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:
- Mueller Investigation
- Ukrainian Elections
- Russia-Venezuela Relations
- Domestic Policy
- News In Brief: Defense; Russia-Turkey Relations; Ingushetia;
Svpressa.ru: Democrats Created A Virtual Conspiracy That Existed Only In Their Heads
Russian media outlet Svpressa.ru wrote: "Mueller could not prove a conspiracy not because he did not search well. It is simply impossible to find a black cat in a dark room all the more so if it is not there. And there was no cat. Democrats, Russophobes and leading members of the mass media created a virtual conspiracy that existed only in their heads and on the front pages, but nowhere else."
(Svpressa.ru, March 25, 2019)
Russian Senator Pushkov: The Mountain Has Again Given Birth To A Dead Little Mouse
Russian Senator Alexey Pushkov wrote: "The Mueller report did not show a 'plot with Russia' as a result of its absence. Not one of the suspects is entered – neither Manafort nor Flynn, nor others. The report will have a lot of smoke and fog and various 'highly likely' but nothing concrete. The mountain has again given birth to a dead little mouse."
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, March 23, 2019)
Russian Expert Kortunov: No Reset Is On The Horizon, But The Results Of The Investigation Removed The 'Russian Theme' From The Epicenter Of The US Domestic Political Struggle
Russian Expert Andrey Kortunov wrote an article on the Mueller investigation, titled "Mueller Report: A Reason for Optimism". Belo' are excerpts of Kortunov's article:
"… The latest news about the results of Robert Mueller's commission didn't give rise to new hopes as much as they created new anxieties among political analysts. There is no evidence of Russia having colluded with Donald Trump's election headquarters in 2016, but the charges of Kremlin interference haven't been rescinded. Therefore, as the experts assure us, no improvement in relations between Moscow and Washington should be expected. On the contrary, now that the formerly alleged criminal relationship between Trump and the Kremlin has been discarded, the president's supporters can safely attack Vladimir Putin without any fear of casting a shadow on the American leader. And if earlier, the Democrats headed the unfriendly crusade against Moscow, in the wake of the publication of Mueller's report, Republicans loyal to the White House will attempt to seize the initiative as soon as possible.
"There is certain logic in such gloomy assumptions. The results of the Mueller Commission's investigation, whatever they may be, will not change the fundamentals of US policy toward Russia or the general anti-Russian attitude that prevails in American society. No 'reset' is on the horizon. But the results of the investigation can contribute to achieving another, much more relevant goal at the moment – the removal of the 'Russian theme' from the epicenter of the American domestic political struggle, and an end to the established stereotype: 'we say Trump, we mean - the Kremlin, we say the Kremlin, we mean – Trump'. In this sense, the results of the Mueller report provide grounds for cautious optimism. If you search thoroughly, there are other reasons for optimism. They may be shaky and somewhat controversial ones, but are still quite specific and worthy of attention.
"First, Russia was never caught by the American special services actively interfering in the US Congressional mid-term elections in November 2018, although the thesis about the 'inevitability' of such interference on the eve of the elections was virtually unquestioned in Washington.
"Second, last year's most gloomy forecasts about the new round of American sanctions against Russia did not materialize. At least for the time being, the White House is seeking to avoid a hasty and irresponsible escalation that could damage not only Vladimir Putin personally, but also the global financial and economic system as a whole.
"Third, the uncompromising and rather unconvincing US decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty caused serious discontent in influential circles, both among Republicans and Democrats, as well as American political analysts. Even among the toughest and most consistent critics of Russia, there are more often calls to prevent the final collapse of the US-Russian strategic arms control regime.
"Fourth, there are signs that in the on-going casting being organized by Washington's political establishment, Beijing has replaced Moscow in the role of the main geopolitical opponent of the United States. If Russia is perceived by the American foreign policy elite as an annoying bully, then China will increasingly appear as a long-term strategic challenge.
"Skeptics may say that all of the above is a weak basis for even cautious optimism. As always, they will be right. The absence of accusations that Russia intervened in the midterm elections does not mean that this topic will not be raised during the upcoming 2020 presidential election campaign. The current pause in the escalation of anti-Russian sanctions offers no guarantee that this escalation will not be resumed as soon as possible. The Trump administration could easily ignore the growing concerns of arms control supporters by derailing the START-3 treaty. It is also easier to imagine some sort of agreement being reached between the United States and China; if not a long-term trading one, then at least some temporary truce. It is even easier to predict new conflicts between the US and Russia for various reasons, from the Venezuela crisis to the future of European energy, where the vacant spot reserved for Washington's main geopolitical adversary will, in the end, once again be assigned to Moscow."
(Valdaiclub.com, March 28, 2019)
Russia Expert Suslov: The Consensus In The US That Russia Is A Geopolitical, Political And Ideological Adversary Precludes Any Possibility That Bilateral Relations Will Change For The Better
Russian expert Dmitry Suslov wrote an article, titled "The Mueller Report Extends, Not Resolves the US-Russia Stalemate." Below are excerpts of Suslov's article:
"… Mueller's conclusions have no effect on the general picture in US-Russian relations and create no prerequisites ions for a new détente, let alone an improvement in bilateral relations. The general belief that Russia is an enemy and meddled in the 2016 presidential election has only grown stronger. Given the political polarization and a fierce political struggle in the US, the consensus that Russia is a geopolitical, political and ideological adversary basically precludes any possibility that bilateral relations will change for the better. There is no doubt that Washington will continue its policy of containment vis-à-vis Russia. Moreover, the completion of Mueller's investigation and his conclusion that Russia did interfere can even lead to new sanctions…
"The tactical situation in US-Russian relations will only start improving, when Washington becomes aware of the need and masters the political will to launch dialogue on a new vision of strategic stability and a new arms control philosophy. Strategy-wise, the situation will change when the United States sees that it cannot simultaneously contain Russia and China and starts adjusting its policy towards non-Western great powers to the realities of a multipolar world."
(Valdaiclub.com, April 1, 2019)
Russian MFA Spokesperson Zakharova: The Report Triggered Off Even More Heated Debates On This Matter
Russia MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova: "Even the latest report made by special counsel Robert Mueller that should have answered all the questions has not consolidated society and has failed to calm down the situation. On the contrary, the report has triggered off even more heated debates on this matter. Quite possibly, this can be explained by the fact that it was not published in full. This created confusion and provides additional pretexts for speculation on this matter."
(Mid.ru, March 28, 2019)
Vladimir Zelensky and Petro Poroshenko make it into the second round but Poroshenko appears no match for his opponent. (Source: Ria.ru, April 1, 2019)
On March 31, Ukrainians voted in the presidential election.
Ukrainian presidential candidate, showman Volodymyr Zelensky has almost twice the votes cast for his nearest competitor, incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, 30.23% vs. 15.92%, respectively, after the Central Election Commission (CEC) has processed 97.10% of voting protocols of Ukraine's March 31 presidential election.
(Unian.info, April 2, 2019)
Political scientist and Ukrainian election frontrunner Volodymyr Zelensky's headquarters speaker Dmytro Razumkov has said Zelensky is ready for a debate with incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, but if his schedule as artistic director of the Studio Kvartal 95 comedy show production allows.
(Unian.info, April 2, 2019)
Vzglyad: Zelensky's Victory Would Exacerbate The Political Crisis In The Crisis
While expecting Zelensky to triumph over Poroshenko, Russian media outlet Vzglyad predicts that such a victory will only exacerbate the already resonating political crisis in the country. Till the end of the year the elected president will have to work with the current makeup of the Rada. Zelensky does not have his faction in parliament on which to base himself. Without the support of a parliamentary majority such a president will not be able to appoint a prime minister or even fire separate members of government.
(Vz.ru, April 1, 2019)
Senator Pushkov: Poroshenko Can Win Only Through Forgery
Russian Senator Pushkov wrote in his Twitter account: "There is not a single reason why Poroshenko can perform an electoral miracle and overcome a nearly twofold gap with Zelensky. According to the first round, the only hope of the Ukrainian president before the eyes of the entire country and world is to commit a monumental forgery. Otherwise he has no chance."
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, March 31, 2019)
Senator Morozov: Zelensky's Victory Will Be A Way Out Of The Crisis Only In Case Of A Total Revision Of Ukraine's State Policy
Oleg Morozov, a member of the federation council's International Relations Committee, does not exclude collusion between Poroshenko and the defeated candidates. "In contemporary Ukrainian politics any and even the most exotic scenario is possible. This includes collusion of the candidates in support of Poroshenko. But this will not serve the country. People will consider themselves deceived in their expectations," Morozov said. He then added that Zelensky's victory "will be a way out of the crisis only in case of a total revision of the policy that was conducted."
(Ria.ru, April 1, 2019)
Kosachev: The Ukrainians Chose Between Fifty Shades Of Gray
Prominent Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev: The Ukrainians chose between fifty shades of gray. "Any candidate who risked saying a good word about our country would not only be simply miserable, but risked his health at the very least," Kosachev added.
(Rg.ru, April 1, 2019)
Kremlin Spokesperson Peskov: The Topic Of Crimea Is Not Subject To Discussion
Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov answered Zelensky about the seized Ukrainian territory "We are prepared to clarify to any Ukrainian citizen that Russia does not occupy any Ukrainian territory there cannot even be speeches about it. The unrecognized republic of Donbas is rejected by Ukraine itself. What takes place there is a consequence of that policy conducted by Ukraine's leadership."
As for Crimea, Peskov added "The topic of Crimea is not subject to discussion. This topic was closed once and for all. Moreover the word 'occupation' or 'annexation is completely inapplicable neither de facto nor de jure with respect to Ukraine."
(Rbc.ru, April 1, 2019)
(Source: Ria.ru, March 28, 2019)
Russian FM Lavrov: Our Presence In Venezuela Is Absolutely Legitimate
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answered questions (Bishkek, March 28, 2019) for the show "Moscow. Kremlin. Putin", on March 31, 2019:
Question: "US President Donald Trump has allegedly said that 'Russia has to get out' of Venezuela. Will you comment on this, please?"
Sergey Lavrov: "The Foreign Ministry of Russia has already posted a comment on this. We responded to the telephone call I received from US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who made a similar, if more polite, statement. We explained what our military personnel were doing in Venezuela. Their presence in Venezuela is absolutely legitimate: they are servicing the equipment that we have supplied under an intergovernmental agreement, which the Venezuelan Parliament has ratified and which is fully in keeping with the Venezuelan Constitution."
Question: "Is the use of such phrases as 'get out' acceptable in diplomatic practice?"
Sergey Lavrov: "I don’t discuss other people’s manners. This is the time of new approaches, particularly in US policies, steps and statements. I leave every man to his taste."
(Mid.ru, March 31, 2019)
Russian MFA Zakharova: Washington Is Judging Others By Itself When Ascribing To Moscow Its Own Plans With Regard To Venezuela
"The arrival of Russian experts in military-technical cooperation to Venezuela has caused a nervous reaction in Washington. US officials have gone as far as to say that the United States would regard the appearance of 'actors external to the Western Hemisphere' in Venezuela as 'provocative' and as 'a direct threat to international peace and security in the region.'
"First of all, we would like Washington politicians to look at a map. Part of Russia’s territory – the Chukotka Peninsula – is located in the Western Hemisphere. In other words, the American continent is a close neighbor of Russia.
"Russia has clearly outlined the mission of its professionals in Caracas. They are not 'military assets.' Consequently, the allegations concerning the Russian intent to 'establish or expand military operations' in Venezuela are completely groundless.
"It appears that Washington is judging others by itself when ascribing to Moscow its own plans with regard to Venezuela. Washington has again stated arrogantly that “all options” are open to make Moscow withdraw its forces. We would like to ask in this context what the numerous US military instructors are doing in neighboring Colombia and why the White House is urging another neighbor of Venezuela, Brazil, to join NATO, which is contrary to the charter and the very name of the North Atlantic alliance?
"In early March, Washington clearly indicated that it was still committed to the colonial Monroe Doctrine, which assigned the role of America’s backyard to Latin America 200 years ago, thereby denying it the right to sovereignty. But Venezuela, which honors the heritage of Simon Bolivar, the famous fighter against the colonizers, has again refused to bow to external dictate and continued to independently decide how it will live and who its friends are. This probably hurts the Washington strategists, but they do not have a time machine to plunge us back into the 19th century.
"We fully agree with the US officials who say that Russia does not have 'a free hand' in Venezuela. This is undeniably so, because only the legitimate authorities of Venezuela led by President Nicolas Maduro have a free hand in their own country. Any actions there by any external forces, including the United States, are restricted by the norms of international law sealed in the UN Charter, including the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.
"At the same time, any attempts to intimidate Russia with sanctions for its legitimate cooperation with Venezuela look absurd. Washington has adopted so many sanctions against Russia for most different reasons that Moscow has stopped counting and no longer takes any notice of them.
"Of course, we understand the reason why Washington is so nervous. The plans for a rapid change of regime in Caracas have failed. By its self-assurance, Washington has let down those in Latin America and Western Europe who unwisely hastened to recognize an impostor, whom the people had not elected, as the head of Venezuela. By taking this step, they have deprived themselves of any room for diplomatic maneuver.
"For our part, we recommend Washington to stop threatening Venezuela, strangling its economy, and pushing the country towards a civil war in flagrant violation of international law. We urge all political forces in Venezuela that put their country’s interests above their own ambitions to enter into a dialogue. We are ready to do everything within our power to promote it."
(Mid.ru, March 30, 2019)
- When responding to US President Donald Trump's statement that Russia "needed to get out of Venezuela," Moscow has emphasized that Russian military personnel are implementing bilateral defense agreements in the Latin American state and will stay there as long as both sides deem necessary. The Brazilian foreign minister has stated that the Russian military should leave Venezuela if they were "propping up" President Nicolas Maduro. (News-front.info, March 29, 2019; read the full article)
- US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will soon decide what measures Washington will take against Moscow in connection with its support for Caracas, Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said in an interview with CNN. (Tass.com, March 31, 2019; read the full article)
- US President Donald Trump said he may discuss the situation in Venezuela with Russian President Vladimir Putin soon, Reuters reported. (Tass.com, March 30, 2019; read the full article)
- A helicopter pilot training center, created with the help of Russian specialists, was unveiled in Venezuela, the press service of Rosoboronexport, the arms trader of Russian state corporation Rostec, has said. (Tass.com, March 30, 2019; read the full article)
- The military cooperation between Moscow and Caracas should not be a source of concern for other states, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said. (Tass.com, March 30, 2019; read the full article)
- Russia and Venezuela may discuss the issue of crude supplies from the republic during the visit of Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo to Moscow in early April, Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters. (Tass.com, March 29, 2019; read the full article)
- Third countries should not worry about Russia-Venezuela relations, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, highlighting the need to respect the right to cooperation. (Tass.com, March 28, 2019; read the full article)
- Russia helped secure the release of German journalist Billy Six from a Venezuelan jail but heard no words of thanks from the German Foreign Ministry, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova complained during a news briefing. (Tass.com, March 28, 2019; read the full article)
- The setup of foreign military bases runs counter to Venezuela’s laws, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the Echo Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) radio station, commenting on media reports about alleged plans to establish a Russian military base in Venezuela. "I haven’t witnessed any discussions about our bases. I haven’t heard anyone speaking about it. I have never heard anyone discussing the possibility of setting up bases," she said. (Tass.com, Mach 28, 2019; read the full article)
- The Venezuelan government has no plans to use Russian military servicemen in operations on its territory, Venezuela’s military attaché in Russia Jose Torrealba Perez told reporters. (Tass.com, March 28, 2019; read the full article)
- Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov has said that the arrival of a group of Russian military personnel in Caracas fully coincides with the level of cooperation with Venezuela’s legitimate government. "All this fits in with normal relations with Venezuela’s legitimate government," he told the media. (Tass.com, March 28, 2091; read the full article)
- Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez will participate in the Moscow Conference on International Security on April 24-25, the Venezuelan embassy’s military attaché, Torrealba Perez, told TASS. (Tass.com, March 28, 2019; read the full article)
- The United States has received carte blanche from The Netherlands to use the Dutch island of Curacao as a springboard for aggressive intervention in Venezuela, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova charged during her news briefing. (Tass.com, March 28, 2019; read the full article)
- Russia and Venezuela plan to sign about 20 agreements on cooperation in various spheres, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said in an interview with Russia’s Channel One. (Tass.com, March 27, 2019; read the full article)
Former Russian Minister Abyzov Arrested On Fraud Charges
Former Russian minister Mikhail Abyzov (Source: Kirill Zykov / Moskva News Agency)
On March 26, Former Russian minister for Open Government Affairs Mikhail Abyzov was detained by security forces on suspicion of embezzling 4 billion rubles ($62 million). Abyzov, 46, faces up to 20 years behind bars if convicted. The ex-minister has denied the charges.
He is the second government minister to be detained and face criminal prosecution in the past two years, after ex-Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev was sentenced in 2017 to eight years in prison over a bribe.
Abyzov's high-profile detention has led to a wave of speculation in Russia's political and business circles. Political experts have noted the ex-official's close relations with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
(Themoscowtimes.com, March 27, 2019)
Russian Expert Inozemtsev: There Will Be No Peaceful And Quiet End To This Regime
In an op-ed, titled "[Political] Power Is Just Another Type Of Private Enterprise", Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies, commented on the ex-Russian Minister Mikhail Abyzov's arrest. Inozemtsev wrote:
"Mikhail Abyzov's case is being discussed today from many angles and, of course, it is unprecedented by the standards of modern Russia. Too many high-ranking officials are touched upon by [this problem] and surely many details that many people would like to conceal, will be [soon] revealed. However, at the same time, [this case] shows one very important feature that says a lot about the nature of the current Russian government and its outlook.
"Apparently, the main activities that led to today's complaints were carried out in the period 2011-2014. At that time, there were offshore companies, which withdrew money and properties abroad, and the RuCom group was created in the same years. The sale of assets, de facto belonging to one federal minister (for open government affairs), was performed by the state via another federal minister (finance). And the problem does not only consist in inflated prices, but in the fact that the separation of government from business, that the Kremlin had just declared, was most cynically obliterated. And this problem does not concern only Mr. Abyzov, but this is how the entire modern Russian state works, in which power is not only a necessary condition for successful business, but it is just a form of private enterprise.
"Today it is often said that Russia is becoming similar to the USSR. The above example shows that this is far from being the case. The Soviet leaders (I'm speaking about the last decades of the country's existence), in their majority, often acted in a way that was unacceptable to the civilized world — they did not protect popular sovereignty and many human rights — but at the same time they did not openly and massively violate laws that they had themselves established. In many respects this is why the collapse of the USSR was so easy: the bureaucrats that were evicted from their offices were not afraid of being persecuted for their past deeds. Now it is not possible to count on that. The authorities are well aware that one or another article of the Criminal Code has been infringed by each of them. And when today rumors increasingly say that Putin's support is falling by 20%, and that the regime will collapse as soon they give it a strong push, I am not inclined to believe it. The current bureaucracy has nowhere to retreat. And [it has] nowhere to flee. Therefore, there will be no peaceful and quiet end to this regime. All those strongly optimistic supporters of the 'fair future Russia', should bear this in mind ..."
(Echo.msk.ru, March 28, 2019)
News In Brief:
- The first 2019 launch of the Russian-built Proton-M carrier rocket with the Blagovest telecommunications satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome will take place on 23 May, a source in the rocket and space industry said. Another source told that the first 2019 launch of the Proton-M carrier rocket from Baikonur had been postponed from May 17 to 24-25 May. (News-front.info, April 1, 2019; read the full article)
- Russia's Sukhoi Su-57 (also known as the PAK FA product and T-50) fifth-generation fighter jet already has an export permit, and the Russian government is currently reviewing documents to officially rename the aircraft from its T-50 internal designation to Su-57, a source in the aviation industry said. (News-front.info, March 29, 2019; read the full article)
- A third-generation submarine for Russia's Pacific Fleet, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles, was launched at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg. (News-front.info, March 29, 2019; read the full article)
- Over 1,600 servicemen from the mechanized infantry unit of the Russian Eastern Military District have thwarted an "enemy" offensive at drills in the Far Eastern Khabarovsk Region, the head of the district's press service Colonel Alexander Gordeyev said. (Tass.com, March 21, 2019; read the full article)
- Aircraft of the Eastern Military District destroyed "enemy" facilities, during massive drills that are being held at the Tsugol Range in the Trans-Baikal Region, the district's press service reported. (Tass.com, March 28, 2019; read the full article)
- The deal between Turkey and Russia on S-400 air defense missile systems remains in force and Moscow and Ankara are in talks on the timeframe for their deliveries, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said after negotiations with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. (Tass.com, March 29, 2019; read the full article)
- Ankara purchases Russia's S-400 Triumph (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler) anti-aircraft missile systems for its own needs and there will be no reselling, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has stated. (News-front.info, March 29, 2019; read the full article)
- Ongoing protests in Ingushetia: From the latest news to the very beginning. Since October 2018, protesters in the Russian federal subject of Ingushetia have taken to the streets to object to their government’s attempts to give up territory to the neighboring republic of Chechnya. In a broader Russian political environment that has favored the Chechen government and accorded considerably less respect to protesters, residents of Ingushetia have been remarkably persistent in their demands. (Meduza.io, April 1, 2019; read the full article)
- Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office has reportedly applied a new law that penalizes disrespecting the Russian government online for the first time. The occasion for the move was a news story about graffiti that used offensive language to describe President Vladimir Putin, according to TJournal. (Meduza.io, Aprl 2, 2019; read the full article)