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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2196

New moves in the Middle East;
Another regional governor faces the music

Edited by Ilan Berman and Zachary Popovich
March 15, 2018

February 7:

The Kremlin is poised to conclude a new military agreement with the Lebanese government, greatly enhancing strategic ties between Moscow and Beirut.
According to pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat, the pending deal "provides a comprehensive framework for coordination and joint activities for military institutions in both countries," including activities such as "reciprocal visits by military delegations, joint exercises and training, in addition to allowing the temporary entry of warships and aircraft to the sea and air ports of the two countries."

February 8:

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have pledged to more closely coordinate policy on Syria.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that a joint statement issued by the two leaders following a conference call has reaffirmed a bilateral commitment to "the fight against terrorist groups that are violating the cease-fire regime" in Syria's Idlib Province, which borders Turkish territory. Russia and Turkey, together with Iran, are attempting to triangulate policy in Syria, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that a trilateral meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could be in the offing in the near future.

With an eye on Moscow, NATO is seeking to expanding its command structure.
Reuters reports that, in the wake of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and its ongoing military activities in Eastern Europe, Alliance officials "are considering a North Atlantic planning and strategy command to keep shipping lanes safe from enemy submarines, as well as a logistics command focusing on moving troops more quickly across Europe in any possible conflict." While no formal decisions about the commands have yet been made, an upcoming meeting between NATO defense officials in Brussels is expected to see progress on the proposals, with a final decision - including the possibility that the U.S. and Germany, respectively, will host the new structures - pending at the upcoming NATO summit this summer.

February 9:

A Russian court has convicted Aleksandr Khoroshavin, the former governor of Sakhalin Oblast, on corruption charges,
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. In a formal ruling, a court in the regional capital of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk has stripped Khoroshavin of his state awards, ordered him to pay nearly $9 million in fines, and levied a prison term of some 13 years. Khoroshavin was arrested back in 2015 and charged with taking nearly $6 million in bribes from an energy firm operating in the Far Eastern region.

The BBC reports that scientists at a top secret Russian nuclear facility have been arrested for allegedly using the facility's equipment to mine crypto-currency. The Federal Nuclear Centre, located in the heavily restricted town of Sarov, houses extremely powerful computing and energy equipment. The suspects are reported to have attempted to have repurposed the facility's supercomputers, designed for highly-sensitive nuclear work, for a new task: "mining" digital currency. Other Russian industrial facilities and individuals have been suspected in the past of doing the same, as crypto-currencies - which can be obtained through complex, energy-intensive computing processes - have grown in popularity.

Presidential hopeful Ksenia Sobchak is wading into the controversy over Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. In a departure from current president Vladimir Putin's stance on the subject, Sobchak has told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that Russia likely is responsible for the political interference - and that it constituted an "unacceptable" political move by the Kremlin. "It sounds [like] we really had something to do with it. If that's so, I want to say sorry," Sobchak said
in comments carried by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "It's unacceptable for any country to meddle into the affairs of another country."

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program

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