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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2048

Report: Russia complicit in MH17 downing;
Kadyrov blinks in contest with the Kremlin

Edited by Ilan Berman and Ivanna Kuz
March 21, 2016

February 22: 

Russia's international arms profile continues to expand. 
Newsweek, citing data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), reports that Russian arms sales have increased by almost a third since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in 2012. The SIPRI data notes that India represents Russia's most prominent arms client, accounting for 39% of total sales. China and Vietnam, meanwhile, are tied in second place, at 11% apiece. Meanwhile, Russia's arms sales to Europe between 2011 and 2015 soared by 264%. 

February 24:

Bellingcat, a UK-based open-source research group, has released a report that connects Russian military commanders to the July 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. 
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the study identifies up to 100 Russian military personnel who may have been involved in the deployment and firing of the Buk-M1 surface-to-air-missile system that brought down the aircraft. The Russian Defense Ministry, Bellingcat charges, "bears the main responsibility for the MH17 tragedy, shared with the military commanders and leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics." The information compiled by the group has been provided to the Dutch prosecutors in charge of investigating the case. 

The official investigation into the February 2015 murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov has drawn to a close. 
Novaya Gazeta reports that the formal inquiry into Nemtsov's killing, which occurred just steps from the Kremlin, pins the blame squarely on a group of Chechens who were apprehended last March. Some of the alleged killers were members of the Chechen republic's security forces; others were former soldiers with the military's "North" battalion and former law enforcement officials. The motives of the killers, however, remain the subject of controversy - as do the procedures followed by Russian authorities, who failed to interrogate the leader of the "North" battalion, Ruslan Geremeeva, regarding any possible role or connection he may have had to the killing. 

February 26:

Is Russia forming a new military unit specifically for the conflict in Ukraine? 
Writing in his Window on Eurasiablog, Paul Goble reports that Ukrainian officials have charged that the Kremlin is assembling a new "army corps" made up exclusively of Ukrainian citizens. While there is as yet no confirmation of the allegation, if true it could mark a change in Russian strategy, "possibly allowing Moscow to launch a larger invasion of Ukraine but portraying it in a way that some might find plausible as the actions not of the Russian military but of a 'Ukrainian' unit instead," Goble notes. 

February 27:

Chechnya's larger-than-life strongman might be eyeing the political exits. 
Radio Free Europe/Radio Libertyreports that Ramzan Kadyrov, the widely feared Kremlin-backed head of the Republic of Chechnya, has said that he is ready to step down from public office. "My time has passed," Kadyrov said in an interview with the NTV state television station. But while Kadyrov may soon leave the scene, his legacy - and Kremlin control - is sure to endure. "There are lots of successors on our team," Kadyrov added. "We've got very good specialists." 

[EDITORS' NOTE: Kadyrov's announcement is significant in the context of recent Russian domestic politics. In the aftermath of last year's killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and subsequent revelations about a purported Chechen connection to his death, the relationship between Kadyrov and the Kremlin has become a topic of open speculation. Many saw the killing as proof that Kadyrov's power had extended far beyond Chechnya - to the point where he now posed a threat to the authority of the Kremlin itself. This view appears to have been confirmed by a noticeable worsening of relations between Kadyrov's government and the federal center over the past year, a trend that has led observers to conclude that Kadyrov's departure was only a matter of time.]

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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