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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2182

The Kremlin takes aim at Khodokovsky's political legacy;
NATO seeks to deter Russia in cyberspace

Edited by Ilan Berman
January 16, 2018

December 12:

NBC News reports that, after a year of deliberations, NATO ally Turkey is poised to officially procure Russian air defense systems. "Our officials will come together in the coming week to finalize the S-400 issue," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed to reporters during a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ankara. The Russian air-defense systems are intended to complement the Turkish government's ongoing efforts to develop indigenous air defense capabilities.

Russia's state media regulator, ROSKOMNADZOR, has begun blocking access to the websites of organizations that the government has deemed "undesirable."
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the agency's move comes in response to a demand from the Russian Prosecutor-General's office, which has insisted on the need for restrictions on websites that "distribute information from organizations deemed undesirable in Russia."

Prominent among those that have already begun to feel the effects of the order is Open Russia, the civil society NGO founded by former Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Open Russia is one of eleven organizations that have officially been blacklisted by ROSKOMNADZOR, and social media sites within the country have begun blocking access to its website as a result.

Human rights watchdogs have decried the move as a blatant effort to silence political opposition to the Kremlin. Authorities "are clearly targeting Open Russia in a bid to suffocate dissent and pluralism in the Russian media and expunge Khodorkovsky's presence in Russian politics and society," Amnesty International has charged in an official statement.

December 13:

Opposition activist Alexei Navalny has unveiled his platform for the 2018 presidential election,
Meduza reports. According to the Estonian news portal, Navalny's main campaign promises - communicated via a video message released on YouTube - include "establishing a minimum wage at 144 rubles ($2.45) an hour, lowering the mortgage rate from 11 percent to two percent, and doubling federal spending on healthcare and education." These goals, according to Navalny, will be accomplished through anti-corruption reforms, a reduction of subsidies to state companies, and increased taxes on the country's energy sector.

As it stands, however, it's not at all clear that Navalny will have the opportunity to see if these ideas meet the approval of the Russian people. Federal election officials have said that Navalny's repeated brushes with the law disqualify him from the race, because felons are currently legally prohibited from running for elected office within a decade any criminal sentence - a restriction that Navalny has decried as "unconstitutional."

In the future, NATO could face Russia on a new front: cyberspace.
According to Newsweek, the Alliance's recent decision to "integrate cyber warfare into its command" through the creation of a dedicated Cyber Operations Center reflects a significant change in its warfighting strategy, which has previously conceived of cyberwarfare as strictly a defensive measure. That, in turn, has implications for the bloc's approach to Russia. "The more aggressive approach was intended as a strong message, primarily to Russia, that NATO intends to use the cyber capabilities of its members to deter attacks in the same way it uses land, sea and air weaponry," retired Air Force Colonel Rizwan Ali, one of the officials involved in the policy shift, has explained.

December 14:

Russia's media watchdog is stepping up its offensive against Open Russia.
Radio Svoboda reports that ROSKOMNADZOR has threatened to restrict video platform YouTube in Russia unless the company promptly deletes the NGO's account on its channels. As it stands, the state agency has warned YouTube in an official letter, the company is complicit in "information distributed in violation of the law," for which it could face consequences.

Are the powers of Putin's National Guard poised to expand?
RBK reports that Russia's State Duma is backing a presidential initiative to broaden the already-extensive powers of the Kremlin's macro-security service to allow members of the Guard to effectively serve as private military contractors in Russia's regions. Under the measure, Guardsmen would be allowed to serve as protection for Russia's regional governors "on a contractual basis." The Duma's Committee on Security and Anti-Corruption has already preliminarily approved the idea.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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