This Week’s Highlights

  • The U.S. has imposed sanctions on 27 individuals and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and weapons programs, according to BNE Intellinews. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the threat of such sanctions, saying Moscow intended to trade with Tehran once a U.N. arms embargo expires next month, AFP and TASS report.  
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed concluding a pact with Washington against interfering in one another’s elections and internal affairs, according to AFP. Meanwhile, The Washington Post cited a secret CIA assessment reportedly saying that Putin and his top aides are “probably directing” a Russian foreign influence operation to interfere in the 2020 presidential election against former Vice President Joe Biden. 
  • Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for a sixth term as president of Belarus in a secret ceremony Sept. 23, the New York Times reports. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko’s main opponent in the election, denounced the ceremony as a ”farce” and said she was ”the only leader … elected by the Belarusian people.” RFE/RL reports that the EU’s foreign-policy chief has reiterated the bloc’s refusal to recognize Lukashenko as president—a decision Russia has criticized. 
  • The Russian government has approved a 2021-2023 budget, which includes cutting its weapons program by 5%, the Financial Times and bne Intellinews report. Russia will spend more on supporting its economy than funding its armed forces next year for the first time since 2014. 
  • Military servicemen from Armenia, Belarus, China, Iran, Myanmar and Pakistan took part in Russia’s strategic Kavkaz-2020 exercises, whose main phase ended this week, according to Defense Ministry comments carried by TASS. The main purpose of the wargame, according to the ministry, was to assess Russia’s ability to successfully repel an attack by a mock state adversary and conduct offensive operations in the “southwestern strategic direction,” writes analyst Michael Kofman. The exercise involved 80,000 servicemen, including 1,000 from the above-listed countries, TASS and Interfax report. Among the many firsts in the exercise, the Russian military used a “swarm of drones” against “enemy forces,” as well as its newest TOS-2 Tosochka heavy flamethrower system and a new self-propelled mine-clearing rocket system, according to bne Intellinews, TASS and the Defense Blog
  • Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, has been released from a hospital in Germany and could make a full recovery from poisoning with a highly toxic nerve agent, the New York Times cited doctors as saying, while European leaders wrestled over a response to Moscow. According to reports by the AFP, Moscow Times and RFE/RL, Navalny has said that Western laboratories had found traces of Novichok in and on his body and demanded that Moscow return his clothes as evidence; he has difficulty performing everyday tasks and an associate predicted he would need another month to recover. President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, reportedly claimed in a recent phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron that Navalny may have poisoned himself, while the New York Times reported that Russian authorities have frozen Navalny’s assets.

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • The last remaining batch of unirradiated highly enriched uranium in Kazakhstan has been eliminated, building on years of cooperation in nuclear security between the United States and the Central Asian nation. The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration and Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Energy worked together to remove 2.9 kilograms of unirradiated HEU from the IGR research reactor, transport it hundreds of miles to a secure facility for processing and downblend it to low-enriched uranium. This activity fulfilled an agreement worked out between the two countries at the 2019 IAEA general assembly. (DOE, 09.22.20)
  • The United States and Norway announced a joint effort that will explore the possibility of downblending the highly enriched uranium in Norway. In its INFCIRC/912 declaration submitted in July 2019 Norway reported having 1 kilogram of unirradiated and 3 kilograms of irradiated HEU. (IPFM Blog, 09.21.20)
  • Recent nuclear byproduct shipments to Russia from Germany likely include larger volumes than officially declared, Greenpeace Russia said Sept. 22. European enrichment firm Urenco resumed exports of uranium hexafluoride, a byproduct known as “tails,” last year after a 10-year pause initiated by Rosatom. (The Moscow Times, 09.25.20)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • The U.S. on Sept. 21 imposed sanctions on 27 individuals and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear development, ballistic missile and conventional weapons programs, pushing ahead with its claim that it has legally managed to unilaterally reinstate U.N. sanctions on Tehran. Washington demanded that the European Union follow suit. But the U.S. has received almost zero support for the sanctions snapback at the U.N. Security Council and Europe’s big three—the UK, France and Germany—say its move is null and void. The Europeans are in effect accusing the U.S. of introducing rogue sanctions. (BNE Intellinews, 09.21.20)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sept. 24 dismissed the threat of U.S. sanctions and attempts to isolate Iran, saying it intended to trade with Tehran once a U.N. arms embargo expires next month. Russia plays a key role for preserving the JCPOA, or “Iran nuclear deal,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said after talks with Lavrov the same day. Lavrov expected that the meeting with Zarif would allow the parties to determine additional steps to preserve the JCPOA. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and his Iranian counterpart Abbas Araghchi also discussed the JCPOA situation, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Sept. 24. (AFP, TASS, 09.24.20)

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • On Sept. 23, several U.S. Air Force nuclear-capable bombers again teased Russian troops over the Black Sea. Ukraine’s Air Force reported that U.S. B-52H strategic bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, entered Ukrainian airspace within the framework of security cooperation. The Russian military, in turn, reported that two Su-27 fighter jets scrambled to intercept two B-52H strategic bombers of the U.S. Air Force over the Black Sea. (Defense Blog, 09.24.20)
  • Bulgaria has expelled two Russian diplomats accused of spying on the military, the Foreign Ministry said Sept. 23. (The Moscow Times, 09.23.20)

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • The Russian Defense Ministry has completed the formation of the first mobile air defense missile brigade in the Far East. It will soon go on test and combat duty. The brigade of the Eastern Military District deployed in the Jewish region is armed with S-300V4 to provide air and missile defense. (TASS, 09.25.30)

Nuclear arms control:

  • U.S. officials presented a proposal to Russia about two weeks ago in Vienna as part of negotiations that began in June. Under the deal, the United States and Russia would extend the soon-to-expire New START pact for a limited time while negotiating a replacement treaty. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin would sign a political agreement outlining a framework for the replacement treaty and what it would cover. But the Russian government has given the U.S. negotiators little feedback since they presented their proposal. The result is U.S. frustration, which boiled over into comments in a Russian media outlet by Trump’s top nuclear negotiator, Marshall Billingslea, and a response from his Russian counterpart. (The Washington Post, 09.22.20)
    • The “price of admission” for Russia to secure the deal with the U.S. will go up if the Kremlin doesn’t agree to terms before the U.S. presidential election, Billingslea warned in an interview Sept. 21 with Kommersant. (The Washington Post, 09.22.20)
    • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that such ultimatums wouldn’t result in a deal. (The Washington Post, 09.22.20)
    • “The issue of primary importance that should and must be promptly dealt with is … the extension of the Russia-U.S. Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which will expire … in February 2021,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told the 75th U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 22. “We are engaged in negotiations with our U.S. partners on the matter.” Russian officials say they haven’t given the United States any new deadlines in talks over the New START treaty. (RFE/RL, 09.22.20)
    • U.S. allies are concerned about the repercussions of the looming expiration of New START. In an internal State Department report for Congress, the Trump administration acknowledged that the United States’ closest allies are growing unnerved by the prospect of talks falling apart as Washington is distracted by a contested presidential election. (Foreign Policy, 09.24.20)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has told the U.N. General Assembly that Russia was ready to refrain from deployment of ballistic weapons in Europe as long as the U.S. follows suit—and accused Washington of ignoring the offer. (RFE/RL, 09.22.20)
  • China supports the initiative proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on an international weapons ban in space, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Sept. 23. (TASS, 09.25.20)

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • Russian jets conducted 30 raids on the outskirts of northwestern Syria’s rebel-held city of Idlib on Sept. 20 in the biggest strikes since a Turkish-Russian ceasefire in March. Witnesses said the warplanes struck the western outskirts of Idlib city and that there was heavy artillery shelling in the mountainous Jabal al Zawya region in southern Idlib from nearby Syrian army outposts. There were no immediate reports of casualties. (Reuters, 09.20.20)
  • Rosatom CEO Alexei Likhachev and the head of the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria Ibrahim Othman signed a memorandum of understanding in non-power [sic] peaceful use of nuclear technologies during the IAEA general assembly. (TASS, 09.21.20)
  • In eastern Syria, U.S. forces deployed six Bradley fighting vehicles, around 100 additional troops and radar systems and stepped up fighter jet patrols in a “clear signal” to Russia to avoid unsafe and provocative interactions. (The Moscow Times, 09.21.20)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed that he supported “taking out” Syrian president Bashar al-Assad following chemical weapons attacks but was stopped by his previous Defense Secretary James Mattis. (Independent, 09.15.20)

Cyber security:

  • The first known death from a cyberattack was reported Sept. 24 after cybercriminals hit a hospital in Düsseldorf, Germany, with so-called ransomware, in which hackers encrypt data and hold it hostage until the victim pays a ransom. (New York Times, 09.18.20)
  • On Sept. 21, Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media (Minkomsvyaz) released a draft law that would criminalize the use of internet protocols that, in its words, encrypt a website name. The specific protocols the law is targeting are already deployed online, including in Russia. This marks another step in Russia’s push for a domestic internet that the state could tightly control and isolate from the world at will (that’s the vision, anyway), as well as an assault on the open internet in the sometimes-overlooked domain of standards. (Slate, 09.25.20)

Elections interference:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 25 proposed concluding a pact with Washington against interfering in one another’s elections and internal affairs. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov read out Putin’s statement in a video released by the ministry. In his statement, Putin called for the two countries to “exchange guarantees of non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs, including elections,” and particularly noted the use of “information and communication technologies.” The proposal also calls for the U.S. and Russia “to jointly develop and conclude a bilateral intergovernmental agreement on preventing incidents in the information space, similar to the [1972] Soviet-American Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents on and Over the High Seas.” (AFP, 09.25.20)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top aides are “probably directing” a Russian foreign influence operation to interfere in the 2020 presidential election against former Vice President Joe Biden, according to two sources who reviewed a top-secret CIA assessment. The operation allegedly involves prominent Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach, who is connected to Rudolph W. Giuliani. (The Washington Post, 09.22.20)
  • Kenneth Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, appeared before a Senate committee after he was accused of withholding the release of an annual threat assessment that would have singled out white supremacy and Russian interference as prime threats to the United States. “I absolutely did not do that. That did not happen,” Cuccinelli said. (New York Times, 09.24.20)
  • Facebook announced Sept. 24 that it was taking down three disinformation networks that it said were linked to Russia’s military and intelligence agencies and to the Internet Research Agency, which was central to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. None of the networks were large, and they operated almost entirely abroad—from Japan to Belarus. (New York Times, 09.25.20)
  • Facebook has said it will take aggressive and exceptional measures to “restrict the circulation of content” on its platform if November’s presidential election descends into chaos or violent civic unrest. During previous periods of unrest in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, the company took action including reducing the reach of content shared by repeated rule breakers and limiting the distribution of “borderline content” that was sensationalist but did not quite breach its hate speech rules. (Financial Times, 09.22.20)
  • Part of the reason Robert Mueller never found a critical mass of evidence against the president is because he was reluctant to scour Trump’s financial history for misdeeds and links to Russia, according to a book by Andrew Weissmann. The investigation’s effectiveness was inexorably diminished by the ever-present threat of Trump firing all the investigators. The fear of being shut down at any moment led the team to be less aggressive on a number of fronts, including issuing a subpoena for the president, seeking answers from the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and speaking bluntly in court. (The Washington Post, 09.22.20)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • My.Games Venture Capital (MGVC), an investment firm affiliated with Mail.ru Group, and Aii Corporation, a Finnish VC firm, have teamed up to invest in a U.S.-headquartered mobile games studio called Hypemasters. “A source in the industry” told Kommersant, a Russian business daily, that it was a $5 million transaction including the marketing investments. (BNE Intellinews, 09.24.20)

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Several allies of President Vladimir Putin, including tycoons Arkady Rotenberg, Alisher Usmanov and Alexei Mordashov, were involved in moving massive sums of allegedly dirty money through some of the world’s largest banks for years, according to an international investigation. The probe by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which involved 108 media outlets from 88 different countries, is based on thousands of suspicious-activity reports submitted to the U.S. Treasury Department’s financial law enforcement agency, FinCEN, by banks around the world. (The Moscow Times, 09.21.20)
  • Kremlin insider Arkady Rotenberg moved millions of dollars through one of Europe’s largest banks after the United States and EU sanctioned him, according to leaked documents published for the first time. Rotenberg, a childhood friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, conducted $60 million in transactions through a company called Advantage Alliance at Barclays from 2012 through 2016, the BBC reported, citing documents from an arm of the U.S. Treasury Department. (RFE/RL, 09.21.20)
  • A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has proposed new sanctions against Russian officials over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, according to a statement on the website of Democratic Sen. Chris Coons. (TASS, 09.25.20)
  • Hopes among supporters of Michael Calvey, the U.S. private-equity executive detained in Russia, that charges against him would soon be weakened have been dashed in recent weeks after back-channel efforts foundered amid resistance from Kremlin hardliners and the security services, according to people close to the talks. Russian prosecutors accuse Calvey and the other defendants of defrauding Vostochny, a top-30 lender that Baring Vostok controlled until last year, of 2.5billion rubles ($39 million). (Financial Times, 09.24.20)
  • Stephen F. Cohen, an eminent historian whose books and commentaries on Russia examined the rise and fall of Communism, Kremlin dictatorships and the emergence of a post-Soviet nation still struggling for identity in the 21st century, died on Sept. 18 at his home in Manhattan. He was 81. (New York Times, 09.20.20)
  • A vehicle driven by a Russian national breached the perimeter of Spaso House, the central Moscow residence of the U.S. ambassador to Russia, according to the U.S. Embassy. (RFE/RL, 09.18.20)

II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia confirmed 7,212 new Covid-19 cases on Sept. 25, bringing the country’s official number of cases to 1,136,048, as the number of new infections across the country continues to rise. Moscow is urging its businesses to reinstate work-from-home measures and elderly residents to avoid going outside starting next week as the city sees a new uptick in coronavirus cases, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. (The Moscow Times, 09.25.20) Here’s a link to RFE/RL’s interactive map of the virus’s spread around the world, including in Russia and the rest of post-Soviet Eurasia. For a comparison of the number and rate of change in new cases in the U.S. and Russia, visit this Russia Matters resource.
    • Hospitalizations in the Russian capital have gone up by 30% in the past week, officials said. (The Moscow Times, 09.25.20)
    • At least 10 members of Russia’s lower house of parliament are currently hospitalized with coronavirus and more than 50 have developed antibodies, its speaker said Sept. 22. (The Moscow Times, 09.22.20)
    • President Vladimir Putin in a speech at the United Nations on Sept. 22 boasted of Russia’s creation of the world’s first coronavirus vaccine, though it has not completed large-scale clinical trials. (The Moscow Times, 09.23.20)
    • Russia has struck preliminary agreements to sell its Covid-19 vaccine to more than 10 countries in Asia, South America and the Middle East. Russian officials say they have secured preliminary deals for the vaccine to be delivered to countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and India. (Wall Street Journal, 09.20.20)
    • Recruits in Moscow have reported no side effects after taking China’s candidate coronavirus vaccine as part of large-scale clinical trials, the Russian pharmaceutical company working with the vaccine’s Chinese developers announced Sept. 21. (The Moscow Times, 09.21.20)
    • Russia’s coronavirus treatment drug Avifavir will be made available in 17 more countries in addition to the six countries where it is already sold, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund said in a statement Sept. 24. (The Moscow Times, 09.25.20)
  • The Russian government approved the Finance Ministry’s proposal for Russia’s 2021-23 budget, which has been amended to adjust for the effects of coronavirus. The document foresees a 4.4% GDP deficit in 2021, 2.4% in 2022 and 1% thereafter. The recovery plan suggests 5 trillion rubles (about $66.5 million) in spending. At the same time, the Finance Ministry is going to follow through on a threat in July to cut all unprotected budget items by 10% across the board. This includes cutting the weapons program by 5% and getting rid of cost-of-living increases for civil servants all together. All of this would save 2.7 trillion rubles ($35.8 billion) in 2021 compared to the record “coronavirus” spending in 2020. Russia will spend more on supporting its economy than funding its armed forces next year for the first time since 2014. At the same time, following proposals outlined by Putin earlier this year, Russia’s flat income tax will be scrapped in favor of a higher rate for those earning more than 5 million rubles ($65,000) a year and a new tax will be levied on bank deposits larger than 1 million rubles. (Financial Times, 09.21.20, BNE, 09.21.20)
  • The Arktika, Russia’s new nuclear-powered icebreaker championed by the Kremlin as the largest and most powerful of its kind in the world, has set sail on its maiden voyage to the Arctic as part of the country’s efforts to tap the region’s commercial potential (RFE/RL, 09.22.20)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The main phase of the strategic exercise Kavkaz-2020 (Caucasus-2020) at Kapustin Yar in the Astrakhan region has ended. Russian President Vladimir Putin observed the final events on site. “Coalition forces incorporating contingents from Russia, Armenia, Belarus, China, Myanmar and Pakistan carried out a counter-offensive operation to inflict a crushing defeat on the enemy force,” the Defense Ministry said Sept. 25. The coalition forces inflicted maximum losses on the hypothetical enemy. Operative and tactical airborne assault forces prevented the arrival of enemy reserves. The coalition force carried out a pincer movement, which ended in the encirclement of the enemy force. The main strike that followed made the enemy surrender. (TASS, 09.25.20)
    • The exercise involves about 80,000 servicemen, including officers from the Emergency Situations Ministry and the Russian National Guard, as well as up to 1,000 servicemen from six foreign countries: Armenia, Belarus, Iran, China, Myanmar, and Pakistan. Representatives from Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Sri Lanka are participating as observers. Russia’s top brass said that roughly 250 tanks, up to 450 mechanized infantry fighting vehicles and APCs, as well as up to 200 artillery systems and multiple-launch rocket systems were set to be used in the exercise on firing grounds (TASS, Interfax 09.25.30)
    • The Kavkaz-2020 exercises have for the first time used a “swarm of drones” against “enemy forces.” (bne Intellinews, 09.25.20)
    • The Russian military used the newest TOS-2 Tosochka heavy flamethrower system for the first time during Kavkaz-2020. (TASS, 09.25.20)
    • The Russian defense industry has unveiled a new self-propelled mine-clearing rocket system during Kavkaz-2020. (Defense Blog, 09.22.20)
    • Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bombers of the Aerospace Forces and Sukhoi Su-34 and Su-24M frontline bombers of the Southern Military District have practiced dropping bombs at training ranges in the Astrakhan region. (TASS, 09.25.20)
    • Crews of the newest S-300V4 and S-400 Triumf long-range missile air defense systems, as well as the Buk-M3 missile systems, destroyed the newest high-velocity air targets acting as mock enemy’s tactical missiles and planes during Kavkaz-2020. (TASS, 09.25.20)
    • Russian Southern Military District’s 58th Army forces conducted the main strike on the mock enemy in cooperation with the Armenian military contingent during the main stage of Kavkaz-2020. (TASS, 09.25.20)
    • Russian Deputy Defense Minister Col. Gen. A. Fomin gave a briefing on Sept. 9 on the Kavkaz-2020 exercise to reveal that the wargame’s main purpose is to assess the ability of the Russian armed forces to successfully repel an attack by a mock state adversary and conduct offensive operations in the southwestern strategic direction, to stress test the system (military and key civilian ministries) in handling a conflict that escalates from local war to regional war and to improve the capacity for multinational operations ,which is less of a concern in Zapad/Vostok. (Michael Kofman’s blog, 09.22.20)
  • Russian paratroopers who took part in the Slavic Brotherhood exercise are starting to leave Belarus; the battalion of the Russian Airborne Forces’ Ivanovo division is boarding a train in Brest, the Russian Defense Ministry said Sept. 25. (Interfax, 09.25.20)
  • A Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet that crashed this week may have been accidentally shot down by another plane during exercises. (The Moscow Times, 09.23.20)
  • Citing an open-source intelligence report from military experts, Lenta.ru reported that the Russian Army has in total 2,685 main battle tanks in its active inventory. (Defense Blog, 09.22.20)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, has been released from a hospital in Germany and could make a full recovery from poisoning with a highly toxic nerve agent, doctors said Sept. 23, as European leaders wrestled over a response to Moscow. (New York Times, 09.24.20)
    • Navalny said Sept. 21 that Western laboratories had found traces of a Novichok nerve agent in and on his body and demanded that Moscow return his clothes, calling it key evidence in his case. (The Moscow Times/AFP, RFE/RL, 09.21.20)
    • Navalny has said he has difficulty performing everyday functions and that he faces a “long road” to recovery. (The Moscow Times, 09.19.20)
    • Jaka Bizilj, the activist who helped bring Navalny to Germany for treatment after he was poisoned, has predicted the Kremlin critic will need a month to regain full fitness. (RFE/RL, 09.24.20)
    • Vil Mirzayanov, a chemist who was the first to reveal Novichok’s development, has apologized to Navalny. (AFP, 09.29.20)
    • “The attack on Alexei Navalny could have only been committed by a powerful group in Kremlin or intelligence circles and with the blessing of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,” said Vladimir Uglev, who worked for 20 years developing the Novichok agent on Soviet orders to create a toxin 10 times more powerful than anything the Americans had. (Wall Street Journal, 09.24.20)
    • Navalny may have poisoned himself with Novichok, Putin reportedly told French President Emmanuel Macron in a recent phone call. (The Moscow Times, 09.23.20)
    • The Russian authorities froze Navalny’s assets. The legal maneuver was brought on by Yevgeny Prigozhin. In August, he moved to collect damages that Navalny owed in a libel lawsuit from 2019—and pledged to pursue the debt as long as Navalny survived the poisoning. (New York Times, 09.25.20)
  • The Moscow City Court has upheld the extension of the pretrial arrest of Sergei Furgal, the former governor of the Far Eastern Khabarovsk region, who is charged with attempted murder and ordering two killings in 2004-2005, as his supporters continue to rally in the city of Khabarovsk. (RFE/RL, 09.18.20)
  • Russian lawmakers may have been the ultimate recipients of some of the nearly 400 kilograms of cocaine that were seized from the Russian Embassy in Argentina in 2018, an investigative report said Sept. 20. Russia’s Dossier Center said former Russian army officer Mikhail Kazantsev told investigators that his acquaintance and key suspect in the cocaine-smuggling operation, Andrei Kovalchuk, had confirmed the contents of the seized cargo in a private phone call after the arrest of his alleged accomplices. “According to Kovalchuk, part of the cocaine was intended for Russia’s State Duma deputies and members of Russia’s Federation Council,” Kazantsev said. (The Moscow Times, 09.21.20)
  • A senior Russian narcotics officer is suspected of growing marijuana with the intent of planting the drugs on innocent people, investigators have said. (The Moscow Times, 09.23.20)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the introduction of “military-political work” in the country’s National Guard, paving the way for Soviet-style ideological political education within its ranks. (RFE/RL, 09.22.20)
  • Russia on Sept. 22 arrested a Siberian cult leader who claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus, along with his top aides, in an operation involving armed troops and aircraft. The Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said it had detained Sergei Torop known to his followers as Vissarion the Teacher, or the Jesus of Siberia, and two of his aides. (CBS News, 09.23.20)

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Russia said on Sept. 23 that it is expanding a list of barred European officials in response to what it called “hostile steps” against it and its citizens. The announcement, by the Russian Foreign Ministry, did not specify what actions it was reciprocating. But it said the number of EU officials who will be denied entry to Russia is now the same as the number of Russian officials on a similar EU list. (RFE/RL, 09.23.20)
  • Russia has resumed flights to neighboring Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and will resume flights to South Korea from Sept. 27, a government decree said Sept. 19. (The Moscow Times, 09.21.20)

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • During his speech at the U.N. General Assembly Russian President Vladimir Putin joined China’s President Xi Jinping in mildly rebuking the U.S. for its belligerence and its withdrawal from many U.N. bodies, underlining the cooperation and coordination of the Sino-Russian alliance that is challenging U.S. dominance of global geopolitics. (BNE Intellinews, 09.23.20)