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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2175

Russia plans Arctic energy monopoly;
A peace process for Syria?

Edited by Ilan Berman
December 18, 2017

November 22:

In a move that has roiled relations with fellow NATO members, Turkey recently concluded a deal with Russia to acquire units of the S-400 air defense system. Those capabilities are set to come online in 2019, when the Turkish government will take possession of the Russian systems, the country's defense minister has now confirmed. In comments carried by Reuters, Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli has provided new details about the air defense deal long discussed between Ankara and Moscow - including the projected 2019 delivery date. "Once these systems are received, our country will have secured an important air defense capability," Canikli has confirmed to lawmakers in Ankara
in comments carried by Reuters. "This solution [is] aimed at meeting an urgent need will not hinder our commitment to developing our own systems."

Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, has given its seal of approval to legislation designating media outlets that receive funding from abroad as "foreign agents,"
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. The measure, seen in part as a reaction to the U.S. government's recent decision to force state broadcaster RT to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, passed the Council unanimously in a vote of 154 to 0, paving the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin to sign it into law.

Russia's government agencies, however, are not waiting that long. A number of media outlets that meet the "foreign agent" criteria, including RFE/RL itself, have received preliminary warnings putting them on notice. "The letters did not specify what potential restrictions they could face," the U.S. government-funded broadcaster noted, "but lawmakers have said designated media could be subjected to detailed financial reporting requirements and required to label published material as coming from a foreign agent."

Access to the Arctic could soon become a good deal more difficult.
The Asia Times reports that Moscow is mulling a ban that would prohibit foreign-flagged vessels from traversing the Northern Sea Route in Russia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The measure, which would accord Russian-flagged vessels the exclusive right to traverse the route (which connects to the Northeast Passage around the Nordic states), is now reportedly under consideration by the Duma. Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified such a step, which could prove immensely lucrative if the Arctic region emerges as a significant source of energy, by saying that it "will increase the volume of sea transportation, strengthen the positions of domestic shipping companies, and create opportunities for the renewal of their fleet."

A meeting between Russian, Turkish and Iranian officials in the Black Sea town of Sochi has yielded consensus on a notional peace plan for the Syrian civil war.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the three countries have agreed on the need to convene a "national congress" uniting the Assad regime and various opposition groups now arrayed against the Syrian government. The proposed diplomatic talks would "bring together at the negotiating table delegates from different political parties, internal and external opposition, ethnic, and confessional groups" as part of an "inclusive dialogue" aimed at ending the six-year-old Syrian civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. There is no indication how the idea will be received by Syrian opposition forces, however - particularly because of the prominent roles played by both Russia and Iran in support of the Assad regime to date.

November 23:

Trouble is brewing among the Russian-supported separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
London's Independent newspaper reports that Igor Plotnitsky, the director of the Luhansk People's Republic, has "fled to Moscow" following a power struggle over control of the self-declared territory. Plotnitsky has been formally supported by the Kremlin to date, but his grip on power has been challenged by his main internal rival, interior minister Igor Kornet, leading to Kornet's recent sacking and subsequent attempt at a military power grab. For its part, the nearby Donetsk People's Republic, another pro-Russian separatist enclave, has thrown its weight behind Kornet in the unfolding power struggle, and has dispatched troops to the Luhansk People's Republic in what it has termed a "counterespionage and anti-diversionary operation."

Russia's military modernization is proceeding apace.
According to Itar-TASS, Russia's Defense Ministry has announced plans for the construction of more than 180 auxiliary vessels over the next decade as part of efforts to upgrade the transport capabilities of the country's naval fleet. "In total, 186 ships of the auxiliary fleet are planned to be built by 2028," Major-General Alexander Yaroshevich, head of the transport department for the Russian military, has confirmed.

Related Categories: Russia; Turkey; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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