Russia in Review, Sept. 24-Oct. 1, 2021
This Week’s Highlights
- U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed with his Russian counterpart Valery Gerasimov an apparent offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his military's bases in Central Asia to respond to any emerging terrorist threats in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Russia’s position on the inadmissibility of the United States’ military presence in Central Asian countries remains unchanged, TASS reports.
- Teams of U.S. and Russian diplomats led by U.S. State Department number two Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, respectively, met in Geneva on Sept. 30 for the second round of the bilateral dialogue on strategic stability, AFP reports. They agreed to set up two working groups to pursue potential accords related to nuclear weapons and other global threats, according to RFE/RL. During the consultations, U.S. representatives expressed concern over the fact that China, in their opinion, is rapidly building up its nuclear potential, Ryabkov said.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told journalists that Syria had been top of the agenda during his Sept. 29 talks in Sochi with Putin, according to the Financial Times. The Kremlin said that the two leaders reaffirmed their determination to force “terrorists” out of the Idlib province. Erdogan also said after the meeting that Turkey is considering fighter jet and submarine cooperation with Russia and proposed that the two countries work together on the construction of two more nuclear power plants, while Putin suggested developing platforms for space rocket launches.
- In the past several months, Moscow and Washington have managed to resume cooperation in the sphere of cyber security, according Russia’s Kommersant daily. As a result, “a blow has been dealt against” Evil Corp., TrickBot and Revil, the daily reported, citing Russian sources.
- Ilya Sachkov, founder and chief executive of leading Russian cybersecurity company Group-IB, was arrested by the FSB in Moscow and charged with treason. According to Kommersant, Sachkov’s charges may be related to his alleged consent to have Group-IB employee Nikita Kislitsin testify to the FBI about Russian hacker Yevgeny Nikulin.
- If the U.S. grants a visa to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s non-proliferation specialist Konstantin Vorontsov, U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland will get a Russian visa to travel to Moscow for talks in spite of being on Russia’s sanctions list banning those on it from entering Russia, Russian diplomatic sources told Kommersant.
- The Kremlin has reiterated that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine would cross one of Putin's "red lines" as Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko accused Washington of using training centers as a guise for setting up bases for the Western military alliance.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- Moscow has a full range of questions concerning the establishment of the AUKUS alliance, which it has already raised with the U.S. and will also present to its Australian and British colleagues, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Sept. 29. Among other things, these questions include how the hypothetical transfer of ship fuel with 90% enrichment correlates with the requirements of non-proliferation, how Canberra will observe the provisions of its obligations under the safeguards agreement with the IAEA in the current situation, under the additional protocol of the safeguards agreement. (TASS, 09.29.21)
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- No significant developments.
Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
- U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed with his Russian counterpart an apparent offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his military's bases in Central Asia to respond to any emerging terrorist threats in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. Milley raised the subject at the request of U.S. President Joe Biden's National Security Council staff in his meeting Sept. 22 with Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov. Gerasimov was noncommittal during the Helsinki meeting, the U.S. officials said. A Kremlin spokesman declined to comment. Last week's discussion between the top U.S. and Russian military officers had its roots in the June 16 summit meeting in Geneva between Biden and Putin. Putin floated the idea of hosting U.S. military personnel on Russian bases, according to U.S. officials and Kommersant. That prompted the NSC staff to ask Milley to clarify whether Putin was simply making a debating point or was hinting at a serious offer, the U.S. officials said. (The Wall Street Journal, 09.27.21)
- The five countries of Central Asia have been reluctant to strike independent basing deals with Washington for fear of crossing Moscow. Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, chief of U.S. Central Command, insisted Sept. 28 that those countries desire relationships with the United States "because they want alternatives to Russia, and they want alternatives to China." (The Washington Post, 09.29.21)
- When pressed during hearings to explain how the U.S. planned to improve tenuous regional partnerships and on whether cooperation with Russia was part of the calculus, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged the Pentagon had recently explored the seriousness of an offer made by Putin to host U.S. troops on its bases in Central Asia—though the defense secretary added that "we're not asking the Russians for anything." (The Washington Post, 09.29.21)
- Russia’s position on the inadmissibility of the United States’ military presence in Central Asian countries remains unchanged, Ryabkov said Sept. 30. "There isn’t the slightest change in our position that the U.S. presence in Central Asian countries is inadmissible in any format," he stressed. "It is a final position with no elements of flexibility and it has been explained to the Americans more than once." (TASS, 09.30.21, The Moscow Times, 10.01.21)
- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will travel to Uzbekistan for an Oct. 4 meeting with senior officials. (AP, 09.27.21, U.S. State Department, 09.27.21)
- Milley and Gen. McKenzie, chief of U.S. Central Command, said Sept. 28 that they had predicted Kabul's government and its military would "collapse" after the United States' departure but refused to fault Biden for withdrawing U.S. forces, even as they agreed the haphazard exit was a "strategic failure." (The Washington Post, 09.29.21)
- A U.S. Air Force B-52H nuclear-capable bomber was intercepted and escorted by three Sukhoi Su-35SE Flanker fighter jets during a flight over neutral waters over the Pacific Ocean. (Defence Blog, 09.27.21)
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
- Putin sent a telegram to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Oct. 1 in connection with the 72nd anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the Kremlin said. "Relations between the two countries have been developing in the spirit of comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction,” he wrote. "I am confident that we will continue to take joint efforts toward comprehensively building up Russian-Chinese cooperation in various areas. This fully meets the interests of our people and serves the purpose of stronger security and stability on the regional and global levels," Putin said. (Interfax, 10.01.21)
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
- Teams of U.S. and Russian diplomats led by State Department number two Wendy Sherman and Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, respectively, met in Geneva Sept. 30 for the second round of the bilateral dialogue on strategic stability.
- They agreed to set up two working groups to pursue potential accords related to nuclear weapons and other global threats. The two working groups are to convene ahead of a third plenary meeting. No dates were announced for those gatherings.
- They agreed to press ahead with arms control and related strategic security talks aimed at easing tensions between the world's largest nuclear weapons powers.
- According to the joint statement issued after the Sept. 30 meeting, the delegations held "intensive and substantive" negotiations.
- A senior U.S. administration official told reporters that the discussion “was very interactive and broad-based, and we think we were able to cover a variety of issues.” "I think this was a good building-on of the meeting that we had in July and both delegations really engaging in a detailed and dynamic exchange," according to the official, who declined to provide specifics.
- In addition to nuclear arms control, the two sides were expected to discuss new technologies, space and artificial intelligence.
- U.S. representatives expressed concern over the fact that China, in their opinion, is rapidly building up its nuclear potential, Ryabkov said. “We, as before, take the position that in the field of arms control it is no longer possible to ignore the potentials of other countries possessing such weaponry, such weapons and relevant capabilities," Ryabkov said. He emphasized that for the Russian side, in this context, what is happening to the nuclear arsenals of the European allies of the U.S. is of paramount importance. (Interfax, 10.01.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.30.21, RFE/RL, 09.30.21)
- U.S. lawmakers on both sides of nuclear weapons issues want answers after the lead Pentagon official overseeing the Nuclear Posture Review was ousted after nine months on the job and her position eliminated. The Pentagon is saying the departure of Leonor Tomero, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, was due to a reorganization. However, non-proliferation advocates are questioning whether it was because Tomero was an advocate for nuclear restraint, and worry it could bias the review away from Biden’s pursuit of arms control. Officials with more traditional views on nuclear weapons did not take kindly to Tomero’s progressive ideology. One current U.S. official who works on nuclear issues, when asked about Tomero, said he considers some of her positions dangerous in the face of Russian and Chinese nuclear advancements. (Defense News, 09.27.21, Politico, 09.23.21)
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told journalists that Syria had been top of the agenda during his Sept. 29 talks in Sochi with Putin, but gave few details on what was discussed, saying only that both sides remained committed to their agreements and had vowed to continue resolving disagreements through diplomacy. The Kremlin said that the two leaders reaffirmed their determination to force “terrorists” out of the Idlib province. Erdogan also said after the meeting that Turkey is considering fighter jet and submarine cooperation with Russia. He has also proposed that the two countries work together on the construction of two more nuclear power plants. Putin suggested developing platforms for space rocket launches. Putin also told Erdogan that he should use Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for his next booster jab. In a warm exchange after three hours of talks Putin said he had recently spent an entire day with an infected aide but had not contracted the coronavirus. (bne IntelliNews, 09.30.21, Financial Times, 09.30.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.30.21)
- At least 11 fighters from the pro-Turkish rebel group Al-Hamza Division were killed Sept. 26 in Russian air raids in northern Syria’s town of Afrin, a war monitor said. A spokesperson for the National Army, a coalition of Turkey-backed rebel groups, called the attack a "clear message from Russia" to Turkey, showing that there are no "red lines." (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.27.21)
- During the U.N. General Assembly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres discussed the situation in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Ukraine on Sept. 24. Lavrov also met Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud to discuss steps to strengthen their countries' coordination on a wide variety of international and regional issues, including the situations in Yemen, Syria and the Persian Gulf area. (TASS, 09.25.21, TASS, 09.24.21)
- Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin and U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen held a meeting Sept. 24 to focus on the solution to the Syrian crisis and the restart of the constitution committee’s work, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. (TASS, 09.25.21)
- In the past several months, Moscow and Washington have managed to resume cooperation in the sphere of cyber security, according Russia’s Kommersant daily. As a result, “a blow has been dealt against” Evil Corp., TrickBot and Revil, the daily reported, citing Russian sources. The daily said the blow had been dealt after the U.S. side began to provide evidence needed for the suppression of these groups’ activities. In addition, U.S. and Russian participants in the bilateral consultations on cyber security managed to revive a “regular dialogue of experts in the Kremlin-White House format,” according to the daily, and “contacts between national centers of responding to computer incidents have been activated,” Kommersant quoted one of its Russian sources as saying. (Russia Matters, 09.30.21)
- Congressmen from both sides of the aisle are raising concerns about the FBI's decision to withhold assistance from hundreds of ransomware victims during the Kaseya ransomware attack while it planned to punch back at Russia-based gang REvil that launched the attack. (The Washington Post, 09.29.21)
- The U.S. released a high-profile Russian cybercriminal from its custody this week, at least a year before his prison sentence was expected to finish, handing him over to Russian authorities despite long resisting Moscow's efforts to retrieve him. Alexei Burkov was placed on a commercial airline flight on Sept. 27 after being released from federal prison last month, officials said. He was detained by Russian authorities at a Moscow airport Sept. 28, according to Russian state media. Burkov was sentenced in June last year by a U.S. district court in Virginia. Burkov is suspected of stealing more than $20 million from U.S. consumers through his credit card fraud scheme. (The Washington Post, 09.28.21, RFE/RL, 09.28.21)
- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called for the U.S. and Europe to improve information sharing on companies that pose a risk to national security, in a sign of growing White House appetite for more security coordination with the EU after their flare-up in tensions over a submarine defense contract. (Financial Times, 09.30.21)
Energy exports from CIS:
- Gazprom increased gas production by 17.3% (or by 55.7 billion cubic meters) in nine months of 2021 year-on-year to 378.1 billion cubic meters, according to preliminary estimates. Year-to-date gas deliveries to Turkey went up by 138.3%, to Germany by 33.2%, to Italy by 14.2%, to Romania by 305.6%, to Poland by 11.2%, to Serbia by 125.2%, to Finland by 17.5%, to Bulgaria by 52.5%, to Greece by 10.8%. (TASS, 10.01.21)
- Ukraine said Oct. 1 it wants Germany and the U.S. to impose sanctions on Russia’s gas export monopoly Gazprom over its controversial deal with Hungary and Kyiv’s loss of transit capacities. “Gazprom stopped gas transit through Ukraine to Hungary,” Yuri Vitrenko, CEO of Ukraine’s pipeline operator Naftogaz, wrote on Facebook. Kiev slammed as “political” this week’s contract that will supply 4.5 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas to Hungary every year until 2036 through non-Ukrainian transit routes. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 10.01.21)
- Russia’s Inter RAO has increased the volume of electricity supplies to China as of Oct. 1 in connection with an official request received from China's State Grid Corporation, the Russian diversified energy holding said. Compared to the planned volumes in October 2021, growth is to be around 90% against October 2020, and double versus pre-pandemic 2019, according to the statement. (Interfax, 10.01.21)
- Russian nuclear power plants in the first nine months of 2021 increased electricity generation by 4.67% compared to the same period in 2020. The output for the first nine months of this year amounted to over 161.1 billion kilowatt-hours. (Rosatom, 10.01.21)
- Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, topped $80 a barrel on Sept. 28 for the first time in nearly three years amid growing signs of an energy crunch. Oil prices have leapt by about a quarter over the last month as fears of a looming tight market have overcome concerns about the Delta variant slowing the global economic recovery. Soaring prices for natural gas are also influencing the oil market, analysts say, as some industrial users of gas switch to oil and other fuels. (The New York Times, 09.28.21)
- The global oil demand can collapse when China and the EU achieve their carbon neutrality targets, according to guidelines of the budget, fiscal and customs-tariff policy for 2022-2024 to the federal budget draft presented to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian legislative assembly. "The long-term prospects of oil demand are becoming increasingly negative. If announced intentions of certain countries to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 (in China—by 2060) obtain the legislative status and other countries follow this example, the oil demand will drop catastrophically," the document says. (TASS, 09.30.21)
- Power producers in Europe are being forced to ask Russia for more coal to ease an energy crunch with winter approaching and record-high gas prices denting profitability, according to officials at two Russian coal companies. But they may be left stranded as any increase in exports from the country won’t be substantial, they said. (Bloomberg, 09.30.21)
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- The Kremlin has said it would respond if the U.S. imposes new sanctions against Russia. The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes bills that call for new sanctions against Russia to punish it for what lawmakers say are its malign activities. “We will have to answer wisely,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sept. 26. (RFE/RL, 09.27.21)
- If the U.S. grants a visa to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s non-proliferation specialist Konstantin Vorontsov, U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland will get a Russian visa to travel to Moscow for talks in spite of being on Russia’s sanctions list banning those on it from entering Russia, Russian diplomatic sources told Kommersant. (Russia Matters, 09.26.21)
- The U.S. announced last week that it would soon open its doors to foreign travelers vaccinated against the coronavirus, loosening restrictions for broad swaths of global visitors for the first time since the pandemic began. But the new rules, set to take effect in November, appear to also shut out many people who consider themselves to be fully immunized—including millions who have received two doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. (The Washington Post, 09.27.21)
- Russian residents may soon be able to receive vaccines not recognized by the government, the Kommersant business daily reported, citing a Health Ministry proposal put up for public discussion. The move to relax import rules could potentially allow Russians to have Western coronavirus jabs like Pfizer and Moderna, as well as Chinese vaccines like Sinopharm and Sinovac. The Health Ministry proposed Sept. 28 to grant the Moscow International Medical Cluster project the right to import vaccines and drugs not registered in Russia. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.30.21)
- A top official at Russian natural gas producer Novatek who was arrested in the U.S. last week on tax charges says he is innocent and will "vigorously" fight the case. "I will vigorously fight these charges and will continue to discuss gas topics as normal," Mark Gyetvay, the deputy chairman of Novatek’s management board, said in a tweet Sept. 26. (RFE/RL, 09.26.21)
- A Russian court has ordered Google to pay another hefty fine for violating the country’s rules on banned content, as Moscow continues to push foreign firms to open offices in Russia and store Russians' personal data on its territory. The magistrate court of Moscow's Taganka district on Sept. 29 ruled that Google must pay a total of 6.5 million rubles ($89,400) for failure to delete banned content in two cases. (RFE/RL, 09.29.21)
- Russian authorities on Sept. 30 warned social media giant Facebook it faces a fine of up to 10% of its annual turnover in the country unless it deletes content Moscow deems illegal. (Reuters, 09.30.21)
- Stephanie Grisham, the former Trump White House press secretary, plans to release a tell-all book next week. ''With all the talk of sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 election and for various human rights abuses, Trump told Putin, 'Okay, I'm going to act a little tougher with you for a few minutes. But it's for the cameras, and after they leave we'll talk. You understand,''' Ms. Grisham writes, recalling a meeting between the two leaders during the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in 2019. “As the meeting began, Fiona Hill leaned over and asked me if I had noticed Putin’s translator, who was a very attractive brunette woman with long hair, a pretty face, and a wonderful figure,” Ms. Grisham writes. “She proceeded to tell me that she suspected the woman had been selected by Putin specifically to distract our president.” (The New York Times, 09.28.21)
- John H. Durham, the special counsel appointed by the Trump administration to scour the Russia investigation, indicted a cybersecurity lawyer this month on a single count of lying to the FBI. But Durham used a 27-page indictment to lay out a far more expansive tale, one in which four computer scientists who were not charged in the case ''exploited'' their access to internet data to develop an explosive theory about cyberconnections in 2016 between Donald Trump's company and a Kremlin-linked bank—a theory, he insinuated, they did not really believe. At the same time, defense lawyers for the scientists say it is Durham's indictment that is misleading. Their clients, they say, believed their hypothesis was a plausible explanation for the odd data they had uncovered—and still do. (The New York Times, 10.01.21)
- An inquiry into how the FBI handles some of its most sensitive surveillance work found "widespread" failure to follow one of the key rules in the program, according to a report issued Sept. 30 by the Justice Department inspector general. The findings grew out of an earlier probe of how the FBI investigated the Trump campaign for possible ties to Russia in the 2016 election. Those findings, released in 2019, found more than a dozen major errors or omissions with the surveillance application targeting a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. (The Washington Post, 10.01.21)
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- Russia broke its record for new coronavirus deaths for the fourth day in a row Oct. 1. The government tally reported 887 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours. That brings Russia’s official coronavirus death toll to 208,142—Europe’s highest. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 10.01.21) 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.
- In preparation for the 2022-2024 Russian federal budget, the Ministry of Economic Development released new predictions for macroeconomic indicators from 2021-2024, BMB Russia reports. The Ministry predicts GDP growth of 4.2% for 2021, up from the previous forecast of 3.8%, and 3% for 2022-2024. Federal budget revenues are projected at 25.021 trillion rubles ($344 billion), expenditures at 23.61 trillion rubles ($324.66 billion), while the federal budget surplus is projected at 1.411 trillion rubles ($19.4 billion), or 1.1% of GDP, in 2022. Federal budget revenues are also expected to be higher than expenditures in 2023 by up to 434.7 billion rubles ($5.97 billion), or 0.3% of GDP. Whereas in 2024, deficit is projected at 315.3 billion rubles ($4.3 billion). (bne IntelliNews, 09.29.21, TASS, 09.30.21)
- In September, Putin's personal approval rating remained in the same band as it has in recent years, improving slightly from 61% to 64%, according to independent pollster the Levada Center. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin's approval rating also improved from 53% in August to 55% in September. (bne IntelliNews, 10.01.21)
- Moscow police have blocked the entrance into the building hosting the Communist Party's legal service, where lawyers were preparing to file a lawsuit against the results of remote electronic voting in general elections held earlier in September, which were won with almost 50% of the vote by the Kremlin-backed ruling United Russia party, Russian media reported. Communist Party lawyer Maksim Sikach told Novaya Gazeta that the police arrived at the building in downtown Moscow on Sept. 28, a few minutes before the Communists were going to leave to register documents in court. Sikach said the lawsuit has to be filed no later than Sept. 29. (RFE/RL, 09.28.21)
- Over a thousand Russians, including prominent members of the Communist Party, packed a central square in Moscow Sept. 25 to protest what Kremlin critics call mass electoral fraud as police detained a number of activists. Opponents of Putin have accused the authorities of fraud after results showed the deeply unpopular ruling United Russia party winning a sweeping majority in parliament at legislative polls in September. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.25.21)
- Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu are among dozens of members of the ruling United Russia party who will not take up the mandates they won during recent parliamentary elections. The Central Election Commission said Sept. 29 that it has distributed among other candidates the mandates of a total of 66 members from the party who have refused to take up seats in the State Duma. (RFE/RL, 09.29.21)
- Thousands of employees from companies linked to sanctioned oligarch Oleg Deripaska were dispatched to Moscow for a business trip on the final day of voting in Russia’s parliamentary elections, and some of them told The Moscow Times they were expected to be on standby for a pro-government rally in the capital. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 10.01.21)
- Russian investigators have announced the launching of a new "extremism" probe against imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his top allies. The Investigative Committee, which deals with major crimes in Russia, issued a statement Sept. 28 saying that no later than 2014, Navalny "created an extremist network and directed it" with the aim of "changing the foundations of the constitutional system in the Russian Federation." Investigators said that Navalny and his top lieutenants, Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov, are suspected of having run an "extremist network," while Lyubov Sobol and a number of his other allies are accused of taking part. (RFE/RL, 09.28.21)
- The Russian government has designated three prominent information outlets and 22 individuals as "foreign agents," continuing what critics say is a broad crackdown on independent media and civic organizations. The Justice Ministry on Sept. 29 added the parent company of the Mediazona website and the human-rights project Zona Prava to its list of foreign-agent media organizations. The noncommercial information resource OVD-Info, which monitors the activities of law enforcement organizations, was added to the government’s list of "foreign agent" unregistered organizations. (RFE/RL, 09.30.21)
- News organizations in Russia risk being labeled “foreign agents” for covering corruption, crime and other issues within the military and space industries, under new rules that will likely further strain the country’s media landscape. The FSB published a 60-point list of information Sept. 28 that is not classified as a state secret, but which “foreign states, organizations and citizens can use against Russia’s security.” (The Moscow Times/AFP, 10.01.21)
- FSB officers have raided the apartment of Roman Dobrokhotov, chief editor of the investigative website The Insider, which was recently added to Russia's controversial registry of "foreign agents." Dobrokhotov's lawyer, Yulia Kuznetsova, told The Insider that the searches were conducted as part of an investigation into "illegal border crossing." Police confiscated Dobrokhotov's passport in July, but he still managed to leave the country and is currently abroad. (RFE/RL, 09.30.21)
- Russia’s LGBT, radical feminist and child-free groups should be recognized as “extremist,” the chairman of an influential government commission said Sept. 29. “LGBT ideology, radical feminism and child-free movements should be recognized as extremism—an extremist ideology,” the state-run TASS news agency cited Andrei Tsyganov, chairman of a commission for the protection of children at the Roskomnadzor communications regulator, as saying Sept. 29. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.30.21)
Defense and aerospace:
- The Russian Defense Ministry has released a video montage of tests of its upgraded main battle tanks and combat vehicles. The footage includes clips showing the advanced version of a T-15 Armata heavy infantry fighting vehicle. A screen grab from a video shows the heavy combat vehicle in command variant, which shares the same “Armata” chassis as the T-14 main battle tank. (Defence Blog, 09.27.21)
- Two officers of Russian Special Forces of the GRU military intelligence agency were arrested on charges of sexual abuse of soldiers, human rights activists said Sept. 27. According to available documents, the first episode of bullying occurred in August 2020 when the commander of the 78th separate special-purpose company and his deputy conducted aggravated abusive sexual intercourse with the corporal and a private. (Defence Blog, 09.27.21)
Emergencies, security, law-enforcement and justice:
- Russian security agents raided the Moscow offices of Group-IB, a leading Russian cybersecurity company known for its work in tracking down hackers and fighting theft and cyberfraud. The company’s founder and chief executive, Ilya Sachkov, was detained on charges of state treason and ordered held in pretrial detention for two months, according to Russian news outlets that cited a Moscow court. According to Kommersant, Sachkov’s charges may be related to his alleged consent to have Group-IB employee Nikita Kislitsin testify to the FBI about Russian hacker Yevgeny Nikulin. (RFE/RL, 09.29.21, Russia Matters, 10.01.21)
- FSB officials say they have apprehended five "members of a neo-Nazi group" suspected of plotting a series of terrorist acts against law enforcement in Russia's mostly Muslim-populated Bashkortostan region. (RFE/RL, 09.27.21)
- The bodies of all five victims of a helicopter crash site in the Kamchatka region in Russia’s Far East have been found. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.27.21)
- A court in Siberia has found a group of eight people guilty of negligence in a 2018 fire in a mall in the city of Kemerovo that killed 60 people, including 37 children. (RFE/RL, 09.30.21)
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- Olaf Scholz's Social Democratic Party won a small majority over Angela Merkel's conservatives in Germany. "There will be many powerful countries—and not just the USA, China and Russia—that will be relevant in the world," Scholz said in answer to a question about his foreign policy posture. (The Wall Street Journal, 09.27.21)
- The Kremlin wants continuity in relations with Germany, one of Russia's largest trading partners in Europe, Putin’s spokesman said Sept. 27 as Germany’s tight election results have led to coalition talks. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.27.21)
- Russia has decried YouTube’s decision to delete the state-funded RT broadcaster’s German-language channels as “information warfare,” saying it could block German media or even YouTube itself in retaliation. YouTube said Sept. 28 it had deleted RT’s DE and DFP channels for repeatedly breaching its coronavirus misinformation policy. The German government, responding to accusations of involvement from Moscow, said it had nothing to do with the U.S. company’s moves. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 09.29.21)
- Lavrov says the military junta in Mali has turned to "private Russian companies" for help in its fight against Islamist insurgents in the Western African country. "This is activity which has been carried out on a legitimate basis," Lavrov said during a press conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York Sept. 25. "We have nothing to do with that." (RFE/RL, 09.27.21)
- Mali Defense Minister Col. Sadio Camara saluted a burgeoning partnership with Russia after taking delivery of four Russian military helicopters. "We are here this evening to receive four Mi-171 helicopters, arms and ammunition," Camara said on taking delivery of the hardware late Sept. 30, adding they were "offered by the Russian Federation." (The Moscow Times/AFP, 10.01.21)
- Russia is delaying the appointment of panels of independent experts to monitor violations of U.N. sanctions on several African countries, diplomats say. (RFE/RL, 09.30.21)
- MTS AI, the artificial intelligence arm of Russian telco MTS, is launching an international acceleration program and venture fund to invest in AI startups across the world. Dubbed “Intema,” the platform plans to invest some $100 million in startups from late seed up to Series B, reports East-West Digital News. (bne IntelliNews, 09.27.21)
- The Kremlin has reiterated that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine would cross one of Putin's "red lines" as Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko accused Washington of using training centers as a guise for setting up bases for the Western military alliance. The latest flare-up in frayed relations among the nations started on Sept. 27 when Lukashenko said the U.S. is "building up bases" in Ukraine and that he and Putin have "agreed we must do something about it." Speaking in Kyiv, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba sharply rejected the notion of a Russian "red line" outside of its own borders. "Putin's 'red lines' are limited to Russia's borders," he tweeted. (RFE/RL, 09.27.21)
- "Once again we have witnessed the groundless insinuations against Ukraine on the part of Alexander Lukashenko," spokesperson for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry Oleh Nikolenko said. (Interfax, 09.27.21)
- The Ukrainian command does not record the massive return of the Russian army’s battalion-tactical groups to their places of permanent deployment, despite the completion of the Zapad-2021 exercises, said Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valeriy Zaluzhny. (Interfax, 09.27.21)
- Russia plans to spend 900 billion rubles ($12.4 billion) over the next three years on financial support in the parts of eastern Ukraine that are held by Russia-backed separatists, according to government documents obtained by the Donbas.Realities desk of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service. (RFE/RL, 09.27.21)
- As part of the Rapid Trident-2021 multinational exercise, the airborne assault troops of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the military of the United States and other units of the partner countries made a joint landing, the command of the Airborne Assault Forces of Ukraine’s army reported on its Facebook page. (Interfax, 09.27.21)
- Aircraft from Russia crossed the restricted area reserved for the exercises of Ukraine’s armed forces in the Black Sea, the command of the air force of Ukraine’s armed forces reported on its Facebook page. (Interfax, 09.25.21)
- Real wages in Ukraine rose 10.9% year on year in August, accelerating from 10.2% y/y growth in July, the State Statistics Service reported Sept. 28. The average monthly nominal wage amounted to UAH13,997 ($523), declining from UAH14,345 ($526) in July, or 2.2% m/m in real terms. (bne IntelliNews, 09.29.21)
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- Officials in Dushanbe say they've received reports that Tajik militants who fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan are now making plans to cross the border into Tajikistan. An official at Tajikistan's Border Service, a branch of the State National Security Committee, confirmed to RFE/RL that Tajik authorities are reviewing information from various sources that militants are preparing infiltrations from northern Afghanistan. (RFE/RL, 09.25.21)
- Russia has urged Tajikistan and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to take “mutually acceptable measures” to resolve tensions along the Tajik-Afghan border amid reports of an increased military buildup on both sides. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has refused to recognize the Taliban-led government and condemned the militant group for alleged human rights abuses in the Panjshir Valley, which was the last pocket of resistance to the group. (RFE/RL, 10.01.21)
- A migrant rights defender from Uzbekistan who is being held at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport while facing deportation to Tashkent, where she says she may face torture, has applied for asylum in Ukraine. Aleksandr Kim, an aide to Valentina Chupik, told RFE/RL Sept. 30 that the rights defender's representatives had filed applications on Chupik's behalf asking for asylum with Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry and the Ukrainian Embassy and the consulate-general in Moscow. (RFE/RL, 09.30.21)
- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has told the U.N. that his country is willing to engage in talks to achieve a sustainable peace in the South Caucasus region following last year's war with neighboring Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (RFE/RL, 09.24.21)
- People in Azerbaijan and Armenia have marked the first anniversary of the start of the six-week war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in which more than 6,600 people died and which ended with Azerbaijan regaining control of large swaths of territory. (RFE/RL, 09.27.21)
- The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers met in New York Sept. 24 for talks hosted by the U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group. In a joint statement issued after the talks, the mediators reiterated that they are ready to “continue working with the sides to find comprehensive solutions to all remaining issues related to or resulting from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.” (RFE/RL, 09.27.21)
- Former Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan has been arrested in connection with an investigation into supplies of allegedly faulty ammunition provided to the country’s armed forces. Tonoyan served as defense minister from 2018 until 2020, and he was sacked just days after a Russia-brokered agreement ended six weeks of fighting between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. (RFE/RL, 09.30.21)
- Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says he has returned to his home country, defying threats from police officials who had warned he could face arrest. In a video posted on Facebook Oct. 1, Saakashvili said he was in the Black Sea city of Batumi. Hours earlier, he said on Facebook that he was in the country after an eight-year absence. (RFE/RL, 10.01.21)
- The EU says it will tighten the rules for issuing visas to Belarusian state officials in retaliation for Minsk using migrants to destabilize the 27-member bloc. The European Commission—the bloc's executive body—said Sept. 29 that it wants member countries to consider suspending parts of a “visa-facilitation agreement” with Belarus that came into force in July 2020 and was meant to bring the former Soviet republic closer to Europe. (RFE/RL, 09.29.21)
- Human rights activists in Belarus say the authorities have detained dozens of people across Belarus on charges of insulting a government official or inciting social hatred following a shooting incident earlier this week in which an IT worker and a KGB officer died. According to Vyasna, the detentions “were probably connected with comments on social media about the deaths of [Andrey Zeltsar] and a KGB officer.” Earlier on Sept. 30, U.S.-based software firm EPAM Systems confirmed reports that the man killed by Belarusian security forces was an employee of the company. In a statement to Reuters, EPAM said it couldn't confirm media reports that the employee held U.S. citizenship. (RFE/RL, 09.30.21, RFE/RL, 09.29.21)
- Belarus will hold a referendum on a new controversial constitution by February next year, Lukashenko said. Lukashenko made the announcement at a constitutional commission meeting on Sept. 28, promising once again not to let the opposition come to power because they would “destroy the country.” (RFE/RL, 09.29.21)
- Lukashenko rejected any suggestion that he should apologize for the harsh police crackdown and sweeping arrests that targeted protesters in the wake of last year’s disputed election. In an interview broadcast Sept. 30 on CNN, Lukashenko dismissed media and rights groups’ criticism about widespread human rights abuses in Belarus. (RFE/RL, 10.01.21)
- During a visit to Chisinau, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier committed Berlin to an assistance package of 10 million euros ($11.6 million) to support the reform program launched by Moldovan President Maia Sandu. (RFE/RL, 09.30.21)
- Winners of Moldova league Sheriff Tiraspol pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Champions League history on Sept. 28 by beating Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in the Spanish capital, with Sebastien Thill scoring a stunning 89th-minute winner. (RFE/RL, 09.29.21)
- No significant developments.