Russia test-fired Sineva and Bulava ballistic missiles from two submarines from the polar region of the Arctic Ocean and from the Barents Sea on Saturday as part of combat training, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The Sineva, a liquid-fueled intercontinental missile, was fired from the Tula submarine, while a Bulava, Russia’s newest solid-fueled missile, was launched from the Yury Dolgoruky submarine, the ministry said.
They hit targets at training grounds in the northern Arkhangelsk region and on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Far East, the ministry said.
“During the launches the specified technical characteristics of submarine ballistic missiles and the efficiency of all systems of ship missile systems were confirmed,” it said.
Russia and Turkey held urgent talks in July on connecting Turkish companies and lenders to the Russian central bank’s alternative to the SWIFT financial messaging system.
The two sides met soon after Turkey risked the threat of U.S. sanctions by taking delivery of a Russian S-400 air-defense missile system, snubbing demands by the Trump administration to cancel the deal and sparking outrage in Congress. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin have fostered ties in recent years, including over the war in Syria, while Russia has adapted its financial system in response to international sanctions since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Russian Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseev confirmed the talks took place after details of the meeting emerged from a government document that was found dumped in a landfill near Moscow. A picture of the Finance Ministry letter detailing the meeting with Turkish Deputy Finance Minister Bulent Aksu was published on the Telegram channel of Russia’s Baza news service on Monday.
“The feasibility of signing a memorandum at these negotiations was discussed, it was decided that we need to work on it and now we are working on it,” Moiseev said by phone late Tuesday. “Depending on what will be in the memorandum, we will proceed.”
The Bank of Russia established the financial messaging system in 2014 with the aim of “reducing external risks” and protecting against the threat of being cut off from the global SWIFT service. It aims to ensure uninterrupted services for transferring messages in SWIFT formats, according to a presentation on the central bank’s website. Putin said in June that Russia is in talks about connecting China to the network. The central bank also created Russia’s MIR card and the National Payment Card System to process domestic payments in 2015 in response to sanctions risks.
A senior Turkish Treasury official confirmed the meeting took place. The two sides spoke about routine matters, said the official, who declined to give details and asked not to be named.
Officials at the talks in Moscow discussed access for Turkey’s banks to the Russian messaging system, as well as extending MIR’s use to more Turkish lenders, according to the letter. They also held talks on payments in national currencies.
Russia has significantly reduced the dollar’s share in its international trade and reserves over the past two years, amid the risk the U.S. may extend sanctions to include banning Russian banks from settlements in the greenback. Putin said in November that the contract to sell the S-400 to Turkey was not settled in dollars.
The discussions between Turkey and Russia were so urgent that the deputy director of the ministry’s financial policy department paid personally for the costs of hosting the Turkish officials at a special hall for state delegations in Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, according to the dumped letter, which showed him seeking compensation.
The Finance Ministry has “requested clarification” about the discarded document from the company dealing with its waste disposal, according to its press service.
Five hospital staff workers, including senior doctors, told The Moscow Times that FSB agents had their colleagues sign non-disclosure agreements.
The three injured men arrived at the hospital around 4:30 pm, naked and wrapped in translucent plastic bags. The state of the patients made staff suspect they were dealing with something very serious. But the only information they had at the time was that there had been an explosion at a nearby military site around noon.
“No one — neither hospital directors, nor Health Ministry officials, nor regional officials or the governor — notified staff that the patients were radioactive,” one of the clinic’s surgeons told The Moscow Times by phone this week. “The hospital workers had their suspicions, but nobody told them to protect themselves.”
The hospital was Arkhangelsk Regional Clinical Hospital, a public healthcare center in Russia’s far north, and the day was last Thursday, Aug. 8. After the explosion, radiation spiked to as much as 20 times its normal level for about 30 minutes in the region’s second largest city of Severodvinsk. Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom has reported that the accident killed five of its staff members.
Russian authorities are keeping the circumstances surrounding the explosion shrouded in mystery. With government agencies releasing information piecemeal amid a mass of contradictions, the state’s response to the accident echoes its behavior after Chernobyl, the catastrophic 1986 nuclear accident in then-Soviet Ukraine.
Official reaction has included initial denials that radiation spiked at all, and an announcement four days after the accident that the village of Nyonoksa, close to the military site, would be evacuated. Authorities later denied that they had ever ordered villagers to leave. The lack of information has led to confusion among locals, who reportedly scrambled to buy up all of the iodine, a chemical used to limit harm to radiation exposure, in the Arkhangelsk region.
They are not the only ones who have been left confused and demanding answers. Four male doctors at the Arkhangelsk hospital — two in senior positions — and a medical worker told The Moscow Times that its staff have been left shocked and angered by the events that took place. The doctors spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a period of heightened attention by Russian security services.
While none of the doctors worked directly with the patients in question, they all attended a briefing at the hospital on Aug. 12 by a deputy health minister for the Arkhangelsk region and are in constant communication with colleagues who did treat the victims, they said. The doctors said that all staff who worked with the patients directly were asked by Federal Security Service (FSB) agents on Aug. 9 to sign non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from talking about what happened.
“They weren’t forced to sign them, but when three FSB agents arrive with a list and ask for those on the list to sign, few will say no,” said one of the senior doctors.
The Moscow Times was unable to speak with any of the doctors who tended to the three patients or obtain a copy of the reported non-disclosure agreements.
But the versions of events that the five men recounted are identical. They also concur with two additional anonymous accounts published on Aug. 15 — one from a female doctor at the hospital in a local news outlet, Northern News, and one in a local chat group on the popular Telegram messenger.
All of the accounts express pointed frustration with the authorities for keeping medical staff in the dark about the risks they were facing.
“The staff is furious to say the least,” said one of the doctors who spoke to The Moscow Times. “This is a public hospital. We weren’t prepared for this and other people could have been affected.”
“Still, everyone did their jobs professionally,” he added.
All of the accounts also ask why state personnel exposed to radiation would be sent to a civilian hospital, rather than a military one, in the first place. The doctors who spoke to The Moscow Times said they and their colleagues had prepared a thorough list of questions for Health Ministry representatives who visited on Aug. 12 to clarify the staff’s concerns, and not a single one was answered clearly.
The Health Ministry, the FSB, the Arkhangelsk’s governor’s office and the Arkhangelsk Regional Clinical Hospital did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Rather than answers, the doctors were offered a trip to Moscow for tests. All four doctors said that about 60 of their colleagues, including four or five paramedics who had transported the patients to the hospital, took up the offer. The first group flew to Moscow hours after the meeting with the Health Ministry representatives, they said.
According to three of the doctors, including both senior sources, one of the doctors flown to Moscow was found to have Caesium-137 — a radioactive isotope that is a byproduct of the nuclear fission of uranium-235 — in their muscle tissue. One of the sources said the affected doctor had told him so directly, though he was not informed about the amount or concentration of the isotope found.
The affected doctor declined a request for an interview.
“[The person is] beaten down emotionally, but physically seems to be fine, for the moment,” the doctor who spoke to The Moscow Times said, describing his colleague.
The doctors said that after two groups flew to Moscow the rest of the flights were canceled. They also said after the results had come back radiation experts were flown to Arkhangelsk to carry out the tests there instead.
Yuri Dubrova, an expert on the effects of radiation on the body at the University of Leicester in the U.K., said by phone that the patients brought to the hospital most likely had high doses of the isotope on their skin. The level of danger for the Arkhangelsk doctor all depends on how much the person was exposed to, Dubrova said.
“If the dosage wasn’t very high, the person should be able to fully recover within a week if they are given clean food and water,” he said.
But Dubrova also noted that the lack of information is what would have put the doctor in harm’s way.
“Exposure to Caesium-137 is quite preventable — all you need to do is wash the patient really well,” he said. “But the doctors were made vulnerable to radiation because they hadn’t been told what had happened.”
According to the doctors, the operating theater, located on a third-floor wing of the hospital, was sealed off until Aug. 13. They said that Russia’s consumer safety watchdog Rospotrebnadzor and the Emergency Situations Ministry inspected the hospital over the following days.
The doctors also said Rospotrebnadzor representatives have told staff that the hospital is now safe.
According to three of the doctors, two of the three patients that were treated at the Arkhangelsk Regional Clinical Hospital didn’t even reach Moscow, dying en route to the airport.
They said that security services officers who visited the hospital on Aug. 9 recovered and deleted all of the information about the incident that was in the hospital’s records.
“It’s as if the event no longer exists,” one of the doctors said. “With no documentation the staff couldn’t try to take anyone to court, even if they wanted to.”
He added that some of his colleagues who traveled to Moscow had done so to try to gather evidence to prove the accident happened.
“When all of our colleagues are back in Arkhangelsk, we will sit down and discuss what we should do next,” another doctor said, noting that so far the staff is strongly considering appealing to the prosecutor general.
“Every rule was broken,” he added. “Why were these patients brought to a civilian hospital and not a military one? Why were staff not told to implement proper safety measures? Why were paramedics allowed to transfer them without wearing the right protective gear?”
The events bring to mind a chilling scene in the recent HBO miniseries ‘Chernobyl.’ When the first patients arrive at a local hospital after the accident, doctors begin treating them without protective gear. One cautious nurse explains that their clothes should be burned, but the doctors are depicted handling the toxic items with bare hands.
“It’s exactly like the show’s creator said,” one of the doctors said, referring to a tweetfrom Craig Mazin three days after the Severodvinsk explosion. “Thirty-three years later and our government hasn’t learned a thing. They keep trying to hide the truth.”
At least three state-backed agencies have reduced the frequency of their publications of economic and polling data over increasingly worrisome figures this year.
Low oil prices and Western sanctions, as well as Russia’s expenditures on its military campaign in Syria and a reported backing of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, have put a dent in many Russians’ savings.
The investment arm of Russia’s biggest lender Sberbank had abruptly stopped publishing its consumer confidence figures for three consecutive quarters in 2018-19 until they rose again later this year, Russia’s The Bell business outlet reported Monday.
Known as the “Ivanov index,” the measure of consumer confidence said that the share of Russians who consider themselves middle class had fallen from 60% in 2014 to 47% last year.
“There was a decrease in consumer confidence caused by a set of factors during 2018,” Mikhail Krasnoperov, Sberbank’s leading consumer sector analyst, told The Bell in a written statement Monday without explaining the reason for the investment arm’s gap in publications.
“The confidence index is recovering in 2019 against the backdrop of improving expectations for the country’s economy, personal prosperity and growth of confidence in business,” Krasnoperov was quoted as saying.
VTsIOM, Russia’s state-funded pollster, was spotted late last week switching from weekly to monthly publications of President Vladimir Putin’s trust ratings. The most recent weekly data showed public trust in the Russian leader hovering at 13-year lows.
In May, VTsIOM changed its trust ratings methodology when confronted by the Kremlin over the 13-year lows. The makeover resulted in Putin’s trust ratings more than doubling.
A month prior to that, Russia’s State Statistics Service (Rosstat) began releasing income data quarterly rather than monthly after it had shown a slump in disposable incomes for five years straight.
Pavel Malkov, an Economic Development Ministry official who was installed as the head of Rosstat late last year, had criticized the income indicator for outdated methodology and vowed to recalculate historical numbers going back to 2013.
Despite Moscow’s record protest, the Kremlin’s position is still strong.
Massive crowds marched through the streets of Moscow around me. The Kremlin had mobilized a virtual army of police and security troops, but still, Muscovites marched ignoring the bad weather and the even more chilling threats of state violence. But that wasn’t last Saturday, it was 28 March 1991, when 100,000 came out to protest attempts to bar Boris Yeltsin from the Russian Federation presidential elections.
Three lessons were learned. From this display of people power, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev came to realize that unless he wanted to rule from a throne of bayonets, he needed to come to terms with Yeltsin. However, the massive and effective security operation also persuaded Yeltsin that the Kremlin could not be challenged directly with impunity, and he was reconciled to reaching some kind of a deal with Gorbachev.
And from the fact that Gorbachev let the protests happen at all, a cabal of hard-liners decided that he was clearly too weak — pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestiya even fulminated that it has been “disgraceful” that the Kremlin had demonstrated “powerlessness” — and that they needed to take matters into their own hands. The result would be the farcical August Coup that in fact destroyed the very Soviet system they thought they were defending.
The point is that even in the midst of economic freefall, nationwide strikes, rising secessionism, demoralization of the security apparatus, and the total discrediting of the official ideology, 100,000 marchers could not in themselves make a difference — rather, they influenced elite alliances and calculations, and confrontation had to lead to compromise.
This is worth remembering, now that the received wisdom is that 60.000 protesters in Moscow, with thousands more at solidarity events around the country, is too big for the Kremlin to ignore.
But once the opposition has the Kremlin’s attention, what then?
What, after all, are the protesters’ goals? Is it simply to see opposition leaders Ilya Yashin, Lyubov Sobol and the rest restored to the electoral lists for next month’s Moscow local elections and protesters freed?
This would not be enough to make the movement evaporate. The suspicion amongKremlin political technologists is surely that such a concession would be interpreted as a sign of weakness, and lead to further demands — revision of the municipal filter, dismissals of the officials responsible and the like.
This, in turn, is all part of a wider drive towards democratization, meaningful legal reform, a cleansing of the elite.
In a word, this is about revolution.
Yashin and the rest were not standing for the Moscow city council to argue about refuse collection and zoning, after all, but as a platform to articulate a message of systemic change.
So the hard-liners are — in their own self-interested terms — entirely right. It was foolish and short-sighted to have kicked the opposition candidates off the electoral lists, and doubly so to do so in such a clumsy manner. Having done so, though, the government has locked itself into a position from which it cannot afford to retreat, or at least to be seen to retreat. This has become a struggle for power.
The security forces are disciplined and show no signs yet of being unwilling to play their role in the drama of repression. As for the economy, it is sluggish but not in crisis.
If the opposition is to be able to use the momentum and opportunity it currently has, then it needs to articulate a set of political demands that manage to be plausible and meaningful, yet also acceptable to the Kremlin.
This is not 1991. At present, although there is discomfort within the elite about current policy, their greatest fear is precisely systemic collapse.
The security forces are disciplined and show no signs yet of being unwilling to play their role in the drama of repression. As for the economy, it is sluggish but not in crisis: amidst this political turmoil, global rating agency Fitch has restored Russia’s investment-grade rating up to BBB, its pre-Crimea level. Fitch noted the country’s macro-economic policies, low foreign debt and solid financials, adding that Russia was also now in a better position to weather any new U.S. sanctions.
The Kremlin’s position is strong. However much neither man would like to acknowledge the parallel, though, Putin is in some ways like Gorbachev. He does not want to head a bloody-handed junta. He wants legitimacy both at home and abroad, and to fund his adventures, his cronies’ embezzlement and his vanity projects, he needs a working economy, which in turn depends on many of those on the other side of the riot barriers.
But Putin is also a child of the 1980s, with a terror of the kind of rapid systemic collapse he experienced in both East Germany and the U.S.S.R. Even the horrendous violence we saw at previous protests is as nothing to what he could unleash if he wanted to — and likely would, if he felt it the only alternative to anarchy.
So the challenge facing the protesters is not just to retain their enthusiasm, courage and momentum in the face of arrests and threats, on the one hand, shashlik and music festivals on the other.
Arguably more difficult will be identifying a set of goals which slowly but genuinely advance their cause, but not leave the authorities feeling they cannot comply. The opposition has enthusiasm and right on their side. The authorities have ruthlessness and cosmonauts. Against this, the opposition has to play the long, clever game.
At least five nuclear experts have been killed in a mysterious explosion during a rocket engine test at sea in northern Russia four days ago.
Officials have been slow to release information about Thursday’s blast, which led to a radiation spike in a nearby city and sparked heightened demand for iodine.
U.S.-based nuclear experts said they suspected the explosion occurred during the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile touted by President Vladimir Putin last year.
Here’s what we know about the explosion so far:
— The rocket’s fuel caught fire, causing it to detonate and knock several people into the White Sea, the state nuclear agency Rosatom was quoted as saying by the state-run TASS news agency.
— Officials in the nearby city of Severodvinsk said radiation had briefly spiked without saying how high, but their statement was taken down on Friday without explanation. Regional media reported that local residents had begun stocking up on iodine, which is used to reduce the effects of radiation exposure.
— Authorities said after the incident they had shut down part of a bay in the White Sea, although public shipping information from the port of Arkhangelsk showed the area had been closed for the preceding month. It did not say why.
What are the authorities saying?
— The involvement of nuclear workers was acknowledged for the first time by Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom on Saturday. It said three of its staff members have been hospitalized.
— In a video interview published late on Sunday, Russian officials at the nuclear research institute where the scientists had worked said the accident had caused a twofold rise in radiation levels that had only lasted an hour.
— Meanwhile, Russia’s consumer watchdog branch in the Leningrad region has assuredSt. Petersburg residents that radiation levels are “stable.”
What is the media reporting?
— St. Petersburg’s Fontanka.ru news website quoted a video statement by one of the leaders of the nuclear center as suggesting that the blast occurred at a “compact nuclear reactor.”
“It’s a nuclear battery, just so you understand,” the state nuclear monopoly was quoted as saying.
— Vyacheslav Solovyev, one of the officials at the institute in the closed city of Sarov, said: “These developments are also actually happening in many countries. The Americans last year…also tested a small-scale reactor… Our center also continues to work in this direction.“
— Russian media have said the rocket engine explosion may have occurred at a weapons testing area near the village of Nyonoksa. Those reports say an area near Nyonoksa is used for tests on weapons, including ballistic and cruise missiles that are used by the Russian Navy.
— Rosatom named the five nuclear experts as Alexei Vyushin, Evgeny Koratayev, Vyacheslav Lipshev, Sergei Pichugin and Vladislav Yanovsky. The agency released the five experts’ photos to the RBC news website on Monday.
— As many as six other staff members were injured and transported by helicopter to Moscow to be treated for radiation exposure, the Baza Telegram channel reported. The workers were brought from the airplane to a Moscow hospital in vehicles wrapped in film, the Telegram channel added. Rosatom has said that three people were injured in the blast.
— The experts, who worked for the center based at the closed city of Sarov, have been put forward for state awards, officials said, without specifying which honors they might receive.
— The Sarov city administration announced two days of mourning, saying Sunday the experts died while “performing a task of national importance.” Russia held a memorial service for the five scientists on Monday.