Mali requested military assistance from the Wagner group.
How not to “observe” Russian elections.
US arrests CFO of Russian Natual Gas Group Novatek.
Top US military official says the US should explore ways to increase military contact with Russia.
Kremlin’s Current Narrative – post-election protests and alleged foreign interference.
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Policy & Research News
Russian military influence into Mali
A few days ago, Mali requested military assistance from the private Russian military group “Wagner” to help with the conflict within the country. Mali PM Choguel Kokalla Maiga most recently accused France of “abandoning Mali,” given its recent unilateral troop withdrawals from the region, and looks to foster cooperation with other political entities. Mali’s army-dominated government seeks to hire 1,000 Wagner paramilitaries in order to aid the regime. Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the Russian private contractors have every right to be in Mali, given that they were invited.
Western states and institutions like the EU have criticized Mali’s request, stating that the nature and intent of Russian involvement are questionable. Russia has been trying to expand political influence into Mali for a while now, given the country’s complex political situation and abundance of natural resources. Russia’s deal gains an influential foothold in an area of the world it has had little presence over historically.
The military group has employed the Kremlins’s hybrid political strategy through its Russian military presence across various geopolitical locations. In Africa’s case, this has most recently been seen in the Central African Republic. Wagner itself has been labelled a “radar coercive tool” rather than a private security force. Although Russia will not be directly involved if the plan goes through, there are many security questions on how they plan to exert their influence in the region.
How not to “observe” Russian elections
In the past few days, five French MEPs and other minor politicians from EU states sugar-coated the recent parliamentary elections in Russia, asserting they were free and fair. The MEPs included several French and German far-right deputies, including some more individuals coming from Russia-friendly institutions. Russia invited these individuals as “experts” and not observers in order for them to avoid the potential of receiving any sanctions from the European Parliament. It has been challenging to identify any culprits, given the absence of a public list of these individuals.
The events became exceptionally provocative given the counter-evidence found in the elections. On September 27, The Russian Attorney General’s Office declared the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations “undesirable” in Russia. Other observers noted that the election was not transparent, so the European parliament never sent a formal organization to observe the election. The positive comments from those specific MEPs have also come in direct contrast to the experiences of Russian participants. The Communist Party of Russia protested and denounced the results of the elections noting instances of voter fraud through electronic voting and the imprisonment of Putin’s political critic Alexei Navalny.
US arrests CFO of Russian Natural Gas Group Novatek
Last Thursday, the US Department of Justice arrested Mark Gyetvay, CFO of Russian natural gas group Novatek for alleged tax evasion relating to tens of millions of dollars in offshore accounts. Gyetvay allegedly tried to defraud the US by hiding ownership and control of offshore assets valued at more than $93 million and for failing to pay taxes on his income.
Novatek, Russia’s largest independent natural gas producer, has enjoyed huge growth in the 2000s, due in part to the company’s high-profile Russian connections. Novatek is associated with Russian billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, the top shareholder and Gennady Timchenko, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Gyetvay, American by birth, was granted a Russian passport by Putin in 2019 while working at Novatek, a move that suggests the Kremlin was helping Gyetvay around US sanction restrictions against Russia.
United States law requires citizens to pay taxes on worldwide income, even if they earn their money outside the US or spend most of their time outside of the country.
Following the arrest, Gyetvay has been released on an $80 million bond to Florida court. He tweeted yesterday that he intends to “vigorously” fight the charges laid. A spokesperson from the Kremlin also confirmed that they were prepared to provide legal assistance to him but cannot intervene in the matter as it is a US internal tax issue.
Top US military official says the US should explore ways to increase military contact with Russia
Top U.S. military officer, Army General Mark Milley said the United States should explore expanding military contacts with Russia to reduce the risk of future conflict and to increase trust between the nations.
Milley and his Russian counterpart, Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov met in Helsinki last Wednesday reportedly to discuss areas of “mutual interest” including reducing risk in military activities.
Military contacts between the USA and Russia are limited to “senior leaders” like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley said. He explained that allowing the formation of stronger relationships with their Russian counterparts and allowing observers at exercises are worth exploring.
In the same meeting, Milley reportedly discussed with Gerasimov an offer to use Russian military bases in Central Asia to monitor and respond to threats from neighbouring Afghanistan. The Kremlin did not comment on the matter.
The US is seeking basing agreements, increased intelligence-sharing and overflight rights with nations close to Afghanistan including Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. It wants to maintain a closer geographical presence in case of potential terrorist threats from a reconstituted al-Qaeda or ISIL affiliates. Russia however has a strong influence in East Asia and opposes US presence in these nations.
So far, the US has relied on the Al Udeid airbase in Qatar, which was the base for emergency evacuations from Kabul last month. The concern for the government is that the long distance from the base to Afghanistan poses operational issues for pilots.
Kremlin’s Current Narrative
Post-election protests and propaganda
The day after the election to the State Duma, the Communist Party (KPRF) organised 200-400 protestors in Moscow against the online voting employed in recent federal elections. In response, Russia’s federal censor sent them a notice warning that its website could be blocked over an announcement about an upcoming protest. Police visits and arrests were also made against participants, showing the narrative of street protests being a red line that mustn’t be crossed.
In a meeting on the 25th of September with leaders of Russian political parties and regional leaders, Putin stated that the elections were open, strictly conducted according to the law and well-attended. He further stated that the presence of more than four parties for the first time since 1999 is a show of Russia’s democratic election procedures and the potential for parties to express their ideas. He also disregarded the KRPF’s concerns on electronic voting. RT reported that Putin’s comment that certain questions about electronic voting in Moscow were caused not by doubts about its quality, but by the fact that “someone did not like the result.”
Sanctions and foreign interference
According to RT, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has stated “Russia will have to respond wisely if the US imposes new sanctions against 35 Russian officials, journalists and businessmen”, which has been prepared in order to “pump up their ratings by fanning Russophobia”, with Peskov (who is included on the list) blaming the sanctions on anti-Russian sentiment rather than human rights abuses. At the same time, claims of foreign interference have been rife – during the election, the Central Election Commission reported round-the-clock DDoS attacks, with around 50% coming from the US, whilst in a post-election interview with RT, Medvedev detailed the potential for an investigation into Western interference in Russian elections, which was a “complete disgrace”, as well as highlighting legal changes regarding registration of companies like Apple and Google in Russia for 2022.
Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Center for Security Policy, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against the liberal-democratic system.