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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Update: January 4, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Deaths of Two Senior Russian Military Leaders Within a Week Touches Off Speculation

The deaths of two senior Russian military officials within the space of a week has touched off speculation in Russian social media about the toll Russia's foreign wars are taking on the armed forces -- with darker hints of a conspiracy to cover up the undeclared war on Ukraine.

As we reported, Lt. Gen. Igor Sergun, head of the GRU (military intelligence), reportedly died an "untimely" death at the age of 58 from unknown causes. Sergun, appointed by President Vladimir Putin, would have been central to the "hybrid war" against Ukraine that first involved the occupation and annexation of Crimea, then the invasion of the Donbass by Russian tanks and troops. Indeed, the accounts of GRU officers captured or killed on Ukrainian territory testify to the GRU's involvement. 

The official who died on December 27, 2015 was Maj. Gen. Aleksandr Shushukin, deputy chief of staff of Russia's Airborne Division, who was said to have led the occupation of the Crimea in February 2014.

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The claim of Shushukin's role in the Crimea were covered mainly by the Ukrainian and alternative Russian-language media.

His death was confirmed with a condolence notice on the web site of the Army General V.F. Margelov Ryazan Higher Airborne Command Academy, of which he had been a graduate, and reportedly on a YouTube post by the Academy, the reason given was a heart attack.

But as mister-pointy99, a Russian blogger, later noted, the YouTube post was removed later.

This blogger, as others, also wondered if the recent resignation of Aleksei Chaly, head of the occupation parliament in Crimea, was a coincidence. Sergei Menyailo, governor of Sevastopol, also resigned last month.

The notice said Maj. Gen. Shushukin served in Afghanistan and also in operations "to restore Constitutional order" in the North Caucasus and Yugoslavia and did not mention the Crimea.

Stanislav Rechinsky, a journalist for Ukrainska Pravda and advisor to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry wrote on his Facebook page:

"Look at this. The second leader of the Russian invasion of the Donbass to kick the bucket within two weeks. Speedy karma, however. Awaiting Girkin and Bezler. With Putin."

"Shushukin headed the paratroopers' contingent from the Russian Federation in the Crimean operation. Before that, the operation in [Southern] Ossetia. This is the 'irony of fate.'"

Russian opposition member Vladimir Milov wrote on his Facebook page today (translation by The Interpreter):

 "For some reason military leaders who organized the military invasion of Ukraine have gone dying. Young. The second in a row."

If Shushukin had in fact led the occupation of Crimea -- and his job position suggests that he would well have been involved -- it is odd that that no medal for this "achievement" or mention in his obituary was made, given that President Vladimir Putin acknowledges the role of the Russian military in the anschluss.

No notice appeared on Kremlin.ru or any other federal site.

One Russian-language conspiracy site said Shushukin "was killed by KGB agents as a witness to Vladimir Putin's war crimes and those of the top Russian military command" and that he "may have taken part in the sale of a Buk to the thugs who used it to destroy MH17"; he's even credited with "coordinating the sending of terrorists with whose help Putin brought down the A321" or the Metrojet flight which crashed in Egypt.

It is one of the most cherished beliefs of Russian conflict-watchers that the GRU or FSB kill off their military after they have run invasion missions so as to destroy evidence. This idea is based on behavior from the Stalin era, when such murders were common.

But the problem with this theory is that most of the key commanders of the invasion of the Donbass -- such as Col. Igor Strelkov and Col. Igor Bezler, as well as former "Donetsk People's Republic" prime minister Aleksandr Boroday and deputy prime minister Vladimir Antyufeyev, a former Russian Interior Ministry OMON riot police officer -- were all safely extracted to Russia. Most of them have performed multiple missions in various theaters of war, and it doesn't make sense for the Kremlin to kill off needed, experienced people. Those commanders who have been assassinated, such as the Cossack leader Pavel Dremov and separatist commander Aleksandr "Batman" Bednov, seem to be mainly from the "Lugansk People's Republic" and killed by their own people.

We are unlikely to find out the truth surrounding these military leaders' death, but no doubt they have taken military secrets with them to the grave.
-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Danish Police Arrest Drunken Crew of Russian Ship at Helsingor

A Russian ship crew has been detained in Denmark for sailing while intoxicated, FlashNord reported.

According to a source at Trans-NAO (Nenets International Transport Expeditor Company) the Ivan Bobrov is now at anchor in Helsingor (translation by The Interpreter) :

"According to preliminary information, on January 1, at about 10:15 local time (12:15 Moscow time), police demanded that the crew of the Ivan Bobrov put down their anchor at the port of Helsingor. At the present time, the ship is in port."


According to the source, the reason for the detention was "dangerous maneuvering, due to the fact that the captain and the crew of 9 people were drunk."

Danish police detained the captain, his first mate and the senior mechanic on the ship. Lawyers for the crew have arrived in Helsingor.

The Ivan Bobrov is registered at the port of Arkhangelsk and was headed from the British port of Ipswich to Riga.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Stocks Down As Emerging Markets Get Hammered, Ruble Struggles Continue

The Russian ruble hit all time lows in the final days of 2015 as oil tumbled, and as Russia's trade war with two major trading partners -- Ukraine and Turkey -- continued to heat up.

Throughout 2015, Russia also tried to reassure its investors that they were building ties with emerging markets like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).

Today the world markets are in turmoil as tensions heat up between Iran and Saudi Arabia, certain economic indicators reveal underlying weakness in global economies, and China's economy continues to implode.

Bloomberg reports:

China stopped trading in stocks, futures and options after a 7 percent slump in the CSI 300 Index caused the nation’s new circuit breakers to kick in. Equities in South Korea, India and South Africa slid at least 2.1 percent, while Saudi Arabian shares dropped 2.4 percent. The offshore yuan suffered its biggest retreat in almost five months. The kwanza slid 15 percent versus the dollar.

Following their worst year since 2011, emerging-market stocks are under pressure again on concern a slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy will curb global growth. Data showed Chinese manufacturing shrank for a fifth month, the longest streak since 2009. Saudi Arabia and some of its Gulf allies severed or downgraded ties with Iran in the biggest meltdown in relations between the Middle Eastern powers in almost three decades, raising the specter of deepening conflicts across the volatile region.

“It’s a poor start to the year with a lot of bad news such as weak economic data from China and heightened tension in the Middle East,” Win Udomrachtavanich, Bangkok-based chief executive officer at One Asset Management Ltd., which oversees about $3.5 billion, said by phone. “A further economic slowdown in China will definitely hurt the developing countries’ growth.”

Russian stock index MICEX is off 1.5% today. Here are the latest graphs from Financial Times:

2016-01-04 16:32:09

But Bloomberg is also cautiously optimistic, noting that the emerging markets -- including Russia -- still have large foreign reserves:

Foreign reserves in the 12 biggest emerging markets, excluding China and countries with pegged currencies, fell about 2 percent to $2.8 trillion in 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The actual decline may be smaller because the strengthening dollar reduced the value of other reserve currencies such as the euro.

While China burned through more than $400 billion in reserves to stabilize the yuan last year, most other developing countries such as Russia and Thailand are tolerating currency depreciation to shore up exports. With lower commodity prices and limited government dollar debt, weaker exchange rates haven’t stoked inflation or undermined public financing as they used to.

...

Russia didn’t dip into its $369 billion of reserves in 2015 even as the ruble tumbled 19 percent. South Korea and Thailand held theirs steady at $368 billion and $148 billion, respectively. India even took the advantage of the stability of the rupee to replenish its war chest, swelling the reserves 11 percent to $328 billion.


In Currency Rout, Emerging Nations Save $2.8 Trillion War Chest

Developing nations are embracing the greater competitiveness that comes with the beating their currencies have taken, leaving their rainy day funds untouched. Foreign reserves in the 12 biggest emerging markets, excluding China and countries with pegged currencies, fell about 2 percent to $2.8 trillion in 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

View full page →
Jan 04, 2016 21:37 (GMT)

Still, nobody is predicting good things for the Russian economy in 2016. Even the Russian state-operated propaganda outlet Sputnik is struggling to positively spin the current situation:

Russian oil industry will endure low commodity prices due to Russia’s weakened national currency, Moody’s Investors Service said in a press release on Monday.

“Russia's weak ruble will help the country's national oil companies withstand low oil prices, but economic sanctions limit access to long-term external financing from US and EU financial and capital markets for the Russian giant Rosneft (Ba1 stable),” the release stated.

Moody's statement had even worse news for the outlook of global energy companies, many of which are already under intense pressure.

"As a result of deteriorating cash flows and credit investors increasingly avoiding the struggling energy sector, Latin American national oil companies will face high refinancing risk," added Nymia Almeida, a Moody's Vice President - Senior Credit Officer. "On top of significant maturities due in 2016-17 for Mexico's PEMEX, Brazil's Petrobras and Venezuela's PDVSA, currency devaluations will raise import costs, capital spending and interest payments."

Credit metrics will also continue deteriorating for China's three national oil companies -- China National Petroleum Corporation (Aa3 stable), China Petrochemical Corporation (Aa3 stable) and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (Aa3 stable) -- through at least 2017. Furthermore, Russia's weak rouble will help the country's national oil companies withstand low oil prices, but economic sanctions limit access to long-term external financing from US and EU financial and capital markets for the Russian giant Rosneft (Ba1 stable).

The logic that the ruble will rally, as tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran will drive the price of oil up, and that the ruble will benefit, may not be panning out. Here's the 7-day record for Brent Crude via Nasdaq -- as we see, it's actually been tending down since it spiked on New Years Eve:


2016-01-04 17:35:54
This morning the ruble opened by trading at 72.5997 to a dollar, according to Bloomberg, but it immediately shot up to 73.3197 and is currently trading at 73.2380. So signs of significant improvement, then. In fact, the ruble may be headed close to its worst close ever according to Bloomberg:
2016-01-04 17:45:17
Russia started 2015 in an economic crisis, and oil was $65 a barrel. Now, with oil at nearly half that, 2016 will likely be a major test of the ability of the Russian market to weather more bad news.
-- James Miller
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Lt. Gen. Igor Sergun, Head of GRU, Russia's Military Intelligence, Dead at 58
Igor Sergun, head of the GRU (Russia's military intelligence) and deputy head of the General Staff of Russia's Armed Forces, has died, RBC.ru reported, citing condolences posted on Kremlin.ru

The notice said that Sergun, a graduate of the Suvorov Military Academy, was known as a "real fighting officer, an experienced and competence commander, and a man of great courage, a true patriot" (translation by The Interpreter).

The cause of death was not indicated.

Sergun, who served in the GRU since 1984 and was known to have worked in Albania, was appointed by President Vladimir Putin as head of the GRU in 2011 and promoted to the rank of lieutenant general on February 21, 2015. 

RBC described his death in his 59th year as "untimely" (he was born March 28, 1957). One in four Russian males die before the age of 55, although male life expectancy has increased to 66 in recent years.

The GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) of the Defense Ministry is responsible for wars in Syria and Ukraine among other areas of Russian military presence.

Two Russian GRU officers were captured by Ukrainian forces in Schastye last year and await trial on charges of terrorism. Three other officers were killed in battle and Russian bloggers confirmed their graves.

Sergun was included in the EU's list of sanctions in connection with Russia's annexation of the Crimea.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Communications Minister Restores Instagram Account After Hackers Deface It With Turkish Flag

According to an RBC.ru report, Nikolai Nikiforov, Russian minister of communications, restored his Instagram account to normal after hackers defaced it yesterday with images of a Turkish flag and Su-24 bomber, recalling the shooting down by Turkey of a Russian fighter plane in November.

The hackers also placed portraits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.


2016-01-04 14:15:35
The Bortecine Cyber Team took responsibility yesterday, January 3 for the hack. Nikiforov complained that Instagram moderators took nine hours to respond to the incident (translation by The Interpreter):
"After today's incident, personally I am left with many questions about the security of Instagram compared to other services and regarding the speed of reaction of its technical support."

Nikiforov has 22,200 followers, and has used his account mainly to show pictures of himself at official meetings

The hackers' collective Anonymous declared war on Turkey last month, accusing it of supporting ISIS and targeting a number of government and financial websites.
2016-01-04 14:15:22
Russian  hackers also attacked the Lokomotiv Soccer Club in Moscow today, RBC.ru reported, citing Sovetskiy Sport.
A text in French about belief in the oneness of God, evidently related to one of the five pillars of Islam, was signed by Team Anonymous Guelmim, a city in Morocco. The site was down for most of the day but is currently back up.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

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