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.
Video Of The Week
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Elderly female activists, members of the so-called "Putin Detachments" in the city of Krasnoyarsk burned a full-size effigy of U.S. President Donald Trump. Marat Dinaev, the leader and founder of the Putin Detachmaents said: "He got burnt in a purifying blaze, which may also burn down America, if it does not stop its aggressive actions against Russia!"
(Lenta.ru, May 11, 2018)
Question Of The Week
Are Russians truly happy?
The Russian media outlet TASS reported the results of an opinion poll done by the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research [VCIOM].According to the opinion poll, more than 80% Russians regard themselves as fortunate.
The center said: "The level of happiness the Russians have been showing over the past twelve months is the highest over the entire history of opinion polls in this country. The latest poll shows that 83% Russians think they are lucky people on the whole."
The center added: "Younger respondents traditionally assess their current status more optimistically [87% in the age bracket of 18 to 24 years old. The same applies to higher-earning respondents [96%], people older than 60 years old [79%], and low-income categories of the population [58%]."
(Tass.com, May 3, 2018)
The above optimistic survey data seemingly clashes with other figures reported by the Russian newspaper Kommersant, concerning asylum requests by Russian citizens seeking political asylum in the U.S. and the EU. Quoting Radio Free Europe, Kommersant wrote: during the last year 2500 persons applied for political asylum in the U.S., which is 40% higher than the 2016 figure. The previous record numbers were registered in mid-90s – 2100 requests for political asylum (when the Russian economy was in freefall).
According to the newspaper there is a steady growing tendency since 2012 for Russians to seek asylum in the U.S.. As for Europe, during 2017 there were 12.5 thousands asylum requests in various European countries; 5000 of these requests were submitted to Germany.
(Kommersant.ru, May 3, 2018)
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov questioned the authenticity of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service statistics, quoted by Radio Free Europe:
"We do not know how true they [these statistics] are. In the sea of falsehoods one should be very cautious about interpreting any such figures. It is hardly possible to trust them off-hand."
(Tass.com, May 3, 2018)
In The News:
U.S. Sanctions Against Russia
Commenting on the new round of U.S. sanctions against Russia, the Russian Ministry of the Foreign Affairs stated:
"Washington has imposed additional sanctions against Russia, allegedly for violating the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, which has no connection to Russia. In effect, this U.S. decision has been precipitated by a trivial desire to get even with Russia over the failed missile attack on Syria, which the United States, Britain and France launched on April 14 in violation of international law.
"Evidence of this is the inclusion in the sanctions list of the Gatchina Surface-to-Air Missile Training Centre at the Mozhaisky Military Aerospace Academy and the 183rd Guards Air Defence Missile Regiment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. In all likelihood, they are being punished for providing good training and instructions to the Syrian air defense forces, which shot down the majority of the missiles launched by the Western aggressors.
"It is notable that the sanctions list also includes the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Russian General Staff and Rosoboronexport (ROE). It appears that our American colleagues have forgotten that they imposed sanctions against these parties before and are seeking to intimidate us with the same threats that have failed.
"Washington continues to nurture the illusion that economic or military pressure can prevent Russia from upholding its own interests and supporting its partners. A desire to maintain its unilateral global domination despite the costs involved is prompting the United States to take irrational and openly dangerous steps. We would like to tell US politicians that trying to 'punish' everyone who pursues an independent policy is not a good idea. The latest sanctions essentially amount to recognition of the combat capabilities of the Soviet and Russian weapons used by the Syrian air defense crews on April 14, when they shot down the bulk of the incoming missiles."
(Mid.ru, May 9, 2018)
Anti-Sanctions Law Tabled
A draft criminalizing any activity designed to implement foreign sanctions in Russia against Russian companies or citizens was introduced in the Russian legislature on May 13). The sponsors are the speakers of both the Duma and the Federation Council as well as the leaders of all fractions represented in the legislature. The crime will carry a fine of up to 500,000 rubles, a four-year prison term, or a prison term accompanied by forced labor. The explanation attached to the law stated that the law was targeted at defending the freedoms and rights of the country's citizens and the defense of Russian interests and security.
(Rbc.ru, May 15, 2018)
- Russian businesses could get new secrecy privileges to guard against U.S. sanctions. (Meduza.io, May 10, 2018; Read the full article)
- Members of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, suggest establishing a penalty for individuals in the form of penal custody for up to four years for refusal to make deals in pursuance of anti-Russian sanctions. (Tass.com, May 11, 2018; Read the full article)
America's Withdrawal From The Iran Nuclear Deal
Russia continued its criticism of the American decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal. According to Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action(JCPOA) serves as a cover for its protectionist policy.
"It raises many questions. As you know, European capitals, including Paris, have voiced extreme concern over the violation of French and European commercial interests active in Iran as they now may face U.S. sanctions… It is actually protectionism in disguise since these steps run totally counter to the WTO’s rules… As far as we understand, our European counterparts intend to employ all the existing international mechanisms to protect their interests."
(Tass.com, May 10, 2018)
During a joint press conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed the JCPOA.
Question: "After the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme, Tehran announced that the deal will remain in force if its goals can be achieved through cooperation with other participants. Did you talk about that? Is such cooperation already being worked on? What steps can be taken to protect Iran from U.S. sanctions and prevent Tehran’s withdrawal from this agreement?"
Lavrov: "We are seriously concerned about the decision by the U.S. President’s Administration to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in what is a major violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 which approved that plan and made it part of international law.
"We appreciate the Iranian government’s balanced reaction to this decision because it is necessary to assess all the consequences of Washington’s move. Haste would have certainly been counterproductive here. Russia, Germany, France, Britain, China and Iran are yet to conduct such an assessment. We are already working on it. Quite soon, we will compare opinions.
"I would single out several points worth noting. You asked what steps can be taken to protect Iran from American sanctions. This is perhaps a slightly oversimplified approach because the point at issue here is more than just not resuming the anti-Iranian sanctions (as regards unilateral US sanctions, we can do nothing about that). The point is that this may not concern the lifting of the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. The lifting of the sanctions is not subject to revision. Unilateral American sanctions against Iran, if Washington tries again to apply this portion of restrictions extraterritorially, will, of course, undermine in the most serious manner the general situation in the region and in relations between the U.S. and Europe, the US and Russia. We will assess this, including from the point of view of WTO norms and principles. Let me repeat, however, that this deal, as they call it, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is not just about lifting the sanctions, but also about the need to stabilize the region and, most importantly, to strengthen the WMD non-proliferation regime. The harm that is being caused to these achievements is yet to be fully assessed, but it is very substantial."
(Mid.ru, May 10, 2018)
Lavrov Criticizes U.S. Embassy Move To Jerusalem
In his meeting with the Special U.N. coordination for the Middle East peace process, Nikolai Mladenov, Lavrov criticized the U.S. decision to move its embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem as part of the alarming attempts to change the geopolitical cards in the Middle East and North Africa, and "in order to marginalize the Palestinian problem to the remotest backburner." Lavrov said that the embassy move deepened the Israeli-Palestinian impasse with its explosive potential.
(Tass.ru. May 11. 2018)
Israel's Counter Strike In Syria
On the night of May 10, Israel repelled an Iranian missile attack in the Golan Heights and launched a counterstrike against Iranian targets in Syria.
Taking into consideration the extraordinary reception granted to Netanyahu in Moscow, it's unsurprising that Russia has not publicly and officially condemned Israel over the strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. This suggests that Russia and Iran are not that closely aligned in Syria.
Of course it was impossible to pass over the strikes in complete silence.
Deputy FM Mikhail Bogdanov told a journalist that the situation in Syria following the Israeli strikes aroused serious concern and urged all sides to demonstrate self-restraint.
(Ria.ru, May 10, 2018)
In the Duma, the connection was made between the Israeli strikes and Donald Trump's decision to exit the JCPOA. MP Leonid Slutsky, who chairs the Duma's International Affairs Committee, enunciated this line of thinking:
"Israeli strikes against Iranian positions in Syria is a direct pre-planned action following the US exit from the nuclear deal. This action is the next stage in an American-Israeli provocation against Iran".
(Ria.ru, May 10, 2018)
As opposed to Slutsky, Senator Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on International Affairs, projected a more neutral approach
"As for Russia, we are definitely and categorically against any enhanced military activity in this region, and not only because our military is stationed there. Any escalation will constitute an addition burden on the Syrian people ( as well as all the others in the region), will lead to new victims and won't bring any tangible benefit to either side...
"In this context Russia does not unequivocally support one side of the conflict (as opposed to the US, for example). Though we enjoy a fully constructive relations with Tehran in actualizing the Astana process for an intra-Syrian settlement and standing against the terrorists in Syria, the participation of Israeli prime-minister in the "Immortal regiment" march in Moscow on May, 9 was quite demonstrative. This is Russia's unique political –diplomatic position, which should be exploited to the full in favor of common interests. Russia does not have an enemy in the Israeli-Iranian confrontation, this confrontation itself is Russia's enemy".
Kremlin: Nixing Delivery Of S-300s To Syria
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented on a statement, which acting Russian Presidential Aide for Military and Technical Cooperation Vladimir Kozhin gave in an interview with the newspaper Izvestia about the nixing of delivery of S-300 to Syria.
Peskov said: "Technologically, it is absolutely incorrect to link this [Kozhin's words] with Netanyahu's visit because the interview was given before Netanyahu's visit."
Russian news agency TASS wrote that Moscow never announced such deliveries and "only specified that it reserves the right in the wake of US-led airstrikes against Syria to do everything possible in this situation."
On April 16, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov stated that Russia was ready to consider all steps to reinforce Syria's defense capabilities, including the delivery of the S-300 systems. On April 23, Lavrov added that the delivery of the S-300s had not yet been decided on but Putin had discussed this subject with the defense chief "in the context of preventing a situation where the Syrian Arab Republic would be left inadequately prepared for aggressive acts similar to the attack on April 14."
(Tass.com, May 11, 2018)
Six More Years?
The Chechen parliament intends to submit to the Russian state Duma a draft to prolong the presidential service terms from two consecutive terms to three. The draft implies amending the Russian constitution.
"This amendment does not diminish the state's democratic bases and empowers people to decide their own future" – according to the explanations attached to the draft.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said earlier: "As long as the current president is in a [good] state of health, we should not be thinking about any other head of the state. That's my personal view and I am not about to change it. Putin has no alternative".
(Kommersant.ru. May 9, 2018)
Strange But True
Independent media outlet Meduza.io reported that teachers and civil servants in the Moscow region’s Voskresensk district received instructions to "like" posts on social media written by local state officials.
Meduza.io published: "Titled 'Rules and Regulations for Specialists on Social Media,' the instructions require staff to open accounts on social networks (if they don’t already have them), and then to “submit a friend request” to Voskresensk municipal district head Oleg Sukhar, district chief of staff Vitaly Chekov, education department head Irma Pismennaya, and her assistant, Igor Podolenchuk."
(Meduza.io, May 8, 2018)
The number of likes received on the most recent 100 Vkontakte posts by Vitaly Chekhov (blue) and Oleg Sukhar (orange).
Municipality officials of the city of Vladivostok were obligated to use a patriotic ringtone (the "Song of Vladivostok" by composer Pyotr Semin) on their workplace phones.
The mayor Vitaly Verkeenko explained that building an ideology is part of the dialogue process with the city's dwellers and the social organizations, and the new ringtone is part of it. "I want that anyone who calls to the municipality to understand that here we love the city and we are ready to work for the prosperity of all its citizens".
(Znak.com, May 10, 2018)
News In Brief
- How To Stop Vladimir Putin’s Mafia. Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky wrote: "After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, I predicted that Russia’s stance toward the U.S. would become more antagonistic. Vladimir Putin always needs a foreign enemy to rally his nation around him and divert attention from the poor Russian economy. Mr. Putin’s aggression has indeed managed to raise tension between the U.S. and Russia. But instead of reinforcing Mr. Putin’s narrative by punishing Russia as a whole, the U.S. should target its response toward Mr. Putin and his inner circle." (Khodorkovsky.com, April 23, 2018; Read the full article)