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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2079

Russia's secret space base;
Tightening the counterterrorism noose

Edited by Ilan Berman, Amanda Azinheira and Daniel Jimenez
July 28, 2016

June 19: 

As Russia's economy declines further, Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly considering selling a 19.5 percent stake in state oil giant Rosneft to China and India, 
according to Bloomberg. With his next election bid two years away, Putin's calculation is a sober one: a joint deal with two of Asia's biggest economies would balance Rosneft's budget while also consolidating his geopolitical hand at a time when Russia's relationship with the West is at an all time low. The potential Rosneft deal is also indicative of a broader Russian pivot toward Asia on the heels of growing Western sanctions and declining European demand for Russian energy. 

June 20:

A top U.S. military officer is raising the alarm over Russia's potential to overrun Eastern Europe. 
In an interview with the BBC, Lt. General Ben Hodges, the commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, warned that NATO currently faces difficulties in being able to rapidly deploy troops to Eastern Europe to respond to Russian aggression - a problem the Kremlin does not share. "The Russians have what we call freedom of movement on the interior lines," Hodges has said. "They can move anywhere inside of Russia, as fast as they want." According to Hodges, "[t]he Russians are able to move huge formations and lots of equipment a long distance very fast" - raising the possibility that the Atlantic Alliance, with its slower reaction times, might have difficulty in marshaling a timely military response that deters Russian military advances. 

With EU envoys in Brussels slated to extend sanctions on Russia, opinion within the EU remains divided over the measure. 
Reuters reports that while countries like Britain and Germany have maintained their resolve in applying pressure to Moscow, a growing coalition, championed by Slovakia, is keen to see a softening of sanctions. Slovakia's Foreign Minister, Miroslav Lajcak, has argued that it is necessary to hold talks over the current terms of the Minsk deal, citing a "growing demand for political discussion." 

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, however, has rejected the notion. "The Russians are playing a game, frankly a game of divide and rule, targeting those who are temperamentally inclined to talk about relaxation, pressuring them. It is a big mistake," Hammond has told reporters. 

June 21:

Is Russia headed for the final frontier? 
According to London's Sun newspaper, the country's state space agency, ROSCOSMOS, has laid out a plan "to permanently station 12 cosmonauts in a secret base on the moon." While far-fetched, the validity of the initiative has nonetheless been confirmed by Russian experts. Initial plans involve a base housing as many as a dozen cosmonauts situated on one of the moon's poles and which is "expected to begin operations by 2030," the Sun reports. 

June 24:

In a move that is sure to further consolidate the Kremlin's power, lawmakers in Russia's lower house of parliament have adopted a controversial set of measures to strengthen the state's counterterrorism program,
reports the New York Times. The bill, called the "Yarovaya Law" in honor of its principal legislative champion, Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya, requires cellular and Internet providers to store all communications data for six months and assist state security services in deciphering flagged messages. The law also bans proselytizing, preaching, and praying outside of officially recognized religious institutions. 

June 25:

What does Russia think of "Brexit"? 
According to the New York Times, the June 24th decision by Great Britain to leave the European Union represents "geopolitical manna from heaven" for the Kremlin, insofar as it accelerates Russian President Vladimir Putin's "long-term goal of weakening the most powerful alliance confronting the Kremlin as it seeks to rebuild its superpower muscles." For the moment, Russian officials have taken a reserved stance toward the British decision, merely noting that the move will have "consequences" for the Eurozone. But commentators have noted that the Brexit vote will benefit Russia geopolitically - perhaps substantially so. "The Kremlin is interested in any kind of disagreement, any kind of trouble in the E.U. which makes it weaker," notes Nikolay Petrov of Moscow's Higher School of Economics in Moscow. The vote, moreover, has an important domestic dimension for the Putin government as well; it "can be used domestically to demonstrate that we are strong and everybody around us is not that strong," says Petrov.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program

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