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Russia Geopolitical Watch – From January 15 to January 21, 2022

01/15/2022: Russia is accused of instigating cyber attacks on Ukrainian government sites and systems

Microsoft said on 15 January that dozens of Ukrainian computer networks, including government agency networks, have been targeted by cyberattacks aimed at sabotaging them. The attacks follow initial attacks the previous day on several portals of Ukrainian government websites, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On Sunday 16 January, Ukraine said in a statement that it had evidence of Russian guilt in the attacks, although Microsoft said it could not yet identify the perpetrators. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refuted the accusations, before adding “We are almost used to Ukrainians blaming Russia for everything, even the bad weather in their country.” In response to the attacks, Ukraine and NATO signed a memorandum on technological cooperation on 17 January that should allow them to continue projects started in 2015, partly relating to strengthening the military command system. The United States has said it will apply new sanctions to Russia if the attacks prove to be its doing.

01/19/2022 : The Russian Ministry of Defence announces the end of the withdrawal of troops stationed in Kazakhstan under the CSTO     

The withdrawal of the contingents had started on 13 January and was declared completed on 19 January, after the departure of 4 Russian aircraft from Nursultan and Almaty. According to the press release of the Russian Ministry of Defence: “All peacekeepers, military equipment and weapons of the CSTO Collective Peacekeeping Forces contingent, which carried out tasks of protection of facilities of social importance in the Republic of Kazakhstan, have returned home.” On 2 January 2022, protests had broken out in Kazakhstan over rising gas prices and quickly turned into a challenge to the ruling power. At the request of President Kassim-Jomart Tokayev, a multilateral intervention force of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) was deployed to Kazakhstan on 6 January to carry out a peacekeeping mission. Of the 2030 troops deployed by Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, most were sent by Russia.

01/20/2022 : The United States seriously consider a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia is responding with a joint military exercise with Belarus    

In order to pre-empt the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, the United States on 20 January gave Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia the green light to send US-made weapons to Ukraine. Russia deployed 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border at the beginning of December, which led to a resurgence of tension in the area. The bilateral and multilateral negotiations involving Russia, the United States, NATO and the OSCE, which took place from 10 to 13 January, did not produce the hoped-for de-escalation. On Friday 14 January, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that according to US intelligence, Russia “has pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct what we call a false-flag operation, an operation designed to look like an attack on them or Russian speaking people in Ukraine as an excuse to go in!“. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that the UK has already begun delivering anti-tank weapons, but Germany said arms deliveries would only inflame tensions. Maria Zakharova, Director of Information and Press of the Russian MFA, said on Thursday 20 January that Russia and Belarus would not remain without reaction to the strengthening of military capabilities along their borders (Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania). She recalled that the joint military exercise “Allied Determination – 2022”, for which Russia has started to move troops to Belarus, would be held from 10 to 20 February 2022.

01/20/2022 : Accusations of corruption against judges who dissolved the NGO Memorial

The independent news website The Insider published an article on 20 January 2022 accusing Supreme Court Judge Alla Nazarova and Moscow City Court Judge Mikhail Kazakov of being corrupt. They are respectively behind the dismantling of the NGO Memorial International and its Human Rights Centre (HRC) Memorial, which were announced on 28 and 29 December 2021. Memorial is accused of failing to comply with the obligations that fall under its status of “foreign agent”, to which the NGO had been subject since 2016. The Insider’s article elaborates on the links of these two judges with lawyers and Silovniki close to the government or people involved in criminal cases. The two judges did not wish to use their right of reply and these accusations add to the outrage of Russian activists and their supporters abroad. The European Court of Human Rights has asked Russia to suspend its decision pending the ECHR’s decision on the complaint against the “foreign agent” status filed by 11 Russian associations, including Memorial. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted to the ECHR’s request by stating that it undermined the independence of the Russian judicial system. The NGO Memorial has indicated that it will appeal the decision of the Russian courts.

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