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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2256

Navalny gets shut out, again;
With an eye to the West, Russia gears up for mil. drills

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
October 2, 2018

August 27:

Anti-corruption crusader has been foiled by the Kremlin yet again.
Interfax reports that Russia's Justice Ministry has refused to register Navalny's political faction, dubbed "Russia of the Future." The Ministry cited administrative irregularities - such as missing documents - in thwarting the latest effort by Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation to formally establish a presence in Russian politics. Navalny's supporters have the ability to appeal the decision in court, and may re-submit the necessary documents for renewed consideration.

[EDITORS' NOTE: Despite the technicalities cited by the Justice Ministry, it is clear that the decision is political in nature - and designed to keep Navalny and his supporters from assuming an even higher profile in Russian politics than they maintain currently. This latest ruling mirrors a prior decision in 2014, when the Justice Ministry refused to recognize an earlier Navalny-led political faction, known as the "National Alliance."]

August 28:

In its long-running tug-of-war with Russia’s government, social media app Telegram appears to have blinked. After months of acrimonious back-and-forth, the messaging program has issued new terms of service allowing the company to disclose more information about its users - a core demand of the Kremlin.
Current Time reports that Telegram founder Pavel Durov has justified the step as a stricter approach to "terrorist suspects," and stressed that no additional disclosures have been made to the Russian government to date.

Telegram's decision has generated a slew of questions among observers. Among them,
notes news website Meduza, are who exactly Telegram considers "terrorists," as well as the extent of the disclosures the social messaging app is prepared to make to Russian authorities. These and other factors - like Telegram's failure to disclose changes to its policies in a timely fashion - have raised worries that the company could soon change its policies further to appease Kremlin demands, Meduza notes.

Russia is gearing up for massive military exercises, and the Kremlin says tensions with the West are to blame.
The BBC reports that the Russian military is just two weeks away from launching "Vostok 2018," a four-day exercise that will span the country's eastern oblasts and involve the largest number of troops (including contingents from China and Mongolia) since the Soviet Union's "Zapad-81" exercises nearly forty years ago. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed to "aggressive and unfriendly" international attitudes towards Russia as a justification for the exercise's massive scale, which will impose a significant financial burden on the sanctions-stricken Russian economy. NATO spokesman Dylan White told BBC that Vostok "fits a pattern we have seen over some time: a more assertive Russia significantly increasing its defence budget and military presence."

Moscow is expanding its military presence in Syria.
Defense News reports that the Russian military is in the process of deploying a new "flotilla" of at least ten warships to the Syrian coast - the largest single contingent to be dispatched by the Kremlin since Russia formally commenced its military campaign in support of the Assad regime in September 2015. The deployment "is led by the Northern Fleet's guided missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov, a large anti-submarine warfare ship called the Severomorsk, three of Russia’s newest frigates, one large patrol ship, three small missile boats and two Kilo-class submarines," Defense News reports. Many of the craft are said to be outfitted with advanced Kalibr cruise missiles.

The deployment is causing jitters in Brussels. "It is important that all actors in the region exercise restraint and refrain from worsening an already disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria," a spokesperson for the NATO alliance
told Israel's Ha’aretz newspaper in a formal statement.