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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2099

Moscow nixes plutonium pact;
An S-300 to guard Assad

Edited by Amanda Azinheira
October 28, 2016

October 1: 

The Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has released the formal report of its investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, and the verdict is unanimous. The report lays out incontrovertible evidence demonstrating the plane was hit by a Russian BUK 9M38 surface-to-air missile which was fired from territory then held by pro-Russian rebels. Using forensic clues, satellite imaging, and radar data, the JIT's report provides the clearest proof to date of Russia’s complicity in the MH17 attack. 

The Economist reports, the Kremlin is fighting back. Russia's government has denounced the report's conclusions as "speculation [and] unqualified and unprofessional information," and is continuing to release misleading information meant to cast doubt on the validity of the findings. Russia has also vetoed any attempts by the United Nations to establish an international tribunal in order to resolve the issue. 

October 2:

Russia is still trying to keep the United States out of Syria. 
According to CBS News, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova has warned that U.S. intervention against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's government forces would lead to "terrible, tectonic consequences" in Syria as well as "in the region on the whole." The statements come after the breakdown last month of the latest ceasefire deal brokered by Moscow and Washington, and as hostilities in and around the Syrian city of Aleppo continue to escalate. 

October 3:

The Levada Center, an independent Russian pollster, has reported that only 46 percent of Russians in a recent survey believe that last month's Duma elections were carried out fairly, while 31 percent were convinced that the election was unfair. 
As The Moscow Times reports, turnout for the vote - which saw President Vladimir Putin's political party, United Russia, secure a political majority - also suffered from historically low turnout, (between 37 and 48 percent), highlighting public disenchantment with the electoral system. 

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Given the effect of Russia's increasingly authoritarian political climate on pollsters and respondents alike, the results of public opinion surveys in Russia should be viewed with some caution.] 

As the U.S.-Russian relationship continues to deteriorate, Moscow has added fuel to the fire by suspending a nuclear pact with Washington meant to dispose of surplus weapons grade plutonium. President Putin has stated that the move is a response to unfriendly acts by the U.S., and announcement of the decision came after the White House suspended talks with Russia over Syria. The move, 
Reuters notes, reflects Putin's willingness to use nuclear disarmament as a bargaining chip in disputes with the U.S., and could signal that other disarmament deals are at risk of being undermined in the future. 

October 4:

The BBC reports that Russia has transferred a unit of its S-300 air defense missile system to its naval base in Tartus, Syria. The news was confirmed shortly after the U.S. announced the suspension of talks with Russia over cooperation in Syria. Russian Defense Minister Igor Konashenkov claims the step was merely a defensive measure "to guarantee the security of the base from the air" and argued that the system posed "no threat to anyone." However, some analysts believe that its arrival in Tartus signals Russia's growing commitment to its ally, Bashar Assad, and provides a credibl

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program

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