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.
Interview Of The Week
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s replied to a question from the media on the sidelines of the Government Hour in the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly.
Question: "Russia has been accused of interfering in various elections in foreign countries. A presidential race is beginning in Russia. What can we do if our political partners attempt to interfere in our elections?"
Sergey Lavrov: "They have tried to interfere in our elections many times. President Vladimir Putin has provided numerous examples of the U.S. Embassy doing this, for example, when U.S. diplomats attended the meetings of opposition parties, including those that are not represented in the parliament.
"Of course, diplomats need to monitor the situation in the host country and to report their observations to the headquarters, that is, to their capital. But taking part in the host country’s political life by rallying members of the opposition to issue instructions to them, let alone doing what the U.S. Embassy did to lay the groundwork for the state coup in Ukraine, contradicts the Vienna conventions on diplomatic relations.
"So, I firmly believe that those whose job is to see that diplomats do not engage in illegal activities are doing their job properly. Anyway, it is not our foreign partners but the Russian people who will make the choice."
(Mid.ru, December 15, 2017)
(Mid.ru, December 15, 2017)
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:
In an interview with the The Sunday Times, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called Athens "the analogue of the United States and the West," and compared Russia to its nemesis the "closed, nasty, militaristic and antidemocratic" Sparta.
Zakharova bristled in her Facebook account:
"The comparison is incorrect. Not even because Russia has never been a 'militaristic' country, unlike European states. The essence of contradictions between Athens and Sparta was the oligarchy as the basic structure of the latter. I do not think that anything can be more oligarchic than Great Britain… thus, essentially, Boris Johnson is, of course, incorrect."
Zakharova then added: "The wars between Athens and Sparta weakened classical Greece, and the Persians and Macedonians took advantage of them. Today’s divisions, sown and actively cultivated by the West, including on the European continent, undoubtedly, weaken Western civilization itself and make it vulnerable to threats like, for example, ISIS. The game of free historical comparisons, similar to those by the Foreign Office’s head, could take him even further, and one very fine day, he, as such a creative and extraordinary person, will see in his country, for example, the island of Lesbos."
(Tass.com, December 17, 2017; Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, December 17, 2017)
In The News:
U.S. National Security Strategy
On December 18, 2017, the new National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States was unveiled.
Read the U.S. National Security Strategy
The Russian FM reacted as follows:
"It was with regret that the [Russian] Foreign Ministry discovered the confrontational nature of the new National Security Strategy of the United States, unveiled on December 18. It is based on a vision that depicts the world from a position of strength and leads to adversity instead of promoting constructive and equal cooperation with other countries working together to resolve the existing challenges. Instead of seeking to promote partnerships, this document reveals the ambition to preserve at any cost the much weakened U.S. dominance on the international stage.
"Hence the anti-Russia proclamations scattered all over the text. The fact that Russia, as well as China, strengthened their economic and military might, is presented as a challenge for the United States. In other words, Washington clearly does not want our countries to become major powers, fearing to lose the dominant status it once enjoyed. It is for this reason that Russia is accused of threatening the world order, which in this case apparently stands for the unipolar world structured around the interests and needs of the United States.
"The program acknowledges the 'central role of power in international politics.' The United States has long been guided in its policy choices by this vision. The new strategy does not change anything. All it does is openly state where the United States is heading, reflecting Washington’s growing incertitude in its standing.
"As far as Russia is concerned, we reaffirm our readiness to promote partnership ties with the United States free from any attempts to impose anything or interfere in our domestic affairs. A genuine and effective partnership is possible only when based on the principles of equality and mutual respect."
(Mid.ru, December 19, 2017)
Putin Thanked Trump For The CIA Tipoff
The Russian news agency TASS reported:
"The Russian President Vladimir Putin has thanked his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, for the CIA tipoff that led to the capture of terrorists who had plotted bomb attacks in St. Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral and in other crowded places in Russia’s second largest city, the Kremlin press service said on Sunday following a telephone conversation between the two leaders… The press office of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) reported earlier that seven members of a terrorist cell had been taken into custody for plotting terror attacks. They planned to commit a string of murders and IED blasts in crowded areas in St. Petersburg on December 16. One of those detained confessed in court that he had planned a terror explosion in the city’s landmark Kazan Cathedral."
(Tass.com, December 17, 2017)
The Kremlin's summary of Putin's phone conversation with Trump read:
"Vladimir Putin thanked Donald Trump for the information passed on by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that helped detain the terrorists who plotted to set off explosions at Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg and other public places in the city. The information received from the CIA was enough to locate and detain the criminals.
"The Russian President asked the U.S. President to convey his appreciation to the Central Intelligence Agency director and the operatives of U.S. intelligence services who received this information.
"Vladimir Putin assured Donald Trump that in the event that Russian intelligence services receive information that concerns terrorist threats to the U.S. and its citizens, they will promptly pass it on to their U.S. colleagues via partner channels."
(Kremlin.ru, December 17, 2017)
The International Olympic Committee: Doping-Free Athletes From Russia Can Compete In The 2018 Olympic Games As Neutral Athletes
The Russian news agency TASS reported: "The IOC’s Executive Board announced its decision on December 5 to suspend the Russian national team from taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea’s PyeongChang over multiple doping abuse allegations.
"The IOC, however, stated that doping-free athletes from Russia could go to the 2018 Olympic Games under the classification of neutral athletes, or what the IOC labels as the OAR status, which stands for ‘Olympic Athlete from Russia.’
"The upcoming Olympics, which are the 23rd Winter Games, will take place in South Korea’s PyeongChang on February 9-25, 2018."
A source in the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) told TASS: "We have made a decision in November to shorten the extended list of athletes seeking participation in the Olympics in South Korea, reducing the number to 350."
(Tass.com, December 20, 2017)
Proposed logo for the "Olympic Athletes from Russia" (Source: Insidethegames.biz)
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev addressed the topic at a government meeting:
"The International Olympic Committee’s decision has one more aspect, which is understandable to everyone, especially in the current situation. This is the political component. This decision was made in the run-up to the elections in our country, the presidential election with an eye to shaping the appropriate sentiment in society… people abroad are perfectly aware of how important the sports of setting records is for our citizens and citizens in other countries. Every other year, the whole country enthusiastically watches sports competitions, rejoices and, of course, supports our athletes. This decision was a heavy blow for millions of people here and a real tragedy for Russian athletes, since for some of them the South Korean Olympics is the last chance to compete for the highest sports awards."
(Tass.com, December 7, 2017)
Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Russian Federation Council's Committee for Foreign Affairs wrote:
"No doubt, that this [IOC decision] is part of the West's general line to contain Russia. They strike at our national dignity (when they rewrite history), they strike at our reputation (when they speak about our aggressive or fraudulent behavior), and they strike at our interests (by implementing sanctions). This is a complex picture. And unfortunately this is not the end of the story."
(Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002123135703, December 6, 2017)
- Deputy PM Mutko was asked to resign after IOC bans Russia from Olympics (Crimerussia.com, December 6, 2017; Read full article)
- A Communist lawmaker is suing Russia's former sports minister for ‘humiliating’ the country (Meduza.io, December 5, 2017; Read full article)
Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced that, given the situation in Sana’a, "the decision was made to suspend the Russian diplomatic presence in Yemen." She then added: "The Russian Ambassador [to Yemen Vladimir Dedushkin] and part of the diplomatic corps will perform their functions from Riyadh."
(Tass.com, December 12, 2017)
RIAC Expert: 'Until Recently, Russia Was Generally Aligned With Iran And The Domestic Yemeni Forces It Supported'
Ruslan Mamedov, an expert working at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), wrote: "According to a press statement published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, on August 21, 2017, Russia’s Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov received the newly appointed Ambassador of the Yemen Arab Republic to Moscow Ahmed Salem Al-Wahishi, who presented his diplomatic credentials. The move established an official Yemeni representative in Moscow, although, given the deep political crisis tearing the country apart, it was unclear exactly which side Al-Wahishi was intended to represent. On July 13, 2017, President of Yemen Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, acting largely with the backing of Saudi Arabia, appointed him ambassador to Moscow. The new ambassador is believed to be a compromise between Mansur Hadi and former President of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh. The appointment was in large part made possible by the fact that Moscow blocked almost every other candidate for the position from the Hadi government if they were known to be exclusively pro-Saudi in their political leanings.
"What does Moscow stand to gain from issuing accreditation to a Hadi-appointed ambassador? Russia has shown it is ready to mediate in the crisis, but nothing more. Moscow has sought to alleviate some of the tensions in its relations with Saudi Arabia on the Yemen matter, while maintaining a multi-faceted approach. It has continued to work with all the actors in the crisis on different levels. Pragmatists on every side of the conflict benefitted from Russia’s move, since it put them on a path towards political dialogue. However, it is likely that Russia will abstain from any actual action on the ground to reinforce its diplomatic efforts due to its limited resources and current foreign policy priorities. Therefore, Russia’s commitment to promoting the political process can be defined as long-term.
"In this context, we cannot avoid mentioning the Syrian conflict and possible relevant trade-offs between Saudi Arabia and Russia. However, it would be unreasonable to tie the conflicts in Syria and in Yemen together, even though some Russian experts believe that Syrian armed groups with connections to certain Saudi circles pose the greatest threat to the so-called de-escalation zones.
"It should be noted that the Yemen crisis involves a variety of regional forces. If Russia were looking to take on a more active role, it would have to synchronize its interests with those players. Until recently, Russia was generally aligned with Iran and the domestic Yemeni forces it supported … However, despite Yemen’s logistical value, Russia, as we have pointed out above, has no reason to become actively involved in the matter and spend its resources in this part of the region. Moscow is quite satisfied with the current terms of access to the Gulf of Aden. Furthermore, Russia having a presence in Syria gave Russia the opportunity to influence key regional players (where the Astana process started), something which Yemen did not have. In any event, the Houthis will command strong positions in North Yemen and remain a key player on the country’s political scene.
"The accreditation of the ambassador was thus an entry point to regional processes for Moscow."
(Russiancouncil.ru, December 14, 2017)
Cambodian PM Hun Sen and Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev (Source: Khmertimeskh.com)
The Hong Kong-based English-language news website Asia Times commented on Russia-Cambodia relations:
"… [Prime Minister of Cambodia] Hun Sen met his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, on the sidelines of a regional [ASEAN] summit in Manila. Medvedev offered to send a team of observers to next year’s election, which many observers have said would be a sham without the [forcefully dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party] CNRP’s participation.
"What is clear is that Phnom Penh now sees its future with China and Russia, not Western democracies. In a speech in September, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn announced that the 'the West has become weak' before praising Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership style.
"The Phnom Penh Post reported that he also said 'Cambodia’s foreign policy future lay with China and Russia.' Part of the incipient shift is likely due to Russia being one of the most vocal – and most hypocritical – proponents of non-interventionism…
"There are already indications that Cambodia and Russia are trying to form a closer economic alliance. Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn visited Moscow in August, where he spoke about boosting trade with Russia by 2020, including the possibility of creating a Cambodia-Russia Business Council.
"Bilateral trade in goods was worth only about US$110 million in 2015, compared to the US$3.4 billion recorded between Cambodia and the US that year. In the second quarter of this year, total trade with Russia was worth US$34.1 million, up roughly 15% from the same period last year.
"The ruble’s hard decline in 2014 undercut Russian tourism to Cambodia, though there are signs that numbers are picking up again. Earlier this year, Tourism Minister Thong Khon outlined a new strategy to boost Russian arrivals, including new direct flights from Russia and bilateral tourism forums.
"Nuclear cooperation is also on the cards.
"Last year, the Russian and Cambodian government departments signed many memoranda to develop the latter’s nuclear energy sector, including the building of an Information Center for Atomic Energy in Phnom Penh. It will reportedly be advised by Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear firm.
"Another intergovernmental agreement was signed in September in Vienna to boost cooperation between the two nations for the development of nuclear energy for peaceful means.
"Whether Russia is willing to buy influence in Cambodia will be seen if it decides to write-off or revise down the US$1.5 billion Soviet-era debt Cambodia incurred during the 1980s. Phnom Penh has long called on Moscow to cancel the debt.
"America attracted Cambodia’s opprobrium earlier this year when Hun Sen revived the issue of a US$500 million debt Phnom Penh owes dating back to the 1970s. The US government has long said Cambodia must pay the debt incurred during a US-backed rightist regime which Hun Sen this year referred to 'blood-stained' and 'dirty.'
"Russia seldom attracts criticism for maintaining its historic debt with Cambodia, worth three times as much as America’s. When Hen Sen broached the subject with Medvedev last month, the Russian premier reportedly promised to establish a working group to study the issue.
"Moscow made the same vow in 2014, but failed to propose a mutually agreed resolution.
"Some analysts believe Moscow might restructure the debt, though probably not write it off, in a bid to deepen bilateral inroads. One scenario, they say, would give Russia special access to Cambodia’s ports and resource extraction contracts in exchange for a debt write-down.
"Given that Cambodia’s total national debt was US$6.2 billion as of June this year, representing roughly 28% of GDP, any such gesture would be well-received in Phnom Penh at a time it braces for the pinch of US and EU sanctions imposed against its anti-democratic backsliding."
(Atimes.com, December 7, 2017)