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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2258

Burnishing Putin's cult of personality;
The Kremlin's contingency plan

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
October 8, 2018


September 3:

Can a state television show salvage Vladimir Putin's flagging ratings?
The Moscow Times writes that "Moscow. Kremlin. Putin," a new series that follows the Russian president through his daily routine, aired this week on prime-time television. The reverential footage of the show's first episode reportedly included homages to the president's humanity, fitness regime, and leadership. It also praised Putin's responsibility in tackling pension reform but dodged any mention of the country-wide protests the proposed reform has sparked.

September 4:

The specifics of Russia's largest military exercise in four decades are beginning to leak out.
According to TASS, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has unveiled new details regarding "Vostok-2018," which will take place from September 11-17 with the goal of enhancing operations in Russia's central and eastern military districts and surrounding seas. The exercise will involve 300,000 troops, 36,000 tanks and vehicles, over 1,000 aircraft, and up to 80 ships, as well as 3,500 Chinese officers from the People's Liberation Army. Shoigu confirmed that a further briefing for all foreign defense attaches in Moscow – including those from NATO countries – would be held at a later date.

Russian and Syrian forces are taking the offensive in northwestern Syria.
Reuters reports that Moscow and Damascus have launched a large scale aerial campaign against rebel forces in the stronghold city of Idlib, despite warnings from Washington and other western nations to stay their hand. The offensive comes just days before Russia, Iran and Turkey are slated to hold a tripartite summit to coordinate approaches to Syria, where the Assad regime (thanks to Russian and Iranian help) is strengthening its control anew and seeking to draw the country's seven-year-old civil war to a close.

September 5:

Prosecutors have taken a major step forward in the six-month investigation into the Skripal poisonings.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the British Crown Prosecution Service has formally charged Russian military intelligence officers Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov with the crimes of attempted murder and use of a chemical weapon for their alleged role in the attack. RFE/RL writes that the presentation of formal charges suggests sufficient evidence exists to realistically expect a conviction, and a senior British police officer has called it "the most significant moment so far in what has been one of the most complex and intensive investigations we have undertaken in counterterrorism policing."

In her statement on the charges, Prime Minister Theresa May reasserted that the Novichok operation was authorized at a senior level within the Russian state. However, the Kremlin continues to deny all involvement, and although a European warrant has been issued for the suspects' arrest, Britain has chosen not to apply for their extradition, since the Russian Constitution forbids extradition of Russian nationals.

The Kremlin is preparing for the possibility of still more Western sanctions.
RBC reports that Russia's National Security Council is soliciting proposals from various government agencies and private sector businesses about how the Putin administration could best "protect" the Russian economy from additional economic pressure. The solicitation is part of a "consolidated response plan" involving inputs from "the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Central Bank, Vnesheconombank, Rostec, [and] industry monopolies." Measures said to be under consideration by the Kremlin as a defense against future sanctions include "priority purchases of technologies that have not yet fallen under US sanctions," as well as an acceleration of the "development of projects in the field of road and transport infrastructure in order to ensure stable domestic demand for goods whose export may be affected by sanctions."

September 6:

British authorities are pinning the blame directly on Russian president Vladimir Putin for the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal earlier this year. Russia's president is “ultimately responsible” for the assault on Skripal, who was targeted by agents of the GRU with the nerve agent Novichok back in March, because he "controls, funds, and directs" Russia's military intelligence service, British Security Minister Ben Wallace has said in comments
carried by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "I don't think anyone can ever say that Mr. Putin isn't in control of his state," Wallace said. "And the GRU is, without doubt, not rogue."


Related Categories: Russia; Military; Humanitarian Issues; Human Rights; Russia and Eurasia Program

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