Russia Monthly Digest: United Russia’s Support Is Dwindling and a School Shooter Kills 21 in Crimea5 min read
– 5th of October – After the expulsion of two Russian spies from the Netherlands in September, analysts are warning that the Kremlin and Putin will not relax their spying techniques. The spies were arrested and extradited to Russia after attempting to hack the computers at a Swiss laboratory analysing the Novichok samples after the Salisbury poisoning. It was hoped that by exposing the plots of the GRU (Russia’s military intelligence) that their endeavours would be reigned in by Putin. However, this is unlikely, as Putin said that espionage was one of “the most important professions in the world… nobody has shut it down before and nobody can shut it down now either”.
– 14th of October – Fiercely vocal Kremlin and Putin critic Alexei Navalny was released after three weeks in jail for organising illegal anti-Kremlin protests. This is the second time Navalny has been arrested on similar charges, which came in the wake of a decline in Putin’s popularity after he announced reforms in the national pension plans, raising retirement age for women from 55 to 60 and men from 60 to 65.
Valentin Konovalov. Source: RFE/RL
– Alongside this in Khakassia, Siberia, The Communist Party’s Valentin Konovalov was supposed to become the area’s youngest governor after his surprise win in first-round elections held there this month. However, the vote was cancelled altogether after a panic by United Russia. The popularity of the leading party is 31 percent, the lowest it has ever been. This was the first election cancelled since the 1990s. The young communist who cites Vladimir Lenin as his main inspiration called the act “absurd” and accused United Russia of trying to keep power “illegally”.
– 17th of October – The Ecuadorian embassy attempted to remove Wikileaks founder and long-term London embassy resident Julian Assange to Russia, newly released documents revealed. The attempt was stopped by the United Kingdom, who vetoed Assange’s diplomatic status which effectively blocked him from taking up residence in Russia. This story follows up from a Guardian investigation into Assange’s status in the embassy, which discovered that Ecuadorian authorities had attempted to move him to Moscow in late-December last year.
– 19th of October – Putin has had strong words on nuclear war this month: “an aggressor should know that vengeance is inevitable, that he will be annihilated… we will go to heaven as martyrs, and they will just drop dead. They will not even have time to repent for this.” This comes on the heels of Donald Trump saying that the US may withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), initially signed between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in 1987, as Russia was violating the pact. The Kremlin has warned of retaliatory measures if the US does withdraw. John Bolton, the National Security Advisor to the UK, has paid a visit to Moscow amid fears of a renewed arms race. The UK has given support to the withdrawal, with UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson saying that the UK is “resolutely behind” the US – “Russia must get its house in order and respect the treaty obligation that it signed” he continued.
Later on, Trump announced that the US will withdraw from the treaty. Trump and Putin are to meet in Paris at the end of November to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, where there will no-doubt be discussions around nuclear arms.
Furthermore, this is not the first time Donald Trump has been in hot water regarding Russia this month. If the Democrats win the congress elections in November they have vowed to reopen investigations in the 2016 elections, specifically regarding Trump and Russian involvement. The investigation was closed in April by Republicans stating that there was “no evidence” of collusion between Trump and Russia, however Democrats still believe that Russian officials possess influence over the US president with potential personal blackmail material and collusion in money-laundering schemes within Trump properties by Russian Oligarchs. This investigation also involves the aforementioned Assange, who allegedly was handed leaked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign by the Russians.
– 19th of October – An 18-year-old gunman named by Russian authorities as Vladislav Roslyakov shot and killed twenty-one people (including himself) at a college in Kerch, Crimea – dozens more were injured. Vladimir Putin called the events “tragic” and held a moment of silence for the victims before attending an official ceremony with the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Sochi. So far, there has been no clear motivation for the killings, and a level of confusion around the initial call has hindered the investigation – the shots and explosions were initially reported as a gas leak.
– 22nd of October – Putin issued a new degree for economic sanctions against Ukraine after “unfriendly actions” by the country. Relations with Ukraine have deteriorated since the 2014 invasion of Crimea by Russian forces, prompting Putin to extend an embargo on Ukrainian food imports to Russia until 2019. The degree can be reversed if Ukraine agrees to remove sanctions against Russia.
A memorial at the Solovky Stone in Moscow, commemorating the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror. Source: RFE/RL
– 23d of October – Memorial, a non-governmental human rights organisation, was re-granted permission to hold their annual commemoration of victims of Stalin’s terror at the Solovky Stone, erected in 1990 to honour victims of political suppression in the USSR. Their permission to hold the event was withdrawn by officials citing “construction work”, but was returned amid backlash from the NGO. The international branch of Memorial has been designated as a foreign agent by Russia’s Justice Ministry. Earlier this month a state sponsored poll was released, revealing that almost half of Russian youths are unaware of the Stalin-era purges, despite many of them having lost relatives in The Great Terror.