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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2242

New U.S. indictments target Russia's military;
Controversy in Helsinki

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
August 15, 2018

July 14:

On the eve of President Trump's summit in Helsinki, Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the U.S. Justice Department has issued an indictment for 12 Russian military officers.
According to the Voice of America, the indictment - which was unveiled by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein - identified by name a dozen Russian military personnel on the grounds that they had conspired to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Eleven others were charged, according to Rosenstein, with "hacking into computers, steal[ing] documents and releas[ing] those documents" with the "intent" to manipulate the 2016 U.S. electoral cycle. The indictment, VOA details, outlines a "sweeping" effort by the Russian government to hack into the Democratic Party, including the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

July 15:

The recent U.S. indictment of Russian military officers for their involvement in the hacking of the 2016 U.S. elections has shed new light on the activities of Russia's military agency, the Glavnoye Razvedivatelnoye Upravlenie, or GRU.
London's Daily Mail details that the GRU, agents of which were named in the latest U.S. indictment, is believed to be the same agency responsible for the recent use of the Novichok nerve agent on UK soil. The British government is "closing in on identifying" the parties responsible for the use of the deadly nerve agent in Britain - but the signs already point to the fact that the GRU was complicit in the attack earlier this year, which targeted an ex-Russian spy and which has now claimed the life of one British citizen.

As Presidents Trump and Putin prepare to meet in Helsinki,
Fox News is reporting that the Russian leader's popularity has slipped considerably. New polling conducted in June appears to indicate a recent 15 point dip in Putin's approval rating - a decline that appears to be largely attributable to the Kremlin's decision to hike the pension age for ordinary citizens.

[EDITORS' NOTE: Given the effect of Russia's increasingly authoritarian political climate on pollsters and respondents alike, the results of public opinion surveys in Russia should be viewed with some caution.]

July 16:

The long-awaited third summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin has generated no shortage of controversy. The two leaders met privately for nearly two hours for a dialogue that is believed to have touched upon a range of topics, from Syria to Iran to Ukraine. But it was the joint post-meeting press conference between the two leaders that truly made headlines, as President Trump appeared to offer a "stunning rebuke" of the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.
CNN reports that in his comments, the President appeared to side with the Russian leader - who denied any wrongdoing on the part of his government - by failing to endorse the U.S. government's evaluation of Russian culpability.

Trump's assessment runs counter to that of his own intelligence czar, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who has warned in recent days of new signs that Russia was ramping up its interference efforts in the run-up to the 2018 U.S. midterm elections this Fall. "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security," Coats said in a formal statement released after the President's comments in Helsinki.

Have Moscow and Jerusalem reached an understanding over Syria? Israel's recent military activity in Syria, including its raid on the T4 base near Homs in early July, suggests that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking an increasingly assertive stance over security on its northern border. Yet "Israel did not conduct any airstrikes to stop the concurrent advance of Syrian and Hezbollah forces southward,"
notes Israeli strategic analyst Hillel Frisch in his latest analysis for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. This, Frisch argues, suggests "that a grand bargain has been offered by Russia to Israel – one in which Moscow assures Jerusalem of an Iranian withdrawal in return for Israel's acceptance of the consolidation of the Syrian state."

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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