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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2140

Stockholm in the crosshairs;
Russia's demographic decline accelerates

Edited by Amanda Azinheira, Tyler Russell and Philip Decker
July 10, 2017

May 29:

Russia is strengthening its political and cultural ties with Rome,
the New York Times reports. The move, according to the paper, reflects a strategic effort by the Kremlin to advance its strategic position in Italy, where U.S. engagement has diminished in the Trump era. Italy is seen by many as "the soft underbelly of the European Union,” the Times notes, and Moscow is seeking to soften Rome's views toward Russia, including by engaging the country's increasingly influential (and Russia-friendly) Five Star Movement ahead of elections later this year - steps that Kremlin officials hope will pay dividends in relation to Europe's consensus about maintaining sanctions against the Russian Federation.

May 30:

Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine are directly and indirectly prompting attacks against OSCE monitors in the region.
According to the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, pro-Russian rebels are responsible for two-thirds of all attacks on OSCE officials since their deployment to monitor the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. These attacks range from various forms of physical violence to sexual assault. A Russian disinformation campaign in the region has also helped stoke local sentiment against the OSCE and caused further harassment of, and obstructionism toward, the monitors.

May 31:

Russia is continuing its efforts to expand its military capabilities in the Arctic.
According to Jane's 360, by the end of the year, Russia's Defense Ministry is poised to establish an Arctic research center where researchers can develop and test weapons in extremely low temperatures. The implications are significant: Moscow has begun a steady militarization of the region, and the new facility is another step in this direction, providing the Kremlin with a potentially significant advantage in future Arctic military encounters.

Ukraine has claimed victory in its three year legal battle with Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom. The Arbitration Institute of Stockholm rejected Gazprom's "take or pay" claim, which would have required Ukraine's Naftogaz to pay billions of dollars for undelivered gas supplies, which Gazprom maintained were envisioned by contract. The arbitrators also supported Ukraine's call for a review of Gazprom's pricing. The ruling could lead to a precedent that would hurt Gazprom's future negotiating power,
reports the Financial Times.

June 1:

Washington and Moscow have apparently increased their communication regarding ongoing military operations in Syria.
According to Al-Monitor, officials from both countries have reportedly been in secret communication to move forward on a deal that would create safe zones in southern Syria. The Pentagon has already acknowledged increased contact between the two militaries, and the Trump administration appears willing to give Russia a major role in the peace process in Syria.

June 2:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened Sweden with retaliation if the Nordic nation joins NATO.
According to Newsweek, Putin has described Swedish membership in the bloc as a threat, and announced that Russia would have to "eliminate" that threat if Stockholm were to make concrete moves toward the Alliance. Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has previously said the Kremlin would be forced to take military action if Sweden joined NATO.

June 4:

According to a report by Russia's state statistics agency, citizens gave birth to 70,000 fewer children in the first fourth months of 2017 than they did the year before, despite increases in marriage rates and a slight decrease in divorce rates. This decline,
writes Paul Goble in his Window on Eurasia blog, puts the country on track to lose nearly a million souls this year alone, and erases all of the gains made of late by improvements to the country's mortality rate. The decline is most notable among ethnic Russians, and less so among Russia’s Muslim population, accentuating an important secondary trend as well: a shift in the ethnic makeup of the country away from Russian Slavs.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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