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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2201

In Syria, Russia is both "arsonist and firefighter";
A new arms race with Russia?

Edited by Ilan Berman and Zachary Popovich
April 2, 2018


February 27:

Part of the punk rock band Pussy Riot is missing in action.
Newsweek reports that two members of the activist group, Olga Borisova and Sasha Sofeyev, disappeared while en route back to Moscow from Crimea, where they were attending a protest in support of detained filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. While there, the pair was detained and harassed by local authorities. Now, Borisova and Sofayev's bandmates cannot locate them.

The Kremlin is playing a complicated strategic game in Syria designed to advance its own interests, often at the expense of those of the U.S. and its allies, America's top military commander in the Middle East has said. The Russians today act the role of "both arsonists and firemen" in Syria,
the Washington Times cites Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, as telling Congressional lawmakers. Russia's activities in the Syrian theater "are not focused on defeating ISIS, but rather on preserving their own influence and control over the outcome of the situation," the General said during a recent hearing on Capitol Hill. "It is clear that Russia's interests in Syria are Russia's interests and not those of the wider international community."

February 28:

"Nastya Rybka," the Russian woman embroiled in the corruption scandal involving metals tycoon Oleg Deripaska, is seeking an exit from Thailand,
Radio Svoboda reports. Rybka was one of ten Russians detained by local authorities in Bangkok for illegal "sex training." Now Rybka is attempting to parlay her involvement in the Deripaska scandal to get out of her current predicament. On social media platform InstaGram, she has issued an appeal to "American special services" to spring her, alleging that she has "very important information for the US" - presumably about Deripaska and his Kremlin connections - and that, as a result, her life is in danger.

The New York Times reports that the International Olympic Committee has formally lifted its suspension on Russia. The ban, which followed an IOC investigation that found widespread and state-sanctioned doping among Russian athletes during and after the 2014 Winter Olympics, forced Russian athletes to compete under a neutral affiliation in the recently-concluded Olympic Games in Pyongchang, South Korea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted the IOC's latest decision, suggesting that its prior verdict was both unsubstantiated and politically-motivated. "We have to turn this page," Putin announced during a Kremlin ceremony commemorating the country's athletes. "I hope that international organizations will eventually understand that sports should be kept as far away as possible from problems that are completely unrelated to sports."

March 1:

In a nationally televised speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced the development and testing of a new line of Russian nuclear weapons,
reports London's Guardian newspaper. According to Putin, these new systems - including modernized cruise missiles and underwater drones - are being developed as a response to "those who have been trying to escalate the arms race for the past 15 years," a thinly veiled reference to the United States. The new, more belligerent stance from Putin toward the West comes ahead of Russia's March 18th election, which he is widely expected to dominate.

Russia is considering withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights.
Reuters reports, citing Russian news sources, that the Kremlin is now deliberating withdrawing from the international treaty, and ceasing its cooperation with its dedicated court, the European Court of Human Rights, on account of the fact that many of the Court's decisions - which have criticized Russian domestic and international conduct - run "counter to Russia's interests."