Russia Geopolitical Watch – From January 22 to January 28, 2022

Russia  Geopolitical Watch Team: Lauren Lemaire-Hec, Manik Tadevosian, Ilinka Léger


01/22/2022: Russia rejects UK allegation that it is trying to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine. (Lauren Lemaire-Hec)

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Saturday 22 January that Moscow is seeking to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine. According to information from the British Foreign Office, some Ukrainian politicians, including Yevgeny Murayev, head of the “Nashi” political party, have links with Russian intelligence services. “Nashi” is seen as pro-Russia – something Murayev denied in a post on the social network Facebook: “The time for pro-Western and pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine is over forever.” The Kremlin quickly refuted the allegations as “disinformation.” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also called on the British Foreign Office to “stop its provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense.”

01/25/2022: Russia adds Navalny and his associates to Rosfinmonitoring’s list of terrorists and extremists. (Lauren Lemaire-Hec)

Political opponent Alexei Navalny was placed on Russia’s list of terrorists and extremists by the Russian Federal Service for Financial Monitoring (Rosfinmonitoring) on Tuesday 25 January. This comes a year after Navalny was arrested on his return from Germany, where he was treated for poisoning, for which he holds Vladimir Putin responsible. “Navalny’s team” said in a statement on the instant messaging app Telegram that the lawyers Lubov Sobol and Vyacheslav Gimadi, as well as Georgy Alburov and Ruslan Shaveddinov, have also been added to the list. Now, of the 22 people considered since 25 January as terrorists and extremists by the Rosfinmonitoring, 12 are activists linked to Navalny. The list contains more than 12,000 people convicted, among other things, under the articles on extremists and terrorists in the Russian Penal Code, under investigation, or on international lists of terrorist organisations recognised by Russia. This terrorist and extremist status results in a near total freeze on bank accounts, with no ability to earn a salary, spend more than 10,000 rubles per month, or repay loans.

01/25/2022: President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the mobilisation of US troops is raising tensions around Ukraine. (Lauren Lemaire-Hec)

After the Pentagon put 8,500 troops on alert, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on 25 January that US actions were “fuelling tensions” around Ukraine. The West accuses Russia of having deployed more than 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border with a view to an invasion. Moscow denies these accusations and having any intention of invading Ukraine. In addition, it has presented a list of security demands, including guarantees that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO and that the alliance’s forces will withdraw from the Eastern European countries that joined after the Cold War. These demands have been rejected by the US and NATO, which have asked Russia to withdraw its troops stationed on Ukraine’s borders. According to statements by Dmitry Peskov to journalists, “the US is escalating tensions.” He also added that Russia notes “these US actions with great concern.”

01/26/2021 : Russian Prosecutor General’s Office declares Polish WOT Foundation’s activities “undesirable”. (Lauren Lemaire-Hec)

The WOT Foundation became on Wednesday 26 January the 50th foreign non-governmental organisation whose activities have been deemed “undesirable” by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. The foundation organises conferences with the participation of politicians, intellectuals and journalists sharing liberal values. It even participated in the 2019 Boris Nemtsov Forum, where strategies against fear in Russia and abroad in various fields (economy, politics, art…) were discussed. The office stated on its website that “it has been established that its activities constitute a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation.” However, the organisation has still not been included in the Ministry of Justice’s list of “undesirable organisations”.

01/26/2022: Kremlin spokesman and diplomatic adviser Dmitry Kozak attended the Normandy format meeting on the Ukrainian conflict settlement. (Manik Tadevosian)

On 26 January, diplomatic advisers from each country (Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany) met in the Normandy format to try to find a solution to the crisis in the Donbass region. Coming after more than two years of deadlock and a series of inconclusive talks between Russians and Americans over the past week, the Normandy format has finally produced a draft consensus. According to the communiqué issued, Kiev and Moscow managed to agree on the need to maintain a ceasefire in the area, regardless of the differences over the Minsk Agreement. Thus, Dmitri Kozak, chief Russian negotiator in the Normandy format, said that the discussions were not easy, but “this is perhaps the first discussion that has made it possible to take stock of all the issues related to the implementation of the Minsk agreement and the settlement of the conflict“. If for France, this meeting had been envisaged as a test that allowed to see that the Russians were “willing to de-escalate on this issue“, many disagreements remain between the belligerents and will be at the heart of the next meeting planned, again under Franco-German mediation, in a fortnight in Berlin.

01/26/2022: Oleg Navalny, Alexei Navalny’s brother, is wanted by the Russian authorities. (Ilinka Léger)

On Wednesday 26 January, Oleg Navalny was put on the wanted list by the Russian Interior Ministry after a visit to his home by the police failed to find him there. He was given a one-year suspended prison sentence in August 2021 for calling on Russian citizens to demonstrate for the release of his brother, Alexei Navalny, who has been in prison since January 2021. The authorities had accused him of violating the norms put in place to curb the coronavirus pandemic, and are now accusing him of not having respected the conditions of his suspended sentence. The day before he was added to the wanted list, the prison administration applied to a Moscow court to have Navalny’s sentence changed to a prison term. The court announced that it would decide on 18 February.

01/28/2022: Telephone conversation between Macron and Putin, communication channels remain open. (Ilinka Léger)

On Friday 28 January Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin spoke by phone for more than an hour about the rising tensions around Ukraine. This was a long-awaited moment for the French head of state, who till then had been left out of the negotiations between Russia and the United States. The exchange focused on the written refusal of the United States and NATO to respond to Russia’s demands to stop the enlargement of NATO towards the East and in particular in Ukraine. The Russian President reiterated the need for direct contact with the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk as well as the need to establish a special legal status for the Donbass. For its part, the Presidency of the French Republic stated that “President Putin has not expressed any offensive intention (…). He said very clearly that he was not seeking confrontation”. After the meeting on 26 January of the advisers of the Heads of State and Government of the Normandy format in Paris, which led to a joint declaration on the situation in Ukraine, and this telephone exchange, France, which has just taken over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months, seems to want to seek a place as a mediator on the Ukrainian issue.

28/01/2022 : Russia delivers blood supplies and medical equipment to the Ukrainian border. (Ilinka Leger)

While the telephone conversation between French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a signal of appeasement on Friday 28 January, the same evening the UK news agency Reuters published exclusive information according to which Russia had sent blood supplies and emergency medical equipment to treat war injuries. According to US officials reported by Reuters, this information constitutes a concrete indicator of Russia’s intention to invade Ukraine.  At a Pentagon press conference, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said following the revelations: “While we don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has the capability.” On the same day, Lloyd Austin also spoke by phone with French Minister of Defence Florence Parly about the Ukrainian crisis and the North Atlantic Alliance.

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