Like with most things related to Kremlin politics, it’s complicated. And as usual, it’s also not entirely clear what’s really going on. With apologies to Donald Rumsfeld (the former U.S. defense secretary who was not a Kremlinologist), here are the known knowns, and known unknowns, about yesterday’s bombshell announcement.
Stanislav Aseyev and Oleh Halaziuk, two contributors to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, were among the civilians released by Russia-backed separatists in a prisoner exchange on December 29, 2019. Both had been held incommunicado for more than two years.
Russia's pro-Kremlin TV channels mocked Western politicians for saying Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner until Iran admitted that it had done so. The prevailing editorial line then became one of blaming the tragedy on the United States for escalating tensions by assassinating Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.
Dmitry Medvedev resigned as Russian prime minister on January 15, shortly after President Vladimir Putin announced broad changes to the constitution in his annual state-of-the-nation speech. Medvedev had also served as Russian president, but was widely considered to be part of a "ruling tandem" with Putin.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry says it has opened two criminal investigations into possible surveillance of former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Russia’s ruling party has given its “unanimous support” to Mikhail Mishustin, the little-known tax chief President Vladimir Putin handpicked to succeed Dmitry Medvedev as part of his surprise overhaul of the country’s political system.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the creation of a working group to formulate amendments to the constitution, further to his announcement of government changes yesterday. The group will include pro-government author Zakhar Prilepin, Senator Andrei Klishas, athlete Elena Isinbaeva, and dozens of others. Prilepin is known for fighting along separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Senator Klishas helped write Russia’s law creating a “Sovereign Internet.” (in Russian, Current Time TV)
Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development and Mass Media has announced a schedule of target dates for 2020 to test preparations to isolate the Russian Internet. On March 20, the Ministry plans to test capabilities for blocking DNS encrypted traffic. An exercise on June 20 will test measures to counter threats to the Internet and the public communications network. Exercises planned for September 20 and December 20 will test measures to counteract attacks. (Russian Service)
The leader of Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has temporarily left office due to what he called his "temporary incapacitation." In an announcement on the Chechen government's website, he entrusted his duties to Muslim Magomedovich Khuchiyev, chairman of the government of the Chechen Republic, effective January 13, 2020.
Leonid Krivenkov, a former cameraman for a Russian state TV broadcaster who has spoken out about political censorship and corruption at his former employer has been severely beaten by two men in Moscow.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled on January 14 that former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and business partner Platon Lebedev were denied a fair trial in the case of their conviction by a Russian court for embezzlement and money laundering. But the Strasbourg-based court said it did not find any political motives in their prosecution, and that no compensation would be ordered.
A Russian-controlled court in Simferopol ruled on January 14 to release RFE/RL Crimean contributor and journalist Mykola Semena from house arrest after more than 2 years of enforced silence. Semena was convicted of “separatism” in 2017 after he published criticism of Moscow's forcible annexation of the peninsula.
A court in Kyiv on January 10 remanded Andriy Antonenko for one month in custody in connection with the 2016 killing of prominent journalist Pavel Sheremet. Antonenko was arrested in December along with two other suspects in the high-profile case. All three had taken part in military operations in Ukraine's east, where government forces are fighting against Russia-backed separatists. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said in December that Sheremet’s killing was intended "to destabilize the political and social situation in Ukraine.”
Three non-governmental organizations issued a joint statement on January 15 urging Azerbaijan to lift a travel ban against investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova. Ismayilova, RFE/RL’s former bureau chief in Baku, was imprisoned on politically motivated charges from 2014 - 2016 after publishing reports exposing corruption linked to members of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family.
In negotiations that ended at midnight on January 14, Kyrgyz and Tajik officials have agreed to start the process of a land swap along a disputed segment of the border between the two Central Asian nations after years of sometimes deadly clashes.
RADIO MASHAAL: RFE/RL’S Pashto-language service, reporting in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, marks 10 years this week of courageous journalism that counters extremism and promotes human rights.
INTERNYET: Current Time and RFE/RL presented InterNYET, Russian journalist Andrey Loshak’s documentary series on the rise and fall of the Russian Internet, to Washington, D.C. audiences this week.