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.
In The News:
- Russia Presses Charges Against Browder For Creating A Criminal Network, Claims He May Have Killed Magnitsky
- Interpol Head's Elections
- Speech Of The Week – Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: Clinging To The Principles Of Unipolarity, Washington Is Unable To Interact With The New Global Centers Of Economic And Political Influence
- Joke Of The Week: Roscosmos Head Rogozin: We Will Check Whether The Americans Were Really On The Moon
- News In Brief: Russia-U.S. Relations – INF Treaty – Azov Crisis – Defense News – Spy Stories – Troll Factory
Russia Presses Charges Against Browder For Creating A Criminal Network, Claims He May Have Killed Magnitsky
William Browder (Source: Twitter.com/billbrowder)
Russian investigators have opened a criminal investigation against U.S.-born British financier William Browder, the founder of Hermitage Capital Management, over setting up a criminal network.
Advisor to the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office Nikolai Atmonyev said: "On November 16, an order was issued on launching a criminal case against Browder over the signs of establishing a criminal network and being its leader – this means the signs of a crime under Part 1 of Article 210 of the Russian Criminal Code."
Russian investigators also stated that Browder may have poisoned Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer who uncovered a government-linked fraud and died in a Russian prison. Browder accused Russian officials of causing Magnitsky's death.
Russian news agency TASS reported: "The Russian Investigative Committee is also investigating the murder of partners of Hermitage Capital Management founder – Gasanov, Korobeinikov, and Kurochkin.
"According to Mikhail Alexandrov, a spokesman for the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, repeated studies have shown that when chemicals containing aluminum are introduced into a living organism, the heart is damaged and myocardial dystrophy develops. 'Gasanov, Kurochkin and Magnitsky had precisely these symptoms in their final moments before death. Traces of toxic aluminum compounds were also found in Korobeinikov's liver. In light of that, the Investigative Committee is investigating the murder of Gasanov, Kurochkin and Korobeinikov, that is under Part 2 of Section 105 of Russia's Criminal Code,' he told reporters at a press briefing."
(Tass.com, November 19, 2018)
Russian Prosecutor General's Office spokesman Mikhail Alexandrov also said: "There is evidence indicating that the deaths [of Magnitsky and Browder's other partners] were violent ones. One of the lines of inquiry is he was poisoned with chemical agents used for sabotage. These substances contain an aluminum compound. They caused acute liver failure that looked like death by natural causes... When he received from Magnitsky a false statement of provocative nature, Browder was more interested in his death than anybody else... Forensic examination of biological samples taken from [Browder's partners] Gasanov, Korobeinikov, Kurochkin and Magnitsky makes it possible to conclude that the mentioned persons had symptoms of chronic poisoning with toxic, soluble inorganic substances introduced into their bodies... Detailed analysis and science information indicate that toxicological research into aluminum compounds have been carried out for several decades only at research centers in such countries as the United States, France and Italy. Such compounds can be made only in special laboratories."
(Tass.com, November 19, 2018)
Advisor to the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office Nikolai Atmonyev stated: "Browder will be put on an international wanted list with the aim of detaining and extraditing him." Atmonyev added that Browder's assets would be frozen, including those formally owned by his authorized representatives and the firms controlled by him.
"A whole network of companies and credit institutions has been uncovered in Cyprus, Latvia and Switzerland, which were used to funnel money and cash [in] large sums valued at amounts ranging from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars," Atmonyev noted.
(Tass.com, November 19, 2018)
Tass reported: "Browder has been twice sentenced in Russia in absentia. On July 11, 2013, Moscow's Tverskoy District Court found Browder guilty in absentia of massive tax evasion (estimated at 522 million rubles, or $8 million) and sentenced him to nine years in prison. He was also stripped of his right to do business for two years.
"In July 2014, Russia put Browder on a worldwide wanted list. The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has repeatedly asked Interpol to arrest Browder. The latest news on such a request came in December 2017.
"On December 29, 2017 Moscow's Tverskoy Court sentenced Browder in absentia to nine years in prison, finding him guilty of tax evasion to the tune of more than 3 billion rubles ($45.5 million) and bankruptcy fraud. Ivan Cherkasov, Browder's business partner, was given a similar sentence. The court ruled to satisfy a civil suit against the defendants and ordered them to pay 4.2 billion rubles ($64 million), while barring them from doing business in Russia for three years."
(Tass.com, November 19, 2018)
In response, Browder tweeted: "Putin's 'fever dream' response to being caught poisoning the Skripals is accusing me of four murders, including poisoning Sergei Magnitsky."
(Twitter.com/billbrowder, November 19, 2018)
Election For Interpol Presidency
Alexander Prokopchuk (Source: Tass.com)
On November 21, Interpol Acting President Kim Jong Yang, of South Korea, was elected as Interpol president.
Since October, Kim Jong Yang, 57, had served as acting Interpol president after the dismissal of president Meng Hongwei, of China. On September 29, Meng had been detained in China on corruption charges.
Two main candidates to replace Meng were Kim Jong Yang and Russia's Alexander Prokopchuk.
Prior to Kim Jong Yang's election, a group of U.S. senators, both Democrats and Republicans, had made public an open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump asking that he influence members of the Interpol General Assembly in order to prevent Prokopchuk from becoming the new Interpol head.
(Tass.com, November 21, 2018)
Commenting on the letter to Trump, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated: "This is probably some kind of meddling in the electoral process, in elections to an international organization. How else can that be seen? Here, this is a clear manifestation [of meddling]."
(Tass.com, November 21, 2018)
Foreign Affairs Committee First Deputy Chairman Vladimir Dzhabarov said: "This is a vivid example of the U.S. interference in elections. Americans do it all the time, everywhere, at any level, in any country and any international organization. It is enough for them to voice their opinion, talk to other countries' delegations and the result will be what they want it to be."
Commenting on Kim Jong Yang's election, Peskov stated: "Of course, it is a pity that our candidate did not win. On the other hand, if we look at some statements from a number of countries on the eve of the election impartially, of course, the pressure was huge, that's obvious."
(Tass.com, November 21, 2018)
Russian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk said that Prokopchuk would continue to serve as Interpol's Vice-Chair for Europe.
(Tass.com, November 21, 2018)
Browder, who was very active in campaigning to stop Prokopchuk from becoming Interpol president, tweeted: "On the eve of Interpol deciding whether a Russian official should be president of Interpol, the Russian prosecutor's office holds a huge press conference about me and how they will chase me down anywhere in the world. I really struck a nerve with the Magnitsky Act."
(Twitter.com/Billbrowder, November 19, 2018)
- Browder describes his last-minute campaign to stop a Russian general from becoming the president of Interpol. (Listen to the audio)
Speech Of The Week:
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: Clinging To The Principles Of Unipolarity, Washington Is Unable To Interact With The New Global Centers Of Economic And Political Influence
The following are Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks at the general meeting of the Russian think tank Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC):
"... The historical West is still violently opposed to the objective rise of a fairer and more democratic polycentric world order. Clinging to the principles of unipolarity, Washington and some other Western capitals appear unable to constructively interact with the new global centers of economic and political influence. A wide range of restrictions are applied to the dissenters, ranging from military force and unilateral economic sanctions to demonization and mud-slinging in the spirit of the notorious 'highly likely.' There are many examples of this dirty game. One of them is the idea of giving the power of persecution to the OPCW Technical Secretariat, in gross violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the UN Security Council privileges as well as contrary to the opinion of the majority of CWC states.
"This has seriously debased international law. Moreover, attempts have been made to replace the notion of law with a 'rules-based order' the parameters of which will be determined by a select few.
"We are especially concerned about the activities of the U.S. administration aimed at destroying the key international agreements. These include withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal; the declared intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty; an open line for revising the settlement principles in the Middle East; as well as sabotaging the Minsk Agreements on overcoming the internal Ukrainian crisis. The trade wars launched contrary to the WTO principles are rocking the global economic architecture, free trade, and competition standards. The U.S. establishment, blindly believing in the idea of their exceptionalism, continues to appoint rivals and adversaries, primarily among the countries that pursue an independent foreign policy. Everyone can see that Washington is a loose cannon, liable to act incongruously, including regarding Russia where any steps taken by U.S. President Donald Trump to develop stable and normal channels of communication with Moscow on the biggest current problems are promptly blocked by those who want to continue or even strengthen the destructive approach to relations with Russia, which developed during the previous U.S. administration.
"Overall, it looks as if the Americans and some of our other Western colleagues have forgotten the basics of diplomacy and the art of dialogue and consensus over the past 25 years. One result of this is the dangerous militarization of the foreign policy thinking. As RIAC Director General Andrey Kortunov recently pointed out at a Valdai Discussion Club meeting, the Clausewitz formula can be changed to a mirror image, 'Politics is a continuation of war by other means.'
"Russia is a consistent supporter of the development of international life based on the principles of the UN Charter. We are a serious obstacle in the way of different destructive undertakings. Maybe this is why we are accused of so many 'mortal sins' and presented as a 'revisionist' power. In reality, we are being punished for our independent foreign policy and our renunciation of the actions of real revisionists that are aimed at the unilateral revision of the norms of interstate communication as written in the UN Charter and the basic instruments of international law that they would like to replace with their own rules...
"The overwhelming majority of states share Russia's positions on interstate communication. They consider Russia a reliable guarantor of global stability and a balance in the world order that is now taking shape.
"President of Russia Vladimir Putin has emphasized more than once that we will uphold our sovereignty, ensure national security and defend Russia's honor and dignity in any course of events. We will continue pursuing peace-loving neighborly foreign policy and will remain open to constructive cooperation with our foreign partners in all geographical areas and in any format based on mutual respect, predictability and negotiability. This fully applies to the United States, the West as a whole and such agencies as the EU and NATO, all the more so since many countries in Europe realize the futility of this line towards confrontation with Russia that has been imposed on them.
"I am convinced that common sense will eventually prevail. We will probably never be absolutely the same. There will always be differences in our approaches to these and other problems. But let us uphold our positions through dialogue rather than threats and ultimatums. Let us compete in good faith."
(Mid.ru, November 20, 2018)
Joke Of The Week
Roscosmos Head Rogozin: We Will Check Whether The Americans Were Really On The Moon
During a meeting with Moldovan President Igor Dodon, Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian national space agency Roscosmos, was asked by Dodon whether American astronauts had landed on the moon. Answering with a smile, Rogozin said that Russia intends to verify whether the Americans had indeed done so. "We have set it as an [operational] task to fly there and check whether they've been there. They say they have, we will check that out," Rogozin said.
(Ria.ru, November 24, 2018; Watch the video of the meeting)
An official Roscosmos representative stated that Rogozin was "definitely kidding."
(Ria.ru, November 24, 2018)
It is worth noting that Roscosmos announced last week that it would pen a new, multibillion-ruble lunar exploration program, under which Russia will send its first manned mission to the moon after 2030. Roscosmos also said that it would work together with NASA on the concept of a lunar orbital station.
(Sputniknews.com, November 24, 2018)
News In Brief:
- Russia would like to revive a number of formats of contacts with the United States, in particular, meetings between the two countries' defense and foreign ministers, or the so-called 2+2 format, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said. (Tass.com, November 16, 2018; read the full article)
- Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov would like to discuss ways of mending bilateral relations with Washington's key lawmakers, he told an annual meeting of the U.S.-Russia Business Council. The senior diplomat pointed out that "the midterm elections are now over.," meaning that "new people will join the U.S. legislative branch." "We stand ready to work with the new composition of the House and Senate to develop mutually beneficial contacts, to seek converging stances on any, even the most complicated issues," Antonov stated. "In the nearest time, I wish to meet with the leadership of the House of Representatives and Senate for a serious discussion on ways to mend Russia-U.S. relations, [and] restore inter-parliamentary dialogue between our countries." (Tass.com, November 16, 2018; read the full article)
- Russia is not the reason behind U.S. plans to withdraw from the INF Treaty; the plans are because the treaty prevents it from dominating in the military sector, said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. "If and when the U.S. quits the treaty, we will see rather quickly that this was done not for the reason of some lawless behavior on the part of Russia, but strictly because the U.S. needs these systems to maintain its military superiority or to achieve it in different parts of the globe," Ryabkov said. "So, the logic is the opposite: it is the treaty that prevents the U.S. from dominating in the military sector, and not because somebody is acting in defiance of the treaty, making it impossible for the U.S. to stay in it." (Tass.com, November 19, 2018; read the full article)
- Moscow's response to Washington's possible exit from the INF Treaty will be explained by the need to maintain a global strategic balance but Moscow is ready to continue negotiations with the U.S. on the INF Treaty, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "As for the imminent response by the Russian Federation to the withdrawal [of the United States] from the INF Treaty, this was stated by the President [Putin] and is related to the fact that withdrawal from the INF Treaty may disrupt the strategic balance," Peskov said. "Correspondingly, Russia will be obliged in the interests of peace and stability to take action to restore this balance," the Kremlin spokesman stressed. (Tass.com, November 20, 2018; read the full article)
- During a meeting with Defense Ministry senior officials, Putin said: "Finally, I suggest discussing our steps in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty. I would like to emphasize again that we are always ready for dialogue with our American partners on this key issue. We hope that the Americans will approach this issue with full responsibility because their decision to withdraw from this treaty cannot remain unanswered. Let me recall in this regard that when the U.S. withdrew from the missile defense treaty we said openly and honestly that we will have to take response measures. We did and now Russia has hypersonic weapons that can overcome any missile defense. We hope that common sense and mutual responsibility will become the foundation for a long-overdue dialogue on the issues of strategic stability and consolidation of the collective security system." (Kremlin.ru, November 19, 2018; read the full transcript)
- Russian media: Three Ukrainian warships illegally crossed Russia's state border, entering its territorial waters, and are carrying out dangerous maneuvers, the Federal Security Service's Border Service in Crimea said on November 25. "This morning at around 7:00 a.m. Moscow Time three ships of Ukraine's Navy violated Articles 19 and 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which define the right of a coastal state to ensure maritime security, crossed the Russian state border and illegally entered the temporarily closed waters of the Russian territorial sea," the statement said. (Tass.com, November 25, 2018; read the full article)
- Russian media: Ukrainian tugboat Yani Kapu was damaged as it passed from the port of Odessa to Mariupol, escorted by two small armored artillery boats Berdyansk and Nikopol, the Ukrainian Navy said on November 25. "The Don coast guard ship [of Russia] rammed our tugboat, and as a result the vessel's main engine, plating, and open railing were damaged and a life float was lost," the statement said. The Ukrainian Navy claims that with the aim of ensuring navigation security, the Ukrainian side had informed Russia about the plans for passage in line with international rules. (Tass.com, November 25, 2018; read the full article)
- Russian media: Russia's Federal Security Service has blasted as provocation the intrusion of three Ukrainian vessels into Russia's territorial waters. "The provocation of three vessels of the Ukrainian Navy has been ongoing for the fifth hour in Russia's territorial waters of the Black Sea. Their goal is clear – to create a conflict situation in this region," the FSB press service said. (Tass.com, November 25, 2018; read the full article)
- Russian media: The passage of civil ships through the Kerch Strait was banned on November 25 amid fears of provocations after three Ukrainian warships intruded into Russia's territorial waters, a source in transport authorities of the South Federal District told TASS. "The Kerch-Yenikale Canal has been closed," the source said, noting that this comes "amid fears of provocations" and earlier political statements in Ukrainian media. (Tass.com, November 25, 2018; read the full article)
- Russian media: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that he is sure Western countries are seeking to use the situation around the Sea of Azov as another pretext to exert pressure on Russia. (Tass.com, November 23, 2018; read the full article)
- Ukrainian media: Russia has blocked the passage to the Kerch Strait between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea for civilian ships after the Ukranian Navy's Yany Kapu tugboat was rammed by a Russian coast guard ship in the Sea of Azov on November 25. "At 13:12 local time, two Ka-52 attack helicopters were spotted as heading for an attack course with their onboard weapon control systems aimed at the Ukrainian Navy's boats," the press service of the General Staff of the Navy of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Facebook on November 25. (Unian.info, November 25, 2018; read the full article)
- Ukrainian media: According to the Ukrainian Navy, Ukrainian military ships have informed the Russian side of the intention to pass through Kerch strait. The information was received but no reply followed. Later, the Ukrainian Navy announced that the Russian Air Force had sent two Ka-52 attack helicopters, which locked weapons on the Ukrainian boats and accompanied them. The Ukrainians detected such actions through their own weapons systems. Later the Ukrainians reported that an unknown vessel had sunk under the Kerch bridge, effectively blocking any passage. (Pravda.com.ua, November 25, 2018; read the full article)
- The official Ukrainian Foreign Ministry statement: "Russian provocative actions in the Azov Sea have crossed all lines and became aggressive... We consider such aggressive actions as breaching the UN charter and UN Naval Convention. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry will resort to all necessary diplomatic and international means of legal response." (Pravda.com.ua, November 25, 2018; read the full article)
- A new video featuring a pair of Sukhoi Su-57 performing a synchronized landing was recently released by Zvezda TV channel, a television network operated by the Russian Ministry of Defense. The Su-57 is a fifth-generation stealth multirole jet fighter which is currently undergoing testing before being adopted by the Russian military. (Sputniknews.com, November 24, 2018; see the video)
- Russia's new heavy unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the Okhotnik, performed its first ground run on the runway of the aviation plant in Novosibirsk earlier this month, a Russian aircraft industry source told TASS. "The trial model of the Okhotnik UAV made its first run on the runway of the Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Plant, gathering a speed of 200 kmph in line with the program of trials. The takeoff was not performed," the source said. "Okhotnik performed taxi, ground run, acceleration and stoppage at the end of the runway in fully automated mode." (Tass.com, November 23, 2018; read the full article)
- Frustrated with the stalled effort to legalize private military companies, a group of Russian mercenaries and military veterans is asking the International Criminal Court to prosecute Russia's Private Military Company organizers and facilitators for war crimes. (Meduza.io, November 21, 2018; read the full article; November 21, 2018)
- Igor Korobov, the head of Russia's Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU), "after a long and serious illness," a Defense Ministry spokesperson told the news agency RIA Novosti early on November 22. Korobov, 62, had served in the Soviet and Russian armed forces since 1973, joining the USSR's military intelligence in 1985 and becoming GRU director in 2016. (Meduza.io, November 22, 2018; read the full article)
- Commenting on Korobov's death, Browder tweeted: "After having the entire Russian GRU network in Europe exposed and ridiculed following the unsuccessful Skripal assassination, the head of the GRU suddenly dies of a 'long and serious illness.'" (Meduza.io, November 22, 2018; read the full article)
- An accomplice of the founder of Russia's "troll factory" says the organization was created without instructions from the Kremlin. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an interview with Andrey Mikhailov, the man who allegedly helped catering magnate Evgeny Prigozhin build a media empire. Mikhailov says he agreed to speak to the news media as retribution for an incident last year, when he claims men with ties to Prigozhin abducted him, brought him to a forest, and beat him. In the interview, Mikhailov discussed the creation of the St. Petersburg "troll factory," and the staging of various "provocations" against Prigozhin's enemies and competitors, as well as several journalists. Novaya Gazeta says Mikhailov's claims are supported by open-source information and private materials provided to its reporters. (Meduza.io, November 8, 2018; read the full article)