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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2251

New sanctions stagger Russian markets;
Russia's Syrian military laboratory

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

August 9:

Just how popular is Russian President Vladimir Putin's adventurist foreign policy agenda? The answer, according to a new poll by the Moscow-based Levada Center, is: not at all.
According to The Moscow Times, the new survey (which was carried out by Levada last month) found that only one in five respondents support Putin's foreign policy. The statistic represents an important barometer of national fatigue, which now runs high after four-and-a-half years of war with Ukraine and a three year campaign in support of the Assad regime in Syria. "People say in many recent polls 'Enough helping everyone, we need to help ourselves,'" confirms Levada sociologist Denis Volkov.

[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.]

News that the United States plans to impose even more "draconian" sanctions on Russia has sent shockwaves through the Russian market.
The Moscow Times reports that the sanctions are driven by dissatisfaction among U.S. lawmakers with the recent Helsinki summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the official determination that Russia carried out the March chemical attack in Salisbury, England – a charge that Moscow continues to dismiss as baseless.

The first tranche of new sanctions would block sales of sensitive national security-related goods, but the second – and far more punitive – tranche would cut off all imports and exports while downgrading diplomatic relations. The second tranche will be triggered if Russia fails to provide "reliable assurances" within 90 days that it will abandon use of chemical weapons and permit on-site inspections of chemical plants by international organizations. The news has aggravated investor perceptions that Moscow is "locked in a spiral of never-ending sanctions," triggering massive sell-offs of Russian assets and causing the ruble's value to plummet to a new two-year low.

August 10:

Now both at odds with the United States, Pakistan and Russia may be drawing closer together.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the two countries have signed a new military cooperation agreement that will send Pakistani servicemen to study in Russian military and civilian schools in order to "deepen the dialogue and develop contacts in the defense sector." The agreement, according to observers, is more a symbolic win for both countries than a practical one, as the Pakistani military is defined by its history of cooperation with Western militaries and cannot easily become interoperable with the Russian model.

August 11:

Russia is expanding its military presence in the Persian Gulf.
According to the Itar-TASS news agency, the Kremlin has deployed a naval frigate to assume anti-piracy duties in the Gulf of Aden. The Yaroslav Mudry, which is attached to the Russian Baltic Fleet, will remain on station in the Gulf as part of an anti-piracy mission "to practice ship damage control, air defense, anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare," a Fleet spokesman has said.

August 12:

War-torn Syria has emerged as a critical military laboratory for the Kremlin: a theater where Russia's armed forces are honing their skills and expertise. Just how much is
detailed by Itar-TASS, which reports that two-thirds of Russia's air force personnel have now received "in-theater" training in Syria, where Russia continues to be engaged in support of the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. In a recent interview with the Rossiya 24 news channel, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu detailed that "two thirds of flying and technical staff [have] received in-field practice and had extensive combat practice" as a result of Russia's Syrian engagement, which began in September 2015. "We now have many young pilots with one hundred and more tactical missions," Shoigu noted. "We made scheduled rotations, so that as much flying staff as possible could participate in this operation, in the operation against international terrorism."