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memri
December 24, 2018 No.
7820

Russia This Week – Focus On Russia's Defense – December 24, 2018

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


Caption: "The US is the major threat to the entire world." (Source: Vk.com/politics_today)

In The News:

  • Putin's Reaction To Trump's Syria Withdrawal Statement: The Presence Of The US Troops In Syria Is Illegitimate; Trump Has Made The Right Decision
  • Defense Ministry Board Meeting; Putin: Russia's Priority For Next Year Is To Further Strengthen The Combat Potential Of The Strategic Nuclear Forces; Russian Defense Minister Shoigu: Strategic Nuclear Forces Are Maintained At The Level That Guarantees Nuclear Deterrence
  • Russia-Japan Relations
  • Russia-Ukraine Relations – Sea of Azov
  • Interview Of The Week - Russian FM Lavrov: We Will Not Go To War Against Ukraine, But If Poroshenko Plans An Armed Provocation On The Border With The Russian Federation – Crimea, He Will Get A Response. He Won't Find It Funny, I Can Assure You
  • News in Brief: Kosovo; GRU; Strategic Air Base Off Venezuela's Coast; Russia-Greece Relations; Economy; Orthodox Church

Putin's Reaction To Trump's Syria Withdrawal Statement: The Presence Of The US Troops In Syria Is Illegitimate; Trump Has Made The Right Decision


(Source: Kremlin.ru)

 

US President Donald recently gave the order to completely withdraw the US troops from Syria. During the annual news conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented on Trump's decision:

Rachel Marsden: "President Putin, Rachel Marsden with the Tribune Publishing out of Chicago, United States.

"Yesterday, President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the American troops from Syria. He also announced that, in his opinion, the United States defeated ISIS in Syria, he made that very clear.

"What is your position with respect to his statements, both on the withdrawal of the American troops from Syria and also with his statement regarding the defeat of ISIS by the United States?

"And, secondly, do you have concern that the American troops will remain in some form? There has been much discussion, for example, around the presence, potentially, of contractors in other jurisdictions where the United States is either out of militarily or might want to be out of militarily but in a more discreet way.

"Thank you very much."

Vladimir Putin: "As concerns the defeat of ISIS, overall I agree with the President of the United States. I already said that we achieved significant progress in the fight against terrorism in that territory and delivered major strikes on ISIS in Syria.

"There is a risk of these and similar groups migrating to neighboring regions and Afghanistan, to other countries, to their home countries, and they are partly returning.

"It is a great danger for all of us, including Russia, the United States, Europe, Asian countries, including Central Asia. We know that, we understand the risk fully. Donald is right about that, and I agree with him.

"As concerns the withdrawal of American troops, I do not know what that is. The United States have been present in, say, Afghanistan, for how long? Seventeen years, and every year they talk about withdrawing the troops. But they are still there. This is my second point.

"Third. So far, we have not seen any evidence of their withdrawal but I suppose it is possible, the more so because we are progressing towards a political settlement. The current issue on the agenda is building a constitutional committee.

"By the way, when we met in Istanbul – I mean Russia, Turkey, France and Germany – we agreed to make every possible effort to create this constitutional committee and Russia, for its part, has done everything in its power for this to happen.

"As strange as it may seem, we fully agreed on the list of members with President al-Assad, who designated 50 people and was involved in selecting 50 more from civil society. Despite the fact that he is not happy with everything, he agreed with this.

"Turkey, which represents the interests of the opposition, also agreed. Iran agreed. We submitted the list to the UN and, as Minister Lavrov reported to me just yesterday, unexpectedly, prompted by our partners – Germany, France and the United States – UN representatives (Mr de Mistura) decided to wait and see.

"I do not understand what is going on there but at any rate, I want to believe that this work is in its final stage. Maybe not by the end of this year but in the beginning of the next the list will be agreed and this will open the next stage of the settlement, which will be political settlement.

"Is the presence of American troops required there? I do not think it is. However, let us not forget that their presence, the presence of your troops, is illegitimate as it was not approved by a UN Security Council resolution. The military contingent can only be there under a resolution of the UN Security Council or at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian Government. Russian troops were invited by the Syrian Government. The United States did not get either of these so if they decide to withdraw their troops, it is the right decision.

"There is another very important component in this process. Despite all the disagreements, our specialists, our military personnel, security services and foreign ministries have established a rather constructive dialogue to address acute issues in combating terrorism in Syria. Overall, we are satisfied with our cooperation."

(Kremlin.ru, December 20, 2018)

Defense Ministry Board Meeting

On December 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in an expanded meeting of the Defense Ministry Board. In the meeting, Putin assessed progress in force development and activities of the Armed Forces in 2018, and provided guidelines for the further development of the Russian army and navy. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also presented a report.


(Source: Kremlin.ru)


(Source: Kremlin.ru)

Putin: Russia's Priority For Next Year Is To Further Strengthen The Combat Potential Of The Strategic Nuclear Forces

Vladimir Putin: "Comrades,

"Strengthening the defense capability, Russia's security and strong protection against external forces have been and remain our priorities…

"I want to note that all the services and branches of the armed forces developed gradually and according to approved plans and the new State Armament Program, and were equipped with modern weapons and equipment.

"The nuclear triad significantly improved as it plays a key role in maintaining global parity. The share of modern arms in the triad is already 82 percent.

"Serious, breakthrough steps have been made in the development of the unique state-of-the-art weapons that I mentioned in my Address to the Federal Assembly on March 1.

"I am referring to the launch of serial production of the Avangard missile system, the successful test of the Sarmat missile, combat patrol involving the Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile, and exercises involving the Peresvet combat laser weapon.

"These weapons will multiply the potential of our army and navy, thus reliably and absolutely ensuring Russia's security for decades ahead.

"These weapons are consolidating the balance of forces and, thus, international stability. I hope our new systems will provide food for thought to those who are used to militaristic and aggressive rhetoric.

"Furthermore, the substantial upgrades in the level of operational and combat training of our troops is important. This potential is undergoing a qualitative change. Six independent inspections this year confirmed this, particularly, the ability to promptly move forces and equipment over large distances of up to 7,000 kilometers, and to quickly reinforce units in major strategic areas wherever necessary.

"A positive outcome was demonstrated during the Vostok-2018 large-scale exercises. Importantly, units from China and Mongolia also acted under the general plan, in single formation with our troops.

"The Ocean Shield exercises were held in the Mediterranean for the first time in the modern history of Russia. In cooperation with long-range aviation, a large inter-fleet group confidently performed a broad range of tasks and tested the latest tactical methods for ships and aviation.

"I would like to make special mention of the fact that the weapons tested in Syria and the experience of the Army service personnel in the struggle against the terrorists were used in the operational and combat training drill…

"In the coming period, it is important to consolidate the results to date. Of course, it is necessary to analyze and take into account international military and political developments.

"We see that the situation in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula remains complicated. NATO continued to build up its military infrastructure near our borders during the year. The conflict in southeastern Ukraine continues unabated.

"The US leadership's statements about withdrawing from the INF Treaty are a source of major concern for us…

"The United States is using the already familiar and, one might say, trivial pretext for unilaterally withdrawing from the treaty, which is unsubstantiated accusations that Russia is in violation of its obligations under the treaty, which they themselves have already violated, and did so long ago.

"You and I are well aware that the deployment of Aegis sea-based systems in Romania, and, in the near future, in Poland, is a direct violation of the INF Treaty, because these units can be used and, as a matter of fact, are being used at sea to launch missiles of this type. Now, in violation of the treaty, they have appeared on land…

"In the event the United States breaks the treaty – I have already mentioned this publicly and I believe it is important to state it once again directly for this audience – we will be forced to take additional measures to strengthen our security.

"At the same time, Russia, as before, is open to all proposals and initiatives that help strengthen security for all, including preventing a new arms race. This, I am confident, is in the interests of not only Russia, but the United States and the entire world as well.

"At the same time, taking into account the above factors and risks, we must continue pursuing the course towards the development of the Army and Navy, and to maintain the high rates of military development we have achieved in recent years.

"What priority issues are to be resolved next year:

"The first is to further strengthen the combat potential of the strategic nuclear forces. We discussed this in detail during the recent series of military meetings in November, and before that, in Sochi in May.

"We need to quickly transition to modern weapons with enhanced capabilities to overcome advanced missile defense systems. Next in line is the production and supply of the Avangard global range missile systems to the armed forces.

"Our second priority is to improve the quality of operational and combat training. Here we must constantly raise the bar, every year, requiring any participant in this process to be able to act with immediacy.

"The military and long-range naval exercise programs should include non-standard situations, the most recent forms and methods of warfare, as well as tests for the use of new types of weapons and equipment.

"Third. Today, seconds can literally make a difference for the success of a single battle or a major operation. It is important to "compress" the decision-making time at all levels – from senior officers to junior commanders.

"For this, we need to improve the management and communications systems, intelligence, and electronic warfare. We need to complete the transition to new standards in data collection, transmission and processing.

"I would stress that digital technologies and artificial intelligence, robotisation, and unmanned systems – all this should be on the qualitative development agenda of our Armed Forces.

"Fourth, it is necessary to ensure effective control over the implementation of the State Armament Program. In recent years, we have developed an almost optimal arrangement for interaction between the Ministry of Defense and the defense industry. We have strengthened discipline in all the key areas.

"Now we need to quickly identify the remaining problems in the performance of the state defense order system and promptly eliminate them.

"The fifth priority is the development of military cooperation with our allies, primarily within the CSTO. In the course of the Tsentr-2019 exercise, we need to work closely with our partners to thoroughly practice cooperation in resolving common security tasks in Central Asia…

"I will be very brief…

"We are aware of the disparities between the leading military powers in terms of defense spending. The Pentagon has a budget of over 700 billion.

"How much did you say?"

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu: 725.

Vladimir Putin: "This is a record high.

"Even taking into consideration the modest inflation rate, all this amounts to… This amounts to a militarist budget, to tell you the truth, while Russia's military spending was 46 billion last year. Moreover, our defence spending is expected to decline in terms of percentage.

"This will not be detrimental to our security, since we did most of our armed forces-related spending in previous years.

"Nevertheless, the parity is still very large, and we need to preserve the strategic balance. Can we do it or not? If yes, how? To be sure, we know we can.

"We have innovative weapons systems unmatched anywhere in the world. No one has hypersonic weapons, but we do. Moreover, this is not just something planned, but rather it is already operational and goes by the name of Kinzhal [Dagger].

"This is a matter of principle – to correctly identify spending priorities, not to waste money, but to take correct decisions and direct resources to areas that will give the maximum effect.

"So far, we have succeeded in this. I strongly hope that the senior officers of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff will, in conjunction with the industry, deal with these tasks responsibly in the future as well.

"Of course, discipline comes next. I am talking about administrative, industrial and financial discipline. Not a single ruble should be spent other than for the intended purposes.

"Of course, it is necessary to make full use of the intellectual capabilities of the state in general. I mean education, research, the potential of our defense industry, the existing capacity and advanced designs. All of that, of course, will allow us to ensure Russia's parity and security for the long term.

"Now, a few words about the announced withdrawal of the United States from the INF Treaty, which, of course, is the most important issue that has everyone's attention both in our country and internationally. I mentioned this in my opening remarks.

"As you may recall, it was signed in 1987. I think I have already discussed, maybe even before this audience, the meaning of this treaty. It meant that medium- and short-range missiles, 500 km to 5,000 km, were to be eliminated. Land-based missiles were to be liquidated, since the Soviet Union had no others.

"The United States had sea- and air-based missiles, while we did not. Therefore, from the point of view of the Soviet Union, this was unilateral disarmament. God knows why the Soviet leaders decided to go ahead with unilateral disarmament.

"However, it was done. Meanwhile, our partners continued to expand sea- and air-based weapons systems.

"Sea-based systems included the well-known Tomahawks. True, they are rather outdated. According to our military experts, actually, their use in Iraq and Syria showed that their efficiency is around 30 percent. Of course, they need to be improved. Their air-based component is slightly better, but can also benefit from improvement.

"Moreover, these aspirations are hardly peaceful in nature. The buildup of weapons is yet another push towards an arms race. I am not even talking about such systems as the Kinzhal. These weapons are also medium-range, 2,000 kilometres, but they are unique, nobody has them.

"Kinzhal with a range of 2,000 kilometres is a hypersonic weapon, in excess of Mach 10. Nobody else has them yet. Yes, we have them now but this is not a violation of the INF Treaty. How could it be? These systems are deployed on MiG-31 aircraft, not on the ground.

"They are the ones violating the treaty with the deployment of Aegis systems in Romania. They are also planning to place them in Poland. This is a direct violation. And what about attack drones that have all the features of medium- and shorter-range missiles?

"These are being used to the utmost, and nothing happens. In other words, they are directly violating the treaty and we are being presented with some hypothetical, completely unfounded claims. We will wait and see how this goes.

"By and large we have everything anyway, but if what they are trying to scare us with happens, we will have to give a fitting reply. As you understand, if we have such air- and sea-based systems, it will not be too difficult to conduct R&D and put them on the ground, if need be.

"However, let me repeat once again that to be effective in general, we must be extremely disciplined. We have everything we need for this and we have enough resources that we are directing to national defense and security…"

(Kremlin.ru, December 18, 2018)

Russian Defense Minister Shoigu: Strategic Nuclear Forces Are Maintained At The Level That Guarantees Nuclear Deterrence


(Source: Mil.ru)


(Source: Mil.ru)

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu:

"Esteemed Supreme Commander-in-Chief!

"The year 2018 experienced complicating military and political situation worldwide.

"The US and NATO are augmenting their military potential.

"In June 2018, the US started to develop a new branch of armed forces – the Space Force – to gain the space superiority.

"The US Navy has been reactivating the Second operational fleet since this August. Its main task is to extend the American presence in the Arctic.

"It was decided to establish two new commands by 2022 – the NATO's new Atlantic Command headquarters and joint logistics command. This will enable the NATO to move troops from the US to Europe and deploy it in the shortest possible time close to the Russian borders.

"In 2019 main and reserve transport routes shall be defined.

"Cross border coordination mechanisms will have been determined by 2020, reducing time for obtaining the necessary authorization from 15 to 5 days.

"This year, the US has already spent 6 billion 300 million USD for development of the forward deployed systems, mainly in Central and Eastern Europe.

"Infrastructure for the new Globus-3 radar is being built 60 km from the Russian border in Norway.

"This year the strength of the US marine contingent stationed in Norway has been doubled and amounted to 700 troops.

"Poland gave its consent to deploy an armored division of the US Army in its territory, and to allocate 2 billion USD to build infrastructure for it.

"The US plans to leave the INF Treaty instead of maintaining strategic stability in the world.

"The US military budget will increase from 707 billion USD up to the record 725.5 billion USD which is equal to total annual military budget of all countries worldwide.

"NATO countries are about to reach 2% GDP benchmark on defense spending.

"Moreover, they have doubled the number of the exercises as comparedto the last year. More frequently non-members of the NATO such as Georgia, Ukraine, Sweden, and Finland are involved in the drills.

"The number of reconnaissance sorties has increased for 10% in western and southwestern directions.

"We are closely following the situation. Every military activity of foreign states captures our attention. We analyze its results and take into account in the combat training.

"The Russian modern, mobile, compact and effective armed forces is ready to counter existing and future threats without augmenting its strength and military potential.

"Pursuant to the plans approved by you, Supreme Commander-in-Chief, we improve the quality of the armed forces.

"The program for manning the Russian Armed Forces with contracted servicemen is underway. By the end of 2025 their number will have reached 475,000 troops, with a corresponding decrease in conscription down to 220,000.

"At the same time the armed forces are manned with professional commissioned officers. All commanders of military districts, combined arms armies, air force and air defense armies, divisions as well as 96% of commanding officers of combined arms brigades and regiments have combat experience.

"Strategic Nuclear Forces are maintained at the level to guarantee nuclear deterrence.

"The modernity level of the Strategic Nuclear Forces has reached 82% as it was tasked in 2017.

"This year another missile regiment equipped with the Yars silo-based missile complex has taken on combat duty.

"One Tu-160 and four Tu-95MS aircraft have joined the Air Strategic Nuclear Forces.

"Esteemed Supreme Commander-in-Chief, as you instructed, the ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) and Tu-160 bombers underwent trials to practice firing in salvo.

"This May the SSBN Yuri Dolgoruky successfully fired four Bulava ballistic missiles in salvo targeting the Kura training ground in Kamchatka. It was the first time as the SSBN of this Project fired such number of missiles in salvo.

"In November the Tu-160 modernised strategic bomber launched 12 Kh-101 air-based cruising missiles at the Pemboy training ground located above the Arctic Circle.

"In contrast to deployment of the US global ABM system, the Russian Armed Forces augment its strike potential.

"The Kinzhal high-precision hypersonic air missile complex has entered test-combat duty. It has made 89 patrol sorties over the waters of the Black and Caspian seas.

"The Peresvet laser complexes have been on test-combat duty since December 1.

"Besides, the ICBM of the Sarmat strategic complex has successfully passed drop test.

"In 2019 the first missile regiment equipped with strategic missile complex armed with Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle.

"All these assets guarantee overwhelming of the most advanced ABM systems.

"Besides, there are trials of the Borey-A-class lead submarine is underway which is featured with enhanced stealthy and reliability comparing to foreign analogues.

"Regarding to the general-purpose forces.

"This year, the task on increasing modernity level of the Land Forces has been exceeded by 2.3%. This figure has reached 48.3%. The troops received 2,200 pieces of new and modern armaments.

"Ten units and military bases has been formed.

"Moreover 126 modern aircraft, nine spacecraft and 120 air defense weapons have been supplied to the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2018.

The share of the modern armaments in the air force has reached 64%, and 74% - in aerospace forces in general.

The Navy has been replenished with modern armaments and equipment, which level has exceeded the planned figures and reached 62.3%. Fourteen warships and 11 support vessels, four Bal and Bastion coastal missile systems.

More than 300 pieces of advanced armaments, military and special equipment as well as over 11,000 sets for parachuting personnel, weapons and cargoes have been supplied to the Russian Airborne Troops in 2018.

The share of the modern armaments in the Airborne Troops has exceeded the planned 63.7%.

Middle-range unmanned aerial vehicles are being developed. Next year they will enter the service with the troops.

Under the State Defense Order the troops annually receive over 300 short-range unmanned aerial vehicles. Its number in the Russian Armed Forces has exceeded 2,100.

Automated command and control system of the Armed Forces is being upgraded as the top priority task.

In order to ensured balance development of all its components, we implement the Complex Targeted Program. It enabled to create all elements of the advanced automated C2 system on the basis of the domestic hardware and software platform.

More than 31,000 pieces of signal equipment have been supplied to the Armed Forces this year, which increased the share of modern equipment in C2 system up to 66%.

In general, all the events provided by the Defence Ministry Action Plan and 2018 Stated Defence Order have been successfully implemented. In some items of armaments such as aircraft we are reaching targeted figures. Therefore, the diversification missions assigned by you are becoming more topical. They will enable the industrial defence enterprises to issue highly-demanded high-tech civil products…

"There were six surprise readiness complex checks involving all military districts, service arms and branches of the Armed Forces.

"Vostok 2018 manoeuvres were the biggest exercises within the combat training in the contemporary history of the Russian Federation.

"They were held in an international format involving military units of the People's Liberation Army of China and Mongolian Armed Forces.

"One can compare these drills with the Zapad 1981 maneuvers in strength of troops and armaments involved. However, the Vostok 2018 manoeuvres are biggest in its scale and redeployment extent in contrast with drills held in the USSR.

"In 2018 the Navy held a large-scale in eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.

"A detachment made up of 28 warship and vessels as well as 36 aircraft of the Naval air force proved its efficiency to fulfil assigned missions defending national interests of the Russian Federation in the Mediterranean Sea.

"The level of field, air, and naval training skills has improved. Over the past year, the Russian Armed Forces carried out over 18,000 exercises and training at various levels.

"Joint trainings have intensified for 16%, and bilateral trainings – for 20%.

"Every year foreign countries get more interested in the International Army Games, which have become an integrated component of the combat training. The Games' contests took place in seven countries – Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China and Kazakhstan. Armenia and Iran hosted some contests for the first time…

"Last December the Russian Armed Forces completed an operation in the Syrian Arab Republic. A total of 96% of its territory was liberated from terrorist organizations…

"Pursuant your instruction, we have completed withdrawing main forces from Syria. Equipment and armaments were redeployed back to the Russian Federation excluding that hardware in service with our bases in Hmeymim and Tartous.

"The force grouping was reduced and reached the standard staff strength which is enough for the assigned missions. Their composition is standard, and strength is comparable to our military bases stationed in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia. Besides, military advisers, special forces, the Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides and military police are operating in Syria as well…

"Reconstruction of airfield system is nearing its completion. Nineteen airfield have already been fitted with 3,000,700 sq m of paved movement area.

"We complete outfitting of missile brigade armed with Iskander-M missile complex. In 2013-2018 in total 458 facilities have been built for ten missile brigade.

"All the Iskander-M systems supplied to the troops are kept in standard conditions and are ready for operation.

"In order to improve and optimize storage of armaments, missile and ammunition, 366 armouries out of 580 have been built, with 221 of them – this year. This will enable to store 218,000 tons of ammunition. The rest of armouries will be built in 2019.

"Infrastructure is being constructed for the Yars mobile and silo-based missile complexes supplied to the Strategic Missile Forces. Missile launch positions have been put into operation in six missile regiments; there are combat duty points arranged at points of temporary deployment in seven regiments.

"The first pilot Nara manufacturing logistics complex has started functioning this year. It now houses 2,000 pieces of equipment and some 18,000 tons of material assets. Therefore, we were able to eliminate four out of 27 unpromising and outdated bases and storages.

"Next year it is planned to launch construction of another two manufacturing logistics complex in Sevastopol and Arkhangelsk financed by private investments under concession contracts.

"Oil companies have commissioned 12 bulk fuel installations at the airfield of the Russian Defence Ministry, another three are about to be constructed.

"PJSC Rosneft and PJSC Lukoil have joined this project. In 2019 they will launch building of 12 complexes.

"The total level of investments made by oil companies has already amounted to some 17 bln roubles.

"Twenty premises have been erected at the Severomorsk-1 airfield to resume flights. Its runway was reconstructed and equipped with modern radio-technical and illumination flight facilities.

"Fifty-nine buildings and structures at military settlement for a radar section and air direction center are about to be constructed on Alexandra Land Island.

"The Temp airfield at Kotelny Island is being reconstructed. A modular settlement is being built in Tiski to accommodate 3rd Air Defence Division of the Northern Fleet to be formed in 2019.

"The Russian Armed Forces complete operation to remedy ecological damage to the Arctic where troops were stationed.

"In total the ecological units have cleared 104,000 sq km of the territory since 2015. They collected 18,572 tons and took out 16,000 tons of scrap metal.

"There are 9,000 sq km left to be cleared which is nearly 9% of the territory…

"Military cooperation activities this year covered 98 countries. In the sphere of military-technical cooperation, China, India, Egypt, Algeria and Vietnam remained priority partners for us. Increased military contacts within ASEAN. We are actively participating in the ADMM-Plus dialogue.

"They continued to strengthen allied relations with the CSTO, CIS and SCO. 25 international exercises of various levels were conducted. The most ambitious of them were the Interaction 2018 CSTO exercises and the Peace Mission 2018 SCO maneuvers.

"This year the Moscow Conference on International Security was attended by a record number of delegates: more than 850 representatives from 95 countries and eight international organizations…

"In 2019, the Ministry of Defense is faced with a number of priorities.

"Strategic Nuclear Forces.

"To put 31 Yars and Avangard launchers with intercontinental ballistic missiles into combat duty of the Strategic Missile Forces.

"To strengthen the Strategic Nuclear Forces with four modernized Tu-95ms strategic missile carriers.

"To supply the fleet with the, Borey-A-class lead nuclear submarine cruiser Knyaz Vladimir, armed with the Bulava ballistic missiles.

"General-Purpose Forces.

"Eleven formations and units were formed to improve the district and army staff of the Land Forces.

"To supply the Land Forces, coastal forces of the Navy and the Airborne Troops with 719 modern armored vehicles, one brigade complex of the Iskander-M missile system, two brigade complexes of the S-300V4 and Buk-M3 missile systems. To bring the share of modern samples up to 50.8%.

"To supply the Aerospace Forces, naval air force and air defense troops of the Navy with 143 new and upgraded aircraft, two regimental complexes of the S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft missile system, one Vityaz anti-aircraft missile system and seven divisional complexes of the Pantsir anti-aircraft missile system.

"To bring the part of modern samples in the Air Forces up to 65%, as well as up to 81.8% in the Aerospace Forces. To ensure the fulfillment of the tasks of the experienced combat duty of the Unified Space System.

"To supply the Russian Navy with 12 ships and combat boats, two submarines, 12 support vessels. To supply troops with four coastal missile systems Bal and Bastion. No bring the part of modern samples in the Navy up to 64%.

"As a result, to ensure timely deployment and rigorous execution of the tasks of State Defense Order 2019 and bring the share of modern armaments of the Armed Forces up to 67%.

"To prepare and conduct 18,500 different exercises and trainings including Tsentr 2019 strategic exercise and Grom strategic nuclear exercise.

"To put into operation 3,751 buildings and structures simultaneously with supplying weapons and military equipment to the troops.

"To complete environmental work in the Arctic, clean up the remaining 9,000 square kilometers.

"To build the Presidential Cadet School in Kemerovo and the Military Girls School of the Ministry of Defense in St. Petersburg.

"To intensify the military-patriotic work among young people. To increase the number of Yunarmiya members up to 500,000 teenagers.

"In the next three years, to build ice skating rinks, swimming pools and sports camps in all pre-university institutions of the Ministry of Defense.

"Continue the implementation of the Effective Army program.

"By 2020, to complete the implementation of a system for recording personal data of military personnel using electronic cards."

(Mil.ru, December 18, 2018)

Russia-Japan Relations

Demonstrations In Sakhalin: "They Lost Alaska And Now The Kurils"


(Source: Wikipedia)

In Sakhalin a demonstration of one hundred people took place on December 15 with a similar meeting scheduled for December 22, to protest the possibility of Russia's transferring parts of the Kuril Islands to Japan.

At the Singapore G-20 summit Putin met with Japan's Shizo Abe and the two apparently decided to accelerate talks on the territorial dispute in the hope of reaching an agreement that will allow the two countries to sign a peace treaty formally ending World War II between them. Japan has held out demanding a restoration of the Kurils. The demonstrators held banners stating "They lost Alaska and now the Kurils" and "selling Alaska is a national betrayal". The demonstrators also held portraits of those who fought for the USSR to gain the Kurils.

Senator Andrey Klimov of the United Russia party called the demonstrations "counterproductive". He reminded the protesters that the thornier border dispute with China was ironed out centimeter by centimeter. He also pointed to the options of leasing and joint use.

(Znak.com, December 20, 2018)

This issue was taken up at the Duma. On December 18, Nikolaiy Kharitonov from Novosibirsk who chairs the Duma committee on Regional policy, problems of the North and Far East, said: "I suggest inviting the Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov on the morrow so he can dispel all doubts with regards to the Kuril Islands." Kharitonov warned that things could change dramatically by the next scheduled session on January 9.

The Duma speaker Volodin suggested having Alexander Zhukov the deputy speaker discuss the matter with Lavrov and he reminded the deputies that a Duma delegation was travelling to Tokyo on December 20. (Sovross.ru, December 20, 2018)

Russia-Ukraine Relations – Sea of Azov


A blood-red image of the Kerch Strait Bridge (Source: Vk.com/politics_today)

TASS Update On Russia-Ukraine Relations; The Leader Of The Reasonable Force Party Solovyov: Poroshenko Does Not Hesitate Any Longer Taking Its Election Games Beyond The Legal Framework

The Ukrainian authorities should abandon new attempts of provocations at sea and start a direct dialogue with Russia to see the Ukrainian sailors released, co-chairman of the Opposition Platform-For Life Yuri Boiko, a non-affiliated parliamentarian, said... The leader of the Reasonable Force Party, Alexander Solovyov, said that the Ukrainian authorities "are instigating Russia to aggression with unfailing insistency". That is why [Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary] Turchinov announced on December 19 the decision to once again send ships to the Kerch Strait, he said. "President Poroshenko does not hesitate any longer taking its election games beyond the legal framework, imposing a war scenario on Ukraine time and again," Solovyov said.

On December 19, Turchinov stated in an interview with the BBC that Ukraine has no plans to cease the passage of its military vessels through the Kerch Strait, and did not rule out the possibility of eliminating the Crimean Bridge. He added that Ukraine is ready to invite representatives of the OSCE, NATO and other international organizations to be present at the Ukrainian vessels.

On November 26, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, endorsed President Poroshenko's decree on imposing a 30-day martial law in the Vinnitsa, Lugansk, Nikolayevsk, Odessa, Sumy, Kharkov, Chernigov, Donetsk, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, as well as Ukraine's territorial waters in the Sea of Azov. Initially, Poroshenko sought to impose martial law for 60 days, but this put into question holding the March presidential elections and sparked a public outcry.

The pretext for the decision to declare martial law was an incident in the Kerch Strait on November 25, when three Ukrainian warships, en route from Odessa to Mariupol, illegally crossed Russia's state border, entered Russia's territorial waters and started performing dangerous maneuvers.

Despite the repeated warnings and demands to stop, the Ukrainian vessels continued their way, forcing Russia to use weapons. All three Ukrainian ships were detained in the Black Sea. Three Ukrainian servicemen were slightly wounded and received medical assistance, and their lives are not under threat. A criminal case has been launched over the violation of Russia's state border. Moscow slammed the incident as a provocation.

(Tass.com, December 20, 2018; read the full article. See also Volker, Yovanovitch urge Russia to release Ukrainian sailors, Unian.info, December 18, 2018; read the full article)

Russian MFA Spokesperson Zakharova: The Next Passage Of Ukrainian Ships Through The Kerch Strait Is Going To Be Considered A Provocation

The next passage of Ukrainian ships through the Kerch Strait, announced by Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council Secretary Alexander Turchinov earlier, will be considered as a new irresponsible provocation, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated.

(Tass.com, December 19, 2018; read the full article)

The Ukrainian Cabinet has approved the National Maritime Doctrine for the period until 2035, intended to strengthen Ukraine's positions in the Azov and Black seas and the Kerch Strait linking them.

(Unian.info, December 18, 2018; read the full article)

Kremlin Spokesperson Peskov: Russia Does Not Agree With The UNGA Resolution

Moscow does not agree with the United Nations General Assembly's resolution on the "militarization of Crimea" and regrets the adoption of the document, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

(Tass.com, December 19, 2019; read the full article)

The United States is trying to stir up a full-scale war between fraternal Russian and Ukrainian peoples, according to Russia's Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky.

"Instead of reasoning with the 'Maidan' regime, forcing it to hear the voice of the people, it is supplied with weapons and all kinds of support, including military, is demonstrated," the diplomat said, speaking at the UN General Assembly…

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution proposed by Ukraine on "militarization problem" of Crimea and the waters of the Azov and Black Sea. 66 countries supported the document, 19 were against it, 72 - abstained. The resolution stated that presence of the Russian military in Crimea contradicts the national sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The document also condemns Russia because of constructing a bridge across the Kerch Strait.

(Tass.com, December 18, 2018; read the full article)

Interview Of The Week:

Russian FM Lavrov: We Will Not Go To War Against Ukraine, But If Poroshenko Plans An Armed Provocation On The Border With The Russian Federation – Crimea, He Will Get A Response. He Won't Find It Funny, I Can Assure You

On December 17, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov gave an interview to Radio Komsomolskaya Pravda. In the interview he summed up Russia's foreign policy in 2018. Lavrov particularly stressed Russia's growing escalation with Ukraine over the Sea of Azov.

Below are excerpts from Lavrov's interview with Radio Komsomolskaya Pravda:


(Source: Mid.ru)

Question: "When we mentioned the growing tension in the world, we actually meant Ukraine. The Kerch Strait incident is going too far. We also had in mind Donbass, where almost every day they are expecting an attack. Why do we compare poorly to Ukraine, according to the opinion of the world community? Ukraine has assumed a clear ideological position: Russia confronts us, so we fight Russia, defending ourselves, and so on. We – Russia – are declared the enemy. Soon our church, our priests may become great martyrs, because we do not know what will happen to them. Some get imprisoned, and criminal cases are brought against them. Then, there might be a religious war, we have already gone this far. With the situation so aggravated, we still hold a sluggish, relaxed position, when Ukraine has openly declared us an enemy, and introduced martial law. Why don't we declare Ukraine a Nazi regime? We have a lot of evidence: the new law on the Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army recognizing Hitler's rabble as heroes. This has already been proven. Why do we not explicitly declare that Nazism is a rabid dog one doesn't talk to, but shoots? This would give us a moral trump card in the global community. This would not be a conflict with Ukraine, which has declared us an enemy and has already declared martial law, but a fight against the Nazi regime. The Ukrainian people are not our enemy. The enemy is the Nazi regime. Why not declare it directly? We are putting our diplomats who remain there at risk (our readers write about this). Why not withdraw the Embassy from that country? Many people ask us when Russia will recognize the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics."

Sergey Lavrov: "We are not at war with the Ukrainian regime, which has all the features of the Nazi and neo-Nazi. The Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine who live in Donbass are fighting it."

Question: "Then maybe we should break off the relations with them? How can we have a relationship with the Nazi regime?"

Sergey Lavrov: "We have relations with the Ukrainian state. The Ukrainian state is much more important for us than the regime that came to power thanks to the West betraying all norms of international law and international behavior.

"The Ukrainian people have nothing to do with it. The overwhelming majority, I am sure, wants peace in the country, wants to get rid of this shameful regime and return to normal relations with the Russian Federation. For that, the internal problems of Ukraine will have to be resolved, of course. They are much wider, and much deeper than just the DPR and the LPR. As a reminder, it all happened because the West has committed criminal connivance, I should say. Back in February 2014, the European Union, through the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland, and France, guaranteed an agreement between Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. The next morning, the opposition destroyed that agreement. Neither France, nor Germany, nor Poland, nor the United States, which did not sign the document, but actively supported it, lifted a finger. They did not even apologize to those who had hoped that the agreement would lead to a peaceful settlement.

"Three days later, Dmitry Yarosh who led all the military operations on the Maidan, publicly stated (it was his official statement and is still available) that 'Russians should not be in Crimea, because they will never glorify Stepan Bandera or Roman Shukhevych and will never think in Ukrainian.' Therefore, he said, Russians in Crimea 'must either be destroyed or expelled.' After that, unrest began among the Crimean people. When Yarosh later tried to organize an attack on the Supreme Council, it erupted in a protest, which led to a referendum and eventually to the decision to return Crimea to the Russian Federation.

Now we are obliged to fulfill the Minsk Agreements."

Question: "They collapsed long ago. You spoke about this 18 months ago. Nobody remembers that now, except Donbass. If you come to the village of Zaitsevo, where every household has buried someone, and if you mention the Minsk Agreements, I don't know what they will do to you. They honor them, and the fact that they are being killed on a daily basis – is that Minsk Agreements as well?"

Sergey Lavrov: "I believe that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements, and I also said that back in 2016. The UN Charter has also been violated many times, and it has also malfunctioned on many occasions. But we must not give in to panic. Are you suggesting that we recognize the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics?"

Question: "Yes, of course."

Sergey Lavrov: "And then what?"

Question: "After that, we would defend our territory, recognized by us, and we would help our fraternal peoples."

Sergey Lavrov: "Do you want to lose the rest of Ukraine? Do you want to leave it at the mercy of the Nazis?"

Question: "As I see it, we should go to war against the Nazi regime because they declared martial law against us, they have called us enemies, and they attack our ships."

Sergey Lavrov: "We will not go to war against Ukraine, I can promise you that."

Question: "What should be done about the church?"

Sergey Lavrov: "You suggest recognizing the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics and declaring war (I don't know how you imagine that Russia would attack Ukraine). That would just amount to a nervous breakdown and weakness. If we want to preserve Ukraine as a normal, adequate and neutral country, we must ensure that people living in Ukraine have a comfortable life. I disagree with your position if you want the rest of Ukraine to celebrate the creation of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, as well as the birthdays of Roman Shukhevych and Stepan Bandera, rather than May 9, as their national holidays. The Minsk Agreements formalize the principle of Ukraine's decentralization and the use of the Russian language where Russian-speaking people want to speak it. Today, this regime is moving to wreck its own constitution, which guarantees the rights of the Russian language, as well as its international obligations; but this does not mean that we must abandon all Ukrainians who are governed by this regime to their own devices."

Question: "Why don't we officially recognize it as a Nazi regime, and why don't we say that we will not have any dealings with it because it is impossible to have dealings with Hitler?"

Sergey Lavrov: "This is an appealing position. Somewhere in the village of Zaitsevo people will probably rejoice for a week if we now sever all relations with this regime. And what will happen next? After that, you will need to explain why progressive and civilized humankind lost Ukraine.

"We want to keep it. Today, we have the right under international law to demand this from Ukraine and, most importantly, from the West, which now controls Ukraine."

Question: "What do you think of the OSCE's work in that region? Its representatives are coming here while in fact working against us, spying against the Donbass defenders and communicating their information to Kiev. After the OSCE visits a town or a village, they become subject to strikes. It is a known fact. The OSCE is never on our side."

Sergey Lavrov: "First of all, it is not true that the OSCE brings shells to their targets. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) is indeed under very serious pressure – mainly from pro-Western Ukrainians; but the mission is also susceptible to our influence and is gradually making steps in the right direction, although it takes a while to be pushed first. I will give you an example. We have been asking the SMM to stop writing such things in their reports as 'this week, so many strikes took place, so many civilian facilities were destroyed, there were so many civilian casualties', but to specify from which side of the contact line [the strikes came], which victims and what kind of destruction. A year ago, with great difficulty, we managed to get the OSCE to write its first report on this matter which said that the eastern side of the contact line – where the self-defense forces are living and defending themselves – account for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties and destruction in the civilian sector.

"Ukraine tried hard to stop this report, to stop it from being published. But it failed. The OSCE eventually did what it was supposed to do and the required statistics became publicly available.

"We have one more concern regarding our Western partners (who, I believe, discredited themselves in this Ukrainian story starting in February 2014, when they failed to compel the opposition to fulfill the agreement with the government). This, in fact, has to do with the media. You, for example, go to Donbass. Our television crews are working at the contact line 24/7 to show the frontline from the perspective of the self-defense forces. When our Western partners claim that the self-defense forces are to blame for all the clashes and attacks, that they provoke them, we show them our journalists' work, which is always available on air and is broadcast repeatedly on the news. We ask them: if they are so sure that the Ukrainian government is acting in the right way and they want to show the truth to international audiences, then why are there no Western journalists working on the western side of the contact line the same hours as our journalists? There were a couple of cases when, I think, BBC reporters travelled there for a few days and, by the way, filmed a rather objective report (perhaps this is why this practice was stopped).

"They can't wait for us to break off the relationship with Ukraine and withdraw from the Minsk Agreements. Just like after the coup of February 21, 2014, they will wash their hands of them and say, 'so it died' – meaning they are not bound by anything. It will be a huge mistake."

Question: "If President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko now sends troops to Donbass or warships to break through the Kerch Strait, what will we do?"

Sergey Lavrov: "I am sure that there will be provocations. The day before yesterday we heard Petr Poroshenko speak at a show called Unification Council for Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Actually, he has never stuck to the diplomatic language before, but this time he crossed all lines imaginable and unimaginable. I have never heard such rudeness from a leader who considers himself a politician. He seemed to actually lose control a few times. Apparently, something is happening to him. But this is not my problem.

"Commenting on the martial law he wanted to introduce for 60 days, then 30, first across the country, then only in Russian-speaking areas, where he has a very low popularity rating (it is low enough everywhere, but there he is not popular at all, and does not even enjoy minimum understanding), Poroshenko said they would not extend martial law unless there are armed provocations along the contact line in Donbass or, as he put it, 'on the administrative border' with Crimea.

"The 30-day martial law expires on December 25. We have information (official Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has mentioned this more than once) that Ukraine has concentrated around 12,000 troops and a large amount of equipment on the contact line. American, British and, apparently, other instructors are actively helping them. An American drone regularly patrols the area. We have reported this. According to additional information that we tend to believe, in the last ten days of December, President Poroshenko is planning an armed provocation on the border with the Russian Federation – Crimea.

"He will get a response. He won't find it funny, I can assure you.

"This is our country, our border, and we will not allow him to try in any way to defend 'his interests' as he sees them and violate those rights that the Crimeans have defended in full accordance with international law. Moreover, according to our information, he is discussing this provocation on the border with Crimea with his Western curators and 'trustees.'

"According to our data, which seem credible, he is advised to maintain low-intensity hostilities to support the ongoing outcry in the propaganda space about 'Russians attacking Ukraine' and 'Russians need to be further sanctioned,' but in no case should military operations be allowed to reach a phase to elicit a full-blown response. Nasty, petty provocation. Our respective services take all necessary measures to prevent such excesses from happening."

Question: "I would like to talk about Russian-US relations again. Mr Poroshenko is behaving boorishly, but I think he is emulating US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who made unacceptable comments about the Russian Government after our bombers arrived in Venezuela, telling us how we must spend public funds. As for President Donald Trump, he doesn't seem to know his own mind. You said he was really willing to meet with President Vladimir Putin. He said when boarding the plane for the G20 summit that he was looking forward to a face-to-face with President Putin. But when he disembarked in Argentina several hours later, he said he had called off the meeting. He did an about-face, as the saying goes. Maybe they really don't want to conduct a constructive dialogue with us?"

Sergey Lavrov: "They are extremely pragmatic people. They want to talk when this can benefit them, especially now that the business mentality is taking a hold in US foreign policy. This is a very short-sighted position, because it can help you get something today but will undermine your long-term positions and harm your strategic interests. The Americans live in two-year cycles. Every two years they need to show everyone that they are tough guys who can do what others can't, and that everyone else is soft.

"Look at the unilateral sanctions that have been imposed not only on Russia or China but also on some of the US allies. The United States continues to threaten others with sanctions and imposes new sanctions simply for violating a US law that prohibits trade with Iran. There are no such laws in France or Germany. But when their companies engage in business that is perfectly legal from the viewpoint of their own legislation or international law, they are forced to pay billions of dollars in a deal that would allow them to work in the United States. This is racketeering.

"There are also sanctions that concern settlements in US dollars. In the near future before the next elections, these sanctions may benefit US companies, weaken their rivals and increase employment in the United States, but in the long run they will undermine trust in the dollar. This will harm the fundamental interests of the US because many countries are thinking of reducing their dependence on the dollar."

Question: "Do the Americans see this danger?"

Sergey Lavrov: Analysts possibly do. But politicians think in the moment, they want to win the election, and they don't care what happens afterwards.

"As for Mr Pompeo, it's a long time since we met. I think he is no longer involved with US policy towards Russia. But both of us understand that we need to meet and to talk.

"As of now, US foreign policy has been clearly delegated to John Bolton. He has come to Russia several times. He has met with President Putin and his counterpart, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. I have held rather lengthy talks with Mr Bolton. There is a kind of dialogue.

"We have not met for a long time at the level of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US Department of State. The last time was in New York in September, when the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council held a traditional meeting. But it was not a bilateral meeting. Our deputies and department directors hold meetings, although the Americans often pull stunts and cancel meetings with barely a day's notice. But as I said, we don't hold on to grudges."

(Mid.ru, December 17, 2018; read the full interview)

News in Brief:

Kosovo

  • The emergence of a fully-fledged army of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo threatens to repeat the armed conflict in the Balkans, Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya said at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. "Emergence of Kosovo armed forces resents a threat to peace and security in the region, fraught with a repetition of the armed conflict," the diplomat said. (Tass.com, December 17, 2018; read the full article)
  • Pristina's decision to transform the Kosovo security forces into armed forces is unlawful and must be cancelled, Russia's envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has said. (Tass.com, December 21, 2018, read the full article)

GRU

  • Russia's Defense Ministry refuted media reports about the death of Director of Russia's GRU military intelligence service Igor Sergun in January 2016 in Lebanon, calling this "conspiracy nonsense." "The rumors, disseminated at the suggestion of the US Justice Department, that Hero of Russia Col. Gen. Igor Dmitrievich Sergun died on January 3, 2016 while in Lebanon are conspiracy nonsense. Igor Dmitrievich was in Russia in January 2016," the ministry said. (Tass.com, December 18, 2018; read the full article)

Strategic Air Base Off Venezuela's Coast

  • As Washington is determined to leave the landmark INF Treaty, it seems Moscow is looking for a response. Russian media has cited diplomatic sources as saying that Moscow is eyeing a strategic air base off Venezuela's coast.(Rt.com, December 19, 2018; read the full article)

Russia-Greece Relations

  • On December 7, Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras paid an official visit to Russia at the invitation of President of Russia Vladimir Putin. This was yet another one on one meeting between Putin and Tsipras and the first in 2018. Since 2015, when Tsipras' radical left SYRIZA party came to power in Greece, the two leaders have met every year, this being their fourth meeting. Previously, they had meetings in Moscow in 2015, Athens in 2016, and Beijing in 2017 (on the sidelines of the One Belt, One Road International Forum). During the same visit, the Greek prime minister met with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev. The members of the two delegations discussed "the present state and prospects for trade and economic cooperation as well as the implementation of joint projects in energy, industry, transport infrastructure, hi-tech, agriculture and other fields." (Valdaiclub.com, December 7, 2018; read the full article)

Economy

  • Russian incomes began falling again. Even the advance on pension payments did not allow the government to meet its prognosis on lowering the level of poverty .The number of citizens with incomes lower than the minimum subsistence level totaled 12.3%.(Finance.rambler.ru, December 21, 2018)
  • Russians are cutting back on New Year's presents and in total no more than 5000 rubles. For comparison sake in 2015 they budgeted 6.55 thousand rubles. (Rbc.ru, December 20, 2018)

Orthodox Church

  • The Moscow and All Russia patriarch Kirill has appealed to the heads of the Russian Orthodox churches worldwide not to establish ties with the newly formed Ukrainian church. "I appeal to you and the entirety [of your] Holy Church not to recognize the newly formed pseudo church structure and not enter in communications with it...In actuality the so called union consists of a merger with each other of two schismatic organizations out of which one was created." He claimed that it was the secular authorities in Ukraine who were behind the process and "the meeting that took place only confirmed the fact of the open interference by the state in the life of the church." (Interfax.ru, December 20, 2018)