GAZPROM TO EUROPE'S RESCUE
Earlier this month, Russian natural gas giant GAZPROM announced plans to restock European gas storage facilities after weeks of skyrocketing energy prices on the continent. Moscow has been accused of purposely holding back supplies in order to pressure European countries into signing long-term contracts with Russian suppliers, as well as certifying its new Nord-Stream II pipeline. On its Telegram channel, GAZPROM laid out plans to provide gas to five European underground storage facilities, although it did not make clear which sites would receive the supplies or whether deliveries were already underway. (The Moscow Times, November 9, 2021)
NAVALNY ALLY BEHIND BARS
Liliya Chanysheva, an ally of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and a fellow democracy organizer, will be held in custody until early January on charges of establishing an extremist organization, Russian authorities have announced. If convicted, Chanysheva could face up to 10 years in prison. She is the first to be arrested in a new governmental crackdown on "extremism" that has largely focused on Navalny's network. Chanysheva was in charge of one of Navalny's campaigns in Ufa until such groups were branded as extremist by authorities. Her lawyer, Vladimir Voronin, has announced that his client intends to appeal the court decision. (Reuters, November 10, 2021)
PROSECUTORS DISMISS CASE AGAINST TORTURE WHISTLEBLOWER
The criminal case against whistleblower Sergei Savelyev has been dismissed. Savelyev, a former prison inmate, leaked footage in early October of abuse and torture at prisons in Saratov. He was able to obtain the footage through his job as an IT maintenance officer during his prison term, and the videos were subsequently published by the NGO Gulagu Net. After fleeing to France, Savelyev was charged in absentia for "illegal access to computer information" and placed on the Interior Ministry's wanted list. His actions, however, have spurred results. Since the videos were leaked, the head of Saratov's prison service, Anton Yefarkin, announced several firings and disciplinary actions against prison officials, including the opening of criminal cases. (The Moscow Times, November 10, 2021)
U.S.-UKRAINIAN TIES STRENGTHEN OVER RUSSIAN MILITARY CONCERNS
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed concerns over Russia's "unusual" military activity at the Ukrainian border. "Our concern is that Russia may make a serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook back in 2014," Blinken said. The size and scale of Russia's buildup has been particularly concerning due to the fact that it is Russia's off-season for military exercises, and other possible reasons for the buildup are unclear.
Blinken reiterated America's commitment to supporting Ukrainian independence at a recent meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. "The best way to deter [an] aggressive Russia is to make it clear for the Kremlin that Ukraine is strong," said Kuleba at the meeting. Kuleba also pointed out that diplomacy with Russia will be complicated by Moscow's recent foreign policy maneuvers, including its manipulation of Europe's current energy crisis, cyberattacks, and its strengthening relations with Belarus. (CNN, November 10, 2021)
A NEW RUSSIAN MISSILE SYSTEM ON THE WAY?
Russia's Defense Ministry has announced plans for a new version of its premier anti-missile system as part of its modernization of military capabilities. The S-550, described as a "high-mobility terminal air defense system," was under development in the 1980s, but its development was reportedly scrapped as a result of Soviet-U.S. arms control agreements. The system is said to be an enhancement of the S-500, the latest generation of Russia's premier anti-missile system, which is now replacing older versions (such as the S-300 and S-400) in service in the country's military. (The Moscow Times, November 10, 2021)
FRANCE FRETS OVER WAGNER'S POTENTIAL DEAL IN MALI
Russia has dismissed French concerns about a potential deal between Mali and Russia's Wagner Group, and signaled that it still plans to continue supplying Mali with arms. Sources have said that Mali's military junta is close to recruiting the Russian mercenary company, which is said to have previously carried out operations on the Kremlin's behalf in places like Ukraine, Libya, and Syria. The prospect of Wagner's involvement is a significant concern for France, which already has thousands of troops fighting in West Africa. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, has dismissed the French concerns, indicating that contracts "concluded with the legitimate governments of sovereign states" should not raise international worries. (Reuters, November 11, 2021)
Russia Reform Monitor No. 2498
GAZPROM TO EUROPE'S RESCUE