Russia Geopolitical Watch – from 19 November to 25 November, 2022

Russia Watch Team: Ilinka Léger, Enzo Padovan, Arnaud Huss, Nicolas Girard, Corentin Delon, Anastasia K., Erwann Leyral

20/11/2022: Bombing near the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, both opposing parties blame each other – Erwann Leyral 

This Sunday, on 20 November, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported several explosions in the area near the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, in Ukraine. Bombardments occurred in the evening of the 19th and the morning of 20 November. In an interview on the French channel BFMTV, the general director of the agency, Rafael Grossi, declared that “the installation [had] been impacted” deploring an ” unsustainable” and “grave” situation. He also reminded the risk of a nuclear accident caused by such strikes, but without incriminating either Russia or Ukraine.

As the BBC states, “In war conditions, it is impossible to quickly verify the statements of the parties“. Indeed, the Russian Ministry of Defense, in a statement released hours before Rafael Grossi’s statement, accuses Ukrainian forces of firing large-caliber shells at the plant and perpetuating “provocations aimed at creating a human-induced threat of catastrophe at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.” Simultaneously, Energoatom, the national nuclear power company of Ukraine, on its official Telegram channel, reports “multiple Russian shelling“, calling such actions “nuclear blackmail“.

22/11/2022: Ukrainian government searches monastery in Kyiv suspected of being active in Russian intelligence Corentin Delon

On 22 November, the Ukrainian government searched a monastery located in the downtown area of Kyiv, called the Lavra of the Caves. The independent newspaper The Moscow Times reported that the Ukrainian security services (SBU) were carrying out “counter-espionage measures” against the monastery, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. Formerly under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian monastery cut all ties with the Russian church at the beginning of the “special military operation”. The SBU said on its telegram channel acting in order “to counter the subversive activities of Russian special services in Ukraine” and “perform checks on people (…) regarding their involvement in illegal activities to the detriment of the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state“.

The press service of the Moscow Patriarchate reacted quickly, denouncing an “act of intimidation” against Ukrainian believers and stating that “We pray for our fellow believers (…), who are becoming victims of lawlessness, and we call on all kind people to do everything possible to stop this persecution“. It should be recalled that the current Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias is Kirill, known to be a former member of the KGB close to the Russian power. In his homily of 6 March 2022, he declared that “Russia is not leading in Ukraine a physical but a metaphysical fight against the forces of evil“. The Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declared that “Ukraine has long been at war with the Russian Orthodox Church“.

22/11/2022: Russian President Vladimir Putin wishes to reinforce the ”Arctic Great Power” status of Russia Nicolas Girard 

On 22 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended via videoconference the  flag-raising ceremony of icebreaker ship Ural and the construction launching of the  Yakutia ship. According to the Kremlin official website, this ceremony is part of Project 22220, which aims at building and putting into service ”the largest and most powerful icebreakers in the world”. The Kremlin also stated that these ships will ensure year-round navigation in the Arctic, enabling Russia to gain ”Arctic great power” status.

With global warming and ice melting in the North Pole, the Arctic region is at the center of geopolitical, economical and strategic challenges. Russia, Norway, Greenland (Denmark) and Canada challenge each other over this region, due to the potential natural resources of its subsoil, as well as the possible maritime routes. Russia, like the other countries of the region, wishes to play a major role and establish its authority in this area.

22/11/2022: Two Russo-Swedish citizens, suspected of espionage, were arrested in Stockholm – Enzo Padovan 

On 22 November, the Säkerhetspolisen (the Swedish Security Service, which has a role similar to the British MI5 or the American FBI) arrested two Russo-Swedish citizens, in Stockholm. On their website, the Security Service detailed their charges as follows: “One of the individuals arrested is suspected of gross illegal intelligence activities against Sweden […]. The other is suspected of helping and abetting”. The Dagens Nyheter newspaper, one of the most popular tabloids in Sweden, revealed additional information. In an article published on the same day, it was explained that the spying events took place between January 2013 and our current days. Moreover, the apprehension of the two suspects benefited from the local police’s support, as well as the army’s.

According to Meduza, an independent Russian-speaking media outlet, both individuals are a couple born in Russia, Sergeï Skvortsov and Elena Kulkova, respectively aged 59 and 58. They settled in Sweden in 1997, and received Swedish nationality a few years after. Specialized in computer science and technologies, the couple is suspected of industrial spying on the behalf of Russia. Interestingly, a few weeks prior, two Iranian-born brothers were brought before the Swedish justice system. Euronews indicates that the two men are accused of aggravated espionage for the Kremlin, as well as having ties with Russian intelligence agencies, including the GRU. They both risk a life sentence in prison.

23/11/2022: The European Union qualifies Russia as “state sponsor of terrorism” – Anastasia K.

After an appeal from NATO’s Parliamentary assembly to “declare … Russia as author of acts of terror” following many missile strikes on Ukrainian civil infrastructures, the European Parliament voted a resolution (494 in favour, 58 against, 44 abstentions) on 23 November. The resolution qualifies Russia as “state sponsor of terrorism” which “uses means of terrorism”. In reality, these strikes are considered “deliberate”, and represent “serious violations of international and humanitarian law”. However, this resolution would only be a symbolic and political act, as the European legal framework do not allow so far to officially designate states sponsor of terrorism.

For this reason, several requests of the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to recognise Russia as “terrorist state” aim in particular the US. Since the American legislation already provides this status, it allows for sanctions in the field of defence. For example, shipping of arms and dual-use products can be targeted. The final goal of this status could be the prevention and the condamnation of nations who do business with “state sponsor of terrorism”. At last, in the evening, the European Parliament’s website was targeted by a denial of service attack, claimed by a “pro-Kremlin” group Killnet, according to the vice president of the European parliament,  Eva Kaili.

23/11/2022: Kremlin gives credit to CSTO operations in 2022 Nicolas Girard 

On 23 November, the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) held a summit in Yerevan, Armenia. During this meeting, the leaders of the treaty’s member states, such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan (Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia have left the organization) gathered. According to the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin gave credit to the peacekeeping operation of the CSTO, which happened in Kazakhstan in January 2022. The majority of the troops deployed were Russians and Vladimir Putin underlined the ”efficiency of the measures [combat preparation, command system improvement and military training], which has also been confirmed through the peacekeeping operation of the CSTO in Kazakhstan”. Additionally, Vladimir Putin acknowledged the mediation role that the CTSO played for the conflict resolution, notably between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Finally, the Russian president mentioned the risks associated with the situation in Afghanistan, which is a bordering country to Tajikistan, a member state of the Organization.

24/11/22: The meeting between the president of Russia Vladimir Poutine and his counterpart, the prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan – Arnaud Huss

On 24 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met on the sidelines of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation summit in Yerevan, according to the Armenpress agency and the Russian Federation’s Foreign Ministry. The Armenian Prime Minister reviewed the meeting: “We held a session of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO. Of course, we did not reach consensus on all the issues, but the majority, 15 out of 17, was adopted”. He also mentioned the bilateral relations between Russia and Armenia, particularly in the economic field. The Prime Minister declared “I noticed that Armenia’s exports to the Russian Federation have increased by 80% (…), this creates opportunities for economic cooperation” and, before mentioning security in the South Caucasus region.

Then, the Russian President spoke and made the same observations as his Armenian counterpart. However, he gave some different figures on the economic exchanges between the two states: “Revenue increased by 12% last year, and by 67% in the first nine months of 2022”.


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