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.
Picture Of The Week– The Oracle Of Google
Google proclaimed Putin the winner of the upcoming elections.Lenta.ru experimented with typing in "Presidential elections 2018 winner" – Google replied with Putin's image.
(Lenta.ru, January 14)
Russian Navy Seeks To Solidify Its Non-Nuclear Deterrent Role
Forming strategic non-nuclear deterrence groups will become the Russian Navy’s priority, the Navy’s Commander-in-Chief Admiral Vladimir Korolyov said.
"The Navy General Command will particularly focus on forming strategic non-nuclear deterrence groups that will include vessels armed with long-range precision weapons, as well as on improving the system of naval bases and ensuring a balanced supply of weapons and munitions," Korolyov said.
The Navy General Command will shortly take steps aimed at further developing the Navy in compliance with the 2018-2027 state weapons program.
"At the current stage, it includes maintaining the combat capabilities of the naval strategic nuclear forces through building Borei-A and Borei-B-class ballistic missile submarines, as well as through developing the potential of the general-purpose naval forces, which requires building green-water and blue-water vessels, modernizing ships suitable for modernization, supplying modern aerial vehicles and coastal missile systems to coastal defense units," Korolyov elaborated.
(Tass.com, January 11, 2017)
Russia To Fight EU WTO Suit On Pork Ban
The European Union has filed a lawsuit with the World Trade Organization against Russia over its ban on European pork, arguing that the food sanctions are politically motivated and have cost farmers (especially in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands) a total of €1.4 billion ($1.7 billion). Moscow banned EU pork products in January 2014, shortly before it annexed Crimea and several months before embargoing all fresh food imports from the EU in retaliation for sanctions over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
The EU says it seeks to reclaim its losses not as a fine but through additional tariffs on Russian imports that would normally be tax-exempt, as well as 15-percent interest on sums recouped from Russia since Moscow’s sanctions.
Maxim Medvedkov, the head of the trade negotiations department for Russia’s Economic Development Ministry, said on January 8 that Moscow has already fulfilled the WTO’s demands regarding the pork supply. “It’s unclear what the basis is for such demands. We believe that the Russian legislation conforms to the arbitrament,” Medvedkov said. “Our response is to call for the creation of a panel to determine if Russia fulfilled the arbitration. Clearly, no retaliatory measures should be introduced without such a determination. At the same time, we will participate in the discussion about the size of the proposed compensation.”
Before Medvedkov’s statement, Russian Senator Sergey Kalashnikov threatened that Russia might leave the WTO altogether if the organization endorses the EU’s lawsuit. Kalashnikov's threat was quickly dismissed by the Economic Development Ministry. Its press service noted:
"Given that Russia’s membership in the WTO provides a predictable and transparent legal framework at external markets, in the context of diversifying Russia’s exports the issue of Russia’s withdrawal from the WTO is not currently being considered by the Russian competent bodies," the ministry said.
(Tass.com, January 8; Meduza.io, January 8)
Medvedkov (r) is not interested in leaving; he just got here (Source: Voanews.com)
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov Assails the US
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who has recently presented himself as a voice for Russian Muslims, lashed out at the U.S. and particularly its Middle East policy:
"There is already no need for any further confirmations that the American intention is to drive the entire Middle East into a war. The US needs hot spots around Russia – so everything should be a raging fire and people should be killing each other. All that happened around Russia as well as in other countries – is hand-made, initiated by the US. Just recently the US has spread their evil tentacles to three frontiers: supporting Syrian opposition, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, stirring up a civil war in Iran. Moreover, [consider] their destructive geopolitics towards Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq and Libya.
"America no longer acts in concealment - it acts openly and brazenly by delivering its "democracy" by blood and fire. The US is dictating its own rules to oil rich Muslim countries – the American desire to get into a possession of nature resources through death of millions of people is clear. The US authorities are discrediting religions, political systems and world order.
"Our President has repeatedly said that the world should not be unipolar. The US military madness should be stopped. Our European partners should understand that Russia stands for fair justice and preserving a life on the Earth. Europe should not be cowardly but should stand united against perfidy– otherwise an increasing number of countries will be witnessing chaos, including countries in Europe. This is not democracy when only one center of power takes the decisions, guided by its own greedy interests.
(T.me/rkadyrov_95, January 7)
The leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party and presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky has slammed a recent US decision to rename a street outside the Russian Embassy in Washington DC in honor of the assassinated dissident Russian politician Boris Nemtsov as a slap at Moscow. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister under then-President Boris Yeltsin, co-chairman of the Parnas party and lawmaker from the Yaroslavl regional legislature, was gunned down in downtown Moscow on February 27, 2015. The liberal opposition believes that the government was behind the murder.
"This is deliberately done to spite us in front of our embassy," said Zhirinovsky who will run in the upcoming March presidential election for the sixth time, told reporters.
While Washington, like any city has the right to name streets after any person, Zhirinovsky insisted on an "objective assessment…There were a lot of crimes committed when he [Nemtsov] was the governor [of Nizhny Novgorod Region]. You should assess what name you give to a square in America’s capital," he said.
On Tuesday, Washington DC’s city council passed a bill on renaming the block in front of the Russian embassy in honor of Nemtsov. Vladimir Kara-Murza, who chairs the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, told TASS the bill was backed unanimously in the first reading and it will be legislatively fast-tracked to ensure it will be officially named once the third anniversary of Nemtsov’s death rolls around on February 27.
(Tass.com, January 10)
Square in Washington to be renamed after Nemtsov with Russian embassy in the background (Source: Khodorkovsky.com)
Mikhail Degtyaryov, who chairs the State Duma Committee for Sports, Tourism and Youth policies, who represents the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia [LDPR] wanted his country to retaliate in kind by changing the official address of the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
Degtyaryov has a specific proposal. He would rename a narrow one-end pass adjoining the American embassy into Severoamerikansky Tupik [North American Dead End] and to change the embassy’s official address to 1 Severoamerikansky Tupik "We can name it Severoamerikansky Tupik [North American Dead End] to commemorate the obsessive U.S. foreign policy and give the embassy a new address that will be 1, North American Dead End."
Degtyaryov said he had drafted letters on the issue to the Moscow Mayor’s Office and the Moscow City Duma.
(Tass.com, January 10)
Aleksandr Konkov, a political expert agreed:
"I believe this is definitely a political affront from those circles who seek a further deterioration in Russian-American relations…. This is definitely a political issue, but it looks like a nasty thing… This nastiness cannot remain unanswered; we will have to retaliate in this or another way."
Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov said that Boris Nemtsov has never been an enemy of Russia but "the current attempt to contrast Nemtsov's figure to the current Russian authorities is totally immoral". The senator added that he believes that Moscow will not undertake retaliatory steps – there is no need for reaction at all. Yet, according to Dzhabarov, the mere fact that the American capital chose to rename the square in front of Russian embassy after Nemtsov testifies that "there are very short-sighted figures sitting in Washington, who want to influence our voters and cause exasperation in Moscow". He added that this is a totally meaningless and useless step.
MP Leonid Slutsky, Chair of the Duma Committee on International Affairs: "( This is) a crude and harsh decision aimed against us. Though this is an internal matter of the US authorities, but they've apparently thought they'd hurt us. They try to hurt us in every domain: to demolish Russia's image in their media and politics. Unfortunately we have to admit that this anti-Russian flywheel, sent spinning by the Obama administration, keeps turning".
Kommersant: Trump Pushes Pakistan Into The Arms Of Beijing And Moscow
Islamabad is suspending large-scale military-technical cooperation with its chief ally, Washington. Pakistan’s unprecedented move came in response to a decision made by US President Donald Trump to freeze aid programs to the South Asian nation, which is accused of failing to honor its allied commitments and aiding and abetting terrorism.
The chill in relations between Washington and Islamabad is nudging Pakistan towards rapprochement with China and Russia, which can eventually result in a change in the balance of power and a redistribution of roles in the Asian region, Dmitry Mosyakov, Director of the Center for South-East Asia, Australia and Oceania Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Kommersant. "Considering that Islamabad needs foreign assistance, it will try to receive it from Moscow and Beijing, which likewise have problematic relations with Washington," he explained.
Meanwhile, Pakistani political scientist Ahsan Chaudhary said in an interview with the paper that, no matter how strong Pakistan’s ties with China and Russia may be, its rapprochement with them has certain limits. In his view, one should not expect relations between the US and Pakistan to cool down dramatically. What we see now is some kind of bargaining rather than any fundamental change in position, he stressed.
However, the basic reason why cooperation between Washington and Islamabad will not be frozen altogether is Pakistan’s role as a transit country for the US and NATO in their operation in Afghanistan. "There is no alternative to this transit. Logistics issues need to be tackled regardless of the formidable and unpredictable statements made by Donald Trump," Ivan Konovalov, Director of the Center for Strategic Trends Studies, told the paper.
(Tass.com/pressreview, January 11)
On January 10, 2018, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov met his Iranian counterpart Muhammad Zarif in Moscow. Following the meeting the MFA published an official commentary accusing the US of possible responsibility for nuclear proliferation in case JCPOA is disrupted:
FM Lavrov defended the Iranians and the JCPOA against American complaints in his opening remarks:
"We note that IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano stated in clear terms that Iran is fully complying with its commitments. We will continue upholding the viability of this program and its major contribution to the consolidation of regional stability and the resolution of the issue of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
The foreign ministry press announcement reinforced these points: "During their conversation, the officials focused on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concerning the Iranian nuclear program in view of the continuing counterproductive US policy in this respect. They reaffirmed their commitment to the stable implementation of the JCPOA and their intentions to comply with the obligations in the plan. They expressed their mutual opinion that the possible disruption of the JCPOA, due to Washington’s policy, would run counter to the goal of maintaining international and regional security and stability, and have a negative effect on multilateral efforts in nuclear non-proliferation."
"The ministers agreed to continue close bilateral contact on this subject. They also addressed several current regional issues, including the situation in Syria."
(Mid.ru, January 10)
Lavrov and Zarif share a lighter moment (Sputnik.com)
Russian Presidential Elections
The Russian side will not invite observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the Russian presidential election in 2018, the head of the State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs Leonid Slutsky told TASS.
"We won’t invite the PACE observers [to the Russian presidential election,]" Slutsky reported. "In conditions when Russia is not participating in the PACE operation for the third year in a row, it is doubtful whether the issue of observers should be placed for discussion at all," he said.
As for inviting observers from other international structures, in particular such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Inter-parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States, "the lists are still being formed," Slutsky added.
State Duma Vice Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy, who is supervising international activity in the lower chamber of parliament, earlier told TASS that Russia would not send its delegation to the PACE session in January, because no amendments protecting the rights of national delegations from discrimination had been introduced to the assembly’s regulation.
According to the law on the Russian presidential election, the incumbent head of state, the Federation Council, the State Duma, the Russian government and the Russian Central Election Commission may send invitations to foreign observers following the publication of a decision setting the election date.
(Tass.com, January 11)
Putin Against Navalny :
During his meeting with editors in chief of major Russian outlets Putin commented on electoral commission's refusal to register Alexei Navalny, perhaps the one opposition figure who could have injected some interest in the proceedings without mentioning his name again. He also took a potshot at the West for "betting on the wrong figure":
"Vladimir Sungorkin: Mr President, thank you for coming to Komsomolskaya Pravda.
"I have a question for you not as the President, but as a presidential candidate. This year, we will have, I think, a record number of those who wish to lead our dear mother Russia. What are your thoughts on the large number of potential candidates? Do they motivate you, or just the opposite? What are your feelings on going up against 15 rivals, I believe?"
Vladimir Putin: "I think it is normal and good. To some degree, the pre-election period always strains society, because, unfortunately, there is also a lot of “foam” bubbling up, but still it is good because it gives people a chance and a reason to speak out, to discuss how different people approach these problems.
"In general, I think it’s useful. It keeps the discussion fresh and sharpens it. The main thing is to do everything according to the law, as well as certain ethical and moral values. This is the most important element; and on the whole these campaigns I have just mentioned, while they have downsides, they still benefit society. This is why I welcome it. I will be glad to see and to hear interesting, elegant and useful proposals for the country’s development."
The editor-in-chief of the Kommersant newspaper Sergei Yakovlev: "Mr President, I would like to continue with the topic of the election.
"Alexei Navalny was not allowed to participate in the election. We immediately heard criticism from Washington and a number of European capitals. I would like to know what you think about this and how you see the situation?
Vladimir Putin: First, I would like to say that no one likes when others interfere with their internal political affairs. Our American friends particularly do not like it. We can see their reaction even to unreliable information on our interference, we can see how sharp the reaction has been, aggressive even, I would say. The experience of American election campaigns shows that they hardly allow anyone in.
"The situation with our media which were promptly labeled foreign agents and their performance impeded, in a pretty aggressive and spiteful way, I would say this speaks exactly to how they react if someone influences the domestic political situation somehow, especially during the pre-election period.
"The fact that they do that themselves, at least make these attempts, is regarded by them as normal, which is absolutely wrong in my view. And if they poke their nose in everything, they should be ready to respond to certain challenges which they actually encourage themselves.
"I would ask you not to take this as if we are interfering with something. We are not going to interfere. I am just stating the fact that nobody likes it when someone interferes with their business yet they are happy to intrude into others’ affairs. This is the first thing that comes to my mind regarding some reactions by the US Congress followed by the Department of State on the fact that someone was not allowed. This is the first instance.
"The second instance: The character you mentioned is not the only one who was banned. For some reason others were not announced. This seems to reveal the US administration and other nations’ preferences regarding who they would like to promote in Russia’s politics and who they would like to see among the country’s leadership, if not the leader. And apparently, these are the people they count on, they rely on. And in this case, they gave themselves away, they would have done better if they had kept silent.
"The key is not who was allowed to run and who was not, because this is standard practice. The key is to understand and to follow the spirit of the law for us inside the country. To understand that any violation of the law, no matter who it is committed by, is intolerable. And that’s it. Including during the election campaign.
Putin meeting with the newspaper editors (Twitter.com)
Putin Calls Kim Jong Un Of North Korea A "Mature Politician":
The Editor-in-Chief of the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper Vladislav Fronin: "Mr President, I have a question about the Korean Peninsula. The new year has brought good news about contacts, trends and possible meetings. At the same time, there is alarming news about nuclear buttons and whose is bigger. What do you think about the developments concerning the Korean Peninsula in the first days of the new year?"
Vladimir Putin: "I think that Kim Jong Un has obviously won this round. He has achieved his strategic goal. He has a nuclear warhead, and now he also has a missile with a global range of up to 13,000 kilometers, which can reach almost any part of the globe, at least in the territory of his potential adversary. And now he wants to clear up, smooth over or calm down the situation.
"He is a shrewd and mature politician. However, we should be realistic, and based on what we have to go on we must act extremely carefully. If we want to achieve the difficult goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, we should do this through dialogue and talks.
"I believe that, however difficult this may seem, we can accomplish this mission if all parties to this process, including the North Koreans, become convinced that their security can be also guaranteed without nuclear weapons.
"This is how I want to reply in conclusion. It is closely connected with your question and the previous question as well. We are discussing the New START Treaty with our American partners. They have suddenly stated, although their intention fits the letter of the treaty, that they want to convert some of their delivery vehicles – aircraft and submarines – together with silos to prevent their use for launching nuclear weapons.
"In principle, this possibility is stipulated in the treaty. But the treaty also says that this is only possible if the other party, in this case Russia, verifies the conversion and is convinced that there is no breakout potential in this, that these silos or aircraft equipment will not be converted back for the use of nuclear weapons.
"We have no proof of this so far. And we are therefore concerned about this. But our dialogue is ongoing. I hope it will be positive.
Putin Scoffs At Rumors That Russia Is Meddling In The Italian Electoral Process:
TASS Director General Sergei Mikhailov: "Mr. President, the elections in Italy are scheduled to be held in March, that is, one week ahead of the Russian elections. And statements are already being made that Russia is meddling in the Italian political process. What do you think of this?"
Vladimir Putin: "Yes, I have heard about this, and we can see what is happening in some European countries, including Italy and Germany, in the run-up to parliamentary elections. And now, this is taking place in Italy. There is only one goal."
"First, Russia and Italy maintain very good relations. By the way, we have diverse relations with different political forces. I have repeatedly said that I enjoy excellent relations with Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Prodi, who have been voicing and continue to voice diametrically opposing political views, and they compete with one another on the political scene. But I maintain good relations with each of them. What does this mean?
"This means that Russia and Italy have reached the so-called nationwide consensus regarding our bilateral ties and the development of bilateral contacts at interstate level. We highly value this. We have absolutely no intention of meddling in any national elections, including those in Italy. This is absolutely out of the question.
"You see, we perceive our relations with Italy as a state to be much more important, and we consider this to be pointless. We know that, regardless of which political force gains power in Italy, the country has a nationwide political consensus prioritizing expanded relations with Russia. On the whole, we are confident that Russian-Italian relations will develop positively.
"Why should we work on this? These provocations only aim to wreck this nationwide consensus on the development of interstate ties. This is being purposefully done to damage the level of relations that has already been reached. This is being done from the outside, rather than in Italy itself. We can see this, we heed this factor in our work and in dealing with our Italian partners.
"We are in contact with many of them, including political parties and security services. We have suggested long ago that a working group on cybersecurity should be established so as to ensure joint efforts in this area that are as transparent as possible, and we have now repeated this suggestion. To be precise, this implies specific threats, rather than activities, in this area.
(Kremlin.ru, January 11)