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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2210

A step forward for Nord Stream 2;
Warming ties between Moscow and Doha

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
May 1, 2018

March 27:

The U.S. may be falling dangerously behind its adversaries in advanced missile technology. Both Russia and China have reportedly tested hypersonic missiles and are close to bringing them into service, but Washington has delayed action on similar capabilities and the necessary defenses against them.
According to The Hill, key U.S. defense officials and lawmakers now fear that urgent action is needed to close the gap – both in hypersonic technology and the development of space-based sensors capable of detecting a hypersonic attack on the U.S. in time to shoot it down.

While the Fiscal Year 2019 defense budget allocated some funds for development of such capabilities, Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) director Steven Walker has asserted that more money is needed to adequately support hypersonic testing infrastructure. Or else, other defense officials suggest, the U.S. will have to fall back on its nuclear deterrent in the hopes of preventing future use of these weapons against U.S. territory. Meanwhile, more than 40 House Democrats have pledged to oppose any such expanded role for the deterrent in U.S. national security strategy, and made clear that they will not back the Nuclear Posture Review's recommended acquisition of new nuclear capabilities.

The controversial Nord Stream 2 project now faces one less obstacle,
Deutsche Welle reports, as Germany has officially approved construction and operating permits for the natural gas pipeline on its territory. The U.S. and other members of the EU – particularly the Baltic states – continue to oppose the pipeline on political grounds: namely, that Nord Stream 2 will strengthen Moscow's ability to wield energy as a weapon in geopolitical disputes. But Berlin, the largest consumer of Russian gas in Europe, has chosen to treat the pipeline solely as an economic issue. Twenty miles of the proposed pipeline run through Germany's exclusive economic zone, and with the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency's latest approval, construction on this section could begin as soon as later this spring.

March 28:

Russia's North Caucasus regions of Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia are becoming more and more Islamic - and increasingly conservative. That's the conclusion of
a research project of Novaya Gazeta, which carried out nearly 150 interviews with residents of the three regions of varying ages over the past several months. What the paper found was a growing acceptance and embrace of concepts such as polygamy and the wearing of the hijab. For example, more than half of all men polled either actively supported or did not oppose possessing multiple wives, while more than a third (34%) of all women polled said that "traditional" Muslim dress was obligatory for all females. And nearly 70 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 45 said that they now no longer consume alcohol and would not offer it to others.

A recent Kremlin visit by Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has foreshadowed increased cooperation between Doha and Moscow. Such a Russian-Qatari realignment would be unsurprising,
according to Al-Monitor, given Qatar's friendly overtures to Iran and both countries' need to diversify their foreign relations in the face of U.S. and Gulf pressure. Russia, meanwhile, is weathering international outrage in the wake of the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in the UK, which has been widely attributed to the Kremlin.

March 30:

Russia and China have backed away from an arrangement with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to take over operation of two of the country's major oil refineries. Both countries stood to gain a combined daily capacity of one million barrels from the offer, but
the PanAm Post reports that the refusal arose from the refineries' abject disrepair – a result of years of government diversion of resources away from routine maintenance and investment amid the country's economic devastation.

Without Rosneft and Petrochina's originally planned participation, the refineries lack the capital and personnel to continue operating, and the Maduro government is now contemplating their closure. According to economist and former PDVSA director Jose Toro Hardy, this would likely slash Venezuela's GDP by an additional 55% over the next few years.

Related Categories: Middle East; Russia; China; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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