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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2252

The rubble of the ruble;
A new Russian space weapon?

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
September 13, 2018

August 13:

Jailed Ukrainian director Oleh Sentsov, who is now conducting a hunger strike in Russia, is receiving some much needed moral support and international attention.
According to Current Time, more than one hundred cultural figures have issued a public letter in support of Sentsov, calling the Kremlin's conviction of the Ukrainian filmmaker a miscarriage of justice. Sentsov was arrested in May 2014, following Russia's annexation of Crimea, and charged with plotting terrorist acts. He was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Russian court. In May of this year, he embarked upon a hunger strike that has drawn international attention to his plight.

The open letter, published in France's Le Monde newspaper, calls Sentsov's sentence "an encroachment on the freedom of thought and creativity" - something that is "a violation of international law and basic norms of justice." The letter further compares the treatment experienced by the writer to those of "dissidents under the communist regime," like Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

August 14:

Moscow is trying to deflect new sanctions - by pointing the finger of blame at the United States.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement claiming the country has fully eliminated its chemical arsenal in compliance with international obligations, and that the United States is now "the only participant in the Chemical Weapons Convention that has significant reserves of military-grade toxic substances." The new sanctions, which the U.S. plans to impose if Russia does not agree to inspections by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, are designed to punish the Kremlin for its role in the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England, that poisoned two Russian expats and claimed the life of a third victim.

The Russian ruble is buckling under the weight of U.S. sanctions and spillover from Turkey's debt crisis.
The Moscow Times reports that the ruble is now at a two-year low, with a valuation of 69.40 to the dollar. In response to the currency's depreciation, the Central Bank of Russia is weighing potential monetary policy interventions, and the Russian Ministry of Finance may use the situation as justification to abandon the use of the dollar in all transactions on the oil market. Reportedly, the proposed new tranche of U.S. sanctions set to take effect on August 22nd may further exacerbate investor nervousness. Nonetheless, the Ministry remains optimistic about the country's economic prospects, thanks to robust oil prices and a planned increase in production that underlies its forecast of a 1.5 to 2 percent budget surplus for the year.

August 15:

A new Russian satellite is drawing concern from Washington,
the Free Beacon reports. According to the paper, the "suspicious" equipment is believed by State Department officials to be "part of Moscow's plans to attack orbiting satellites in a future conflict." The behavior of the equipment - which has been described as a "space apparatus inspector" by U.S. officials - "was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities," Assistant Secretary of State for arms control, verification, and compliance Yleem Poblete told a recent session of the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

Moscow is moving toward a more active peacekeeping role in southern Syria as part of its expanding activities in that country.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the Russian military has confirmed its forces in Syria are actively collaborating with UN peacekeepers on the Syrian-Israeli border as a way of de-escalating the tense security situation between the two countries, which has been aggravated by the presence of Iranian military forces near Israel's north. "The Russian flag is the guarantor of peace and security on that land," one Russian general has said. "Operations by Russian military police help ensure the security of Israel."

August 16:

More details have emerged regarding July's closed-door meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin in Helsinki, Finland. According to an anonymous U.S. official
interviewed by Bloomberg, the meeting's main topic of discussion was the role Iran has played in the Syrian civil war. Reportedly, both leaders agreed that Iran should withdraw from the conflict, although Putin was more pessimistic about achieving that outcome. The official disclosed that there were few other points of agreement, but that the bilateral discussions also covered the military campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group, the future of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, North Korean disarmament, bilateral arms control issues, and an explicit request from Trump that Russia cease its political interference in the U.S. political system ahead of the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

Related Categories: Middle East; Russia; Democracy & Governance; Space Policy; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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