollande said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him Greek President Alexis Tsipras had asked if Russia could print drachmas, indicating Tsipras was prepared to take Greece out of the euro zone, according to a book written by two Le Monde journalists based on about 100 hours of interviews with Hollande. Greek media have reported that officials close to Tsipras denied he ever made the request. (Bloomberg, 10.16.16)
  • A court in Lithuania plans to summon former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to a trial over the Soviet crackdown on the Baltic state's pro-independence movement in 1991. (RFE/RL, 10.17.16)
  • Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has attended a ceremony to inaugurate a Russian Orthodox Church and cultural center next to the Eiffel Tower. (AP, 10.19.16)


  • The leaders of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia agreed to draw up a road map by the end of next month to carry out the Minsk peace agreement for eastern Ukraine. After six hours of talks on the wars in Ukraine and Syria in Berlin on Oct. 19-20, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the road map would enable all sides to keep pushing ahead with the 2015 Minsk peace agreement. The foreign ministers of the four countries are to discuss the road map in more detail in November, Merkel said. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said an agreement had been reached that the road map should be adopted by the end of November.  Poroshenko said they agreed to withdrawals of Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists in four new areas on the front line of the fighting in the Donbass region. Poroshenko was also quoted as saying that an agreement was reached on the deployment of an armed police mission in the areas held by pro-Russian separatists. But Merkel told reporters that such a step would first require Ukraine to pass laws for local elections in the disputed territory, something Kiev hasn’t yet done. However, Poroshenko said elections in Donbass would not occur until all foreign forces are withdrawn. Meanwhile, the leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics rejected the proposal for an armed Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission altogether. (The Washington Post, 10.19.16, RFE/RL, 10.20.16, AP, 10.19.16, The Moscow Times, 10.20.16)
  • To break the gridlock on Minsk-2, an idea floated by European diplomats before the Normandy Format talks on Wednesday in Berlin was a ''security lite'' option: the withdrawal of heavy weaponry to field storage sites rather than back to Russia as a precondition of political reform, according to Hryhoriy M. Nemyria, a member of Ukraine's Parliament. The Europeans, he said, want Ukraine to take this deal, particularly given the many other Russian-related security issues. (New York Times, 10.19.16)
  • Vladimir Putin was accompanied to the Normandy Format talks in Berlin by his aide Vladislav Surkov, who had been banned from traveling to the European Union as part of the sanctions imposed on Russia for the annexation of Crimea. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told the DPA newswire that an exception had been granted to Surkov for the occasion. The evening meeting in Berlin became Putin's first visit to the German capital since the Ukraine crisis began and the first meeting of the four leaders in more than a year. (Wall Street Journal, 10.18.16, The Washington Post, 10.19.16)
  • It will be hard to settle the conflict in southeastern Ukraine with President Poroshenko's propensity to avoid political commitments adhering to the Minsk peace deal, Vladimir Putin said. Recently, the Ukrainian leader has said that Kiev would not proceed with a political process in the region, as the issue of security has not been solved in the troubled part of the country. "I think it's only a pretext to not do anything in the political sphere," the Russian president said, recalling Kiev's obligations to amend Ukraine's constitution, as mentioned in the peace deal. "If it's not done, it means that the current government are not ready to solve the problem once and for all," Putin said. (Russia Today, 10.16.16)
  • Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said the Ukrainian government is willing to move forward with local elections, but needs security improvements in the Donbass, eastern part of the country, under the control of Russian-backed separatists, as well as increased access to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). (Wall Street Journal, 10.18.16)
  • The two sides in the conflict in Ukraine have demonstrated an ability to control the level of violence in the eastern part of the country, according to Alexander Hug, deputy chief of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. Mr. Hug said both sides in the conflict had created impediments to OSCE monitors, but the majority of restrictions, some 67 percent, occurred in areas not controlled by the Ukrainian government. (Wall Street Journal, 10.18.16)
  • Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he is not optimistic about reaching a deal that would pave the way for a trade agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, which was rejected by Dutch voters in a referendum in April. All of the EU's other members have approved the free-trade agreement, but the fate of the deal has been complicated by the Dutch vote. (RFE/RL, 10.21.16)
  • Thousands of nationalists marched through Kiev in a torchlight procession on Oct. 14 to celebrate Ukrainian fighters past and present on a day that saw a fearsome far-right military force formally enter the country's political fray. (RFE/RL, 10.14.16)
  • Ukraine's far-right Azov Battalion has officially created a political party. Greeted by chants of "Death to enemies!" at an inaugural party congress in Kiev on Oct. 14. The gathering coincided with traditional nationalist events marking the creation of the controversial World War II-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and to celebrate Ukrainian Cossacks. (RFE/RL, 10.14.16)
  • Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine are trying to find out who assassinated one of their commanders, considered a war criminal by Ukrainian authorities. Russian-born Arsen Pavlov, nicknamed "Motorola", was killed by a bomb blast in the lift of his apartment block in the city of Donetsk on Sunday. The rebels accused Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko of declaring war. (BBC, 10.17.16)
  • President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko has issued a decree enacting the decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine dated Sept. 16, 2016 on the application of special personal economic and other restrictive measures. Also the Ukrainian government has banned a group of Russian money transfer services from operating in Ukraine, the Interfax Ukraine news agency reported. The Golden Crown, Unistream, Kolibri, Leader, Anelik, and the Blizko money transfer systems will all have their activities halted and their contracts with residents of Ukraine cancelled. (The Moscow Times, 10.18.16, Interfax, 10.17.16)
  • Russia plans to replace defense industry imports from Ukraine by the end of next year, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov said. (The Moscow Times, 10.20.16)
  • The "active phase" of construction work on a central used fuel storage facility at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is expected to start in March 2017, Oleksandr Rybchuk, general director of Atomprojectengineering said. (World Nuclear News, 10.19.16)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) member-states decided on Oct. 14 to set up a joint crisis response center to exchange information on common threats, including terrorism, and make decisions in real time. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said the issue of a new secretary-general of the CSTO will be discussed at the group's summit in St. Petersburg at the end of the year. He also said the members of the CSTO "reaffirmed their commitment to an exclusively peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem."(RFE/RL, 10.14.16)
  • Tajikistan began joint anti-terror drills with China on Oct. 20 near the border with Afghanistan as part of Beijing's drive to boost security in the region. Tajikistan's Defense Ministry said the exercises would last until Oct. 24 and involve at least 10,000 troops as well as military vehicles and helicopters. (RFE/RL, 10.21.16)
  • A high-profile trial against alleged Islamic terrorists and their supporters has started in northwestern Kazakhstan. In June, Kazakh authorities said a group of 25 alleged Islamic militants carried out a series of attacks that killed five civilians and three members of Kazakhstan's security forces in Aqtobe. (RFE/RL, 10.18.16)
  • Kazakhstan's newly created Ministry of Religious Issues and Civil Society says it is taking steps to ban the Salafi branch of Islam in the country. (RFE/RL, 10.14.16)
  • Authorities in Turkmenistan have announced that the country will conduct a presidential election on Feb. 12, 2017. Incumbent President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is certain - barring sickness or death - to win a third term in office. (RFE/RL, 10.19.16)
  • The U.S. Treasury Department announced on Oct. 18 that it had extended the suspension of sanctions against nine Belarusian oil and chemical companies until April 2017 (RFE/RL, 10.19.16)
  • Continued government backing and resources are needed to further build the Belarusian nuclear safety regulator's technical capabilities ahead of the start up of the country's first nuclear power reactor, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team has concluded. (World Nuclear News, 10.18.16)
  • The capital of Belarus was chosen Friday to host the 2019 European Games, despite criticism of the country’s human rights record and concerns over the cost of the event. (AP, 10.21.16)

News items for this digest curated by Simon Saradzhyan, director of the Russia Matters Project.