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.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin voted in the Russian presidential elections at polling station No. 2151, which is located at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow's Gagarinsky District. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Putin casting his vote. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
In The News:
Putin Wins The Elections
Meduza.io: The 2018 Election Didn’t Break The Turnout Record
Reporting on the elections, the independent media outlet Meduza.io wrote:
"Winning his fourth term in office, Vladimir Putin received more votes than any other person who’s ever run for the Russian presidency. With virtually all the ballots counted, Putin got 56,202,497 votes, leaving in the dust the record-breaking 52 million votes Dmitry Medvedev won in 2008. To get a sense of how unprecedented so many votes are, recall that just 52.7 million people even voted in Russia’s 2016 parliamentary elections — almost four million fewer than the number of ballots cast for Putin on Sunday.
"At the same time, the 2018 election didn’t manage to break the turnout record, finishing at 67.5 percent (just shy of the 69.8 percent turnout in the 2008 presidential election).
"As usual, the highest figures were recorded in the North Caucasus. Kabardino-Balkaria led the way, with 92-percent turnout and 93 percent of those votes going to Putin...[It was followed by] Chechnya (where turnout and votes for Putin were both 91.5 percent) and Dagestan (where these numbers were 87.5 percent and 90.7 percent). In the last election, a whopping 99.8 percent of all ballots in Chechnya went to Putin.
"In addition to these North Caucasian republics, Putin grabbed more than 90 percent of the vote in just three other regions across the country: Tuva (where he typically wins big), and Crimea and Sevastopol, which experienced their first presidential election as subjects of the Russian Federation [following the 2014 annexation].
"Before the vote, sources in the Kremlin repeatedly told reporters that the Putin administration was treating Sunday’s presidential election as a kind of 'second referendum' in Crimea and 'a test of the legitimacy of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.' Putin’s victory turned out to be somewhat more modest than the annexation referendum itself: he won 92.2 percent of Crimea’s Sunday vote (96.8 percent voted to 'reunite' with Russia) and 90.2 percent of Sevastopol’s vote (95.6 percent supported Moscow’s annexation). Sunday’s turnout on the disputed peninsula didn’t break 80 percent, whereas it was 10 percentage points higher in 2014."
Commenting on voting irregularities, Meduza.io stated:
"Ballot stuffing. According to the Central Election Commission, there were no serious violations of voting protocols. That said, monitors reported ballot stuffing at polling stations across the country, from the Moscow suburbs to Dagestan. Election officials even annulled the ballots at several voting stations. Noting that almost no observers were stationed at voting booths outside Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other regional centers, the election watchdog movement 'Golos' says the public relied mostly on video surveillance cameras, which means there could have been more ballot stuffing than monitors were able to observe.
"Purged dead souls. 'Purging' voter lists is [a situation that occurs] when voters show up at their polling station, only to discover that their name has been removed from the election officials' books. Before Sunday, Central Election Commissioner Ella Pamfilova explained that officials had removed almost 2 million 'dead souls' from the country’s voter records. She insisted that it would only affect people who are mistakenly listed by their old address or who have gone abroad. One of Meduza’s correspondents witnessed, however, how some voters in Moscow who say they’ve never changed their residency found themselves unlisted at their local polling stations. This means some voters could have been 'purged' from lists to raise the election’s turnout artificially."
(Meduza.io, March 19, 2018; Read the full article)
- Team Putin Meduza reports from outside Red Square, where Moscow's Crimea celebration became the president's victory speech (Meduza.io, March 19, 2018; Read the full article)
- Patriarch Kirill: presidential elections showed unity of Russians around their national leader (Interfax-religion.com, March 19, 2018; Read the full article)
- 90% of Russian Military Votes for Supreme Commander Vladimir Putin (Themoscowtimes.com, March 20; Read the full article)
- Donald Trump congratulated Vladimir Putin on his victory in the presidential election. The leaders spoke in favor of developing practical cooperation in various areas, including efforts to ensure strategic stability and combat international terrorism, with particular emphasis on coordinating efforts to curb an arms race. (Kremlin.ru, March 20, 2018; Read the full article)
Reactions To The Skripals' Poisoning
FM Lavrov: '[London] Opted For Russophobia For The Simple Reason That There Are Fewer And Fewer Areas Where Britain Can Still Take The Lead'
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded to a question from the Vietnamese and Japanese media on the Skripals' case:
Question: "You referred to Great Britain’s accusations against Russia as nonsense, saying that Russia had no motive. In your opinion, what steps can Russia take in this situation? What can Russia do to bring the truth to light?"
Sergey Lavrov: "Russia not only can but actually is doing more than anybody else, including the United Kingdom. When the man was discovered with his daughter, Great Britain claimed that it was poisoning and that they had carried out an investigation and come to the conclusion that the toxic agent was made in the USSR and accessible to Russians because not all of their chemical weapons stockpiles had been eliminated. This led to the conclusion that Russia was behind this incident and that it was either ordered by the country’s leadership or resulted from failure to control its chemical weapons stockpiles. Even in the second scenario, Russia was still to blame for the attack, since its chemical weapons had to be eliminated in their entirety.
"Almost every word in these accusations requires supporting evidence. Nothing is transparent here. When the British parliament debated this issue, the Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn requested that the investigation results be made known to parliament. His request was denied. This in itself would be enough to raise flags in traditional well-established democracies.
"As for the rest of it, we are waiting for the United Kingdom to submit an official request using the procedure set forth in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). But we are being told that this official request consisted of the statement made by Prime Minister Theresa May in parliament and the summoning of the Russian Ambassador by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. This is not the way things are, and this statement does not make any sense. In accordance with the CWC, the party that seeks to understand what happened on its territory must do so officially and in writing. I have no doubt that our British colleagues know this very well. They have very smart people working for them. The fact that they adamantly refuse to file an official request and intentionally fan the anti-Russia rhetoric in the public arena, with much arrogance and to the point of hysteria, shows that they understand all too well that they do not have any formal pretext for legal action. They are trying to shift the conversation into a political dimension and invoke Russophobia hoping that, as in a number of other cases, the West will follow obediently in their footsteps, especially since the United States fully supported Great Britain.
"We have put forward many facts that cannot be ignored, including data from Western research magazines over the last 15 years. Let me reiterate that I am referring to Western publications on toxic agents that Great Britain decided to call Novichok. When the Russian Federation eliminated its chemical weapons stockpile, this work continued and continues to this day, according to Western publications in the US, Great Britain, the Czech Republic and Sweden. It all started in 1991−1992 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A number of laboratories that made the toxic agents that are now referred to as Novichok remained in several former Soviet republics, including the Baltic States and Uzbekistan, beside the Russian Federation. The laboratory in Uzbekistan and the country’s stockpiles were eliminated with assistance of US experts. Now it is hard to tell exactly who saw, took or put what in their pocket. But the fact is that a famous chemistry researcher who now lives in the US and who left the USSR, Mr Vil Mirzayanov (and not just him, there were two or three other chemists there), took his documents with him when he somehow landed up in the West. We provided all this evidence. It makes you wonder why they are not willing to discuss it or deny its validity.
"Let me share a fact with you. Sergey Skripal and his daughter are alive. Once they recover, and I hope that they do, they could shed some light on this entire incident. No one wants to wait for this to happen. Everything is decided in advance. As our British colleagues have said, they will not show us anything, they know everything, and all that is left for us to do is to plead guilty, followed by a punishment. This is a literal translation of their message from English.
"When asked how sure they are that things are the way they think, and I have to say that these questions are coming from Western experts, not Russia, they say that it is 'highly possible.' Considering the flexible nature of the English language, it is not serious to build your case around provocative accusations that are merely 'highly possible,' including expelling diplomats and threats of deteriorating relations.
"The OPCW Executive Council met yesterday in The Hague. Once again, Russia proposed following the procedures stipulated by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The British representative said arrogantly that Britain was under no obligation to do so (why I don’t know) and will not do so. As a matter of principle, parties to the CWC may have the possibility of saying that they do not wish to take it to this body. But they did just that! And since they have done so, they have to follow the CWC provisions whereby they have to submit a request to Russia as a suspected country of origin and even a country that allegedly made use of a toxic agent. They need to provide this agent to us so that we can analyze it together with the OPCW experts. After Great Britain files its request, we would have 10 days under the CWC to respond. Moreover, under the procedures set forth in the convention, should Britain be unsatisfied with the reply, the same convention gives it the right to convene an extraordinary session of the OPCW Executive Council to take the relevant decision. Great Britain is not willing to follow any of these procedures, as they said publicly. If, upon hearing this statement and witnessing such behavior, any other country goes as far as voice its solidarity with London, this is just profanation that defies common sense.
"Other avenues are available as well. If they do not want to use the OPCW or the CWC that underpins the OPCW operations, there is also the 1959 European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. Using the mechanisms envisaged in this convention would be another option. But all they want to say with their big words and rhetoric is that Great Britain is under no obligation to show anything to us or anyone else. They decided that they are beyond any doubt or suspicion, and for this reason they call on everyone to punish the Russian Federation. This is just ridiculous.
"You have mentioned the lack of motive. Honestly speaking, it is true that a motive is nowhere to be found. In fact, there is no way the Russian Federation could be suspected of doing it, no matter how you look at it. But even if we speculate on this distorted logic of our Western colleagues, who could think that the Russian Federation would seek to create any problems for itself in the run-up to the presidential election and the FIFA World Cup? There is no motive whatsoever. But those who continue to pressure us, and are looking for new pretexts (after the doping allegations and other things) for complicating the World Cup, they have a motive.
"Everyone knows it. If we try to understand what drives the actions of the British cabinet, the conservative government (as many Western observers have already said in the media), it is probably clear that London has found itself in a very tight spot in its Brexit talks with the EU. The government’s approval ratings are plummeting. The British public is well aware that they are unable to get from Brussels what they had promised to their people, their voters. The provocation over Sergey Skripal draws attention away from these matters. The second reason may be the fact that the British do not want to be forgotten. They want to remain in the lead. It may be my personal subjective opinion, but I do know the British people quite well. In this case, they have opted for Russophobia for the simple reason that there are fewer and fewer areas where Britain can still take the lead.
"Let me reiterate that we are open to dialogue, and we said so in The Hague, at the OPCW Executive Council meeting, when we proposed using all the possibilities, and there are quite a few of them, provided by the CWC to investigate and explore this issue. We also propose employing the Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. Yesterday, at the UN Security Council we proposed adopting a statement by the Security Council President calling on all sides to cooperate in order to establish the truth. But our British colleagues blocked this statement, which proves yet again what I have already said. They do not want the truth. All they want is for everyone to accept what they say at face value. I do not think that they will succeed."
(Mid.ru, March 15, 2018)
MFA Spokesperson Zakharova: I Have No Doubts That British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Actions Also Have A Domestic Subtext.
During her weekly briefing, MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova said:
Question: In you view, how dangerous is the current situation?
Maria Zakharova: "What scale do you suggest for evaluating it – in percentage points? A color scale? There are currently different colors for danger levels. What paradigm are we talking about here? If you are asking whether the current situation is dangerous, it is definitely dangerous. Let me repeat, the leader of a nuclear power goes to her parliament, that is, two branches of government meet, those who take critically important decisions, and groundlessly accuses another country of aggression against her own country, gives 24 hours, issues ultimatums and generally acts in a way that is detached from any reality, which in itself is the most scary and dangerous, because the actions are not commensurate with the real situation. It creates the impression that it was a sort of a talk show without real communication or knowledge of international law and the way the world lives, but is rather an opportunity to speak out and make a multi-part saga out of it. In this respect, the situation is extremely dangerous, without a doubt.
"As to the scale, please figure out a paradigm, and we will think it over. I think what matters is not the degree of danger but understanding the absolute irresponsibility of those who came and keep coming to power in a number of countries on the wave of populism. These people come with empty promises. Even if earlier politicians used to make promises and proposals to their people as they were fighting for power, being aware from the outset that some of them would never come true, it was not dangerous. Whereas today there is a perception that we are watching a real crisis of the political system in many countries, when not only an external factor is needed to solve internal problems, but a large-scale non-stop campaign which presupposes the use of the complete arsenal of declarations, measures, threats to impact domestic, internal processes. I have no doubts that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s actions also have a domestic subtext. Perhaps, she wanted to present herself as a strong leader but she presented herself the way she did. I think there is no use in offering an assessment of her. You saw everything yourselves.
(Mid.ru, March 15, 2018, Read the full briefing; See "UK’s accusations against Russia over the Skripal case"; "U.S. support of the UK position in the Skripal case"; "Possibility of the Skripal case being discussed in the framework of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons")
- Writing in the Telegraph, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned: Putin’s sinister threats and lies extend far beyond his own country. (Gov.uk, March 20, 2018; Read the full article; Read also "Novichok nerve agent use in Salisbury: UK government response")
- The leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom have issued the following joint statement on the attack which took place in Salisbury, UK. (Gov.uk, March 15, 2018; Read the full statement)
- Elena Ananyeva, Head of the Center for British Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, said that UK Prime Minister Theresa May is using Skripal’s poisoning case as a pretext for a "short victorious war" that will boost her image. (Tass.com, March 16, 2018; Read the full article)
- During an interview with Rossiya’24 TV channel, Zakharova said that the Skripals' case has a connection to Syria due to the common denominator of chemical weapons. (Tass.com, March 17, 2018; Read the full article)
- Vladimir Legoyda, of the Moscow Patriarchate, believes the entire world will lose out from the West's anti-Russian actions. (Interfax-religion.com, March 15, 2018; Read the full article)