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
In The News:
The Skripal Case
Putin: Petrov And Boshirov Are Civilians Not Agents
On September 12, During the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the Russian President Valdimir Putin was asked about the Skripal case, and he stated that the Kremlin knows the two suspects, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, that were identified by the UK as the two Russian agents, who poisoned former Russian military intelligence (GRU) Colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
It is worth noting that, on September 10, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that the Kremlin had no information about the two men. (Tass.com, September 10, 2018; read the full article)
Sergei Brilyov: "In the past three to four days, at least two theories have been advanced as to what happened to those two young men, photographed in the United Kingdom in connection with the 'Skripal case.' Either they deliberately poked their faces towards the camera in order to be photographed, or they are completely unprofessional to have their images captured by all the cameras. Perhaps you have a third theory?"
Vladimir Putin: "Actually, we have, of course, taken a look at these people. We already know who they are, and we have located them. I hope they will show up and tell everyone about themselves. This would be better for everyone. I assure you that there is nothing special or criminal here. We will see shortly."
Sergei Brilyov: "Are they civilians?"
Vladimir Putin: "Of course, they are civilians."
Sergei Brilyov: "All right, we will wait."
Vladimir Putin: "I would like to address them, so they can hear us today. Let them come to a media outlet and tell everything."
(Kremlin.ru, September 12, 2018)
Petrov and Boshirov walking in Salisbury. (Source: Rt.com)
RT Editor-in-chief Simonyan's Exclusive Interview With Skripal Case Suspects Petrov And Boshirov
Petrov and Boshirov during the RT interview
Simonyan's facial expression during the interview.
The day after, on September 13, RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan spoke to the two men the UK named as suspects in the Skripal poisoning, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.
Below are excerpts from the interview transcript:
SIMONYAN: "The guys we all saw in those videos from London and Salisbury, wearing those jackets and trainers, it's you?"
PETROV: "Yes, it's us."
SIMONYAN: "What were you doing there?"
PETROV: "Our friends have been suggesting for quite a long time that we visit this wonderful city."
SIMONYAN: "Salisbury? A wonderful city?"
SIMONYAN: "What makes it so wonderful?"
BOSHIROV: "It's a tourist city. They have a famous cathedral there, Salisbury Cathedral. It's famous throughout Europe and, in fact, throughout the world, I think. It's famous for its 123-meter spire. It's famous for its clock. It's one of the oldest working clocks in the world."
SIMONYAN: "So, you travelled to Salisbury to see the clock?"
PETROV: "No, initially we planned to go to London and have some fun there. This time, it wasn't a business trip. Our plan was to spend some time in London and then to visit Salisbury. Of course, we wanted to do it all in one day. But when we got there, our plane couldn't land on its first approach. That's because of all the havoc they had with transport in the UK on March 2 and 3. There was heavy snowfall, nearly all the cities were paralyzed. We were unable to go anywhere."
BOSHIROV: "It was in all the news. Railroads didn't work on March 2 and 3. Motorways were closed. Police cars and ambulances blocked off highways. There was no traffic at all – no trains, nothing. Why is it that nobody talks about any of this?"
SIMONYAN: "Did you have that bottle of Nina Ricci perfume which the UK presents as evidence of your alleged crime?"
BOSHIROV: "Don't you think that it's kind of stupid for two straight men to be carrying perfume for ladies? When you go through customs, they check all your belongings. So, if we had anything suspicious, they would definitely have questions. Why would a man have women's perfume in his bag?"
PETROV: "Even an ordinary person would have questions. Why would a man need perfume for women?"
SIMONYAN: "How would it be possible for someone to find any perfume bottle on you?"
BOSHIROV: "I mean, when you go through customs…"
SIMONYAN: "Long story short, did you have that Nina Ricci bottle or not?"
PETROV: "No, of course not."
SIMONYAN: "Speaking of you being straight men, all the footage features you two together. You spent time together, you stayed together, you went for a walk together. What do you have in common that you spend so much time together?"
BOSHIROV: "You know, let's not breach anyone's privacy. We came to you for protection, but this is turning into some kind of an interrogation. You are going too far. We came to you for protection. You're not interrogating us."
Read the full transcript
See the full video
Reactions To Simonyan's Interview With The Two Suspects
Vedomosti: RT Interview Tied To Conditions
Vedomosti wrote that the interview with Petrov and Boshirov on RT was tied to conditions the would not "answer any questions from which it would be possible to derive information on their surroundings, biography, business, friend or anything that would allow the journalists the possibility to 'keep digging'
(Vedomosti.ru, September 13, 2018)
RBC: RT Interview Left Several Questions Unanswered
According to RBC the interview left some questions unanswered:
Where did they work?
Petrov and Boshirov denied that they were GRU operatives you "but refused to disclose information on their workplace and sufficed with a story that they were 'mid-level entrepreneurs' in the fitness industry in the area of sports nutrients."
Why did Petrov and Boshirov twice buy return tickets to Moscow?
This question was not posed to them by the chief editor of RT Margarita Simonyan as to why they bought return tickets from Heathrow airport to Sheremetevo for two consecutive flights on the evening of March 4 and the night of March 5.
Were they giving their real names?
The two affirmed that these were their real names. According to Simonyan, Petrov and Boshirov refused to show their passports on camera.
(Rbc.ru, September 13 2018)
Fotanka: Petrov And Borishov's Passport Files Are Separated Only By 3 Digits
An article published by Fotanka divulges that Petrov and Boshirov's passport files are separated only by 3 digits -1297 and -1294 respectively, proving that the passports were issued at the same time.
Petrov and Boshirov flew to London on March 2 and had return tickets for two consecutive flights from Heathrow to Sheremetyevo on March 4 and March 5. The British authorities believe that two suspects left on March 4.
(Fotanka.ru, September 5, 2018)
Everyday Journal: Putin Regime Does Not Give Birth To Professional Agents
The online paper Everyday Journal published an article by Igor Yakoveko titled, "The Ruble and the World Have Understood Everything The Kremlin Still Hasn't."
Yakovenko wrote that one of the arguments used by official Russia to refute the accusation was that if those accused by the British authorities were really Russian agents they would not have acted in such an unprofessional manner.
Yakovenko replied: "the Putin regime does not give birth to professionals." He noted that they pulled out Skripal's niece from Yaroslavl in the boondocks to Moscow and engaged her in a company producing material for the first channel so she can say a lot of "crap" about her uncle and cousin. She claimed that they had not allowed her to come to London and speak with her relatives and at first announced that her uncle had died and then said how Skripal's daughter Yulia had asked her cousin not to speak in their names and to leave them alone and that Yulia Skripal had died and the person appearing in the British video was a totally different person. There are no questions for this girl and the same goes to the organizers of the provocation.
(Ej.ru, September 7, 2018)
It is worth noting that Victoria Skripal tried to turn her new found notoriety into a political career but failed to win election to the Yaroslavl regional Duma running on the Just Russia party ticket.
(Echo.msk.ru, September 10, 2018)
Victoria Skripal appeared on the 360 channel to voice her suspicions about whether her uncle was still alive and claimed that it was very strange that their home in Salisbury was still standing although the British authorities had promised to demolish it in order to liquidate the remains of the chemical substance.
(Utro.ru, August 29, 2018)
Russian LGBT Rights Activist Alexeyev Hints That Petrov And Boshirov Are a Gay Couple
Nikolay Alexeyev, Russian LGBT rights activist, hinted that Petrov and Boshirov may be a gay couple.
According to Alexeyev, many Russian homosexual couples "manifes their nature" only when travelling abroad.
Alexeyev stressed that Petrov and Boshirov have the right to "lead a life as they want."
(Gazeta.ru. September 13, 2018)
It is worth noting that also Simonyan hinted that Petrov and Borishov are not agents, but a homosexual couple. "Speaking of you being straight men, all the footage features you two together. You spent time together, you stayed together, you went for a walk together. What do you have in common that you spend so much time together?" Simonyan asked.
Boshirov then replied: "You know, let's not breach anyone's privacy. We came to you for protection, but this is turning into some kind of an interrogation. You are going too far. We came to you for protection. You're not interrogating us."
- Russian MFA spokesperson Zakharova: "As you may have seen, in her speech before Parliament, the Prime Minister of Britain Theresa May revealed new information presented by the British police on the Skripal case. The key point of her speech was the statement that investigators had acquired photos and videos depicting two suspects using the chemical agent Novichok, their itinerary in Britain, citizenship, and the names and surnames in the Latin alphabet." (Mid.ru, September 7, 2018; read the full article)
- Russian MFA spokesperson Zakharova: "The British officials are once again focusing their attention on Russia's alleged involvement in the incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury, following a scenario that has become familiar to everyone. Without any documentary support or trustworthy testimonials, they have declared that there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against two Russian nationals and published photos of the two men whose actual nationality is still to be confirmed." (Mid.ru, September 5, 2018; read the full article)
- British Prime Minister Theresa May's charges against the Main Directorate (GU, former Main Intelligence Directorate, GRU) of Russia's General Staff over the Skripals affair are utterly wrong and illustrate well enough that the head of the British Cabinet is in a dead end, the former chief of Russia's federal security agency FSB, member of the State Duma's security and anti-corruption committee, Nikolai Kovalyov, said. (September 5, 2018; read the full article)
- Sergey Mironov, the leader of the “A Just Russia” political party, suggested that Russia should break diplomatic relations with Great Britain. Mironov said: "We should stop counting on our so-called western partners' prudence and [we should stop] waiting until things subside [by themselves]. Britain's recent actions prove that – after London accuses our leadership in planning terror attacks. In this case, acting wise, the diplomatic relations should be broken. When a prime-minister of a country accuses the leadership of another country in planning terror attacks, we have no space to move on." (Ria.ru, September 11, 2018)
Russian State Banker Publicly Insults Former British FM Boris Johnson And Then Apologizes
Andrey Kostin, CEO of the state owned VTB –Bank, standing on stage along with Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, delivered his greetings to students and professors of MGIMO (the foreign ministry run Moscow State Institute of International Relations) said: "I think we are very lucky to have such a minister [Lavrov] – he's rigid enough and flexible enough, clever enough and calm, not a "Mister No" and not a "Mister Yes" – he's exactly what Russia's diplomacy needs. Then Kostin added: "Have a look – excuse me– at the [ugly] freaks in the West, this Johnson type and so forth…"."Hell with him", Kostin also added referring to Johnson.
It should be mentioned that during the statements the student audience in the auditorium, cheered and applauded, while Lavrov himself smiled.
Later, the VTB-Bank press service extended an apology on Kostin's behalf. "Mr. Kostin's emotional statement, delivered at MGIMO, stems from a deep state of disappointment regarding the relations between our countries. Yet, it should not have served as the basis for rude public statements," the statement read.
(Rbc.ru, September 3, 2018)
Presidential spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, has commented on Kostin's statement: "We won't comment on bank's CEO statement, provided that the bank has published its own statement". Yet, added Peskov, "we will long retain in our memory the various words [and statements] expressed by representatives of Britain's leadership, including Mr. Johnson, regarding our president". "On this issue we have a very good memory... no one has apologize to Putin," Peskov added.
(Vedomosti.ru, September 4, 2018)
By the way, Kostin's original remarks were expunged from the official video on the MFA website, though the greetings and Lavrov's questions and answers were left intact.
Putin's Personality Cult
(Source: Hungarian photographer Bela Doka)
A new weekly TV show on Russian state federal TV Rossiya-1, "Moscow, Kremlin, Putin," kicked off.
The new first one-hour long weekly show anchored by Vladimir Soloviev was devoted to Putin's good health, his professionalism and courage. The show is aired on prime time Sunday evening.
Regarding Putin's superb physical health the viewers were told that during his last vacation in Tyva republic (Siberia), he walked 8 kilometers, personally found white mushrooms and saw wild animals.
According to Mikhail Vinogradov, a political expert, the TV channel and anchors want to enhance their own status in the President's eyes, yet when the whole show is devoted to praising this or another person some distortions and absurdities are possible – that was natural for Soviet reality, and currently it's apparently natural to Russian reality.
According to Kirill Martynov, editor of Novaya Gazeta's politics section, this show is yet another attempt to establish a personality cult.
(Echo.msk, September 3, 2018)
On August 25-26, Putin stayed for a weekend in Tyva, Siberia, accompanied by Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the director of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) Aleksander Bortnikov and local officials.
See the video
The liberal independent outlet Znak.com picked up on some odious moments from the show:
Dmitry Peskov during the show:
"Putin not only loves kids, he loves all humans. He is a very humane man". The last phrase was used during Lenin's era.
Peskov also revealed that Putin "immediately reacts" to changing circumstances, works on the text of his speeches by himself, "he is just as human as everyone else", but "he carefully controls his emotions."
Peskov also commented seemingly in jest on the question of what would happen, if Putin encounters a bear in the woods: "Is the bear an idiot or something? If he sees Putin, he will behave himself properly".
(Znak.com, September 3, 2018)
Sergey Dorenko, a leading journalist, who hosted the hard hitting Vremya program in the 1990s only to have the show cancelled when he refused to join Putin's team, wrote in his Telegram channel:
"This weekly show about Putin seems to esthetically unacceptable for Moscow's intelligentsia. The guy, who invented this show, knew full well that he would be shamed and despised. Yet, he knew that nevertheless this show would be necessary, a one which would justify reputational losses. Why? What is the major thing about this show? – It's an oath. This show could be titled 'The Oath'. Yet, haven't the elites sworn allegiance (to Putin) already? They have taken an oath but not everyone [has done so]. They have, but not publicly. They have, but they've forgotten when. So, why now is it that necessary to have absolutely all the elites deliver an oath publicly and repeatedly? Because, now there is a preparation under way for a migration of power, as the result of which power awaits an important reformatting, if I get that right. The migration proceeds under the echoes of [a new] oath. Just try not to deliver your oath, you sons of a bitch".
News In Brief:
- Moscow is ready to continue supplying rocket engines if the United States so desires, the head of Russia's State Space Corporation Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin confirmed. (Tass.com, September 3, 2018; read the full article)
- According to Kommersant, Energomash holding, producer of RD-180 engines used in delivering US rockets to orbit, signed a contract to deliver additional engines to an American client. According to Kommersant's source, Energomash is critically dependent on deliveries of its serial engines to the US since no other country is ready to purchase at least 10 engines in a single contract. Single engine delivery, according to the same source, run counter to Russian interests: the Russian security council asserts than China for example would like to purchase a minimal quantity of the engines in order to create its own analogs. (Kommersant.ru, September 4, 2018; read the full article)
- Commenting on the NATO Trident Juncture 2018 military exercises, planned for October-November in Norway, the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic, Russian MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said: "This demonstration of military potential will unfold in the immediate proximity to Russian borders and has a clear anti-Russian nature. The north of Europe and the Baltic Sea region, formerly calm in military terms, are turning into a testing ground for simulated large-scale combat operations, planting in public opinion the possibility of using the area as a real theatre for military operations." (Mid.ru, August 30, 2018; read the full article)
- Russian FM Sergey Lavrov cooperation between Moscow and Washington on major global issues came to a standstill, he said. "It negatively affects the global situation, which has too many issues that cannot be tackled without cooperation between the two states," Lavrov concluded. (Tass.com, September 13, 2018; read the full article)
- The head of the Russian Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, has charged that US President Donald Trump's zeal to impose additional sanctions for American election meddling indicates that he seeks to profit from the situation for himself and his country and carve out a monopoly on setting cyberspace rules for Washington's benefit. (Tass.com, September 13, 2018; read the full article)