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.
Cartoon Of The Week
On November 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued a series of meetings with senior officials from the Defense Ministry and the defense industry. The participants in the meeting, attended also by heads of ministries and regions, discussed the results of the Zapad-2017 military exercise.
During the meeting, Putin said: "The exercise has exposed certain shortcomings. We must analyze them so as to propose additional measures to enhance mobilization readiness.
"I want to say that the economic ability to increase the production of defense products and services quickly is a vital element of military security. All strategic and simply large companies, regardless of the type of ownership, must be able to do this."
(Kremlin.ru, November 22, 2017)
Putin during the meeting with senior officials in the Defense Ministry and defense industry together with ministerial and regional bosses
Interview Of The Week
In an interview with Pravda.ru, Prof. Andrey Manoilo, member of the scientific advisory board to the Security Council of Russia, said:
Maniolo: "We need allies, but serious questions exist regarding [Russia's current allies]. Our problem is that even the countries, which are the mentally, culturally, historically and linguistically close to us – let's say Belarus – do not strongly support us. They do support us when it benefits them. It stems not from the fact that we differ very much from each other. The activity with Belarus is on the same level as the former engagement with Ukraine, which failed completely. God forbid, should something happen to the father's [Belarus President Lukashenko's] health. Belarus could instantly turn into a second [edition] of current Ukraine.
"Regarding [other] allies, we have two major groupings, in whose framework we try to tame our allies – the Euro-Asian Economic Association [EAEA] and BRICS. Yet, BRICS is beset by a host of internal contradictions. The EAEA is more balanced – most of the member countries are former Soviet countries. Yet, the EAEA is not a political bloc. The countries unite purely in order to achieve their economic goals. As for BRICS – it was and will remain only a forum.
"China, for its part, is not allying with anyone. China has hitch-hikers, but not allies. 'We don't need allies, - say the Chinese – We are a self-sufficient country'. Therefore, it is valueless to count on China to be our ally, which will stand occasionally fit in with us on our side on various occasions.
India, with whom we had historically warm relations, perceives Russian political initiatives in BRICS very negatively, because the current Indian leadership is on friendly terms with the U.S. and they are very afraid to mess up the relation with Washington."
Pravda: "Are we completely alone?"
Maniolo: "Yes, in fact we are almost completely alone. In order not to be alone we need to consolidate the formats, the integrated association that we already have... Russia needs to alter BRICS into international organization. Then, Russia will not be alone in the current challenges. Yet, currently, we have a very loose structure, consisting of allies, who play only roles dependent on circumstances."
(Pravda.ru, November 10, 2017)
Andrey Maniolo (Source: Jpgazeta.ru)
In The News:
Turkey-Russia Relations – A Turkish View
The Turkish daily Hurriyet, which has been critical of President Recep Erdogan, published an op-ed, titled "Is Russia Meddling In Turkey's Affairs?" by columnist Semih Idiz, analyzing Turkey-Russia relations and the role played by pro-Kremlin philosopher Aleksander Dugin in them.
Below are excerpts from the op-ed:
"Russia is accused of meddling in the U.S. presidential elections. But what about Turkey? Is there no meddling in Turkey by Russia? Take the case of Aleksandr Dugin, referred to by the Turkish media as 'a Russian philosopher and President Putin's special advisor.'
"Dugin is admired by Turkey's 'pool media' - the name often given to the country's pro-government media - because he says things they want to hear. His most recent remarks to the daily Habertürk, for example, were quickly picked up by this portion of the media. For the record, Habertürk is not really a member of that 'pool.'
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"In his interview over Skype, Dugin accused Washington of being behind last year's failed coup attempt, saying its harboring of Fethullah Gülen [whom Turkey wants extradited from the U.S] is proof of this
"Gulen is the Islamic preacher in self-exile in Pennsylvania who is blamed for masterminding the coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Curiously Dugin himself was actually in Turkey on the night of the coup attempt and suggested in later interviews that he knew it was coming.)
"What Dugin told Habertürk is not new. Indeed, it is a widely held belief in Turkey, and there are many opponents of the government who also believe what he says. After all, this country holds the gold-medal for anti-Americanism.
"But having a 'Russian philosopher' who is also a 'special advisor to Putin' voice support for this theory gives added weight to it for the pool media.
"Dugin also claimed that Ankara's alliance with the West is finished, saying that Washington will now try to undermine Turkey by all means possible. He said it would try to stir ethnic conflict (effectively meaning the Kurds), foment economic and social unrest, and try to sow the seeds of disquiet in Turkey's political and military elite against Erdogan.
"What Dugin is doing, of course, is 'salting the battle field'… This is easy pickings for him, given the widespread gullibility in this country.
"Still, he also said some things that are telling, although it is doubtful that many in the pool media picked up on the significance of these remarks. For example, asked to comment on the view that Russia is trying to pull Turkey away from NATO and toward itself, Dugin said: 'Putin is not trying to pull Turkey toward his side, the West is pushing Turkey [there].'
"While the West's reaction to Turkey on a number of levels justifies this remark, the key point in Dugin's words is that Russia is not the one reaching out to Turkey - it is the other way around.
"This puts Russia on a higher plane than Turkey, and implies that Ankara will have to swallow a lot in order not to endanger its growing reliance on Moscow.
"Dugin is clearly trying to contribute to this dependence with his regular interviews in the Turkish media. Some of his remarks, however, should displease the 'pool media'…
"The long term consequences of Ankara's reliance on Moscow, in the way that Dugin suggests, are not today's questions for the 'pool media.' That media is simply too embroiled in its current prejudices to see the bigger picture."
(Hurriyetdailynews.com, November 7, 2017)
Aleksander Dugin (Source: Youtbe.com)
Venezuela-Russia Relations –Views From Caracas
The Spanish-language media outlet Elconfidencial.com based in Spain, published an article, titled "Venezuela, the Socialist Republic of Russia," analyzing Venezuela-Russia relations.
Below are excerpts from the article, written by journalist Alicia Hernandez:
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro (Kremlin.ru, October 4, 2017)
'The Russians Seem To Be The Only Ones To Be Betting On Maduro's Government'
"Who runs Venezuela? Like anything else in this tropical country, there are different aspects to be considered before giving an answer. Logic would indicate that it is [Venezuelan] President Nicolas Maduro. However, people who are able to see nuances might say that it is the recently created, and controversial, National Constituent Assembly, which represents, theoretically and in Maduro's words, the "sovereign people". Some also say that there is an entity which, without being in charge or pretending to be is pulling the strings of the country and is taking control of its future by using its check-books and by offering loans. That is Russia. This idea is acquiring force after the recent rumors of suspension of payments and the restructuring of the debt between the two countries. However, does Russia really have all this power?
"In the last few months, there is a threat hovering over the Caribbean country which begins to resemble to the story of Peter and the Wolf, the difference is that the beast to be afraid of is the 'default' or suspension of payments. On November 2, Maduro announced his intention of refinancing or restructuring a debt amounting to about 60.000 million dollars. The Fitch financing corporation downgraded the rating of the Venezuelan sovereign debt and of PDVSA, the state oil company, to 'limited default', meaning one step before the suspension of payments. S&P also indicated that a 'selective default' is under way due to the delay of 200 million dollars in interest payments.
"In October, Nicolas Maduro flew to Moscow where he met President Vladimir Putin. 'I thank you for the political and diplomatic support you gave us during these difficult times,' Maduro told Putin…
"On November 15, Caracas signed a deal for restructuring its debt with Russia, a payment for 3,200 million dollars part of a total debt estimated at around 150,000 million dollars that sums up the Republic's and the PDVSA's debts. 'It's a drop in the sea of problems that affect Venezuela. That default with Russia didn't represent a risk and does not have an impact on other instruments of debt,' says [Venezuelan] economist Omar Zambrano.
"Zambrano explains that the debt with Russia is bilateral, from country to country, and that it is the result of the economic relations between the two countries, mainly due to Venezuela's purchase of weapons. 'Russia decided to extend the terms of payment, although it is not known what was [exactly] agreed, since nobody has ever seen the agreement but Venezuela will end up paying very little in the next six years. However, the main thing is that Russia is a minor player in the financial problems of the Venezuelan government,' says Zambrano.
"In the middle of a storm, Russians seem to be the only ones to be betting on Nicolas Maduro's government. 'The relationship between the two is basically political-strategic, it is not, strictly speaking, commercial,' says Zambrano. [Venezuelan] economist Luis Oliveros explains that Russians are the only ones who kept increasing their investments in the Caribbean country in the last few years. 'At [Spanish energy giant] Repsol, they saw the disaster and slowed down the operations. Chevron did the same. Particularly after 2013', when Maduro became president.
"Russia's growing control over Venezuelan crude oil through Rosneft, renders Russia more and more powerful in the Americas. The Russian state oil company is reselling 225,000 barrels per day of Venezuelan oil, amounting to 13% of the total exports of the South American country, according to Reuters' data.
"Last April, Rosneft gave 1,000 million dollars to PDVSA in exchange for oil. In August, they claimed to have lent a total amount of 6,000 million dollars. According to the agency, Venezuela used on different occasions Russian money in order to avoid breaches with the debt holders and estimates that, ever since 2006, a total amount of at least 17,000 million dollars was given on the basis of the loans and lines of credit announced by the government.
"The event that showed, at the same time, the importance and the presence of Roseneft in Venezuela and the close contact between the two countries, was the inauguration of a covered gymnasium and of a 6 meters tall statue of [Hugo] Chavez in Sabaneta, the city of the deceased president, at the presence of Maduro and of Igor Sechin, CEO of the Russian oil company. The two works were offered by Rosneft, as a gift.
Statue of Hugo Chavez in Sabaneta.On the left, wearing a light colored shirt, is Rosneft's CEO Igor Sechin. In the center, underneath the statue, stands Venezuelan President Maduro. (Source: Nicolasmaduro.org.ve, October 7, 2016)
Venezuela As The New Cuba
Relations with Russia have increased in particular after the imposition of sanctions [on Venezuela] from the government of the United States. "Along with China, they were the only ones who could offer financial aid. In practice, markets are closed for Venezuela," comments Oliveros.
"However, before sanctions [were applied on Venezuela]… there was an episode that indicated how much Maduro needs Russian money. This is what paved the way to this year's protests: the Supreme Justice Court's judgments decided that the National Assembly's powers should be abrogated (in the old National Assembly, elected in December 2015, the opposition commanded a majority).
"[As a consequence], the need for parliamentary approval of agreements affecting the country's national interest, including the oil agreements was eliminated. [Indeed] opposition MPs had refused to approve new contracts with Russia. However, with the Supreme Court's ruling, Maduro had the authority to decide by himself. Thus a wide road was opened for Rosneft.
"The [Venezuela-Russia] relationship, as Zambrano hinted, is not strictly commercial. There are strategic and geo-political issues at stake. 'Putin's interest is not just financial, but to tell the United States 'look where I am'. They no longer have Cuba and they are settling in Venezuela. Maybe they want to convert it into the Cuba of the 60s,' explains Oliveros, alluding to the Cold War scenario of those years.
"Giovanna De Michele, a Venezuelan expert in international relations, explains that the rapprochement of the two countries represents a decision which is more political than technical. 'Putin's Russia is characterized by nostalgia for the power of the Soviet Union in the times of the Cold War and tries to re-position itself, at the international level, starting from here…'
"De Michelle clarifies that the rapprochement, not only with Russia, but also with China is not due to confidence in Venezuela, but to the fact that, by placing their feet in the Caribbean, [Russia and China] will manage to attain their own international goals. 'Venezuela is trying to use this situation to redefine the balance of power and to re-shape global polarization, same as it does in its internal affairs. And, in this situation, Russia's and China's interests coincide, at present.'
"Although, she clarifies, [Venezuela] could never be like the Cuba of the 60's 'the historical period is different, the conditions at the international level are also different. I don't think that Venezuela will end up being a satellite, however it is clearly an instrument.'
"Oliveros also warned: "[Russia and China] might become the masters of the country, because, if sanctions will continue and we don't manage to increase the oil production and reverse the crisis, we will keep on selling land to Russia."
(Elconfidencial.com, November 22, 2017)
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6926, Russia To Become Second-Largest Foreign Owner Of U.S. Domestic Refineries, If Venezuela Defaults, May 16, 2017.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6903, Russia's Support For The Venezuelan Regime – An Update, May 2, 2017.
Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev (Source: Gmanetwork.com)
On November 30, Russia's Ambassador to the Philippines, Igor Khoraev, was interviewed by Philippines' media outlet Gma News TV. During the interview, Khoraev stressed that Russia is not looking for a military alliance with the Philippines. In October, Russia gave 5,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 5,000 steel helmets, one million rounds of ammunition, and 20 trucks to the Philippines' Armed Forces.
Igor Khovaev: "First of all, I would like to emphasize that the fight against terrorism is our common fight. My country suffered a lot from terrorism, and we fully understand that no country is able to efficiently cope with this threat on its own. We need to combine our efforts. So we are open for any cooperation with [the Philippines's] military and military technical fields. So, we are ready to supply sophisticated arms and weapons, staff training… and we are ready also for joint military exercises and we are also ready to transfer military technology to help your country build your own defense industry. So it means that we have long term strategic interests. We have to build a long term partnership with the [Philippines]. I think it is a very responsible policy. But there is one exception: we do not seek any military alliance. We are against close military alliance in the Asia-Pacific region."
Q: "Why is that?"
Igor Khovaev: "… We think that the security must be equal and comprehensive, and divisible for all Asian Pacific countries, but not for the selected few. Any attempt to build a close military alliance means an attempt to provide the alliance members with the security to a considerable extent at the expense of other countries… Moreover any military alliance means a limitation of sovereignty… I do not think [the Philippines] want to have common enemies…"
Q: "So it is okay that the Philippines has an alliance with the United States…"
Igor Khovaev: "It is your sovereign right. We do not make any comments on that."
(Source: Gmanetwork.com, November 30, 2017)
Vladimir Putin and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte met on the sidelines of the two-day APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, in Danang, Vietnam. (Source: Kremlin.ru, November 10, 2017; See transcript of the meeting between Putin and Duterte).
Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev and Duterte met on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in the Philippines (Source: Gmanetwork.com, November 13, 2017)
Russia's Military Spending
The press service of the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee chair Viktor Bondarev stated that the bill for Russia’s state arms program for 2018-2025 will amount to 19 trillion rubles ($321.2 bln).
Bondarev, who assumed the post in September, after serving as air force commander, stated: "The new state arms program is being finalized and is almost ready. The financing parameters have long been the subject of a heated debate. Now the set amount is 19 trillion rubles. This program is financially in line with the previous one in annual average terms, but not in absolute terms,"
(Tass.com, November 21, 2017)
News In Brief
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law the bill designating media outlets as foreign agents. Senator Andrey Klishas, the chairman of the Russian Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation, said that the law does not introduce censorship, but enshrines additional obligations for mass media outlets designated as foreign agents. (Tass.com, November 25, 2017; Read full article; Read also this article)
- Russia's ex-finance minister Alexei Kudrin, who now heads the Center for Strategic Research, regrets Russia's adoption of the foreign agent media law. "I believe … the law on NGOs is very tough and I believe that lots of NGOs are improperly defined as foreign agents. I also regret the media are included in this [group]," he said. (Tass.com, November 25, 2017; Read full article)
- "Russia was not the one that instigated the hysterical Russophobic witch-hunt targeting the Russian news media and that is why it cannot ignore this outrage against Russian media outlets in the US," said Russia's representative in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Alexander Lukashevich. (Tass.com, November 22, 2017; Read full article)
- According to the RBC news agency, the National Security Council tasked the Ministry of Communications in conjunction with the Federal Security Service to establish additional measures, enabling it to identify the user of all online games and social media, which enable inbound chatting via mobile phone number. The data is to be provided the Federal Security Service upon the first request. According to StramPub project data, as of 2016, there were 47 million online game users in Russia. (Rbc.ru, November 27, 2017; Read full article)
- Russia's Security Council has instructed the Communications Ministry and Foreign Ministry to develop plans for a separate Internet infrastructure that would serve the five major "emerging national economies" (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), known as the BRICS. (Meduza.io, November 28, 2017; Read full article)
- Russia's federal media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has drafted a procedure for revoking the foreign periodicals' permit to distribute their print editions in Russia. The agency's power to revoke this permit would take effect on January 1, 2018. It's unclear if the affected media outlets would be allowed to reapply for reinstitution of their print distribution permits. (Meduza.io, November 28, 2017; Read full article)