Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2236

NATO jitters over Russia's growing military capabilities;
A Russo-Ukrainian "water war"?


July 26, 2018


June 27:

As World Cup celebrations rage in the streets of Moscow, incidents of sexual harassment are on the rise.
The Moscow Times reports on the scene at Nikolskaya Ulitsa, which has become a non-stop after-party for visiting soccer fans fueled by permissive after-hours alcohol sales and lax enforcement of public consumption laws. The paper details instances of groping, unwanted pursuit, and a video that has since gone viral of a fan forcing his way on camera to kiss a Brazilian reporter. "For men or women, it's not safe after the last match," one woman remarked to the Times. Despite the debauched atmosphere on the ground, the paper notes that sexual assault crisis centers have not seen an increase in the number of official complaints – most likely because foreign visitors do not know where to find such resources.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will arrive at the upcoming NATO summit with a sobering message: Russia's new military capabilities have lowered the threshold for Moscow's first-use of nuclear weapons in a conflict scenario.
According to Newsweek, Stoltenberg disclosed his assessment in a recent interview with Deutsche Welle. He underscored the need for a decisive allied response via troop deployments in eastern member states in order to demonstrate a continued commitment to collective defense and to "preserve the peace."

June 28:

The period following the current World Cup games in Russia could see a resumption of heightened friction between Moscow and Kyiv, one U.S. analyst has warned. "A Russia-Ukraine water war may emerge after the World Cup final on July 15,"
writes journalist James Brooke for the Atlantic Council. "Just as President Vladimir Putin made his move to invade Crimea immediately after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he could decide that it is once again time for decisive action after the Russia-hosted World Cup wraps up."

At issue, according to Brooke, is the increasingly fraught hydrological situation between the two countries. "Ukraine has cut off the flow of water to Crimea; that and a drought are pushing the Russia-occupied peninsula to ration water. At the same time, Russia is quietly strangling ship traffic to Berdyansk and Mariupol, Ukraine's two major steel exporting ports on the Sea of Azov." In response, he suggests, "A Russian-instigated military response is not implausible."

Russia's nuclear capabilities have dominated the international conversation in the run-up to the July summits in Brussels and Helsinki, and President Vladimir Putin is adding fuel to the fire.
According to the Associated Press, Putin recently addressed a group of young military academy graduates on the subject, bragging about design breakthroughs achieved by Russian scientists in hypersonic technologies that render the new Russian nuclear systems "years, and perhaps decades, ahead of foreign analogues." He described the ranges, payloads, and design features of three specific next-generation systems: the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, and the Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile, all of which he unveiled during his annual state of the nation speech earlier this year.

June 29:

The international community's latest attempt to hold Russia accountable for the Salisbury chemical attacks may backfire spectacularly.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Russia rejected the results of a vote by members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) granting the body stronger authority to investigate alleged uses of chemical weapons and assign blame for their deployment. The proposal, which was sponsored by the British delegation, passed 82-24, but Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov denied the legitimacy of the OPCW's newly expanded powers, asserting that only the United Nations Security Council is legally permitted to attribute blame in such instances. RFE/RL writes that Ambassador Aleksandr Shulgin, Russia's representative in the Netherlands, joined in on the attack as well, claiming that the OPCW is "sinking like the Titanic" and raising the possibility that Russia might withdraw from the organization in response.

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine; Nuclear Proliferation

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