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
Interview Of The Week
On March 23, 2018, while in Hanoi, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded to questions from the media on the recent appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser.
Question: "Could you comment on HR McMaster’s replacement by John Bolton?"
Lavrov: "This was a decision of U.S. President Donald Trump, who makes decisions of this kind in line with his understanding of the tasks facing the U.S. Administration."
Question: "Have you met him before?"
Lavrov: "I worked with him when he served as the acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He was acting US Ambassador because the Senate did not confirm his appointment. He served in that role less than a year. However, after he resigned from this position, he remained active in politics and we called each other from time to time. Once when he came to New York from Washington, I met with him and we discussed the situation that was evolving at the time. Of course, he is a professional."
Question: "Did he strike you as a hawk, as a tough man, as you read in the media?"
Lavrov: "He is definitely a tough diplomat and politician. But I would like to repeat that he is a professional. Clearly, he will pursue the policies outlined by President Trump. Despite everything, Trump’s policy – and he reiterated this the other day in his conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin – is to return relations with Russia to normal and start cooperating in order to resolve issues of common concern to both countries."
(Mid.ru. March 23, 2018)
Sergey Lavrov (Source: Themoscowtimes.com)
In The News:
Russian Presidential Election Postmortems
Novaya Gazeta Columnist Martynov: 'Previously, You Didn't Vote Because You Were Too Lazy Or Didn't Care; Now, It's A Bold Anti-Government Gesture And A Cause For Solidarity'
Novaya Gazeta columnist Kirill Martynov wrote an article titled, "So, Who Won The Election On 18 March?", stating that those who claim that Alexei Navlany's call to boycott the Russian presidential elections failed are probably wrong. He also opined that each candidate gained something out of these elections. It is worth noting that the 67.5 percent turnout recorded in the 2018 election didn't set a turnout record, and fell below the 2008 turnout rate of 69.8 percent; See "Meduza.io: The 2018 Election Didn't Break The Turnout Record").
Below are excerpts from Martynov's article:
Kirill Martynov (Source: Journal.ru)
"The 18 March election took place according to the plan elaborated by the presidential administration back in late 2016. This plan substantially designed the unity of Russia and Crimea as the main election story — given the recent absence of other clear achievements. Aside from traditional administrative resources, this time Kremlin officials banked on working in-depth with the internet audience. By the end of the swift campaign, web users even started to complain that they see banners calling them to vote literally everywhere, including on dating apps.
"The Kremlin policy manager, Sergey Kiriyenko, likes numerical targets— it is called KPI (Key Performance Indicator) in corporate slang. In this case, the Kremlin KPI was known to everybody a year and a half before the election, and the regions were required to ensure 70% support for the incumbent president with the same voter turnout…
"The state mobilized all the dependent voters but failed to achieve a clean electoral procedure. In order to ensure that Vladimir Putin's re-election for a new term is indisputable, it required not only the non-admissision of [rival] candidates, months-long indoctrination of voters in the mass media and administrative pressure, but also outright fraudulent actions. The latter have been documented by both observers and by video cameras that were installed in 80% polling stations. In other words, you can only be an effective political manager if there are, yet again, people at the bottom of your food chain, who are prepared to work in disregard of the law's formal requirements.
"Navalny, too, can celebrate a measure of success following the election. He managed, even before the habitual attempts to organize street protests, to maintain his supporters, offer them a model of political participation — as election observers — and give the active minority of Russian citizens a feeling that they made an important political choice. Previously, you didn't vote because you were either lazy or apathetic; now, it's a bold anti-government gesture and a cause for solidarity. Those who claim that the boycott failed are probably mistaken…
"Ksenia Sobchak came fourth in this election, failing to challenge either Grudinin or Zhirinovsky… The political game Sobchak played this March was, in a certain sense, failsafe. The 'candidate against all' could not possibly fail, if one takes into account that she already had a political party at her disposal and the official goal of her participation in the election was 'to show that one can do politics differently in Russia'.
"The pinnacle of Sobchak's failsafe campaign was her sudden visit to Navalny's headquarters the day before the closing of the polls. The presidential candidate urged the opposition leader to join efforts immediately and then publicly expressed her surprise that he refused. It was a well calculated step: if Navalny had agreed, Sobchak and her newly created Party of Changes would have received ready mobilized supporters and a live regional network, at the same time neutralizing a 'dangerous radical'. And the refusal to get united as part of a party project will now allow Sobchak to exploit the issue of her moral righteousness. Thus, the 'candidate against all' also won on 18 March — in some special nomination, opened personally for her.
"The attempt by Grigory Yavlinsky to battle Putin, Navalny, and Sobchak simultaneously predictably led to a low result, far from the 10 million votes officially declared by the politician. Yavlinsky's allies started to blame this on Navalny, thus implicitly confirming the efficacy of the [vote] boycott: they claimed that it was due to the 'voters' strike' that the divided democrats lost again. Still, Yavlinsky's participation in this presidential campaign obviously raises the chances of Yabloko to survive the next few electoral cycles, and this too can be considered a tactical success.
"Even the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] has demonstrated that with practically zero political activity during the campaign, agreement with Putin's foreign policy, and a new, absolutely unknown candidate, against whom propaganda worked very actively, the Communists still constitute the number two political power in the country. Imagine that the CPRF, for any reason, decides in earnest to take up the political struggle in the next few years; it will be able to deal a heavy blow both to United Russia and to the possible 'Project Successor' in 2024.
"No sooner had the last polling stations closed than a festive show started on the Manezhnaya Square, officially dedicated to the anniversary of Crimea's accession to Russia.
"The outlines of state policy for the following seasons are mapped out in this scheme: the presidential election is set on the date of Crimea's incorporation, and the rally to celebrate the triumph of the 'leading candidate' is organized in advance as part of an unbroken chain of victories. The message is 'it could not have been otherwise'.
"If somebody has lost in this presidential campaign, it was the disoriented Russian voters, who will continue to be hustled by such parlor tricks in the future as well."
(Novayagazeta.ru, March 18, 2018)
Kommersant FM Political Observer Drize: 'What Will Change In The New Political Cycle Conditionally Dubbed 'Putin 4.0'? Nothing'
Kommersant FM's political observer, Dmitry Drize, commented:
"The campaign organizers can probably be congratulated well done. Almost all the objectives have been fulfilled. The main candidate has won with a strong performance. This [voting] figure increases from election to election, meaning that the state leader's popularity is growing. And Putin's core electorate is expanding. By definition, it simply can't be anything else...
"What will change in the new political cycle conditionally dubbed 'Putin 4.0'? Nothing. The whole point is that there cannot be any wholesale changes. This is akin to shocks, and what we have is stability. The government does not change, it works, meaning everything is fine. You see the numbers themselves – current policy is supported by an absolute majority of voters. There may be spot readjustments, let's say, a few new faces in the government. And that's it."
(Kommersant.ru, March 19, 2018)
- Putin's 'National Goals' For Next 6 Years: Ambition vs. Reality (Khodorkovsky.com, March 23, 2018; Rad the full article)
Russian Ambassador to the UK: Nobody Has The Right To Insult The Russian People By Comparing Our Country To Nazi Germany
Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko's replies to a question from the media:
Q: "What is your comment to yesterday's statements by Boris Johnson who compared the World Cup in Russia with the  Olympic Games in Nazi Germany?"
Yakovenko: "I am authorized to say that Moscow considers this kind of statement, made at the level of Foreign Secretary, in any way unacceptable and totally irresponsible.
"The British government is free to make a decision about its participation in the World Cup. But nobody has the right to insult the Russian people, who defeated Nazism and lost more than 25 million people, by comparing our country to Nazi Germany.
"That goes beyond common sense and we don't think British war veterans, including those of the Arctic convoys [that supplied the USSR], would share this opinion."
(Rusemb.org.uk, March 22, 2018)
- Putin 'will use World Cup like Hitler's Olympics', agrees Johnson (Bbc.com, March 21, 2018; Read the full article)
- Boris Johnson compares Putin's annexation of Crimea with Hitler's occupation of the Sudetenland (Telegraph.co.uk, March 23, 2018; Read the full article)
- The EU has recalled its ambassador to Moscow after leaders agreed it was "highly likely" Russia was responsible for a nerve agent attack in the UK. (Bbc.com, March 23, 2018; Read the full article)
- The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied reports on Saturday that former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin in 2012 asking for permission to return to Russia. (Sputniknews.com, March 24, 2018; Read the full article)
- According to Vladimir Ermakov, head of the non-proliferation and arms control department at the Russian Defense Ministry, "either the British authorities are unable to protect from a terrorist attack on their territory or staged the attack themselves." "Russia owes nothing and can bear no responsibility for the actions or lack of actions on British soil," Ermakov added. (Sputniknews.com, March 21, 2018; Read the full article)
- Ambassador Yakovenko to the "Mail on Sunday": "Russia's record is cleaner than Britain's. We didn't invade Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya. And in Syria we have helped the government to destroy ISIS (which makes no distinctions between Russian and Britons - we are all targets for them) and now work for a political solution. We don't tell other nations how to vote. We support UN peacekeeping effort around the globe and build successful alliances with most countries of the world: in Asia-Pacific, Central Asia and Middle East, Latin America, Africa, much of Europe. We have excellent relations with China and India. This is not something you would call a rogue state, right?" (Rusemb.org.uk, March 17, 2018; Read the full interview)
- "What Сan Britain Do in Response to Russian Nerve Attack?" by Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). (Russiancouncil.ru, March 14, 2018; Read the full article)
Russian Anti-Liberal Philosopher Dugin In Macedonia
The media outlet Balkan Insight reported about a March 2018 conference in Skopje, Macedonia, in which Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin participated. The conference was organized by a small pro-Russian party, United Macedonia. During the conference, Dugin stressed that Russia has become the symbol of the fight against the liberal ideology. Dugin said: "The liberal ideology is totalitarian. It wants to destroy traditions. Many nations discard it in order to protect their culture, language and religion. We are glad that Russia became a symbol of this process."
Below are excerpts from the Balkan Insight's report:
"Some 400 people packed the conference hall in Skopje's Hotel Continental on Saturday [March 3, 2018], many of whom were left standing.
"There were there to see the guest star of the panel, the Russian analyst, strategist and philosopher Alexander Dugin, a Russian philosopher who has been referred to as Russian President Vladimir Putin's 'favorite philosopher'.
"Dugin, joined by another prominent Russian analyst, Leonid Savin, were guests on the panel organized by a small pro-Russian party, United Macedonia – which chose this name in apparent deference to Putin's own party, United Russia.
"Although the Russian guests are not listed among Putin's official advisors, many see Dugin as the chief 'ideologist' or 'brains' of the Kremlin.
"Either way, Dugin strongly opposes Western liberal values and champions an alternative Pan-Slavic brotherhood, which includes strengthening the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.
"He himself said he was in Macedonia in an unofficial capacity, as Russia's 'people's diplomat'.
"Dugin told the meeting that the 'West' is failing, alongside the European Union, noting Britain's decision to leave the EU and the rise of 'euro-skepticism in Poland, Greece, Italy and Hungary. Turkey has already discarded the idea of EU membership', he said.
"'When they tell you that there is no alternative to EU and NATO, that represents blackmail, humiliation and colonization,' he added, urging the West to mind its own business instead of spreading its 'failed ideology'.
"The audience listened intently, breaking off to cheer 'Russia, Russia' and applaud during each brief intermission.
"'The liberal ideology is totalitarian. It wants to destroy traditions. Many nations discard it in order to protect their culture, language and religion. We are glad that Russia became a symbol of this process,' Dugin continued. 'We say to you that you have an alternative and that each nation should choose for itself. No matter your decision, you will remain our friends and brothers' but, 'you should make that decision freely'.
"The loud cheers at each mention of Russia and of Putin continued during the speech of the other Russian guest, Savin.
"He insisted that the Eurasian Economic Union was a democratic force, unlike the EU. 'The creation of the EU was based on an ideology of fear. It was created so that certain Western countries would stop warring among each other,' Savin said, adding that 'Brussels is Washington's satellite.'
"On the other hand, he said, with the Eurasian Economic Union, 'you have integration based on respect, no matter if the country has 2 million or 200 million people'. Savin called the Eurasian Union 'a synthesis of different sovereignties' based on consensual decision making. 'If one member-country does not accept something, that thing is not implemented. That is a real democracy,' he said.
"He argued that if Macedonia chose to join the Russian-led club, its identity and traditions would be preserved, which might well not be the case if - as he said - it joins NATO and the EU.
"This was referring European and American pressure on Macedonia to resolve the long-standing dispute over its name with Greece if it wishes to advance its Euro-Atlantic perspectives. This may also result in Macedonia having to alter or modify its name.
"One of the hosts of the panel, the vice president of the non-parliamentary United Macedonia party, Stefan Vlahov Micov, was less restrained than his Russian guests when speaking about the West. He called the United States, NATO and the EU 'the fourth Fascist Reich', theorizing that America wants war with 'the free world' – defined as Russia, China, Iran and other countries – and the annihilation of Serbia and Macedonia.
"'The U.S. is determined to go to war with Russia until the last European [standing] and with China until the last Asian [standing],' he said. He called on Macedonia to free itself from 'Anglo-Saxon clutches' and join a Pan-Slavic union where it 'naturally belongs.'
"Some in the audience tried to flatter the Russian guests by speaking Russian or by handing over paintings and Orthodox Christian icons.
"Many of them asked Russia to help Macedonia resist pressure to change its name, should the current center-left government under Zoran Zaev strike a deal with Greece. But Dugin warned that Russia could only help countries that seek its aid. 'In order to help someone, he should ask for help,' Dugin said, insisting that Moscow does not interfere before it receives an official request from another country.
"Syria's President Bashar al-Assad 'came to Russia and asked for help and Russia settled the situation is Syria by sending our heroes to fight and die for the brotherly Syrian people,' he elaborated, by way of example. Although despising Western liberalism, Dugin insisted that the best way to beat it involves using some of its own preferred methods, such as street agitation and social media campaigns.
"'When [U.S. billionaire philanthropist George] Soros doesn't like a certain government, he brings people onto the streets. We should use the same methods – social networks are a good playing field and so are protests,' he told the audience."
(Balkaninsight.com, March 5, 2018; See full article)
In 2017, the Moldovan government introduced anti-Russian measures (i.e. declaring Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who co-chairs the intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation and is special presidential envoy for Transnistria, persona non grata). A group of Russian diplomats was expelled, and some Russian celebrities, public figures and journalists were banned from entering Moldova.
Furthermore, the Moldovan Ambassador to Russia was recalled in December 2017 for consultations in Chisinau.
On March 23, Moldova’s Ambassador to Russia Andrei Neguta returned to Moscow. "He came back with a particular instruction from the Moldovan leadership to step up work on enhancing bilateral relations," the Embassy said.
(Tass.com, March 23, 2018)
- Russia and Moldova don’t employ in full the potentials of bilateral relations, which need to get a boost, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday after Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin visited Chisinau on March 20-22. (Tass.com, March 20, 2018; Read the full article)
- Moldova and Bosnia signed an agreement to cooperate on EU integration, as Chisinau seeks to develop its relations with Western Balkans countries. (Balkaninsight.com, March 20, 2018; Read the full article)
- A court has jailed former deputy Iurie Bolboceanu for 14 years for spying for Moscow – making him the first [ex] deputy to be jailed in Moldova since independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. (Balkaninsight.com, March 14, 2018; Read the full article)
- An explosion caused by a grenade detonating at a shop in Moldova’s capital Chisinau on Tuesday killed two people and wounded three. The shop is located in central Chisinau, near several public institutions, the headquarters of Moldova’s main opposition faction, the liberal pro-EU "Action and Solidarity Party", and several embassies and the OSCE’s Moldova office. (Balkaninsight.com, March 20, 2018; Read the full article)
- Moldovan President Igor Dodon has condemned the government’s plans of defense purchases from NATO, adding that they were a result of pressure from abroad. (Tass.com, March 1, 2018; Read the full article)
News In Brief:
- Ukrainian MP Nadiya Savchenko may face up to 15 years in jail or even life imprisonment if she is found guilty on a number of grave charges, including a terror plot and preparing a coup. (Unian.info, March 23, 2018; Read the full article)
- Independent Verkhovna Rada member Nadiya Savchenko, who is accused of preparing a coup, may be subjected to a forced psychiatric evaluation, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko said. (Kyivpost.com, March 22, 2018; Read the full article)
- The statement that the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (parliament) deputy Nadezhda Savchenko was recruited by intelligence services while imprisoned in Russia, is "sheer nonsense," the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with the Mir 24 TV channel broadcast. (Tass.com, March 24, 2018; Read the full article)