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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2193

Sobchak's abortive Chechnya campaign;
Israel seeks Russia's help in Syria

Edited by Ilan Berman
March 2, 2018

January 28:

Russia is quietly strengthening its strategic partnership with Iran.
The Itar-TASS news agency reports that Russian and Iranian authorities have signed a new memorandum of understanding on the development of four natural gas fields within the Islamic Republic. The memorandum, signed by representatives of Russia's GAZPROM state natural gas company and the National Iranian Oil Corporation, would see GAZPROM carry out studies on the development of the Farzad A, Farzad B, North Pars and Kish gas fields in coming weeks. The findings of the surveys are expected by early March.

Russian presidential contender Ksenia Sobchak is attempting to take on a new political adversary: Chechnya's long-serving strongman.
London's Independent reports that Sobchak recently traveled to the restive Russian republic in a bid to confront Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov over his administration's repressive domestic practices. However, Sobchak was reportedly stymied in her bid for a public showdown with Kadyrov, with meetings cancelled and tight security, leading her to leave the republic after just hours on the ground there.

January 29:

Russia's population decline is back - with a vengeance. According to
new figures just released by the country's Federal Statistics Agency, the overall Russian population fell by over 100,000 souls last year, while the country's birth rate has hit a 10-year low, with a total of 1.69 million live births in 2017 - some 200,000 less than were recorded the year prior.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that at least 350 activists, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, have been detained by authorities for their participation in a large-scale demonstration in Moscow. The demonstration, which was mirrored in other Russian cities, was designed to voice opposition to the country's upcoming election, the outcome of which most believe to be a foregone conclusion. "If we stay at home, then nothing will change for sure," one demonstrator told reporters. "If we take to the streets, then at least we have some kind of chance." Most of the demonstrators, including Navalny himself, were released from custody shortly after their detention.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is visiting Moscow to coordinate his government's regional policy with the Kremlin.
According to Itar-TASS, Netanyahu has met with Russian president Vladimir Putin to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria, as well as Moscow's efforts to launch a mediated dialogue to resolve the long-running civil war there between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its assorted opponents.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Netanyahu's visit to Moscow - his fifth since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011 - reflects mounting Israeli anxiety over the direction of the strategic environment in war-torn Syria. Russia and Iran's military involvement in the Syrian theater has gradually helped to tip the scales decisively in favor of the Assad regime. But it has also led to the entrenchment of a robust Iranian military presence on Syrian soil, manifested in Iran's construction of new military installations in the south of Syria, close to Israel's northern border. Israel has responded to this development with targeted military raids against selected Iranian and Syrian target aimed at sending a deterrent message to both Damascus and Tehran. But Israeli officials are actively seeking Russia's assistance in helping to ensure that Iran's footprint in Syria remains limited in nature.]

January 30:

The Pentagon is raising the alarm over Russia and China's growing offensive capabilities in space.
The Washington Free Beacon reports that a new study from the Intelligence Directorate of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has concluded that "China and Russia will be capable of severely disrupting or destroying U.S. satellites in low-earth orbit" in the near future. The warning echoes assessments by the U.S. intelligence community, which has expressed growing alarm over the space-based capabilities of both Moscow and Beijing. "We assess that Russia and China perceive a need to offset any U.S. military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems and are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers in Congress last year. "Both will continue to pursue a full range of anti-satellite weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness." Russia's space warfare options include a "diverse suite of capabilities to affect satellites in all orbital regimes," among them an airborne laser system such as the one now being considered anew by the Defense Department, Coats said.

Related Categories: Russia; China; Israel; Russia and Eurasia Program

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