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

Invitation: A Way Forward, Part II: Defending Human Rights in China

January 14th 2021, 9-11 am ET; 3-5pm CET

Building on the global impact and success of our event on how the free world could respond to the crisis in Hong Kong, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, European Values, Hong Kong Watch, Optimum Publishing and the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China will convene an online conference to tackle the broader range of human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime in Beijing. 

The full program and speaker bios can be found here.

The discussion will be joined by Charles Burton, Teng Biao, Rahima Mahmut, Reinhard Butikofer and Mareike Ohlberg amongst other experts.

Register now!

Malign Foreign Influence in the Western Balkans: The EVC Review 2020

Russia, China, and other authoritarian governments seek to project their illiberal agendas in the Western Balkans through various avenues via multiple vectors; more than a summary review based on open sources can provide. Accordingly, the purpose of this Review is to afford a broad perspective of significant developments arising primarily from Russian and Chinese governments’ designs to prevent the consolidation of genuinely democratic institutions throughout the region.

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Topics of the Week

Nord Stream II edges towards the finish line as Gazprom's monopoly is potentially threatened in the Balkans.

Investigation of the SolarWinds hack revealed that the breach was larger than first believed, and most likely of Russian origin according to the intelligence services.

The Storming of the U.S. Capitol according to the Russian state media.

Good Old Soviet Joke

In Czechoslovakia during communism, you could tell that an old person is senile when they stood in front of a grocery store with an empty bag and wondered whether they already went shopping or they are about to.

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Policy & Research News

Germany open to joint production of Russian vaccine, but only if it can prove its safety to the EMA

COVID-19 vaccinations have begun in Europe amid worsening case rates throughout the EU. The Kremlin stated last week that it was in discussion with Germany over joint production of the Russian ‘Sputnik V’ vaccine following a phone call between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin on 5th January. Deputy Spokesperson Ulrike Demmer clarified that the Chancellor was open to the idea of producing the Russian vaccine in the EU if it meets the criteria for approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The EMA evaluates and approves medicines before they can be marketed in the EU. Currently, only the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have received conditional marketing approval, after successful phase 3 trials involving tens of thousands of participants. The EMA received the authorisation application for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on 12th January, and a decision is estimated to be reached by the end of January. The EMA has not yet received an application for Sputnik V approval from its developer the Gamaleya Research Institute. Russia became the first country to licence a coronavirus vaccine in August, although its approval came before phase 3 trials had even begun

Nord Stream 2 edges towards the finish line as Gazprom’s monopoly is potentially threatened in the Balkans

The US Senate began the year by passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes sanctions against companies assisting the construction of the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) gas pipeline. In response, the North German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern announced plans last week to use up to €200,000 of public money to set up a foundation to finish the project. The foundation could theoretically shield private companies from the effect of US sanctions. That assurance may not be enough, however, as Norwegian pipeline safety certifier, DNV GL announced their withdrawal from the project forcing Gazprom to seek new certification to operate in Danish waters. The NS2 project connects Germany to the Russian gas export network under the Baltic Sea and has been criticised as increasing European reliance on Russian gas while depriving Ukraine of gas transit revenues.  

Meanwhile, just as the year ended Croatia inaugurated a new floating liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal on the coast near Krk, taking its first delivery of US LNG on 1st January. As one of the biggest importers of Russian gas in the Balkans, this development is significant for Croatia’s diversification of its energy supply. As the new terminal is linked into the EU distribution network, this allows for Croatia to export gas to the rest of the Balkans, potentially undermining Gazprom’s monopoly on south-eastern European gas.

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US Developments

Developments in the SolarWinds Hack investigation

Recent developments in the investigation of the SolarWinds hack have revealed that the breach was much larger than first believed. As many as 250 networks have been affected, including both US Government agencies such as the Pentagon, the Treasury, Justice and Commerce departments, as well as private companies such as Microsoft. The hack, which was discovered by private security firm FireEye, could have begun as early as October 2019. Intelligence officials say it could be months before they have a complete understanding of the hack, but it began with a compromised software update which was downloaded by 18,000 SolarWinds customers. The update provided hackers with backdoor access to networks, allowing them to engage in intelligence-gathering efforts.

The FBI, CISA, ODNI and NSA issued a joint statement on January 5, 2021, to formally declare that the hack was most likely of Russian origin. The same group of hackers responsible for this attack were previously linked to hacks against the Obama Administration’s State Department and White House email servers. This attack is especially alarming as it did not tip off “early warning” sensors placed by the U.S. National Security Agency, nor was it detected by US Government officials and analysts.

Biden rounds out his NSC team, nominating Andrea Kendall-Taylor as Senior Director of Russia and Central Asia

Joe Biden’s National Security Council team will have its own NSC Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia, nominating Andrea Kendall-Taylor for the role. This position was previously combined with the NSC Directorate for European Affairs by the Trump Administration. Kendall-Taylor, who previously held the position of Russia policy lead for the Biden-Harris Transition Team, was a senior intelligence officer with the National Intelligence Council, a senior analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, and a Senior Fellow and Director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. While at the Center for a New American Security, Kendall-Taylor has written about Chinese and Russian digital influence operations and on Sino-Russian defence cooperation.

Kremlin's Current Narrative

The Storming of the Capitol

The storming of the US Capitol building was indeed a dark day for democracy. A great number of international leaders condemned the shocking scenes, and while there has been a robust response with regards to apprehending the rioters, there are those that remain concerned that there may be further violence leading up to and on the inauguration of Joe Biden.

It has been a tendency of the Kremlin to undermine democracy when it’s felt there is an opportunity, and Putin himself has a history of using press exposure to undermine democracy and attack the fundamentals of liberalism. However, despite offering his view of the electoral system in the past, when asked, Putin made no comment on the violence in and around the Capitol building.

Instead, it has been left to state-owned Russian media outlets to lead with headlines such as “The American Empire has fallen, though Washington may not know it yet.” This narrative has been supported by numerous Russian officials, such as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Federation Council, Konstantin Kosachev, who stated: “the celebration of democracy is over.” While Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented that the electoral system in the U.S. is “archaic and doesn’t meet modern democratic standards.” And further speculation was offered by Russian Senator, Andrei Klimov, who even hinted that the riots could have been organised to put pressure on Congress while stating that ultimately, Russia and China would be blamed.

Other Russian media articles decided to use the events to undermine US support for democracy abroad, suggesting that the US should cease to involve themselves as a result of the difficulties faced in Washington. This was seconded by State Duma Speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, who urged the US to solve their issues, before building a “policy based on non-interference in the affairs of other sovereign states.” He added that those who refer to the standards of democracy promoted by the United States will have to reconsider their views.

Despite the comments of Russian officials and state-owned media, which might suggest that the events in Washington provided the opportunity to undermine the US, RT has argued that “in reality, Russia fears consequences of ongoing US political instability.” However, it seems the argument that the Kremlin only desires order is not a shared sentiment. For example, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, claims that Russian disinformation campaigns can claim a “stunning victory with Capitol Hill ‘coup.’” It remains to be seen whether Putin will use the incident in an attempt to bolster support at home, or whether he will remain silent on the issue over the coming weeks.

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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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