Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2259

Ongoing unrest over pension reform;
Muddying the facts in the Skripal attack

October 9, 2018

September 6:

Is Russia preparing to intervene in Yemen?
According to the Kyiv-based UNIAN news agency, private military units possibly associated with the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group have arrived in the war-torn Gulf nation after Houthi leader Mahdi Al-Mashat reached out directly to President Vladimir Putin. Reportedly, Al-Mashat requested Moscow's help in lifting the Saudi-enforced blockade on Yemen in order to end the civil war there.

September 7:

The Russian Air Force continues to probe the limits of U.S. sovereignty.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that a pair of Russian strategic bombers flew over the Arctic Ocean near the Aleutian Islands, prompting the scrambling of two U.S. fighter jets to escort them away. NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek confirmed that while the bombers passed through the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone, they did not violate U.S. or Canadian airspace.

Ukrainian forces are voicing concern about a new build-up of military equipment in the Donbas region.
According to Interfax-Ukraine, Russian-backed militants have been staging artillery, tanks, armored vehicles, and other weapons in the conflict zone in violation of the Minsk Accords. The Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation also alleges that the militants have increased their rate of shelling – something which constitutes another breach of previous ceasefire agreements.

Russia may be taking its espionage efforts into outer space.
According to the BBC, French Defense Minister Florence Parly has asserted that a Russian satellite approached a French-Italian satellite last year in an attempt to intercept transmissions between the two nations' militaries. During a public appearance at a research institute in Toulouse, Ms. Parly affirmed France's readiness to respond to other countries’ experiments with "aggressive space technology," noting that Russian satellites executed similar unusual maneuvers near U.S. satellites in 2015.

September 9:

Thousands of Russians have taken to the streets in a country-wide protest against Vladimir Putin’s unpopular pension reform, prompting a backlash from authorities and a new wave of arrests.
The New York Times reports that police detained more than 800 people across 33 cities, sometimes using force to do so. In most cases, the municipal authorities had refused to grant permits for the protests, thus providing an administrative basis for the detentions. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny – who is currently in jail himself after being arrested during similar protests last month – timed the demonstrations to take place during Russia’s regional elections in order to frustrate the Kremlin’s turnout goals. The Times notes that the pension reform has been the most unpopular government proposal in nearly fifteen years, triggering anger from young and middle-aged Russians who fear for their own retirements. "They stole my future life," one young protester said, "I want a better life for myself and my children."

Russian disinformation continues to undermine the investigation into the Skripal poisonings. After British authorities recently released CCTV images of the two Russian suspects at Gatwick Airport, pro-Kremlin voices online seized the opportunity to challenge the new evidence, pointing to the images' identical timestamps to claim that they had been faked.
According to the BBC, the uproar over the airport images is the latest episode in a long-running and loosely coordinated campaign by Russian state actors, bots, and state-controlled media to flood the information space with contradictory explanations for the Salisbury attack in order to discredit all conclusions reached by law enforcement.

One of the most frequent conspiratorial claims is that British intelligence staged the entire affair, but the article reports that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is tracking more than 30 additional Russian disinformation narratives about the case as well. Disinformation expert Ben Nimmo notes that the Kremlin has used similar tactics ever since the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17, a moment he identifies as "the tipping point where Russian information warfare kicked into high gear."

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance; Russia and Eurasia Program

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