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.
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On October 23-24, Sochi will host the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum. The forum will be co-chaired by Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, who also serves as president of the African Union. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
In The News:
- Russia-Africa Relations
- Russia-Turkey Relations
- Defense: Russian General Shamanov Complains About The Total Disregard For The Army's Needs; The Ministry Of Defense Of The Russian Federation Responds To An Article In The New York Times
- Further Readings: Russia and Saudi Arabia: A Gradual Expansion of Bilateral Cooperation
On October 23-24, Sochi will host the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum. On October 23, Russian and Egyptian leaders will open an economic forum in Sochi that will include Russian and African officials and representatives of big business as part of a high level events program. Following the forum, the participants are expected to sign a package of trade, economic and investment agreements.
On October 24, Sochi will host the Russia-Africa Summit co-chaired by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Egypt and Chairperson of the African Union Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. This will be the first event of this kind in the history of relations between Russia and the African countries. The heads of all African states and the leaders of the largest sub-regional associations and organizations have been invited to attend the event.
The participants will pay special attention to the state of and prospects for Russia’s political, economic, technical and cultural relations with the African countries. They plan to discuss a broad range of international issues, including cooperation in countering new challenges and threats and consolidating regional stability. Following the summit, the participants plan to adopt a political declaration on major areas of Russian-African cooperation.
During the events at the Russia-Africa Economic Forum and Summit, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in President Vladimir Putin’s work program and in meetings with foreign ministers of African countries. The schedule is being finalized now, and we will inform you when it is ready.
(Mid.ru, October 17, 2019)
Putin In An Interview To TASS On Russia – Africa Summit In Sochi: We Helped The Africans To Protect Their Independence And Sovereignty; The Development And Strengthening Of Mutually Beneficial Ties With African Countries And Their Integration Associations Is One Of Russia's Foreign Policy Priorities
Question: "The Sochi Summit is meant to open a new chapter in the relations between the Russian Federation and African countries. Its participants will bring to Sochi their ideas about ways to develop cooperation. What does Russia, in its turn, have to offer to the states of the African continent? What is Russia's biggest competitive advantage that you will present to the heads of delegations at the Summit? What volume of Russian investment in African economies do you expect to achieve, say, in the next five years?"
Putin: "Russia and African states have traditionally enjoyed friendly, time-tested relations. Our country has played a significant role in the liberation of the continent, supporting the struggle of its peoples against colonialism, racism and apartheid.
"Later on, we helped the Africans to protect their independence and sovereignty, gain statehood, form the basis for national economies, and create capable armed forces. Important infrastructure facilities, hydroelectric power plants, roads, and industrial plants were built by Soviet – and subsequently Russian – specialists. Thousands of Africans received quality professional education at our universities. This is well remembered by many current African leaders, who value our support. We too keep the memory of those pages of history.
"Today, the development and strengthening of mutually beneficial ties with African countries and their integration associations is one of Russia's foreign policy priorities. We will shortly be witnessing an unprecedented, benchmark event: on October 24, Sochi will host the Russia-Africa Summit. This will be the first full-scale top-level meeting, to which we have invited leaders of African states and heads of Africa's major regional associations. The idea to organize such an event emerged quite a long time ago; however, it has taken some time and considerable preparatory work to make this Summit a starting point for building fair partnership relations based on equality and mutual practical interest.
"We expect that our African colleagues, representatives of the business community will come to Sochi with a solid package of proposals aimed at enhancing bilateral relations, while heads of Africa's regional organizations will share their ideas as to how we could jointly develop our multilateral cooperation. We will consider these initiatives with great interest and decide what could be launched right away and what will require further elaboration.
"Russia also has its vision of how to ensure further development of its ties with the African continent. We intend to discuss relevant ideas with our partners, systematize and reflect them as concretely as possible in the final declaration. Besides, it is important to identify mechanisms for implementing agreements that would be reached at the top-level meeting in Sochi.
"I am sure that the Summit will be a success since all the necessary prerequisites are there. Today, the Russian-African relations are on the rise. We maintain a close political dialogue, including on the issues of global and regional security. The ties between our parliaments are expanding. Our mutual trade is steadily growing and diversifying.
"Russia, together with the international community, renders comprehensive assistance to Africa, inter alia, by way of reducing the debt burden of its states. With a number of countries we are carrying out debt-for-development swap programs. Russia supports efforts aimed at controlling the spread of infectious diseases (including Ebola hemorrhagic fever), natural disaster relief, settlement of existing conflicts and prevention of new crises. Russian universities provide professional training for national specialists from African countries both free of charge and on a commercial basis. Our defense and law enforcement agencies are stepping up their cooperation as well.
"However, these are by no means all the items on our cooperation agenda. Our African partners see and appreciate the fact that Russia's foreign policy, including in relation to their continent, is of constructive nature; that Russia, as one of the UN Security Council permanent members, advocates democratization of international affairs, supports the legitimate aspiration of African states to pursue their own independent policy, to decide on their own future without imposed 'assistance' by third parties. When doing so, we do not make our support and joint development projects which we offer contingent upon the fulfillment of political or any other preconditions or so-called 'exclusive', but in fact enslaving trade and economic preferences; we do not impose our views, respecting the principle of 'African solutions to African problems' proposed by the Africans themselves.
"As for the potential level of investment in Africa in the next five years, the figure is expected to be quite high, with a number of billion-dollar investment projects with Russia's participation currently in the pipeline. Both Russia and Russian companies have substantial resources. We hope that our partners, in turn, will create the necessary stable and predictable business environment and investment protection mechanisms and ensure favorable investment climate."
Putin: We Are Not Going To Participate In A New 'Repartition' Of The Continent's Wealth; Rather, We Are Ready To Engage In Competition For Cooperation With Africa; Our African Agenda Is Positive And Future-Oriented. We Do Not Ally With Someone Against Someone Else; And We Strongly Oppose Any Geopolitical 'Games' Involving Africa
Question: "Competition in today's world is extremely high. Is Russia ready for tough rivalry in Africa, say, with China or the US? Do you think there are risks of using protectionist policies, trade wars or unfair competition against Russia? What methods do you intend to apply to address them? Won't this rivalry adversely affect the African partners?"
Putin: "Indeed, interest in developing the relations with African countries is currently visible not only on the part of Western Europe, the US and the PRC, but also on the part of India, Turkey, the Gulf states, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Israel, and Brazil. This is not accidental, as Africa increasingly becomes a continent of opportunities. It possesses vast resources and potential economic attractiveness. Africa's infrastructure needs are increasing, and African population is rapidly growing, as are its demands. All of this, in turn, calls for an expanded domestic market and greater consumption. Of course, where there are promising prospects for investment and profit, there is always competition, which, unfortunately, at times goes beyond the bounds of decency.
"We see a number of Western states resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail against governments of sovereign African countries. They hope it will help them win back their lost influence and dominant positions in former colonies and seek – this time in a 'new wrapper' – to reap excess profits and exploit the continent's resources without any regard for its population, environmental or other risks. They are also hampering the establishment of closer relations between Russia and Africa – apparently, so that nobody would interfere with their plans.
"We certainly take note of these factors and draw conclusions. We are not going to participate in a new 'repartition' of the continent's wealth; rather, we are ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa, provided that this competition is civilized and develops in compliance with the law. We have a lot to offer to our African friends. This will be discussed, among other things, at the forthcoming Summit.
"And, most certainly, we, together with our African partners, are committed to protecting our common economic interests and defending them against unilateral sanctions, including by reducing our dollar dependency and switching to other currencies in mutual settlements.
"I am confident that the Africans are by no means interested in the escalation of confrontation between the major powers in the continent. On the contrary, they would like the rivalry to give way to cooperation in addressing urgent challenges for Africa, such as terrorism, crime, drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration, poverty, highly infectious diseases. I would like to reiterate that this is the kind of work Russia is willing to participate in.
"Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally with someone against someone else; and we strongly oppose any geopolitical 'games' involving Africa."
Putin: The Soviet-Era Model – With Its Pros And Cons – Proved Quite Effective At The Stage Of The Development Of Statehood In African Countries
Question: "The Soviet model of cooperation with African countries often involved the lending mechanism. Did this policy prove effective? Does Russia plan to resume the practice of providing loans to African countries? What other mechanisms for offering support to African countries are you prepared to discuss?"
Putin: "Indeed, the Soviet-era model – with its pros and cons – proved quite effective at the stage of the development of statehood in African countries. We still continue rendering financial assistance to African states. While in the past, these decisions were primarily politically motivated, now they are part of the humanitarian assistance.
"As far as granting loans is concerned, today these loans are market-oriented. For example, a decision was made to grant a loan to Egypt in the amount of $25 billion for the construction of four power units for El Dabaa NPP. This is specifically market-oriented lending.
"Let me point put that in the post-Soviet period, at the end of the 20th century, Russia cancelled $20 billion of African countries' debts to the Soviet Union. This was both an act of generosity and a pragmatic step, because many of the African states were unable to service those debts. We therefore decided that it would be best for everyone just to start our cooperation from scratch.
"There are other schemes that are currently applied to some of the remaining debts. For instance, intergovernmental agreements with Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania are being implemented in the framework of the debt-for-development swap program. We expect that Ethiopia's remaining debt to Russia ($163.6 million) will be settled under similar conditions. The relevant draft agreement is currently being elaborated.
"Let me also remind you that Russia makes contributions to international programs of assistance to Africa in the framework of the UN Development Program, the World Food Program (WFP), and the International Civil Defense Organization. Sometimes in-kind support is provided. Since 2011, WFP offices in Africa have received 258 KAMAZ trucks. Another batch of 75 trucks has been shipped most recently.
"At the same time, the use of new financial mechanisms does not rule out the practice of granting loans, but rather provides for a wider and more diversified toolkit in support of development. It contributes to establishing mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and African countries.
"All these issues will be examined at the Economic Forum on October 23‑24. We are ready to hear proposals from our African partners and share our considerations."
Putin: Our African Partners Actively Participate In Military-Technical Fora And Military Exercises Organized By Russia, In The Framework Of Which They Get Acquainted With Russian Advanced Weapons
Question: "Earlier, military technical cooperation was among the areas of interaction between Moscow and African countries. Are there any plans to enhance it? Are you going to discuss any specific projects or contracts with the Summit participants?"
Putin: "Indeed, the traditions of our military technical cooperation are deeply rooted. It was developed back at a nascent stage of establishment of African states and played its role in the fight of peoples of the continent for their independence. And our African partners highly appreciate it.
"Today, we have agreements on military technical cooperation with more than thirty African countries which we supply with a wide range of military equipment. Of course, part of it is being transferred at no charge. But this is common practice followed by all leading world countries.
"It is encouraging that military technical partnership continues to evolve vigorously. What’s more, African countries often initiate such cooperation themselves, because they understand that one should be able to protect its independence and sovereignty, including from extremist and terrorist groups. It is yet another incentive to cooperate with Russia, which has abundant experience in fighting terrorism, including in Syria.
"Our African partners actively participate in military-technical fora and military exercises organized by Russia, in the framework of which they get acquainted with Russian advanced weapons, military hardware and experience of its use. For our part, we will further contribute to training military personnel of African states and take part in training African peacekeepers."
Question: "Social and humanitarian cooperation is declared as a theme of the Summit. Why does Russia help Africa if far from all its own social problems are resolved?"
Putin: We Continue To Take An Active Part In Efforts To Provide Comprehensive Assistance To Africa
Putin: "Humanitarian assistance is being provided to Africa by many world countries, yet none of them – be it the US, France, China or any other country – has fully resolved all of its social problems, including in healthcare, education and culture.
"Russia too provides humanitarian assistance to African states, but not by reducing the amount of funding for its own programs. After all, good traditions of charity and support in times of need are a hallmark of our people.
"I will give a recent example. Russia, as many other states, provided aid to the African countries affected by tropical cyclone Idai in April 2019. Russia sent humanitarian supplies to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, i.e. large tents, blankets and food products weighing about 30 tons for each country.
"We continue to take an active part in efforts to provide comprehensive assistance to Africa. Russia is involved in the UN World Food Program's school meals project valued at $40 million, which has been implemented in Mozambique since October 2017, and in the project to introduce modern technology and equipment for disinfection worth up to $15 million in Madagascar.
"We also provide assistance to our African friends in healthcare development, as dangerous communicable diseases respect no borders. Russia was among the first to react to Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreak, having allocated $60 million to combat it. There is now a microbiology and epidemiology research center in Guinea. Russia contributed $20 million to the World Bank program to implement the global malaria control initiative.
"And such examples are plenty. I would like to emphasize that Russia's participation in fighting poverty, dangerous illnesses and other global threats, as well as reduction of potential risks 'at distant approaches' are fully in line with our national interests."
Putin: Russia's Programs Have The Same Goal – To Help Africans Solve Existing Security Issues Themselves, As It Will Strengthen African States, Their Sovereignty And Independence; And Hence, The World Will Be More Stable And More Predictable
Question: "Security issues are particularly acute in some African countries. This affects the operation of Russian companies there. Are you going to raise issues of security at the Summit and propose measures to strengthen it? What help is Russia ready to provide to settle conflicts across the continent?"
Putin: "An important element of Russia's interaction with African countries is regional security cooperation. Our Summit's slogan – For Peace, Security and Development – is not accidental. Steady progress is not possible without resolving these problems.
"The situation in many parts of Africa is unstable: inter-ethnic conflicts and acute political and socioeconomic crises remain unsettled. Numerous terrorist organizations, such as ISIL, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, are highly active in North Africa, the Sahara-Sahel region, Lake Chad area and the Horn of Africa. Armed forces and law enforcement bodies of African countries cannot oppose militants alone and need significant aid.
"We will further increase contacts between special services and law enforcement agencies of Russia and African countries in the field of countering terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, money-laundering, illegal migration and piracy.
"In demand is the practice of training military and law enforcement personnel of African countries, including at a reduced cost and free of charge. For example in the past five years alone, more than 2,500 service personnel from African countries completed studied at the military educational institutions of the Russian Defense Ministry.
"Our African partners take an active part in Russia-organized events, such as the International Military-Technical Forum and meetings of high representatives for security issues. Eleven African countries participated in the 2019 International Army Games. And the number of those willing to join them is growing.
"Ultimately, all those programs have the same goal – to help Africans solve existing security issues themselves, as it will strengthen African states, their sovereignty and independence. And hence, the world will be more stable and more predictable."
(Kremlin.ru, October 21, 2019)
- Cairo, Moscow Intensify Preparations for Russia-Africa Summit. (Aawsat.com, October 13, 2019; read the full article)
- Russian-Africa Summit's website: https://summitafrica.ru/en/
On October 22, Putin will hold talks with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who will be on a working visit to Russia. The two leaders will discuss the developments in Syria, including the normalization of the situation in the country’s northeastern regions, countering international terrorist groups and promoting the political settlement process, including in the context of the upcoming launch of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.
(Kremlin.ru, October 21, 2019)
Russian General Shamanov Complains About The Total Disregard For The Army's Needs
Despite the recent upbeat portrayal of the improved situation in the military by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Duma’s Defense Committee, headed by General (Res.) Vladimir Shamanov paints a different picture and charges the government with persistently ignoring the committee’s requests to index military pensions, allocate additional funds for housing subsidies, and raise the salaries of civilian military personnel.
"On October 8, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that in 2019, more than 168 billion rubles were allocated for the construction of infrastructure and housing for the military. According to the minister, this year the Ministry of Defense fulfilled its housing obligations to almost 85 thousand families…
"However, the Duma’s Defense Committee stated that since June 2018, there have been problems in the functioning of the cumulative mortgage system for the military. As of January 1, 2019, its financing deficit amounted to 91.7 billion rubles, and 'the situation is only getting worse.' 'The financing of the cumulative mortgage system for 2019 does not cover the deficit, but only ensures the system’s functioning; the same situation will continue into 2020' - warn the deputies.
"The head of the parliamentary committee also drew attention to emerging problems with the housing subsidy, its delayed payment could provoke an increase in housing waiting lists among military personnel and 'consequently an increase in social tension'
"According to Shamanov the annual amount of funds allocated for the provision of subsidies was not indexed for five years. In this regard, the number of military personnel eligible for a subsidy is reduced annually. In the period 2018–2021 alone, the number of eligible military personnel will decrease by 600–700. In parallel, the number of servicemen who have expressed a desire to receive a housing subsidy is increasing. According to the forecast of the Department of Housing of the Ministry of Defense, by January 1, 2022 their number will exceed 37 thousand men.. Shamanov indicated that a similar situation exists with housing subsidies for the Rosgvardiya
"Since 2018, the government resumed regular indexation of salaries for military personnel and security forces, suspended in 2013. In 2018, an increase in military allowance was 4%, in 2019 - 4.3%, and for 2020, a draft budget provides only 3% indexation… Starting in 2019, military salaries and civilian salaries are not indexed at the beginning of the year, but from October 1, which allows the government to save on those.
"The committee also complains about the low salaries of civilian workers in the armed forces. The average salary army’s civilian personnel is 30–32 thousand rubles (Rosgvardiya civilian personnel - 23-24 thousand rubles) as opposed to an average salary in Russia of 46 thousand rubles. In 2014-2017, the salaries of civilian employees of the armed forces were not indexed, the committee notes.
"On military personnel and former security forces pensions, the state will allot 760.7 billion rubles in 2020, or 23.5 thousand per month for each recipient. In 2020, military pensions will also be indexed by only 3%, since their indexation is tied to the monetary allowance of the military. According to the Defense Committee, this will be the lowest increase in military pensions since 2013. By comparison: this year, pensions for the military and security forces were indexed by 6.3% (since October), that is, higher than the forecast inflation (3.8%).
"In May 2012, the President of Russia instructed the government to ensure an annual increase in pensions for people retired from military service by at least 2% above the inflation rate. According to the Defense Committee, the logic of the decree states that military pensions should be indexed by 5% in 2020 (forecast inflation plus 2 percentage points above).
"The Committee also indicates that a significant increase in real sales prices for fuel and lubricants in the fall of 2018 led to the fact that the stipulated monetary appropriations for this line of expenditure do not fully satisfy the needs of the Ministry of Defense. The military payables for the purchase of fuels and lubricants in 2019 amounted to almost 7 billion rubles. 'The government failed to ensure price stabilization for fuels and lubricants in 2019 (price increases continue), which further exacerbates the situation. This will surely impact the quality of combat training' - writes Shamanov.
"The amount of federal budget allocations for the year 2020 and for the planning period 2021 and 2022 for the purchase of fuel and lubricants from the Ministry of Defense of Russia allows for the purchase of 1.57 million tons instead of 2.1 million tons (the regulatory need for fuel and lubricants for the Ministry of Defense), which additionally will require about 20.4 billion rubles."
(Rbc.ru, October 10, 2019)
Vladimir Shamanov (Image: Duma.gov.ru)
The Ministry Of Defense Of The Russian Federation Responds To An Article In The New York Times
The Russian defense ministry responded to the publication of the American newspaper The New York Times (NYT) about the alleged attacks of Russian fighters on Syrian hospitals.
"'First of all, we would like to express regret that a serious publication became the victim of manipulation by terrorists and British intelligence services. Contrary to the views of the New York editorial staff, the real standard of living of the Syrians in the Idlib de-escalation zone, which is controlled by the Syrian Al Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) is completely different.
"'Gadgets, modern scanners of radio broadcasts, laptops in a secure version, an Internet connection - all this is completely inaccessible to civilians, concerned primarily with the daily physical survival under the yoke of terrorists. The expensive equipment and specialized software demonstrated in the video is a reconnaissance and combat application of the so-called air strike warning system, based on the developments of the American company Hala Systems," noted Major General Igor Konashenkov, official representative of the Russian Ministry of Defense. The Russian general also stated that the deployment of this system, originally called Sentry, and the linking of all observation posts in the province of Idlib into a single network, has been carried out under the direct supervision of British military intelligence since August 2016.
"According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, all the so-called 'observation posts' in this war zone are deployed and operated exclusively by units of the discredited White Helmets and have been organized and financed from the British exchequer. The absolute anonymity of all 'activists' in the NYT material is due to the fact that they belong to the White Helmets that operate under the auspices of Jabhat al-Nusra, and not thanks to the natural modesty or fears for security.
"Finally, the representative of the Ministry of Defense divulged a military secret to his foreign colleagues: the transfer of the target coordinates to pilots of Russian bombers in Syria is not performed by voice on open air. This information is encrypted. 'Therefore, all the alleged evidence presented by NYT is not even worth the paper on which it was printed. But the NYT publication is far from the first to fall victim to misinformation by British intelligence under the guise of activists. It’s enough to recall the famous Bellingcat project,' Konashenkov reminded the lovers of fake news…"
(Kp.ru, October 14, 2019)
- Russia's defense ministry unveils new evidence that Arctic shelf belongs to Russia. Deputy PM Yuri Borisov recalled that the request for establishing the external border of Russia’s continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean had been submitted to the UN commission concerned in August 2015. (Tass.com, October 18, 2019; read the full article)
- Strategic Missile Force drills with over 200 missile launchers. The drills on October 15-17 involved 12,000 troops. (Tass.com, October 14, 2019; read the full article)
Russia and Saudi Arabia: A Gradual Expansion of Bilateral Cooperation. Russian expert Elena Melkumyan wrote that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Riyadh cannot be considered a breakthrough or a new stage in the strengthening of Russian-Saudi ties. Rather, it can be seen as another step aimed at maintaining contacts and identifying possible areas of cooperation, as well as a continuation of cooperation in those areas where it is already being implemented. However, serious differences in the positions of the respective parties regarding threats to regional security do not allow for cooperation in building a single concept that would guarantee regional stability. (Valdaiclub.com,