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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2142

Navalny and a new spirit of protest;
Russia's dangerous new cyberweapon

Edited by Amanda Azinheira, Tyler Russell and Philip Decker
July 12, 2017

June 9:

Just how far will Russia go to silence dissenting voices? Quite far, it appears.
The New York Times reports on an incident in which a Chechen assassin disguised as a French reporter shot anti-Russian activists (and minor celebrities) Adam Osmayev and his wife, Amina Okuyeva, in Kyiv. Both victims survived, thanks to the fact that Mrs. Okuyeva was armed. Lawmakers in Ukraine have denounced the attack as an act of terrorism carried out by the Russian government, but there is currently insufficient evidence linking the event to Moscow. The assassin, Artur Denisultanov-Kurmakayev, remains in custody.

Russia and Iran have inked a major oil-for-goods trade deal,
The Moscow Times reports. The terms of the agreement include the shipment of 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day to Russia in exchange for around $45 billion in Russian goods per year. Trade discussions surrounding the deal began back in 2014, but no agreement was reached due to fears that it would interfere with nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West, then underway.

In the aftermath of 2015's nuclear deal, however, talks began anew - and have gained urgency with the advent of the Trump administration, and the possibility that the new White House might reinstate sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Against this backdrop, the Times notes, the new Russo-Iranian agreement marks not only an expansion of trade between Moscow and Tehran, but also serves as a resounding affirmation of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

June 10:

Russian lawmakers have agreed to amend the controversial law governing the demolition and renovation of a large number of Moscow apartment buildings, but public perceptions regarding the measure remain unchanged. The agreed-to amendments - proposed after massive protests in the Russian capital - include an option for affected apartment owners to choose a cash reimbursement instead of a new home, and a guarantee that the new apartments to be constructed would be located in the same neighborhood as the previous ones. However,
reports the Washington Post, opponents of the law are still concerned that they will not be adequately compensated and that the law is merely a ruse to open up prime development real estate for construction companies.

June 11:

As protests connected with economic and social issues continue to spread across Russia, questions remain as to whether the anti-corruption campaign of Alexei Navalny will coalesce into a legitimate opposition bloc in time for next year's election. Since emerging as an opposition leader, Navalny has attempted to tap into citizens' growing sense of detachment from all levels of government by directing the social and economic complaints of the people toward the larger issue of corruption. The growing willingness to gather and protest is evidence of a "chipping away at political resignation" endemic among Russians,
the Financial Times reports. The increased number and varied locations of, as well as expanded participation in, recent protests suggest that the Russian people are beginning to internalize Navalny's message - although to what extent is not yet clear.

June 12:

Russian hackers have developed a cyber weapon that could knock out the U.S. electrical grid,
the Washington Post reports. U.S. researchers have determined that the malware, known as CrashOverride, came from the same computer system that caused blackouts in parts of Ukraine in 2015. The U.S. has long been aware of Russia's desire to disrupt energy and electrical systems, and this new malware represents "the culmination of over a decade of theory and attack scenarios," according to Sergio Caltagirone of cybersecurity firm Dragos.

CrashOverride is one of the only instances of malware designed to interfere with industrial control systems, and its adaptable structure allows hackers to tailor it to specific systems, including water and gas infrastructure. However, while the malware could block operators from restoring infected systems electronically, most industrial centers have protocols in place for manually restoring power, as in the case of a storm. Thus, Dragos' Chief Executive, Robert M. Lee, reassures that, while CrashOverride is "a significant leap forward in tradecraft, it's also not a doomsday scenario."

June 13:

New information suggests that Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election were much more extensive than originally thought,
Bloomberg reports>. Hackers gained access to the registration information of around 90,000 active voters in Illinois alone, and further analysis of the electronic signature used suggests that similar intrusions occurred in 39 states. While hackers refrained from manipulating individual votes, some have hypothesized that they only intended to undermine confidence in the voting system. Moreover, while some in the Obama administration were privy to the extent of the hacks at the time of the election, these officials reportedly chose not to disclose the information in order to preserve the integrity of the election in the public eye.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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