Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2230

Putin's plans for Syria;
Washington's "good cop, bad cop" routine

July 9, 2018

June 6:

Russia is increasing the sophistication and lethality of its nuclear arsenal.
The Washington Times reports that U.S. intelligence agencies have taken note of indicators that Russia is planning significant upgrades to the number of warheads on the country's arsenal of missiles equipped with multiple, independent reentry vehicles (MIRVs). It is believed that the planned "uploading" will increase the lethality of Russia's newest ballistic missiles: the Sarmat, the Rubezh and the Bulava.

Audiences at a recent digital industry conference in Kazan were among the first to learn that Kalashnikov, the firearms manufacturer owned by Russian state corporation Rostec, is wading into the lucrative artificial intelligence market.
According to Russian news agency TASS, Rostec Industrial Director Sergei Abramov's announcement specified that Kalashnikov's development of AI expertise is designed to meet new requirements from the Ministry of Defense. Although he did not refer to any of the enterprise's weapons systems by name, Abramov claimed that Kalashnikov's engineering teams have already "achieved certain successes in this sphere."

June 7:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has used his latest live call-in television broadcast to stake out the Kremlin's priorities in Syria,
NBC reports. Even though his government has already announced its withdrawal of troops from Syria, Putin made clear that such a pullout isn't going to happen any time soon. Russia's bases in Syria are temporary in nature, "but we will keep them there while it is necessary and is required by our economic interests," Putin announced. Tellingly, Putin also alluded to the other role Syria has played for Russia's military: as a laboratory for tactics and weapons. Engagement in Syria "has helped us to adapt [our weapons] to the needs of the battlefield," the Russian president confirmed.

June 8:

Is the Trump administration starting to soften its approach toward Russia?
CNN reports that, ahead of his visit to the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Canada, President Trump has signalled his desire for Russia to be reinstated into the trading bloc, from which it was expelled in 2014 in response to its aggression against Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. "Russia should be in this meeting," Trump told reporters en route to the summit. "They should let Russia come back in, because we should have Russia at the negotiating table."

For their part, G7 leaders are pushing back forcefully against the idea. "We always been clear we should engage with Russia where it is in our interests, but we need to remember why G8 became the G7: it was because Russia illegally annexed Crimea," insists one European diplomat. "Since then, we have seen an increase in Russian misbehavior and attempts to undermine democracy in Europe. It is not appropriate for Russia to rejoin until we see it behaving responsibly. Putin should get nothing for free."

June 10:

Opposition activists have again rallied in Moscow to protest what they term "catastrophic" rights violations by the Kremlin.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the "For Free Russia Without Repression and Arbitrariness" gathering, which took place in the city's center, drew some 1,700 activists with the goal of focusing "public attention to the catastrophic situation in the country with violations of the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens" ahead of the start of the World Cup games.

June 11:

The Trump administration has authorized another round of sanctions on actors and organizations with ties to Russian intelligence.
According to the Treasury Department's official press release, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added three individuals and five companies to the sanctions list because of their involvement in and "enabling" of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) offensive cyber and underwater activities. OFAC made the designations under the dual authorities of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act and Executive Order 13694, entitled "Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities." The newly designated companies are Kvant Scientific Research Institute, cyber firm Digital Security and two of its subsidiaries (ERPScan and Embedi), and Divetechnoservices (which procured equipment for the FSB’s undersea surveillance of the U.S. fiber-optic communications network). Three Divetechnoservices officials were also sanctioned: General Director Aleksandr Tribun, Program Manager Oleg Chirikov, and owner Vladimir Kaganskiy.

In announcing the designation, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin stated that the entities "have directly contributed to improving Russia's cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with the FSB, and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies." He vowed that the United States will continue to sanction any organizations that cooperate with the FSB in activities that compromise American security.

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance; Humanitarian Issues; Human Rights; Economic sanctions/warfare; Russia and Eurasia Program

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