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April 1, 2018 No.
7410

Russia This Week – Focusing On The Skripals' Poisoning Case – April 1, 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


A blood-soaked Union Jack (Source: Vk.com/politics_today)

 

Video Of The Week


(Source: Russian Defense Ministry)

On March 30, The Russian Defense Ministry published a video of the second launch test of the new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Sarmat, about whose prowess, Putin had boasted in his March 1, 2018 speech.

See the video

Quote Of The Week

Former Kremlin Foreign Policy Advisor Karaganov: Russia Is Lacking A Political Ideology

In an article, titled "The West's Unilateral Cold War", former Kremlin foreign policy advisor Sergey Karaganov, pushed back against a spate of articles describing the current situation as a second Cold War. A Cold War required two sides intent on exporting their ideologies and Russia was not a player:

"This psychological backdrop to the bilateral relationship truly is worse than during the Cold War. But that does not mean that today's tensions amount to a sequel. Such a confrontation would require an ideological component that is decidedly lacking on the Russian side.

"Russia has no intention of waging another Cold War. Although some degree of confrontation with the U.S. does help President Vladimir Putin unite the public while burnishing Russian elites' nationalist credentials, Russia is not an ideologically motivated state. What ideology it does have is based in Russian culture and civilization, which it is not interested in exporting.

"The Kremlin in fact prefers not to proselytize on Russia's behalf. Russia's approach to international affairs has long centered on respect for national interests and sovereignty, and the belief that all peoples and nations should have the freedom to make their own political, economic, and cultural choices. Russia also embraces universal human values such as trust in God, family, and country, as well as self-fulfillment through service to society and nation."

(Globalaffairs.ru, March 21, 2018)


Sergey Karaganov (Source: Karaganov.ru)

Throwback Article

On February 5, 2017, Russian political analyst Liliya Shevtsova published an article titled "Obsession, Or How Russia Got Hooked on America," on her blog in the independent media outlet Echo.msk.ru that provides a contrasting approach to Karaganov. According to Shevtsova, Russia needs not be guided by a desire to export its ideology to cause mischief:

"The Kremlin cannot legitimize its 'great power statehood' by demonstrating its machismo to China – that would be suicidal... To make our 'great power-ness' – and self-confidence – more convincing, we need comparison to a powerful global force, but the kind of force that keeps itself within the confines of responsible behavior, i.e. ignores our naughty tricks."

See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6800, Russian Political Analyst Shevtsova: 'America Possesses Us, Even If It Does Not Want It', February 23, 2017.

Zakharova Dixit

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova is one of the most-quoted Russian officials. She is known for using colorful language when describing Russian foreign policy in her weekly press briefings. In the media firestorm provoked by the Skripal affair Zakharova has played a key role in presenting Russia's case and attempting to turn the table on Russia's critics. She singled out British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for daring to compare Russia's hosting of the FIFA World Cup competition with the notorious 1936 Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany.


(Source: Mid.ru)

Zakharova: Britain Is Deliberately Demonstrating Legal Nihilism; Remember The Mysterious Death Of Whistle-Blowing Scientist David Kelly, Who Exposed London's Lies About The Alleged Presence Of Weapons Of Mass Destruction In Iraq

"Russia has repeatedly addressed the British authorities through official channels with a proposal to establish cooperation in investigating the alleged poisoning of Russian citizens, as well as with requests to provide information on their condition and, of course, the circumstances of the incident. The corresponding notes were sent via the Russian Embassy in London on March 6, 13, 14 and 22.

"Unfortunately, in response to Russia's legitimate demands and constructive proposals seeking to establish cooperation, Britain has remained silent or is simply responding incompetently. The issue is not about factual or even spelling mistakes. It is as if children wrote them. It's about incomprehensibly scribbled notes that are difficult to read or figure out what they are specifically about. The note to Ambassador of Russia to the United Kingdom Alexander Yakovenko, which was supposed to contain a response about the condition of the Skripal family, contains information about the health of the Ambassador himself. To reiterate, this is not about factual error, but either a deliberate desire to introduce a note of absurdity in this situation or the total incompetence of the British authorities.

"We have witnessed Russian representatives being denied access to injured Russian citizens. Thus, the United Kingdom, openly and without scruples, is breaking international legal provisions, in particular, the Consular Convention between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of 1968. Notably, Article 36 of this document contains provisions that 'a) a consular officer shall be entitled within the consular district to communicate with, interview and advise a national of the sending State and may render him every assistance including, where necessary, arranging for aid and advice in legal matters' and 'b) No restriction shall be placed by the receiving State upon the access of a national of the sending State to the consulate or upon communication by him with the consulate.' This text was written in 1968 which can be seen from the language. To reiterate, this document remains valid. As we can see and assume, Britain, in fact, is deliberately demonstrating legal nihilism and is not doing so for the first time.

"Of course, the fact that mysterious poisonings and deaths occur regularly on the territory of this particular state, and its authorities traditionally accuse outsiders of committing them while making ample use of propaganda and, on top of everything, they classify investigations, also leads to certain conclusions. On the one hand, political decisions rather than findings and results of investigations and court hearings are made available to the general public and, on the other hand, the public is not provided with any actual evidence but rather obscure pictures, as were published in the media the other day. As a result, Britain has left behind a grave trail of unsolved deaths of Russian citizens and British subjects.

"Why go far? Here's an example. Remember the mysterious death of scientist David Kelly? It was he who exposed the lies of London about the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"We will soon compile and publish on the website of the Russian Embassy to the UK a list of questions that we have asked the British side. These questions were sent through official channels and were repeatedly asked by Russian Ambassador in London Alexander Yakovenko. London constantly accuses us of not providing information and not proving our innocence. I would like to note that as soon as we saw, heard and read in the media about the so-called Skripal case and learned the facts (we cannot even state that these are facts), which were published in the media, we promptly tried to contact Britain which shunned all contact with the Russian Embassy. Verbal and written requests for information, as well as telephone conversations, which the Russian Embassy in London immediately resorted to, failed to bring even basic information about the incident.

"We were forced to learn from the media the date and the time of the incident, the number of people involved in it, and the level of damage to their health.

"We have certainly seen and continue to observe the 'performance' that was staged and continues to be played out by British politicians for their political purposes and for the political establishment of their country. However, let's face it, how can one possibly get any information when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson, or Prime Minister Theresa May will not even talk with Russia's representatives and only make catchy political statements in their parliament?"

(Mid.ru, March 29, 2018)

Zakharova: What We Are Witnessing Now Is Absolute And Total Fake On A Global Level

"As I said, the media published the same materials that were presented at the closed (closed to Russian representatives) briefing at the UK Embassy in Moscow. I would like to emphasize again that this is yet further evidence that Britain is deliberately excluding Russia from the list of states that were given at least some information.

"Russian representatives were not invited or admitted to the briefing at the UK Embassy.

"Indicatively, 'the charges' that made up the backbone of this presentation were the same accusations that are not based on any real facts or evidence. But the most interesting point is that the number of grievances expressed by our British colleagues against the Russian Federation is growing at a rapid rate. I would like to show you some slides.

"On March 14, propaganda slides from the Foreign Office quoted just eight facts of so-called 'Russian state aggression.' Let me repeat that this was published by the UK Foreign Office on March 14. There were eight items on which Britain had grievances against the Russian Federation. The materials disseminated at the closed briefing in Moscow contained 12 facts. Only 10 days passed between the two publications. It's obvious inconsistence. What should we talk about? What should we believe and how do we proceed? We do not even analyze the absurdity of these accusations. We are pointing out the quality of the presented information. Apparently, additional accusations against Russia in a historical perspective appeared after consultations with an 'elder brother.'

"The wording in the accusations has also changed. Take Russia's so-called 'aggression' against Georgia in August of 2008. On March 14, Russia was accused of not respecting Georgia's territorial integrity whereas the presentation slides published recently are now accusing Russia of 'invading Georgia.'

"Especially perplexing is the accusation against Russia of hacking into the German Bundestag in 2015 that Britain added to its growing list of grievances. Colleagues, we would like to remind you that we broke into the Bundestag only once, in 1945 while liberating Berlin from the Nazi scourge, and at that time it was called the Reichstag.

"As for the so-called 'Lisa's case' and some disinformation campaign against Germany, we would like to emphasize that this issue was resolved by Moscow and Berlin in a bilateral format. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed the matter during their talks. This was mentioned on the record and officially. As distinct from Britain, Germany conducted a serious investigation of this case when the information appeared. I would like to remind those who were involved in compiling all this nonsense that official representatives from the Russian and German foreign ministries made relevant statements after 'Lisa's case' went through an investigation and the court handed down a verdict on a man who was found guilty. This was the end of this case.

"So why are you involved now in classic disinformation? Let me recall once again that there was a guilty verdict in the German court against a defendant – he actually committed crimes that were thoroughly investigated by German law enforcement.

"In general, it is of course surprising that these materials were presented as highly convincing evidence of Russia's responsibility for the incident in Salisbury. The painted pictures are certainly creative in building an argument and an evidence-based case.

"After we paid attention to the publication of these materials in the media, the British Foreign Office thanked us in its twitter. Can you imagine? Nobody replied to four diplomatic notes. Nobody informed us about the condition of the Russian citizens. We have not been granted any information on the grounds that they do not deem it necessary to communicate with Russian representatives. But we were thanked in the twitter! This is the height of cynicism.

"So you thanked us – fine. And we will thank you, the British Foreign Office, for admitting that these were the materials you distributed at the closed briefing at the UK Embassy for the ambassadors accredited in Moscow. I personally doubted that you would do this, but you did. You admitted that this was the evidence-based case about which U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman spoke in Moscow. I doubt that you did this consciously, like everything you do, all the mistakes you make. I think that you thanked us and admitted that you considered these pictures “convincing evidence” simply by mistake. But you did this and it will remain in your history forever.

"Now that the world has seen this 'convincing evidence,' the propaganda machine, anonymous sources, experts and fake accounts in social media began distributing information that the British Ambassador to Russia presented the main and, this time, indisputable evidence at his briefing.

"I am even afraid to assume what this indisputable evidence of Russia's guilt is if our British colleagues were afraid to quote it in the presence of a Russian representative, who, of course, was not admitted or invited to the briefing. Naturally, what we are witnessing now is absolute and total fake on a global level.

"I would like to say that the propaganda machine is already working at full steam. Yesterday radio stations sponsored by U.S. tax payers gave the floor to experts from analytical centers that are also funded by U.S. taxpayers. They were vying with each other to prove that there is no need to assess this evidence seriously because it is clear as it is.

"One of these experts (let me repeat that he spoke in the U.S. media that is also funded by American money) pondered the following question: Why do we need evidence if so many countries have already supported Britain? He then asked: Do you really think that the whole world consists of idiots whereas only Russia is smart? Note that these words were not uttered by the Russian Foreign Ministry but by an expert from an American analytical center. You know, such things do happen, and this was the case with Iraq when our Western partners – Washington and London – showed a test-tube to the world public. And the whole world believed them because they showed it in the UN Security Council.

"Ten years have passed since then and everyone understands (forgive me for quoting the expert from the Carnegie Foundation) that they were 'the idiots.' Later, they apologized for this for a long time but it is impossible to bring the dead back to life."

(Mid.ru, March 29, 2018)

Zakharova: Royal Official To Boycott The 2018 FIFA World Cup In Russia, But British Officials Attended The Olympic Games in Nazi Germany in 1936

"On March 14, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that officials and members of the Royal Family would not attend the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

"On March 21, answering questions from members of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson agreed with a suggestion that the upcoming FIFA World Cup Russia was comparable to the 1936 Olympic Games in the Third Reich. 'I think that your characterization of what is going to happen in Moscow, the World Cup, at all the venues – yes, I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right,' said Johnson, commenting on the statement.

"Mr. Johnson, what are you talking about? Let us look into this.

"First, what are you talking about – is it sport? If you are talking about sport and the organization of international sporting events, including the Olympic Games, you should admit that the International Olympic Committee at the time officially appreciated the high level at which those Olympic Games were prepared and held.

"We looked into the archives and retrieved messages from Soviet Ambassador Yakov Surits, who reported to Moscow that he agreed with the assessment of the International Olympic Committee regarding the order and the competent organization of the Olympic Games.

"Second, might British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have meant things other than sport and the organization of a sporting event? What was he talking about? One is likely to assume that he was talking about the political situation in Germany at the time and how the British political class saw it.

"We would like to remind Boris Johnson and all Britons, for that matter, of who officially represented Britain at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. We managed to find an official brochure, 'Guests of Honor at the XI Olympic Games,' which was published in Germany in 1936. I am holding it in my hand. Frankly, I feel disgust whenever I have to hold anything relating to that period, events and, even more, political situation – it is a kind of 'greeting' from the past. However, I had to read it.

"So, who represented Britain at the 1936 Olympic Games?

1. Lord Portal of Laverstoke, Chairperson of the British Olympic Association;

2. Captain Evan Hunter, O.B.E., Secretary of the British Olympic Association;

"Britain's representatives at the International Olympic Committee:

1. Lord Aberdare

2. Lord Burghley, Marquess of Exeter

3. Sir Noel Curtis Bennett;

"International Sporting Federations:

1. William Jones, Secretary of the International Basketball Federation;

2. Sir William P. Burton, President of the International Yacht Racing Union;

3. Major Heckstall Smith, Secretary of the International Yacht Racing Union.

"This means that the above persons attended official events during the Olympic Games, including the opening ceremony, attended stadiums and maintained contact with local authorities in Berlin in 1936.

"Unlike the representatives of the diplomatic corps, who were accredited in Germany at the time and whose responsibility it was to attend the sporting events, the members of the British establishment mentioned in the brochure arrived in Germany of their own free will. I would like to emphasize again that they came to Adolf Hitler in Berlin in 1936 as members of the British establishment, the House of Lords, aristocrats.

"I would like to remind you that Germany had already been 'infected' with its well-known ideology by 1936. I will not talk about the political atmosphere that prevailed then. But I would like to remind you that the system of concentration camps for the opponents of the Nazi regime, asocials, convicts and other categories of citizens had already been created by that time and the so-called 'Nuremberg' race laws had been enacted.

"Importantly, until 1952, when Finland hosted the Summer Olympics, the Soviet Union did not take part in the Olympic Games. The USSR also ignored the Olympic Games in Berlin. There were a number of political and ideological reasons why Soviet athletes did not take part in the Olympic Games at the time. One reason for this was that the International Olympic Committee refused to establish direct contact [with the Soviet Union] but it appreciated the organization of the Olympic Games in Berlin. The USSR National Olympic Committee was established on April 23, 1951. I will not delve deeply into the history of these events, you can do it yourself.

"Mr. Johnson, do you not find it shameful and, as you like to say, 'emetic' that so many British officials attended the opening ceremony of the 1936 Olympic Games? What were all those respectable British sporting functionaries and lords doing as Hitler's guests? Tell your countrymen about this."

(Mid.ru, March 29, 2018)

Zakharova: 'Mr. Johnson, Have You Ever Read Crime And Punishment To The End Or You Stopped Reading At The Beginning?'

"UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, speaking on March 28, compared the so-called 'Skripals affair' with actions described in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment. 'It's rather like the beginning of Crime and Punishment in the sense that we are all confident of the culprit – and the only question is whether he will confess or be caught,' Boris Johnson said in his speech published on the official website of the UK Foreign Office.

"Mr. Johnson, have you ever read Crime and Punishment to the end or you stopped reading at the beginning?

"Since you evoked Fyodor Dostoyevsky, then let us turn to the image and thoughts of magistrate (prosecutor) Porfiry Petrovich, who, unlike you, investigated the murder of a pawnbroker and her sister in a very meticulous and scrupulous way. We, unlike, you, have read Dostoyevsky and we love him and know him. 'From a hundred rabbits you can't make a horse, a hundred suspicions don't make a proof, as the English proverb says, but that's only from the rational point of view – you can't help being partial for after all a lawyer is only human.'

"This was a citation from Dostoyevsky translated into English especially for Boris Johnson: 'From a hundred rabbits you can't make a horse, a hundred suspicions don't make a proof.' Boris, read Dostoyevsky. It will be good for you. 'But you will ask me: Supposing you are certain of your proofs? Goodness me, batyushka! You know, perhaps as well as I do, what proofs are – half one's time, proofs may be taken either way; and I, a magistrate, am, after all, only a man liable to error. Now, what I want is to give to my investigation the precision of a mathematical demonstration – I want my conclusions to be as plain, as indisputable, as that twice two are four.' That is also from Dostoyevsky – the words of Porfiry Petrovich.

"At this point, let me remind you again that the UK, in defiance of all international standards, quite hastily accused Russia of involvement in a poisoning without any investigation or proofs. Up to now, London has not presented any evidence, nor has it given any concrete picture of what happened. If you have any specific facts, present them.

"We have heard multiple accusations against Russia of poisoning its own citizens, of using a toxic combat agent; a large-scale political and media campaign was unleashed. I would like to stress again that Russia has nothing to do with this incident and that it has not received any official information from London.

"While drawing literary parallels, a better candidate for the role of Rodion Raskolnikov is former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who made a decision to launch an aggression against Iraq in 2003 on the pretext that it had weapons of mass destruction. And everyone knew that Iraq had no such weapons. Later, Tony Blair apologized, repented and confessed. Let me remind you what Mr. Blair said: 'I will take full responsibility for any mistakes – without exception or excuse. I will express my profound regret at the loss of life [during the operation in Iraq] … I will pay tribute to our Armed Forces.'

"Mr. Johnson, will you have the strength and the courage to repent for having no proof whatsoever of Russia's alleged involvement in the poisoning that took place on British territory?"

(Mid.ru, March 29, 2018)

Zakharova: Links Between The Scientific Potential Of The Czech Republic In Chemical Research And Development And The Expulsion Of Russian Diplomats

"We noted a large number of materials in the Russian and Czech media which, among other things, touch on expelling our diplomats from the Czech Republic. The statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry that mentioned the Czech Republic among those countries that might have produced chemical poisoning agent Novichok is quoted as the reason for that. There were a lot of insinuations and official statements on the subject.

"Given the heightened interest in this subject and, in general, in the Skripal affair, I would like to note again that a memo clarifying the actual situation in the 'Skripal case' posted on the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry on March 21, says the following: 'Clarifications are due as to why Russia was absolutely unfoundedly accused of being the perpetrator in the Skripal case at a time where activities under the conventional Western name Novichok were conducted in the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden and the Czech Republic. The achievements of these countries in creating new toxic agents of this type are mentioned in more than 200 open sources from NATO countries.' This is our official position. They began to draw conclusions about the culprits. There were no accusations, as we stated in this room. There were facts. We were asked questions, including through the media, about materials in open sources. Let's figure out what we are talking about specifically.

"This is not a secret or a revelation. It is absolutely basic information for those who know the history of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation (WTO). For a long time, Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic, possessed and continues to possess a highly developed chemical industry. The scientific potential in this area was in high demand back when Czechoslovakia was a WTO member. At that time, as part of that organization, Prague had a special responsibility in the sphere of chemical protection within the Eastern Bloc.

"Various media sources (you can find these materials) have published information on this subject, which say that after the dissolution of the WTO, the Czech scientific potential in this field was called upon by its new Western partners, and ultimately, in a sense, inherited by NATO. The chemical defense unit of the Czech army has performed special missions in the Middle East on several occasions. In particular, Czech service personnel were in Iraq and provided relief to the use of weapons of mass destruction in Kuwait. This is absolutely open information.

"Media publications about the activities of the research centers in the Czech Republic, which carry out research programs on chemical warfare agents, allow experts to conclude that nerve agents have an important place in these studies and are named Novichok under the Western classification.

"This research is led by the Department of Toxicology and Military Pharmacology of the Faculty of Military Health Sciences of the Defense University of the Czech Republic, the Institute for Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction at the same University, and the Defense against Weapons of Mass Destruction Section of the Military Research Institute. The 31st Regiment of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense of the Czech Army closely cooperates with these entities, which is tasked, among other things, with providing the necessary data on the use of chemical warfare agents obtained during the stay of the Czech military in the Middle East. To reiterate, these are materials that are readily available online. There is an official reaction to specific facts, for which you can contact the Czech authorities.

"The most ambitious research projects on chemical warfare agents are conducted by the above department, the staff of which is using unique research equipment of its own design intended solely for studying the consequences of nerve agents. The lab complex includes high-tech equipment to study disorders in the nervous system and organic tissues as a result of toxicological damage to living organisms by chemical agents.

"The development of antidotes as well as the 'binding substances' and enzymes to absorb components of the nerve agents until the moment they damage vital organs represent a separate area of research by Czech toxicologists.

"This research work is carried out by the Czech specialists in close cooperation with the specialized organizations of NATO countries. As a result of these studies, Czech researchers were awarded grants from the NATO Science Committee three times recently. US military specialists also participated in the work of Czech research centers.

"Notably, the NATO Centre against Weapons of Mass Destruction in the town of Vyskov, South Moravia, is the leading research center of the alliance in this sphere. The center opened on November 22, 2007 at the Czech Institute for Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction of the Defense University. Reportedly, 63 specialists from eight NATO countries, namely, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, formed the core of this Centre during the initial period of its activities. This year, military specialists from Canada, who already carry out a number of joint programs with the Czech Republic, are supposed to join the Centre's projects. It remains absolutely unclear, however, whether the Centre is accountable to the Czech authorities both with respect to its own developments, and in the context of the materials at its disposal, including, perhaps, the unaccounted-for warfare agents. Does this Internationale on warfare agent development say anything when we are told about solidarity? That, strictly speaking, is what it is based on, among other things.

"On March 23, the Czech Military Science Medical Journal (we love reading newspapers), with reference to numerous Western sources, including scientific publications, published a piece containing detailed information about a nerve agent classified in Western countries as Novichok. According to the article, the Novichok family agents include more than 100 structural variants. Clearly, the ease of the Czech chemists with regard to specific information about Novichok class agents, possible production processes, and the symptoms and the consequences of their use testifies to wide availability of this information and calls into question the assertions of the British side about Russia's exclusive possession of the relevant technology and designs.

"On the same day, another Czech publication, Lidove Noviny, published an article which, with reference to Czech scientists (of course, on condition of anonymity), assumed that the research centers in the Czech Republic, in strict secrecy, could be developing Novichok-type chemical warfare agents. However, the source expressed certain reservations that such activities should have been aimed at creating effective methods of protection against toxic agents. Are there goals other than protection?

"So, nobody blamed or is blaming Prague. Unlike our British colleagues, we have never come up with any charges, especially in such a way. We are only saying that this is not propaganda, not Russian media, or social media, but Czech publications which have a long track record. The media space has a large number of materials confirming the high scientific potential of the Czech Republic in the area of chemical research, and this must be taken into account."

(Mid.ru, March 29, 2018)

Zakharova On Mikhail Lesin's Death

During the briefing, Zakharova also talked about the death of former Russian Minister of Press, Presidential Advisor, and ex-Head of Gazprom-Media Holding Mikhail Lesin, in his Dupont Circle hotel room, in Washington DC, on November 5, 2015. The Russian MFA Spokesperson said that she was "puzzled" to read in U.S. media articles stating that Lesin was murdered and that there is a 'Russian trail' in his assassination.

British expert Christopher Steele reported in Buzzfeed that Lesin did not die due to an accident caused by "excessive consumption of alcohol" (as the U.S. government stated), but he was bludgeoned to death on the eve of a planned meeting with the U.S. Justice Department. (Read "Christopher Steele's Other Report: A Murder In Washington", March 27, 2018)

Zakharova said:

"We have seen new articles and statements in the U.S. media regarding the death of former Russian Minister Mikhail Lesin in Washington on November 5, 2015. We are puzzled by this renewed speculation.

"Claims are made again that he was murdered and that there is a 'Russian trail'. Such claims are based on the statements by well-known British expert Christopher Steele, who has compiled a dossier on U.S. President Donald Trump.

"The fact that Christopher Steele is a former British intelligence officer renders the matter even more interesting, remarkable and amusing. The British secret services are famous for their provocation techniques. There are TV series on the topic and also James Bond films which grew into the Austin Powers series. Shifting the blame for their operations onto others is their signature style.

"According to the U.S. official forensic investigation, Mikhail Lesin's death was caused by an accident. There is nothing more to say because the case materials are confidential. But if U.S. law enforcement agencies have new information, we believe they should notify the Russian side first of all since it concerns a Russian citizen. I would like to say that as of now no one has contacted the Russian side about this issue."

(Mid.ru, March 29, 2018)


Mikhail Lesin (Source: Rt.com)

In The News:

The Skripals' Case

Reactions To The West's Expulsions Of Russian Diplomats Over The Skripals' Poisoning; Russian Intellectual Lukyanov: This Is A Real And Full-Scale Cold War

Moscow delivered on its warning that it would take retaliatory measures against the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats by 18 European Union states as well as by the United States and Canada. On March 26, the State Department announced the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from its bilateral mission to the U.S. and its mission to the United Nations, and ordered the closure of the Russian Consulate in Seattle. The expulsion was a punitive step taken after former Russian double agent Sergey Skripal was poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury, the UK.

Russian FM Lavrov announced the measures against the US. "Literally in these minutes the US ambassador [Jon] Huntsman has been summoned to our ministry, where my deputy Sergey Ryabkov, articulated to him the contents of the measures in relation to the US, they include the expulsion of an analogous number of diplomats… and our decision to revoke agreement to the functioning of a general consulate in St. Petersburg.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a press release following the Huntsman-Ryabkov meeting saying that Huntsman had been warned that "in case of further hostile actions against Russian diplomatic missions and consulates in the United States, Russia will take additional measures against the personnel and property of the US Embassy and consulates general in Russia. It is recommended that the US authorities, who are promoting and encouraging this defamation campaign against Russia, come to their senses and stop their unreasonable actions aimed at destroying bilateral relations.

The tit for tat expulsions were preceded by harsh Russian condemnations of the original expulsions. Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov condemned the measures and accused the Trump Administration of reverting to the course of the Obama Administration. Antonov also accused Washington of emotional deafness" since the measures against Moscow were taken while Russia was in mourning for the 64 victims, 41 of them children, of the fire at the Winter Cherry mall in the Siberian city of Kemerovo. "On this grim day of tragedy in Kemerovo we have seen official Washington stay emotionally deaf, indifferent and inconsiderate. They have simply decided to make it even more painful," said Antonov.

The Russian MFA called the expulsion of Russian diplomats by Western countries a "provocative gesture of the so-called solidarity of these countries with London." Furthermore, the Russian MFA accused London of having initiated a worldwide campaign to spread the "presumption of Russia's guilt."

Commenting on the U.S. measures, Moscow-based Russian Strategic Studies Institute (RISS) expert, Igor Pshenichnikov, said that Washington is joining the "theater of the absurd" and the "circus" orchestrated by London in the international arena, while pushing the situation into a dead end.

See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7407, Reactions To West's Expulsions Of Russian Diplomats Over The Skripals' Poisoning; Russian Intellectual Lukyanov: This Is A Real And Full-Scale Cold War, March 30, 2018.

Russian Embassy In The UK: The Secrecy Of The Salisbury Investigation Demonstrated The Weakness Of The British Position

The following is the Russian Embassy in London's answer to a question from the media on expulsions of Russian diplomats from a number of countries. According to the Embassy, the Skripals' poisoning is a set up by Britain with clear short-term goals: to compensate for the loss of international influence by assuming the leading role in the 'containment' of Russia, and to divert public attention away from the lackluster results in the Brexit talks.

Q: "The British government is proud of having mobilized some Western partners to expel Russian diplomats in a show of support. How do you assess this coordinated Western policy?"

Russian Embassy: "For us in London, such a hostile step was not unexpected. The secrecy of the Salisbury investigation and the refusal to provide the international community with any information supporting the accusations against Russia have demonstrated not only the weakness of the British public position, but also the urgent need to give it a veneer of international legitimacy. The only way to achieve that was to seek 'solidarity' within the Western bloc. Solidarity has been expressed, but no facts have been produced – otherwise they would have been made public in Brussels.

"Our contacts with countries outside the bloc show that the unfounded accusations made by London have been met with a good deal of wariness and mistrust. And even within the bloc, a number of countries would like to see at least some piece of evidence to support the British scheme. This is only understandable. Memories are fresh of the 2003 Iraq intervention and the unexplained death of David Kelly, the scientist who publicly exposed the lie of the British government on the existence of WMD in Iraq (by the way, the investigation files are still classified). Then came Libya [the ouster of Qaddafi] and the support for Jihadis [demands for Assad's removal] in Syria.

"Unfortunately, we are witnessing yet another political provocation based on pure assumptions. Furthermore, the existing international legal mechanisms, such as the OPCW, are being used in a selective and opaque way.

"This is not the first time Russia is subjected to obstructionist policies by the Western bloc. The latest example were the sanctions introduced after the coup in Ukraine and the self-determination of Crimea. Today, London is trying to roll a new wave. The short-term goals are clear: to compensate for the loss of international influence by taking up the leading role in 'containing' Russia, and to divert public attention away from the not-so-successful Brexit talks. The problem is that in the longer run, we are witnessing quite a dangerous trend in Western policy not only towards Russia, but the world at large."

(Rusemb.org.uk, March 26, 2018)

The Russian Embassy In The UK: Why Is The UK So Keen To Keep The Relevant Information Secret?

The Russian Embassy Press Officer in the UK responded to questions on statements by Prime Minister Theresa May imputing responsibility for the Skripals' poisoning:

Q: "Could you comment on yesterday's statement that the Prime Minister made in the House of Commons, namely that British authorities are 'quite clear that Russia was responsible' for the Salisbury poisoning? Is this a hardening of the British position in comparison to her statement of 14 March, according to which it was 'highly likely' that Russia was responsible?"

Russian Embassy: "We have taken note of Prime Minister's statement. Nuances may change, but the most important thing remains the same. Even if Mrs. May said that she was absolutely sure that Russia was responsible for the incident in Salisbury, she would have to present all evidence to Russia, the international community and the British public. This is the opinion of almost 160 countries which are not members of the Western bloc. It is obvious that no one in the wider world would take British words for granted."

Q: "The Prime Minister also said that she had identified 21 versions of the Salisbury incident put forward by Russia. What is your comment to that?"

Russian Embassy: "As one would expect, the topic is widely discussed in Russia, including on TV and in printed media. In the absence of any picture of the events coming from the UK police, and given that Britain is refusing to provide samples and to cooperate with Russia, including within the OPCW, Russian experts are at a loss.

"A further discussion was provoked by the interview by Porton Down Chief Executive Gary Aitkenhead who indirectly confirmed that the secret lab possesses the poisonous agent A-234 and the antidotes that were, admittedly, administered to the Skripals and Sgt Bailey.

"In these circumstances, it is only natural that various scenarios are being analyzed. There may be more than 21 of them. By the way, this only confirms the openness of the Russian society and the independence of Russian media, which Prime Minister May wrongly confuses with the Russian state. Given the lack of official information, every Russian, just like every Briton, is entitled to their own version of events.

"Let's also not forget that at least 5 different versions of the poisoning have been 'leaked' by the police to British media: the Skripals were either poisoned in a pub, or in a restaurant, or in their car, or by putting the chemical into Ms. Skripal's suitcase, or by smearing their door handle. To see Russia being accused of spreading false rumors in this context is rather surprising.

"As regards the official Russian attitude, it has been voiced by representatives of the Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry, including the aide-memoire on technical aspects of the case that was circulated to ambassadors in Moscow and in London.

"It is worth adding that many theories also surround the death of another Russian national, Nikolay Glushkov. Here too, Britain refuses to fulfill its international obligations and does not provide us with any information.

"These cases raise the question, why is the UK so keen to keep the relevant information secret. Are the authorities again following the script of classifying the circumstances of murders of Russian nationals within British territory?"

(Rusemb.org.uk, March 27, 2018)

Russian Ambassador To The U.S.: Today, Russian Diplomats Are Leaving The U.S., But They Are Not U.S. Enemies; We Are Destined To Become Friends Again

On March 31, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov commented on the expulsion of the Russian diplomats. Antonov stated:

"Today dozens of our colleagues – Russian diplomats – are leaving the United States of America. They are not U.S. enemies.

"The U.S. authorities have expelled American friends. Our diplomats were developing cooperation between Russia and the United States in different areas, among which are business, science, culture, space exploration and joint search for prisoners of war and missing in action.

"This choice is unfortunate.

"We are still confident that only close interaction between our countries can help maintain international strategic stability and find mutually beneficial solutions to global and regional challenges.

"Relations between ordinary people should not suffer. We will do everything in our capacity to make sure that Americans have zero problems with trips to Russia. Once Americans visit our country – they will understand why we love it so much and why we are so proud of our homeland.

"Nevertheless, we will keep on telling Americans more about Russia and helping them discover our history, culture, achievements in space and modern technological breakthroughs.

"We want everybody to understand that we are destined to become friends again."

(Russianembassy.org, March 31, 2018)

Read More:

  • Yulia Skripal is "improving rapidly" and no longer in a critical condition, four weeks after the Salisbury poisoning, the hospital has said. (Bbc.com, March 29, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that the UK will be at the forefront of international effort to stand up to those who threaten the rules-based system. (Gov.uk, March 29, 2018; Read the full statement)
  • NATO expels seven Russian diplomats and denies accreditation to three more. 'This sends a clear message to Russia that there are costs and consequences for its unacceptable and dangerous pattern of behavior.' (Independent.co.uk, March 27, 2018; See the video)
  • British PM Theresa May: 'largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history' – video (Theguardian.com, March 26, 2018; See the video)
  • The recent remarks by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, in which he compared Russia to the fictional protagonist of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, is a part of the no-holds barred Russia-bashing campaign, Chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky told reporters. (Tass.com, March 29, 2018; Read the full article)
  • On March 29, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Theresa May both agreed on the need to continue to work together to counter increased Russian aggression, the British minister's office said. (Sputniknews.com, March 29, 2018)
  • The opposition Alternative for Germany (AfD) party criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to expel Russian diplomats without obtaining firm proof of Russian involvement in the Skripal poisoning first. (Sputniknews.com, March 28, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Serbian president tells Putin that Belgrade will not expel Russian diplomats (Tass.com, March 28, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Austria is prepared, if asked, to act as a broker between Russia and the West in the spat over the Salisbury attack, the nation's Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said. (Sputniknews.com, March 29, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Vienna refused to expel Russian diplomats not because it feared reprisal, but because it stands for open dialogue, Austria's foreign minister said, decrying the UK's attempts to lure the country into taking "certain measures." (Rt.com, March 29, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Britain to review visas issued to 700 wealthy Russians (Rt.com, March 28, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Iceland Announces Diplomatic Boycott of 2018 World Cup in Russian (Sputniknews.com, March 26, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Kremlin: Diplomatic boycott of FIFA World Cup by some countries won't affect championship (Tass.com, March 28, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Viktor Yushchenko, himself poisoned in 2004, says expelling diplomats is a start but military action against Russia may be needed. (News.sky.com, March 28, 2018; Read the full article)

Deadly Fire In Kemerovo


(Source: Sergei Bubylev / TASS)

On March 25, the Winter Cherry shopping center in the Siberian city of Kemerovo caught fire, killing at least 64 people, 41 of them children.

On March 30, it was reported that the Russian police detained a state official, taking into custody Tanziliya Komkova, the head of the region's building inspection office. The independent media outlet Meduza.io reported that Komkova "allegedly allowed the mall to operate without oversight at the site of a confectionary factory." Meduza.io also reported that the police detained six people who worked at the shopping center.

(Meduza.io, March 30, 2018)

On March 27, the Moscow Times reported that thousands of Russians in more than twenty cities demonstrated in spontaneous vigils to honor the victims of the Kemerovo tragedy. The Moscow Times wrote: "During the ten-hour protest, residents of Kemerovo gathered in front of a local government building, with many claiming that the authorities were hiding the full scale of the tragedy.

"Blocked from getting too close by riot police, residents carried signs that read 'Corruption kills' and 'We are all trapped in this zoo.' When they were greeted by several local officials, they responded with shouts of 'murderers' and 'resign.' Some demanded that President Vladimir Putin step down, too."

(Themoscowtimes.com, March 27, 2018)

Reactions To The Fire In Kemerovo

Meduza.io compiled a list of reactions to the deadly fire in Kemerovo.

Below are excerpts from the Meduza.io's compilation:

Rossiya 1, "Evening With Vladimir Solovyov"

"Vladimir Solovyov and his guests discussed safety violations in the construction and operation of the Winter Cherry shopping center in Kemerovo, and concluded that the deadly fire deserved to be called a 'premeditated mass murder.' Having identified the villains, the panel noted Vladimir Putin's heroic role in investigating the disaster, and condemned partisan attempts by "the opposition" to exploit the tragedy. A few examples follow:"

Federation Council member Elena Mizulina:

"I would like to express my condolences and offer my support to our leader, Mr. Vladimir Putin. [...] For him, this is a stab in the back. It's really a terrible shock! He went there [to Kemerovo, on March 27] for good reason. Because he's doing incredible things today for Russia, defending Russia on the foreign stage, and carrying out incredibly powerful reforms at home. [...] And suddenly — such bungling! It's a stab in the back! He doesn't have time to be looking over his shoulder constantly to see how people are fulfilling his breakthrough decisions. [...] He is our spiritual warrior. He is strong. But he also needs our support!"

Vladimir Solovyov, host:

"Politicization is very dangerous. It leads to something else entirely. When a crowd is hooting and hollering, you need to realize that this is a crowd you can't talk to anymore. When citizens want to talk, when they come up with demands — that's their right. When a crowd demands blood and doesn't give a damn about the facts or about anything else, and just says 'hand somebody over,' then we're no longer talking about civics. At that point, it's just an effort to stage another Maidan [a revolution a la Ukraine]! This cannot be allowed.

"Unfortunately, they couldn't resist today at Pushkin Square [at Tuesday's grassroots memorial event in Moscow]. People funded by [former oil tycoon Mikhail] Khodorkovsky, plus that multiple-felon nowhere non-candidate [Alexey Navalny] and his associates, of course, started chanting political slogans. These people are even trying to turn the public's grief into one of these political protests! In other words, there's nothing sacred to these people!"

(Meduza.io, March 28, 2018; Read the full article)

Commenting on the demonstrations, speaker of the Russian Duma Vyacheslav Volodin said that the reports circulating of exaggerated death toll numbers were inspired by foreign countries with a view to fomenting protests. "It's obvious that there were provocations in this story. We all know that [the fake news items] were injected from abroad, including from Ukraine… As a result, began to reach the understanding that no one lied to anyone, but at the same time they manipulated people. They did that very skillfully from abroad."

(Ria.ru, March 29, 2018)

State Duma deputy Adalbi Shkhagoshev accused the CIA and the State Department of stirring up social protests, in order to promote a color revolution in Russia. Shkhagoshev said: "American intelligence services demonstrate their old habits adapted to new conditions. The State Department and the CIA by trying to implement the 'color revolution' scenario in our country demonstrate the same signature that was utilized back in the early 1990s in the Caucasus region… By now, more than 20 years have passed, but this dirty signature is manifest. It's not changing - the only thing that changes is a technology, currently they actively exploit the social media."

(Ria.ru, March 29, 2018)

Read More:

  • 'Our children were burning, and we just watched' A fire at a shopping center in Russia kills at least 64 people. Meduza reports from Kemerovo. (Meduza.io, March 26, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Many people in Kemerovo and other cities across Russia don't believe the official death toll announced for Sunday's fire at the Winter Cherry shopping center. Victims' relatives and others say there were far more than 64 fatalities, and they are accusing the authorities of trying to conceal all the facts. (Meduza.io, March 27, 2018; Read the full article)
  • A regional court in Kemerovo has sanctioned the arrest of the security guard at the Winter Cherry shopping center who is being blamed for mishandling the mall's fire alarm system. (Meduza.io, March 27, 2018; Read the full article)
  • The Russian network television didn't interrupt Sunday's programming to report on a deadly shopping-center fire. (Meduza.io, March 26, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Internet users have noticed unusually large numbers of “dislikes” on videos related to Sunday's deadly fire at the Winter Cherry shopping center in Kemerovo, recalling the orchestrated campaigns on YouTube against videos like those by Alexey Navalny that criticize or embarrass the government. Activists on social media have also discovered that many of the unkind comments left on videos from Kemerovo were written by so-called "Kremlin bots." (Meduza.io, March 26, 2018; Read the full article)
  • 'Children die every day. Many have AIDS.' How Russian officials responded to the deadly fire at a shopping mall in Kemerovo. (Meduza.io, March 27, 2018; Read the full article)

Russian Presidential Election Postmortems

The observer of "Kommersant FM" and the editor-in-chief of the online project "Snob" Stanislav Kucher stated:

"The transformation of the president from a public servant into an autocrat is our common handiwork. Actually, I don't know who did more for Putin's successive triumph – his supporters or political opponents, the so-called opposition. Failing to agree and unite for 18 years, Putin's opponents discredited themselves and the very idea of a real opposition, and by March 2018 they degenerated into exactly what we saw in the so-called TV debates. If I were Putin, I would immediately bestow state awards upon them all– at the Kremlin...

"Everything is clear for at least the next six years. Moreover, authoritarian regimes of this type do not impede the emigration of dissidents, but, on the contrary, encourage it."

(Kommersant.ru, March 19, 2018)

News In Brief:

  • Who are the allies of Vladmir Putin and Russia in Germany? Although the German government is clearly oriented toward the West, Germany often plays the mediator with Russia, and business interests also encourage tight connections. DW looks at Russia's best friends in Germany. (Dw.com, March 28, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Qatar Airways to buy stake in Russia's Vnukovo airport. (Aljazeera.com, March 26, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Toward a strategic alliance between Egypt and Russia. (Valdaiclub.com, March 26, 2018; Read the full article)
  • On March 21, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, in Tokyo. Lavrov's visit to Japan was a major part of preparations for the Russian-Japanese summit to be held in St. Petersburg in late May 2018. (Valdaiclub.com, March 27, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Statement by Commissioner Johannes Hahn criticizing the extension of e-declaration obligations to civil society in Ukraine as an anti-democratic action incompatible with Ukraine's aspirations to join the EU. (Ec.europa.eu, March 28, 2018; Read the full statement)
  • Marko Djuric, the director of the Serbian Government's Office for Kosovo and Metohija, was arrested in northern Kosovska Mitrovica. Members of Kosovo's special police parked their armored cars near the police station, and then led Djuric, whose hands were held behind his back, out and into the station, while the cameras were rolling. (B92.net, March 26, 2018; Read the full article; Read also "They dragged me like a dog; but they will not humiliate us", March 27, 2018)
  • The Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said that his Russian counterpart condemned in the strongest terms the assault on Marko Djuric, the storming into northern Kosovo and the beating of Serbs. (B92.net, March 28, 2018; Read the full article)
  • "I love Russia - because I love Serbia," says Serbian FM. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late on Thursday presented a Russian state decoration, the Order of Friendship, to his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic. (B92.net, February 22, 2018; Read the full article)
  • One day after the Croatian president invited her Russian counterpart to visit Zagreb, the country's PM discussed introducing sanctions against Russia. (B92.net, March 23, 2018; Read the full article)
  • Romanian MPs moot union with Moldova during joint session of parliament (Romania-insider.com, March 27, 2018; Read the full article)