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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Distributed with The New York Times

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Syria Russian military operations end as warring parties return to the negotating table

Russian oil company now world’s most profitable

An SU-25 fighter leaves the Khmeimim base in Latakia, Syria, during the Russian withdrawal.

Russia’s Surgutneftegaz has become the world’s most profitable oil company, according to reporting by Bloomberg. The company, which is now more profitable than ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, has become the only major global player continuing to generate income for investors after the collapse of oil prices. Its net income for the first nine months of 2015 increased by 39.4 percent to total $6.4 billion. In the past 15 months, the dividend yield of the company’s securities reached a record 18.5 percent as other Russian oil companies face a fall in stock returns. The secret of Surgutneftegaz’s success is, not, however, due to any increase in production or sales. The increased value is instead the result of the company’s huge dollar reserves. Over the past 10 years, Surgutneftegaz did not invest its profits in new assets, but simply saved them, managing to accumulate more than $30 billion. Since the company pays dividends in rubles, and the ruble fell by almost 50 percent over the past two years, the company is managing to show a high yield based purely on exchage rate gains.

U.S. carrier Delta Air Lines to resume flights to Russia

Russia’s surprise move earlier this month to scale back its military operations in Syria has provoked debate about the motives behind the operation itself. VLADIMIR MIKHEEV SPECIAL TO RBTH

Moscow’s decision to withdraw its troops from Syrian bases came as a surprise to many Western policymakers, leaving experts and analysts to attempt to explain the logic behind the move. According to an official statement from PresidentVladimir Putin, the pullout of Russia’s main military contingent in Syria was due to the fact that the military had “largely achieved its objectives”and that the stage was now set for diplomats to take over negotiations in an inter-Syrian dialogue to end the five-year-old civil war. The decision to withdraw was made on the first day of a new round of talks, which included representatives from government, rebel and Kurdish forces. “It’s clear that [the talks] should include the whole spectrum of Syrian political forces; otherwise, this cannot claim to be a representative forum,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, indicating that the Russian military intervention was critical in getting all the parties to the table.

Hidden agenda

Despite these high-level statements, the reason for the withdrawal of troops — as with the instigation of Moscow’s military campaign — remains vague. According to analyst Dmitry Yestafeyev, the withdrawal should not have come as a surprise. Putin“strikes first, something he has admitted on several occasions, but he also always leaves the battle first if it can be done elegantly and without losses,”Yestafeyev wrote in a column for RBTH, adding, “Putin goes to the end only when it concerns Russia’s security or his plausibility as a leader. If such critical interests are not at stake, the Russian president rather easily leaves the process.” Grigory Kosach, a professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities and an expert on the politics of the Arab world, said that the most likely reason for the withdrawal was that the launch of a new round of talks gave Russia the best chance to solidify its position as a power broker in the Middle East. In Kosach’s opnion, Russia, along with the United States, could preside over the partition of Syria, which could be turned into a “federation” with a not-necessarily-unfriendly new regime in Da-

mascus and a Syrian Kurdistan that would be receptive to Moscow’s interests. “Moscow might count on preserving its influence with the authorities that would control two large territories: one stretching from Damascus to Aleppo all along the Mediterranean coast, and the other encompassing the northern regions inhabited largely by the Kurds. That would constitute the ‘prize fund,’ and it would probably suffice,” Kosach said. Ivan Tsvetov, an expert on U.S.Russian relations at St. Petersburg State University, said that the withdrawal was instead intended to show up Washington. “The events around Syria have shown that Russia’s contemporary foreign policy is basically aimed at one single overarching task: to get the approval of the U.S. as an equal partner and thus return to the club of leading world states. By active participation in the Syrian war, Putin was trying to prove to President Obama that the United States couldn’t do it alone without Russia,” Tsvetkov said.

What about ISIS?

Kosach thinks that no matter the outcome of the negotiations, Russian of-


Experts Question Reasons Behind End of Air Strikes

ficials can find ways to say the operation fulfilled the stated goal of the military intervention — fighting terrorism. “It can be claimed that Russian military involvement prevented the jihadists from grabbing a significant part of Syria,” Kosach said. Tsvetkov, however, disagrees, saying that the withdrawal of Russian forces while ISIS remains in control of large swathes of Syria is an indication that the fight against ISIS is not Russia’s main priority in the Middle East. “The highest-ranking officials and experts have been insisting for months that the goal of Russia’s operation in Syria was the fight with ISIS, and nothing else. Today they either have to admit that they’ve been misleading everyone, or agree with the statement that Russia lost the fight and thus had to leave,” Tsvetkov said. According to Yestafeyev, with the intervention and withdrawal, “Moscow clearly demonstrated to Assad that it supports his fight against ISIS and other terrorist organizations but not his attempts to use Russian military potential to solve the problems of his political survival.” Moscow is not completely abandoning its fight against ISIS in Syria. Russian military service personnel will remain at the Khmeimim airbase in Latakia province and at the naval base in Tartus to“observe ceasefire agreements.” Russia also has voiced its commitment“to coordinating” with the United States the retaking of the rebel strongholds of Raqqa and Palmyra. No matter the outcome of the negotiations, or the debate over Russia’s involvement, with its operations in Syria, Moscow has proved its often-reiterated foreign policy narrative: In the case of regional conflicts in the relative proximity of Russia’s borders, it has the leverage to influence warring parties and set the stage for a settlement.

Defense A range of military hardware will remain at bases at Latakia and Tartus despite the withdrawal

Russian Presence to Remain in Syria Although much of Moscow’s fighting force is being removed from the Middle East, a contingent of tactical weapons and advisers will stay. NIKOLAI LITOVKIN RBTH

On the morning of March 15, the first group of Russian fighters and bombers left Syria en route to their sites of permanent deployment, according to a statement on the website of Russia’s Ministry of Defense. The flights are being carried out in groups led by military transport aircraft (Tu-154 or Il-76), which transport engineers and technicians, as well as material and technical equipment. Pilots fly in such a group until reaching the Russian border, and then head for the airfields where they are permanently deployed. “Of the 60 fighters and bombers, more than half will be withdrawn,



military aircraft, including fighters and bombers, were flying from Latakia.


percent of Russia’s air forces deployed to Syria will return home.

maybe two thirds,”said Murakhovsky. “At the same time, the number of our troops in Syria will be reduced only slightly; this is necessary to ensure the safety of the permanent Russian military bases at the Khmeimim airfield and the port of Tartus.”

Staying behind

According to Murakhovsky, helicopter units will remain in their entirety to carry out search-and-rescue missions and tactical transportation in


Russian military bases will remain, at Tartus and Latakia.

Syria. Russia is also leaving military advisers to help the Syrian leadership in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) militants. “Russia is leaving its air defense systems in Syria in their entirety — S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems as well as Buk-M3, Tor-M2 and Pantsyr S-1 air defense missile systems,” Viktor Litovkin, a retired colonel and military analyst for Russian news agency TASS, told RBTH. “Also, Russian navy warships will

continue to operate in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, to be rotated in the normal mode,” he said. According to Litovkin, the navy is tasked not only with the control and surveillance of ISIS militants, but also with monitoring NATO warships, which come to the Black Sea with SM-3 and Tomahawk cruise missiles on board. “Moscow is initiating the peace process and following the path of the United States in Afghanistan by leaving its strongholds and their means of defense,” Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, told RBTH. “The pullout of the ‘combat’ part of the troops is also a signal to President [Bashar al-] Assad that Russia will not always solve Syrian problems in the international arena and that the current regime is now quite capable of independent political action.”

U.S. air carrier Delta Air Lines will resume flights to Russia beginning on May 16, 2016, Russian news agency TASS reported on March 4. “We have scheduled our flight from Sheremetyevo airport beginning on May 16,” said Leonid Tarasov, a company representative in Russia. Delta Air Lines will operate flights on the Moscow–NewYork route on a Boeing 767-400ER leaving from Terminal D at Sheremetyevo Airport. Ticket prices will start at about $450. Delta suspended flights between Russia and the U.S. in December 2015 due to increased costs as a result of the stronger U.S. dollar, a company press release announced at the time.

Syktyvkar dial-a-drone pizzeria enters U.S. market

Dodo Pizza, which was launched in 2011 in the northern Russian city of Syktyvkar and made a name for itself by delivering pizzas by drone, has opened its first outlet in the United States, according to Russian news site RBC Daily. The restaurant, located in Oxford, Ark., has been operating in test mode since Feb. 25, with the official opening scheduled for this month, according to founder Fyodor Ovchinnikov. Planned investment in the first Dodo Pizza restaurant is around $500,000. In the next 10 years, Dodo Pizza intends to open 400 outlets in the U.S.


Visit these 5 Russian cities without leaving the U.S. RBTH.COM/576999

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Politics & Society


most read Gorbachev: Russia’s Savior or a Symbol of Its


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Space Contracts signed with domestic producers for new prototypes

Pentagon Plan for Alternative Rocket Engine Moves Forward Agreements signed with U.S. manufacturers at the end of February give a boost to the effort to replace the RD-180 with a domestic product.

A U.S. Atlas V rocket heads to the launchpad with a Russian-made RD-180 engine.


getty images

The U.S. Air Force has signed contracts with two American firms to develop a domestic alternative to the Russian RD-180 engine currently used in the first stage of the U.S. Atlas space launch vehicle, according to information released by the Defense Department on Feb. 29. The Pentagon has awarded $115.3 million to Aerojet Rocketdyne, a California-based company that produces rocket propulsion systems, to develop a prototype of the AR1 rocket engine. Another contract awarded $46.6 million to United Launch Services LLC, a subsidiary of United Launch Alliance (U.L.A.), to develop a prototype of theVulcan rocket. Total investment in the AR1 could total $536 million while spending on the Vulcan could reach $202 million. Aerojet Rocketdyne and United Launch Services have contributed additional $57.6 million and $40.8 million respectively to the project. Energomash, the Moscowbased producer and exporter of

the RD-180 engines, plans to continue to export engines to the United States under current agreements, and hopes to sign new agreements in the future. “Energomash will sell 20 more engines to the U.S. by 2019, in full accordance with an agreement signed in Dec. 2015 with RD Amross,” said Igor Arbuzov, general director of Energomash. RD Amross is a joint venture between Energomash and U.S. aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. “Our company sees the U.S. investment as an incentive to improve our product’s quality, cut expenses and develop the best commercial proposal,” Arbuzov added.

Post–Cold War relic

The decision to put Russian engines in U.S. rockets was the result of improved cooperation between Washington and Moscow after the end of the Cold War. The U.S. had stopped making engines powerful enough to carry heavy rockets into space, and by using

THE numbers

20 7 new RD-180 rocket engines were ordered by the U.S. from Energomash in December.

years may be needed for the U.S. to develop its own heavy-rocket engine.

the RD-180 engines, American officials believed they could solve their engine problem while creating goodwill, providing a market for Russian technology. The first flight of a U.S. Atlas III rocket with the RD-180 engine took place in 2000. The engines have also been used Atlas V rockets, the successor to the Atlas III.

Engine under sanctions

Continued use of the RD-180 became a question for U.S. officials in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.The U.S.

to the U.S. comes in violation of economic sanctions imposed on Russia remains unclear.


Made in the U.S.A.

In September 2014, United Launch Alliance signed an agreement with Blue Origin, a spaceflight venture owned by Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos, to develop a new high-performance rocket engine, the BE-4. The agreement allows for a four-year development process with full-scale testing later this year and first flight in 2019. The BE-4 will be used in Vulcan rockets. Despite the importance the U.S. government has placed on the development of a replacement rocket, a solution will not come quickly — or cheaply. In December 2014, Congress passed a bill authorizing $220 million for the development of an engine to replace the RD-180, and the Defense Department estimates that combined investment in the project by the government, Aerojet Rocketdyne and United Launch Services could reach $1.1 billion.

launches have been carried out by Atlas V rockets using RD-180 engines.

government imposed sanctions on Russian companies in strategic sectors as well as on specific individuals, including Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is responsible for Russia’s space industry and is the head of Energomash. In April 2014, U.S. private space firm SpaceX filed a lawsuit against U.L.A. claiming that the deal violated sanctions since Rogozin was the head of Energomash, and a U.S. Federal Court issued an injunction against imports of the rocket. The injunction was later lifted, but whether the import of RD-180 engines

“The mentioned investment is only a small part of the future expenditures,” said Igor Afanasyev, editor-in-chief of the Сosmonautics News magazine. According to Afanasyev, it could take as long as seven years for the U.S. to equip its space launch vehicles with domestically made engines, despite the current plan to have U.S. engines in the rockets by 2020. “I’m not sure it is realistic to accomplish the project in five years,” Afanasyev told RBTH. This is not the first attempt by the U.S. to substitute the Russian-made engine with its own. “An attempt was made 20 years ago but failed. In order for this technology to work successfully a myriad of details must be accounted for,”saidViktor Litovkin, a Russian military analyst. Energomash director Arbuzov said that a new U.S. engine would not undermine the operations of the Russian engine producer. He confirmed, however, that the U.S. is the only client currently purchasing the RD-180 engines.

Anthropology Major study determines genetic link between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and eastern Russia

Research Confirms American, Siberian Ties A large-scale survey by the Russian Academy of Sciences conclusively proves a connection between indigenous peoples on both sides of the Bering Strait. ARAM TER-GHAZARYAN

special to rbth

launched a larger-scale, two-stage trial with samples requested from colleagues around the world. In the first stage, scientists analyzed DNA samples from the Russian biobank.“Our biobank contains more than 25,000 samples from representatives of 90 nationalities in Russia and neighboring countries,” Balanovsky said. In the second stage, the DNA was analyzed according to various markers such as the Y chromosome, which is inherited from the male line, the mitochondrial DNA that is inherited from the female line and chromosomes that are combined from both parents. As a result of this work, scientists proved conclusively that Native Americans are closely related to the peoples of Altai. But during the study another discovery was made.

“Besides Siberian ancestors, some Native Americans showed a puzzling relation to the indigenous peoples of Australia and Melanesia in the Pacific Ocean,’’ Balanovsky said.“This is astounding because they are located in an almost opposite part of the planet.” Speaking about the study, Valery Ilyinsky, a geneticist at the Institute of General Genetics at the Russian Academy of Sciences said the work shows “clear proof” and “confirms the theory that the Altai peoples are closely related to Native Americans.’’ While scientists already know that humans traveled to the Americas from Altai via the land bridge on the Bering Strait, Balanovsky said it’s unclear whether migration from Australia and Melanesia to the Americas was directly across the ocean, or by moving across a string of islands.

had been increaseing steadily in recent years. Growth in inbound tourism from Turkey was 15.6 percent in the first nine months of 2015, so even after anti-Turkish sanctions came into force in November, the overall total number of visitors was still up 3.4 percent from 2014. The country with the largest increase in tourist arrivals by perentage was Iran, which sent 35,400 visitors to Russia — up 106 percent year-on-year. Russia played an important role in crafting the Iran nuclear deal and has been building ties with the country for the past several years, keeping Russia as a destination on the radar of Iranians. Inbound

tourism has also increased from South Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Spain and Hong Kong. Russia continues to suffer from an image problem in Europe, however.“Spain is the only country in Europe which has exhibited a major growth in tourist arrivals in Russia,”Tyurina said. Numbers of inbound tourists were down from every other major European country, including Poland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Finland, Austria and Denmark. Yet, according to Tyurina, the decline in tourist arrivals was smaller in the second half of the year compared to the first, giving hope that the trend may be reversing.

25,000 samples, 90 nations

getty images

Scientists have long suspected that Native Americans are closely related to the indigenous peoples of the Altai Territory in Siberia. The theory that people migrated to North America via a land bridge crossing the Bering Strait was first proposed in 1590 and has been widely accepted for nearly a century, but there was no conclusive genetic confirmation that the peoples on both sides of the strait were related until last year. In late 2015, Russian geneticist Oleg Balanovsky finally confirmed this theory, publishing the results of a wide-ranging study

involving more than 25,000 biological samples from more than 90 countries. Balanovsky’s study also proved ties between some Native Americans and the indigenous populations of Australia. Balanovsky developed his study after two of the world’s leading scientific magazines, Science and Nature, published articles about the analysis of the Native American and Siberian genomes. The articles compared these genomes with those of peoples in other regions around the world. The first study analyzed 48 genomes from Brazil. The second study analyzed 31 genomes from peoples in the U.S. and Siberia. Results from both studies confirmed that the ancestors of Native Americans left Siberia about 20,000–30,000 years ago. Balanovsky felt that the sample size was not enough for a definitive confirmation, and

A member of an indigenous tribe in the Altai Territory.

Tourism Statistics show Russia attracting more travelers from both East and West

Discounted Ruble Sends More Americans on Russian Vacations The number of visitors to Russia increased in 2015, with major growth in arrivals from China and Iran. Europeans are still staying away, however. Vladimir astafiev interfax

Inbound tourism to Russia grew 13.7 percent year-on-year in 2015 to reach a total of 2.93 million tourist arrivals, with China, Ge-

many and the United States topping the list of countries sending the most visitors. Irina Tyurina, press secretary of the Russian Union of Travel Industry (RUTI), announced the figures in an interview with Russian news agency Interfax earlier this month, citing data from the Federal State Statistics Service. Tyurina attributed the rise in numbers to the drop in the cost

of a Russian vacation. “The primary motivation was the ruble’s fall against world currencies, which made the tours very cheap for foreigners. Moreover, travelers could afford quality accommodation in Moscow and St. Petersburg,” Tyurina said. For the second year in a row, China sent the most tourists to Russia — 677,600 Chinese citizens visited the country in 2015,

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a 65.3 percent increase over 2014. Germans were next on the list, with 358,100 tourists, an increase of 2.5 percent, while Americans rounded out the top three with 165,100 visitors, an increase of 2 percent. Despite the collapse in RussianTurkish relations at the end of the year, Turkey was fourth on the list. Tyurina said that the number of visitors from Turkey

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most read Siberian Scientists Use Nuclear Energy to Kill Cancer

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Energy Security


International The last in a series of four high-level meetings on nuclear security will take place this week

Nuclear Cooperation Continues Despite choosing not to attend this meeting, Moscow remains committed to nuclear nonproliferation and securing radioactive waste.

report in late February on Iran’s implementation of its responsibilities under the nuclear deal concluded last year. Russia was instrumental in crafting the deal, which required 12 years to hammer out a sustainable and acceptable solution for all parties. U.S. President Barack Obama praised Russia’s role in securing the agreement, particularly at a time when relations between Moscow and Washington were suffering over Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.

Nadezhda Dombrowskaya special to rbth

Russia will not be in attendance at the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit, taking place March 31–April 1 in Washington, D.C. Moscow’s conspicuous absence, however, should not undermine its commitment to cooperation with the international community under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.), its interaction with the United States within the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and efforts to enhance the international nuclear nonproliferation regime.


ways Russia is making the world safer

Russia’s decision not to attend this week’s summit has its roots in events from the past summit, held two years ago. At the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, held in the Hague, a group of 35 countries signed the Joint Statement on Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation. This statement proposes that the signing parties would providing guidance through recommendations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.). The move was viewed in Moscow as an attempt by certain countries to influence the agenda of not only the I.A.E.A. but also of the U.N., Interpol and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Russian authorities took the signing of the initiative as a way for a select group of nations to place weapons-grade stocks of fissible material belonging to other countries under their “international” jurisdiction. In November 2015, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement detailing its reasons for staying away from the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, placing emphasis on the procedural regulations that granted privileges to the host nations of previous summits at the expense of other participants. These excessive rights would have prevented divergent opinions to be taken into account in the formulation of the summit’s resolutions, the statement read. Russia’s position has been that the I.A.E.A. should coordinate efforts to improve nuclear security, and the organization should not be subjected to additional oversight. Moscow recently praised the organization’s monitoring activities, which resulted in the first

In response to the news that Russia would not attend the summit, a White House official confirmed that Russia continues to work “constructively with the United States” on projects aimed at retrieving nuclear materials from third-party countries. Russia is currently cooperating with the U.S. on repatriating highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Kazakhstan and Poland. Over the past five years, Russia has been directly involved in

In the past five years, Russian efforts to remove highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium from third-party countries has reduced the number of countries with weapons-grade nuclear material from 32 to 24.


Russia has repatriated more than 4,700 lbs. of highly enriched uranium provided to foreign countries by the Soviet Union. Ten of the 14 countries provided with the material are now nuclear-waste free.


t seems clear from recent high-level statements that political leaders from Russia and the West don’t trust each other. Sanctions, talk of a new Cold War, and the ongoing saber rattling exacerbate the problem. However, there is one area where Moscow does agree with Washington and Brussels — the desire to keep nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction away from terrorists. That’s one big difference between now and the Cold War. Today there is a universal understanding of common security threats, although their interpretations may be different. In short, the rise of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) has recentered the focus of Russia and the West on the risks of nuclear proliferation. Russia doesn’t agree with the U.S. on how to deal with either North Korea or Iran, but the Kremlin and the White House have found common ground on addressing the nonproliferation challenges and threats posed by these countries. For example, the Kremlin and the White House succeeded in resolving the Iranian nuclear problem and signed the Iranian nuclear deal. Likewise, Russia and the U.S. were able to agree on sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear testing and attempts to acquire nuclear technologies, in-

Russia played an important role in the negotiations over the nuclear deal with Iran, which requires Tehran to provide extensive access to its nuclear facilities and dismantle two-thirds of its centrifuges.

able to resume the commercial operation of the power plant.

Looking to the future

Russia continues to apply stateof-the-art technologies to the processing of nuclear materials. A plant owned by Russian state atomic agency Rosatom in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia, which previously specialized in weapons-grade plutonium, has begun manufacturing an innovative fuel for nuclear power plants with fast neutron reactors. The production facility will use regenerated uranium and plutonium received after reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to create the new fuel type. The advanced technology allows Russia to reprocess 34 tons of plutonium deemed“excessive” for defense needs. The reprocessing is required under the Plutonium Management and Disposition agreement, signed with the U. S. in 2000.

Technology New procedure could lead to cleaner energy

Success of Nonproliferation Requires More Cooperation Between Russia and the West Russia direct


been completely removed from 10 out of the 14 nations that had received the material. The nuclear waste removal program is now conducted by Russia in cooperation with the United States and the I.A.E.A. Russia has shown its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation in other ways as well. One of the most significant actions by Russian nuclear fuel removal specialists began in 2003, when Hungary requested assistance in the retrieval and subsequent reprocessing of irradiated fuel assemblies at Unit 2 of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. The fuel assemblies at the plant had been damaged in the course of a cleaning operation. The event was rated Level 3 on the International Nuclear Events Scale, a “serious incident.” It took nearly four years for Russian experts to complete the recovery operation. It was finished in January 2007, and Hungary was

A worker inspects the reactor hall of the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant near St. Petersburg.


Petr Topychkanov

the gradual removal of highly enriched uranium, helping to reduce the number of countries with weapons-grade nuclear material from 32 to 24. The Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return program also has been a success. More than 60 removal operations from 14 countries resulted in the repatriation to Russia of almost 2,160 kilograms of highly enriched uranium originally supplied to foreign countries by the Soviet Union. Highly enriched uranium has

sergey piatakov/ria novosti

An issue of control


Still open to cooperation

cluding on the U.N. Security Council’s March 2 Resolution 2270. Russia and the West continue to share a common understanding of key challenges to the nonproliferation regime. In short, Russians, Americans and Europeans do not want new states to acquire nuclear weapons. And they especially do not want nonstate actors to have access to weapons of mass destruction. Moscow,Washington and Brussels seem to have accepted the idea that they cooperate when it comes to nonproliferation while, at the same time, they may be confrontational in their relations with each other. The danger is that the confrontation between Russia and the West weakens international nonproliferation collaboration. The positive examples of cooperation shouldn’t be misleading. After all, the fact that Russia and the U.S. can agree on the Iranian or North Korean challenge doesn’t mean that their nonproliferation effort is going to work as usual. Moreover, lack of understanding between the U.S. and Russia could derail the international nonproliferation effort for four major reasons. First, the U.S.-Russian nuclear disarmament partnership is frozen, which sends worrying signals to both nuclear and non-nuclear states worldwide. Some may interpret this to mean that it is high time to arm, not to disarm. Second, mutual accusations about the violation of the 1987

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty lead to questions raised by other members of international community about the responsibility of Russia and the U.S., their adherence to their commitments, and their ability to negotiate effectively. Third, the lack of communication channels between political, military and intelligence communities of Russia and the West leave them without important ways to detect proliferation threats and cooperate in counter-proliferation. Fourth, the aggressive rhetoric of some Russian and American politicians and top military leaders sets a bad example for other leaders, who might switch to using the same rhetoric. Despite several success stories in the field of nonproliferation, Russia and the West are creating conditions for new proliferation threats to be born, and leave themselves with limited instruments to anticipate and see these threats clearly, as well as to stop them. The domination of confrontational approaches in the relations between Russia and the West will continue to weaken the nonproliferation regime. And even modest attempts to change confrontational approaches to cooperative ones will have a long-term positive impact on the nonproliferation regime. The author is an associate in the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Nonproliferation Program.

Low-Waste Nuclear Fuel Production Launched A Siberian plutonium-production facility has been converted into a site for the creation of modern nuclear fuel under an agreement between the U.S and Russia. Henry kennet

special to rbth

An intergovernmental agreement between Russia and the U.S. to convert weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide nuclear fuel has resulted in the construction of a new production unit in Siberia. This production facility for new-generation nuclear MOX fuel for fast neutron reactors began operations last fall in the city of Zheleznogorsk, in Krasnoyarsk Territory. This new fuel-production technology can reduce the volume of

radioactive waste and represents a major step towards a wastefree nuclear industry. “Colleagues from France who recently visited our plant praised what they saw,” said Pyotr Gavrilov, director of the Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC), where the production facility is based.“They even said that they attribute our technology not even to the third, but to the fourth generation.”

New solutions

The opening of the MOX fuel production facility in Zheleznogorsk was an important and symbolic event. The city is the home of the underground Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC), which was created in an atmosphere of

Read more

Thirty years of fast reactors The Soviet Union invested significantly in nuclear technology and developed a number of fast nuclear reactors for both research and industrial purposes. One of these, the BN-600 (600 megawatt) reactor, which has been in operation at the Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant since 1980, is the only fast neutron reactor in the world that generates electricity on an industrial scale. The BN-600 is also the most

powerful fast neutron reactor in the world in operation. Russia inherited this scientific know-how, and Russian physicists have already planned for the BN-600’s successors. In addition to the BN-600 reactors, BN800 reactors have been constructed on the territory of the Beloyarskaya nuclear plant. Today there’s under work the latest fast nuclear reactor in the series, the BN-1200.

secrecy in the mid-1950s for the production of weapons-grade plutonium. The construction of the facility required digging several miles of tunnels and the creation of underground workshops.Three industrial reactors and a complex radiochemical production facility where installed underground. For many decades, the MCC’s three underground reactors produced plutonium-239, which was used to create Soviet nuclear weapons. But after a series of agreements between the United States and the Soviet government, and later the U.S. and Russian governments, the decision was made for both countries to gradually stop producing plutonium. The intergovernmental agreement also required the United States to work with Russia to convert weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide nuclear fuel. This aspect of the agreement is what led to the conversion of the underground workshops in Zheleznogorsk into a facility for the production of MOX fuel. The creation of a MOX facility and a power unit with a fast neutron reactor — known as BN-800 ­– was the most difficult of the Russian-American agreement’s obligations to carry out. Russia now has carried out its part of the deal and expects the U.S to do the same. The plutonium disposition agreement comes into effect in 2018.





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History A 1903 party in the Winter Palace provided the inspiration for modern playing cards as well as Hollywood costume designers

The Last Ball of the Romanov Dynasty

Emperor Nicholas II in the robes of Tsar Alexey MIkhailovich.


All 390 guests at the 1903 ball wore costumes from the early years of the Romanov dynasty. Their finery was captured in a special photo album produced for the event.

The final costume ball of the Romanov court has lived on in unexpected ways, thanks to the photograph album produced for the event. Alexander Korolev special to rbth

At the end of February 1903, a grand costume ball was held at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Although the host, Emperor Nicholas II, couldn’t have known at the time, the party was to be the last grand ball of Imperial Russia. The two-day event, dedicated to the 290th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, was the most opulent ever held during Nicholas II’s reign. The first day featured feasting and dancing, and the formal masked ball was held on the second day. All 390 guests were asked to come in traditional Russian 17th century dress. Court ladies were

attired in sundresses embroidered with precious stones, and many wore the traditional Russian headdress, the kokoshnik. Gentlemen boasted richly decorated caftans and boyar-style fur hats. Nicholas II was robed in the golden brocade of his ancestor, 17th century Russian tsar Alexey Mikhailovich. His wife, Empress Alexandra Fedorovna appeared in a brocade dress decorated with silver satin and pearls topped by a diamond-and-emerald-studded crown — the raiments of Alexey Mikhailovich’s first wife, Empress Maria Ilinichna. The empress also wore a huge emerald. The choice of this gem, as with all the other jewelry worn by the royal family, was made by court jeweler Carl Fabergé.

Gathering clouds

The ballrooms of the Winter Palace never saw such splendor

again. Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich later recalled: “While we were dancing, workers’ strikes were happening in St. Petersburg, and clouds were gathering over the Russian Far East.” The Russian-Japanese War broke out a year later, followed by Russia’s 1905 Revolution. The subsequent global economic crisis marked the beginning of the end for the Russian Empire.

Imperial legacy

But memories of that last ball in 1903 did not die, even during the Soviet era, primarily because the entire event was captured in a photo album. A special edition pack of playing cards was produced in 1913 honoring the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov. Many of the figures took their inspiration from the images of the album. The jack of clubs was copied from

Diplomacy Transfer a sign of ongoing U.S.-Russia cooperation

Ramil Sitdikov/RIA Novosti

U.S. Ambassador John Tefft (left) examines the returned documents.

U.S. Returns New Set of Stolen Historical Documents to Russia Objects removed from Russian state archives in the 1990s were returned by U.S. officials in the first such ceremony since U.S.Russian relations soured in 2014. igor rozin RBTH

On March 3, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft presided over a ceremony returning 28 historical documents dating from the 18th–20th centuries to the Russian government. The artifacts

were stolen from Russian archives in the 1990s and 2000s and were later discovered by Department of Homeland Security officials. The documents had been sold at auctions, shown in art galleries and held in private collections. The documents included: four imperial decrees obtained by the Russian Ministry of Culture from the Leonard Auction, which had been stolen in 1994 from the Russian State Historical Archive by

the Vladimir Fainberg group and illegally transported to the U.S.; 17 drawings made by architect Yakov Chernikhov, stolen between 2003–2006 from the Russian State Literature and Art Archive in Moscow and subsequently seized by U.S. authorities at an American antiques market; and a decree to the People’s Commissar of Defense of the Soviet Union signed by Joseph Stalin on March 14, 1944, that was removed from the Russian State Military Archive in Moscow then obtained in 2012 from the Nate D. Sanders Auctions in Los Angeles. William Stevens, spokesman of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said that such events attest to the fact that despite the current downturn in political relations, cooperation between the two countries on practical matters continues. “Russian officials often complain about the U.S.’s extraterritorial implementation of its law, but in this case it is the U.S. that is implementing Russian laws on its territory,” Stevens said. “The Russian government presented us with information stating that certain valuables were illegally taken out of their country and brought into ours, and we have helped them return the stolen property.” Traditionally, ceremonies in which cultural valuables are returned from the U.S. to Russia take place every year or so, but the last ceremony was held on June 13, 2013, before the downturn in U.S. Russian relations.

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Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich’s costume, and the jack of diamonds was modeled after Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich. The queen of clubs was largely borrowed from the dress of Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fedorovna, and the queen of hearts resembles the emperor’s sister, Ksenia Alexandrovna, dressed as a boyar’s wife. These “Russian Style” playing cards were reprinted even after Bolshevik revolution and they became the most popular pack of cards in the Soviet Union. Millions of Soviet citizens were unaware that they were holding a memory of the imperial age in their hands. The ball’s influence even extends to modern pop culture.“Star Wars” costume artist Trisha Biggar was inspired by the Russianstyle dresses of the ladies with kokoshniks when designing the gold costume of Queen Amidala.


Ksenia, the wife of Emperor Nicholas II’s brother-in-law, dressed as a boyar’s wife.

Alexander Mikhailovich Grand duke, naval officer, explorer and brother-in-law of Emperor Nicholas II


[My wife,] Ksenia, was dressed as a boyar’s wife; her costume was richly decorated and sparkling with jewels that suited her well. I was wearing the clothes of a falconer, which consisted of a white-and-gold caftan with black golden eagles sewn on the chest and the back with a pink silk blouse, light-blue wide trousers and Moroccan boots.”

Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich as a falconer.

Literature Biographer takes readers into the writer’s last days

Retracing Tolstoy’s Final Steps Through His Friends Lost in translation?

Pavel Basinsky’s award-winning book about Tolstoy, now available in English, examines how those near him saw his last decisions. Phoebe taplin special to rbth

In chilly late October 1910, 82-year-old Leo Tolstoy unexpectedly left his estate in Yasnaya Polyana and set off into the night. Three weeks later he died of pneumonia at a little rural railway station. What made the author run away and where exactly was he planning to go? These are the mysteries that Pavel Basinsky’s book “Leo Tolstoy: Flight from Paradise”spends 500 pages unravelling, reconstructing the past through letters and diaries. The inaccurate image of Tolstoy leaving home on foot, with cane and knapsack, is surprisingly persistent. With his peasant smock and flowing grey beard, looking “like a character from a fairy tale,” the elderly writer walked out of his family home straight into the realm of myth. A legend in his own lifetime, Tolstoy’s story comes to us through a polyphonic chorus of

Pavel Basinsky’s award-winning biography of Leo Tolstoy.

friends, relatives, secretaries, biographers and disciples. Some of them are concerned for their own posterity, while others see the writer as “a new Christ.” Despite Basinsky’s years in the archives, some details of those last days remain obscure. As the writer’s wife Sofia later wrote in her diary:“What happened is incomprehensible, and will forever be beyond our understanding.”

It sometimes feels almost as much of a mystery, to a non-Russian reader, how this dryly enthusiastic tome of research should have been so successful, winning Russia’s prestigious Big Book Prize in 2010. The answer lies in its mythopoeic qualities, some of which are lost in translation; Basinsky writes of elements in Tolstoy’s myth being“deep-seated in the Russian consciousness.” The English edition has a telling recommendation on the blurb: “‘Flight from Paradise’ will be of particular interest to international researchers studying Leo Tolstoy’s life and works,” with a vague hope that it will reach a “broader audience.” The 2009 film “The Last Station” transmitted one version of the Tolstoy-death story to Anglophone filmgoers, with a focus on the pressures of fame and success. Elif Batuman’s chapter on “Who killed Tolstoy?”in her 2010 book,“The Possessed,” opens an entertaining window into on-going Tolstoyan scholarship. Basinsky shows how the idea of departure had haunted Tolstoy’s life and work for many decades before his death.

RBTH insert in the New York Times, March 31, 2016  

Experts question reasons behind end of air strikes; Research confirms American, Siberian ties; Nuclear cooperation continues; The last ball...

RBTH insert in the New York Times, March 31, 2016  

Experts question reasons behind end of air strikes; Research confirms American, Siberian ties; Nuclear cooperation continues; The last ball...