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:
- Munich Security Conference
- Russia In Syria
- INF Treaty
- Former Italian PM Berlusconi: Putin Is The Most Democratic Leader
- Russia-Venezuela Relations
- Russian Population Is Inert When It Comes To Getting To The Streets
- News In Brief: New Wave Of Sanctions; Crimea; Belarus-Russia Relations; Michael Calvey Case; Intra-Palestinian Dialogue
Munich Security Conference
Russian FM Lavrov: We Are Patient People, Strategically As Well
On February 15-17, the 2019 Munich Security Conference took place in southern Germany. On February 16, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a press conference after the Munich Security. During the presser, Lavrov responded to questions from the media.
Below are excerpts from the presser:
Question: "Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has supported Nord Stream 2. It seems that despite charges that it is a political move, Ms Merkel is ready to go against the 'players' in Germany's economic and energy spheres. In your opinion, will Germany manage to keep its position? Will the pressure intensify?"
Sergey Lavrov: "Where Nord Stream 2 is concerned, I did not hear from my German counterpart Heiko Maas anything that would signal a change in Germany's position in favor of this purely economic, commercial project.
"I have derived the same impression from today's early breakfast that Heiko Maas and I went to as part of the meeting of Russian and German business leaders."
Question: "During the conference today it was mentioned that you are the most experienced participant in the Munich forum. We would like to know your opinion of this conference, since you have seen so many events like this. Is it easier now to come to agreement with partners on coordinated decisions or are participants' attitudes towards Russia different this year?"
Sergey Lavrov: "We would even like to be a little more isolated because our talks lasted non-stop, over two dozen meetings. Our entire delegation was extremely busy. All of our discussions were constructive, even with politicians who at various times, when they speak in the European Parliament or at other venues, have expressed hard opinions about Russia. Everyone assured us that they want to normalize relations with Russia. But apparently they are guided by collusion and follow a policy charted by the EU under pressure from the aggressive Russophobic minority.
"We patiently explain our willingness to resume relations on an equal basis and at a rate and to a degree that will suit our partners. We do not hold a grudge against anyone; we have simply understood as to whom we can rely on in developing our country and whom we cannot, including cases when someone decides to punish us for something else, like the Crimean Spring. But I'll repeat that they do not respond in any way when I remind them that a few days after the coup, which was carried out by the opposition whom they supported, in violation of the guarantees given by France, Germany and Poland that there would be no backsliding on the agreements with Viktor Yanukovych, one of the Maidan leaders Dmitry Yarosh said that a Russian in Crimea would never think or talk in Ukrainian, nor would he respect Shukhevych, Bandera or any other neo-Nazis or their accomplices. So a Russian living in Crimea, as this Maidan leader who was very popular and influential at that time used to say, should either be eliminated or evicted. Those declarations and the 'friendship trains' carrying armed thugs that he later sent to Crimea and the attempted attack on the Supreme Council of Crimea building caused an outburst of indignation from the Crimean people. When we explain all this and say that those people were responding to a racist threat, we get no response. I believe that indeed there are people who are ashamed of this attitude. But nothing can be done about it.
"Regarding the conference in general, the audience are more eager to listen. Patience always pays off. We are patient people, strategically as well. Still, there is another issue which had an effect on the overall atmosphere. It was reflected in a distributed report called The Great Puzzle. Supposedly, the puzzle is coming apart because there is no one to pick up the pieces. We can feel the confusion caused by what is going on, both concerning the threats to the world trade system and its openness that emerge almost on a daily basis, and unilateral enforcement measures and attempts to expand one jurisdiction's laws exterritorialy to other countries. Certainly, Washington's policy to disrupt the system of international arms control treaties also adds to the feeling of confusion.
"Everybody understands that this situation does not require an 'anti-policy.' It is important to call all reasonable parties together and sit down at a table and find formats where all the main players can be represented. In this respect, the G20 discussions will be very indicative. It will be interesting to see all this turn into specific documents and viewpoints. Official bodies will be working there, in Japan. Here we have political analysts or public officials in a private capacity."
(Mid.ru, February 16, 2019)
Russia In Syria
Russian Expert Shumilin: The Absence Of Common Measures Characterized The Sochi Summit On Syria
On February 14, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted another Sochi summit on the situation in Syria with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani.
Rosbalt published an interview with Russian Academy of Sciences Middle East expert Alexander Shumilin, titled "At Sochi , There Was No Full Agreement". Rosbalt journalist Alexander Zhelenin introduced the topic as follows. "Judging by everything the discussions of the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran… conducted at Sochi ended in failure. It is not accidental that the Russian mass media is stingy in its commentary about this meeting and the words of Putin said upon its conclusion are only of the most general nature. The announcements of both Rouhani and Erdogan attest that on one of the main issues of the current meeting in Sochi – resolving the problem of Idlib province, where now the main body of the Syrian opposition opposed to the regime of Bashar Assad, the leaders of Turkey and Iran take fundamentally different positions."
(See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7896, Russian Expert Shumilin: The Absence Of Common Measures Characterized The Sochi Summit On Syria, February 19, 2019)
Commenting on the February 14 Sochi summit on Syria, Russian media outlet Vzglad wrote: "Erdogan laid down conditions for the attainment of Syria's territorial integrity namely the withdrawal of the Kudish SDF from Manbij."
(Vz.ru, February 14, 2019)
Senator Alexander Pushkov commented on Twitter:
"Without a solution to the Idlib problem where from 30 to 60 thousand [Islamist] fighters are concentrated it is impossible to talk of ending the war in Syria this is the last powerful outpost of Jabat Al Nusra on its territory. Logically, the topic of Idlib is one of the most important in the talks between Putin and Erdogan in Sochi." (Twitter.com/Alexander Pushkov, February 13, 2019)
Russia's FM Lavrov Accused The US Of Intending To Split Syria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of intending to split Syria: "the task of reestablishing sovereignty, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria on which the entire international community signed on, including the US, for the US in reality is only a maneuver to distract people. Their goal – and now this is becoming ever obvious – is to split Syria and to create on the east bank of the Euphrates a quasi-state."
(Lenta.ru, February 19, 2019)
Russia's MFA: The US Is In The Process Of Rebuilding The Land-Based Tomahawk Infrastructure; This Runs Counter To The INF Treaty
Commenting on the US' withdrawal from the INF, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented:
"Seeking to justify its destructive decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty, the United States is waging a propaganda campaign that is based on an unscrupulous interpretation and bare-faced assumptions. Apart from underhanded attempts to place the blame squarely on Russia, the United States is deliberately downplaying the importance and validity of Russia's longstanding concerns about Washington's compliance with the INF Treaty. Moreover, false information has been planted regarding the development and the substance of dialogue on mutual complaints.
"According to media reports and statements made by US officials, Russia put forth its own complaints instead of responding to US concerns about INF Treaty compliance. Actually, it was the other way around. The Americans first presented their complaints to Russia in 2013, whereas Russia outlined its concerns about the Pentagon using the so-called target missiles in violation of the treaty back in 1999, and raised concerns about armed unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) in the early 2000s.
"The statements made by US officials to the effect that the United States has allegedly responded to all Russian concerns are not true either. Russia has been patiently trying for years to ensure that the Americans remove obvious violations of the INF Treaty, providing factual arguments and technically sound reasons for this opinion. But Washington refused to consider them.
"Regarding the US unmanned air vehicles with a warfighting capability, some types of such UAVs fully fit the INF Treaty term 'ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM),' which is defined as 'an unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path.' Whether Washington wants to admit it or not, this is exactly how this provision is formulated in the INF Treaty, and feigning ignorance of this is completely unacceptable.
"There is no mention of any launchers or of single/multiple use of such vehicles in the INF Treaty. This means that any ground-launched armed UAVs with a range from 500 km to 5,500 km are in violation of the treaty.
"Claims that Russia has pursued the development of armed UAVs for years are absolutely ungrounded. Unlike the United States, Russia has not deployed any UAVs of this class with the range prohibited in the treaty. As for research, R&D is not in violation.
"As for the Pentagon's large-scale use of target missiles in the flight tests of missile defense systems, as they describe them, we have solid reasons to believe that the United States actually tests systems that are prohibited in the INF Treaty. While claiming to be testing early warning systems, the US launched missiles to a distance of between 500 km and 5,500 km without destructive effect but completing a full flight cycle, from the launch to the decrease in the payload, which often includes maneuverable reentry vehicles (warheads), decoy targets, and the like.
"Therefore, while claiming to be testing ballistic missile target vehicles, the United States is creating missiles whose flight range, velocity and control systems, as well as the mass-dimensional parameters of warheads are identical to the vehicles that are prohibited in the INF Treaty. We do not accept the US arguments that the target missiles are in compliance because they are not tested for combat purposes, since the launch of these missiles without interception is completely identical to the flight tests of weapons delivery systems.
"The deployment of ground-based Mk-41 universal missile launchers as part of the Aegis Ashore complexes is another of Russia's complaints against the United States which arguably causes the greatest concern in the context of the Treaty. They are deployed in Europe allegedly for missile defense purposes and nothing else. However, the above-mentioned launchers allow for land-based combat use of Tomahawk medium-range cruise missiles and other attack weapons. This is a direct and flagrant violation of the INF Treaty.
"As is known, under the INF Treaty, the United States at some point eliminated the Tomahawk cruise missile ground-based launch systems. These weapons were originally created under a single program as a universal missile with various types of basing. The ground- and ship-based missiles were outwardly all but identical.
"Now, several decades later, the United States is in the process of rebuilding the land-based Tomahawk infrastructure. This runs counter to the INF Treaty. Relocating Mk-41 missiles from ships to land clearly makes these units part of the GLCM launcher category.
"Statements by US officials to the effect that the launchers that have already been deployed in Romania and are being readied for deployment in Poland are not similar to the sea-based MK-41 contradict what the US military and the Aegis Ashore complex developers are saying. More than once, they openly acknowledged that the land- and sea-based launchers are "almost identical."
"In addition to the treaty and legal perspective, this issue has an important strategic dimension for Russia. After all, we are talking about US missile infrastructure near Russia. The threat to our security is further aggravated by the fact that the United States has announced plans to recreate its nuclear sea-based cruise missiles, for which Tomahawks are a perfect fit, as was the case before. This means that such nuclear missiles may end up in Aegis Ashore launch cells in Romania or Poland.
"Having rejected any and all positive steps on issues that are critical to Russia, the United States is trying to refocus attention on alleged Russian violations of the INF Treaty. Moreover, they are alleging that Russia was presented with a significant amount of information indicating our 'culpability.'
"This is not true. It is no coincidence that Washington is silent about the fact that, for five years, Russia has been requesting information about three key aspects, a comprehensive study of which would have opened the way to a professional examination of US claims. This includes an accurate definition of a suspect missile; an indication of specific launches when, in the opinion of the United States, our obligations under the INF Treaty were violated; and, most importantly, the provision of objective data, on the basis of which they arrived at the conclusion that the flight range during the tests exceeded the permitted parameters.
"Instead of providing the entire array of allegedly available information right away, as Russia demanded, the Americans chose a different path. First, they offered vague allusions like 'you know yourself what exactly you violated.' Then, Russia was given minimal and overly generalized data which occasionally, sometimes only once a year, were updated with bits of information, including satellite images from the internet and the name of a widely used launcher chassis, which cannot be used for drawing professional conclusions.
"It took Washington several years before it pointed to a specific missile - 9M729 - developed as part of upgrades of the Iskander-M complex. However, Russia has never concealed its existence, as they accuse us. We confirmed the presence of this missile in Russia's arsenal after the Americans gave us the index number. However, we have consistently denied that this missile has ever been tested for a range that is prohibited under the INF Treaty.
"With regard to specific launches which Russia allegedly carried out in violation of the INF Treaty at the Kapustin Yar testing ground in the Astrakhan Region, their dates - 2008 and 2011 - were made known to Russia only five days before the United States announced, on October 20, 2018, its plans to withdraw from the Treaty. However, this information was not backed up by any facts. They never mentioned the exact range for which, according to the Americans, this missile was tested. Instead, they limited themselves to citing mysterious intelligence information, which they refused to disclose, as they always do.
"In other words, Russia was, for quite a while, expected to independently put together a puzzle of disparate pieces obtained at different points at a time when absolutely no evidence of Russia's violation of the Treaty had ever been presented. The missile index and the dates of launches that take place regularly in Kapustin Yar as part of testing or combat training for missile personnel are not indicative of any illegal activity.
"The way the United States is trying to shuffle the facts using awkward justifications for its decision to dismantle the INF Treaty only strengthens our belief that the Americans embarked on a course of torpedoing the Treaty long ago. The real reason behind this is their desire to untie their hands as much as possible and to ensure their access to an unlimited range of military tools to exert pressure on opponents anywhere in the world.
"This is a very dangerous policy fraught with tragic consequences for global stability. The international community, above all the citizens of the United States and other NATO countries, the governments of which are blindly parroting American insinuations, should start thinking about how far Washington is prepared to go in pursuit of the specter of military domination."
(Mid.ru, February 11, 2019)
- Mikhail Gorbachev: A Nuclear Arms Race Will Produce No Winners. Despite everything, it is still in our power to avoid nuclear confrontation. (Themoscowtimes.com, February 14, 2019; read the full op-ed)
- The United States aims at breaking down the existing architecture of arms control while pursuing an illusory goal of achieving global military dominance, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said commenting the situation around the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. (Tass.com, February 9, 2019; read the full article)
- Washington's dismantling of an arms control system might have unpredictable consequences, Russia's Permanent representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said on Russia's Channel One. (Tass.com, February 9, 2019; read the full article)
Former Italian PM Berlusconi: Putin Is The Most Democratic Leader
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in a speech delivered during a campaign for the regional elections in Sardinia, said the following about Vladimir Putin:
"Vladimir Putin is the most respectful, the most educated and even the most democratic [leader]. All the contrary of what is written about him and of the way he is depicted in Western media. Today, you can all see what is happening between Europe and Russia, with the Russian Federation being subject to sanctions. We must go to the European institutions [and work] to ensure that Russia will join us, because [Russia], after the years of communism, is, by now, a Western country. It is therefore important that it stays with us."
(Agi.it, February 16, 2019)
Nicolas Maduro with Putin (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Russian MFA Spokesperson Zakharova: Blackmail Is The US Method Of Restoring 'Democracy' In Venezuela
Russian officialdom reacted to Trump's statement on Venezuela targeting the country's armed forces.
"We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open," Mr. Trump said. He urged all members of the Venezuelan military to permit the aid into the country, and advised them to accept the opposition's amnesty offer — or they will find "no safe harbor, no easy exit, and no way out."
(Nytimes.com, February 18, 2019)
Russian Senator Igor Morozov commented: "The Americans have once again demonstrated that one of the main methods for interfering in foreign affairs internal affairs is an information war and blackmail…
"Currently a very powerful information pressure on Venezuelan soldiers is going on in order that they should abandon their leader, violate their oath and forget their duty just as it was with the Army of Saddam Hussein." (Gazeta.ru February 19, 2019)
In Ria.ru, political science professor Yuri Pochta defended the Maduro regime's expulsion of European parliament representatives:
"The European Union, and first of all the European Parliament support the actions against the constitutional and legally elected president of Venezuela. And in this sense, the European Parliament deputies are his enemies, to supporters of a cool and supporters of the US. Therefore, his unwillingness and rejection that these deputies should arrive and support the person designated by the Americans as the country's president, Juan Guaido, is fully understandable for this is simply a defense of the country's security on the part of Maduro"
(Ria.ru, February 18, 2019)
Russian MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova commented in her Facebook account:
"The mass media: 'Trump encouraged the Venezuelan soldiers to accept Guaido's offer of an amnesty and threatened that otherwise they would lose everything.'
"Blackmail as a method of restoring 'democracy for' to the Venezuelan people."
(Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, February 19, 2019)
Russian Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov commented: "This is unprecedented interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. I do not even recall where it could happen that the head of a foreign government encouraged a putsch and the mutiny of combat soldiers.
"This is essentially Pres. Trump encouraging a mutiny of a foreign country's soldiers, and everybody's letting him get away with it. I consider this a flagrant and coarse violation of all norms of international law. And of course it cannot absolutely bear scrutiny. How can one conduct negotiations with the Americans after this?"
The Russian senator predicted that Trump's actions "would serve as an example for other Latin American countries, so they would understand that the slightest defiance of Washington's will would lead to a similar flagrant intervention"
(Iz.ru, February 19, 2019)
- Plant for production of Kalashnikov assault rifles to be built in Venezuela by the year end. (Tass.com, February 18, 2019; read the full article)
- Venezuela's PDVSA denies reports on Gazprombank 'freezing' the company's accounts. (Tass.com, February 18, 2019; read the full article)
Russian Population Is Passive About Active Participation To Promote Change
According to a Levada Center poll, only 22 % of respondents (from the Russian population) are ready to participate in street actions in order "to get changes for the better". 77 % expressed their reservation regarding getting to the streets. Only 10 % of the respondents are ready to run for elections on various levels for the same cause, while only 8% are ready to donate money for political or non-profit social organizations.
(Rbc.ru, February 13, 2019)
News In Brief:
New Wave Of Sanctions
- The head of Russia’s Audit Chamber, Alexei Kudrin told reporters that another round of US sanctions that can potentially be imposed against Russia, will trigger new shocks to the economy and require further adjustment efforts,. (Tass.com, February 19, 2019; read the full article)
- Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in commenting on the new bill in the US Congress on sanctions against Russia, said that efforts by US lawmakers to impose sanctions on Russian energy projects and banks border on racketeering,. (Tass.com, February 14, 2019; read the full article)
- The US sanctions against Russia in the long run harm America itself. This appraisal was voiced by the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Kirill Dmitriev when asked by TASS, on the sidelines of the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi to comment on the new bill tabled by a group of US senators that includes restrictive measures against Russia's banking and energy sector and the Russian national debt. (Tass.com, February 14, 2019; read the full article)
- The Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs Leonid Slutsky stated that Crimea's accession to Russia is final and ruled out the return of the peninsula to Ukraine in exchange for the abolition of US sanctions. (Tass.com, February 13, 2019; read the full article)
- Belarus ready to 'unite' with Russia, Lukashenko says. (Themoscowtimes.com, February 15, 2019; read the full article)
- Lukashenko: Belarus will always be a reliable partner for the EU. (Belta.by, February 18, 2019; read the full article)
- Lukashenko, Putin play hockey in Sochi. (Belta.by, February 15, 2019; read the full article)
- On February 13, Vladimir Putin had a meeting with President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi. Lukashenko said: "You should know that in the context of international relations, the relations between Belarus and Russia are stable, no matter what anyone writes or says. I do not need to convince you of that: you and I know this well. As for the support of our economy, I am also grateful to you." (Kremlin.ru, February 13, 2019; read the full transcript)
Michael Calvey Case
- Here's what we know so far about the criminal case against one of Russia's biggest foreign investors, U.S. citizen Michael Calvey. (Meduza.io, February 15, 2019; read the full article)
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's opening remarks during a meeting with intra-Palestinian dialogue members, in Moscow, on February 12, 2019. Concluding his speech, Lavrov said: "Thank you very much. Come see us again. Or, rather, come after you reach an agreement. However, if you need more meetings to reach it, you're always welcome." (Mid.ru, February 2, 2019; read the full speech)