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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (Source: Regnum.ru)
In The News
- Russia-China Relations - Ria.ru: China With Russia's Help Is Depriving Europe Of Fuel - Regnum.ru: The Coordination Of Forces Between Russia And China Permits Achievements In International Diplomacy - Russian Analyst Shelin: China Is Experimenting With Russia In A Vassal Role
- Putin’s Opinion On The Mediterranean Plane Crash
- The Skripal Case - Novaya Gazeta: Phone Number In The Documents Possibly Tying Petrov To The GRU
- Russia And Iran To Defy The US On Iran - Deputy FM Sergey Ryabkov: Keeping The JCPOA Is In The Best Interest Of All Participating Parties
- Massive Drills: Vostok 2018
- Head of Russian National Guard Threatens Navalny - Prominent Journalist Dorenko: Zolotov Made a Mistake In Threatening Navalny - Vedomosti: Zolotov's Words proves That Russia Is Moving Backward
- News In Brief
Ria.ru: China With Russia's Help Is Depriving Europe Of Fuel
Ria.ru published an article by Dmitri Lekukh, titled "China With Russia's Help Is Depriving Europe Of Fuel". The article reports talks about major gas deals and a possible Korea stream to send clean Russian gas to China that is trying to reduce pollution. As the title suggests there is an implied threat to Europe because while Russia is well endowed her supplies are not endless.
(Ria.ru, September 18, 2018)
Regnum.ru: The Coordination Of Forces Between Russia And China Permits Achievements In International Diplomacy
In the article " Russia and China: Continental Self-Defense", Vladimir Pavlenko takes satisfaction that the Russia-China relationship is expanding beyond economic ties to the field of weaponry.
"The coordination of forces between Russia and China also permits the achievement of substantial results in international diplomacy, and the considerable progress in defusing tensions regarding North Korea can furnish an example," Pavlenko writes.
(Regnum.ru, September 16, 2018)
Russian Analyst Shelin: China Is Experimenting With Russia In A Vassal Role
Russian analyst Sergey Shelin wrote an article in the Russian media outlet Rossbalt, titled "China Is Experimenting With Russia In A Vassal Role/ The New Global Shakeups Are Pushing Beijing To Use Russia As A Trump Card In Its Great Game", analyzing Russia-China relations. The article's subtitle was: "In the Kremlin, They are still hoping that the Chinese will come to help end the hour of need."
"Our television viewers think that China and Russia are good friends and even possibly allies. Up to the most recent times this was not the case. Despite the extraordinarily amiable and even fawning tone of official Moscow in communicating with Beijing, the Kremlin is not delighted neither with the attracting of the former Soviet Central Asian republic into the Chinese economic orbit nor with the intentions of the Chinese People's Republic to construct a transcontinental transport system (the new Silk Road) in which Russia is offered the option of integrating in the capacity of one of a few junior partners.
"Nevertheless, the Chinese government in 2014 politely but firmly rejected Russian hints on the desirability for progress to some form of military-political union – [hints] that were particularly persistent in that troublesome year.
"And now something has shifted.
"Not in all the events business or social associated with the Eastern economic forum in Vladivostok, to which president Xi Jinping has been assigned the major position downgrading the forum itself and the high-ranking dignitaries from Japan and South Korea let alone Mongolia to the periphery.
"Under the leadership of Putin and Xi, Russian-Chinese negotiations have proceeded. Xi and Putin met with the participants of the Russian-Chinese Cooperation Roundtable, Putin and Xi visited photography exhibitions dedicated to the history of Russian Chinese cooperation. Xi and Putin attended the exhibit 'Far East Street' (they prepared and ate blini) Putin, Xi and the remaining guests honored the participants of the Far East student sailboat regatta. Reporting on this the Kremlin site illustrated it with a lovely photograph: in the center – president Xi with two Russian boys on whom he bestowed a first-place award in the children's version of the regatta on each side – Putin and the high-ranking guests from the other countries and from the region itself honor the main prize winners with the regatta cup that the Russian President presented to them.
"And by the way another enlightening photograph was taken a day later on the Tsugol testing range in the trans-Baikal on the grandiose exercises 'Vostok 2018' in which motorized infantry armor artillery, man pads, engineering pontoon units and aviation of the Chinese People's liberation Army.
"Gazing over the rare spectacle the Chinese defense minister and the deputy chief of staff of the PLA arrived in a friendly country. In the official photo Vladimir Putin talks with a smiling defense minister Wei Fenghe, alongside Sergei Shoigu and the Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov maintains a polite distance.
"However let us return to Vladivostok. This is what Pres. Xi had to say at one of the friendly activities: 'If in the middle of the 17th century Russia sent students to study in China and thereby opened cultural exchange between our countries, during the 1950s it was the turn of China to dispatch a huge number of students to the Soviet Union… Youth – the future government. If youth is bright then the country is bright if youth is strong then the country is strong, if youth is progressive then the country is also progressive. The well-known Russian writer Anton Chekhov likewise expressed himself in that regard that the most important thing is to avoid squandering your youth and energy but to work… The century long friendship between China and Russia should be passed on from generation to generation…'
"You agree that the emphasis speaks of growing benevolence by our great far Eastern neighbor. Words about a military alliance at that time were not pronounced but the very atmosphere and some scenes signaled its possibility and even a division of roles within it.
"Why precisely now? Because Trump's America, the Chinese People's Republic's main economic partner is conducting a trade war with Beijing. In the Vladivostok speeches, president Xi's criticism of the one-sided approach to protectionism (without mentioning the country or family) was repeated manifold.
"On the other hand Russia has become the target of all the new sanctions waves and first of all the American sanctions. Its isolation from the West is growing. This very progress of events is nudging the two powers into meeting each other.
"This movement alone is unlikely to lead to a closer and equal rights alliance.
"Of course the Kremlin hopes to find in China a force that can lend a shoulder if something happens. And can at the same time offer markets for Russian energy being driven out in the West.
"But it is necessary to remember that the Chinese market is not the main one for Russia. In the first half year of 2018 15.2% ($50 billion) of the trade turnover from our country went there, while in the same time 43.8% ($144 billion went to the European Union. In the foreseeable future, China cannot replace Europe as a market, although, a fifth of Russian oil export is already directed there and that share will grow.
"There are no reasons to overstate China's political solidarity. In the Skripal Affair, it did not back Moscow but took the usual moralistic-neutral position. It has no reason to do anything more: the northern neighbor is operating under its own deepening isolation and to the extent that this isolation grows it will fall into its [China's] hands without the application of any special efforts.
"As for Beijing, its coordinates of relations with America is the central factor and friendship with Russia is merely a card to be played in that game.
"Last year the Chinese GDP (calculated by purchasing power rates) constituted $23.2 billion and equaled the American ($19.4 trillion) and the Russian (4 trillion) put together. And if calculated by exchange rates the proportion will be less spectacular for China but for Russia it will be even less triumphal. Calculating by purchasing power the Chinese economy is almost 6 times larger than ours, but by exchange values eight times (12 billion as opposed to $1.5 billion). There are no grounds for an alliance of equals.
"Chinese-American trade in last year approached $600,000,000,000.This was sevenfold larger than Chinese Russian trade. There is no cause to say that the second could substitute for the first. And as for demonstratively punishing America for protectionism by discontinuing purchases of its shale oil and increasing oil imports from Russia this measure is self-evident.
"The Chinese military expenditures in 2017 were over three times Russian expenditures ($228 billion against $66 billion the data of SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Therefore, the Chinese do not have to fear Russia. Rattling Russian arms to make an impression on its far Eastern neighbors and on the US is a fully rational tactical activity.
"Here you have the bases for the asymmetric alliance of the two powers. If matters reached an actual Chinese-American confrontation, that alliance can indeed be transformed into a military alliance where our power could be assigned only a vassal role and a peripheral shield. But another scenario is more likely: Beijing would simply constantly exploit the Russian argument to extract concessions from its partners-competitors.
"In this or the other case this unbeneficial system of relations promises our country scant profit and many problems ranging from moderate to severe. But Beijing will not compel this by force. Everything will proceed voluntarily."
(Rosbalt.tu, September 14, 2018)
Putin’s Opinion On The Mediterranean Plane Crash
On September 17, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, radio contact was lost with the crew of Russia’s Ilyushin-20 plane over the Mediterranean 35 kilometers away from Syria’s shore, as the plane was returning to the Khmeimim air base.
The Russian Defense Ministry later said that the Ilyushin-20 was shot down by the Syrian air defense. The Russian Defense Ministry originally charged that Israeli F-16, which were bombing targets in Latakia, had used the Ilyushin-20 as a cover, thus making it vulnerable to the Syrian S-200 air defense system. The Russian Defense Ministry then added: "[The Israeli pilots] could not but see the Russian plane, because it was approaching the base from an altitude of 5,000 meters." Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov added that Russia interpreted Israel’s actions as hostile.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin disagreed with the Russian Defense Ministry.
During a press conference with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, Putin said:
"When people die, especially in such unfortunate circumstances, it is always a tragedy, a tragedy for all of us, for the nation and for the families of our people who lost their lives.
"First of all, I would like to express condolences to the families of the dead.
"As for your comparison with the downing of our plane by a Turkish fighter, this was a different situation. The Turkish fighter deliberately shot down our aircraft.
"In this case, it is more a chain of tragic circumstances because an Israeli fighter did not down our aircraft. It goes without saying that we must get to the bottom of this. Our attitude towards this tragedy is set forth in a statement by our Defense Ministry, and has been fully coordinated with me.
"As for reciprocal action, this will be primarily aimed at ensuring additional security for our military and our facilities in the Syrian Arab Republic. These steps will be seen by everyone."
(Tass.com, September 19, 2018; Kremlin.ru, September 18, 2018)
The Skripal Case
The disastrous interview by the two Salisbury suspects Borishov and Petrov where the two protested that they were innocent tourists has produced satirical reactions. Here is one:
Question: What was the purpose of your visit to Switzerland?
A: To watch the spires
B: To spy
C: To taste cheese
D: To walk in the Alps
Given answer: "A: To watch the spires"
Right answer: "B: To spy"
Novaya Gazeta: Phone Number In The Documents Possibly Tying Petrov To The GRU
Meduza.io summarized an article that appeared in Novaya Gazeta, reporting that the leaked passport records include another piece of evidence linking Petrov to Russia’s intelligence services: below one marking, the phone number 195-79-66 appears.
Meduza summarized: "This number, the newspaper says, is linked to the Russian Defense Ministry’s Military Intelligence Directorate.
"According to Novaya Gazeta, the automatic telephone station number '195' is tied to Moscow’s Khoroshkovsky District, which is also home to the headquarters of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Military Intelligence Directorate.
"The newspaper says the phone number’s connections to the Defense Ministry can also be tested another way: if you take the first five digits of the number and plug them into any online search engine, you’ll find several phone numbers belonging to various subdivisions and affiliated offices of Russia’s Defense Ministry.
"For example, the telephone number for the Defense Ministry’s magazine Foreign Military Review is 499-195-79-64 (only a single digit different from the number listed on Petrov’s documents). The magazine’s office is located off Khoroshkovsky Highway, near the GRU (Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation). 'Most likely, the number on Petrov’s Federal Migration Service certificate is the phone number for the branch office where they served,' a former Russian intelligence worker told Novaya Gazeta."
(Meduza.io, September 14, 2018)
(Source: Digital collage, Meduza.io)
- The Salisbury suspects' interview with Russian state television only raises more questions. (Meduza.io, September 13, 2018; read the full article)
- During her weekly briefing Russian MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova said: "You asked me about my attitude to the opinion of the British MP who called this interview false [with Petrov and Borishov], misinforming and untrustworthy. He is not alone in this. Literally within 40 minutes of publication –– I looked at my watch – similar statements were made by the British Foreign Office. They also said this was untrue and disinformation. What are these statements based on? Or are they simply a political declaration? What specifically was false? Regrettably, after today’s publication Britain’s statement that these people do not exist proved to be a lie." (Mid.ru, September 13, 2018; read the full statement)
See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7673, Russia This Week – September 16, 2018, September 16, 2018.
Russia And Iran To Defy The US On Iran
Deputy FM Sergey Ryabkov: Keeping The JCPOA Is In The Best Interest Of All Participating Parties
Following a visit to Tehran on September 10, deputy FM Sergey Ryabkov in an interview with the Russian government's official media outlet, "Rossiyskaya Gazeta" said the following:
"We witness the Iranian willingness and readiness to do the maximum in order to keep the JCPOA alive. There is an understanding that keeping this agreement is in the best interests of all participating parties, including of course Iran and Russia. Yet, the problems do not just disappear…
"Together with Iran we will continue in the coming days– starting literally from tomorrow – to work intensively with the Europeans, we will maintain our efforts also in conjunction with China and other countries in order to create a multitiered defense against extraterritorial US sanctions and their attempts to sabotage the JCPOA. In pursuit of their own geopolitical motives and their perception about what is wrong and right in this world."
Ryabkov then added: "In this sense, Washington is ready to undertake a lot and this tendency in the US policy is very dangerous. That is why we have a list of actions to be discussed with the Europeans. Moreover, we will need to consolidate our internal efforts in order to be best prepared, before the Americans go to the second phase of reinstating extraterritorial sanctions against Iran...
"European business, especially large businesses and companies who have very serious ties with the US, prefer to protect themselves from American pressure by scaling down or limiting their business inside Iran or with Iran. We do not think it is right. This is exactly what the US is trying to achieve by educating the world that there is a need to comply without any arguments with orders coming from Washington.
"We deem the international relations stability is endangered by an outright American diktat in economic and political spheres. This diktat at the moment is almost the major US behavior in the international arena. Russia does not conceal the fact, that we will stand up to this tendency and we will explain the dangers and harmfulness to our international partners. Our assessments on this matter totally coincide with [our] Iranian colleagues and we do have a practical dialogue with Tehran on these bases. We do not just observe, we get to practical conclusions. This will be meaningful in our further work with our European partners and with oure Chinese friends."
(Rg.ru, September 11, 2018)
Massive Drills: Vostok 2018
The Supreme Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s Armed Forces Vladimir Putin observed the main stage of the Vostok-2018 military maneuvers. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
The Vostok 2018 maneuvers took place on September 11-17. The drills are held in Russia’s Far East and adjacent areas of the Pacific Ocean, involving about 300,000 Russian service personnel, over 1,000 fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and drones, up to 36,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles together with up to 80 ships and support vessels.
The maneuvers mostly aim to assess the readiness of troop control divisions planning and conducting long-range troop re-deployments, cooperation between ground forces and naval elements, to provide commanders and headquarters personnel with practical experience and to streamline their troop control skills. These are the largest maneuvers in the history of the Russian Army.
On September 13, Putin visited the Tsugol training range in the Trans-Baikal Territory, where he observed Vostok-2018 military maneuvers.
The Kremlin reported: "After the exercises, the President presented military honors to ten military personnel from Russia, China and Mongolia for their performance during the maneuvers. Four service personnel from the Armed Forces of Russia, four from the People’s Liberation Army of China and two officers of the Armed Forces of Mongolia received the awards.
"During the main stage of these maneuvers, units of the Russian Armed Forces, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Mongolian Armed Forces repelled a hypothetical enemy attack, launched an offensive and defeated the main hypothetical enemy forces.
"Acting on the Russian side in the maneuvers were motorized rifle and tank units of its Ground Forces, assault landing units of the Airborne Force, missile and artillery units, air defense units, tactical and army aviation units, long-range and military-transport aviation aircraft, a combat engineers’ brigade and an NBC (Nuclear, Bacteriological, Chemical) regiment, special forces, drone operators and logistics/technical support units.
"The Chinese People’s Liberation Army deployed motorized rifle, armored, artillery, surface-to-air missile, combat engineer and pontoon units, as well as aviation. Units of the Mongolian Armed Forces were also involved in practical operations."
During the visit, Putin stated: "Russia is a peace-loving nation. We do not have and cannot have any plans of aggression. Our foreign policy is designed to promote productive cooperation with all interested countries. It is for this reason that 87 observers from 59 countries are present at these exercises. I welcome all of them here.
"To the Russian military personnel, I would like to say that our duty toward Russia, our Motherland, is to be ready to stand up for its sovereignty, security and national interests, and support our allies, if required.
"For this reason, we are committed to further strengthening our Armed Forces and supplying them with the most up to date weapons and equipment, as well as promoting international cooperation."
(Kremlin.ru, September 13, 2018)
- Russian Tupolev-95MS bombers launch cruise missiles at Vostok-2018 exercise. (Tass.com, September 12, 2018; read the full article)
- Iskander-M systems to strike targets hundreds of kilometers away during Vostok drills. (Tass.com, September 12, 2018; read the full article)
- Ria.ru reported that drills match the Russian military Doctrine and are aimed at bolstering the preparedness of infantry, air and naval forces. The main objective of the drills: exercising military actions in eastern direction and in operationally important parts of seas and oceans. (Ria.ru, September 13, 2018; read the full article)
See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No.7653, Russia This Week – September 4, 2018 – Part II, September 3, 2018.
Head of Russian National Guard Threatens Navalny
A message from Viktor Zolotov, head of Russian National Guard (See the full video)
General Viktor Zolotov, head of the Russian National Guard and former head of Putin's personal security, challenged opposition leader Alexey Navalny to a duel, stating that he will make of Navalny "a nice juicy piece of mincemeat" out of him. He also said that until now no one "kicked Navalny's ass hard enough so he could feel the kicks with his liver".
"… Responding in a YouTube video to recent allegations by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Zolotov has challenged the opposition leader to a fight. 'You have made me the subject of insulting, defamatory remarks. It is not customary among officers simply to forgive. From time immemorial, scoundrels have had their faces smashed and been called to duels. Mr. Navalny, no one is stopping us from reviving at least some of these traditions, by which I mean a challenge. I simply challenge you to a duel — in the ring, on the judo mat, wherever, and I promise to make good, juicy mincemeat of you,' Zolotov said in a video shared on YouTube.
"… Zolotov also admitted that corruption does exist in Russia’s National Guard, but he stressed that the agency is confronting the problem.
"… On August 23, the Anti-Corruption Foundation published an investigative report about evidence of corruption in the National Guard’s food-supply procurement contracts. Researchers found that prices on basic foodstuffs nearly tripled after the agency’s only supplier became the 'Friendship of the Peoples' Meatpacking Plant LLC, which is owned by Boris Kantemirov, the former head of the Interior Ministry’s Central Archive of Internal Troops. Formed in 2016 by Vladimir Putin’s executive order, Russia’s National Guard was built primarily from staff and resources pulled from the Interior Ministry.
"Alexey Navalny is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence for staging an 'illegal protest' in January 2018. Navalny's lockup kept him off the streets on September 9, when his supporters staged nationwide protests against the government's plan to raise the country's retirement age."
(Meduza.io, September 11, 2018)
Prominent Journalist Dorenko: Zolotov Committed A Blunder In Threatening Navalny
Sergey Dorenko, a prominent journalist, and editor-in-chief of the Govorit Moskva radio station, wrote in his Telegram channel:
"Zolotov has committed colossal mistakes:
- Zolotov addresses Navaly as an equal
- Zolotov addresses Navalny as a major actor in the political process
- Zolotov recognizes and legitimizes Navalny's presidential ambitions
- Zolotov is trying to justify himself for some juice and other shit, which positions him lower than Navalny
- Zolotov is full of himself as a general and threatens to beat up an inmate. Navalny is in jail now. This is obnoxious and does not look good.
"Those are Zolotov's big mistakes. Why is he committing them? Why him and why now?"
Vedomosti: Zolotov's Words proves That Russia Is Moving Backward
An editorial in Vedomosti newspaper reads:
"The reaction to Zolotov's declaration is enlightening. No one condemned the words which could have led to an immediate dismissal of an official in any other country. Just the opposite, presidential spokesperson [Dmitry Peskov] to whom Zolotov reports directly saw fit to say that 'sometimes you may fight unconscionable slander by any means.' This sounds logical from a person who previously called for smashing the protesters' liver on asphalt. Calls for physical violence in political disagreements display the direction in which the country is headed– not forwards towards the future, but backwards to the dumpster."
(Vedomosti.ru, September 11, 2018)
News In Brief:
- ‘Corruption is stealing our pensions’ Photos of Russia's September 9 police crackdown on nationwide protests against raising the retirement age. On Sunday, September 9, supporters of the anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny staged protests across Russia against the government’s plans to raise the country’s retirement age. In many places, demonstrators marched where local elections were taking place for city council members, mayors, and governors. Most of the protests did not have permits from town officials, and police arrested hundreds of demonstrators nationwide. (Meduza.io, September 10, 2018; read the full article)
- Japan and Russia are taking joint efforts to finally sign a peace treaty, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday after his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Vladivostok. (Meduza.io, September 10, 2018; read the full article)