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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2244

Obfuscating the particulars of pension changes;
A new warning to NATO

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
August 21, 2018

July 19:

The Kremlin's recent bid to raise the retirement age for working Russians has drawn widespread ire across the country, but you wouldn't know it from Russia's state-run media.
As Meduza reports, Russia's state news outlets are conducting a "masterclass in imprecision," actively working to obscure the particulars of the deeply unpopular decision, with some outlets (like Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Russia Today) calling them "reforms" in an effort to "obscure" the details of the effort, which - if adopted - will entail a significant hike in the age at which Russian men and women become eligible to receive pensions.

In the wake of the Helsinki summit, multiple U.S. and Russian officials have referred vaguely to discussions between Presidents Trump and Putin regarding a proposed resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. Now, new details have emerged about just what that proposal might entail.
Bloomberg reports that Putin offered to hold a referendum under international auspices in the separatist areas of Ukraine to let them determine their ultimate status. In turn, Trump supposedly requested that the proposal remain confidential in order to preserve his own political space to consider it.

The details of the proposal leaked to Bloomberg after Putin held a closed-door conference with his top officials at the Foreign Ministry. The paper points out that Trump's willingness to consider the proposal will likely upset Kyiv, which seeks a negotiated peace deal brokered by the European Union and backed by international peacekeepers. Moreover, the original 2014 referenda with which the separatist republics declared their independence were roundly rejected as illegitimate by Ukraine, the United States, and the European Union.

July 20:

Months after the nerve agent attack on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the UK, British intelligence agencies are beginning to piece together the particulars of what appears to have been a daring Kremlin mission to silence a regime liability.
London's Daily Mail reports that the "extraordinary 30-hour assassination mission" entailed "[a] team of up to four spies... sent to murder double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia - two agents to carry and administer the Novichok and two more as back up in case their comrades fell ill or failed."

"Numerous security sources say the hit squad was probably made up of existing or former GRU agents not known to MI6 who may even have followed Yulia from Moscow to London on March 3," the Daily Mail details. "Miss Skripal and her double agent father fell ill in Salisbury on March 4 and the assassins dumped the poison hidden in a perfume bottle in the Wiltshire city's Queen Elizabeth Gardens where ill-fated couple Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley found it four months later."

"The team fled to Heathrow where they are believed to have flown to Moscow on an Aeroflot jet on March 5 - 30 hours after they arrived - shunning the usual circuitous spy route home via an airport in the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Switzerland or Turkey," the story continues. "The same day a British listening station in Cyprus is understood to have intercepted a coded message to Moscow that included the phrase: 'The package has been delivered' and said the team has 'made a successful egress.'"

In recent remarks before a gathering of diplomats in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned NATO publicly against any further moves toward expansion - and threatened retaliation should the bloc move in that direction. "We will respond appropriately to such aggressive steps, which pose a direct threat to Russia," Putin said in comments
carried by The Moscow Times. "Our colleagues, who are trying to aggravate the situation, seeking to include, among others, Ukraine and Georgia in the orbit of the alliance, should think about the possible consequences of such an irresponsible policy."

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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