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July 10, 2019 No.
8164

Russia This Week – Focus On Russia's Foreign Relations – July 10, 2019

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.

Photo Of The Week


Putin with Italian Minister of Interior Matteo Salvini (Source: Facebook.com/salviniofficial)

In The News:

  • Russia-Italy Relations
  • Russia-Vatican Relations
  • Levada Center: Approval For Putin Has Risen Since The Start Of The Year
  • Russia In Syria
  • The Iranian Issue
  • Elections To The Moscow City Duma
  • Russia's Economy
  • News In Brief: Russia-Georgia Relations; NATO-Russia Council; Russia-US Strategic Dialogue; INF Treaty; High Profile Arrests

Russia-Italy Relations


Putin with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte after the joint news conference. (Source: Governo.it)


Putin with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte after the joint news conference. (Source: Kremlin.ru)


At the end of the formal program of his visit to Italy, at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Vladimir Putin had a brief private meeting with former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi. (Source: Kremlin.ru)

Italian PM To Putin: I Do Not Want The Italian People To Get The Impression That You Do Not Pay Enough Attention To Them

Russian president Vladimir Putin held talks with Italy's PM Giuseppe Conte, and Italy's head of state Sergio Mattarella during his official visit to Rome on July 4.

During the meeting with Conte, the Italian Prime Minister told Putin: "Mr President, I am very glad and grateful to you for the opportunity to have this meeting today.

"Relations between Italy and Russia are characterized by unusual strength; I am referring to our ties in culture, economy and trade.

"As you rightly said, despite all the difficulties we can see today in the international context, which I would define as quite delicate, we manage to preserve the quality and volume of our ties and relations, and I believe this proves the strength of our ties.

"One of my visit's goals is to examine once again how the potential of our ties and relations can be expanded.

"If I may, I would like to begin this meeting with a request: I would like you to visit Italy as soon as possible. You have not been there for too long. I do not want the Italian people to get the impression that you do not pay enough attention to them."

(Kremlin.ru, July 4, 2019)

Putin To Il Corriere Della Sera: Matteo Salvini Has Warm Feelings For Russia

Ahead of the official visit to Italy, Vladimir Putin gave an interview to a leading Italian daily Corriere della Sera. Below are excerpts of the interview:

Question: "Relations between Russia and Italy seem positive. Our government is among the few in Europe to be pushing for the revision of sanctions. Yet it is Italy that suffers the largest losses due to the ban on supplies of various consumer goods introduced by the Russian government as a countermeasure. Wouldn't it be a kind gesture on Russia's part to make the first step and start unilaterally lifting retaliatory sanctions?"

Putin: "Indeed, we enjoy special time-tested relations with Italy. There is a trusted dialogue with the Italian leadership. Continuous joint work is underway in the political, economic, scientific and humanitarian fields. We highly appreciate this asset of mutual trust and partnership.

"Of course, we kept this in mind. And we had no desire to extend the restrictions to the economic relations with Italy. But the thing is, our response measures – in retaliation for the illegitimate sanctions imposed – were supposed to be non-discriminative, because otherwise we would face problems in the World Trade Organization. I would like to note that the decisions to impose sanctions against Russia were taken by the European Commission and supported by all EU countries.

"At the same time, I would like to stress that the mentioned response measures are of a local nature and do not hinder, by and large, the effective development of our investment and industrial cooperation. None of the Italian companies have thus withdrawn from the Russian market. At the recent Economic Forum in Saint-Petersburg, a number of promising bilateral contracts in the industrial, oil and gas and petrochemical sectors were signed.

"As for the removal of sanctions, I have spoken on this subject time and time again. The one behind the sanctions is the one to make the first step; I am talking about the European Union. After that, Russia will be able to abolish its countermeasures. It is our hope that common sense will eventually prevail and Europe will prioritize its own interests rather than follow instructions given by somebody else. Then we will be able to develop mutually beneficial, multi-faceted and forward-looking cooperation."

Question: "What kind of relations does Russia have with the League party of Matteo Salvini? Do you consider him the Italian leader to be reckoned with? How would you describe your relationship with Silvio Berlusconi?"

Vladimir Putin: "Contacts with political parties of foreign states are generally maintained at the party level. Thus, Italy's League and our United Russia interact within the framework of a cooperation agreement. The League party and its leader Matteo Salvini actively support restoring full cooperation between Italy and Russia and advocate an early lifting of anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the US and the EU. That is where we concur.

"Matteo Salvini has warm feelings for Russia, and he is well familiar with its realities. We met in 2014 in Milan, where we discussed prospects for development of RussianItalian ties, as well as Russia's relations with the European Union. Since then, as far as I know, Mr Salvini and his party members have maintained contacts with their Russian colleagues, who are interested in stepping up cooperation with their Italian partners.

"I have already said on many occasions and will repeat: in our relations with foreign states we have regard for lawfully elected, legitimate leaders. We are ready to work and will work with those who have been elected by the Italian people regardless of their political affiliation.

"As for Silvio Berlusconi, we have been friends for many years. Silvio is a politician of international standing, a true leader who strenuously defended the interests of his country in the international arena. His earnest determination to preserve and increase the potential developed in relations between our countries inspires respect. We rarely meet, but when we have such an opportunity, he never lets himself discuss domestic issues. Neither do I.

"It is important that in Italy there is an absolute consensus among all political forces on the need to develop good relations with Russia. And we fully reciprocate it."

(Kremlin.ru, July 4, 2019)

Russia-Vatican Relations


Vladimir Putin met with Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. Following their meeting, the President of Russia and Pope Francis exchanged gifts. (Source: Kremlin.ru)

During his trip to Rome, Vladimir Putin met with Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. Following their meeting, the President of Russia and Pope Francis exchanged gifts.

Vladimir Putin introduced the Russian delegation, which included Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova, Russian Ambassador to the Holy See Alexander Avdeyev and Russian Ambassador to the Italian Republic Sergei Razov.

Later the President had a separate meeting with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

(Kremlin.ru, July 4, 2019)

Read More:

  • Putin Meets Pope Francis in Shadow of Ukraine Crisis, Arrives Late. (Themoscowtimes.com, July 4, 2019; read the full article)
  • Putin - Pope Francis meeting lasted exactly one hour. (Interfax-religion.com, July 4, 2019; read the full article)
  • Pope Francis on Thursday received Vladimir Putin in an audience at the Vatican. It's the Russian president's sixth visit to the Vatican, and his third audience with Pope Francis. (Vaticannews.va, July 4, 2019; read the full article)
  • The Moscow Patriarchate has said over Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to the Vatican that the dialogue between him and the pope was secular, but spoke in support of such communication. (Interfax-religion.com, July 4, 2019; read the full article)

Levada Center: Approval For Putin Has Risen Since The Start Of The Year

A Levada Center survey found that approval for Putin has risen since the start of the year from 64% to 68%. Moscow mayor Sobyanin commands 63% approval. However other parts of the establishment fare far worse. Dmitry Medvedev gets a 36% approval. The government as a whole gets a 43% approval rating while the State Duma gets a 38% rating.

In terms of the country's general direction 48% are satisfied while 41% feel the country is going in the wrong direction.

(Kommersant.ru, July 5, 2019)

Russia In Syria

Russian expert Stanislav Ivanov wrote in Ng.ru:

"In Syria a paradoxical situation is emerging. While the US, Russia and Israel continue talks and seek a consensus on a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, Turkey and Iran intensify efforts to strengthen their positions in that country. The Iranian ayatollahs with all their might strive to preserve the agonized regime of the friendly Alawite minority headed by the Assad clan, and Erdogan continues support for the Syrian armed opposition and radical Islamic groups of the Arab Sunni majority with the goal of replacing the regime in Damascus...

"The impression is created that Tehran and Ankara are not interested in a peaceful settlement to the Syrian conflict. They are all sabotaging efforts of Russia and other intermediaries on Syria in the Geneva and Nur Sultan talks. They clearly don't need a new constitution or a coalition government in Syria. Each of them wants to see its puppet regime in Damascus. Therefore Erdogan and the Iranian ayatollahs are going to continue tearing Syria into pieces and will likely conduct hostilities 'to the last Syrian'."

(Ng.ru, July 1, 2019)

The Iranian Issue

MP Slutsky: Tehran's Intentions To Renew The Enrichment Of Uranium At A Level Of 3.67% Is A Result Of A Major US Planned Provocation

Leonid Slutsky, chair of the Duma Foreign Relations Committee, commented that the announcement by Tehran about its intentions to renew the enrichment of uranium at a level of 3.67% higher than stipulated in the JCPOA is a result of the exit by the United States from the nuclear deal, and the inability of the European partners to fulfill their obligations in creating a financial mechanism to bypass American sanctions. "Here the motivation of Tehran's action is absolutely clear. It is the result of a major planned provocation," Slutsky said.

He then added: "Washington was absolutely discomfited by the tranquil fulfillment of the JCPOA by the Iranian side under IAEA supervision. By exiting the agreement and building up military forces close to the Iranian borders the American administration time and again provoked Tehran into retaliatory actions."

 "We constantly conduct a dialogue with the Iranian partners on the level of parliamentary diplomacy and we persuade them not to react to Washington's provocations. Tehran on the country has to set an example of tolerance, and not enter a complaint with the international community.

(Interfax.ru July 7, 2019)

Senator Klintsevich: The Presidency Of Trump Will Go Down In History As The Era Of The Destruction Of Global Strategic Stability

Franz Klintsevich, chair of the Federation Council's defense committee, commented: "A fully expected decision [by Iran], provoked by the US exit from the nuclear deal. Of course, this might not please someone, but Tehran is concerned first of all of all with its own security."

"It was equally feared that the US would not only not react positively to this decision, but will take steps that will only prompt it [Iran] to further intensify work on its nuclear program. One cannot rule out openly aggressive actions on the part of the US that are capable of blowing up the entire Near East. "

"The presidency of Donald Trump will go down in history as the era of the destruction of global strategic stability."

(Ria.ru, July 7, 2019)

Russian MFA Spokesperson Zakharova: We Criticize The Aggressive Attitude Of The United States Towards Iran

During her weekly briefing, Russia MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova commented: "Russia supports international law and existing legal mechanisms that quieted concerns of various countries with respect to Iran in the past, specifically, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA was a mechanism that our country actively participated in developing.

"It seems fair to say that it resolved the issues on the table for the subsequent four years and would have continued to do so successfully if the United States had not withdrawn from the agreement unilaterally. Our country clearly expresses its views. Russia's mediation is not even in the equation because we are talking about the aggressive attitude of the United States towards Iran. We are criticizing it in every possible way, to put it mildly.

"We do not accept it and find it illegitimate. Our opinion is that in this case it is necessary to go back to the international legal mechanisms that fully meet the interests of the United States, Iran and other countries in the region. These mechanisms do not produce anything but solutions and are certain not to aggravate the situation."

(Mid.ru, July 4, 2019)

Read More:

  • Comment by the Russian MFA on the seizure of the Panama-flagged tanker by Gibraltar authorities: "We condemn the seizure of the super tanker sailing under the Panama flag on July 4, conducted by the Gibraltar authorities aided by Great Britain's Royal Marine Commando unit. We view the seizure of the vessel and its cargo as a deliberate action aimed at aggravating the situation around Iran and Syria. Laudatory comments by top US and British officials immediately after the operation confirm this conclusion and prove that the action had been long in the making with the involvement of respective services and agencies of several countries." (Mid.ru, July 5, 2019; read the full statement)

Elections To The Moscow City Duma

Kommesant Columnist Drize: "Citizens Do Not Quite Understand What Political Institutions Are"

Russian columnist Dmitry Drize wrote that Muscovites are not interested in City Duma elections. The VTsIOM  (Russian Public Opinion Research Center) found out that 89% of the Russian capital's residents show no interest in the upcoming voting. Elections will be held on September 8, candidates are collecting signatures in their support [to qualify for the ballot]. According to Drize, as always, the main intriguing issue remains whether opposition representatives will participate in the campaign. Drize wrote:

"If things stand this way, then this signifies a complete victory for  the 'United Russia' party and the team of the city's current mayor. Although it would be more appropriate to say that independent candidates who actually represent the ruling party will win. Unless there will be several communists and a couple candidates from 'A Just Russia' party. Maybe one or two , more or less. serious oppositionists.

"Of course, it can be said that VTsIOM is a government social science [research outfit] , they work in the interests of the Kremlin and the mayoralty, and that they use techniques that allow them to draw the necessary conclusions. May be. But something suggests that the VTsIOM data are not far removed from the truth.

"The problem is that after all these years of stability, citizens do not quite understand what political institutions are. In the end result, there are personalities: Vladimir Putin, [Moscow mayor] Sergey Sobyanin and [opposition leader] Alexei Navalny. And the attitude towards the deputies is unambiguously negative - they sit and do nothing. And this is putting it mildly. In the mass consciousness, the main thing is the institution of the presidency, or the king, or the leader [a name accorded Stalin]  — as you like. And if the elections to the State Duma are also consistent with the understanding that voting can change something, then the question: why do we need regional parliaments? is not something the average Russian can answer.

"At the same time, it must be acknowledged: Moscow is not quite prettier under Sergei Semenovich Sobyanin , but  things are not so bad. Let's say the opposition gets all the seats in Moscow City Duma, will things get better in the city? Obviously not everyone is confident in the latter. Plus, summer, holidays, and the candidates themselves are not always able to present themselves properly. And funds are scarce, and they lack celebrity status.

"So what do we have in the end? Should supporters of the reforms give up? The answer is unequivocal: no, they should not. What was said above is a theory. So, in theory, that could have been a year or two ago. But not now.

"Today the chain of seemingly random and unpredictable events comes to the fore. For example, the Golunov case or some unexpected major exposes.. Or the rise of gasoline prices. Or even the 10-day arrest of Navalny on the ambiguous charge 'of blocking traffic'. The problem for the authorities is that there are more and more of such events occur.

"And the situation has changed radically. People were outraged and voted against the same camouflaged disguised United Russia [candidates] .For the sake of principle. It is getting harder to foresee such events.

"And then, you'll see, even if a mindset change will occur - people will be disappointed.

"And, finally, Moscow, as is well known, is not the whole of Russia. There are much more reasons to vote differently in the regions. So social science research is something relative."

(Kommersant.ru, July 3, 2019)

Read More:

  • Record number of pro-regime Russian gubernatorial candidates ditch ruling party United Russia. (Meduza.io, July 9, 2019; read the full article)
  • Yevgeny Revenko, a member of the State Duma, complains about the swagger and boorishness displayed by some United Russia party members. "People who will allow swagger and boorishness in relations to citizens are party colleagues who inflict serious reputational damage since they fall into a trend which is discernible. also in virtual space – a negative attitude towards the party. We have to alter this trend and therefore every such display [of swagger and boorishness] is hurtful to us." (Business-gazeta.ru, July 6, 2019)

Russia's Economy

Head Of The Bank of Russia Nabiullina: The Main Constraints For Development Are Domestic

At the International Financial Congress banking forum in St. Petersburg on July 4, Russia's Central Bank head Elvira Nabiullina stated that the main restrictions for the development of the Russian economy are internal. "We are clearly living now in a not that risky of a scenario. Oil prices are somewhat higher than expected; our country continues to be interesting for global capital markets. Therefore, in my opinion, the main constraints for development are domestic," she said.

(Tass.com, July 4, 2019)

Russian Expert Solovey: 'The President Is In An Information Cocoon'

Commenting on Nabiullina's words, Russian political expert Valery Solovey commented that the Russian economic model has been "exhausted". According to Solovey, Russian President Putin is living in a "cocoon" and does not realize what are the real condition of the Russian economy.

Below is Solovey's article:

1. "The Speech by [Central Bank head Elvira] Nabiullina at the International Financial Congress banking forum in St. Petersburg along with an acknowledgement on the exhaustion of the economic model is only a weak reflection of the sentiments at the top. These moods are almost panicky. The situation is characterized by the words 'catastrophe' and the Russian equivalent of the expression 'complete fiasco'.

2.  "Anxiety is caused by the destruction of state administration and by the 'absence of the captain on the bridge,' as a result of which captain's powers and authority were privatized by the clans. The main potential threat is considered to be an acute social conflict. It is considered to be programmed and disagreements relate only to the terms. Optimists say that we have a couple of years left. Pessimists talk about months.

3.   "The president is in an information cocoon. In his world, Russia is successfully recovering the recession and copes with all the problems, and therefore there is no need to change anything. Putin is focused on foreign policy. The meeting with Trump raised positive expectations in the Kremlin.

4.   "Neither the siloviki nor the pragmatic technocrats are interested in breaking the president's information isolation. They are strengthening their positions in anticipation of the decisive battles. The siloviki have a decisive influence on decision-making, which is due to the fact that Putin trusts 'his people' more. Moreover, in the security officials group, [Interior Minister Vladimir] Kolokoltsev and [Prosecutor General Yuri]  Chaika themselves are more instruments, rather than independent players. (In this sense, the recent arrests of FSB officers are not a clash between two agencies, but a clash within a single agency.)"

(Echo.msk.ru, July 8, 2019)

News In Brief:

Russia-Georgia Relations

  • Russia's State Duma unanimously called on the country's federal executive branch to introduce sanctions against Georgia "in connection with anti-Russian provocations" there. The recommendation chastised "radical forces in that country" for spurring the "further degradation of Russian-Georgian relations." The Duma's vote followed a wave of anti-Russian demonstrations and an anti-Putin, profanity-laden tirade broadcast live on air by a Georgian television host. (Meduza.io, July 9, 2019; read the full article)
  • The Georgian television channel Rustavi 2 has decided not to fire journalist Georgy Gabunia, who spent the first minute of his Sunday show on an obscene tirade targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Meduza.io, July 9, 2019; read the full article)
  • The Georgian television channel Rustavi 2 temporarily went offline on the night of July 7 after host Georgy Gabunia unleashed a profanity-laden tirade on air against Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the beginning of the journalist's Sunday program, Postscript, he spent more than a minute swearing profusely in Russian, insulting both Putin and his parents. (Meduza.io, July 8, 2019; read the full article)

NATO-Russia Council

  • The NATO-Russia Council, which brings together all 29 NATO Allies and Russia, met in Brussels on Friday (5 July 2019) to discuss Ukraine, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and transparency and risk reduction. (Nato.int, July 5, 2019; read the press release)

Russia-US Strategic Dialogue

  • Russia and the United States have reached an agreement to hold full-scale consultations on strategic issues in mid-July in Geneva, Director of Russia's Foreign Ministry Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Vladimir Yermakov told TASS. (Tass.com, July 4, 2019; read the full article)

INF Treaty

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law the bill suspending the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by Russia. (Tass.com, July 3, 2019; read the full article)

High Profile Arrests

  • Advisor for Putin envoy to Ural region arrested on treason charges. (Meduza.io, July 5, 2019; read the full article)
  • Seven FSB officials have been arrested in a robbery case. They may have also stolen money during searches of corrupt officials. (Meduza.io, July 5, 2019; read the full article)