Russia Watch Team: Arnaud Huss, Nicolas Girard, Corentin Delon, Anastasia K., Erwann Leyral, led by Ilinka Léger and Enzo Padovan.
29/11/2022: Germany acknowledges that its involvement in the Nord Stream 2 project contributed to the outbreak of war in Ukraine – Arnaud Huss
On 29 November, Germany acknowledged its responsibility for the outbreak of war in Ukraine through its Minister of Justice, Marco Buschmann: “the decision to pursue Nord Stream 2 after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 was Germany’s contribution to the outbreak of war in Ukraine“. These words were reported by the American newspaper Politico, which points out that the Justice Minister’s position is in contrast to that of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who had labelled North Stream 2 “a private sector project“. Also in the framework of the NATO Security Conference in Berlin, on 30 November Germany and Norway joined forces to call for NATO intervention to protect the underwater infrastructure following the sabotage of Nord Stream 1 & 2 in September 2022 (Reuters, Euronews).
On 18 November, Sweden announced the results of its investigation into these incidents, confirming that they were deliberate sabotage and not a simple accident. The Reuters news agency reported the Swedish Prosecution Authority as saying: “The analyses that have been carried out show traces of explosives on several of the objects that have been recovered“. According to the study Climate damage caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, just under 100 million tonnes of C02 were emitted by the conflict. Leaking pipelines caused 15% of this environmental damage.
28/11/2022: The Pope’s declaration triggers emotion across Russia – Erwann Leyral
On 28 November, Pope Francis gave an interview to America magazine. In the interview, the head of the Catholic Church said that Russian troops from the Federation’s ethnic and religious minorities had a greater propensity for cruelty. He said that “in general the most cruel [were] those […] who were not of Russian tradition, like Chechens, Buryats and so on“. This statement provoked strong reactions within the Russian Federation. The Russian ambassador to the Vatican has filed a complaint, according to the Ria Novosti news agency. The spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, denounced on her Telegram channel an “absurd” speech, blaming “xenophobic, racist, nationalist or misanthropic connotations“. She also recalled the multi-ethnic and multi-religious aspect of Russia. The Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, on his Telegram channel, referred to the values defended by Muslims during the fighting, such as “honour, dignity and respect even for the enemy“. Finally, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a press conference on European security issues, said that this was an “incomprehensible statement that is not at all Christian“, and that this case does not help the credibility of the Holy See as a mediator.
29/11/2022: Wagner recruits inmates in the Central African Republic – Anastasia K.
On 29th November, the American news agency Daily Beast published an article about the recruitment of inmates by the Russian private military company Wagner. The latter is led by Evguenyi Prigozhin, a businessman close to the Kremlin. These “black Russians”, called like this by mercenaries, are in the majority sentenced for murders and rapes of woman or children, and are deployed to combat in Mali and Ukraine. The interviewed soldier said that CAR’s government allowed mercenaries to “act as they wish”. Moreover, according to the Middle East Eye, because of consequent losses suffered by the Russian army in Ukraine, the paramilitary group has already recruited men from organised criminal groups in Latin America, and Europe. These events show a break with the traditional recruitment of Wagner mercenaries, generally known for their solid military experience.
29/11/2022: Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are considering a tripartite project of union in the gas sector – Corentin Delon
The press officer of the Kazakh presidency, Ruslan Zheldibai, told Kazakh periodical Tengrinews that discussions were underway between the presidents of Kazakhstan and Russia: “it is about creating a ‘tripartite gas union’ consisting of Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in order to coordinate the transport of Russian gas through the territories of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan“. The meeting of the two heads of state took place during the visit of President Kassym Jomart Tokayev, the first abroad since his re-election on 20 November. The Kazakh president said that “Astana and Moscow have problems that require further coordination and even negotiations, especially in the gas sector“. The press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Peskov, told the media outlet Vedomosti that “as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan develop their economies quite rapidly, their internal gas needs are increasing. And besides, both countries trade on foreign markets […] this requires a certain synchronisation“.
According to the state news agency TASS, this initiative has yet to be discussed but seems attractive to the Kazakh president who said that “Kazakhstan is ready for this, but it is necessary to look into this subject further“. The Kazakh leader also indicated that “Vladimir Putin was planning to call the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev” in order to announce this project (without the information being made official by the Kremlin).
30/11/2022: Departure of Alexei Kudrin from the Accounts Chamber – Ilinka Léger
On 30 November, Alexei Kudrin stepped down from his position as Chairman of the Accounts Chamber (Счётная палата) of the Russian Federation, at the proposal of President Vladimir Putin. Having worked in the civil service for 25 years, Alexei Kudrin announced as early as 29 November on his Telegram channel that he wanted to “focus on major projects that involve the development of large-scale private initiatives”. Thus, even before his official resignation, many Russian media (Vedomosti, Interfax, Kommersant) stated that Alexeï Koudrine was destined to take over the head of the private company Yandex, which is currently undergoing restructuring. Arnaud Dubien, a researcher at the Observatory of Franco-Russian Relations in Moscow, emphasises the closeness of Alexei Kudrin and Vladimir Putin, who have known each other for many years. The researcher describes Alexei Kudrin as a “systemic liberal” and analyses his possible appointment as head of Yandex as a renewal of the latter’s influence in the Russian political system, while “harder” political lines have gained in importance since 24 February 2022. On the other hand, he believes that the Accounts Chamber could lose influence with the departure of its president.
01/12/2022: Russian law banning public discussions of army forces related topics comes into effect – Nicolas Girard
On 1st December, a Russian law banning public discussion on military and military technical areas came into effect. According to the Official Internet Portal of Legal Information of the Russian government, the law, which was voted on 17th November 2022, compiles a list made by the FSB (Russian intelligence agency) to prevent military information to be ”used against the security of the Russian Federation”, if there are received by foreign sources. According to the pro-government newspaper RiaNovosti, this law is a safeguard against the collection of non-classified information that could jeopardise State security. The Moscow Times, a english-speaking Russian media outlet, explains the risks linked with the absence of public discussions on military topics, such as mobilisation or troop deployment.
01/12/2022: Both Russia and the US are open to discussions, but not in the present moment – Enzo Padovan
On 1st December, Interfax, a Russian private news agency, reported on Serguey Lavrov’s declarations during a press conference in Moscow. The Kremlin’s Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that ties with Washington weren’t totally left out of the picture: “We said several times […] that we never leave contacts”. In addition, on the same day, President Joe Biden also held a press conference, during Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the US, where the Russian topic was discussed. “I am ready to talk to Putin if he really has an interest in finding a way to end the war. So far, I don’t see it”, he explained.
This statement proves that, despite a wish to remain open to discussion, there is a form of reluctance to initiate the peace talks, in the current moment. In a second article, Interfax reveals that Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, commented on the possibility of a dialogue with Washington. “Nothing is planned”, he announced, thus specifying that these discussions would not take place in the current year. On November 16, the Ukrainian government’s website published a news article on potential peace talks. Volodymyr Zelenskyy argued in favor of public negotiations, a wish he had already expressed during the G20 summit, in the same week.