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.
Photos Of The Week
During the talks in Beijing, Vladimir Putin presented Xi Jinping with a 1956 Russian-Chinese Cooperation poster by artist Isaac Grinshtein. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
In The News:
Debate On Russian Passports To Ukrainians
Russian Opinion Makers' Views On Zelenskiy
Zhirinovsky Cut A Ukraine-Shaped Cake
News In Brief: Venezuelan Crisis; Russia-Cuba Relations; Victory Day Celebrations; Russian Army
On April 25, Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing for a working visit, where he attended the second Belt and Road International Forum.
On April 27, Putin spoke to journalists following the Roundtable discussions at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. Below are excerpts of the press conference.
Putin: China Is Our Strategic Partner
Question: "Good afternoon. The Belt and Road is a very ambitious project – to the extent that it raises concerns in some. China is not a country that makes plans only for years ahead – it makes plans for decades proceeding not from billions but from trillions of dollars. This leads to the question, is this China's project or is it beneficial for other participants? Is it beneficial for Russia?"
Putin: "China is a vast country. I have mentioned that according to open sources and IMF data, China is the world's top economy as regards purchasing power parity. It is considerably lower per capita than, say, in the United States, but the volume is higher. Therefore, of course, China has plans for its development, and they are immense and ambitious; when China implements anything it uses a highly pragmatic approach to achieve its tasks.
"China is our strategic partner; this is obvious from all indicators and parameters. China is Russia's top trading partner. Our aim in 2018 was to reach the volume of $100 billion, and we exceed that, at $108 billion. And we have good prospects for development.
"When the country's leadership and President Xi Jinping formulate these plans and set development tasks for themselves and for the country – this is a very pragmatic approach. Just like us or any other country, they are governed by their national interests. This is normal.
"China implements this in a civilized and delicate way, making sure proposals for common development meet the interests of the vast majority of international participants, if not all. Generally speaking, China has offered nothing new; what it is doing is actually making attempts to reaffirm the principles set out by the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, and many of our colleagues are mentioning this backstage like they did at the last meeting. What is China’s goal? Stability.
"What is the reason for this? China's economy is immense, and the domestic market is growing. But today, what China produces is basically oriented towards foreign markets.
"Of course, domestic consumption will gradually increase with the overall growth of people’s incomes. Today China is interested in pushing its products to foreign markets, which is a natural aspiration for any country. For example, the Swedish economy is almost entirely focused on exports, and the same applies to the German economy. China simply has more products to offer. So how should China respond when it faces certain restrictions and attempts by some countries to stop its development? What should China do? It must strengthen the fundamental tenets of global economic relations, and create conditions for promoting its products. How can this be done? By developing transport infrastructure, port facilities, air, rail and motor transport, and building roads. This is exactly what China is doing. This was how it all started, but later it became obvious both in terms of China’s growth and for us as well, that this would not be enough. We needed to strengthen the fundamental tenets of international economic relations.
"Is Russia interested in this? Of course, it is. Considering the high volume of trade and the fact that it is growing, we are certainly interested in benefiting from the transit potential of the Trans-Siberian Railway and Baikal-Amur Mainline, and we intend to invest heavily in them, as well as in motor transport and roads. We have earmarked trillions of rubles for infrastructure development. Why are we doing this? In order to make effective use of our country’s transit potential and to be able to engage in mutual import and export operations.
"China acts in a highly civilized manner. For many years, we have been raising the issue of the need to increase the share of engineering goods in our trade. This is now beginning to materialize, which is attributable among other things to the position adopted by China’s leadership. I am very grateful to President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang for their consistent efforts to improve China’s trade patterns with Russia.
"Does this meet our interests? Absolutely. I think that this initiative has a very bright future ahead of it, since almost all of us are interested in this, as I have already said. No one wants to face any restrictions, no one wants any trade wars, maybe with the exception of those who are behind these processes. In any case, an overwhelming majority, nearly 100 percent strongly believe that these restrictions and wars undermine the global economy and its development. As strange as it may sound, the global economy as a whole needs the liberal values that China currently champions.
"It is for this reason that I believe that this initiative will develop further, which can also be explained by Chinese philosophy: they advance with extreme caution and not only seek to take into consideration the interests of their partners, but actually do so in their political and practical activities. The world has a very positive view of these developments."
Putin: Russia Is Ready To Meet China’s Needs
Question: "You also had a bilateral meeting with your Chinese partners during the forum. May I ask in this regard whether you and Xi Jinping discussed the prospects for Iranian oil exports being reduced to zero, since China is one of the largest importers of Iranian oil? Did you talk about this? Did you discuss with your Chinese partners how you can assist Iran in view of the US sanctions, including financial aid and any other types of assistance? Is Russia ready to step in for Iran by increasing oil exports to China, which would mean increasing oil output in Russia? Thank you."
Putin: "President Xi Jinping and I barely discussed, if at all, matters related to our cooperation with Iran. We did not mention the oil-related matters either.
"As for whether Russia is ready to meet China’s needs, I can say that Russia is ready to meet the needs of China and many other of our partners around the world. After all, Russia is a major oil producing country. The United States currently extracts more, but we have a daily output of 11.5 million barrels. You see? And we can produce even more. It varies, with Russia, Saudi Arabia and our US partners taking turns in the role of the world’s largest oil producer. Our production volumes are more or less at the same level.
"Of course, we have a huge potential, but this is not the point. The thing is, we have an arrangement with OPEC whereby we committed ourselves to keep our output at a certain level. This deal expires in July 2019, while the decisions by the US to impose various sanctions against Iran are to come into force, if I am not mistaken, in early May. I have no idea how the global energy market will respond to these developments.
"We have a deal with OPEC and we are honoring our commitments. As far as I know, all our partners within OPEC, including Saudi Arabia, remain committed to the OPEC+ deal. It is hard to say what will happen with the global energy market. We did not discuss this with our Chinese friends."
Putin: We Have A Russian-Chinese Initiative For The Korean Peninsula
Question: "I have a question on the talks you held over the past few days. Did you discuss with Xi Jinping the outcome of the summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this past Thursday? Is there a possibility for Russia and China to put forward some kind of a settlement plan for the Korean Peninsula? Have you discussed the possibility of reviving six-party talks on these issues?"
Putin: "I announced back in Vladivostok that I will not fail to inform our Chinese partners and friends about the results of my talks with Kim Jong-un in Vladivostok. I did it, and there is nothing unusual about it. We always share information with each other on talks of this kind. This was one of such cases. I briefed President Xi Jinping on these issues during our talks, and we exchanged views on the developments on the Korean Peninsula. We have a Russian-Chinese initiative that we refer to as the Russian-Chinese settlement plan, a roadmap.
"We believe that its first part has been by and large implemented. We have to see what is written there, since there is nothing secret there. We now need to move on to the second part, which consists of normalizing relations between the conflicting sides. After all, the conflicting sides have been in a state of war against one another since the Korean War. We need to address fundamental matters and move on in order to create conditions that would be an adequate security guarantee for North Korea. We have not discussed any new plans. It is not that we need any, since we have to implement what we had already agreed upon. This is what we are doing."
(Kremlin.ru, April 27, 2019)
Debate On Russian Passports To Ukrainians
Zelenskiy: I Would Not Advise Russia To Waste Time Luring Ukrainians With Russian Passports
Putin had said on April 27 that Russia might facilitate the issuance of its passports not only to residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine but also to all Ukrainian citizens.
Zelenskiy said in reply the same day that "firstly, I would not advise the Russian authorities to waste their time trying to lure citizens of Ukraine with Russian passports."
"And part of this mission will be the granting of protection, asylum, and Ukrainian citizenship to all those prepared to fight for freedom. We will provide asylum and assistance to all those who stand ready to fight side by side with us for our and your freedom," Zelenskiy said.
"Probably there are some people who are still under the influence of propaganda. Maybe someone will do it for the sake of earnings or in an attempt to escape from criminal investigations. We can even provide Vladimir Putin with a list of citizens of Ukraine who will start feeling very uncomfortable in the country, which they cynically robbed, abusing their high posts, in the near future. Let Russia decide again where it needs such 'professionals' more, in Rostov or in Magadan," Zelenskiy said in a statement spread by his team.
Zelenskiy also declared his readiness to grant citizenship of Ukraine to Russians who suffer from an authoritarian regime. "We will provide Ukrainian citizenship to representatives of all peoples who suffer from authoritarian and corrupt regimes. First of all, to Russians, who today suffer almost more than everyone," he said.
(Kyivpost.com, April 29, 2019)
Putin: Zelenskiy Should Restore Saakashvili's Ukrainian citizenship
Putin at a ceremony awarding medals for labor replied to Zelenskiy by suggesting that he should restore Mikhail Saakashvili's Ukrainian citizenship. Putin said: "As for freedoms, it would be reasonable to start, say, with Georgians, or former Georgians, rather than with Russians. For instance, it would be fair to restore the Ukrainian citizenship of a person who used to be a Georgian but now calls himself a Ukrainian, I mean Mikhail Saakashvili."
Putin then added: "[Saakashvili] was illegally deprived of citizenship and deported from the country, so it would be fair to bring him back and restore his rights, as well as the rights of many other Ukrainian nationals who had to leave the country and move abroad in order to escape the current Ukrainian regime's persecution."
As to Zelenskiy's proposal to extend Ukrainian citizenship to Russians Putin said that joint citizenship was a good idea as Russians and Ukrainians are brothers.
(Tass.com, April 29, 2019; Rbc.ru, April 29, 2019)
Putin Signed A Decree On Granting The Right To Obtain Russian citizenship In A Simplified Procedure For Certain Groups Of Ukrainian Citizens
Putin signed a decree on granting the right to obtain Russian citizenship in a simplified procedure for certain groups of Ukrainian citizens.
As reported by TASS, "the document says that this simplified procedure of obtaining Russian citizenship applies to Ukrainian citizens, who have no citizenship of other states, who were born and reside permanently on the territories of the Crimean republic and the city of Sevastopol, those who had left the above mentioned territories before March 18, 2014 and also their children, including adopted children, husbands and wives and parents.
"The right to get Russian citizenship in a simplified procedure has been also granted to individuals without citizenship, who were born and resided in Crimea, and who had left the peninsula before it rejoined Russia, as well as other persons who were subjected to illegal deportation from the territory of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
"The process of granting Russian citizenship will be also eased for Ukrainians and persons without citizenship, who have permission for temporary residence in Russia, a residence permit, a refugee identity card, a document on temporary refuge or a document of a participant of a state program on providing assistance to relocating to Russia fellow countrymen living abroad, those who resided in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine in April 2014 and also their children, husbands and wives and parents.
"Besides, under the decree the right to obtain Russian citizenship in a simplified procedure will be given to the citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Syria, who were born on the territory of the Russian Socialist Federative Socialist Republic and held the Soviet Union's citizenship…
"On April 24, Putin signed a decree enabling people living in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics to receive Russian citizenship under a simplified procedure. According to the document, the decision has been made 'in order to protect human rights and freedoms' based on universally accepted international laws."
(Tass.com, May 1, 2019)
Russian Opinion Makers' Views On Zelenskiy
Kommersant columnist Sergey Strokan wrote:
"In Vlodymyr Zelenskiy's case the signal from the Russian side was precise and unambiguous: there will be no credit advances; Moscow's trust has to be earned and show that the new president is not merely a subroutine for whom one votes simply not to elect Petro Poroshenko...."
Strokan believes Zelenskiy "commands a subtle soft power both real and imaginary."
"Under conditions that the 'Zelenskiy wave' euphorically crowning Ukraine makes it to Russia, the continuing spat between Moscow and Kiev will no longer be a polemic about Crimea and Donbass. This is a quarrel about soft power, about models of development and democracy – where to live better.
(Kommersant.ru, April 30, 2019)
Commenting on Zelenskiy, Senator Alexey Pushkov tweeted:
"Zelenskiy attributes to Ukraine 'a mission to be a model of democracy for the Post-Soviet countries'. First let him put on trial those guilty of the  Odessa massacre then those guilty of the Donbass shootings; and then ban its own Nazis. Then we can discuss the mission. For the moment Ukraine fears this and is no model."
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, April 28, 2019)
Zhirinovsky Cut A Ukraine-Shaped Cake
LDPR leader and former presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky published on his social media a video of a cake in the shape of Ukraine which he cut up leaving Ukraine one third of the cake while the remainder New and Little Russia would be henceforward called Southeastern Russia. The rump Ukraine would be called Galicia. The cake was given to him by Rossiya-1 propagandists Olga Skabeeva and Evgeny Popov.
(Ria.ru, April 28, 2019)
See the video
On April 19, Belarusian State Concern for Oil and Chemistry Belneftekhim reported a sharp deterioration of the quality of the Russian oil running through the Druzhba oil pipeline and subsequently informed pipeline operators from other countries about the situation. The content of chlororganic compounds in the oil showed excess of limit value by ten folds, the company said.
On April 23, Belarus suspended exports of light oil products to Ukraine, Poland and Baltic countries due to poor quality oil supplied to its refineries. Poland also refused to accept Russian crude delivered via the Druzhba pipeline.
On April 26, Russia's Energy Ministry, together with Transneft, Russian Railways and oil companies, agreed on a set of measures to refine the contaminated crude supplied through the Druzhba pipeline.
On April 29, the Russian oil, which complies with the technical regulations, reached the the Unecha line operation dispatcher station of the Druzhba pipeline, near the border with Belarus.
(Tass.com, April 30, 2019)
Meeting Between Putin And President Of Transneft Tokarev – Tokarev: A Company In The Samara Region Deliberately Discharged Oil That Had Not Undergone A Quality Check… I Am Not Relieving Transneft Of The Responsibility
On April 30, Vladimir Putin had a working meeting with Chairman of the Board and President of Transneft Nikolai Tokarev. They discussed the problem with the Druzhba oil pipeline.
Putin with the Chairman of the Board and President of Transneft Nikolai Tokarev. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Putin: "Mr Tokarev, let's start with a report on the Druzhba oil pipeline."
President of Transneft Tokarev: "Mr President, recently there was a serious incident linked with a huge, many-fold level increase in chlorinated organics in the oil that is transported through the Druzhba pipeline towards Belarus, and further to Poland and Germany and through Ukraine to Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary via the southern leg.
"We conducted a corporate investigation to find the source of these compounds. It transpired they came from a private company in the Samara Region, which is a kind of a collector. In other words, it collects oil from small regional producers – in Ulyanovsk, Orenburg and Samara regions, guarantees the commercial quality of this oil, issues a relevant certificate and transfers it to the system of oil mains.
"In this case, in violation of all technological regulations, this company deliberately discharged oil that had not undergone a quality check."
Tokarev: "I believe this is a fraudulent scheme. As of today, all materials have been submitted to the FSB department of the Samara Region. The investigation is underway. Everything will become clear soon but for the time being the picture looks like this."
Putin: "So the company doesn't have any control mechanism to check the oil as it enters the pipeline system?"
Tokarev: "These collection points – there are about 150 of them around Russia – most of them belong to large oil companies and they themselves prepare the marketable oil and distribute it in the system of main pipelines.
"But many collection points belong to private companies that act as collectors in the entire area under contracts with Transneft. They receive the oil, do the certification, conduct quality control and distribute it in the main pipeline system."
Putin: "So this system failed?"
Tokarev: "In this case, it was pure fraud and violation of all instructions and regulations."
Putin: "Listen, they cheated, but we have suffered huge economic, material and reputational damage!"
Tokarev: "Yes, I agree, I am not relieving Transneft of the responsibility, but the instructions and regulations were made to comply with them. If there was a criminal intention…"
Putin: "It means that self-control is not enough, this is what I mean. This system needs to be changed."
Tokarev: "An interdepartmental group, created on the Prime Minister's instruction, will propose measures that should be included in the regulations to improve control over the reception of oil to the main pipeline system."
Putin: "Please make sure this is done and report to the Prime Minister."
Tokarev: "But at the same time, Mr President, together with the Energy Ministry and oil companies we held a series of working meetings with our colleagues from Ukraine, Belarus and Poland, and agreed on the measures to contain the aftermath and find out all the details of the incident.
"All these agreements are currently being implemented. High-quality oil was delivered to Belarus today. The Novopolotsk oil refinery receives oil via Surgut, so the situation has been more or less resolved.
"All April shipments from Ust-Luga have been completed, so port operations are fully on schedule. Additionally, the railroad helps us transport off-spec oil from Belarus. We will compound it, that is, mix it with good oil in Novorossiysk, and then put it back on the market."
Putin: "In compliance with quality requirements …"
Tokarev: "Yes, it will be fully on spec. We expect the situation to get back to normal soon, and we will resume our usual schedule."
(Kremlin.ru, April 30, 2019)
Russian Columnist Driz: Mysterious Versions Are Unacceptable
Russian columnist Dmitry Driz in Kommersant commented on the contaminated Russian oil in the Druzhba pipeline:
"One can poison, contaminate or pollute a river, lake or well. But oil and moreover in the pipeline – that is nonsense. The deputy prime minister for energy transit Dmitry Kozak appealed not to look for politics. Ok we will not. However, Dmitry Nikolayevich you gotta agree that everything look more than strange."
After expressing skepticism about the discovery that the culprit was a small unknown company, Driz concluded: "We can say that we may never know the answer. But something is wrong here. There have already been too many coincidences. Mysterious versions are unacceptable."
(Kommersant, April 29, 2019)
Russian Analyst Grushevenko The Scandal Is The Loss Of Markets At A Time That Oil Consumers Are Looking For An Alternative To Iran
The earliest delivery of Russian oil will be on May 2 but a full resumption will take a few months of intensive work. The scandal, writes Yekaterina Grushevenko in Rbc.ru, is the loss of markets at a time that oil consumers are looking for an alternative to Iran. While all sides are interested in stabilizing oil deliveries, the crisis is a wakeup call to consumers who will begin to source alternative suppliers.
(Rbc.ru, April 30, 2019; Finance.rambler.ru, April 30, 2019)
News In Brief:
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro was preparing to leave Venezuela, but was talked out of it by Russia, he said in an interview with CNN. (Tass.com, May 1, 2019; read the full article)
Washington's meddling in Venezuela's sovereign affairs may cause the collapse of the situation, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters. (Tass.com, May 1, 2019; read the full article)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and the permanent members of the national Security Council have discussed the situation in Venezuela, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. (Tass.com, April 30, 2019; read the full article)
A parliamentary delegation led by First Vice-Chairman of Russia's State Duma Ivan Melnikov flew on an official visit to Havana on April 30, representative of the Russian Embassy in Cuba Zaurbek Makayev told TASS. (Tass.com, May 1, 2019; read the full article)
Victory Day Celebrations
Moscow does not expect any foreign leaders to attend its Victory Day celebrations, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the state-run RIA Novosti news outlet. (Themoscowtimes.com, April 29, 2019; read the full article)
Although 56% of respondents in a poll by the Public Opinion Foundations believed that the Russian army enjoyed high and growing prestige and 45% wanted their sons to be officers 50% favored a professional army as opposed to 15% who favored a conscript army. (Mk.ru, April 30, 2019)