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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2232

Bill Browder: public enemy no. 1;
A controversial new nuclear project

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

June 14:

As the World Cup approaches, online observers are reporting striking levels of ISIS activity and threats against the sporting event and its international cadre of athletes.
According to London's Daily Star, the gruesome ISIS propaganda currently circulating online includes photoshopped beheadings of star players and pictures of football stadiums accompanied by the ominous warning: "It will be a massacre that has never been seen in history before." The Star reports that Russia, which may be an especially tempting target for terrorists given its role in the Syrian conflict, has taken the threat seriously, ramping up pre-Cup security drills and domestic counterterror operations. Nevertheless, the British Home Office has issued travel warnings to British fans noting the elevated risk.

June 15:

Last week's Interpol fiasco surrounding the arrest and release of financier Bill Browder elicited an ominous response from Russian law enforcement.
News agency TASS reports that Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika vowed to intensify attempts to land Browder behind bars for his 2013 conviction in absentia on tax evasion charges. Russia placed Browder on the international wanted list in 2014, but Interpol denies that it ever had a legitimate arrest warrant for the Kremlin critic. Chaika accused western intelligence services of protecting Browder and denounced all political interference with the Russian legal process. "We won't let him sleep peacefully," Chaika warned, promising "more powerful moves soon."

Russia has launched the world's first commercial floating nuclear reactor, much to the consternation of international regulators and environmental activists.
A recent Popular Science article details the slow journey of the 70-megawatt power station, the Akademik Lomonosov, from a St. Petersburg shipyard to Murmansk, then across the Arctic to its destination in a town called Pevek, only 53 miles from Alaska. There, it will become the first of several floating nuclear power plants supporting Russian coal, oil, and gas operations in the Arctic.

The magazine reports that the threats posed by the Akademik Lomonosov far outweigh its history-making status. These include transit accidents, rough sea conditions, power failure, refueling challenges, or even terrorist attacks – all of which elevate the overall risk of dangerous nuclear emissions or disasters in the Arctic region. Moreover, since Russian law does not legally consider it a nuclear reactor until it is operational, state nuclear overseer ROSTECHNADZOR was excluded from the entire process, and Russia had no obligation to provide reporting or safety analyses to international organizations. The resulting lack of transparency has regulators fearful that the reactor's construction may not meet international safety standards, increasing the already high risk of failure that it currently presents.

As activist Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov's hunger strike stretches into its second month, Russian prison authorities are finding creative ways to undermine his political protest.
According to the BBC, when Ukrainian human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova attempted to visit Sentsov as part of a presidentially agreed-upon exchange of officials, the head of the regional prison department turned her away, claiming that Sentsov is actually a Russian citizen. Denisova's visit was intended to gather information about Sentsov's health conditions – along with the adverse effects of the strike he has undertaken, the director claims he has been tortured during his imprisonment on trumped-up terror charges.

June 16:

A Kyrgyz taxi driver has crashed into a crowd of pedestrians near Moscow's Red Square, injuring eight.
The Guardian reports that while the driver's actions appeared to be intentional, there is no evidence to link the incident to organized terror – although the elevated risk of an attack during the World Cup has prompted Russian law enforcement to maintain heightened security measures. The paper notes that the Kremlin is censoring crime reporting on such incidents in order to diminish negative press coverage for the duration of the tournament.

Related Categories: Russia; Human Rights; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine; Nuclear Proliferation

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