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
Russian cartoonist Vitaly Podvitsky mocks the statement by US General David Goldfine, Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, who said that the Pentagon is developing a so-called "Trojan horse" strategy against Russia and China. The statement was reported by the German magazine Telepolis. (Source: Ria.ru, February 22, 2019)
Quote Of The Week
Russian Intellectual Lukyanov: A New International System Will Not Be Based On Western Principles
Russian analyst and intellectual Fyodor Lukyanov wrote:
"First, it is necessary to understand that the world is changing qualitatively and irreversibly, with no going back to the past. So, the end of nuclear arms limitation agreements is not a catastrophe but rather a reason to assess the new international situation and offer new initiatives.
"Second, it is necessary to recognize that a new international system will not be based on Western principles, but that the West has powerful resources to defend its interests when creating new agreements.
"Third, moral arrogance does not work in world politics involving very different countries. Cultural diversity requires equal agreements.
"A new world is not a reason to be scared, but an opportunity to show our intellectual ingenuity and imagination. This has long been Europe's strong suit. It only needs to believe this itself."
(Russiancouncil.ru, February 20, 2019)
New Planet, 1921 by Konstantin Yuon.
In The News:
- US-North Korea Summit
- Putin's Address To Russia's Federation Council
- Russia-Italy Relations
- Russia-Belarus Relations
- Kremlin Spokesperson's Daughter Scores Internship In The European Parliament
- News In Brief: Russia-Venezuela Relations; North Korea; Russia-Poland Relations; Skripal Case; Russia-Japan Relations; Russia's Economy
US-North Korea Summit
Russian FM Lavrov: The US Consults With Moscow On The US-North Korea Summit Preparations
U.S. President Donald Trump will hold his second summit with Kim Jong Un on February 27-28 in Hanoi.
On February 24, while in Vietnam, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov was asked about the meeting:
Question: "Next week, a second US-North Korean summit will take place. What do you think of relations between the two countries? What do you expect from the meeting and why was Hanoi chosen as a host city?"
Sergey Lavrov: "Like elsewhere in the world, we welcomed the relations between the US and North Korea getting back to normal, as well as the summit held in Singapore last year and the announced agreements reached by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un about the necessity of de-escalation, denuclearisation and the overall normalization of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. The main thing is that these words are put into practice. As far as I understand, the US and North Korean negotiators in charge of the preparations of the summit to be held next week are involved precisely in this, working as they are to agree on how to finalize, at this summit, practical agreements that will specify concrete dates, schedules and commitments.
"We are looking forward to the summit being a success and are trying to contribute to this. We are not making a secret of the fact that the US officials who are in charge of the preparations for the summit are consulting us. We are also maintaining regular contact with our North Korean friends. Motivated by a sincere desire to help, we are recommending ways which could push things along to help achieve results.
"I would like to note that everything that took place in Singapore and afterwards and all the current efforts made by the involved parties have followed the logic that was built into the Russian-Chinese road map. In 2017, this road map was approved at a regular Russian-Chinese summit. It provides for an approach based on a phased and successive settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue: first, refusal from the rhetoric and actions annoying the other party and a switch to contacts in order to develop, at the next phases, mutually-acceptable approaches that will ensure the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and security of all countries in Northeast Asia taking into consideration the interests of North Korea’s development.
"The annoying rhetoric and actions have actually been abandoned. North Korea has put its nuclear tests and missile launches on hold. The US and South Korea are restraining from holding any new military exercises near the North Korean coast. A dialogue is being launched.
"We are interested in seeing further events develop in keeping with the Russian-Chinese road map’s logic. We will be prepared to consult with the involved parties about the details of the situation as it evolves, all the more so as the final agreement, according to what our Chinese colleagues and we wrote into our road map, has to be formalised in a multilateral format. This is because the Northeast Asia matters have to be coordinated with the agreements between all other participants, including South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.
"Why was Hanoi chosen as the venue for the summit? I believe because Vietnam shows responsibility when it comes to its foreign policy. Vietnam is a country that is open to cooperation with all countries and it never forgets its friends but does not want an artificial confrontation with anyone.
"Many countries see Vietnam as a comfortable country for holding political talks, as well as for visiting its hospitable capital. For instance, I always enjoy staying in Hanoi."
- Lavrov calls on US to provide solid security guarantees to North Korea. (Tass.com, February 25, 2019; read the full article)
- Trump calls helpful Russian, Chinese sanctions on North Korean border. (Tass.com, February 24, 2019; read the full article)
Putin's Address To Russia's Federation Council
On February 20, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the Federation Council. The address was attended by Federation Council members, State Duma deputies, members of the Government, leaders of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, and governors.
In his speech, Putin tackled two main topics, social justice and sovereignty, arrogating to himself the role of the popular tribune chastising the elites. In the first part of his address, Putin discussed demographic problems, increasing life expectancy, creating jobs, and boosting pensions, stressing that it is the state's role to help people, and extricate them from difficult situations in their lives. Putin also stated: "We must not repeat the mistakes of the past decades and wait for communism to arrive."
In the second part of his speech, Putin addressed one of his pet topics: sovereignty. Putin stressed: "Russia has been and always will be a sovereign and independent state. This is a given. It will either be that, or will simply cease to exist. We must clearly understand this. Without sovereignty, Russia cannot be a state. Some countries can do this, but not Russia."
Putin concluded his speech by commenting on the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, and warning Washington against deploying medium and short range missiles in Europe. "I am saying this directly and openly now, so that no one can blame us later, so that it will be clear to everyone in advance what is being said here. Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapons that can be used not only in the areas we are directly threatened from, but also in areas that contain decision-making centers for the missile systems threatening us," Putin menaced.
(See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7908, Putin's Address To Russia's Federation Council: Russia Will Target The US, If The Americans Deploy Medium And Short Range Missiles In Europe, February 24, 2019; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7910, Reactions To Putin's Address To The National Assembly: The Old Tune About The Good Tsar And The Bad Boyars Has Been Dinned Into Our Heads, February 25, 2019)
On February 21, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev asked government members to start working on the implementation of decisions and initiatives from the presidential address to the Federal Assembly.
"An assignment list of instructions will be published that will constitute a benchmark for our work. At the same time, I would ask, don't wait for these documents; start work already on implementing those decisions, the initiatives that the president has put forward. Moreover, you know perfectly well what steps need to be taken. The decisions are made, we are already working on many of them. Sometimes you need to react more promptly," Medvedev said.
(Regnum.ru. February 21, 2019)
The Turkish authorities have made it clear that they are postponing the purchase of US Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems due to the fact that the terms of the deal "do not suit them at all."
At the same time, the delivery of Russian S-400 systems is expected as early as July, and nothing threatens this deal. Such a turn of events can undermine the attempts of Ankara and Washington to improve their relations after an exhausting diplomatic confrontation. "We have concluded an agreement with Russia on the S-400 purchase and cannot retreat. The question is closed," President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
(Kommersant.ru, February 20, 2019)
Italian weekly L'Espresso: The Secret Negotiation To Provide Russian Funds To Matteo Salvini
The Italian weekly L'Espresso published a long investigation about a secret plan to provide Italian sovereignist leader Matteo Salvini with Russian funds for the upcoming European elections. Russia's plan to finance Salvini would be disguised behind a commercial transaction between Russia's oil giant Rosneft and Italy's state-owned energy company Eni.
"[…] At least three million tons of diesel oil, to be sold to an Italian firm by a Russian company. Thanks to such a trade-off, the Kremlin might be able to refill the coffers of Salvini's party [Lega Nord] on the eve of the European elections scheduled for the month of May. The condition is a must because it is not known whether the deal has been already concluded. However, we can indicate with certainty several facts that are an essential component of this international plot which is taking place between Rome, Milan and Moscow. Most of all we can talk about the stated objective: to secretly support Salvini's party."
(Espresso.repubblica.it, February 21, 2019)
(Espresso.repubblica.it, February 21, 2019)
Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who was mentioned in L'Espresso's investigation, stated - through his spokesperson - that he has never met Salvini in person, denying the report on an alleged deal the two struck to fund Lega Nord with Russian money.
Kozak's spokesman, Ilya Dzhus, told journalists:
"The so-called 'investigation' by the Italian L'Espresso is based on some flimsy fantasies that do no credit to the media outlet… Kozak never had any personal contacts with Salvini, never held any official or 'secret' meetings with him."
(Rt.com, February 24, 2019)
Salvini himself denied the report. "Nothing has arrived nor will arrive at the League" as concerns illegal funding," he said. "There is no money in Luxembourg, or the Caymans or in Switzerland. There are no roubles or yen or barrels of oil".
(Ansa.it, February 25, 2019)
Matteo Salvini in Russia. (Source: Liberoquotidiano.it)
NATO's Presence In The Black Sea
NATO informed: "Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two (SNMCMG2) arrived in the Black Sea [on February 19, 2019] after a four day port visit in Istanbul, Turkey to conduct the first NATO Group patrol in the Black Sea of 2019.
"The group is conducting a routine patrol to enhance interoperability with Allied and Partner mariners in the Black Sea. As part of their patrol, the group will participate in exercise Poseidon, an annual mine countermeasures drill hosted by Romania and Bulgaria.
"Three Allied nations border the Black Sea, and NATO regularly conducts exercises and operations in the Black Sea in order to maintain a credible and capable defensive capability.
"Since Russia's illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea. Patrols by NATO Maritime Groups increased in 2018 to three patrols for each group for a total of 120 days of NATO Group presence over the year, compared to two patrols for each group and a total of 80 days in 2017…"
(Nato.int, February 19, 2019)
"For the second time since the beginning of the year, they are sending this destroyer to the Black Sea. It is clear that they want to demonstrate their strength by this [action]. But if they try to intimidate us, then it will prove very costly for them, you will not intimidate us. It cannot be excluded that as a bonus. They want to give support [to President of Ukraine Petro] Poroshenko before the elections in Ukraine [to be held on March 31] they are afraid, it is clear that without their support, victory will not be obtained," Deputy of the Simferopol City Council Stepan Kiskin stated.
(Ria.ru, February 19, 2019)
In Crimea, NATO was warned against provocations during exercises in the Black Sea. "These exercises will be held under the watchful eye of Russia. There is simply no other option ... no one will allow provocations against the Russian region," So stated the Chairman of the Regional Parliamentary Committee on Inter-Ethnic Relations Yuri Hempel.
(Ria.ru, February 21, 2019)
An expert at the Center for Military-Political Journalism Boris Rozhin, stated.:"The purpose of the presence of the North Atlantic alliance’s ships in the Black Sea has already been repeatedly declared. This presence is part of the US and NATO strategy to 'contain Russia' in the Black Sea by a show of force at its borders. On the other hand, these exercises can, in theory, serve as a cover for the preparation of all kinds of military provocations on the eve of elections in Ukraine. In particular, Kiev may try to repeat the provocation in the Kerch Strait. And in Kiev this intention was openly espoused, stating that they are prepared to do it, if there will be NATO ships alongside,"
(Ria.ru, February 20, 2019)
- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has stressed the need for increasing the naval presence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the Black Sea to counter Russian aggression. (Unian.info, February 22, 2019; read the full article)
Russian FM Lavrov: I Am Confident That We Will Come To An Agreement With Belarus
During his visit to Vietnam, Russian FM Lavrov also answered questions about Russia-Belarus relations:
Question: "Can you comment on the statement by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko that his country is ready to unite with Russia? Is Russia ready for this?"
Sergey Lavrov: "Everybody is too emotional about this issue and journalists are overthinking it and assuming a lot. Our position is very simple, as is that of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. There is an agreement on the creation of the Russia-Belarus Union State. This agreement includes all the arrangements that form the basis of the Union State. They are related to interaction in the economy and finance, and in the sphere of political and foreign policy coordination. In December, a decision was made to form a working group which is operating now. It should find out the extent to which the agreements that were made have been implemented and what needs to be done taking into consideration the current development of Russia and Belarus. So this is what we are talking about. We are ready to continue cooperation as much as Belarus, too, is ready to do this. Apparently, the Belarusian party proceeds from the same. So I am confident that we will come to an agreement."
- 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)
Kremlin Spokesperson's Daughter Scores Internship In The European Parliament
Yelizaveta Peskova, the daughter of Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, is working as an intern in the European Parliament.
Peskova is registered as an intern in the office of the French deputy Aymeric Chauprade, a former member of France’s National Front party who has since joined an independent group of right-wing populist politicians in the European Parliament. Chauprade himself confirmed that Peskova worked in his office, saying that although she is 'the daughter of an important Russian figure,' she has as much right to an internship as any other student.
(Meduza.io, February 25, 2019)
Yelizaveta Peskova with her father Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov. (Source: Facebook.com)
News In Brief:
- Russia's Federation Council is ready to establish direct contacts with the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly elected in 2017 for designing a draft of the country's new constitution, Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev said. (Tass.com, February 22, 2019; read the full article)
- Any humanitarian action unauthorized by the Venezuelan government serves as a cover for military clashes and outside intervention into the country's affairs, Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev said. (Tass.com, February 22, 2019; read the full article)
- Russia and Venezuela support active dialogue on military projects, Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Gil stated on Friday during the meeting with Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev. (Tass.com, February 22, 2019; read the full article)
- Russian FM Lavrov to discuss situation in Venezuela with Chinese top diplomat on February 26. (Tass.com, February 22, 2019; read the full article)
- Nicolas Maduro expressed gratitude to Vladimir Putin and the Pan American Health Organization for providing Venezuela with medicines. (Tass.com, February 22, 2019; read the full article)
- Russia will only recognize the early presidential elections in Venezuela if Maduro is the one to call them, Russian Ambassador to Venezuela Vladimir Zayemsky said. (Tass.com, February 20, 2019; read the full article)
- A vast majority of Poles consider Russia the largest threat to the safety of Europe, a recent survey shows. According to the same poll, conducted by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation, as many as 50 percent of German respondents view the United States in this capacity. (Thenews.pl, February 20, 2019; read the full article)
- UK TV channel Sky News has identified the third suspect in last year’s poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. The channel reported, citing the Bellingcat group, that the third suspect was Denis Sergeev, a senior officer of Russia’s military intelligence GRU who uses the alias Sergey Fedotov. (Tass.com, February 14, 2019; read the full article)
- Embassy Press Officer’s reply to a media question concerning placing Sergey and Yulia Skripal on a missing person list. (Rusemb.org.uk, February 21, 2019; read the full statement)
- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes that history is unlikely to judge him kindly because he has been unable to make any decisive progress in his peace treaty talks with Russia, he said during the budgetary committee debates in the parliament’s lower chamber. "Politicians are constantly wondering how history will assess their efforts. I haven’t had any success in talks with Russia so far. And history is not likely to judge me kindly," he stressed. (Tass.com, February 20, 2019; read the full article)
- In the Russian program "Time Will Tell", Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said: "According to our preliminary estimates, what falls 2019 into the social [spending] category ... is estimated at about 80 billion rubles... Of course, in 2020 these figures are larger, because additional measures have been added here and there and, of course, the ensemble of those benefit recipients is growing... Most of the spending fall on the federal budget." (1tv.ru, February 20, 2019)
- The Ministry of Construction of Russia will work out the issue of granting mortgage vacations to borrowers who have fallen into a difficult life situation. The proposals of the head of state on the provision of mortgage payment holidays to citizens who lost income due to job loss, illness or other circumstances, by granting a delay in payments or the possibility of extending the credit period or establishing a grace period in repaying the debt principal with a decrease in monthly payments will be worked out together with Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of the Russian Federation, DOM.RF and other interested foundations. (Tass.ru, February 20. 2019)