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
In The News:
- Russia-Estonia Relations
- Russia-Iran Relations
- Footage Of The Avangard Hypersonic Missile Launch
- News In Brief: Defense - China-Russia Relations - Japan- Russia Relations - UK-Russia Relations - Media Wars - Rap In Russia - Domestic News
Russian Ambassador: Estonian-Russian relations Are Not Currently At Their Best
Russian Ambassador to Estonia Alexander Petrov. (Source: News.err.ee)
"Estonia's current relations with Russia, like those of all EU and NATO member states, are not at their best right now, Russian Ambassador to Estonia Alexander Petrov said…
"'Russian-Estonian relations are not currently in the best state,' Mr Petrov said at a press coference, adding that the same was the case for other EU and NATO member states as well.
"According to the ambassador, relations have been damaged by baseless accusations by Western states against Russia for which no adequate proof has been provided.
"He cited as examples the poisoning of the Skripals in the UK, accusations regarding Russian interference in US political processes, the conflict in the Kerch Strait in which Russian military vessels attacked and took over three Ukrainian military vessels, and, as the latest example, claims regarding Russia's participation in the 'yellow vest' protest movement in France.
"'Sadly, these kinds of accusations can be heard in Estonia as well, which do not help improve the atmosphere of relations between us,' Mr Petrov said, adding that this was why no practical steps are being taken to promote bilateral relations.
"The ambassador noted that this year had started off in a positive mood, and Prime Minister Jüri Ratas [current leader of the Centre Party] was scheduled to visit Russia in May, but Estonia then decided to cancel his visit.
"Mr Ratas decided to call off visiting the Days of Estonian Culture in Krasnoyarsk after it was determined in March that Russian special services were behind the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England.
"Nonetheless, following Estonia's expulsion the spring of the Russian defense attaché as part of an international response to the attack on the Skripals, to which Russia responded in kind, the two countries have reached an agreement to reassign defense attachés to each other's country…
"'Time is passing, and there is essentially none left until 3 March [elections in Estonia],' Mr Petrov said regarding the incomplete ratification of two border treaties with Estonia. "While I wouldn't like to make predictions that might be misconstrued, resolving this issue that is important to both of us, which would allow us to move forward to concluding other accords, is obviously no longer possible, and will have to be dealt with by the next Estonian parliament"…
"Estonia's then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet and Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov signed treaties on the land and maritime borders between Estonia and Russia in May 2005.
"The Riigikogu [the unicameral parliament of Estonia] passed the treaties in the following month after adding a preamble to the bill in which it was explained that in ratifying the border treaties, the Riigikogu had in mind that, in accordance with Article 122 of the Constitution, the border treaty would partly change the line of the state border as defined in the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920 but would not affect the rest of the treaty and would not define the treatment of any bilateral issues not connected with the border treaties.
"Russia, however, noted that it viewed the added preamble as opening the way to future territorial claims and withdrew its signature at the end of June that same year, despite Estonia having denied having territorial claims on Russia on repeated occasions.
"Negotiations on the treaty between the two countries resumed in 2013, and the foreign ministers eventually signed the agreements in Moscow on Feb. 18, 2014.
"As ERR [Estonian Public Broadcasting] has previously reported, in autumn 2015, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Marina Kaljurand and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov reached an agreement that the two governments would submit the new border treaties to their respective parliaments for ratification.
"On the Estonian side, the Riigikogu did so, where relevant bills passed their first reading in November 2015 already. Per common practice, the treaties would be ratified in both countries' respective parliaments simultaneously after they have also passed their first reading in the State Duma. On the Russian side, however, the Duma had yet to even begin the ratification process.
"BNS [The Baltic News Service news agency] reported in July 2016 that Mr Petrov was quoted in the Russian newspaper Izvestiya as saying that the ratification of the Estonian-Russian treaties had been hindered by tensions in bilateral relations.'We have repeatedly told Estonia's representatives that the ratification of the border treaties requires a suitable atmosphere — namely, that the parties refrain from creating tensions,' said Mr Petrov. 'This hasn't happened so far.'
"The Russian ambassador cited several instances in which Estonia had purportedly created tension between two neighboring countries, including Estonian border guards turning away a Russian delegation on its way to 9 May events in Tartu that spring as well as several instances in which he was summoned to the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs following the violation of Estonian airspace by Russian aircraft. 'After each such protest, Moscow has forwarded via the Estonian Embassy information which clearly shows that no violation took place,' explained the Russian ambassador. 'But this has not changed the Estonian side's position.'
"Mr Petrov also referred to recent Estonian steps, considered unfriendly by Moscow, as hindrances to the ratification of the Estonian-Russian treaties in an interview with Russian news agency Interfax in mid-May as well.
"The Riigikogu successfully completed the first reading of the Bill on the Ratification of the State Border Treaty between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation and the Treaty on the Delimitation of Maritime Areas of Narva Bay and the Gulf of Finland between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation on 25 November 2015.
"Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid Slutsky said in October 2016, following the Duma elections in Russia, that the Duma might ratify the border treaties with Estonia before the end of the year. No concrete steps have yet been taken in the Duma to do so, however.
"Responding to a question posed by Estonian daily Postimees at a press conference in Moscow in January, Lavrov said that Russia does not consider it possible to ratify the Estonian-Russian border treaty if Estonia does not stop its Russophobic activity.
"The treaties must be ratified by the parliaments of both countries, after which they will go into effect 30 days after the exchange of the letters of ratification."
Russia's Hybrid War In Estonia
The online portal of Estonian Public Broadcasting published an op-ed, titled "Russian hybrid war has already reached a peak in Estonia".
The op-ed stated: "While everybody's attention is focused on the recent military attack on Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait, important strategic interventions are happening elsewhere. Russia is firmly expanding its influence in the Western Hemisphere by leading a hybrid war that the West is failing to counter…
"The West can't afford to lose Estonia in particular, as it has a crucial strategic and symbolic value for both the West and Russia. When Russia reinforces its dominance in Ukraine and Moldova, the end result is less detrimental, as these countries decided to remain neutral following their separation from the Soviet Union, and so they were already half-occupied by Russia all along. By not joining NATO, they missed their unique opportunity for rebirth under a Western democracy, and are now facing societies divided between the East and the West as a result.
"Estonia is a different story — a NATO and EU member and a symbol of flourishing Western democracy on post-Soviet soil accompanied by economic and IT booms. Therefore, ideologically, Estonia was always a priority target for Russia as a small door for expansion to the West.
"Regardless of its political determination and success, Estonia is too vulnerable in this context of hybrid war. Estonia has a large percentage of Russians who live detached from the Estonians — but this isn't even the entire problem. These fissures can be deepened along any kind of line — rich vs poor, city vs village, or even rumors brought back from the past. This part of hybrid war strategy is the most creative and psychologically sophisticated, and has been applied in Estonian society since Soviet times. Estonia is also a small country with almost no border with Russia, which represents a huge military disadvantage from a psychological point of view as well. Even Estonia's IT success can be exploited as a vulnerability in hybrid war, as many tactics are employed in the frontierless cyberspace and Estonia has much if its citizens' data available online. So it would be almost impossible for Estonia to win alone, should Russia decide to move further West.
"But Russia will not continue advancing unless it sees that NATO is retreating. Should the West make that mistake, and Estonia is lost in this international hybrid war, a serious push will take place in the decline of Western civilization, as American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington predicted. By allowing Russia to expand into a NATO and EU member state, a Pandora's box will be opened after which anything can happen, including a full-scale military war between values and civilizations at the heart of Europe."
(News.err.ee, December 4, 2018)
- Controversial ads at Tallinn tram stop: bilingual advertisements dividing each side of the central Hobujaama tram stop in half, with the ads on the left, in blue, stating "Here only Estonians" and the ads on the right, in red, stating "Here only Russians." (News.err.ee, January 8, 2019)
Iran And Russia To Hold Joint Military Drill In Caspian Sea
"The commander of the Iranian navy says Iran and Russia will hold joint drills in the Caspian Sea…
"'Relief and rescue, tactical, and anti-piracy exercises between Iranian and Russian naval forces are being planned and will be carried out in the near future,' Rear-Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said… 'Joint drills with Russia will surely take us to a new level of cooperation in strategic, tactical, and operational areas at sea,' he added…
"According to the [Iranian] commander, relations have now assumed a traditional format, where regional states enjoy good mutual understanding. Khanzadi asserted that the presence of foreign forces in the waters is ruled out and will certainly be confronted. 'The Caspian is the sea of peace and friendship, and all its littoral countries follow this approach.'
"The last time the Iranian and Russian navies held joint drills in the world’s largest enclosed inland body of water was in July 2017…"
(Presstv.com, January 6, 2019)
Russia's Rosneft Quits Iran, $30B Of Potential Joint Investments
"In November last year , Rosneft and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) signed a road map for strategic cooperation in oil and gas in Iran—cooperation which Rosneft’s chief executive Igor Sechin said would involve a total of US$30 billion of investments. At the time, Russian media quoted Sechin as saying that the parties could soon sign several binding agreements, and the total production from those projects could be up to 55 million tons of oil equivalents annually, equal to 1.1 million boepd.
"Now Rosneft has reconsidered its involvement in Iran, due to the US sanctions on Iranian oil and due to a change in Rosneft’s strategy to focus on growing production in Russia, according to Vedomosti’s sources, Russian business daily Vedomosti reported, quoting three sources close to Rosneft’s top management.
"Earlier this year , a local Iranian company, Dana Energy, in a consortium led by Zarubezhneft, signed an agreement with the NIOC to redevelop the Aban and West Paydar oilfields, with total capex estimated at around US$740 million.
"But now Zarubezhneft is said to have decided to quit the Iranian project due to sanctions.
"Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil producer, said as early as in May that it was putting its plans to develop projects in Iran on hold, due to the US sanctions."
(Mehrnews.com, December 16, 2018)
- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says Iran is working with its traditional partners such as China, Russia and India to circumvent the US sanctions. Zarif told reporters in New Delhi that the European Union is moving more slowly than expected to facilitate non-dollar trade with Tehran through a mechanism called the special purpose vehicle (SPV). (Presstv.com, January 8, 2019; read the full article)
- The Speaker of the Iranian Parliament Ali Larijani met and talked with the Iran’s Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanaei on bilateral relation between Iran and Russia. (Mehrnews.com, January 2, 2019)
Footage Of The Avangard Hypersonic Missile Launch
Zvezda –TV, a Russian nationwide TV network run by the Russian Ministry of Defense, published a new footage of the Avangard hypersonic missile launch, which took place on December 26. Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu have been personally watching the launch.
It is worth noting that, during his traditional meeting with government members ahead of the New Year, Putin discussed new types of Russian weapons, focusing on the Avangard intercontinental hypersonic glide vehicle.
(Tvzvezda.ru, December 30, 2018; see the full video)
News In Brief:
- Russia has launched the underwater trials of the Poseidon nuclear-capable strategic drone whose development was unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his state-of-the-nation address to both houses of the Russian parliament. (Tass.com, December 25, 2018; read the full article)
- The Kazan-based Gorbunov Aircraft Enterprise in the Volga area has launched the manufacture of the upgraded Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko said. (Tass.com, December 20, 2018; read the full article)
- Russia topped the list of countries most suitable for cooperation as part of China's Belt and Road project, Kommersant writes. An updated ranking on the issue was compiled by Peking University in cooperation with the independent Taihe Institute think tank. (Tass.com, December 26, 2018; read the full article)
- According to another article in Kommersant, China is postponing the signing of a memorandum with Russia regarding mutual payments in local currencies. According to the newspaper, the memorandum was postponed due to political factors, i.e. the desire not to endanger China-US trade negotiations. Another factor is a possible assets outflow from China, which the Chinese are trying to prevent. The newspaper quoted first vice-prime-minister Anton Silanov, who said that the memorandum would be signed but “later and in another format”. According to a Kommersant's source, China needs more time to finalize the document, since it does not profit them any longer. (Kommersant.ru, December 27, 2018; read the full article in Russian)
Japan- Russia Relations
- Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono will pay an official visit to Moscow and hold talks on the peace treaty with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on January 14. (Tass.com, January 4, 2019; read the full article)
- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes that the U.S. will support his efforts to conclude a peace treaty with Russia as a means of containing China. (Tass.com, January 9, 2019; read the full article)
- While negotiating a peace treaty with Moscow, Japan may suggest renouncing the mutual right to demand any kind of compensation related to the southern Kuril Islands, the Yomiuri newspaper said. (Tass.com, January 8, 2019; read the full article)
- The signing of a peace treaty between Japan and Russia will have a positive impact on the security of the Asia-Pacific region and will also be beneficial for Washington, which signed a security treaty with Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the NHK TV Channel. (Tass.com, January 6, 2019; read the full article)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent his best wishes to Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, noting that the relations between Russia and Japan have significant potential. Putin noted in his message: "I hope to continue constructive dialogue, including in the sphere of expanding the legal base of bilateral cooperation and realizing joint economic projects in Russia’s Far East, as well as on issues on the international agenda, especially in light of Japan’s G20 chairmanship." (Tass.com, December 30, 2018; read the full article)
- The Russian Embassy Press Officer replied to a media question concerning the UK Prime Minister's 2018 Christmas Message to the Armed Forces, calling for "protecting our waters and our skies from Russian intrusion." The Russian Embassy answered: "We were utterly surprised by the Prime Minister's rhetoric. An uninitiated reader may fall under the impression that Russia has made attempts to violate the UK air space or territorial waters. This has never happened… It is only regrettable that a Christmas message should be used by the UK government as an opportunity to whip up anti-Russian sentiments." (Rusemb.org.uk, December 25, 2018; read the full statement)
- Russian communications watchdog Roskomnadzor initiated an inspection of the BBC World News channel in Russia as well as BBC digital editions to verify the media's compliance with the Russian law after the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) accused RT broadcaster of bias. (Sputniknews.com, December 21, 2018; read the full article)
- According to Russian media outlet RBC sources in the Kremlin, "many agencies in Russia have lots of questions to BBC regarding biased and 'programmed' coverage of Russia and Syria". (Rbc.ru, December 21, 2018; read the full article)
- Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated in her Facebook account: [The inspection was] long overdue… I am sincerely sorry for the BBC correspondents, many of whom are true professionals and conscientiously perform their duties. But gross meddling of the UK government in the activities of the Russian media, constant propaganda against the RT channel, attempts to discredit our journalists, etc., leave no other choice than responding in kind." (Sputniknews.com, December 21, 2018; read the full article; Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, December 21, 2018; read the full statement in Russian)
- British authorities are aware that shutting down RT's branch in London will result in consequences for the BBC's office in Russia, Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko told the Rossiya 24 TV channel. (Tass.com, December 28, 2018; read the full article)
- Kremlin 'understands' BBC journalists' personal data leak. (Tass.com, December 28, 2018; read the full article)
- BBC's accusations of publishing reporters' data absurd - Russian Foreign Ministry. (Tass.com, December 30, 2018; read the full article)
- At a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Senator Konstantin Kosachev suggested compiling a list of foreign politicians, spreading the most outrageous lies about Russia, and name it after British financier William Browder. (Tass.com, December 25, 2018; read the full article)
Rap In Russia
- They say Russia's crackdown on hip hop concerts today is like something from the USSR. Is that true? Meduza speaks to two Soviet rock musicians about KGB blacklists. (Meduza.io, November 29, 2018; read the full article)
- The Kremlin's TV pundits are hip rappers, too, 'bro'. (Meduza.io, January 4, 2019; read the full article)
- Magnitogorsk Apartment Collapse. 'Miracle' Baby Conscious After Being Found Alive in Russia Blast. (Themoscowtimes.com, January 7, 2018; read the full article)