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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2221

Russo-Iranian cooperation under the microscope;
America's military mobilizes to counter Russia

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
June 12, 2018

May 3:

The Kremlin is taking aim at yet another social messaging app.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that, on the heels of its (largely unsuccessful) bid to blacklist Telegram, the Russian government could soon set its sights on outlawing Viber - another communications platform popular among Russians. At issue is whether Viber follows Telegram's example and refuses to provide Russia's security services with encryption keys allowing authorities to monitor and track the online activities of the app’s users. "If they [the FSB] have problems with acquiring encryption keys, they may turn to court and receive a similar court order," the country’s communications minister, Nikolai Nikiforov, has confirmed.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that, in the wake of the Olympic Committee's decision to ban Russia from formally participating in the recent Winter Games in Pyongchang, South Korea, the head of Russia's Olympic Committee has formally resigned. In a formal announcement, the country's Olympic czar (and "United Russia" faction parliamentarian) Aleksandr Zhukov said he was stepping down from the post to focus on politics. "In the complex situation which has occurred in international sport in recent times, it is very important that the leader who will take charge of the Russian Olympic Committee works at the ROC on a full-time basis," Zhukov said. "I am unable to do that at the moment due to my heavy workload in parliament."

May 4:

NATO's latest wargames have modeled a next generation conflict with Russia.
According to Newsweek, an April drill by Alliance member states in the Baltic nation of Estonia modeled a "catastrophic" conflict scenario, complete with "simulated cyberattacks, poisoned water supplies, a hacked drone employed to kill NATO soldiers and a faulty power grid."

The widespread protests preceding Vladimir Putin's re-inauguration suggest that opposition to the Russian leader is more sizable than the Kremlin wants to admit.
The Associated Press reports that thousands of protesters in 26 Russian cities this weekend marched in a demonstration against Putin's continued presidency, unified by the slogan "he is not our czar.” The protests triggered the arrest of 1,599 participants, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny – although the Kremlin claimed that only 300 people were arrested in Moscow and refused to provide an estimate for arrests made in the other 25 cities. The U.S. State Department condemned the police crackdown, with spokeswoman Heather Nauert commenting that "leaders who are secure in their own legitimacy don’t arrest their peaceful opponents for protesting."

Amid heated global debate over the Iran deal, Russia is ramping up nuclear cooperation with Tehran, announcing that it will proceed with a new phase of construction on the nuclear power plant project at Bushehr.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, the assistance being provided to Iran by Russia's state nuclear corporation, ROSATOM, at Bushehr – as well as at several new other sites outlined in a multi-billion dollar 2014 agreement – is technically permitted under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but it may offer Iran a new plutonium-based pathway to the bomb.

In light of Israel's recent disclosure of thousands of classified Iranian government documents indicating Tehran lied about the purposes of its nuclear program, Russian-Iranian cooperation in this field has provoked alarm among U.S. government officials and nuclear experts. Former Pentagon advisor Michael Rubin dismissed the idea that the Bushehr project is intended for civilian purposes, commenting to the Free Beacon that continued construction of Iran's nuclear power plants is dangerous not only due to their location in an earthquake-prone region but because they conveniently disguise Tehran's true nuclear intentions.

May 5:

Anticipating the growing need to counter Russia and China across all regions of the world, the U.S. military is strategically reorganizing.
According to the BBC, one crucial reform will take place close to home with the reestablishment of the U.S. Second Fleet – dissolved in 2011 for cost-saving purposes – in order to increase capacity and frequency of naval deployments in the North Atlantic and along the U.S. East Coast. During his announcement of the fleet's revival, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson commented that "we're back in an era of great power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and more complex." The increased American presence provided by Second Fleet will counter rising levels of Russian submarine and naval activity and reflect the priorities of the most recent National Defense Strategy, the BBC reports. In a complementary effort, the U.S. has also volunteered to host a new NATO Joint Forces Command at Norfolk, Virginia, further improving the alliance's regional capabilities.

Related Categories: Russia; Iran; Russia and Eurasia Program

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