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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2160

A news day for the Donbas?;
Ukraine under cyber-assault

Edited by Amanda Azinheira, Evelyn Johns and Jack Verser
October 11, 2017

September 15:

Is the Kremlin signaling a shift in its policy on the Donbas?
The Voice of America, citing local news site Novosti Donbassa, reports that Vladislav Surkov, a key advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has warned pro-Russian leaders in the region "to prepare for reintegration" with Ukraine, and a Russian TV talk-show host whose views are perceived as representing Kremlin opinion, Vladimir Solovyov, has suggested that Russia would be better off without the Donbas. These statements, coupled with President Putin's recent - and surprising - support for the deployment of UN peacekeepers to the contested region is raising speculation that Moscow is either shifting its policy, or at a minimum seeking to dampen tensions in order to dissuade Washington from sending defensive arms to Ukraine.

September 16:

Opposition candidates made small but encouraging gains in Moscow's city council election this year.
Newsweek reports that the lack of election advertisement and low voter turnout, trends which were expected to work in favor of incumbent pro-Kremlin candidates, backfired and helped opposition candidates to win 266 mandates. At only 15 percent of the total number of council seats, this is not enough to get an opposition candidate on Moscow's gubernatorial ballot. However, the campaign managers' successful approach of creating a united platform for candidates from different independent movements has nonetheless given hope to young campaign staffers who found Russia's restrictive political system discouraging.

Ukraine is facing a growing number of cyber attacks allegedly directed by Russian actors.
According to the Voice of America, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared last December that his government was investigating some 6,500 cyberattacks on 36 Ukrainian targets - a trend Poroshenko maintained pointed to "direct or indirect involvement of [the] secret services of Russia." That claim is the subject of some speculation. As cybersecurity expert Victor Zhora notes, "attribution is the most difficult thing." However, in Zhora's words, "only one country is the likely culprit" because "[w]e only really have one enemy that wants to destroy Ukrainian democracy and independence." The cyber attacks on Ukraine are significant for another reason as well. According to Zhora, Russia is "using Ukraine as a testing laboratory," where insight gained from digital intrusions is then used to develop more refined future attacks.

September 17:

The ongoing investigation into the alleged Kremlin influence campaign conducted via Facebook during the 2016 presidential election has turned up surprisingly few specifics,
reports the New York Times. The social media site has confirmed that fake accounts purchased ads that "appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum," but information about what the ads looked like, what information they aimed to spread, and how much legitimate interaction there was with the ads is still unknown.

September 18:

Vasily Nebenzia, Moscow's ambassador to the United Nations, has claimed that the United States and Ukraine are refusing to work on Russia's proposal to deploy UN peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine,
Reuters reports. Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously proposed that UN peacekeepers be deployed along the line of conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in order to protect ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, later adding that peacekeepers could be sent to other areas where OSCE monitors were active. However, Nebenzia alleges, the U.S. and Ukraine "had significant objections" to the idea, and were compiling a counter-proposal of their own. Ukraine reportedly would prefer a plan that, among other things, bars Russian nationals from being involved in the peacekeeping mission.

[EDITORS' NOTE: Notably, Russian participation is not the only worrisome aspect of Putin's proposal - or even the main one. Both Kyiv and Washington are worried that deployment of peacekeepers along the line of conflict would effectively give Russian and Russian-supported forces free reign over other Russian/separatist-controlled parts of the Donbas, thereby increasing - rather than constraining - the Russian military and political foothold there.]

September 19:

While the lion's share of attention to date has focused on Russia's attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, the Kremlin has been using the same sort of tactics for years against European democracies - a practice that is coming under renewed scrutiny ahead of Germany's national elections. Russia's efforts,
notes Anna Nemtsova of The Daily Beast, include tactics designed to "shake up, discredit, and mock German institutions and European values," ranging from cyber attacks to seeding fake stories on national media channels. This, in turn, has helped to sour German attitudes toward Moscow. "Nobody in Germany is a Russophobe." Nemtsova cites German parliamentarian Karl-Georg Wellmann as saying. "The majority of Germans like Russian literature, music, want to see Siberia stay Russian and not Chinese - we want to see a prosperous, modernized Russia. But most Germans disapprove of Putin's politics, of the Kremlin's hybrid wars, that are aimed to undermine our democracy - in vain."

Related Categories: Human Rights; Information and Cyberwarfare; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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