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.
Russia-America Relations Post Helsinki
Vladimir Putin in a direct message to the Americans invoked Israel by warning that whoever set obstacles to Russia-US ties not only damages American interests but also neglects Israel's security.
Putin's warning came at a bi-annual meeting with the Russian ambassadorial corps, where the Russian president said:
"The key to providing security and safety in Europe is in expanding cooperation and restoring trust, and not in deploying new NATO bases and military infrastructure near Russia’s borders, which is what is taking place now.
"We will respond appropriately to such aggressive steps, which pose a direct threat to Russia. Our colleagues, who are trying to aggravate the situation, seeking to include, among others, Ukraine and Georgia in the orbit of the alliance, should think about the possible consequences of such an irresponsible policy.
"We need a new, positive agenda aimed at collaboration and attempts to find common ground. Of course, I discussed this during my meeting with the President of the United States, Mr Trump.
"With our views being different on many matters, we agreed that Russia-US relations are deeply unsatisfactory and in many ways even worse than during the Cold War.
"Of course, it would be naive to believe that the problems that piled up over years would be resolved in a matter of several hours. No one was counting on this. However, I believe that we have embarked on a path to positive changes.
"Importantly, a full-fledged summit with an opportunity to talk directly has finally taken place. It was overall successful and led to productive agreements.
"We will have to wait and see, of course, what turn the events will take, all the more so as certain forces in America are trying to downplay and disavow the results of the Helsinki summit.
"To digress from the main subject, I would like to say a few words on a personal note, so to speak.
"We see that there are forces in the United States that are willing to sacrifice Russia-US relations to promote their ambitions amid the domestic political strife in America. They are ready to sacrifice the interests of their businesses, which are losing multimillion-dollar contracts and the Russian market in general, as well as jobs in the United States, even though not many, but still there are jobs in place as part of cooperation with Russia. We are talking about tens of thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands, of jobs.
"They are ready to sacrifice the interests of their allies in Europe and the Middle East, in particular, those of the State of Israel. Among other things, we discussed security at the Golan Heights during the operation in Syria. Apparently, no one is interested in it. They are ready to sacrifice even their own security.
"I would like to say that the New START Treaty will expire in 2021. Generally speaking, we could have lived without it even several years ago, but we took the correct step when we signed it. Unless we start working right now to coordinate its extension, it will cease to exist in a year and a half. We will simply not have this treaty.
"When I spoke about these forces, you know, this does not fit our political philosophy, because we have always been taught that officials working in the interests of the state, of society must think above all about and give priority to these fundamental interests. Unfortunately, there are forces in the United States that put their narrow group and party interests before national ones.
"Our famous satirical writers once wrote about such people, “Miserable, wretched people!” But this is not quite so, at least not when it comes to this case. These are not miserable or wretched people. No, they are powerful and strong people who can shove – sorry for the mauvais ton – unbelievable and illogical stories in the face of millions of their citizens. Yes, they can really do this.
"I am not saying this to scold or commend anyone. Absolutely not. I am saying this so that we take this into account in our practical work in the American direction. These are the facts of modern life,
"Nevertheless, Russia is open to further contacts with the United States on an equal and mutually beneficial basis. This is what not only our people but the world as a whole need. As the world’s largest nuclear powers, we have special responsibility for strategic stability and security.
(Kremlin.ru, July 19, 2018)
Putin addresses ambassadors (Source. Kremlin.ru)
US President Donald Trump, who has been accused of selling out his country's interests to Putin at Helsinki, was defended by an unlikely source. Russia's Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov told reporters at a press briefing at the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday:
"The first reaction [to the Russian-US] summit I heard from US reporters and politicians was tough criticism and stiff opposition. The impression is that some of them just did not listen to what their president was saying and how the president upheld national interests," he said.
The ambassador noted that he normally refrains from making positive comments about the US leader in view of the charges of widespread Russian meddling in US policies. "I am afraid to say anything positive about the US president, because when American journalists or politicians read that, they will say that Russia is again interfering in the domestic affairs thus helping Donald Trump. I believe it will be very difficult to him to comply with the agreements that were reached at the summit. At any rate, we will try to help our American counterparts to the best of our ability," the diplomat stressed.
According to Antonov, it is necessary to begin with small joint projects to break the ice in Russian-US relations. "I believe that, at the first stage, we need to find some small joint projects, which would make it possible to break the impasse and start dealing with the avalanche of contradictions and challenges that we have," the ambassador pointed out.
(Tass.com, July 18, 2018)
Antonov's efficacy as a defense witness for Trump may have been reduced by an interview that he gave in the 60 Minutes program on Russian TV's Channel 1, where he revealed that oral agreements had been reached between Putin and Trump:
"It was an important meeting. It was meaty, productive and constructive. I think important oral agreements were reached," he said, adding that the summit was of major significance for both bilateral relations and global security.
(Tass.com, July 18, 2018)
Antonov, addressing a session of the Valdai International Discussion Club, expressed his surprise at the degree of pushback and hostility to the Helsinki summit..
"We expected Washington’s reaction to the summit to be mixed. However, I did not expect such a strong reluctance to accept anything the two presidents had discussed," he said.
"Shortly after the two presidents’ joint press conference was over, I started getting text messages from the Russian embassy in Washington - my colleagues were monitoring the US media - about a tough reaction to the talks," Antonov noted.
(Tass.com, July 20, 2018)
Anatoly Antonov (Source: Interfax.ru)
Continued Russian Support For Iran And Venezuela
Another irritant to US-Russia relations is Moscow's continued backing for the Iranian and Venezuelan regimes, whose leaders Washington has sanctioned.
Russian ambassador to Tehran Levon Dhzagaryan in an interview to Kommersant justified Iran's presence in Syria and expressed understanding for its threat to block the Strait of Hormuz:
Q: Prior to the summit between the US and Russian Presidents many remarks were made, including by official figures, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister for example, that Moscow could pressure Tehran to extract its formations ( forces ) from Syria. How realistic are such expectations?
A:First of all, I'd like to remind that the Iranian military presence on Syria's territory is legal. Iranians are present there and participate in fighting terrorism by the invitation of the legitimate Syrian government, just as Russian forces are. Sometimes, indeed, there are some collisions, and we are naturally concerned by the possibility of a military confrontation between Iranian and Israeli forces in Syria. We do everything possible in order to prevent that, and not allow the conflict to expand.
Q: In other words, there is no pressure on any of the sides?
A: Iran is not the sort of country ( you ) may exert a pressure on. This is a big country, conducting an independent foreign policy. It is possible to work with the Iranians only via means of persuasion. No pressure on Iran – it's counterproductive...
Q: Russia is one of the countries purchasing Iranian oil. After November 4, oil deliveries from Iran will be considered a breach of American sanctions. How do you think, the Iran authorities are really going to respond to American pressure by closing the Hormuz straits?
A: Iranian officials, including the military, have mentioned the possibility on multiple occasions. It's obvious that such a scenario is absolutely non-desirable. On the other hand, we do understand, that Iranian budget heavily depends on oil exports, and thus the Iranian authorities will take robust actions to counter US threats.
(Kommersant.ru, July 19, 2018)
Russian Ambassador To Caracas Warns Of Possible U.S. Military Intervention
Interviewed by Russian news agencies, Russia's Ambassador to Caracas Vladimir Zaemsky warned that the U.S. was considering military intervention against the Maduro government that Moscow backs.
"Unfortunately, this scenario is possible," the diplomat said. "You have probably seen the reports from a couple of weeks ago, when one of the foreign news agencies published information that in May of last year, [US] President Donald Trump seriously discussed military intervention in Venezuela with his aides."
"The White House denied this, stating that this option was not considered as a priority," Zaemsky added. "However, unfortunately, the Americans stress that part of their position is keeping all options on the table, including the military one."
"If so, this is a serious threat, and moreover, the USA has openly admitted that they are reviving the Monroe Doctrine (establishing exclusive interests of the US in the Western hemisphere - TASS), and that they see everything south of their borders as a favorite backyard, where they would like to maintain the existing order," the Russian diplomat noted.
The Russian diplomat did not exclude the threat that the Venezuelan opposition, despite its depleted strength and growing difficulty to mobilize demonstrators, would try to carry out a color revolution. Color revolutions are a major concern of Russia, since color revolutions toppled pro-Russian governments in Ukraine and Georgia.
"The threat is still there because some radical opposition members say that the government must be removed but as it is impossible to do that legally, though election, then there is only one thing to do - organize an uprising," Zaemsky said.
(Tass.com, July 18, 2018)
Maria Butina: Mata Hari Or Innocent Abroad?
Another sticking point in U.S.-Russia relations is the decision by American law enforcement bodies to arrest Russian citizen Maria Butina, a gun enthusiast, who tried to establish ties with the National Rifle Association and other conservative organizations. She is accused of being an unregistered Russian agent, a charge buttressed by her acquaintanceship with senior Russian officials, including those on the sanctions list. Her arrest has aroused reactions at the highest levels by Russian officials.
Ambassador Antonov told reporters that this was part of the continuing witch-hunt. "The US intelligence services are hunting for Russia’s citizens not only in the US but in other countries too," he said.
(Tass.com, July 18, 2018)
Nikolai Kovalev, the former chief of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and currently a Duma deputy claimed that the Butina Affair was concocted by the US special services in a bid to sabotage Trump's efforts to reestablish cooperation with Russia.
"It is absolutely evident that US special services are working against their president. They are seeking to interfere this or that way into political process, a thing that must not be done by any special service," Kovalev said, adding that US special services "are taking deliberate steps to hinder development of normal relations between the two countries."
The prevailing suspicion has produced a situation where "practically anyone can be accused of anything, so, any commercial activity carried out by Russians in the United States may be presented as the use of personal contacts in Russia’s interests. It is utter nonsense,"
(Tass.com, July 18, 2018)
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova in her weekly briefing repeated the charge that Butina had been arrested in order to damage Trump and his policies:
"It appears that instead of dealing with its core responsibilities in fighting crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is carrying out a blatant political order. As we understand it, the order came from those who continue to stir up Russophobic hysteria, for which purpose they regularly plant more fictional sensations about Russia’s alleged interference in the internal affairs of the United States...
"All this is happened right before the bilateral summit in Helsinki, with the obvious purpose of minimizing the positive effect of the meeting and doing this as soon as possible. It appears that somebody took a watch, a calculator and timed when the decision on Maria Butina’s arrest should be taken in order to do as much as possible to sabotage the results of the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump. This is how good the timing was."
(Mid.ru, July 18, 2018)
Russian FM Sergey Lavrov called with his counterpart Mike Pompeo to protest Butina's arrest on unsubstantiated charges as unacceptable. He called the entire affair a setup and demanded Butina's prompt release said that US actions concerning Maria Butina's arrest are unacceptable, charges are unsubstantiated and set up, while Butina should be released as soon as possible.
(Mid.ru, July 21, 2018)
Maria Butina (Source: Amic.ru)
Progress On New Military Hardware, Is There Logic Behind The Massive Display?
Russia’s Defense Ministry has launched the trials of Poseidon underwater drones at its testing ranges, the ministry’s press office reported on Thursday.
"Trials have been organized at the ranges of the Defense Ministry of Russia to confirm the dynamic characteristics of the apparatus during launches in a real environment and to check the parameters of the apparatus’s movement along the route in autonomous mode. All the measures for creating the Poseidon system are being carried out in compliance with the work schedule," Russia’s Defense Ministry said.
(Tass.com, July 19, 2018)
On Thursday, July, 19 the Russian MOD followed up this announcement by releasing six videos of reported launching/trials of the new strategic weapons announced by President Putin in his address to the nation last March, just prior to the presidential elections:
"Avangard" missile launch:
"Sarmat" strategic ICBM launch:
"Kinzhal" airborne missile launch:
"Burevestnik"Cruise missile with nuclear engine:
"Poseidon" unmanned maritime underwater vehicle with nuclear warhead:
"Peresvet" laser military complex:
The ministry accompanied the videos with the comment:
"The Russian Federation continues to implement measures to enhance its military security. Creation of new strategic military systems is aimed at enhancing the defense capabilities of Russia, [and] preventing any aggression against our country and its allies. "
Russian analysts sought to explain the decision to display this cornucopia of weapons systems.
Andrei Bystritsky, a member of the Valdai International Discussions Club think tank, commented on the defense ministry's display of the new weaponry. In an interview with TASS, he expressed his belief that the unveiling of the weapons was intended to influence, in one way or another, the Russian-US dialogue on strategic stability:
"The US will have to take account of the reality that has emerged, of the new armament system we’ve developed," Bystritsky said. "While conducting talks the US will have to bear in mind this factor does exist."
He believed that the new weaponry strengthened nuclear deterrence, and that was a net positive:
"Nuclear armaments have made it possible for large powers to live without major wars and with a very moderate level of violence," Bystritsky said. "It’s true that the nukes scared everyone but they helped the world live with reason and rationality and develop a huge number of technologies."
"The availability of the elements of deterrence like the new armament systems may turn out to be a crucial factor influencing peaceful development and giving stability to the world," he said.
Andrei Bystritsky (Source: Vestikavkaz.net)
Konstantin Blokhin, a senior research fellow at the Center for Security Problems Research, also believes that Russia was laying down its markers in advance of US-Russia arms negotiations although he conceded "It’s difficult to say now whether the new armaments have a good or bad influence of Russian-US relations".
The issue was complicated by the charges that Trump was colluding with Russia:
"As for this moment, the Trump Administration is under a torrent of criticism and any improvement in relations with Russia, any intentions or attempts to pull them out of the red to a zero level as a minimum will be viewed [in the West] trough a prism of alleged US weakness," he said. "And it you take Trump, [it will be viewed] as an act of betrayal."
If Trump pulled through new arms negotiations were in the offing as at the summit, Putin and Trump agreed to cooperate in the framework of New Start and INF treaties. "Media reports are claiming Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and our military are ready to hold talks with Defense Secretary James Mattis."
If these talks were launched then the demonstration of the new weapons could be seen as an attempt to reduce the arms race with the US, and start tackling accumulated problems.
Konstantin Blokhin (Source: Youtube.com)
Strange But True:
According to a recent survey by VTsIOM, the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 67% of Russia's citizens believe in the existence of a behind the scenes "World Government". Back in 2014, 45% of the respondents expressed similar views. Twenty-three percent of the respondents are certain that oligarchs form part of this government while 30% believe its primary goal is (world) power and influence and managing all people. Of those who believe that such a world government exists, (and they are disproportionally older respondents) 74% are certain that its interests run counter to Russia's national interests.
(wciom.ru, July 11, 2018)
A court in Moscow has sentenced Gleb Strunnikov to 14 days in jail for pouring beer on State Duma deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky during Sunday’s World Cup final celebration on Nikolsky Street. He was convicted of disorderly conduct for splashing a cup of beer on the outspoken, controversial lawmaker. After the police grabbed Strunnikov but before they shoved him up against a wall, Zhirinovsky managed to strike the young man twice in the face.
(Meduza.io, July 16, 2018
Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky called for commemorating the centennial anniversary of the execution of Czar Nicholas II and his family by standing and performing the hymn "God Preserve the Czar". Deputies from his party had previously recommended that this hymn should replace the Russian Federation's national anthem.
Zhirinovsky resents the fact that not a single memorial to the czar exists in the country and promises that monuments will be erected to him as well as to Czar Alexander III and Czar Ivan the Terrible
(Mk.ru, July 17, 2018)