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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2260

Rosgvardiya head calls out Navalny;
A glimpse into Russia's African inroads

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
October 10, 2018

September 11:

In a recent online video, the head of Russia's National Guard issued an ominous challenge to opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
According to the Guardian, Viktor Zolotov – a close friend and former bodyguard of President Vladimir Putin, who now runs the 350,000-member Rosgvardiya – posted a six-minute video to the service's YouTube channel in which he praises the "wonderful traditions" of Russia's dueling culture and demands that Navalny face him in a duel. "Nobody has ever given you the spanking you deserve," Zolotov threatens, promising "in several minutes to make a nice, juicy steak out of you." Zolotov's outburst was prompted by an investigation launched last month by Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation into allegations of fraud committed by Rosgvardiya's leadership. Since Navalny remains in jail on charges related to nationwide protests he led earlier this summer, the Guardian notes, he has been unable to comment.

Russia's massive Vostok-2018 military exercise has officially begun.
The BBC reports that Vostok-2018 involves even more troops than the Soviet Union's largest exercise, which was held in 1981. This iteration will allow the Russian military to drill large-scale rapid deployments of troops from the west to the country's far-flung eastern oblasts. In a sign of strengthening military cooperation, China has sent 3,500 troops to participate, and China's president, Xi Jinping, met with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the exercise's commencement.

The BBC highlights the complexity of the geopolitics surrounding the exercise: driven by a mutual desire to counter U.S. influence, Russia is increasingly turning to China in trade, energy, and defense while simultaneously pursuing massive military modernization amid a nadir in relations with the West. Indeed, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has asserted that the West's "aggressive and unfriendly attitudes" toward Russia justify the historic scope and scale of Vostok-2018, which Russian officials have on other occasions termed as "strategic maneuvers."

Russia is rapidly expanding its strategic influence in Africa, and the pace of its success has been remarkable,
writes London's Guardian. The British newspaper contends that the recent murder of three Russian journalists investigating the presence of Russian military contractors in the Central African Republic (CAR) drew real attention to Moscow's engagement for the first time. So far, this engagement has included training security forces and mediating talks between the government and Sudanese rebels in exchange for access to the country's mineral resources. However, Russia's reach into the continent goes much further than the CAR; in the last year alone, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov locked down military and economic cooperation arrangements with countries all over in eastern and southern Africa.

While the pace of Russia's diplomatic maneuvering has caught Western observers off guard, experts interviewed by the Guardian posit that three primary factors are driving the Kremlin's interest in the continent: the need to mitigate diplomatic isolation from European partners, a desire to leverage the Russian competitive advantage in arms sales, and the expansion of its influence through the kind of people-to-people networks once maintained by the Soviet Union. The Guardian cautions that significant security implications arise from massive Russian arms sales to governments whose democratic institutions may not be strong enough to prevent human rights abuses.

September 12:

A recent bizarre death threat issued by a Putin ally against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has triggered an equally bizarre response in the Russian Duma.
According to Mother Jones, a 53-page bill has been introduced in the lower house of Parliament that seeks to impose guidelines on when and how Russian civil servants should be permitted to "challenge citizens with dissenting viewpoints to a battle to the death." MBH Media, an online platform led by Putin enemy Mikhail Khodorkovsky, originally broke the story of the legislation and identified the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party as the author of its provisions.

September 13:

High-level diplomatic contacts continue between Russia and Israel over the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
The TASS News Agency reports that Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev has hosted his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, in Moscow. During their meeting, the two officials exchanged views on Syria, bilateral security cooperation, joint counterterrorism efforts, and the results of the most recent trilateral summit between Russia, Iran, and Turkey.

Related Categories: Africa; Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program

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