Russia Reform Monitor No. 2502

Related Categories: Democracy and Governance; Energy Security; Europe Military; Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues; International Economics and Trade; Resource Security; Arctic; Russia; Ukraine

In mid-December, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that Russia may be forced to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe if the West declines to join Russia in a moratorium on intermediate-range nuclear forces on the continent. The moratorium is one of several security guarantees that Russia has been seeking in exchange for de-escalating the increasingly tense situation on its common border with Ukraine. While intermediate-range nuclear forces were originally banned in Europe under a 1987 treaty signed by then-Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan, Washington withdrew from the pact in 2019, accusing Moscow of years of violations. Ryabkov noted that there have been "indirect indications" that NATO members are inching toward re-deploying their intermediate-range missiles. The Alliance has staunchly denied this, but has said that it will be ready to deter Russian missiles with a "measured" response. (Reuters, December 13, 2021)

Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would cast climate change as a threat to international peace and security. The first-of-its-kind resolution, led by Ireland and Niger, called for "incorporating information on the security implications of climate change" into the Security Council's strategic plan for managing conflict, peacekeeping, and political missions. "It's long overdue," said Irish Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason. However, Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia referred to the plan as a "ticking time bomb" that would turn "a scientific and economic issue into a politicized question." (Associated Press, December 13, 2021; The Hill, December 13, 2021)

On December 13th, a Moscow district court convicted Andrei Kovalchuk, Ali Abyanov, Vladimir Kalmykov, and Ishtimir Khudzhamov of buying cocaine and storing it at the Russian Embassy’s school in Buenos Aires, Argentina with the intent of transporting and selling the illegal narcotic in Europe. The four were initially arrested in 2018, when then-Argentinian Security Minister Patricia Bullrich acted on a tip from the Russian ambassador and FSB officers and found nearly 400 kilos of cocaine. Kovalchuk, the mastermind of the operation, functioned as a technical worker at the Russian Embassy in Argentina. (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 13, 2021)

According to a mid-December statement by the World Meteorological Organization, temperatures from June 2020 in the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk were officially the highest ever recorded in the region. "This new Arctic record is one of a series of observations reported to the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes that sound the alarm bells about our changing climate," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

The data highlights an alarming trend. The Arctic region is heating up some 2.5 times faster than the rest of the planet, and as a result the frequency of severe forest fires is increasing. Record-breaking wildfires raged through the Siberian and Arctic regions in 2021, and temperature records are being set across the country, from the republic of Chechnya to the republic of Sakha. (The Moscow Times, December 14, 2021)

European and British gas prices skyrocketed to record highs earlier this month, surpassing previous benchmarks set in October. The stark increase, a hike of almost 30% since the start of the month, reflects European concerns over a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, which could disrupt winter energy supplies for an already energy-stressed continent. Europe receives more than a third of its total natural gas supplies from Russian state gas giant GAZPROM via two pipelines, one of which runs through Ukraine. While Russian President Vladimir Putin's earlier promises to help boost supplies initially helped ease prices, the situation has since worsened, with storage facilities running low and cold weather increasing demand. (Financial Times, December 14, 2021)

Growing worries over the potential of military conflict with neighboring Russia have prompted Ukraine's government to focus on expanding the size of the nation's armed forces. A new Defense Ministry regulation that went into effect in mid-December has significantly expanded the pool of women eligible for military conscription. The new order requires Ukrainian women aged 18-60 who are deemed to be "fit for government service" and employed in a broad range of industries to register with the military. The directive is part of efforts by the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to create a large reserve of troops that could be mobilized in the event of renewed hostilities with Moscow. (, December 27, 2021)