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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2183

The Russian threat to NATO connectivity;
In post-conflict Syria, the advantage goes to Russia

Edited by Ilan Berman
January 18, 2018

December 14:

NATO leaders are raising the alarm over the potential threat posed by Russia to Alliance communications,
according to London's Guardian. The British daily cites the chief of the British defense staff, Sir Stuart Peach, as saying that Russia could in the future interrupt connectivity to NATO nations by cutting the critical undersea cables that Europe uses for international commerce and the World-Wide Web. "There is a new risk to our prosperity and way of life, to the cables that crisscross our sea beds, disruption to which through cable-cuts or destruction would immediately - and catastrophically - fracture both international trade and the internet," Peach said in a public address at the Royal United Services Institute in London. The warning was prompted by recent sightings of Russian vessels in European waters close to where the undersea cables run - and by a recent study by British think tank Policy Exchange highlighting that "97% of global communications and $10tn in daily financial transactions were transmitted through such cables."

The Alliance response, according to Peach, should be resolute. "In response to the threat posed by the modernization of the Russian navy - both nuclear and conventional submarines and ships - the UK and other Atlantic Nato allies have had to prioritize missions and tasks in order to protect the sea lines of communication," he said. "In addition to new ships and submarines, Russia continues to perfect unconventional capabilities and information warfare. Therefore, we must continue to develop our maritime forces with our allies to match Russian fleet modernization."

December 15:

The verdict is in, and Russia's former economic minister has been handed a stiff sentence.
The Associated Press reports that Alexei Ulyukayev, whose high profile trial on corruption charges has preoccupied national and international media for months, has been found guilty of soliciting a massive $2 million bribe from Rosneft CEO - and Putin confidante - Igor Sechin. The court ruling orders Ulyukayev to serve eight years in prison and pay $2.2 million in fines in the most public fallout to date from infighting within the circle of advisors surrounding Vladimir Putin, of which both Ulyukayev and Sechin were a part until the former's fall from grace.

December 17:

Assistance from the United States has helped Russia avert a major terrorist attack in its second city.
The Daily Caller reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has called President Trump to thank him for intelligence information shared by the U.S. intelligence community that helped Russian authorities prevent targeting multiple locations in St. Petersburg. The overture appears to have fostered some much-needed goodwill amid frosty diplomatic relations between Moscow and Washington. "Russian security services, should they have information about possible terrorist threats to the United States and its citizens, will swiftly and unconditionally share it with the US colleagues via partner channels," the Kremlin's press service has declared.

December 18:

Now that the Islamic State terrorist group has been decisively defeated, the Kremlin is expanding its political and economic stake in Syria.
Reuters reports that Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, has visited Damascus and held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other regime officials. As a result of these consultations, Rogozin has announced, Russia is poised to assume a leading role in the reconstruction of Syria's energy sector. "The Syrian leadership would like to only cooperate with Russia... in rebuilding all of the country's energy facilities," Rogozin has told Russian news agencies. "Mr. President Bashar al-Assad said today that Syria has no desire to work with companies from countries which betrayed Syria at a certain moment."

December 19:

Russia's state-run television, RT, channel may be under fire in the U.S., where the government has required it to formally register as a foreign agent. Abroad, however, the Kremlin-directed broadcaster is undergoing a notable expansion.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the channel has just launched a new French-language channel with a budget of some Euro 20 million. The new effort expands RT's reach into the French language, and will be headquartered in Paris.

Civil rights activists in Russia are denouncing new legislation that loosens penalties on domestic abuse.
London's Guardian details that, as a consequence of amendments to existing law made earlier this year, some forms of domestic abuse have effectively been "decriminalized," with "violence against a spouse or children that results in bruising or bleeding but not broken bones" now punishable by just "15 days in prison or a fine of 30,000 rubles (£380)," as long as such incidents do not happen more than once a year. The measures, activists say, will inevitably paint a rosier picture of domestic life in Russia - but for all the wrong reasons. "Official statistics will demonstrate a decrease in cases next year, but this is not because much has been done," explains Marina Pisklakova-Parker of the Anna Centre, a civil society NGO. "Rather, it is because fewer cases are being filed. The amendments have sent a message to women that it is useless to search for help, and to the perpetrators that this is all right to do."