Last week's events concerning the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign




Repercussions for the Belarusian plane diversion.

Appeal to the German government for a moratorium on Nord Stream II.

Bilateral tensions increase as the U.S. tells Russia it will not rejoin The Open Skies Treaty

Russian group hacks into the email system of a U.S. government agency

Kremlin's Current Narrative: A diplomatic source in Moscow blames MI6 and Western intelligence services for cooperating with international terrorist groups active in Syria

Good Old Soviet Joke

Is it true that there are two kinds of people serving as Soviet diplomats?

Yes, it is true. One kind is those not capable of anything at all, and the other, those capable of anything whatsoever.

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Policy & Research News

Repercussions for the Belarusian plane diversion

The plane diversion scandal which resulted in the arrests of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega has several repercussions. European airlines formally stopped flying over Belarus, the EU closed airspace to planes from Belarus and sixteen European countries banned Belavia flights until the end of summer. Besides, the EU plans to sanction companies close to Lukashenka, exact names are not known yet. Furthermore, other major airlines, such as Singapore Airlines decided to bypass Belarus as well. NATO condemned the action, but less stridently as expected due to Turkey´s demands, and restricted Belarusian access to HQ in Brussels. Similarly, the USA suspended the 2019 agreement that allowed Belarusian and US carriers to use each other´s airspace. For travels to Belarus was issued a warning “do not travel” and planes were advised to reconsider their potential flying over Belarusian airspace. Besides, economic sanctions were put on nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises. The USA is also cooperating with the EU on drawing up a list of targeted sanctions on key Belarus elites.

A completely different position is occupied by Russia. First, Russia refused to grant permission to European planes flying to Moscow. Second, Putin invited Lukashenka for a two-day summit to a yacht in the Black Sea resort of Sochi where both agreed that the reaction of Western countries is an “outburst of emotion”. Moscow released a second $500 million loan to Belarus, which is a part of a $1.5 billion loan promised to stabilize the country after mass protests. Russian foreign ministry official further stated that Russia will help Belarus if the EU imposes economic sanctions.     

Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega remain arrested for orchestrating mass riots. Meanwhile, Belarusian dissidents will have to keep looking over their shoulders everywhere as Minsk seems to have no boundaries. Moreover, for those who are in Belarus, new rules introduced on Monday make it nearly impossible to leave the country. Lukashenka´s move shows that he is absolutely confident of Russian economic and political support and he might not be deterred by the Western measures for now. The fear remains that this incident will create a dangerous precedent if the West will not react stiffly. Anne Applebaum claims that if the world fails to react adequately, other regimes will hijack planes too and support each other in utilizing the new weapon of oppression. For example, Margarita Simonyan, the editor of RT has already tweeted that Lukashenka “performed beautifully” and it makes her “envy Belarus”. 

Appeal to the German government for a moratorium on Nord Stream II

On May 28th, a group of more than 80 signatories signed an appeal to the German Government and German political parties appealing for a moratorium on the construction of Nord Stream 2. The group includes a diverse range of academics and analysts as well as former and currently serving political officials. Among the signatories is Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Center for Security Policy, as well as Petr Kolář, the former Czech ambassador to the USA and Russia, and Alexander Vershbow, the former Deputy Secretary-General of NATO.

The appeal states that Nord Stream 2 is “not necessary for the energy security of Germany or of the EU” and “is fomenting discord and distrust within the European Community”. The appeal suggests that a moratorium should be implemented in order to “clarify the strategic implications of Nord Stream 2” and would present an opportunity to adopt a common European and Transatlantic position on the pipeline. This will also send a signal to Russia that their aggressive and coercive behaviour will bring consequences.

The appeal comes in the wake of the Biden Administration’s recent decision to waive sanctions on key players in the Nord Stream 2 construction, as reported in last week’s briefing. The signatories behind the appeal assert that their assessment of Nord Stream 2 as a controversial political project has not been changed by the sanctions waiver, insisting that “criticism of this project will continue”. The German government has yet to officially respond to the appeal as Nord Stream 2 inches closer to completion.

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US Developments

Bilateral tensions increase as the U.S. tells Russia it will not rejoin The Open Skies Treaty

On Thursday, May 27, the Biden administration declared it would not reverse former President Trump’s controversial decision to exit the Treaty on Open Skies. In effect since 2002, the pact aims to bolster transparency by allowing participating countries to conduct surveillance flights on short notice over the entire territory of other states. This decision comes ahead of the scheduled June 16th summit in Geneva, Switzerland between President Biden and President Putin––the first meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office in January 2021––and suggests a distinctive shift in Biden’s approach to Russia.

Putin had previously expressed his intention to mirror the U.S.’s decision in regards to the pact, stating he would leave the treaty if the U.S. left, and likewise would remain a member of the pact if the U.S. rejoined the agreement. Russian officials expressed “disappointment” with Biden’s Thursday decision, dubbing it a “political mistake” and reiterating Russia’s intention to follow the U.S.’s example and withdraw from the treaty.

Russian group hacks into the email system of a U.S. government agency

Mere weeks after a cyberattack on the U.S.’s largest pipeline, a Russian group successfully hacked into the email system of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. government agency responsible for distributing foreign aid and assistance. From a USAID email account, the group then disseminated authentic-looking phishing emails containing links to malware to prominent human rights groups, nonprofit organizations, and think tanks. 

Russian cyberattacks on the U.S. have increased in frequency and severity over the past year, exacerbating already heightened bilateral tensions. In an interview, Glenn Gerstell, a former advisor at U.S.’s National Security Agency (NSA), remarked on the “extraordinary timing” of the attack: “Here we are just weeks after President Biden has issued an executive order trying to remedy the federal government's cybersecurity posture, weeks after the president announced sanctions on Russia and expelled some diplomats for the extraordinary SolarWinds attack. And here we see apparently the same people...undertaking a very, very noticeable attack.” 

Although Democratic lawmakers urged Biden to increase pressure on Russia for the cyberattack, the White House downplayed the attack’s severity, stressing their quick response to neutralize the threat. Discussing the potential reasons behind this restrained response, journalists at the New York Times argue that “American officials have often been reluctant to respond to cyber aggression in kind, in part because the country’s own defences are so inadequate.”

Kremlin's Current Narrative

A diplomatic source in Moscow blames MI6 and Western intelligence services for cooperating with international terrorist groups active in Syria

One of the most active stories on the Russian state-funded media this week has been the alleged meeting between the British MI6 intelligence agency’s representative and the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra (also known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) terrorist group in Idlib, near the Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border.

TASS, quoting a diplomatic source in Moscow, claims that MI6 intelligence agency’s representative and former British envoy to Libya Jonathan Powell met with the commander of Syrian Islamic terrorist organisation Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammad al-Julani and “suggested that [they] should announce plans to abandon subversive activities against Western countries and build close cooperation with them”, which would even involve “removing al-Nusra from the [UN Security Council] list of terrorist organizations and maintaining a permanent communication link”. The source, according to TASS, also claims that the UK wants to collaborate with several allies, including the US in order to “rebrand the al-Nusra group”. Hence, “al-Julani received recommendations to give an interview to an American reporter in order to create a positive image”. Moskovskij Komsomolets talks about “the beginning of the process of "rehabilitation" of al-Julani in the eyes of the West with the support of the United States.”

TASS also mentions that the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has refused to make any comments on this topic. The story has been also published in Russian and in English on multiple websites, including RIA and Lenta. Western media outlets have not yet picked up the story or anyhow commented on it.

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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.

For comments. suggestions or media inquiries, please contact the Head of the Kremlin Watch Program Veronika Víchová at 

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