Russia in Review, Oct. 7-14, 2016

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

Nuclear security:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia's state-run Channel One that Moscow had pulled out of the nuclear security pact on plutonium disposal on Oct. 3 because of "aggressive anti-Russia tendencies at the basis of the U.S. policy on Russia." He pointed to NATO deployments, infrastructure and missile placement as examples of "aggressive steps that have a direct bearing on our national interests and can affect our national security." (CNN, 10.12.16)
  • A nuclear power plant became the target of a disruptive cyberattack two to three years ago, and there is a serious threat of militant attacks on such plants, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said Oct. 10. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Yukiya Amano also cited a case in which an individual tried to smuggle a small amount of highly enriched uranium about four years ago that could have been used to build a so-called "dirty bomb”: “This is not an imaginary risk," Amano said. “This issue of cyberattacks on nuclear-related facilities or activities should be taken very seriously. We never know if we know everything or if it's the tip of the iceberg." Amano declined to give details of either incident, but said the cyberattack had caused "some disruption" at the plant. (Reuters, 10.10.16)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Russia has supplied the last of the S-300 air defense systems to Iran that it was obliged to provide under a bilateral contract, the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation said Oct. 13. (TASS, 10.13.16)

Military issues, including NATO-Russia relations:

  • The heads of NATO, the European Council and the European Parliament said they remain committed to taking a hard line against Russia while staying engaged in dialogue. At a forum in Germany on Oct. 10, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Parliament President Martin Schulz called for a balanced policy toward Moscow. "We should not declare Russia to be a pariah. Instead, we should tell Moscow, 'We condemn what you are doing wrong but will keep the channel for dialogue open for when you're ready,'" Schulz said. (RFE/RL, 10.11.16)
  • German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called the current escalation of tensions created by souring relations between the United States and Russia "more dangerous" than the Cold War. "It's a fallacy to think that this is like the Cold War," Steinmeier said. "The current times are different and more dangerous." (RFE/RL, 10.08.16)
  • Poland and Estonia expressed concerns Oct. 8 that Russia has moved nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missiles into Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea, with one official saying Russia appears eager to dominate that body of water. Russia, meanwhile, says the missiles are being deployed as part of regular military maneuvers. The Russian Defense Ministry was not making a big secret of the relocation, using the missile system to verify parameters of a U.S. spy satellite, of the ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters Oct. 8. (AP, TASS, 10.08.16)
  • “Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing,” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said at the second presidential debate Oct. 9. (New York Times, 10.10.16)
  • “The risks of miscalculations have increased. I agree with that. Especially with your forces being deployed, NATO forces, being deployed next to our borders, sometimes in a very—how shall [I] put it in a polite way—in a strange way, to show up the strength of the United States,” Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s top diplomat in the United States, said. (RFE/RL, 10.12.16)
  • A Western diplomat said past confrontations between the West and Russia followed a typical pattern of a slow escalation and a mutual understanding on both sides when it was time to stop. With Russia's actions in Syria, its decision to put nuclear-capable missiles at NATO's doorstep and its cyberattacks, the diplomat said, "you have the impression they are escalating by themselves and going to the extreme." "This is a very different system," the diplomat said. "When you listen to these new Russians, this is not the strategic balance that we knew. It is unusual and dangerous." (CNN, 10.12.16)
  • Russian news presenter Dmitry Kiselyov, dubbed the “Kremlin’s chief propagandist,” has warned the United States that any “impudent behavior” towards Moscow could have “nuclear” implications. (The Independent, 10.11.16)
  • Voters in Montenegro face a stark choice: continue on a pro-Western course and NATO membership or slide back to the embrace of their traditional Slavic ally Russia. The vote pits Montenegro’s long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, led by powerful pro-Western Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, against a cluster of pro-Russian and pro-Serbian opposition groups that staunchly oppose the country’s NATO bid. (AP, 10.13.16)
  • “We have a situation where Russia does not accept the rules in Europe and so therefore Europe is the most unstable peace. That is different than the Cold War. They are not a status-quo power. They want to reestablish spheres of influence. Our model is Helsinki. Their model is Yalta.” NATO’s outgoing deputy secretary and former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, gives an interview about Russia to the Journal. (Wall Street Journal, 10.14.16)

Missile defense:

  • The U.S. anti-missile defense shields in Poland and Romania are capable of intercepting ICBMs and submarine ballistic missiles not only at medium range, as Washington has previously stated, but also in the early stages of their flight, according to representatives of the Russian Defense Ministry's General Staff. Russia made the statement Oct. 11 after allegedly remodeling the combat possibilities of the U.S. missile defense system's European component. The Chinese military have reached the same conclusion concerning the U.S. Standard Missile-3 defense systems. Major General Cai Jun, deputy director of the Joint Staff Department of China's Central Military Commission, said that America's missile defense system in Europe is a direct threat to Russia's security. (RBTH, 10.13.16)
  • Russia said it’s working with China to counter U.S. plans to expand its missile-defense network, which the two nations see as targeting their military assets. “We are working together on ways to minimize possible damage to the security of our countries,” Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff said Oct. 11 at a security forum in Xiangshan, China. He also noted that Russia and China held drills earlier this year to simulate a joint action to fend off missile strikes under the protection of a missile defense system near their borders. Poznikhir added that Moscow and Beijing will conduct a similar exercise next year. (Bloomberg, 10.11.16, TASS, 10.11.16, AP, 10.11.16)

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.


  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the U.S. government's attitude toward counterterrorism cooperation with Russia. Russia sends “our American partners information, and frequently there's no reaction,” Putin said. He blamed the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon on the U.S.'s decision to ignore Russia's warnings about one of the bombers. (The Moscow Times, 10.13.16)
  • Eight militants have been killed in a shoot-out with police in Chechnya, Russian news agencies reported. Police fatally shot the militants in southern Russia around midnight on Oct. 8 after the men, traveling in two cars, opened fire when asked to stop at a checkpoint for inspection, the Interfax news agency said Oct. 9.  (RFE/RL, 10.09.16)
  • Security forces in Russia's North Caucasus region of Dagestan said Oct. 10 they had killed at least three militants in a special operation that was launched the same day in the republic’s southwestern region of Suleiman-Stal. In a separate development media reports in Russia quoted Dagestani security officials as saying that a special operation was launched Oct. 12 in Dagestan’s western region of Karabudakhkent and that they have killed at least three militants in that operation. (RFE/RL, 10.10.16, 10.12.16)
  • Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has arrested members of an alleged terrorist cell in Crimea, the RIA Novosti news service reported Oct. 12. The individuals are believed to be members of the illegal organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, according to an unnamed law enforcement source. (The Moscow Times, 10.12.16)

Conflict in Syria:

  • The United States and Russia have announced two days of talks on the Syrian conflict over the weekend. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Switzerland on Oct. 15-16. A second international meeting will take place Oct. 16 in London without Russia. On Oct. 7 Kerry called for an investigation into possible war crimes by Russia and the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. (The Moscow Times, 10.07.16, Reuters, RFE/RL, 10.12.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has canceled a planned visit to France on Oct. 19 amid a row over the war in Syria, after French President Francois Hollande reportedly sought to limit their meeting to a discussion of the five-year-old conflict. On Oct. 10, Hollande told French TV that Assad's forces had committed a "war crime" in Aleppo with Russia's support. France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate Russia for possible war crimes in Syria. Speaking at the Russia Calling! forum Oct. 12, Putin said he had "a very good relationship" with Hollande. “In fact, we have not even canceled the visit. However, France let us understand that it was not the time to unveil the Russian cultural center and to talk about humanitarian issues so the events should be postponed," Putin said. However, Ayrault said Oct. 12 that Putin canceled a planned visit to Paris because he was "embarrassed" to discuss Russia's bombing of Aleppo. (RFE/RL, 10.11.16, AP, 10.10.16, TASS, 10.12.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has described as "political rhetoric" accusations that war crimes had been committed in Aleppo, where Russian warplanes are backing Syrian government forces trying to wrestle back control of the city from opposition rebels. Putin told France's TF1 television that he was "deeply convinced that it is our Western partners, first and foremost, of course, the United States, who are responsible for the situation." Russia won’t give in to “blackmail and pressure” over its military offensive in Syria and accused the U.S. and its allies of whipping up “anti-Russian hysteria,” he said.  (Bloomberg, 10.12.16, RFE/RL, 10.13.16)
  • American intelligence experts have informed the White House that the Kremlin's goal appears to be to help the Assad government take Aleppo during the waning months of the Obama administration so that Russia can re-enter talks on Syria's future in an even stronger position. Much of the Russian and Syrian bombing has been directed at hospitals, water treatment plants and other civilian infrastructure in what American officials assert is part of a heavy-handed military campaign to force the surrender of eastern Aleppo and other rebel-held areas. (New York Times, 10.12.16)
  • Asked whether Europe could relax existing sanctions or impose fresh sanctions against Moscow for its military backing of Assad, European Council President Donald Tusk said that the only answer was to prolong the sanctions that were already in place. He said the situation with Russia had grown worse since the EU last extended its sanctions in June, citing Russia's involvement in the bombing of Aleppo. (Reuters, 10.10.16)
  • A senior EU diplomat said not to expect any Russia sanctions decision at Monday's regular meeting of EU foreign ministers. But if the bombing of Aleppo continues or the situation there further deteriorates, the diplomat said stepped-up sanctions would be "a serious consideration." (Wall Street Journal, 10.12.16)
  • A senior EU diplomat has said Britain, France and Germany are among EU states exploring the possibility of sanctions against up to 12 Russian officials over the bombardment of Aleppo before a summit next week. (Financial Times, 10.12.16)
  • Diplomats have said Paris is leading discussions on whether to impose new European Union sanctions on Russia over Syria. (Reuters, 10.12,16)
  • Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who hosted a meeting with his French and German counterparts in Rome on Oct. 12, said he was “not convinced by proposals we hear for new sanctions against Russia” over the conflict in Syria. “I don’t believe that Europe would ever agree on sanctions on the Syrian issue. It would only be a way of introducing new divisive elements into the EU.” (Bloomberg, 10.13.16)
  • French President François Hollande has delivered his toughest critique yet of the Obama administration's foreign policy, saying the decision not to retaliate against the Syrian government in 2013 for using chemical weapons encouraged Russia's military expansion into Ukraine and Syria. (Wall Street Journal, 10.12.16)
  • Russia says it has vetoed a draft French UN Security Council resolution on Syria because it was "politicized and one-sided." The resolution calling for an end to air strikes on Aleppo and military overflights was vetoed Oct. 8, while a Russian-drafted alternative text failed to garner the minimum of nine votes needed for adoption by the 15-member council. (RFE/RL, 10.09.16)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow had the means to protect its assets in Syria if the U.S. decided to carpet bomb the government's military air fields. “This is a very dangerous game given that Russia, being in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government of this country and having two bases there, has got air defense systems there to protect its assets," Lavrov said. (RFE/RL, 10.09.16)
  • Russia ratified a treaty with Syria on Oct. 7 that gives Moscow its first permanent air base in the Middle East. The broad, open-ended agreement ratified by the Russian parliament allows the Kremlin to indefinitely maintain a military deployment in Syria "aimed at maintaining peace and stability in the region." (Washington Post, 10.07.16)
  • Russia's Defense Ministry blamed the U.S. for the breakdown of talks on Syria. Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov also said there was “no military solution” in Syria and called for Washington to “give up political ambitions and sit down at the negotiating table.” (The Moscow Times, 10.11.16)
  • There is no consensus within the Obama administration about what the U.S. can or should do to try to bring a halt to the killing in Syria and stop what appears to be the increasingly inevitable fall of Aleppo to government forces. Top U.S. defense officials have advised a possible increase in weapons aid to opposition fighters but said the U.S. should focus its own military firepower on fighting ISIS rather than risk a direct confrontation with Russia. (Washington Post, 10.08.16)
  • Former Soviet leader and Nobel laureate Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that the world has reached a "dangerous point" as tensions between Russia and the United States have soared over the Syria conflict. (RFE/RL, 10.11.16)
  • “I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example,” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said at the second presidential debate Oct. 9. “Iran now and Russia are now against us. So she [Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton] wants to fight. She wants to fight for rebels. There’s only one problem. You don’t even know who the rebels are. So what’s the purpose?” Trump said. “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy,” he said. (New York Times, 10.10.16)
  • “Every day that goes by, we see the results of the regime by Assad in partnership with the Iranians on the ground, the Russians in the air, bombarding places, in particular Aleppo. Russia hasn’t paid any attention to ISIS. They’re interested in keeping Assad in power,” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said at the Oct. 9 debate. She also said: “I think wherever we can cooperate with Russia, that’s fine. And I did as secretary of state. … So I would go to the negotiating table with more leverage than we have now. But I do support the effort to investigate for crimes, war crimes committed by the Syrians and the Russians, and try to hold them accountable.” (New York Times, 10.10.16)
  • Military options will be discussed when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers meet in Britain on Oct. 16 to discuss Russian and Syrian government bombing of Aleppo, Boris Johnson, UK foreign secretary, has said. Johnson earlier said that “all the available evidence” points to Russian responsibility for the bombing of an aid convoy in Syria. (AP, 10.11.16, Financial Times, 10.13.16)
  • Russia has accused British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson of “Russophobic hysteria” after he attacked the Kremlin for carrying out "war crimes" in Syria. (The Moscow Times, 10.12.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at the West over Syria on Oct. 12, saying the U.S. and Europe were unfairly placing blame for the breakdown of a cease-fire on Moscow. Putin said a September airstrike on a humanitarian convoy in Aleppo—an attack that U.S. officials blamed on Syria and Russia—had been carried out by extremist groups. "It was a terrorist organization. And we know that the Americans know about that, but they prefer to take a different position, they prefer to make sweeping accusations against Russia," he said at an investor conference in Moscow. (Wall Street Journal, 10.12.16)
  • Russian warplanes resumed heavy bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo after several days of relative calm. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Oct. 12 that at least eight civilians were killed in the Bustan al-Qasr and Fardos districts of the city, where around 250,000 remained trapped. (RFE/RL, 10.12.16)

Cyber security:

  • The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security on Oct. 7 officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections, including by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations. “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” the two agencies said in a joint statement. (Washington Post, AP, 10.07.16)
  •  The White House vowed to hit Russia with a "proportional" response after the conclusion by U.S. intelligence officials that Moscow hacked into emails from the Democratic National Committee and other organizations, then leaked thousands of files to interfere with the outcome of the presidential election. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Oct. 11 that President Barack Obama is considering "a range of responses" but isn't likely to announce one in advance. (Wall Street Journal, 10.11.16)
  • Now that the White House has formally accused Russia of meddling in the presidential election with cutting-edge cyberattacks and age-old information warfare, President Obama’s response options range from the mild—naming and shaming the Russians, as he did Oct. 7—to the more severe, like invoking for the first time a series of economic sanctions that he created by executive order after North Korea’s attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Justice Department could indict the Russians behind the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and the email accounts of prominent individuals, as it did with members of China’s People’s Liberation Army, who have been charged with stealing industrial secrets. Or Obama could sign a secret intelligence finding—similar to many he has issued to authorize CIA efforts in Syria or drone strikes against the Islamic State—to attack and disable Russian computer servers or expose the financial dealings of President Vladimir Putin and his oligarch friends. (New York Times, 10.08.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has brushed off assertions that the Kremlin is meddling in the U.S. presidential election and said that criticism of Moscow during the campaign is "poisoning" bilateral ties. "Hysteria has been whipped up to distract the attention of the American people from the essence of what the hackers released," Putin told a business forum. "For some reason nobody talks about this. They talk about who did it. Is it really that important?"(RFE/RL, 10.12.16)
  • The Kremlin on Oct. 7 dismissed the Obama administration's hacking accusation. "This is some sort of nonsense," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. "Every day, [President Vladimir] Putin's site gets attacked by tens of thousands of hackers. Many of these attacks can be traced to U.S. territory,” he said. Russia is committed to cooperation with U.S. on fighting cyber terrorism, Peskov said. The U.S. accusing Russia of hacker attacks is a clear political move to whip up unprecedented anti-Russian hysteria, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Oct. 8. And Andrew Krutskikh, the president's special representative on cyber security, has accused the United States of deliberately “provoking Russia” with claims that the country carried out cyberattacks on American institutions. (Washington Post, 10.07.16, The Moscow Times, 10.11.16, Bloomberg, 10.12.16) 
  • Russia has rejected an American hacker's request for political asylum, the TASS news agency reported. Joshua Samuel Aaron, wanted in the United States for illegally accessing the personal data of 100 million clients of JP Morgan, requested asylum to avoid being deported from Russia. (The Moscow Times, 10.11.16)
  • The Russian government is determined to intercept and decipher Russian messaging app traffic, and Russian companies are searching for a solution to help law-enforcement agencies gain access to correspondence delivered by WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Skype. (Kommersant, 10.10.16)
  • NTechLab is a Moscow-based firm whose algorithm to identify facial features is getting attention in the broader information technology world. Its big breakthrough was the 2015 MegaFace Challenge, a facial recognition competition held at the University of Washington, where NTechLab beat a team from Google, identifying celebrities from a batch of 1 million photographs with 73.3% accuracy. NTechLab founders say they are in negotiations to sell its products to state-affiliated security firms from China and Turkey. (Wall Street Journal, 10.10.16)
  • “Our intelligence community just came out and said in the last few days that the Kremlin, meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election,” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said Oct. 9. (New York Times, 10.10.16)
  • Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has pointed to alleged Russian hacks of Democratic officials as evidence that Russia favors her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. Appearing at an investment forum in Moscow on Oct. 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed that charge. "There was a whole hysteria about that being of interest to Russia, but there is nothing within the interest of Russia," Putin said. (CNN, 10.12.16)
  • The FBI suspects Russian intelligence agencies are behind the recent hacking of the emails of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman and of a contractor handling Florida voter data, according to people briefed on the investigations. On Oct. 12, WikiLeaks posted another batch of emails from the chairman, John Podesta. ''I've been involved in politics for nearly five decades,'' Podesta said. ''This definitely is the first campaign that I've been involved with in which I've had to tangle with Russian intelligence agencies,'' he added, ''who seem to be doing everything that they can on behalf of our opponent.'' (Wall Street Journal, 10.12.16, New York Times, 10.12.16, RFE/RL, 10.12.16)
  • “I notice anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are—she [Hillary Clinton] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia,” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said at the second presidential debate Oct. 9. (New York Times, 10.10.16)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow is ready to cut or freeze oil production and supports the OPEC oil cartel's efforts to bolster prices. His comments sent premium crude soaring $1.54 to end at $51.35 a barrel in New York, its highest closing price since July 2015. "We believe freezing or even reducing oil production is the only way to save the stability of the energy sector," Putin told an energy conference in Istanbul, speaking through a translator. (RFE/RL, Wall Street Journal, 10.11.16)
  • Igor Sechin, Russia's most influential oil executive and the head of state-controlled energy giant Rosneft, said his company will not cap oil production as part of a possible agreement with OPEC. "Why should we do it?" Sechin, known for his anti-OPEC position, told Reuters in Istanbul on the evening of Oct. 10 when asked if Rosneft, which accounts for 40% of Russia's crude oil output, might cap its production. (Reuters, 10.11.16)
  • OPEC said it has invited Russia to attend a meeting later this month to establish a road map for boosting flagging world oil prices. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak confirmed that Russia had been invited to the Oct. 28-29 meeting in Vienna, which would "work out a road map for the cooperation of our countries" in boosting oil prices. (RFE/RL, 10.12.16) 
  • No real grounds exist so far to say that the hydrocarbons era is close to its end, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Oct. 10 at the World Energy Congress. (TASS, 10.10.16)
  • Russia and Turkey have signed an agreement to build the TurkStream pipeline, which would bring Russian natural gas to Europe along a southern route that would bypass Ukraine. The Oct. 10 agreement came on the sidelines of the World Energy Congress in Istanbul, where Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for talks. Construction of TurkStream will begin next year, Russia’s energy minister said Oct. 12. (RFE/RL, 10.13.16, RFE/RL, 10.10.16)
  • Russia has ended an agreement to cooperate with Kiev on oil transportation through Ukraine. The treaty, which has been in place since 1995, had governed a pipeline running from the Russian city of Samara through Ukrainian territory. (The Moscow Times, 10.13.16)
  • Kazakhstan’s energy minister has said that the first oil from the beleaguered Kashagan field has been extracted and was being accumulated in KazTransOil reservoirs. (RFE/RL, 10.13.16)
  • Russia’s state-owned natural gas company Gazprom and the EU’s antitrust authorities are aiming to agree as soon as the end of October the terms of a settlement that would force changes to the way the company operates, according to people familiar with the matter. The settlement would address long-running concerns that Gazprom harms competition and charges unfair prices in several Eastern European countries and could help the company avoid billion-dollar fines. The discussions, however, could still go awry and no final plan has yet been signed off, the sources stressed. (Wall Street Journal, 10.14.16)

Bilateral economic ties:

  • The Russian arm of U.S. auditing company Deloitte has been sanctioned by Russia's Federal Treasury, the Kommersant newspaper reported Oct. 12. Deloitte and Touche CIS will not be able to bid in tenders or enter into new contracts for the next 30 days. The reasons for the action have not been announced. (The Moscow Times, 10.12.16)

Other bilateral issues:

  • Speaking at the Russia Calling! economic conference in Moscow on Oct. 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the West had unilaterally withdrawn from negotiations on Syria. “There is no dialogue now, only some kind of dictate,” he told the audience. (The Moscow Times, 10.12.16)
  • "We have witnessed a fundamental change of circumstances when it comes to the aggressive Russophobia that now lies at the heart of U.S. policy toward Russia," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian TV. "It's not just a rhetorical Russophobia, but aggressive steps that really hurt our national interests and pose a threat to our security,” he added. (RFE/RL, 10.09.16)
  • In his interview with CNN, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called it "ridiculous" to suggest that "Russia is interfering in the United States' domestic matters." But Lavrov nevertheless made reference to last week's bombshell that rocked the U.S. presidential race: an unearthed tape from 2005 in which Trump can be heard bragging about groping women and grabbing their genitalia. "English is not my mother tongue, I don't know that I would sound decent: There are so many pussies around your presidential campaign on both sides, that I prefer not to comment about this," Lavrov said.  (CNN, 11.12.16)
  • “I know nothing about Russia. I know—I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia,” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said at the second presidential debate Oct. 9. (New York Times, 10.10.16)
  • “I want to emphasize that what is at stake here is the ambitions and the aggressiveness of Russia. Russia has decided that it’s all in, in Syria. And they’ve also decided who they want to see become president of the United States, too, and it’s not me. I’ve stood up to Russia. I’ve taken on Putin and others, and I would do that as president,” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said at the second presidential debate Oct. 9. (New York Times, 10.10.16)
  • Russia’s UN ambassador said Oct. 10 that he never complained to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about criticism of Donald Trump because he wasn’t aware that the Republican presidential candidate had been the target of criticism by the UN human rights chief. (AP, 10.10.16)
  • Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, has blamed Washington for the worsening ties between the two countries, even as he emphasized common threats the two faced and the potential for cooperation. (RFE/RL, 10.12.16)
  • Americans should vote for Donald Trump as president next month or risk being dragged into a nuclear war, according to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a Russian ultra-nationalist ally of President Vladimir Putin’s who likes to compare himself to the U.S. Republican candidate. (The Moscow Times, 10.12.16)
  • A Russian woman who accused former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer of assaulting her has been arrested for trying to extort money from him. Police say Svetlana Zakharova, 26, was arrested Oct. 10 in New York City. (RFE/RL, 10.11.16)
  • Russia’s Justice Ministry has received a copy of the request made by jailed Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko’s attorney for his client’s transfer from the U.S. to Russia, and has prepared a relevant letter to be forwarded to the U.S., a source in the ministry told TASS. Yaroshenko’s lawyers are also counting on a pardon from President Obama to set him free (TASS, 10.11.16, The Moscow Times, 10.13.16)

II. Russia’s domestic news

Politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia's state-run oil firm Rosneft bought a majority stake in Bashneft for $5.2 billion, providing a major cash infusion to fill deficits in the Kremlin's budget. While initially advertised as a "privatization," the sale of the government's 50.1% stake in Bashneft to Rosneft, which itself is majority-owned by the government, ensures the Kremlin will retain control over both firms. (RFE/RL, 10.13.16)
  • Russia’s Central Bank said last week that it had worked with a consortium of Russia’s biggest banks to develop its own distributed ledger (a system similar to Bitcoin), which it called Masterchain. The Russian institutions have been sending messages on the system but are also looking at it as a potential “component of the new-generation financial infrastructure in the future.” (New York Times, 10.11.16)

Defense and Aerospace:

  • Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told members of the State Duma that his ministry was considering reopening military bases in Cuba and Vietnam, raising concerns of a new level of confrontation between Russia and the West. Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov declined to deny Russian plans when speaking to journalists. (The Moscow Times, 10.10.16)
  • On Oct. 12 Russia successfully tested three ballistic missiles. The RS-12M Topol was launched from Plesetsk cosmodrome, while two other missiles were launched from the submarines Georgiy Pobedonosets and Novomoskovsk. (, 10.13.16)
  • Russia has outlined new plans for a wartime government regime. In the event of war, local governments, regional branches of the Interior Ministry, Emergencies Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and much of the National Guard will now report directly to the military. (The Moscow Times, 10.11.16)
  • Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu named Col. Gen. Andrei Serdyukov commander of Russia's airborne troops, the Vedomosti newspaper reported. (The Moscow Times, 10.10.16)
  • Russia's Defense Ministry announced Oct. 6 the formation of a new long-range Heavy Bomber Division that would feature Tu-95MS and Ti-22M3 bombers. Stationed in the Far East, the unit's role is to patrol the Pacific Ocean and, in particular, sea areas near Japan, Hawaii and Guam. (IHS Jane's, 10.11.16)
  • "The large-scale operational and combat training measures of our Armed Forces are not signals to anyone, let alone threats. They are a necessary condition for ensuring the combat readiness of any country's military organization," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting about the Caucasus 2016 drills conducted last month. (RFE/RL, 10.12.16)
  • Egypt says it will host Russian troops this month for joint military exercises at the coastal city of El-Alamein. The training exercises, called “Guardians of Friendship,” will take place between Oct. 15 and 26 and include “elite units” as well as vehicles from both sides. (AP, 10.12.16)
  • Russia’s Rostec State Corp. said it expects to sign an agreement this weekend to build around 200 military helicopters in India. (Wall Street Journal, 10.13.16)
  • The Armenian parliament has ratified an agreement between Moscow and Yerevan on establishing a single air defense system in the Caucasus region. (RBTH, 10.12.16)
  • A new training range measuring more than 50 square kilometers will be set up in the Bryansk Region in west Russia by yearend, Russian Western Military District spokesman Igor Muginov has said. (TASS, 10.12.16)

Security, law enforcement and justice:

  • More than one million Russians are expected to be under wiretap surveillance by the end of 2016, Russian activists have reported. (The Moscow Times, 10.11.16)
  • For the first time in Russian legal history, investigators have named a suspected organized crime boss “the leader of the Russian criminal community,” the Kommersant newspaper reported Oct. 13. Zakhar Kalashov, also known as “Young Shakro,” is currently in custody with a number of his accomplices. (The Moscow Times, 10.13.16)

III. Foreign affairs and trade

General developments and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to sign 18 documents at the BRICS summit in Goa this week with a focus on nuclear cooperation, presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said Oct. 13. Rosatom subsidiary United Corporation for Innovation LLC and the Indian Agricultural Association have already signed an agreement on the development of "a network of integrated infrastructure centers" for radiation treatment in India. (Sputnik, 10.13.16, World Nuclear News, 10.13.16)
  • India and Russia are also expected to sign major defense deals [see Defense and Aerospace section above] at the BRICS summit as New Delhi looks to reassure Moscow it hasn’t forgotten its oldest partner while it shops for arms in the U.S., France, Israel and other places. India’s shift toward Washington has complicated regional ties, with Russia carrying out its first-ever military exercises with Pakistan this month and agreeing to sell it weapons. (Wall Street Journal Blogs, 10.14.16)
  • Russia’s state-controlled oil giant Rosneft is leading a group that is taking over India’s Essar Oil Ltd. in a deal valued at up to $7.5 billion, excluding debt, a person familiar with the matter said Oct. 14. The deal would bolster Russia's efforts to increase its global market share at a time of intense competition and puts it head-to-head in the Indian market with Saudi Arabia. (Wall Street Journal, 10.14.16)
  • Russia has lifted its ban on the import of oranges, apricots, peaches and plums from Turkey, the Interfax news agency has reported. (The Moscow Times, 10.11.16)
  • The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner has canceled a trip to Russia due to "unacceptable" restrictions put on him by the state. (RFE/RL, 10.11.16)
  • Russia says Britain has a duty to protect Russian diplomats in London, a response to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's call for activists to protest Moscow's bombing campaign in Syria. (RFE/RL, 10.12.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin laid the groundwork this week for a possible shake-up of his country’s sports leadership in the wake of a doping controversy that has implicated government officials. He has outlined a broad strategy to redeem the country with global Olympic officials. (New York Times, 10.12.16)


  • Four Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in fighting in eastern Ukraine in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman for Anti-Terrorist Operation Andriy Lysenko said Oct. 12. One civilian has been killed and one serviceman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) has been wounded by fire from the Ukrainian military over the past day, pro-rebel websites reported Oct. 12. Also, rebels’ tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and heavy artillery moved to occupy a key crossroads and fire on Ukrainian troops occupying a hilltop in Shyrokine, 10 miles east of Mariupol. (UNIAN, BBC, The Times, 10.12.16)
  • Leaders of France, Germany and Russia could still meet with President Petro Poroshenko in Berlin on Oct. 19 to discuss the Ukraine situation, though the French government also wants Russia to make progress on other issues such as Syria, French officials said. In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said further work was needed by advisers before any meeting between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France was possible. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Oct. 13 that Russia still sees a chance of holding the four-way summit on the Ukraine conflict next week. (Bloomberg, 10.12.16, RFE/RL, 10.13.16)
  • The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has condemned “Russian aggression” in eastern Ukraine in a historic ruling. (The Moscow Times, 10.13.16) 
  • Ukrainian authorities say a Ukrainian citizen with permanent residence in Russia has been detained in the northwestern city of Rivne. Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) said Oct. 9 that the man, whose identity was not disclosed, is suspected of attempting to obtain classified information by offering a large sum of money and Russian citizenship to a Ukrainian military officer. (RFE/RL, 10.10.16)
  • Ukraine has no plan to introduce visas for Russian citizens visiting their country, the Vedomosti newspaper reported. (The Moscow Times, 10.11.16)

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Belarus and Russia have reached a deal resolving their differences on several natural gas and oil issues. Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimer Syamashka said Oct. 10 that Minsk will pay off its gas debts to Moscow by Oct. 25, while Russia will cut the gas price for Belarus. (RFE/RL, 10.10.16)
  • The governing Georgian Dream party, which is pro-Western but favors closer ties with Russia, had 49% of votes in Georgia’s  parliamentary election, while the opposition United National Movement was running a distant second with 27%. Smaller parties received the remainder of the votes. (Reuters, 10.10.16)
  • During a visit to Tbilisi, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev said his country supports Georgia's territorial integrity. (RFE/RL, 10.13.16)
  • Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has added Armenia to his list of canceled visits this week due to treatment for what officials say is a "cold." (RFE/RL, 10.12.16)
  • Kazakhstan's security forces have detained three terror suspects in the country’s largest city, Almaty. (RFE/RL, 10.11.16)

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