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July 15, 2019 No.
8170

Russia This Week – Focus On Russia's Foreign Relations – July 15, 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


(Source: Vk.com/worldpolicy)

In The News:

  • Russia-Iran Relations

  • S-400 Sale To Turkey

  • Russia-Georgia Relations

  • Regional Elections In Russia

  • Joint Session Of The United Russia Supreme And General Councils

  • Putin's Ratings

  • Demography

  • Inflation

  • News In Brief: Russia-Japan Relations; Russia-US Relations; Russia-UK Relations; Russia-India Relations; Russia-Italy Relations; Defense; Freedom Of Speech; Cosmodrome

Russia-Iran Relations

Answering a question from the media on Iran following the OSCE Informal Ministerial Meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said:

Question: "Moscow is urging its European partners to preserve the nuclear deal with Tehran. What has been done to save it? Did you discuss measures to stabilize the situation at the informal talks today"

Sergey Lavrov: "The OSCE is not a suitable platform for discussing Iran's nuclear program. This should be done at the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that comprises countries-signatories to the plan. It has met recently at the level of political directors. There has been a proposal to hold a meeting at the level of foreign ministers. We are ready for this provided practical agreements are reached for discussion at such a meeting. This does not seem to be the case so far.

"Of course, we have no interest in aggravating the situation with Iran and in the region as a whole. We hope Iran will show restraint. But we cannot turn a blind eye to objective facts. It is a fact that Iran has started enriching uranium to above the 3.67 per cent limit specified in the nuclear deal. It has reached the 5 per cent level and will likely strive for more, but this will not put it in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the IAEA Safeguards Agreement or the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement. We must take this into account when considering the present situation. Any additional commitments Iran assumed under the JCPOA should be discussed at the Joint Commission. The commission has the authority for this in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution on the JCPOA.

"The situation is paradoxical. The United States has pulled out of the JCPOA and does not comply with the UNSC resolution, but at the same time it prohibits the other parties to honor this resolution while pointing the finger at Iran.

"One more thing: when the White House and the State Department demand that Iran honor its commitments under the JCPOA, and when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demands, as he did the day before yesterday, that the EU punish Iran for violating the JCPOA, this logically implies that the United States and Israel should recognize the legitimacy of the JCPOA. However, they recognize its legitimacy only in the current situation, when problems with the JCPOA can be used to mount pressure on Iran.

"It is not a wise approach. We are in favor of a search for solutions. We know very well who stands behind aggravating the confrontation. So far, there has been no investigation into the provocation concerning oil tankers. We do not see any way out of this situation other than demanding that all JCPOA signatories resume compliance with their commitments and the basic principles of the JCPOA. I do not see any other way. If our American colleagues or any others, for example Israel, have questions for Iran about its missile program (they say they do have these questions), or Iran's policy in the region, these are negotiable subjects. When we worked on the JCPOA, we insisted that it stipulate the need for a dialogue on regional matters. Nobody seems to remember this now. We should not destroy what took so long to create and what has made a huge contribution to the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime. We must safeguard this achievement, and any other questions that arise should be addressed collectively on the basis of mutual respect."

(Mid.ru, July 9, 2019)

Read More:

  • Russia expects that Iran's new uranium enrichment level won't be higher than 5%, Russian Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov said. (Tass.com, July 7, 2019; read the full article)

  • Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin was regretting the consequences arising from Iran cutting back on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program after the US unilateral withdrawal from the deal. (Tass.com, July 8, 2019; read the full article)

  • Tehran expects that an online payment systems will be developed between Russian and Iranian innovation companies, Iran's Vice President for Science and Technology Sorena Sattari said. (Tass.com, July 10, 2019; read the full article)

  • The risk is rising that the situation surrounding Iran will lead to a direct conflict, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters. (Tass.com, July 11, 2019; read the full article)

  • On July 11, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps denied reports saying that its boats were trying to impede a British tanker in the Persian Gulf. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia keeps a close eye on developments concerning the alleged incident involving a British tanker and Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf. (Tass.com, July 11, 2019; read the full article)

S-400 Sale To Turkey


(Source: Turkish Defense Ministry)

Deliveries of Russian S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey started on July 12. According to the Turkish defense ministry, three cargo planes delivered several truck tractors and a transport and load vehicle for S-400 systems to Murted Air Base.

(Tass.com, July 14, 2019)

MP Slutsky: Turkey Is The First Swallow In The Region

Leonid Slutsky, head of the Duma International Affairs Committee, commented on the S-400 sale to Turkey and hinted that Turkey was merely the first country in the region to adopt the system.

"Turkey is the first swallow. The S-400 and more modern weapons systems must appear in the region. We will cooperate closely, the level of this cooperation is most great and we must constantly expand this cooperation. There are very important and serious countries that possess analogous needs and these need, of course will be satisfied."

(Aif.ru, July 13, 2019)

Senator Alexey Pushkov: The Sale Of Its Weaponry By The US Is One Of The Goals For NATO's Existence

Senator Alexey Pushkov tweeted: "The US is imposing sanctions upon Turkey. Ankara should have dutifully purchased from the US the Patriot system that it did not need and not the S-400 and then there would be no sanctions. The sale of its weaponry by the US is one of the goals for NATO's existence. And now let them tell a tale in NATO about the 'equality' of its members."

(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, July 14, 2019)

Russian Columnist Drize: For Russia There Are Not Many Political Dividends In The S-400 Sale To Turkey

Russian columnist Dmitry Drize wrote:

"In Russia the event is highlighted as a great victory, first of all on the US NATO and the stagnant West in general. The federal TV channels, [Duma] deputies and senators speak of the huge success of our defense industry people and political leaders – we showed them....

"The credit goes more to Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan. He literally pushed this decision through, despite Trump's serious onslaught, and it was the latter that had to retreat. For Erdogan, the S-400 is truly a political victory. With America, and yes also with Europe as a whole, there are bitter relations. Washington is applying pressure all the time, lending support to the Kurds in Syria and refusing to extradite Fetullah Gullen, whom Ankara considers the ideologue of the 2016 coup attempt...

"[The Turkish response is] We will buy goods from the Russians especially if they are offering really good systems on very profitable terms... The country will in any case remain in the Western orbit but they will have to reckon with it. Erdogan knows very well that Turkey on account of its geographic situation is a key regional player, a bridge between Europe and Asia.

"As for Russia and its victories, then it is good of course that we earned and did not receive in return the next portion of sanctions. But there are not many political dividends in all. We have not hammered in a nail anywhere, as much as official propaganda would like."

(Kommersant.ru, July 12, 2019)

Read More:

  • The seventh Russian aircraft with another batch of components for S-400 missile systems has arrived in Turkey, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense reported on July 14. (Tass.com, July 14, 2019; read the full article)

  • Erdogan: S-400 is the most important agreement in our history. (Gazeteduvar.com.tr, July 14, 2019; read the full article in Turkish)

Russia-Georgia Relations


(Source: Rustavi 2)

Following the II Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Russian journalists and answered their questions, among them one on situation in Georgia:

Question: "First question is about Georgia. May I?"

Vladimir Putin: "We are at such a good international event on technology. Does it [Georgia] demonstrate any achievements in terms of applying the latest technology?"

Remark: "Unfortunately no."

Question: "The words said about you were really unprecedented…"

Vladimir Putin: "You must be kidding."

Question: "And State Duma parties have united in voting for an embargo– on food products and money transfers, of course. When will you decide on this?"

Vladimir Putin: "You know, it would take a lot of time to give a complete answer. But I will tell you my thoughts in short. In order to understand what I am guided by in this, we should take a look at our past, at history.

"Look, Ossetia joined the Russian Empire, if I remember correctly, in 1774. Both northern and southern Ossetia came together, as an independent state. Abkhazia did the same in 1810, also as an independent country, a principality.

Later some events took place within that single state. South Ossetia became part of the Tiflis Governorate. "There was no Georgia at the time, but the Tiflis Governorate.

"Abkhazia developed in the following way. When the Russian Empire fell after World War I, Georgia made attempts to absorb Abkhazia; an independent country of Georgia was established, and, with help from German troops, it occupied Abkhazia in 1918.

"The occupiers were very cruel, and Georgian troops in Ossetia in 1919 and 1920 even more so. This was essentially what is called genocide today.

"The Georgian authorities would do well to remember this. It must not be forgotten, if Georgia's current government wants to mend relations with the people of Abkhazia or South Ossetia.

"By the way, during the Soviet era, it was decided to establish the Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia, which included today's Georgia. It wasn't even Georgia.

"The Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia was established during Stalin's time, and Abkhazia was included. By the way, human rights activists never note this, which is strange.

"However, on Stalin's orders, the NKVD, headed by Beria, took very harsh measures on Abkhazians – I don't even want to say what – in order for Georgia to absorb this territory and the Abkhazians.

"This is a grim legacy that one of the first Georgian presidents simply ignored when he took Adjara and Abkhazia's autonomy. All of this resulted in an explosive and fratricidal war.

"At the time, I tried to convince Mr Saakashvili. I said, 'Mr Saakashvili, do not take any military actions against Abkhazia or South Ossetia.' I said the same to the Americans: 'No, under no circumstances.'

"And what happened? They started a war. The result? It is well-known today. Russia had to acknowledge the independence of these republics and protect the Abkhazians and the South Ossetians.

"Why am I going over all this? Because all these anti-Russia sentiments in Georgia are inflated by those who don't know anything, or know but prefer to ignore it, thus damaging Georgia and Georgians.

"The rest is secondary. Curses and swearing are not so important, so they should not be taken seriously. No need to respond to what some bad guy says.

"Regarding the various sanctions against Georgia, I would not do this because I respect the Georgians, because one person that nobody knows came out and said something stupid, and now everyone is talking about it. He has achieved what he wanted. He was suspended for two months and went on holiday. He will continue his work when he returns.

"But there are people who protest this in Georgia. I would not take any measures that will make our relations more complicated for these people, in order to restore relations between Russia and Georgia."

Question: "The State Duma and other politicians suggested opening a criminal case against the Georgian journalist on grounds of insulting the authorities."

Vladimir Putin: "He doesn't deserve that honor. Let him go on talking. All the best."

(Kremlin.ru, July 9, 2019)

Read More:

  • 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)

Regional Elections In Russia

The Russian media outlet Rbc.ru published a list of 5 "not under any circumstance" actions by candidates and party members sent by the United Russia leadership to the party's regional departments in advance of the September 8 regional elections:

1."Bullshit or duck tough questions.

2.Display arrogance or one's own superiority in any appearances.

3.Answer people's concrete questions with "big forms and numbers" about plans and programs for the entire country.

4.Be an ideological weathervane, grovel, adapt to the situation and reject party values.

5.Succumb to a provocation, speak or react without thinking things through 'Think seven times, answer once.'"

In contrast there was a list of five musts for the candidates:

1."Command of the subject (budget, problems, regional particularities)

2.Demonstrate effectiveness in solving people's problems already from the first day of the voting

3.Be open and accessible, speak in 'down to earth language'

4.Converse with the voters on the social media sites no less than offline

5.Be emotionally charged, demonstrate values, a strong character, faith in people"

The list was elaborated by the party together with social scientists and political consultants.

(Rbc.ru, July 4, 2019)

Joint Session Of The United Russia Supreme And General Councils

"On July 5 in Moscow in the format of a joint session of the United Russia Supreme and General councils a political conference of the party took place. Taking part in it were nearly 450 people: the regional office secretaries, members of the party's Supreme and General Councils, representatives of the ministries and agencies, political scientists, representatives of regional non-profit organizations.

Two panel discussions took place as part of the conference :'Raising the quality of the party representatives' work" and "The Party on man's behalf", and likewise three creative sessions 'Social Projects and Work with Youth, Leadership Potential and the Primary Voting Procedure, Partnership with Non-Profit Organizations and Civil Activists. The conference concluded with a plenary session in which the party chairman and the head of the Russian Federation's government Dmitry Medvedev participated."

(https://er.ru/core/news/subject/152.htm)

Ahead of the United Russia conference, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev said:

"With us in United Russia there are quite a few professional politicians whom I know personally and esteem for their hard work and attentive attitude to people. But frequently in the public eye are totally different representatives of the party. There are those, who are not ashamed to demonstrate boastfulness and boorishness, contrary to all that was adopted in our charter of ethical norms."

"While the party is rooting them out through its internal control processes, one must not forget the external controllers. I have in mind the mass media. Today this not only professional journalists, but also bloggers and civilian activists who spread information on the social media. We must communicate and cooperate with them. I assume it would be correct for United Russia to support those engaged in journalistic investigations. I emphasize genuine investigations and not inventing fake news."

(Iz.ru, July 1, 2019)

Putin's Ratings

In June 2019, VTsIOM (100% owned by the state) was at the center of the scandal associated with Putin's rating calculation.

The trust ratings of Russian President Vladimir Putin calculated during the week that ending on March 3, 2019 were only 32%, which is 0.8% less than a week earlier.

Initially, sociologists asked the Russians an open question: "Which of the politicians do you trust?". VTsIOM had changed the survey method after the negative reaction at the President's Administration. The new question turned into "Do you trust or you don't trust [name of the politician]?". The rating for Putin calculated with the following question went up to 72.3%.

(Rbc.ru, March 3, 2019; https://wciom.ru/news/ratings/doverie_politikam_1)


(Source: Wciom.ru)

Demography

Vice Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova recently stated that "the country is losing its population catastrophically... the natural decrease in population over the first four months of 2019 was around149 thousand people". The government has been dealing with the problem of demography since 2005, but so far all the government efforts proved to be futile.

(Rosbalt.ru, July 10, 2019)

In addition to a reduction of the birth rate, the country is experiencing migration from depressed small cities to large ones. The population in small Russian towns over the past 15 years has fallen by almost half a million people.

Russian expert and economist Oleg Komolov commented: "Russia is threatened with depopulation, because our population is decreasing rapidly, the birth rate is below the critical level of 2.1 children per woman (Russia has it somewhere between 1.8 and 1.9).

"During the first 5 months of 2019 Russian population has decreased by 150 thousand people... In Russia, about half of country's GDP is formed by only four hundred largest companies in several fields, primarily in the mining industry, financial sector, and construction. And in these four hundred companies employ around 10 million people. That is, only 10 million workers create half of the entire economy's GDP… and the rest of the country's population is, as one can say in a language that, corresponds to the agenda of our ruling class, ballast. Neither our natural resources oligarchs, nor the government need people who require social benefits, education, and free health care."

(Rosbalt.ru, July 10, 2019)

Inflation

The Government has been accused of trying to cover up the rising rate of inflation. The current official figures put the rate of inflation at 4.7 percent but in a report published by Rosstat (Russian Federal State Statistics Service) has disputed that figure. Rosstat specifically referenced food such as cabbage - a staple of the Russian diet - has increased seven times faster in the last year.

Moskovsky Komsomolets, a newspaper that is usually supportive of the Government, in a series of articles also savaged the officials for supposedly lying about the rue rate of inflation in the country:

"... The authorities stubbornly tell us that inflation rate is quite small - 3.4, at worst - 5%; but we also stubbornly do not believe in these numbers, we know that authorities selling us bullshit because prices are actually growing much faster. Of course, they have advanced techniques, super-powerful computers, and large-scale apparatus of specialists...

"And each of us has only the wretched reality, given to us in our own perception. But when you start looking at the statistics (the official one!) for the main products – one's hair stand on end...

"The most common millet: the price increased by 73.6% this year. White cabbage - 72.8%. 17 times higher than official inflation! Sugar prices jumped by 28.3%, eggs - 25.9%, onion - 23.7%, beet - 23%, chicken - 20.7%, carrot - 20% ... these are the most common products which each family uses (and buys) every single day. ... So the question is: why do we need such a methodology for assessing inflation, in which no one believes, including the authorities themselves? It is not a coincidence that the Central Bank's minimal interest rate (this parameter is generally set by central banks around the world at the current rate of inflation) is around the range of 7.5–8.25%: almost twice the official inflation rate."

(Mk.ru, July 7, 2019)

News In Brief

Russia-Japan Relations

  • Despite agreement, Russia rejects starting talks on territorial dispute due to Putin's flagging support rate. (Japantimes.co.jp, July 14, 2019)

  • Russia rejects any discussion of "transferring" two islands - Kyodo News. Kyodo reported that one of the reasons for Moscow’s refusal to even discuss such an opportunity was Russia’s concerns related to the Japanese-US military alliance. (Tass.com, July 14, 2019; read the full article)

Russia-US Relations

  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with Spain’s El Pais newspaper that despite US President Donald Trump's stated good intentions towards mending ties with Russia, this is actually failing to translate into any genuine action. (July 10, 2019; read the full article)

  • Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on July 10 in Helsinki. They discussed U.S. – Russia relations and the impact of regional challenges in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. (State.gov, July 10, 2019; read the full statement)

Russia-UK Relations

  • The UK government's refusal to accredit Russia's Sputnik news agency and the RT TV channel to a media freedom conference in London constitutes a gross interference into the work of the media, a spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in London said. (Tass.com, July 10, 2019; read the full article)

  • Russian Embassy Press Release on RT channel's accreditation to the Global Conference for Media Freedom: "As we have learned, British organizers of the Global Conference for Media Freedom, due to take place in London on 10-11 July, have refused to accredit journalists from the RT channel. The reason given was that the quota of journalists invited to the Conference had already been reached – and that despite the fact that RT had sent the request several weeks ago and has long been trying, unsuccessfully, to get a meaningful reply…" (Rusemb.org.uk, July 5, 2019; read the full statement)

  • The refusal of the British authorities to accredit Russia's RT TV channel and Sputnik news agency at the Global Conference for Media Freedom, opening in London on July 10, is absurd and undermines the authority of the event, Russian President's press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters. (Tass.com, July 10, 2019; read the full article)

  • Russia's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova's answered to a media question on the refusal of the British authorities to accredit Russian news agencies at an international conference in London. Zakharova: "… In all probability, London intends to seek refuge in the concept of "strategic ambiguity" announced by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, according to which accusations can be made without quoting facts. This approach is unacceptable…" (Mid.ru, July 9, 2019; read the full statement)

  • The UK government has been consistently undermining all opportunities for creating a constructive dialogue with Russia, citing threats to national security allegedly created by Moscow, a spokesperson for the Russian embassy in London said. (Tass.com, July 10, 2019; read the full article)

Russia-India Relations

  • India's Air Force will buy 18 Russian-made new Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets, Deputy Director of Russia's Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation Vladimir Drozhzhov told reporters. (Tass.com, July 9, 2019; read the full article)

Russia-Italy Relations

  • Not even a liter of vodka: Italy's Salvini denies receiving any funding from Russia. (Rt.com, July 10, 2019; read the full article)

Defense

  • Russian shipbuilders to lay down 2 advanced Yasen-M nuclear-powered subs in 2020-2021. A contract on building two Yasen-M submarines was signed at the Army-2019 international military and technical forum that was held June 25-30. (Tass.com, July 11, 2019; read the full article)

Freedom Of Speech

  • Russian Journalist Charged for ‘Controlling Minds’ With ‘1984’ Reference. (Themoscowtimes.com, July 9, 2019; read the full article; Kommersant.ru, July 9, 2019; read the full article in Russian)

Cosmodrome

  • The Proton-M launch vehicle, which, together with the DM-03 upper stage, will bring the Spektr-RG space observatory into orbit, was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Roscosmos website held a broadcast. (Tass.com, July 13, 2019; read the full article)