February 2 – Russia
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) orders Russia to pay opposition activist Alexei Navalny $68,000 in compensation for violating his right to peaceful protest, unlawful arrests, and other rights violations. Alexei Navalny is Russia’s most prominent anti-corruption activist and critic of President Vladimir Putin and his regime. (February 8): A court in Russia finds Alexei Navalny guilty of embezzlement and sentences him to a suspended five-year term. This is a retrial and repeated sentence of the 2013 trial, which was annulled after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Russian court had violated Navalny’s right for a fair trial. The sentence bars Navalny from running for president in 2018. He calls the sentence politically motivated and says he will pursue his presidential campaign despite the conviction
March 23 – Russia / Ukraine
Former Russian Member of Parliament Denis Voronenkov is assassinated on the streets of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in what it is believed to be a contract killing. In 2016, he fled to Ukraine, where he was a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies. He also denounced Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegal. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko calls the murder an act of Russian “state terrorism”.
March 26 – Russia
Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption activist, Alexei Navalny, is fined for participating in the banned protests and jailed for 15 days for resisting arrest. The anti-corruption and anti-government protests drew thousands of people in many cities across Russia.
March 26 – Belarus
Special police troops in Belarus arrest hundreds of demonstrators during a rare anti-government protest that turned violent. It is a culmination of weeklong sporadic protests across the country against President Alexander Lukashenko’s decree imposing a special tax on the unemployed, calling them “social parasites”. Opponents of the move accuse the president of punishing people for the lack of jobs. Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, has been dubbed as “Europe’s last dictator”.
May 30 – Moldova / Russia
Moldova’s pro-EU government expels five Russian diplomats. Among them is a military aid diplomat who earlier this year had received government classified information from a former Moldovan member of parliament, Yuri Bolbochan, who was later arrested and accused of treason. Russia condemns the expulsion and threatens retaliation. Russia considers Moldova, a former Soviet republic, within its sphere of influence. After Moldova signed a broad association agreement with the European Union in 2014, Russia imposed restrictions on agricultural imports from the country.
June 12 – Russia
Despite intimidation by the authorities, tens of thousands of people respond to Russian activist Alexey Navalny’s calls for protests against high-level corruption and stage rallies in towns and cities across Russia. The protests take place on Russia Day as Navalny’s tactic to connect the anti-graft campaign with patriotism. Navalny is detained upon leaving his apartment building to join the protests and quickly sentenced to thirty days in prison. Hundreds of protesters are also detained. Alexey Navalny is currently the most prominent opposition figure in Russia who continues his dissent despite government harassment and intimidation.
More on human rights in Russia from Human Rights Watch: World Report 2017
June 19 – Russia
A Russian military jet aggressively flies within 5 feet of a US spy plane over the Baltic Sea. (June 21): A NATO fighter jet approaches a Russian plane carrying the defense minister to the militarized Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. A Russian jet escorts it away from the plane. Tensions between Russia and NATO have intensified in recent years after the alliance expanded its military presence in Poland and the Baltic states following Russia’s aggression into Ukraine in 2014. The tensions intensified after the recent downing of a Syrian jet by the US forces in Syria. Russia is an ally of the Syrian regime.
Listen to an NPR’s interview about the growing military standoff between NATO and Russia in northeastern Europe.
June 22 – Russia / Uzbekistan
The US Department of State releases its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which measures and ranks government efforts in three areas: prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the crime. Human trafficking includes sex trafficking, forced labor, domestic servitude, and recruitment and use of child soldiers. The Report incorporates the insights of NGOs, advocates, and survivors with firsthand experience to provide evidence and to educate the public about the $150 billion illicit human trafficking industry. It also intends to provide an incentive for governments to prevent and prosecute trafficking, support victims, and shield at-risk populations.
The Report ranks countries in three tiers according to their response to human trafficking. Tier 1 consists of countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA). Tier 3 includes countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA and are not making efforts to do so. This year’s report downgrades China, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Russia, and Uzbekistan to tier 3, the rank of worst offenders.
2017 Trafficking in Persons Report
July 17 – Ukraine
Separatists in eastern Ukraine declare the creation of new ‘state’ called Malorossiya (Little Russia), the name used by Russians tsars to describe the areas covering most of today’s Ukraine. With Russian support, the rebels broke away from Ukraine in 2014. Despite multiple attempts to implement the ceasefire agreement, fighting has continued and the peace process has stalled.
Why Ukraine matters to the U.S. and Russia? Video (2:05) from CNN
July 27 – Russia
Despite objections from the Trump Administration, both houses of U.S. Congress overwhelmingly approve new sanctions on Russia in response to Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. 2016 elections. It also strengthens the previous sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea by turning them into a law, which means they cannot be eased or reversed without congressional approval. New measures target key Russian officials and industries. They also put restrictions on companies doing business with the Russian oil industry. President Donald Trump reluctantly signs the bill. (July 28): Russia retaliates to US new sanctions by cutting U.S. diplomatic staff and seizing some properties used by US diplomats.
August 28 – Kazakhstan
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NIT) and the government of Kazakhstan (the world’s top source of uranium) open Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) international Bank in northern Kazakhstan. This unusual bank will deposit low-enriched uranium—nuclear fuel— used for peaceful purposes in nuclear power plants, but also used to build nuclear weapons. The goal of this initiative is to avoid nuclear weapons program by convincing nations not to build their own uranium enrichment facilities, but withdraw the fuel they need for power plants from the LEU Bank. The bank was initiated by NIT. A third of its cost – $50 million – was funded by Warren Buffett. An additional $100 million came from the governments of the United States, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, the more than two dozen countries in the European Union, Kazakhstan, and Kuwait. The Bank will be owned and operated by IAEA. According to former U.S. Senator and NTI Co-Chairman, Sam Nunn, “the launching of the LEU Bank is a major milestone for global nuclear security and nonproliferation efforts.”
September 14 – Russia / Belarus
Russia and Belarus launch large-scale joint military exercises, called Zapad-2017 (“West-2017”), held across Belarus, as well as Russia’s military district of Kaliningrad, Russia’s small territory on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania. Russia says that fewer than 13,000 troops are participating, which means they don’t have to invite international observers. But NATO and Western military experts believe as many as 100,000 troops may be involved in the drills. These troops include armored units, warships, and aircrafts. This show of Russia’s force and power makes its neighbors nervous, especially Ukraine, which is not part of NATO and its eastern part is under pro- Russian separatists. In 2014, Russia has also already invaded and annexed Crimea, which is part of Ukraine.
Map showing the area of the Zapad-2017 military exercises
In 2016, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) established a forward presence with four multinational combat-ready battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland on a rotational basis. They serve as a deterrent on eastern flank of the Alliance.
Map of NATO Enhanced Forward
September 25 – Russia
A report issued by the United Nations Human Rights (UNHR) accuses Russia of violating human rights in Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014. It details “grave human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and torture, and at least one extra-judicial execution.” It says that Ukrainian laws and citizenship were replaced with the Russian ones in violation of the obligation under international humanitarian law to respect the existing law of the occupied territory. Hundreds of prisoners and pre-trial detainees have been transferred to Russia despite the practice being strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law. Education in the Ukrainian language has almost disappeared from Crimea, jeopardizing one of the pillars of an individual’s identity and cultural affiliation. The report also says that while those human rights violations have affected Crimeans of all backgrounds, Turkic-speaking minority, the Tatars, have been particularly targeted, especially those with links to the Mejlis organization, which initiated public protests against Russia’s annexation.
To access the full report
October 4 – Russia
King Salman of Saudi Arabia is the first sitting Saudi monarch to ever visit Russia, where he meets with President Vladimir Putin. Both sides sign investment deals worth several billions dollars. Saudi Arabia will invest in Russian energy industry and will purchase Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missiles (diversifying it from the U.S. and UK markets). Russia, on the other hand, will build a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia. Both sides also agree to continue their cooperation in the area of oil industry. Although Russia is not part of the intergovernmental oil cartel, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), it cooperated with OPEC members to suppress oil production in an effort to increase oil prices. This economic cooperation provides Russia with much needed investment as its revenues have been hit by falling oil prices and Western sanctions after the 2014 annexation of Crimea. In terms of the conflict in Syria, where Russia and Saudi Arabia are on the opposing sides, with Russia supporting the Syrian regime and Saudis supporting Syrian opposition, the two countries agree to cooperate in fighting terrorism.
November 29 – Russia
In defiance of international sanctions, North Korea successfully launches another intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasong-15, which flew higher than missiles previously tested and landed off the northern coast of Japan. The missile reached an altitude of 2,780 miles and flew the distance of 590 miles in 53 minutes. The height is important as missiles at higher altitude can travel longer distances on a lower trajectory. North Korea boasts that the new missile can now reach any part of the continental United States. Defending the launch, North Korea says it is a “responsible nuclear power” and it needs these strategic weapons to defend itself from “the U.S. imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat”. (November 30): U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley urges all countries to sever relations with North Korea. Russia, however, says that sanctions do not work and encourages diplomatic approach.
North Korea in nine charts
December 6 – Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is seeking another term as president in the elections scheduled for March 2018. If he completes the next 7-year term, he will have ruled Russia for 24 years until 2024. He has been in power since 1999. This includes the period between 2008 and 2012, when he switched places with Dmitry Medvedev who theoretically served as President and Putin as his Prime Minister. Russia’s main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has been officially barred from running for president because of his embezzlement conviction, which he claims was politically motivated. Navalny calls for a boycott of the next year’s elections.
From spy to president: The rise of Vladimir Putin: video (09:05)