Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2227

Moscow's balancing act in Syria;
A reshuffle in Russia's regions

July 2, 2018

May 24:

The Islamic State is planning to target the upcoming World Cup games in Russia.
London's Sun newspaper reports that the terrorist group has issued a series of directives - promulgated via web postings, posters and other mediums - urging its supporters to attack the games, its participants and innocent bystanders. Among the tactics suggested by the extremist group is the use of vehicles such as vans to run over spectators and pedestrians in Russian cities.

"There are numerous terrorism threats affecting the World Cup. The main one, as with the rest of Russia, comes from lone actors with low capabilities," notes Chris Hawkins of Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre. "Tactics will likely include knives and vehicle attacks targeting fans visiting games or the surrounding areas."

May 25:

The eastern Russian town of Nizhneudinsk is suffering from a deluge of garbage. In a new video report,
Radio Svoboda details that the city, located in Russia's Irkutsk region, is swamped with refuse following a decision to shutter the town's main dump by the country's Defense Ministry, which controls the land. The municipality simply "has no place to take the rubbish," one city official says, resulting in heaps of garbage strewn on street corners and in alleys throughout the town, which has a population of some 40,000.

May 28:

Amid mounting tensions with Iran over Syria, Israeli officials are hoping the Kremlin can deconflict the worsening situation.
Reuters reports that Israeli defense minister Avigdor Liberman is headed to Moscow in coming days for consultations with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, over a range of security issues - most directly, the presence of Iran in the Syrian theater, where Russia is also heavily represented.

Moscow, meanwhile, appears to be shifting its position on Syria. While Russia and Iran cooperated closely in the past in support of the Assad regime, the Kremlin has become more critical of late regarding Iran's continued presence in the country.
According to Reuters, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has asserted that only Syrian troops should have a presence in the south of the country, on the borders with both Israel and Jordan. He also suggested that a withdrawal of "non-Syrian forces" should commence, in coordination with the Syrian government. The statement - a public signal intended to assuage Israel - potentially puts Moscow at odds with Tehran, which has declared that it has no intention of removing its forces from Syrian territory.

[EDITORS' NOTE: Russia's shift in stance has potential implications for relations between Moscow and Washington as well, because a withdrawal of Iranian troops from Syria represents one of the core elements of the Trump administration's new Iran policy, which was
publicly unveiled by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 21st.]

May 29:

President Vladimir Putin is shaking up the leadership in Russia's far-flung oblasts.
The Moscow Times reports that six notable governorships changed hands this week: in Sakha, Tyumen, Yamal-Nenets, Magadan, Amur, and Altai. The reshuffling occurred for various reasons. Outgoing Sakha governor Yegor Borisov resigned in disgrace after his region registered a disappointingly low vote share for Putin in the recent presidential election, while former Tyumen governor Vladimir Yakushev departed on a happier note to take over as the new Minister of Construction, Housing, and Utilities in Putin's third-term cabinet. The two leaders will be replaced by Aysen Nikolayev and Alexander Moor, respectively.

In another oblast, history was made: Dmitry Artyukhov, the new 30-year old governor of Yamal-Nenets, is now the youngest person to serve as governor in the country's history. Finally, the Times confirms that Sergei Nosov will serve as acting governor in Magadan, Vasily Orlov in Amur, and Viktor Tomenko in Altai. Collectively, the incoming acting governors are practically guaranteed re-election in this September's regional elections, thanks to Putin's direct support.

Related Categories: Middle East; Europe; Russia; Terrorism; Radical Islam; Democracy & Governance; Iran; Russia and Eurasia Program

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