Russia This Week is a weekly review by the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project, covering the latest Russia-related news and analysis from media in Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.
Photo Of The Week
Demonstrations in Armenia (Source: Facebook.com/richard.giragosian.376, April 23, 2018)
Quote Of The Week
During a visit to Beijing, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said:
"Today, we are witnessing the transformation of international relations and their transition to a multipolar system, which is characterized by the redistribution of spheres of influence and toughening competition for regional and global leadership. Under these conditions, the United States wishes to preserve the role of a hegemon in international affairs, using all means, including military ones, and pushing countries toward a new arms race."
"At the same time, Washington is not ready for equal cooperation even with its traditional partners. This is confirmed by new U.S. doctrinal documents in the area of national security and defense, and its drive to revise the most crucial international agreements, including the United Nations’ decisions and basic principles of the World Trade Organization."
(Tass.com, April 24, 2018)
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu (Source: Artic.ru)
Russian National Security Council Head Nikolai Patrushev announced that the U.S. is threatening Russia's national security. Addressing the Security Council's Inter-Ministerial Commission on National Strategic Planning, Patrushev said:
"Obviously, in view of the changes in U.S. policy towards Russia, the threats to [Russian] national security have grown. All this requires the formulation of new supplementary measures to neutralize them [the threats]", said Patrushev.
(Ria.ru/defense_safety, April 20, 2018)
Patrushev also warned that the threat from abroad was not purely military but it was necessary to defend Russian values from Western influence:
"Special attention should be paid to countering the destructive influence from abroad, targeted at eroding traditional Russian spiritual-moral, and historical-cultural virtues, as well as questions of informational security."
(Ria.ru/society, April 20, 2018)
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova is one of the most-quoted Russian officials. She is known for using colorful language when describing Russian foreign policy in her weekly press briefings. The following are Zakharova's quotes of the week from her press briefing:
Britain Is The World's Leader When It Come To Genocide
"Historians believe that Britain is the world’s leader when it comes to genocide, given the millions of innocent civilians that have been killed in British colonies."
(Mid.ru, April 19, 2018)
Crimea’s Accession To Russia 235 Years Ago Commemorated
"Today it is 235 years since the accession of the Crimean Peninsula to Russia. On April 19, 1783 Empress Catherine the Great issued a Manifesto on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Empire and the formation of the Taurida region to be governed by Prince Grigory Potemkin who received the title of Potemkin of Taurida for his services."
(Mid.ru, April 19, 2018)
Pushkov's Tweet Storm
Senator Aleksey Pushkov posted on his Twitter account:
"The new cold war is evident. The difference is that it's not a battle between two systems for world domination, as it was between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Russia does not seek hegemony, but it does not agree to Pax Americana. It's the U.S. that wages the Cold War against Russia in order to preserve its hegemony."
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, April 23, 2018)
Word Of The Week
Germany's Foreign Office Spokeswoman, Maria Adebahr, said it is necessary to talk to Russia. Niels Annen, a minister of state in Germany’s Foreign Ministry, a ministry held by Angela Merkel's SPD coalition partner, said that one need not only speak with Russia, but should "constructively" engage in conversation.
Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas put it clearly : "Whether you like it or not - without Russia you will not be able to resolve the conflict [in Syria]."
SPD and CDU politicians believe that the West should offer Russia a deal on Syria, and they are offering three prizes to Putin:
- Recognition of Russia's continued presence in Syria, which is of military-strategic importance for Russia.
- Western and Gulf state capital injections for rehabilitating Syria, in a manner that will make Russia the prime contractor, with all the financial benefit that that entails for Russia's economy.
- Political-ideological recognition of Russia's global status.
Concerning the third point (i.e. the recognition of Russia's global status), the FAZ political analyst Konrad Schuller wondered: "Ist das nicht Kapitulation?" (Doesn' that [mean] capitulation?).
A policy-maker that does not want to be mentioned by name said that it is not capitulation, and added: "It is the recognition of reality: that Russia has become the indispensable factor in ending this war… I do not like that, but it is a fact."
(Faz.net, April 22, 2018)
The Interview Of The Week
Sergey Karaganov, a former Kremlin's advisor, who currently chairs the Russian Defense and Foreign Affairs Council, said in an interview to Profile.ru:
"…One of the major fronts in the new cold war is the information field. The West is still dominant in it, though it gradually loses its positions. In reality, the cards that the West's opponents hold in the new cold war are incomparably better than what the USSR had. The USSR spent nearly half its Gross National Product in order to assist the so-called fraternal countries. Today we can't even imagine the net worth of that assistance. Meanwhile, the USSR confronted not only the U.S. and NATO, but China as well.
"Nothing of the kind at the moment. During the previous Cold War the whole world except of socialist countries was controlled by the West. There is none of that today… The Soviet elite did not love their country, and considered it morally unjust. Today the (Russian) elite is unified and think that truth is on our side – this is a fundamentally different state of society. … If we play our cards well, we have a huge chance to win. On the other hand we may also lose. We may lose [because] we may squander all our advantages. It's going to happen, if we don't tidy things up in in our country. Yet, currently the situation is in our favor.
"… Today the West hates us, while we feel for them disgusted contempt. Both sides are demonizing each other, yet the West is doing it much more violently. During the previous Cold War years it was not that way. Now we hardly have communication channels. There are no strict rules of conduct – in large measure, it happened because the West decided that it can do whatever it wants and destroyed them ..."
(Profile.ru/politika, April 23, 2018)
Ideology In The Making
"Russia needs a state ideology to be a great and powerful country" announced Sergei Mironov, the leader of the "Just Russia" faction, in his talk at a round table discussion on "The experience of October 1917 and Today's Left-Of-Center Politics."
Mironov explained: "I insist that a state ideology is necessary for our country and our people. Under the Constitution, no ideology may be established as a state or obligatory ideology. I agree as far as an obligatory ideology is concerned, but we do need a state ideology," he said.
According to Mironov, Russian troops were valiantly defending the country's national interests in Syria, but "people on the other side are howling protected by an ideology for which they are willing to die for, and we need to combat that with a state ideology of our own based on patriotism."
"It's time for us to end the ideological crisis so that people's minds are not captured by the radical ideas of either right-wing nationalist or leftist populist forces," Sergei Mironov said. The parliamentarian added that he is not yet ready to formulate an appropriate ideology, but he is certain that this must be done as soon as possible.
(Pnp.Ru, April 20, 2018)
In The News:
Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned on April 23, after ten days of opposition protests. He was reelected prime minister of Armenia in April 2018. However, after six days after taking office, large protests started in the country. Sargsyan said: "The situation could be solved in various ways, but I will not resort to any of them. That is not mine. I leave the post of the head of this country."
Political expert Andrei Areshev published an article in the Vladai Club, titled "'That is not Mine': How Sargsyan's Resignation Can Affect Relations Between Armenia And Russia," discussing the Armenian political situation.
"Mass protests in Yerevan have been on the rise over the past ten days, but their ground was prepared long ago.
Without going into the post-Soviet history of Armenia, I would like to identify some landmark points. These are, in particular, the events of 2008, when the presidential election resulted in Sargsyan’s coming to power to succeed the country’s second president, Robert Kocharyan. The opposition did not recognize the elections’ results back then, and there were good reasons for that. According to official data, ten people were killed and about 200 injured during the clashes in the early hours of March 1, 2008. This left a serious imprint on the entire subsequent rule of Serzh Sargsyan, who was at the helm of the nation for two consecutive terms. Although he won elections twice, each time his opponents challenged their results to some extent.
"Unfortunately, for Armenia the problem of the authorities’ legitimacy is not new. In 2015, following the results of the constitutional referendum, Armenia became a parliamentary republic. A year before, in 2014, the incumbent president (Serzh Sargsyan again), who was the initiator of the constitutional amendments, made a public statement that he was not going to hold either the post of prime minister in the future power structure or the post of the chairman of the parliament, which became quite important in accordance with the new constitutional scheme for the redistribution of powers.
"In March 2017, parliamentary elections took place in Armenia, and the Republican Party, whose formal leader was also Serzh Sargsyan won. But this happened solely due to the personality of the then prime minister (and current acting premier) Karen Karapetyan, who enjoys significant support in Armenian society.
"Apparently, that success gave Serzh Sargsyan a reason to renege on his promise and run for the post of prime minister, which triggered mass protests. This was the main mistake of the Armenian authorities, which led to such serious political consequences.
"Another mistake was the ignoring of mass protests, including the so-called 'walking with the people' of Nikol Pashinyan, leader of the small opposition Elk ('Exit') faction, who started the foot-and-cars marathons in the cities of Armenia, demanding the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan, who was elected prime minister by the parliament on April 17.
"As Sargsyan’s party retains a majority in the parliament, the possibility of early parliamentary elections should not be ruled out: not only presidential, but also parliamentary elections in Armenia were challenged for their legitimacy. It is quite obvious, that the Republican Party is not in the best shape now and its opponents will use all possible arguments to discredit it, because some of its representatives gave good reasons for this.
"However, the process of purification has already begun in part – it was initiated in 2017 by Karen Karapetyan. However, it did not reach its logical conclusion, and in Armenia, as in many other post-Soviet countries, the situation remains the same, when politicians (like MPs) are simultaneously big businessmen, as well as monopoly holders of import flows, making money to the detriment of the development of export-oriented industries that could create additional jobs and stimulate economic growth.
"Talking about the international consequences of the events in Armenia, one should keep in mind that all of that is a purely internal agenda. There was not a single anti-Russian slogan, and no corresponding kind of mood. But, on the other hand, we are perfectly aware that the informal leader of these protests, Nikol Pashinyan and his Elk party Elk repeatedly raised the issue of Armenia's withdrawal from the EAEU and the search for 'new allies' under which they obviously have in mind the NATO countries.
"At the same time, given the geopolitical situation around Armenia, there is no serious alternative to military-political and military-technical cooperation with Russia. All major political parties and groups in Armenia, representing serious interests of various social strata, understand that any drastic changes may have very negative consequences.
"While Armenia implements a 'multi-vector' policy, priority is given to partnership with Russia, the CSTO and the EAEU. It is worth recalling the story of an attempt to sign the EU Association agreement in 2010, which was disrupted precisely because Brussels put a strict condition: either the EU or Russia. Of course, Armenia did not do this, but as soon as Brussels softened its demands, the relevant negotiations resumed and in November 2017 the Agreement on Comprehensive and Expanded Partnership was signed, which, compared to the association agreement, is extremely truncated in terms of specific application of European norms to the Armenian legislation. By the way, all of this was done by Serzh Sargsyan and his administration.
"In general, Armenia will have to discuss seriously the future model of economic development, the future of the country and to fine-tune the new constitution, which recently entered into force, in order to avoid such movements, which may lead to the disruption of the state structures work. In the short term, it is important to follow the constitutional procedures, both the spirit and the letter of the law.
"According to the Constitution adopted in 2015, in case of resignation of the Prime Minister, the parliament elects a new prime minister from among the candidates presented by the main factions. We can already hear statements that the acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan will become premier. He enjoys quite a lot of support in society and is well known in Russia, including because of his longtime association with the Gazprom structures. Karapetyan could bring the situation back to the legal field, especially when in 2017, after a long period of stagnation, the Armenian economy began to show quite significant growth rates, and this growth is primarily related to the activities of the Karapetyan-led government."
(Valdaiclub.com, April 23, 2018)
Sanctions On Russia
The Russian news agency TASS reported that State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin "advocated introducing a ban on enforcing U.S. sanctions on the territory of Russia."
Volodin said: "It would be right to introduce liability for those who will be guided by anti-Russian decisions of foreign states in their activity on the territory of Russia." The speaker of Duma also did not rule out "criminal liability" for that.
(Tass.com, April 20, 2018)
Commenting on Volodin's proposal to introduce a bill on criminal liability for carrying out U.S. sanctions on Russian soil, first deputy head of the ruling United Russia faction Andrei Isayev said:
"I think during our work on the law on counter sanctions, a bill on criminal liability for enforcing U.S. sanctions on Russia’s territory will be drawn up…
"Certainly, this [bill on criminal liability] will be adopted during the spring session."
(Tass.com, April 24, 2018)
At the meeting of financial ministers from G20 nations, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said:
"We spoke in condemnation of the restrictive measures which are being introduced against Russia and a number of other states. Politics is being replaced by sanctions, which, in our opinion, contradicts the principles of G20…
"We need to consider those issues and make decisions as professionals, from the economic point of view. I think that such decisions should also be condemned because they contradict the spirit of G20 decisions…
"Sanctions against [aluminum giant] Rusal have primarily dealt a blow to Europe, they positively influenced the stocks of US aluminum producers, and had a negative impact on Russia. This measure is purely protectionist."
(Tass.com, April 21, 2018)
The Chief of the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) and ex-Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin commented:
"Western funds overestimated political risks regarding investing in Russia. This overestimation, decrease of those limits is a fundamental, substantial indicator. That is why the ruble has not fully recovered. We see the process going on. Unfortunately, it is sluggish as it is connected with persisting sanctions. Once the overestimation took place, the return to previous positions is unlikely within days or 2-3 months."
Meanwhile, TASS explained that the high global oil prices support the ruble, "due to which the exchange rate started to recover after a short devaluation period caused by new U.S. sanctions."
(Tass.com, April 23, 2018)
The Iran Nuclear Deal
Russia’s Permanent Representative to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said that the U.S. and the EU are not authorized to amend the nuclear deal with Iran. Chizhov said: "If the European trio reaches an agreement with the Americans on something, neither our Chinese counterparts nor we have anything to do with that. Everyone signed the agreement, and no one has authorized the European trio to talk on behalf of a group of six nations."
(Tass.com, April 25, 2018)
Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin is in favor of preserving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program. Peskov said: "We are in favor of preserving the JCPOA in its present form. We also believe there is no alternative [to it] yet… the JCPOA in its current form was a product of meticulous and intense diplomatic efforts by many states. These efforts deserve high praise. Whether or not it is possible to repeat such successful work in the current situation - that’s a big question."
Commenting on the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated:
"Currently, it is crucial for all those who understand the JPCOA’s worthiness and significance to deal with what the situation dictates, that is to exert any effort for the agreement to be preserved and successfully and sustainably implemented in the future…
"So we need to sort out what actually happened at the two leaders’ meeting in Washington. We have heard mixed messages, which do nothing to clarify our counterparts’ intentions in this regard…
"Of course, as we have noted more than once, we do not feel we are bound in any way by the agreements that have been reached or can be reached by the European trio and the U.S."
"I would refrain here from talking about the European Union’s common stance. The issue at hand is contacts between Washington and three European capitals - London, Paris and Berlin."
(Tass.com, April 25, 2018)
Russia In Syria
The head of the Russian Operational Directorate-General Headquarters of the General Staff Colonel-General Sergey Rudskoy said: "Russian specialists will continue training Syrian servicemen and will assist in mastering new air defense systems that will be provided ( to Syria ) in the immediate future."
(Ria.ru/syria_chronicle, April 25, 2018)
The Russian news agency TASS reported on the possibility that Russia will deliver the S-300 air defense systems to Syria:
"Russia is technically capable of providing its S-300 air defense systems to Syria within one month, a military-diplomatic source has told TASS, adding that for this the launchers already at the Defense Ministry’s disposal might be used after the required reconfiguration, a military-diplomatic source has told TASS.
"According to the official, there are two options of delivering the S-300 to Syria.
- One is Russia may provide to Syria the export configuration of the air defense launchers. In that case Syria will get them in 18 to 24 months from now.
- The other possibility is the available systems may be retrieved from the Defense Ministry’s reserves. Those replaced by S-400 in the Russian army might be used as well.
"'Naturally, the used S-300 systems that may be taken to Syria will have to be reconfigured to suit the standards of the Syrian air defense. This work may take about a month,' the source said.
(Tass.com, April 23, 2018)
"Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on April 16 that Russia might be prepared to consider all the necessary steps for enhancing Syria’s defense capabilities, including the supplies of S-300 systems.
"On April 23 Lavrov said the question of providing S-300 to Syria had not been settled yet, but Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed that possibility with the Defense Ministry 'from the standpoint of preventing a situation where Syria might turn out insufficiently prepared for aggressive attacks, like the one that took place on April 14.'
"Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from comment when asked if the S-300 might be delivered to Syria in the near future."
(Tass.com, April 23, 2018)
Russia opposes Bosnia and Herzegovina's accession to NATO. Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said after meeting with the President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik (Republika Srpska is the largely autonomous entity of the Bosnian Serbs):
"Russia’s position is consistent, open and clear: we oppose NATO’s expansion into Europe and are against militarization of European countries and creation of division lines. We believe this worsens the security situation on the European continent."
Matviyenko stated: "Security can be only one and undivided for all countries and European security is impossible without Russia like Russia’s security is impossible without Europe. Therefore, we are making every effort to hold dialogue with our partners and we are explaining our position."
She then added: "We continue calling for a single political and economic area, a security field from Lisbon to Vladivostok so that our common and united European house should be prosperous and safe, and this can be done only by joint efforts of European countries."
(Tass.com, April 24, 2018)
On April 25-26, international summit of high-ranking representatives responsible for security issues was held in Sochi.
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev read out Putin's address to the participants:
"Some members of the international community have been increasingly trying to ignore the generally recognized norms and principles of the international law and resort to the use of military force bypassing the UN Security Council and refuse to hold talks as a key tool of resolving international disputes…
"This, in its turn, generates political and social instability and plays into the hands of terrorism, extremism and transnational crime, leading to the escalation of local conflicts and crises…
"Russia is ready for the closest cooperation with foreign partners in this direction both in multilateral formats and on a bilateral basis."
(Tass.com, April 25, 2018)
The Skripal Case
On March 23, 2018, Russian chemical scientist Vladimir Uglev, a developer of Soviet-era nerve agents related to the one used against Skripal and his daughter Yulia, told the Guardian that a similar poison was used in the murder of a Russian businessman in the 1990s.
(Theguardian.com, March 23, 2018; Read the full article)
Coincidentally or not, at the end of April, Uglev was struck by a passing vehicle as he was crossing the road. According to the 71-year-old Uglev, after he was run over – he hit the front end of the car which got broken. Yet, apparently the man did not sustain serious injuries.
(Gazeta.ru, April 25, 2018)
On April 22, Foreign ministers of Group of Seven (G7) began their two-day meeting in Canada to discuss issues about Russia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Syria and Ukraine.
In a G7 joint communiqué, Russia was called upon to respect its international obligations regarding Ukraine. The communiqué also stated: "We welcome national action taken to constrain Russian hostile-intelligence activity and to enhance our collective security."
Canada holds the G7 presidency in 2018 and will host the G7 summit on June 8-9.
(Read the full communiqué, April 23, 2018)
Commenting on the meeting, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov made remarks on the G7's policy towards Russia.
Question: "Toronto hosted a G7 foreign ministers’ summit, which again announced that new anti-Russia sanctions were possible and established a special group to investigate Russia’s behavior. What is your comment?"
Lavrov: "In all evidence, they have no serious problems left on the agenda, which they could address among themselves. The main issues that affect and are of importance for international economic life and the international community as a whole are discussed in other formats. Political issues and military-political issues are discussed at the UN Security Council and the UN at large. Economic issues, of course, cannot be decided outside the G20, which involves, along with the G7, all the BRICS countries and many of our friends.
"As far as the results of the foreign ministers’ meeting in Toronto are concerned, its anti-Russian underpinnings are clear. Regrettably, this anti-Russian and very slippery line has been followed even by those G7 countries which assure us that they do not share the attempts to isolate Russia.
"We will uphold our positions and wait patiently for our partners to realize that these actions are an absolute dead end and lack any prospects."
(Mid.ru, April 24, 2018)
The Russian Permanent Representative to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told the EURACTIV European media network:
"I will make a bold statement saying that in the absence of the G8, the G7 is increasingly irrelevant."
He then added that major global issues are currently handled by the G20. "So even if the G7 today decides to re-instate the G8 and re-invite Russia, we’ll think twice about whether to join," he stated.
(Tass.com, April 24, 2018)
According to Senator Andrey Klimov, Chairman of the Federation Council's Commission for Defending State Sovereignty, G-7 decisions aimed at prolonging anti-Russian policy are without legal force – the only instruments for resolving contentious issues are the UNSC and the G-20.
"The G-7 format is already dying one as well as PACE [Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council]. The G-7 continues to take decisions by inertia that corresponds to Western foreign policy. As soon as Russia withdrew from the G-7 the organization became marginalized."
(Ria.ru, April 24, 2018)
Following the G-7 announcement regarding the possible extension of sanctions against Russia, the Chechen Republic President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is on the U.S. sanctions list, said that if Western leaders visit Chechnya they'll be arrested and tossed into jail:
"We have also introduced sanctions against Trump, Merkel and all the rest. If they come to the [Chechen] republic, we'll arrest them right away and put them in a jail. If they have (bank) accounts here, we'll immediately block them", said Kadyrov.
(Gazeta.ru, April 24, 2018)
News In Brief:
- "Andrey Anokhin, a city councilman in St. Petersburg, has drafted legislation that would force Internet users to access all social media through a state-operated portal and limit the amount of time they’re permitted to be online to three hours a day. The law would also ban underage Internet users from accessing social media at all from schools, orphanages, and other public spaces." (Meduza.io, April 26, 2018; Read the full article)
- "Russia's economy could lose 1 billion dollars by the end of the year, because of the Telegram ban. The 'software solutions' company Flexbby estimates that the collateral damage to the Russian economy caused by Roskomnadzor’s efforts to block Telegram will reach $1 billion within a few months. Flexbby says the blocking of millions of IP addresses has disrupted the work of roughly 400 Russian companies that use various cloud services offered by Google and Amazon." (Meduza.io, April 26, 2018; Read the full article)