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.
Front Page Of The Week– The Russians Downsize Trump
Caption: "The major disappointment of the year – Gentlemen's friendship goodbye." (Source: Argumenty I Fakty)
Happy New Year
Russian President Vladimir Putin wished U.S. President Donald Trump and Syrian President Bashar Assad a Happy New Year.
The Kremlin reported that in his message of greetings to Assad, Putin expressed hope that in 2018 the situation in Syria would "continue changing" for the better. Putin also confirmed Russia’s commitment to assisting Syria.
In his message of greetings to Trump, Putin noted that it is important for Russia and the U.S. to engage "in constructive dialogue with a view to enhancing global strategic stability." The Kremlin reported that Putin also stressed the importance of "the principles of equality and mutual respect as the foundation for developing bilateral relations," in order to promote "pragmatic cooperation designed for the long term."
(Kremlin.ru, December 22, 2017)
Putin's New Year Address to the Nation
In his New Year address to the Nation, Putin stressed:
"We are all together on this wonderful New Year’s night. We are also together in our everyday life as well. Unity, friendship and selfless love for Russia multiply the strength we need for worthy deeds and high achievements… I wholeheartedly wish happiness and all the very best to all of you, as well as peace and prosperity to Great Russia, our one and only homeland."
(Kremlin.ru, December 31, 2017)
See the video of Putin's address
Quote Of The Week
Answering questions from the media , Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the current state of Russia-U.S. relations is the biggest disappointment of 2017.
"Yes, it can [be considered a major disappointment of this year]," Peskov said.
He then added: "Washington’s stance on our country cannot fail to cause regret either."
(Tass.com, December 29, 2017)
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. The following are Zakharova's quotes of the week from her press briefing:
On December 27, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson published an op-ed, titled "I Am Proud Of Our Diplomacy," in the New York Times. In the article, Tillerson said: "On Russia, we have no illusions about the regime we are dealing with. The United States today has a poor relationship with a resurgent Russia that has invaded its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine in the last decade and undermined the sovereignty of Western nations by meddling in our election and others’… Absent a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine situation, which must begin with Russia’s adherence to the Minsk agreements, there cannot be business as usual with Russia." Tillerson also added: "While we are on guard against Russian aggression, we recognize the need to work with Russia where mutual interests intersect. Nowhere is that more evident than in Syria."
Read Tillerson's op-ed:
Commenting on Tillerson’s article in the New York Times, Zakharova said:
"We have been surprised at U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s article in the New York Times… This is a sort of publication not typical of a diplomat, mostly due to its confrontational tone, let alone the wording. It looked like an attempt to drive yet another wedge in relations with other countries, above all, Russia and China.
"I do not know what prompted this publication that abounds in many oddities. Perhaps, it was some fear of the growing influence of Moscow and Beijing on the international arena. This fear has already manifested itself in the recently renewed US National Security Strategy that virtually acknowledged a decrease in America’s global hegemony and set forth a new goal – to restore it.
"Again, the thesis about Russia’s alleged 'interference in the U.S. election' was brought up. All these messages are turning the publication into a 'fake news' outlet. As for what is behind this – poor interdepartmental coordination in Washington or the desire to secure support from some Russophobic circles – frankly, there is no strength or desire or time to guess at it.
"We do not like the current state of Russian-U.S. relations either. It is necessary to clearly understand and honestly say that it is the United States, and not Russia, which is to blame for the decline. Certainly, 'business as usual' with the U.S. is indeed impossible until it revises its aggressive stance, which includes the return of the stolen Russian diplomatic property in the U.S.
"As a statement of fact: it is time for American politicians and diplomats to realize that military and economic pressure tools are useless against Russia. Washington’s delusive policy discredited itself a long time ago, including on the international stage.
"Another example is an utterly outrageous publication by the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker. Curiously, Kurt Volker published his article, full of anti-Russia comments, in the Italian media, in which he implored the United States’ European partners to maintain sanctions against Russia. He thereby revealed that those in Europe who are willing to follow Washington along the sanctions path are becoming fewer in number.
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"U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s phrase that when he wakes up, his first thought is how to prevent people around the world from being killed, poorly matches the supply of American lethal weapons to Ukraine intended to be used against the people of Donbass. Either, from a U.S. viewpoint, the people of Donbass and Donbass itself are not part of Ukraine, or something is not working out well over there. US threats to destroy North Korea are further proof that a whole set of high-ranking officials in Washington have dreams that are far from peaceful."(Mid.ru, December 28, 2017)
Pushkov's Tweet Storm
Senator Alexey Pushkov (@Alexey_Pushkov) tweeted:
"Tillerson set himself the goal to get rid of Assad in Syria in 2018. Yet, Russia intends to defend Syrian's sovereignty. Assad's overthrow - mission impossible."
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, December 30, 2017)
In The News:
U.S. Arms Supplies To Ukraine
Commenting on Washington's decision to supply weapons to Ukraine, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on December 27 that the decision should be of no concern to Russia. "As long as no one wants to invade Ukraine, hopefully it won't have any big impact. They're defensive weapons," said Mattis.
(Rferl.org, December 30, 2017)
On December 21, Russia's MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova commented: "Russia is extremely disappointed by the fact that U.S. authorities licensed an unnamed independent arms manufacturer to supply Barret М107А1 large caliber sniper rifles to Ukraine. This is the first time Washington has officially announced the transfer of weapons to Ukraine, although only recently it became known that AirTronic U.S. has been supplying hand-held grenade launchers to Ukraine since April.
"The fact that from a formal point of view arms supplies are carried out under business contracts without the involvement of official channels does not change anything. This is merely camouflage, and an attempt to distort reality. The green light to these deliveries came from officials in Washington, which means that the U.S. assumes full responsibility for the consequences and for the lives of Ukrainians who may fall victim to U.S. arms.
"We know all too well what the Kiev authorities stand for. Today, not only us, but also the vast majority of experts understands this. By arming them the U.S. is actually pushing them to resume large-scale bloodshed in Donbass, which is already on the brink due to constant shelling from the territories controlled by Kiev. In fact, Washington is becoming complicit in the killing of people who opposed the government coup by nationalists in Ukraine, and stood up for their right to speak their native language and preserve their values. I think that over time, history will straighten the record. I hope that this happens now, not in many years. This would prevent a large number of casualties."
(Mid.ru, December 21, 2017)
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov commented:
"The United States has crossed a line when it announced its intention to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine. Now the deliveries will not be carried out under U.S. companies’ business contracts, as it has been happening for a long time, but under state contracts. They will start with the Javelin missile systems. The question is: what will happen next? In any case, U.S. weapons can lead to new victims in our neighboring country, and we cannot remain indifferent.
"Having played an active role in staging the coup in Kiev several years ago and now gently nurturing the Maidan authorities as they banned the Russian language and bombed those who did not want to stand under Bandera's banners, today the U.S. is clearly pushing them to new bloodshed. Kiev’s revanchists are already shelling Donbass every day, refusing to negotiate peacefully and dreaming of cracking down on the disobedient people by force. Now the United States decided to give them weapons for this.
"Unfortunately, it is a waste of time to urge American politicians to see reason. Many of them are so blinded by Russophobia that they are happily applauding the Ukrainian nationalist battalions.
"History, of course, will inevitably put everything in its place. However, how can we talk about United States’ reconciliatory role in resolving the conflict in Ukraine in the current situation? Washington is trying to present itself as an intermediary. But it is not an intermediary: it is an accomplice in fomenting a war."
(Mid.ru, December 23, 2017)
U.S. Congress Approves Sale Of Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles To Georgia
Georgia’s Defence Minister Levan Izoria (Source: Agenda.ge, December 20, 2017)
Recently, the U.S. Congress gave its final approval for the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles and supporting units to Georgia.
Georgia’s Defence Minister Levan Izoria said:
"We have an important success regarding purchasing the anti-tank Javelin missiles. On March 29 of this year I was honored to write to the U.S. Defense Department [regarding the possible military sale to Georgia]. This decision was revealed publicly in November. The political decision has been made and for the first time today I would like to inform you that yesterday the Congress made a positive decision. I am holding the original decision, meaning that decision is final.”
(Agenda.ge, December 20, 2017)
In an interview with Russian news agency Interfax, State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin commented as follows on the sale of Javelin anti-tank guided missiles to Georgia:
Question: "Moscow has recently said that the delivery of Javelin anti-tank guided missiles to Georgia might induce Tbilisi to launch 'new dangerous adventures in the region.' What specific Georgian actions does Moscow fear? Will any preventive measures be implemented?"
Grigory Karasin: "We are not afraid of Tbilisi, but we are seriously concerned with the actions of its Western allies. It appears that they have completely forgotten about the consequences of Georgia’s previous militarization. Less than ten years after the barbaric attack on South Ossetia, NATO continues to rapidly expand its military infrastructure in Georgia. There are plans to deliver up-to-date weapons systems worth many millions of dollars to Tbilisi, including French-made air defense systems and U.S.-made anti-tank guided missiles. The United States is beginning to implement a combat-training program for Georgian service personnel.
"Although the incumbent Georgian government is saying that it has no intention of attacking Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Tbilisi is still reluctant to sign any agreements on the non-use of force with Sukhum and Tskhinval. One cannot give any guarantees that bellicose approaches towards former Georgian territories will not prevail once again in Georgia which is equipped with Western weapons. Naturally, we will not leave our allies alone in the face of a hypothetical aggression. But, considering NATO’s presence in Georgia, a situation spelling a substantial danger for international stability may emerge in that case.
"Therefore, at this stage, I would like to urge those countries and organizations involved in Georgia’s militarization to think about the negative consequences of their actions. We are closely following this process, and we are adequately adjusting our assistance to Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the area of security."
(Mid.ru, December 25, 2017)
Imposing Restrictions On The U.S. Under The Open Skies Treaty
During her weekly press briefing, Zakharova informed:
"Continuing its general political course towards the further degradation of relations with the Russian Federation, Washington, without providing any proof, has accused Russia of violating the Open Skies Treaty and undertaken unilateral steps to create as much inconvenience as possible for Russian Open Skies missions carried out over U.S. territory.
"In connection with this unfriendly move, and in line with the principle of reciprocity, Russia was forced to take response measures, which are procedural in nature. In particular, we have informed the Open Skies Consultative Commission of our intention to cancel overnight stops at three airfields for U.S. aircraft. Also, in December, Russia sent a note to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, announcing the termination, as of January 1, 2018, of a number of bilateral agreements with the United States that were signed to facilitate flights under the treaty.
"The U.S. actions are undermining the Open Skies Treaty. We are calling on our U.S. partners to stop and start seeking, in a depoliticized manner, a mutually acceptable solution to treaty-related issues."
(Mid.ru, December 28, 2017)
Russian Politicians Mock Trump's Words On Washington's Successes In Syria
On December 30, in his weekly address, U.S. President Donald Trump announced:
"We have made historic strides in the fight against the murder terror group known as ISIS. Today the coalition to defeat ISIS has recaptured nearly 100% of the territory once held by these vile terrorists in Iraq and Syria".
See Weekly Address: 12/30/2017 (min. 2:18-2:34)
Commenting on Trump's words, Senator Alexey Pushkov wrote in his Twitter account:
"Trump's statement on U.S. achievements in Syria have little to do with facts. This is 'post-truth' – pseudo-reality, needed for political goals."
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, December 31, 2017)
Senator Franz Klinsevich stated:
"… It seems that Donald Trump strives to go down in history as a victorious winner over ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Let's excuse the White House master for this small weakness of his, and we answer upon the New Year, rephrasing an old Soviet joke: "Donald Trump will indeed go down in history as the U.S. president at the time of Russia's great victories in Syria".
(Ria.ru, December 31, 2017)
France-Russia Relations - French Minister For The Economy And Finance Le Maire Visits Russia
French Minister For The Economy And Finance Bruno Le Maire shakes hand with Russian Economy Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin (Source: Rt.com)
In spite of the diplomatic disagreements between France and Russia, French Authorities claim that they intend to develop economic relations with Russia.
On December 18-19, France's Minister for the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire paid a visit to Moscow, trying to warm up France-Russia relations.
The French media outlet Rfi.fr, financed by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, reported:
"Officially, France remains in favor of sanctions imposed on Moscow after the annexation of Crimea. 'However, this should not prevent us from re-launching our economic relations with Russia,' explains Bruno Le Maire. In this regard, the new American sanctions, which could enter into force in 2018, are worrying the French Minister for the Economy, since these same sanctions might be applied indirectly to the enterprises intending to trade with Russia.
"'American extraterritorial sanctions are, for us, a real difficulty. Simply because they thrust in a state of uncertainty all the French enterprises willing to export towards the countries that are under American extraterritorial sanctions. Applications for authorizations must be filed. [French enterprises] do not know whether they can trade with any country, whether they are going to be sanctioned in the future, whether they are going to be condemned or whether they will have to pay a fine. So, this creates uncertainty in the world trade. Therefore, this can affect the prosperity of all nations', explains the French Minister for the Economy.
"Bruno Le Maire therefore deems that Europe should stand together against Washington in case extraterritorial sanctions are enforced against Russia. Theoretically, the new American sanctions, which were approved last summer, should come into force at the latest by the end of January 2018."
(Rfi.fr, December 20, 2017)
Interview Of The Week – Lavrov: 'We Expect That Washington Will At Some Point Realize The Futility Of Exerting Pressure On Our Country
In an interview with Interfax news agency, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov discussed Russia-U.S. relation:
Question: "Did President Trump live up to our expectations in terms of bilateral relations? Or are you disappointed? How will Russia-U.S. relations be affected by the coming into force of new U.S. sanctions on the Russian energy sector and defense industry, and the planned publication of lists of the Russian elite early next year?"
Sergey Lavrov: "Disappointment comes from inflated expectations, which we didn’t have with regard to Russia-U.S. relations.
"In our efforts to build a dialogue with Washington – no matter who is sitting in the White House – we rely on pragmatic approaches and realistic assessments. We do not entertain any illusions. From the outset, we realized that overcoming the burdensome legacy of the Obama administration in the sphere of bilateral relations would be an extremely difficult process.
"We are still willing to do our part in order to get them back on track. We regularly remind our U.S. colleagues that building a normal dialogue between our countries and establishing productive cooperation in international affairs is only possible if the national interests of both countries are taken in account and respected.
"So far, we have been unable to achieve any changes for the better because of the Russophobic hysteria that has swept the political circles in Washington and has taken on, without exaggeration, a paranoid character. This is what prevents us from moving forward in areas that are important for both our states, and provokes additional tensions in the international arena. The United States is taking unfriendly actions with regard to our country. The implementation of Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act will inevitably affect our relationship. That said, Washington is clearly off the mark – the Russian economy has not only adapted [to sanctions], but has regained an economic growth trajectory, and is about to break new ground.
"We will respond to any hostile actions against Russia and our citizens in the way that is best for us. However, we expect that Washington will at some point realize the futility of exerting pressure on our country. In fact, the sooner certain American politicians get rid of the illusions that Russia can be cowed by restrictive measures or a show of force, the better it will be for everyone, including themselves. This will not only improve the atmosphere of Russian-American relations, but will also allow us to more effectively address pressing global and regional problems plaguing the entire international community."
(Mid.ru, December 28, 2017)
News In Brief
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s joint news conference with UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, in Moscow, on December 21, 2017. Lavrov said: "As for the future of the de-escalation zones, they have not been created to last forever. At this stage, they have been established for six months with the possibility of extension. This will be decided by our colleagues from the military through their contacts with their counterparts in Iran and Turkey." (Mid.ru, December 21, 2017; Read the full transcript)