Tuesday, March 27, 2018
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Boris Johnson, Labour MP Compare World Cup to 1936 Olympics

At a March 21 Commons Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson agreed with Labour MP Ian Austin's comment that Putin would use the World Cup "the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics." 

Johnson replied that "the comparison with 1936 is certainly right," adding that it was to him an "emetic prospect to think of Putin glorying in this sporting event." Though Johnson cited concerns about fan safety, he did not support a boycott of the event.

Russia Ambassador to the U.K. Alexander Yakovenko characterized Johnson's statement as "totally irresponsible," stating that "Nobody has the right to insult the Russian people, who defeated Nazism and lost more than 25 million people, by comparing our country to Nazi Germany."

The World Cup is set to take place in Moscow this coming summer.

*From now on, look for the Weekly Russia Brief on Tuesdays*

ANALYSIS: Marc Santora interviews Slovak protesters and analysts from both the pre- and post-Velvet Revolution generations (The New York Times)

A reevaluation of the "New Cold War" label in light of post-Skripal expulsions (The New York Times)

An analysis of possible unintended repercussions if the U.K. decides to ban RT (openDemocracy

An examination of prospects for "behind the throne" governance by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. (Eurasianet)

After the Provisional Government forced him to abdicate, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were placed under house arrest in the Alexander Palace. They were executed by firing squad the following year. Read more>>>
Russian Politics

Putin Wins Presidential Election

On March 18th, incumbent President  of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin was reelected to serve another six-year term.

Putin received over 75% of the vote in a race that featured eight candidates. Opposition groups sent out observers nationwide to monitor voting procedures. Turnout was estimated at 67%, slightly below the initially sought-after 70%. Governmental campaigns to boost turnout included prize drawings and other contests.

According to Russia's constitution, Putin cannot run in the next presidential elections. 

DIPLOMATIC CORPS: Russia ordered the expulsion of 23 British diplomats on March 17. The measure was taken in retaliation for the U.K's expulsion of the same number of Russian diplomats and cutting off of high-level contacts after former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned in Salisbury.

British Council, a British cultural organization in Russia, was also shuttered, and the permissions for the U.K. Consulate General in St. Petersburg were revoked.

The EU ambassador to Russia was also recalled from Moscow later that week.

CYBER: The Supreme Court overturned Telegram's suit to invalidate the FSB decree requiring the messenger service to turn over the de-encryption keys for its users' messages. According to the new ruling, Telegram will have to surrender the keys to the domestic security agency within 15 days or risk being blocked in the Russian Federation altogether. 

View from Washington

U.S. Expels 60 Russian Citizens

On March 26, administration officials announced the expulsion of 60 Russian nationals, twelve of whom were identified as Russian intelligence officers stationed at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The remaining nationals were envoys at the Russian Embassy in Washington. The Russian consulate in Seattle was also shuttered by the order.

White House officials further stated that the measures would “make the United States safer by reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security.”

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since been drafting a series of possible retaliatory measures in reaction to what they term a "provocative gesture," and one Russian Senator suggested there would be a tit-for-tat response.

WHITE HOUSE: President Donald Trump called Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 20 to congratulate him on his reelection. According to Kremlin accounts, which were later confirmed by the White House, the two leaders discussed arms control, Syria, North Korea, and Ukraine.

A possible future meeting between Putin and Trump was also discussed during the phone call, though no concrete dates were set. Republican Senators John McCain and Mitch McConnell denounced the Russian election results as as falsified, expressing disapproval for Trump's congratulatory call.

Eastern Europe and Eurasia

Slovakia Protests Continue Despite Fico's Resignation

In the third round of mass protests following the slaying of journalist Jan Kuciak, tens of thousands of Slovak citizens took to the streets on March 17 to demand the ouster of the entire current government as well as new elections.

The latest demonstrations occurred a day after Prime Minister Robert Fico resigned from his post, leaving the task of forming a government to his deputy and fellow Smer party member, Peter Pellegrini.

President Andrej Kiska named a new government on Thursday, with Pelligrini at its helm. The decision was executed without holding new elections.

MOLDOVA:  Mass protests in Chisinau on Sunday called for the unification of Moldova with Romania. The demonstrations, termed the "Centennial March," marked the 100th anniversary of Bessarabia's incorporation into the kingdom of Romania. Police reported turnout at 7,000, while organizers estimated the number of demonstrators at more than 100,000.
In other news, Moldovan authorities announced on March 20 that the country's ambassador to Russia would return to Moscow. The announcement came several months after Ambassador Andrei Negutsa was recalled to Chisinau following alleged mistreatment of Moldovan officials by Russian authorities. 

Negutsa's recall occurred after a series of bilateral diplomatic expulsions last year.

UKRAINE: Well-known Rada Deputy and former helicopter pilot Nadiya Savchenko has been stripped of immunity and arrested after announcing plans to attack the parliament. Chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko has accused her of plotting to obtain weapons from separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine.

In other news, two days prior to the Russian presidential election, Ukrainian authorities announced that only Russian diplomats in Ukraine would be permitted to vote at Russian diplomatic institutions on March 18. Ukrainian police guarded the Russian Embassy in Kyiv and consulates elsewhere as Ukrainian groups protested outside these diplomatic missions.
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