Russia Geopolitical Watch – From January 29 to February 4, 2022

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

01/29/2022: Possible new arrival of Russian mercenaries affiliated with the private company Wagner in Mali. – Manik Tadevosian –

While Russian mercenaries affiliated with the private company Wagner have been deployed for more than a month in Mali, a Tupolev Tu-154M of the Russian Air Force landed at Bamako airport on January 29, 2022, according to information from Flightradar24. On board, about thirty Russian mercenaries were present. If on Christmas Eve they were estimated at only 40 individuals, today between 350 and 400 paramilitaries have been finally deployed to Mali. These arrivals took place in the context of the evacuation by French forces of military bases located in northern Mali (Kidal, Tessalit, Timbuktu) from October 2021. This deployment of Russian soldiers under the uniform of the military company Wagner has been extremely criticized by France. Thus, Jean-Yves Le Drian said about the Wagner group that “they are former Russian soldiers, armed by Russia and accompanied by Russian logistics. In the Central African Republic, they went to engage in predation by exchanging the security of the authorities for the right to exploit mining resources with impunity”.

01/30/2022: Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev says he does not want war. – Lauren Lemaire-Hec –

As tensions rise over Ukraine, the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, spoke out on Sunday 30 January 2022. He said: “We don’t want war and we don’t need it at all.” He also added that accusations of an alleged Russian threat to Ukraine are “complete nonsense.” Earlier, on 29 January, Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Andrei Kelin argued that the Ukrainian problem can be solved “through diplomacy” and “through negotiations.” Furthermore, Russia rejects any involvement in the escalation of tensions and says it wants “respectful and equal” relations with Washington, but “does not want to remain in a position where (its) security is regularly violated” as Russian diplomatic chief Sergei Lavrov expressed it on 30 January.

01/31/2022: French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk by phone about the Ukrainian crisis. – Lauren Lemaire-Hec –

Three days after their last telephone call, the French and Russian presidents spoke by phone on Monday 31 January. The Kremlin press service reported that the two heads of state discussed the situation around Ukraine as well as Moscow’s “security guarantees.” The call follows conversations Emmanuel Macron had recently with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts, falling “within the same logic of de-escalation.” Vladimir Putin also stressed the importance of implementing the Minsk agreements. According to the Elysée, the two presidents also welcomed “positive progress in the Normandy format.” They also discussed the possibility of meeting in person.

01/31/2022 : Vladimir Putin said that the main Russian concerns have been “ignored” by the West. – Manik Tadevosian –

On February 1, 2022, at a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Vladimir Putin publicly stated, “We are analyzing the responses received from the United States and NATO…but it is already clear that Russia’s fundamental concerns have been ignored.” The main Russian demands at issue have not changed since the end of the Cold War and are constantly updated.  Moscow demands an end to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastward expansion, a commitment not to deploy offensive weapons near Russia’s borders, and the withdrawal of the alliance’s military positions in the Eastern European countries that have joined NATO since 1997. By rejecting Russia’s demands to the alliance, the United States is undermining Russia’s desire to maintain control over the post-Soviet space that it considers as “near abroad”. However, a window for dialogue remains open, “I hope that in the end we will find a solution, even if it is not easy” said Vladimir Putin at the conference.

02/01/2022: Roskomnadzor is urging some Russian media outlets to remove articles about investigations led by Alexei Navalny and his team. – Lauren Lemaire-Hec –

The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) on Tuesday 1 February asked certain media outlets to remove content about Alexei Navalny that have been published between 2017 and 2021. At least nine media outlets claimed to have received such notifications (Dozhd, Meduza, Znak, Echo of Moscow, Svobodnye Novosti, The Village, Bumaga, YamalPro, The Moscow Times). In its notifications, the Roskomnadzor justifies this request for deletion by the Law on Combating Terrorist Activities of 25 July 2002. This comes shortly after Alexei Navalny was listed as a “terrorist and extremist” on 25 January 2022. Media outlets that received this notification were forced to delete their articles reporting on anti-corruption investigations of the opponent Alexei Navalny. The Roskomnadzor pointed out that failure to delete illegal information leads to administrative liability in the form of fines for legal entities in the amount of 3 to 8 million rubles. Some media outlets, such as Meduza or Znak, even claimed to have given in “under the threat of its site being blocked in Russia.”

02/01/2022: The Yangulbayev family, opponents of Ramzan Kadyrov, victims of a violent repression campaign by the Chechen authorities. – Ilinka Léger –

On 20 January 2022, Saidi Yangulbayev and his wife Zarema were arrested by Chechen police at their home in Nizhny Novgorod. Saidi Yangulayev claimed immunity as a former judge of the Supreme Court of Chechnya, but his wife was arrested. On 21 January, she spoke on television from Grozny, assuring that everything was fine, and was then taken into custody. The official reason for the arrest is that the Yangulbayev parents are witnesses in a fraud case. However, all three sons of the Yangulayev family are known opponents of Ramzan Kadyrov, President of the Chechen Republic. All three are in exile in Europe and were joined by their father and sister following the arrest of their mother. On 1 February, Chechen Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov posted a video on his Instagram page calling for the beheading of members of the Yangulbayev family, and those who translated his video from Chechen into Russian. The next day, according to pro-Kadyrov Chechen media, over 400,000 people gathered in Grozny to demonstrate against the Yangulayev family and burned their portraits. Despite the ban on the demonstration, the police did not intervene and political figures close to Ramzan Kadyrov spoke out. On his Telegram channel on 23 January, the President of Chechnya had said that some members of the Yangulayev family “call for terrorism and extremism”, before calling journalist Elena Milashina of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta and Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee against Torture, “terrorists”. On 4 February, the editorial staff of Novaya Gazeta announced that Milashina had fled Russia.

02/02/2022: Russia is preparing to request the extradition of former Antipinsky oil refinery CEO Gennady Lisovichenko, arrested in Italy. – Lauren Lemaire-Hec –

Gennady Lisovichenko, a former private executive in Russia’s petrochemical sector, was arrested in Italy on Wednesday 2 February 2022, on an international arrest warrant issued by the Russian judiciary. The former general manager of the Antipinsky JSC oil refinery (Russia’s largest independent refinery, ranked 43rd in terms of revenue among the country’s 200 largest private companies in 2016, according to Forbes) had been placed on the international wanted list in 2019 on suspicion of abuse of power, fraud and embezzlement. The man is accused of entering into a contract for the sale of goods “contrary to the legitimate interests” of the plant, which caused damage to the company amounting to more than 35 million rubles. Andrey Ivanov, a representative of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, said that “the supervisory authorities are currently preparing a request for the extradition of Gennady Lisovichenko for criminal prosecution.”

02/04/2022: Emmanuel Macron announces an official visit to Moscow, then to Kiev on 7 and 8 February. – Ilinka Léger –

The Presidency of the French Republic announced on 4 February 2022 that Emmanuel Macron would travel to Moscow on Monday 7 February for talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. This visit follows three recent telephone conversations between the two presidents, which focused on the Ukrainian crisis. The Elysee said that Emmanuel Macron had held talks with France’s European partners and with the American president, Joe Biden. The French president’s trip to Moscow is intended to be a vector of appeasement, while on 2 February, the Pentagon announced the deployment of 3,000 additional American troops in Germany, Poland and Romania to support the troops deployed in the framework of NATO. The French President will then be received on Tuesday 8 February in Kiev by the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky.

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