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memri
February 8, 2018 No.
7321

Russia This Week – February 7, 2018

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


(Source: Vk.com/politics_today, February 1, 2018)

Tweet Of The Week

The Russian Embassy (@RussianEmbassy) to the UK tweeted on February 4, 2018:

(Source: Twitter.com/RussianEmbassy, February 4, 2018)

In The News:

Mexico-Russia Relations

The American Spanish-language media outlet Univision published an article, titled "Russia Quadruples Its Investments In Mexico At A Time When The U.S. Are Planning To Raise Walls" noting that Russian investment in Mexico grew by more than 400% during the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's government.

Unionvision reported that during the government of Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN), the Russians allocated 14.4 million dollars to Mexico, a small amount compared to the capitals invested by other nations; however, these transactions marked an unprecedented rapprochement between the Kremlin and Los Pinos (the president's official residence).

Prior to EPN, Russian investments to Mexico were almost nonexistent and they passed unnoticed in the media. However, the Russia-Mexico relations gained particular relevance since the U.S. is threatening to exit the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pushing the Mexican government to look for new trade partners worldwide.

These new investments do not begin to compare with the more than 10,000 million dollars that the U.S. annually invests in Mexico, but, undoubtedly, they broke a record in the relations between Los Pinos and the Kremlin. According to official figures under former president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), the Russians invested only 2.8 million dollars in Mexico and under former chief of state, Vicente Fox (2000-2006), a mere 800,000 dollars, although Fox had signed a trade promotion agreement with the Russian chief of state Vladimir Putin.

It should be also mentioned that, last December, Washington warned of possible signs of Moscow's interference in the Mexican presidential elections.

In spite of tensions with the U.S. Mexico-Russia trade relations matured, and bilateral trade rose from 579 million dollars in 2006, to 1,481 million dollars in 2016.

In 2012, Mexico had 52 enterprises with Russian investment capital; by the end of 2017 there were 79 such companies in diverse sectors such as aviation, energy, hotels, telecommunications, information technologies, according to Promexico, the governmental agency that promotes Mexican commerce abroad and which has an office in Moscow. Also present is the Russian state owned defense exporter Rosoboronexport, which supplied helicopters, airplanes and armored vehicles to the Mexican Armed Forces.

In summer 2016, when Trump strengthened his bid for the republican nomination, Russia invested 1.7 million dollars to buy pipes for the transport and storage of natural gas in 12 Mexican states, according to the Secretary of Economy. In 2017, Russian investments in pipelines grew fivefold, up to 9.8 million dollars.

By mid-2017, two contracts for oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico were secured by the Russian oil company Lukoil, which announced an investment of 50 million dollars during the following months.

Last November, officials of Lukoil and the Mexican state owned petroleum company, Pemex drafted an alliance for future business. Moscow stressed that its presence in the Mexican oil sector is unaffected by U.S. sanctions. The U.S. forbade its citizens to do business with Russian oil companies.

Last December, Washington also warned that there were signs of Russian interference in Mexican presidential elections. "We can already see signs [of Russian intervention] in the Mexican presidential campaign" declared Herbert Raymond McMaster, Trump's national security adviser. However, the Mexican government rejected these warnings and insisted that "there is no evidence to support this hypothesis."

Nevertheless, the declarations by the US official raised some speculations in the direction of the leftist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who, in past elections and during a dirty campaign, had been associated with the Venezuelan Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro (both of whom expanded ties with Russia).

The Reuters agency, citing analysts, suggested that López Obrador is Russia's favorite, given the positive coverage that he received from Russian mouthpieces such as Sputnik and Russia Today.

The Mexican journalist León Krauze, in a column published in the daily El Universal, stressed that a U.S. Senate report analyzed Russia's strategy of influencing elections throughout the world, mainly in "vulnerable countries". "The electoral authorities and other players of Mexican public life, must henceforth keep their eyes wide open in order to detect traces of the methods described in detail, by the US Senate report" commented the journalist.

The Washington Post published an article, signed by Frida Ghitis, predicting that "if López Obrador wins, Putin will have a reason to smile with satisfaction. This is due to the fact that López Obrador would not be good news for the U.S."

"All of a sudden, Mexico is being pressed both by the US of president Trump and by Vladimir Putin's Russia, who have diverging interests but who, ironically, are both contributing to the same electoral result", stated Ghitis' article.

Following these remarks, López Obrador, the presidential candidate of the Morena party, made light of them and said that from now on he should be called "Andresmanuelovich".

(Univision.com, January 27, 2018)


Meme of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Source: .lanetanoticias.com)

Iran-Russia Relations

Commenting on attempts by the West to supplement the Iranian nuclear deal, the head of the Russian State Duma's International Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky said: "The working group set up by the U.S. and the 'European trio' [UK, Germany and France] to draft additional agreements on the so-called Iranian deal is a dubious body, which will hardly contribute to resolving the situation around Tehran's nuclear program."

Slutsky then added: "Signing additional agreements or creating other mechanisms can have an adverse effect on the implementation of the existing agreements on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions (JCPOA) … The fact that Washington is vigorously promoting, if not to say, pushing its policy aimed at revising the Iranian deal on European platforms is a very negative signal. I will repeat that this can undermine the implementation of the JCPOA and exacerbate the overall nuclear security and disarmament situation."

(Tass.com, January 23, 2018)

See also:

  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani: "The Americans are shamelessly threatening Russia with a new atomic weapon", Rt.com, February 5, 2018; Read full article
  • High-ranking officials from Iran, Russia, Iraq, and Syria held talks about a range of security issues in Baghdad, Tasnimnews.com, 2018; Read full article
  • Iran exporting 3 mln barrels of oil per month to Russia under oil-for-goods program, Tass.com, February 4, 2018; Read full article
  • Russia's Permanent Representative to the EU Vladimir Chizhov slams Trump's remarks on Iran deal as tactic to blackmail EU, Tass.com, January 24, 2018; Read full article

Russia In Syria

Sochi Conference

On December 22, 2017, at the end of the eighth round of intra-Syrian talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, which focused on the topic of the ceasefire, the three countries sponsoring the talks – Iran, Russia and Turkey – announced that a national dialogue conference would be convened in Sochi, Russia on January 29-30, 2018, "attended by all parts of Syrian society."

This Russia-led conference was intended to serve Moscow's efforts to advance a political solution to the Syrian crisis on its own terms, while marginalizing the U.S. and Europe. If successful it would duplicate what occurred in the military talks, where Russia took control by leading the Astana process. Some 1,600 Syrian representatives were invited to attend the Sochi conference, and the agenda envisaged discussions on the Syrian constitution and holding elections in the country. As part of the effort to lend the conference international legitimacy, Russia also extended invitations to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Kazakhstan and the UN to send representatives to the conference, as well as to the U.S., China, Britain and France.

(See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1371, Apprehension In Syrian Opposition That Sochi Conference Aims To Establish New Political Framework For Syria Solution, Preserve Assad's Regime, January 28, 2018)

See also:

  • Address of participants of the Syrian national dialogue congress, Sochi, Mid.ru, January 30, 2018; Read full address
  • Final statement of the Congress of the Syrian national dialogue, Sochi, Mid.ru, January 30, 2018; Read full statement
  • Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's answers to media questions on the sidelines of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress Sochi, January 30, 2018, Mid.ru, January 30, 2018; Read full Q&As

Chemical Weapons

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov criticized U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for assigning Moscow and Damascus responsibility for the chemical weapons attacks during the Syrian conflict. Peskov said: "So, by and large, we categorically disagree with the approach employed by the Americans who have actually swept the real probe into previous cases of chemical weapons use under the rug… They are embarking on a course of sweeping real international probes of previous cases under the rug and, unfortunately, [they] prefer the path of labeling without any grounds."

(Tass.com, January 24, 2018)

See also:

  • Foreign Ministry statement on U.S. allegations regarding chemical attacks in Syria, Mid.ru, January 24, 2018; Read full statement

Russia-U.K. Relations


(Source: Ria.ru, January 26, 2018)

The Chairman of the Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev dismissed the remarks by the UK State Secretary for Defense, Gavin Williamson that Russia is preparing to destroy the UK's vital infrastructures on the British Isles.

Kosachev said: "Quite naturally, a question any Russian politician - and not only a politician asks himself in the first place is what for. Not only what Russia should attack the UK for, because this is a strictly rhetorical question. More importantly, why is Gavin spreading these purported and scary lies."

(Tass.com, January 26, 2018)

First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Council Defense and Security Committee Franz Klintsevich noted: "Utter nonsense. Looks like UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said that under the influence of having just read Herbert [H.G.] Wells' novel The War of the Worlds, which describes the Martian invasion of England. It's a carbon copy, the only thing that is missing are the heat rays used by the aliens to destroy everything around them. It has been rightly stated that one should get acquainted with such books in his or her childhood."

(Tass.com, January 26, 2018)

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said: "British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson in his fiery crusade for military budget money appears to have lost his grasp on reason. His fears about Russia getting pictures of power plants and studying the routes of British pipelines are worthy of a comic plot or a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch."

He then added: "What is really stunning is this: if Williamson in this way hopes to draw attention to his own personality, he is not the first one in the defense secretary's seat who is trying to score political points by spooking the British people with horror stories. But if it is Britain's General Staff that reports such nonsense to him, then he should start thinking not about ways of increasing the defense budget but checking British military planners for professional aptitude, with a special emphasis on medical exams."

(Tass.com, January 26, 2018)

See also:

News In Brief

  • Russian Culture Ministry yanks distribution certificate for The Death of Stalin (Tass.com, January 23, 2018; Read full article)
  • 'We don't have censorship,' says Russian culture minister, explaining why 'The Death of Stalin' has been pulled from cinema distribution (Meduza.io, January 23, 2018; Read full article)
  • The Russian Culture Ministry's decision to withdraw the distribution certificate for the Death of Stalin movie is based on expert opinions, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. (Tass.com, January 24, 2018; Read full article)
  • Russian senator Andrey Klimov accuses U.S. mass media of meddling in Russia's election campaign (Tass.com, January 24, 2018; Read full article)
  • An investigative piece prompts the end of the website 'Russiangate' (Meduza.io, January 24, 2018; Read full article)