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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2176

Russia's Ukrainian war machine;
Disinformation targets trust in British public health

Edited by Ilan Berman
December 20, 2017

November 24:

Slowly but surely, Russia's economy seems to be turning a corner.
The New York Times reports that Russia's economic prospects, long depressed as a result of international sanctions and the low world price of oil, have begun to see modest improvement - something that is likely to prove a boon to Russian President Vladimir Putin in next year's election. But, observers have warned, the financial uptick now being experienced by Russia is destined to remain peripheral absent serious, systemic changes to the country's economy. "Without reform," stresses Vladimir Tikhomirov of investment bank BCS Global Markets, "the future for Russia will be fairly bleak."

Russia has deployed a massive military force into Ukraine as part of ongoing efforts to destabilize its western neighbor, Ukraine's top defense official has charged. "It's a real army," entailing thousands of armored vehicles and troops dispatched by the Kremlin to reinforce pro-Russian separatist forces in the country's east, Ukrainian defense minister Pavlo Klimkin has told reporters
in comments carried by U.S. News & World Report. These forces, moreover, are being refreshed and reinforced by Moscow. "They have continuous inflow of munitions," Klimkin has said.

November 25:

American fast food franchises could soon face a far less hospitable environment in Russia.
Newsweek reports that, as part of mounting tensions between Moscow and Washington over foreign agents and influence, a Russian politician has proposed labeling U.S. franchises like McDonald's and KFC as foreign agents and restricting their advertisements - ostensibly on health grounds."The food sold by American fast food restaurants, according to some studies, negatively affects the body and human health," Duma deputy Boris Chernyshov, the bill's sponsor, has charged. Yet, "[i]n advertising, a positive image of consumption of these products is presented." This sort of misleading representation, Chernyshov argues, should not be tolerated.

November 26:

Could Ramzan Kadyrov be on his way out?
Bloomberg reports that the long-serving Chechen regional strongman recently indicated that he is prepared to step aside in favor of a successor, despite winning a new five-year term in office just last year. "There was a time when people like me were needed - to fight, to bring order," Kadyrov recently told Russian state television in explaining his decision. "Now we have order."

Kremlin officials have other ideas, however. Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has told reporters that Kadyrov remains "head of the republic" and it is the will of the government that he continue to serve in that capacity.

Russian disinformation has set its sights on civil society and social services in the United Kingdom, a former top British security official has warned.
According to the London Daily Mirror, Russian cyber units "are spreading false information about flu and measles jabs in the UK." The paper cites Chris Phillips, the former head of the UK's National Counterterrorism Security Office, as saying that Russian state influence operations are increasingly targeting the British public health system as part of efforts to erode trust in democratic institutions.

"The Russians have long felt that the UK, America and the European Union is a major threat to them so have developed major strategies in how to interfere with politics, policy, and now it seems the interference is impacting on vital decisions in our daily lives," Phillips notes. "The art of being able to exert this control over a society is arguably one of the most powerful weapons available in modern warfare. If the Russian government, or whoever, wishes to exert this kind of influence, is able to cause difficulty in decisions, in trusting the government of the day in that country, or otherwise trusted media and news organisations, then so much the better for them."

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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