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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2184

Russia digs in in Syria;
Expanding the definition of "foreign agent"

Edited by Ilan Berman
January 25, 2018

December 20:

Less than two weeks after his pledge to withdraw a "large part" of Russia's military contingent in Syria, President Vladimir Putin is actively planning to do exactly the opposite.
According to London-based Arab weekly ASharq Al-Awsat, the Kremlin has sent an agreement codifying the expansion of Russia's naval facility in the Syrian port city of Tartus to the Duma for consideration. The deal, struck in the spring of 2017 between Russian and Syrian officials, gives Russia the rights to use the facility cost-free for a period of 49 years - after which the lease can be renewed for another quarter-century. The agreement is said to permit eleven Russian vessels to concurrently dock at the facility, and provide diplomatic immunity to base personnel and their families throughout the entirety of Syrian soil. Ratification of the agreement by both the Duma and the upper chamber of Russia's parliament, the Federation Council, is expected by year's end.

The Trump administration is stepping up its support for the Ukrainian government.
According to The Hill, the White House has approved the provision of lethal arms to the government of president Petro Poroshenko to aid in its ongoing fight against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country. The move, long urged by Congress, entails the sale of millions of dollars of lethal defensive weaponry, including Model M107A1 sniper systems, to upgrade the capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces.

December 21:

The Russian government is ramping up its efforts to silence criticism of its state nuclear agency, ROSATOM.
Newsweek details how activists and critics of the agency's activities - including its handling of nuclear waste - have become the targets of raids and smear campaigns in recent years, and this activity is now escalating. The cause is clear; the agency has come under renewed scrutiny of late after allegations this Fall that Mayak, a nuclear plant in in central Russia, was responsible for a cloud of radioactive fallout that impacted countries in Europe.

"There is no evidence suggesting Rosatom is directly responsible for the harassment of regional activists," the news magazine clarifies. Rather, the pressure is "likely coming from regional FSB officials trying to please their superiors in Moscow in the lead-up to Russia's presidential election, a time when there's increasingly less tolerance for dissent."

On the heels of new regulations allowing the Russian government to label foreign news organizations as "foreign agents," lawmakers are contemplating extending the designation to individual journalists.
Estonian news portal Meduza reports that the State Duma is now considering new legislation that would recognize individuals as "foreign-agent mass media outlets" if they 1) disseminate "information materials" and 2) receive money from foreign sources. If passed, the new law, now under consideration by the Duma, would apply to both foreigners and Russian citizens, and force those individuals "to create a legal entity for formal cooperation with the Justice Ministry" or risk having their publications blacklisted by the Kremlin.

December 22:

Russia's main security service is on the lookout for radicals among the country's migrant worker population.
According to The Moscow Times, the FSB has arrested several employees of a migrant worker assistance center in Moscow on suspicion that they helped undocumented terrorists gain entry into the country and obtain legal status there. "These individuals' illegal activities were carried out under the auspices of a so-called assistance center for migrants that provided legal advice on migration issues," the FSB has charged in an official statement.

Related Categories: Middle East; Terrorism; Russia and Eurasia Program; Nuclear Proliferation

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