It was only during one day (October 11) that three heads of Russian regions (Kursk Region, Zabaykalsky Krai and Republic of Bashkortostan) handed in their resignations. In two cases, the Kremlin decided to replace the incumbent with younger politicians who were supposed to achieve much better election result. For instance, governor of the Zabaykalsky Krai stepped down only after two years of office, thus paying dearly for weak results of the United Russia ruling party in the September regional elections as well as her own worsening popularity rates. Since the end of September, a total of nine governors officially decided to dismiss.
The shore artillery of the Baltic Fleet will aim to significantly increase its range of fire while the naval aviation has been already reinforced following the introduction of upgraded helicopters designed to fight submarines. In addition, thanks to the newly modernized Chkalovsky Airport, this military facility will be able to receive all types of heavy aircraft. Recent decision of Russia’s army command made it possible to boost its combat potential in the Kaliningrad Region in such a powerful way. Nonetheless, all aforementioned steps may eventually translate into an increase in the military threat to neighbouring NATO member states, including Poland and Lithuania, as well as to allied ships in the Baltic Sea.
According to the autumn tradition, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin dismisses some governors while appointing new ones. Nonetheless, this year’s reshuffles appear particularly important due to the fact that recent regional elections have clearly depicted problems of many of the Kremlin-backed nominees. It was only lately that President Putin dismissed the incumbents in such regions as Astrakhan, Kurgan, Lipetsk, Primorye as well as governors of the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria and St. Petersburg. Much attention should be paid to recent changes in Astrakhan, as the region’s new governor is Putin’s former bodyguard. And this is not the first such case.
The management of Russia’s top oil company has approved the firm’s development strategy until 2030. Tatneft seeks to increase its overall oil production by one third; moreover, if possible, the concern aims to double its capitalization, provided that oil prices remain at their hitherto high level. Analysts have already paid attention to the fact that the Tatarstan-controlled corporation has intention to achieve its goals by increasing the efficiency of already existing assets, instead of carrying out aggressive expansion strategy.
Bearing in mind Putin’s long-lasting attachment to correct diplomatic relations with Israel, especially in the context of the war in Syria, one should be surprised by Moscow’s furious attack targeted at the Jewish State as Russia had blamed the Israeli air force for downing a Russian reconnaissance aircraft. There are many arguments proving that the Kremlin succumbed to the pressure from opponents of Russian-Israeli partnership, with particular regard to military cooperation between the two countries. Having dispatched an advanced S-300 air defense system in Syria, Russia may no longer take Israel’s standpoint into account, which could put an end to hope expressed by some politicians in Washington and Jerusalem, who expect Putin to reduce Iran’s military presence in Syria.
In an article published only a few days ago, we referred to the inept attempt of vote-rigging that could be perceived in terms of a genuine catastrophe for Putin’s regime. The Kremlin-backed incumbent governor has undeniably failed even despite of the fact that right before the voting, he had been met with President Putin, which constituted an unarguable proof for his strong support. Russia’s President reacted quite rapidly.
Following the Kremlin’s recent loss in the second round of regional voting, the state regime needs to face yet another bad news. According to the latest polls, Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has seemingly deteriorated whereas the political activity of Russia’s Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has been rather positively assessed by the Russians. Such results are mainly due to the fact that Putin’s image has recently suffered some important blows while Medvedev has been set aside, which appeared quite beneficial for him. Thus, it should be expected that the Kremlin would make Prime Minister a potential “victim” of citizens’ dissatisfaction. The poll was conducted by the Levada Center.
The second round of a regional election appeared to be disastrous for the image of Putin’s regime; in two cases, United Russia’s governors were beaten by their political opponents. In one of Russia’s regions, the hitherto governor was forced to withdraw while the ballot is supposed to be held once again some time later. But the biggest scandal erupted in Russia’s Primorsky Region whose local election commission announced the minimal victory of the incumbent governor; nonetheless, the election fraud, additionally fuelled by opposition protests, seemed blatant enough to make a decision to re-run the voting.
Oil prices have recently gone up, which raised some concerns in the United States; however, President Trump’s appeal to most petroleum producers has not brought any effect yet. During a joint summit of OPEC and a few other important oil producers, including Russia, it was decided not to change current level of extraction. Nevertheless, the upcoming sanctions against Iran’s oil exports will constitute yet another factor that will eventually exert pressure on further increases in prices. Judging by Moscow’s hitherto statements, it should be expected that the country would boost its oil production closer to November.
Russia’s only ally in the Western Balkans is Serbia, and – more specifically – the Serbs. It was only a few years ago that a list of Moscow’s friends contained even Montenegro and Macedonia; nonetheless, due to aggressive Russian policy, including the attempted putsch in Montenegro and a special operation in Macedonia, these countries had no longer intention to maintain their cooperation with Russia, which ultimately pushed them towards NATO and the European Union. Thus, the Serbs remain conflicted with almost all their neighbours. The Belgrade-Moscow alliance is getting stronger while the Russians have recently been trying to divide the federal state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
U.S. Energy Secretary’s trip to Europe as well as final outcomes of his visit to Moscow have recently confirmed America’s hard stance on Russia’s energy expansion. Rick Perry has reiterated that the U.S. state authorities would impose sanctions on the Russian project for building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is unlike to improve energy relations between the two countries. A similar conclusion can be drawn from Trump’s behaviour during a joint press conference with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda.
Recent leaks about the activity of Russian mercenaries in the Middle East and Africa appeared to be more and more frequent and harmful to Moscow, which finally prompted Putin’s regime to make an attempt to put a gag on mouths of all those who had already mentioned the topic in their publications. So Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed a decree and the document was formulated in such general and imprecise terms that under present regulations, it is now possible to prosecute any person who would potentially reveal some information on the personal details of people linked to Russia’s intelligence services. Nonetheless, it does not come as a surprise that the main reason for introducing such change was the willingness to block any discussions about mercenaries, including those belonging to the infamous Wagner Group.
Sanctions that are hitting the Russian economy are more damaging to the national currency than the present activities of the largest companies, especially those that produce oil. If one combines this with Russia’s beneficial agreement with OPEC, it turns out that the largest oil companies in Russia may get a lot of financial satisfaction. Due to the fact that oil is sold abroad in dollars, it simply means that the weaker the rouble, the greater the profit. In this situation, losing the position of the world’s leader in oil production by Russia to the USA seems to be only a matter of prestige. However, it appears that the Kremlin is far more bothered by the ranking loss than the heads of Rosneft or Surgutneftegas.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering the transfer of 100 percent of Chechenneftekhimprom to Chechnya. The handover marks the end to a long-term battle between two powerful political players – Ramzan Kadyrov and Igor Sechin – who had been fighting for the control over the Chechen oil sector. Thus, the struggle has been won by the leader of the Chechen republic while Rosneft’s CEO has considered his failure to be both prestigious and political, rather than economic one. In fact, the Chechen assets have no major importance for the activity of Russia’s oil giant.
The USA has won with Russia again. This time it is not about politics, but rather the sphere of the economy. To be more precise, the oil industry. According to the latest data from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), the United States has surpassed Russia as the world’s leader in oil production. First, the USA surpassed Saudi Arabia and now also Russia. To make matters worse, the American export of “black gold” is also growing, which may affect the price of oil on the global market and threaten the Russian-Saudi alliance on the control of oil production.
The Russian energy company has suffered two defeats in two courts in just one day. First, the EU General Court ruled that the sanctions on Gazprom, Rosneft and several Russian banks were rightfully imposed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Second, the Swedish Court of Appeal rejected the temporary suspension of the implementation of the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal ruling, according to which Gazprom should pay Ukraine’s Naftogaz over 2.5 billion dollars for breaking a transit contract.
After the official takeover of the government by Denis Pushilin in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, steps have been taken to eliminate “Zakharchenko’s group”. Some of his people have already managed to go to Russia, others have to accept the new order. The elimination of independence of several armed formations in Donetsk is also connected with a change of the Kremlin’s policy towards the occupied Donbass. Due to the fact that there seems to be no chance of a reasonably quick resolution of the Donbass problem, especially in Russia’s favour, the new policy simply means the rearrangement of matters in the “war republic”.
United Russia and the governor candidates appointed by the Kremlin continue to dominate and win. However, the regional elections held on September 9 show that there is a slight decline in the popularity of the ruling party. It is quite obvious that the main reason behind this change is massive social disapproval resulting from the extension of the retirement age, which was symbolised by numerous street protests and arrests on the day of the elections all over Russia. The main beneficiary of certain problems of United Russia is not the actual opposition, but the parties of the so-called systemic opposition, which in the first place consist of the Communists and in the second place of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR).
The Prime Minister of Russia-backed breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, Gennady Gagulia, died in a car accident in the region. Abkhazia is among the republics whose independence has been officially recognized by Russia while Syria was the last country to acknowledge the region’s separatist aspirations. And both Abkhazia’s President Raul Khajimba and Prime Minister Gennady Gagulia were en route to their home republic after their first official visit to Damascus. The event appeared particularly significant as only a few days earlier, Alexander Zakharchenko, a leader of another self-proclaimed “state” – Donetsk People’s Republic – was killed in a blast, there immediately sparked some speculations that Moscow had begun purges in Russian-controlled separatist republics. Interestingly, both Donetsk and Abkhazia remain under control of Vladislav Surkov: President Putin’s aide formally serves as the Kremlin’s curator to the Russian-occupied regions of Donbas, Abkhazia, and
Moscow has recently threatened Minsk with limiting Russian oil supplies while the Belarusian authorities are able to buy raw material on preferential terms, process it in their own refineries as well as to export – as revenues of this market constitute one of the most important sources of funding to the state budget. But the Russians argue that the current mechanism cannot be profitable from an economic point of view; moreover, maintaining the existing state of matters may be a consequence of changes in the taxation of the oil sector in Russia. Nonetheless, it may be noticed that Moscow’s recent announcement correspond to a series of decisions that cooled the diplomatic relations between both countries – as evidenced by appointing Mikhail Babich new ambassador of Russia to Belarus – against the will of President Lukashenko. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that the Kremlin is already tired by his regime and has intention of introducing some changes to Belarus’s political…
The Estonian authorities have recently announced that they had arrested two people suspected of spying for Russia. The detainees – father and son, Russians with Estonian passports – worked for the GRU, Russia's main military intelligence agency. Such is yet another case of revealing Russian spying activity by the Estonian counterintelligence services; however, it is the first time that an army officer has been arrested and accused of state treason. And the fact that it was possible to disclose some information seems to confirm that any personal contacts – also from the period of the Soviet occupation – may be dangerous from the state's point of view. Thanks to them, the Russian services manage to recruit their agents, even after many years.
Russia’s concern confirmed in its latest quarterly reported that the court had imposed arrest on its shares in yet another company in a further European country. It is all about the Netherlands-based operator of the Blue Stream gas pipeline. Such is the result of legal actions undertaken by Ukraine’s Naftogaz as the company seeks to seize a debt from the Russian company, according to the Stockholm ruling.
Vladimir Putin’s recent decision constitutes yet another example of special treatment given to a state-owned oil giant Rosneft. The President has signed a bill that will make it possible to Sechin’s company to handle its dollar profits and invest money outside the country. Of course, the legal act did not specify the firm’s name; nonetheless, the regulations were adopted in such a way that would concern exclusively one entity. And any steps that act to the benefit of Sechin’s enterprise may appear unfavorable to Russia’s economy as well as the country’s citizens.