Russia Geopolitical Watch – from October 29 to November 4, 2022

Russia Watch Team: Ilinka Léger, Enzo Padovan, Arnaud Huss, Nicolas Girard, Corentin Delon, Olga Shevchuk

10/31/2022: New Zealand sanctions Russian arms producers and pro-Moscow groups – Enzo Padovan

On October 31, Nanaia Mahuta, New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced new sanctions against numerous entities affiliated to the Russian government. The Minister furthers details, on its website, the reasons behind its decision to sanction 14 individuals and 7 organizations. “Russia’s illegal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine and its continued acts of aggression are enabled by its extensive military-industrial network, which is made up of a large web of protagonists”, Nanania Mahuta explained. Amongst the concerned entities, two media outlets (InfoRos and NewsFront) are listed, the latter being based in occupied Crimea. Both of those outlets have strong ties with Vladimir Putin’s government. Paramilitary groups, related to the Wagner group PMC, are also included in the sanctions, designated as “neo-Nazis” by New Zealand’s government. Finally, Russian missile producers are concerned by the measures.

According to Meduza News, an independent Russian-speaking newspaper, the sanctioned groups will not be able to travel on New Zealand’s territory, and their assets are frozen in this country. Novaya Gazeta Europe, a media outlet in exile opposed to the Kremlin, specifies that Wellington has already supported similar measures in the past. As an example, on October 11, the country introduced restrictions on numerous Russian industries, similar to the UE’s own decisions, which continue to weaken the Kremlin’s economy.

11/01/2022: UN adopts a Russian draft resolution against arms race in outer space – Nicolas Girard

On November 1st, the First Committee of the UN General Assembly on disarmament and international security adopted a Russian draft resolution on ”Further Practical Measures for the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space”. According to the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, this resolution aims to pacify space and avoid its utilization for conflicts between Nations : ”Some States and their allies continue with an arms deployment policy in space, […] and use outer space for combat operations”. As a reminder, the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies adopted in 1967 by the majority of the world does not elaborate on the utilization of outer space for military exercises. As early as 2008, China and Russia had proposed a draft treaty on “the non-deployment of weapons in space and the non-use of force against cosmic objects” within the framework of the annual conference on disarmament, which had been rejected, notably by the United States. The resolution adopted on November 1 is expected to be considered by the entire UN General Assembly in December 2022.

11/01/2022: Russia’s officials announce end of partial mobilisation in Russia, but don’t publish any Ukase – Arnaud Huss

On 1 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed the end of the mobilisation, despite the absence of a Ukase to officially end the recruitment: “It is over, the end point is set“. As a reminder, this mobilisation was announced by a presidential decree from Vladimir Putin on 21 September. According to the Russian newspaper Vedomosti, the Russian Ministry of Defence declared on 28 October, through the voice of Sergei Shoigu, that the mobilisation was over. The Russian government television channel Tvzvezda also relayed the words of the Ministry of Defence, reporting that the partial mobilisation had enabled the recruitment of no less than 318,000 reservists in Russia and that “the number of volunteers is not decreasing“. According to the Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, 82,000 of the last people mobilised have already been sent to Ukraine. The rest of the mobilised people are being trained in military training camps. According to Tvzveda, each mobilised Russian reservist receives a monthly salary of 195,000 roubles.

However, according to the Russian media Mediazona and the French newspaper Le Monde, the mobilisation did not affect 300,000 men, as announced by the decree, but 492,000 men. In fact, in October 2022, various regional and foreign press media reportedly noted a significant increase in the number of marriages, such as in the Republic of Buryatia, and based their figures on the number of mobilised men on these last-minute marriages. Russian law allows the spouse of a married couple to receive pensions in the event of death or disability.

11/02/2022: Resumption of rail traffic between Russia and North Korea – Corentin Delon

On November 2, the press service of the Far Eastern Railway reported the official resumption of rail traffic between Russia and North Korea, interrupted by the Covid-19 epidemic since January 2020. Relayed by the Russian media Interfax, this news reaffirms the close economic and cultural relationship between the two nations. Indeed, North Korea is historically a large importer of Russian horses (Orlov trotters) which have a considerable weight on the culture and political communication of the regime (figure of the mythical Chollima, white horse, Chollima movement…). The Far Eastern Railway’s press release of 2 November informed us that “the first train made up of three special wagons sent 30 thoroughbred horses to the DPRK“.

In the context of a rapprochement between the two countries, the South Korean newspaper Daily NK speculated that North Korea would import wheat and gas in exchange for support for Russian manoeuvres in Ukraine. This assumption is largely based on the fact that North Korea recognised the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent and sovereign states under international law in July. Far Eastern Railway also said in its statement that “the next shipment is planned to provide medicines in containers” without however giving further details or dates.

11/02/2022: Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry issues a statement on nuclear war – Nicolas Girard

On November 2nd, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement on its website on the prevention of nuclear war. This article asserts that ”Russia is strictly and systematically guided by the assumption of inadmissibility of nuclear war”. However, this message is also warning the other four official nuclear powers against ”the dangerous attempts to impinge on vital interests of one another, swinging at the edge of a direct armed conflict”. This official statement from Russian authorities echoes President Putin 355 Ukase of June 2nd 2020 renewing the Russian nuclear doctrine. Indeed, the statement recalls that Russia does not wish to use its nuclear force, but in case of danger or attack, it could use it. Moreover, this statement from the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry occurs only a few days after Russia opposed a Japanese resolution of the First Commission of the UN General Assembly on ”building a common road map towards a world without nuclear weapons”.

11/03/2022: The IAEA hasn’t found any trace of “dirty bombs” preparation in Ukraine – Enzo Padovan

On November 3, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) published the results of its investigation about the accusations of “dirty bombs”, in Ukraine. According to the Svoboda media outlet, this designation is used to describe an explosive device, associated with a radioactive isotope. Thus, whenever the explosive is detonated, the radioactive products will spill into the environment. On October 23, Sergei Shoigu, Russian Minister of Defense, had expressed accusations against Kyiv about this type of weapons. In the meantime, the IAEA opened a file about those allegations, going to the three sites suspected of harboring these bombs’ production. Rafael Mariano Grossi, the Agency’s director, commented the results using those words: “Our technical and scientific evaluation of the results we have so far did not show any sign of undeclared nuclear activities and materials at these three locations”.

Nonetheless, the Agency’s scientists have gathered samples on these three sites, which will be examined in the next few weeks. This investigation was opened right at the direct demand of Ukraine, who approved the results when they were published. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed himself on Twitter with those words: “Russia has confirmed its status of the world’s top liar”. According to the independent newspaper Meduza, on November 3rd’s evening, Moscow hadn’t commented on the IAEA’s reports.

11/03/2022: The UN Human Rights Committee calls on Russia to revise a number of laws – Olga Shevchuk

On 3 November, the UN Human Rights Committee published a document containing the concluding observations on the last year of monitoring human rights in Russia. The document notes numerous violations by Russia of fundamental rights such as the right to life, liberty, protection against torture and freedom from discrimination. Of particular concern to the experts is the armed conflict in Ukraine: “excessive use of force, killings, extrajudicial and summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detentions, forced conscription of civilians, mass displacement of population“.

The document also refers to a draft law banning “LGBT propaganda” and calls for its adoption to be abandoned. In doing so, the Committee highlighted the institutionalised stigmatisation of LGBT people in Russia, “including through the 2013 law ‘On Propaganda of Non-Traditional Sexual Relationships between Minors’ and its amendment approved in first reading by Parliament to prohibit the ‘denial of family values’ and the ‘promotion of non-traditional sexual orientations’ at all ages.”

The statement calls, among other things, for an immediate end to the harassment of journalists, activists, lawyers and human rights defenders, to investigate cases of violence, attempts to discredit them and attempts to kill them.

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South Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from October 29 to November 4, 2022