RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – January 3, 2022

Today in Russia: Predicting the future of Russian foreign policy; Nuclear weapons pledge signed by Russia and four others; Vladislav Klyushin: How much does he know and what has he told US prosecutors?; Ukrainian theater director arrested in Italy at Moscow’s request; Russia-China Arctic energy cooperation; On Russia-China borderlands

Say no to nuclear. Russia along with China, France, the UK and the United States pledged in an unusual joint statement that they pledge to prevent the spread of atomic weapons ahead of a review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The statement declared, “We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented…A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Looking to 2022. The Moscow Times spoke with commentators and experts about their predictions for Russian foreign policy in 2022.

The key takeaways: Russia will stay in the global headlines, its embrace of Belarus will grow ever-stronger, albeit in an ‘uneasy’ fashion, Russia-China relations will deepen, Russia will seek to keep the Middle East “stable in its instability,” de-escalation between Russia and Ukraine remains possible (and peace in its own right would constitute a ‘victory in itself’), and we may see cooperation between Russia and the West in just one place where interests converge: The Arctic.

Spilling the crown jewels. Russian IT executive Vladislav Klyushin, who was charged just before Christmas with insider trading on hacked corporate earnings information and extradited from Switzerland to the United States on December 18, may be a treasure trove of intelligence for the United States.

Bloomberg reported (and Russian media has picked up) that “Klyushin was not only an accused insider trader, but a Kremlin insider. He ran an information technology company that works with the Russian government’s top echelons. Just 18 months earlier, Klyushin received a medal of honor from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. had, in its custody, the highest-level Kremlin insider handed to U.S. law enforcement in recent memory.

According to Bloomberg sources, “Klyushin has access to documents relating to a Russian campaign to hack Democratic Party servers during the 2016 U.S. election. These documents, they say, establish the hacking was led by a team in Russia’s GRU military intelligence that U.S. cybersecurity companies have dubbed “Fancy Bear” or APT28. Such a cache would provide the U.S. for the first time with detailed documentary evidence of the alleged Russian efforts to influence the election, according to these people.”

Then they came after the…theater directors? Yevgeny Lavrenchuk, a Ukrainian national and theater director who worked in Russia for many years until leaving in 2014 was the subject of a Russian extradition request to Italian authorities. He was formerly the Chief Director of the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater. The reasons for Lavrenchuk’s detention are not immediately clear, but a new Facebook page called Free Eugene Lavrenchuk declared that he was being detained for unspecified financial crimes eight years ago in Russia.

Friends in the Arctic. Speaking of Arctic cooperation, Russia and China are increasingly in lockstep up north. Carnegie Moscow wrote that China has become Russia’s “main foreign partner” on LNG projects in the Arctic. The reasons are structural, strategic, and many.

For China, the world’s largest LNG market, securing gas reserves is an essential economic and foreign policy objective, and Chinese companies and the state have been “unfazed” by Western sanctions imposed on Russia and its energy industry.

For Russia, having the world’s longest coastline in the Arctic where many of its resources lie, “it is no surprise that Russia considers the economic development of the Far North to be a strategic priority for the twenty-first century. Yet this endeavor is costly and infrastructurally complex, and Russia lacks the financial and technological resources to go it alone, which has forced the country to turn instead to foreign investors.”

On Russia-China borderlands. The authors of a new book looking at the Russia-China borderlands and the lack of attention both countries have devoted to it despite their increasingly close ties spoke to The Wire China about their findings.

On the Russian psyche relating to the Far East:

“On the one hand, it was a place of exploration, of riches, of renewal. There’s a similarity between the idea of the “far east” in the imagination of Russia, and that of the far west in the United States, for example, when Russians moved east looking for fur and gold and these kinds of things. It was a space that was imagined as holding, in a way, the future of Russia

At the same time it’s a place that is geographically difficult to access, with a very harsh climate. It’s difficult to build roads, because of the permafrost. It’s not a place like California, so if you look at the parallel between the U.S. and Russia, it’s a different kind of land. And so it has been an interesting juncture between something that represents the future of the country, with very valuable places that countries like China might also be interested in having.”

From the Chinese side of the border, it was for a long time sparesely populated, only recently becoming more populated – the opposite phenomena to that happening on the Russian side.

It’s not just the harsh weather and the far-flung location that makes the Russia-China border unique:

“It’s a border that’s very different from any other borders. Normally, a border would be a space where you would have overlaps in terms of culture and linguistics. If you think of a place like the U.S.-Mexico border, which is very fraught and not exactly a line that’s easy to cross: Yet there are still a lot of Spanish speakers on the U.S. side, there’s a lot of Spanish culture.

There is nothing like that on the Russia-China border, because it was sparsely populated, then it was closed, and then people moved close to it. So you have this really hard line between the two sides, which makes it really, really interesting for us as anthropologists.”

PHOTO: Novatek’s Yamal LNG facility at the Port of Sabetta has received large investments from Chinese state energy firms CNPN and CNOOC (Novatek).