Russia Monitor

Russia Suffers Major Setback in the Balkans

North Macedonia has officially become NATO's 30th member. With the new North Atlantic Alliance member in the Balkans, Russia has seen a blow delivered to its policy aimed at banning former Yugoslav republics from joining Western blocs. Though Russia used a wide range of methods –– from economic to intelligence ones –– it is unable to stop their friendly Orthodox states' march towards EU and NATO membership.


Nord Stream 2 Stuck in the Waiting Room

Though the Russia-to-Germany gas link was frozen after Washington had introduced a batch of sanctions, there is still a chance to complete it. Both Berlin and Moscow so far have invested many financial and political means to defend their joint undertaking. Perhaps, Russia will keep its promises and complete Nord Stream 2 on its own.


COVID-19 Disinformation: Russia Sends "Aid" to the US

A statement by the U.S. Department of State shows that what Russia sent to Washington was not "humanitarian aid." Moscow is looking to make a positive PR impression while undermining the effectiveness of Western efforts.


Russia's Gazprom Lost in Court Battle with Poland's PGNiG

Russian state-run gas giant saw yet another failure in a legal spat with a Central and Eastern European company. First, it lost a court battle with Ukraine's Naftogaz and now Poland's largest gas distributor PGNiG emerged victorious in its litigation with Gazprom. The Stockholm arbitration court said in a ruling that the price of gas in the Yamal Contract failed to reflect the price level on the market and was overstated. Thus, Russian gas giant Gazprom must pay about $1.5 billion in a pricing dispute case. Warsaw sees its latest victory as a vital sign that proves its years-long policy of reducing reliance on Russian-sourced gas. Poland is developing its Swinoujscie LNG terminal while planning to build a new facility in Gdansk. Also, efforts are currently underway to construct the Baltic Pipe, a gas pipeline that is expected to connect Poland with Norwegian gas fields. Thus, Poland will be able to scrap Russian gas flows when its deal with Gazprom expires by late 2022. Russian…


Kozak-Yermak Plan on Donbas: A Trap for Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is well aware of his dropping popularity ratings, is making efforts to reshuffle both the government and his presidential administration. For its part, the Kremlin is looking to take advantage of an increasingly severe crisis in Kyiv. Interestingly, those who are now Russia's top allies in Ukraine are both the leader of the country's biggest pro-Russian party and, quite unexpectedly, the head of the Ukrainian President's Office. On March 11, Andriy Yermak accepted a plan to establish an advisory board in Russian-occupied Donbas in a move that hints Kyiv's recognition of the zone's separatist authorities. A day before Viktor Medvedchuk suggested that the Normandy Format be broadened to include a parliamentary dimension. Zelensky is unable to take action as he needs to team up with Medvedchuk's party to hold critical votes in the parliament.


Russia's Coronavirus Cases Prompt Putin to Change Strategy

Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed that his country is no longer an exception amid the global coronavirus outbreak. Its closure of the border with China brought adequate, albeit short-term results, as most people affected with the novel virus came back from trips to Europe, in particular from popular tourist destinations like Italy or Spain. On March 25, Putin addressed the nation on the coronavirus outbreak in a televised speech in what became a turning point for the Kremlin's fight against the epidemic. It yet seems that Putin made a mistake when he announced a paid week off work for all instead of putting in place a set of restrictions like those launched earlier in other countries. As the Russians lack self-discipline mechanisms, there may be even more cases of coronavirus infections.


Russian Oil Tycoon Embroiled in War, Sechin Becomes Public Enemy No. 1

​Since March 6, the global oil market has seen an ongoing price war. And yet, Russia has witnessed a war going between CEO of Rosneft Igor Sechin and other oil firms that spoke against Russia's withdrawal from the OPEC+ pact. Massive losses amidst the declining oil prices have struck a blow to everyone, including the federal budget, but Rosneft can expect tax breaks and the Kremlin's backing, as it was the case in the past. Other companies like privately held Lukoil are now in a far worse position, though. Not surprisingly, the firm lambasted the Sechin-orchestrated decision to pull out of the OPEC+ deal. CEO of Rosneft is the most influential figure that exerts a tremendous impact on the country's oil policy. Since March 6, the global oil market has seen an ongoing price war. And yet, Russia has witnessed a war going between CEO of Rosneft Igor Sechin and other oil firms that spoke against Russia's withdrawal from the OPEC+ pact. Massive losses amidst the declining oil prices have…


Russia’s Rosneft Exits Venezuela, Sechin Reaps Double Benefit

Russian oil giant Rosneft sold its assets in Venezuela to the Russian government. The company would be receiving a settlement payment worth a 9.6 percent share of Rosneft's equity capital, or some $4 billion. This means a gift for Rosneft's shareholders in what may be a maneuver to dodge any U.S. sanctions –– all from the Russian taxpayer's pocket. Furthermore, the company's asset valuation is far higher than anyone could expect. Russian oil giant Rosneft sold its assets in Venezuela to the Russian government. The company would be receiving a settlement payment worth a 9.6 percent share of Rosneft's equity capital, or some $4 billion. This means a gift for Rosneft's shareholders in what may be a maneuver to dodge any U.S. sanctions –– all from the Russian taxpayer's pocket. Furthermore, the company's asset valuation is far higher than anyone could expect.


Coronavirus in Russia: Unbelievably Low Infection Figures and Belated Measures

Russian crisis management center said on March 22 the country will not impose strict quarantine measures amid the recent coronavirus outbreak. The latest decision came despite daily 30 percent growth in cases, which is like in Spain, Germany, or France. Still, there are no plans to cancel, postpone or restrict the spring call of citizens for military service. What matters most for Russian decision-makers is to maintain social peace and stability nationwide. Hence the reassuring declarations by the President and the Prime Minister who announced financial support for the affected industries and the gradual introduction of further measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Nevertheless, the real scale of the epidemic in Russia remains unknown. It is not just about tests that are far less effective than those conducted in Western countries –– Russia’s battle with coronavirus is weakened amidst the ongoing crisis in the country’s health service.


Putin Seeks to Stay in Power through Unlawful Constitutional Amendment

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in a rush to push forward changes to the country’s political system –– while not waiting for any adverse effects of the latest coronavirus outbreak nor the global oil price war. In mid-January, Putin unveiled a constitutional overhaul, which the parliament backed in March, whereas Russian people need to accept updates in a vote planned for April this year. Further changes bolster the president’s position while giving a hint that Putin will not take up a new job, but stay in the Kremlin Added to this is a mere fact that such manner of introducing an amendment is absolutely unlawful. The president’s shake-up of Russian politics shows that he does not care about legal procedures –– in a fully conscious mode. Putting the law aside, Putin made it clear that what really matters is what both him and his closest associates seek.


War or Peace? Erdogan Flies to Moscow for Syria Talks

When it became clear that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will head to Moscow, as Putin has no plan to visit Istanbul, and the Ankara-sought meeting will not involve German and French leaders, it seemed that the Kremlin had outfoxed Turkey. Erdogan was believed to be cast in the role of supplicant when arriving in Russia. The situation yet changed in less than forty-eight hours as Turkey declared a major offensive against the Syrian government on March 1 in a step that boosted Erdogan’s negotiating position. In the Kremlin, the Russian and Turkish leaders may hold what could turn into a conclusive meeting for war-ridden Syria. Turkey is probably ready to strike a deal provided that this helps Erdogan save face, while Ankara will not see any changes to Idlib province –– compared to what happened there before the offensive –– as humiliating. It is worth remembering that Putin is not as strong as it may seem, and with Turkey’s advancing any further into Idlib, the…


Russia Launches Syrian Express Operation as Turkey Attacks in Idlib

As earlier announced, Ankara pressed ahead with a military campaign in Syria’s Idlib province. In late February, there expired a deadline given by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad to withdraw from areas it had taken over after the offensive into Damascus. But what may present the main threat to Syrian regime forces are Turkish drones flying over Syrian air space. In turn, Russia has responded with its ostentatious deployment of warships from the Black Sea into Syria.


OPEC+ And Coronavirus: Russia and Saudi Arabia Divided Over Oil Supply Cuts

With the coronavirus fanning out across the globe, oil producers have also been at risk as countries, especially China, saw a massive drop in demand for crude, a tendency going hand in hand with plunging prices. Saudi Arabia is pushing to make a substantial cut in oil production under the OPEC+ pact. There are yet signs that Russia will resist to the Saudi plan. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that current oil prices are “acceptable” for Russia.


Russia Forms Anti-Turkish Coalition Over War in Syria

The spat in Russia-Turkey ties over the Idlib offensive may lead to a severe breakdown in cooperation between these two countries. As it stands now, it is yet difficult to determine whether Russia’s bid to revive ties with Turkey’s regional enemies –– Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates –– over the Syria issue is just a tactical move, an attempt to exert pressure on Ankara, or the first step towards Moscow’s renewed policy on Syria.


Russia Poses Greater Threat to Georgia

In its policy toward Georgia, Russia is seeking to prevent Tbilisi from forging a close alliance with the United States while blocking the Caucasian country’s bid for NATO membership. The Kremlin had the same goal back in 2008, while now being committed to using hybrid warfare methods and building up its military close to the country’s borders.


Russian Airstrikes on Idlib Target Schools and Hospitals

Russian warplanes have intensified airstrikes in Syria’s Idlib province, the last sizeable rebel-held region that the Bashar al-Assad regime is trying to retake. Within just two days in late February, at least 25 civilians perished due to Russian aerial attacks. Targets of Russian air forces included ten schools in a single day. Al-Assad’s long-standing ally, Moscow has waged a ruthless military campaign aimed at badly damaging hospitals and any health facilities where civilians can get medical aid.


Hydrocarbons Only to Be Transported Under the Russian Flag?

The Russian government has a plan to “nationalize” the country’s oil and gas sector, both in terms of mining activities and maritime shipping. As a result, Russian hydrocarbon producers might be obliged to use exclusively Russian-built vessels for carrying Arctic resources. An analogous prerequisite may pertain to mining platforms operating on the shelf. What threats this may pose for the entire energy industry has shown a similar monopoly, established for coastal shipping in the country’s Far North.


Russia Kicks Off Work On Egypt’s First Nuclear Power Plant

The Egyptian-Russian agreement on the construction of a nuclear power plant in Egypt is entering the implementation phase. All necessary construction permits are to be obtained by mid-2020. A tender for construction work on the first phase of the project has also been launched. The construction is to be financed mainly through a state loan granted by Russia, while technology is to be provided by Rosatom, a Russian state-run corporation specialising in nuclear energy.


Russia’s Economy Is Becoming Heavily Dependent on Hydrocarbons

Vladimir Putin has not taken advantage of the long years of the oil boom and huge state budget revenues from oil exports to reform the economy. Instead of diversifying and strengthening other industrial sectors, it turns out that in the years 2010-2018 Russia has become even more dependent on hydrocarbons.


German-Russian Company Signs Agreement on Energy Project in Egypt

On the occasion of the recent security conference in Munich and Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Germany, a meeting has been held between the head of Russian diplomacy and his German counterpart. Sergey Lavrov and Heiko Maas have also attended a working breakfast with representatives of German business. This further emphasises the increasingly closer economic cooperation between Russia and Germany. The most evident manifestation of it is the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. However, it also needs to be highlighted that there are other German-Russian projects in the field of energy that are underway.


Russia’s Lukoil Adds Mexico Oil Discovery to Its Portfolio

Lukoil’s investments in exploratory and production works in Mexico have started to bear fruits. Located in Block 10, the Saasken exploration area is believed to contain substantial oil deposits. The area is held jointly by Italy’s Eni, Britain’s Capricorn, and Russia’s Lukoil. This is yet another Mexico-based drilling project that attracted the Russian energy major. Vagit Alekperov, CEO of Lukoil, said at the Davos economic summit that his firm considered Western Africa and the Gulf of Mexico critical for its further advancements.


Russia’s Shoigu Visits Belgrade: Will Serbia Fall Afoul of the U.S.?

Serbia’s ties with Russia are the best in many decades, as evidenced by Sergei Shoigu’s recent trip to Belgrade in what was yet another visit of a senior Russian official to Serbia. On the meeting’s agenda might have been Serbia’s finalizing a deal to buy Russian-built Pantsir-S1 air defense systems. But Belgrade is pressing on to achieve the purchase despite the U.S. warning about sanctions. Moscow’s friendship with Serbia remained untarnished even in spite of a spying incident last autumn when Russia’s GRU military intelligence service recruited Serbian army officers as spies.


Attack in Donbass, Conference in Munich: Bad Signals for Ukraine

First, the 2020 Munich Security Conference brought no positive results for Kyiv, and then, soon after that, pro-Russian rebels launched an attack in the Donbass. Simply put, this is Russia’s way of demonstrating that the peace process resumed in autumn 2019 has been frozen again and will remain so for a long time. This is a problem for Volodymyr Zelensky, who has made reaching a peace agreement on the Donbass and putting an end to the actual armed conflict one of the most important points of his presidency. The recent events also confirm that the international situation – in particular, regarding the conflict in the Donbass and relations between Western Europe and Russia – is now changing, unfortunately, to the detriment of Ukraine.