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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2197

Navalny senses a cover-up;
Who's in charge in Syria?

Edited by Ilan Berman
March 19, 2018

February 10:

Opposition activist Alexei Navalny's latest expose of governmental corruption is running into bureaucratic roadblocks.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that ROSKOMNADZOR, Russia's state censor, is moving to block Navalny's latest investigative report, in which the anti-corruption crusader probes the connection between billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska and high-level government officials (including Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko) on the grounds that it contained "prohibited information." The probe details the account of a Belarusian woman who is believed to have had an affair with Deripaska regarding improper contacts between the tycoon and Prikhodko - contacts that Navalny has charged are tantamount to a bribe and improper influence over a government official. Pursuant to ROSKOMNADZOR, the report has been blacklisted and blocked from dissemination within Russia.

Is the Kremlin losing control in Syria? That's the speculation in the Israeli media, where the recent incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace has raised worries among many that the strategic status quo in Syria - long managed by Russia - may be beginning to change. "On a political and strategic level, Israel needs to prepare itself for a situation in which the Iranians will no longer limit themselves to verbal responses when their installations in Syria are hit, but undertake active actions to both deter Israel from continuing to do so and shield their entrenchment in Syrian land,"
writes commentator Ron Ben Yishai in Yediot Ahronot.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: That entrenchment is now the subject of considerable concern among Israeli observers and officials. So far, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been quite successful in lobbying the Kremlin to take an active role in ensuring that instability in Syria (where both Iran and Russia are deeply engaged) doesn't impact Israeli territory. But as the correlation of forces in Syria has shifted back in favor of the Assad regime and its allies, Iran has begun to establish an increasingly permanent military presence there - raising the question of whether Russia still retains the ability to control its behavior.]

Russian security forces have killed two suspected Islamic militants in the republic of Ingushetia as part of anti-terrorist operations.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the two suspected extremists - one of whom is believed to have fought with the Islamic State terrorist group in the Middle East - were killed in a gun battle with local authorities following their apprehension near the regional capital, Nazran.

February 12:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is pleading his case in Moscow.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the Palestinian leader has arrived in Russia's capital for meetings with President Putin and other top Russian leaders. Abbas' objective is to garner greater Russian support in the face of growing tensions with Washington, where the Trump administration has taken a harsher stance on the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation than its predecessor, and recently recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The embattled Palestinian leader "is also looking to get backing for an international mechanism for Middle East peace talks to supplant the United States as the leading player," RFE/RL reports.

Russia's main security service has detained an alleged Ukrainian "spy" in Crimea,
Radio Svoboda reports. The FSB is said to have apprehended an unnamed individual on Crimean territory who "allegedly collected and transmitted to Ukrainian special services information about the parts of Rosgvardia and FSB officers in the territory of annexed Crimea." The Ukrainian government has not commented on the incident.

February 13:

Navalny is taking ROSKOMNADZOR to court.
Vedemosti reports that the opposition activist has filed a formal suit against the state censor for its recent decision to block distribution of his latest investigative report, which details corrupt contacts between Russian metals tycoon Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko. The suit, filed in Moscow's Tagansky District Court, charges that the governmental decision was "illegal." "The investigation was aimed at revealing the facts of corruption by an official of the government of the Russian Federation," the suit details, and therefore was lawful under the country's constitution, which permits such disclosures about private persons in the presence of a compelling public interest.

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance; Russia and Eurasia Program

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