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memri
December 8, 2016 No.
6704

Russia This Week – November 27-December 8, 2016

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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Cartoon Of The Week

Description: https://pp.vk.me/c836421/v836421331/13ec0/eCIMIPiC1eg.jpg
Vk.com/supercartoon, December 3, 2016.

Trump's secretary of defense pick and retired US Marine Corps four-star Gen. James Mattis as seen by Russian cartoonist Vitaly Podvitsky.

Zakharova Dixit

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:

Description: http://www.mid.ru/documents/10180/2540681/%D0%B1%D1%80%D0%B8%D1%84%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B3.jpg/be377c1f-1ae9-4068-a274-3629f022e4bc?t=1480503454141

During her weekly briefing, Zakharova responded to UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon’s comment that Russia should not be treated as “any kind of equal partner”. Zakharova said:

"As you may be aware, UK Secretary of State for Defense Michael Fallon suggested that President-elect Donald Trump should not treat Russia as an equal partner, which is what, he said, the UK is expecting from the new US administration.

In a bold statement, Mr Fallon said the following: ‘I think you have to distinguish between the campaign rhetoric of President-elect Trump and what he does in practice. In practice every American administration has always stood up to Russia. We’re not suggesting you shouldn’t talk to Russia but what you can’t do is treat Russia as business as usual, as any kind of equal partner.’ According to this brave man, Britain is not afraid to be left in isolation as it continues its policy of confrontation with Russia, adding that the recent decision on deploying 150 British servicemen in Poland was part of a plan to respond to Russia's attempt to test NATO. ‘We have to make clear that NATO is a defensive alliance but equally it is prepared to come to the defense of those members who feel very vulnerable particularly on the eastern flank, countries like the three Baltic States and Poland in particular.’ I know how I'm going to refer to Poland and the Baltic states from now on – vulnerable NATO members. Mr. Fallon, thank you for that. You made my life much easier because now I can stop looking for the right word.

“Now, let’s look at each remark separately. In general, it is totally unclear why the officials of Western states believe they can interfere with the internal affairs of not so vulnerable NATO members, but rather a fairly normal member of this organization, such as the United States. First, look at the sheer number of statements made prior to the election of the US President. French President Hollande and German officials were openly supporting one candidate. It’s not that they went as far as making inappropriate remarks about the other candidate, but they did their best to humiliate him. Importantly, they did so not for political reasons but on a personal level, taking the low road to hurt his feelings. Why is this happening? We are talking about the internal affairs of a perfectly normal, invulnerable NATO member. Are you going to also defend Washington?

“As for the next point about not treating Russia as an equal, Mr. Fallon, many have tried, but none have succeeded. There’s no point in dragging the United Kingdom into another experiment which will surely fail.

I really liked it when Mr. Fallon said that Britain is not afraid to be left in isolation. We have some practical advice we can share with you, do not hesitate to ask.

“What are we to make of all this? Of course, it’s about creating an image of an enemy. This is another attempt, basically doomed, because no one can make it happen, even if you want the people in your country to develop a Russophobic frame of mind. I won’t say much on this."

(Mid.ru, November 30)

Quotes Of The Week

Diplomaatiaa, the largest foreign and security policy monthly in the Baltics, interviewed the Director of the Moscow center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dmitri Trenin, on U.S.-Russia relations.

Q: “Putin and Trump have somewhat similar masculine personalities. Do you think this will contribute to their relationship?”

Trenin: “I disagree because they are completely different people. They come from entirely different cultures and environments. However, I am not a psychologist … There might be something similar about their qualities as a leader. Trump has a certain quality of a primal leader. You may call him an alpha male, if you like. Clinton, for instance, was a leader produced by the system. Putin is also the type of leader who has not been created by the system. The system wanted to shape him into a completely different leader. In that sense they are indeed similar. But they do not have much else in common.

Q: “When Putin and Trump meet for the first time, what will it take for them to get along?”

Trenin: “A lot depends on whether they manage to agree once they sit down—Putin would say, like ‘two real men’ (dva muzhika)—and begin actual negotiations. Putin’s main problem with Western leaders is that the latter are hypocritical, two-faced as a rule. This is the style of today’s Western leaders—they have to be hypocrites simply because democracy involves many different groups who should not be offended; they have to smile and say something to all of them. They have to navigate around everyone.”

Q: Are you saying that Putin does not get along with Western leaders because dealing with such hypocrisy is so uncomfortable for him?

Trenin: “Yes, he is uncomfortable because this makes it difficult to begin serious discussions.”

Q: Putin himself is not hypocritical, I take it?

Trenin: “There is a difference—while the West is overwhelmingly hypocritical, Russia is predominantly cynical. Russia is a cynical country. And when this Russian cynicism meets Western hypocrisy, things just won’t work.

Q: “So Putin is a cynic rather than hypocrite?”

Trenin: “Of course he is a cynic. He does not need to be a hypocrite because his system does not force him to be. Naturally, he is sometimes hypocritical as well, but he can allow himself to be straightforward and cynical because we are not a democratic country. He is a tsar who controls the whole situation in the country, and therefore, he can allow himself to be blunt. I am exaggerating of course, but only a little.”

(Diplomaatia.ee, November, 2016)

Description: http://www.diplomaatia.ee/fileadmin/_processed_/csm_268_dfede1c811.jpg
Dmitri Trenin (Source: Diplomaatia.ee)

In The News:

Russia-U.S. Relations

Ilya Rogachev, director of the Department for New Challenges and Threats (DNCT) at the Russian Foreign Ministry, said: "Our countries [Russia and the U.S.] will have to make serious efforts in order to restore the trust and to find compromises concerning controversial counter-terrorism related issues. I'm not sure that in this context that Donald Trump will prove to be a markedly convenient US president. Another matter is that there are careful expectations that the current administration's anti-Russian path will be corrected. But it's not that simple.”

He then added: "Will Trump's team be able, once it has settled into position in Washington, to quickly suppress the existing establishment habit of looking down upon Russia? Will Trump really do it? If this happens, and the policy of deterring Russia will be replaced by [one] that perceives Russia as an equal partner with its own national interests and value system, which deserve respect, then it will provide a good basis for normalizing an anti-terror dialogue."

(Ria.ru, November 21)

On November 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed a meeting of the International Forum Primakov Readings devoted to the study of Soviet and Russian statesman Yevgeny Primakov’s academic and political heritage. Commenting on Russia-U.S. relations. Putin said: "Sadly, Russia-US relations have deteriorated considerably over these last years, but this is not our fault. Now that the election campaign is over in the United States and a new president will soon enter the White House, we hope that this will create an opportunity to improve these relations, which are so important not only for our two peoples, but also for ensuring international stability and security. During my recent telephone conversation with Mr. Donald Trump, we agreed that something must certainly be done about the current unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations. As I have said, our country is ready to cover its part of the road."

(Kremlin.ru, November 30)

 

Description: Vladimir Putin addressed the Primakov Readings International Forum.
Putin addressing the Primakov Readings International Forum. (Source: Kremlin.ru)

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that Moscow is in contact with some members of US President-elect Donald Trump’s team on the Syrian crisis. Bogdanov said: "These are different people whom we have known for a long time already."

(Tass.com, November 30) 

However, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not confirm the Kremlin’s contacts on the Syrian conflict resolution with the Trump’s team. Peskov said: "I cannot confirm reports of these contacts… As far as I know, the team of the president elect has not been formed yet." He then added that issues regarding the resolution of the Syrian crisis are being discussed "with our partners in the current US administration."

(Tass.com, November 30)

Putin's Address To The Federal Assembly

On December 1, Putin delivered the Annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. Putin said:

Can we develop successfully on the shaky foundation of a weak state and apathetic government controlled from abroad and that no longer has the people’s trust? The answer is clearly no. In recent years, we have seen a number of countries where this kind of situation has opened the road to adventurists, coups, and ultimately, anarchy. Everywhere, the result is the same: human tragedies and victims, degradation and ruin, and disappointment… You all know that we have encountered attempts to pressure us from abroad over these last years. I mentioned this twice. They have used every means: from spreading myths about Russian aggression, propaganda and meddling in others’ elections to persecuting our athletes, including our Paralympic athletes. But, as I said, every cloud has a silver lining, and the doping scandal, I am sure, will help us to put in place the most advanced system here in Russia for fighting this scourge. I say this based on the fact that our national doping prevention program will be ready at the start of next year. What I want to say is that everyone has more than had their fill now of media campaigns carried out to order, the fabrication and publication of compromising material, and moralizing lectures. If need be, we can lecture whoever, but we understand our responsibility and we have a sincere desire to take part in resolving global and regional problems, in situations, of course, where our involvement is fitting, wanted and needed. We do not want confrontation with anyone. We have no need for it and neither do our partners or the global community. Unlike some of our colleagues abroad, who consider Russia an adversary, we do not seek and never have sought enemies. We need friends. But we will not allow our interests to be infringed upon or ignored. We want to and will decide our destiny ourselves and build our present and future without others’ unasked for advice and prompting. At the same time, we desire well-intentioned and equal dialogue and we affirm the principles of justice and mutual respect in international affairs. We are ready for a serious discussion on building a stable system of international relations for the 21st century. Sadly, the decades that have passed since the end of the Cold War have been wasted. We support security and development opportunities not just for the select few, but for all countries and peoples, and we support respect for international law and global diversity. We oppose any monopoly, whether it be a claim to exceptionality or attempts to bend the international trade rules to suit one’s own needs, limit freedom of speech and, in fact, introduce censorship to the global information space. We were always reproached for supposedly imposing censorship here in Russia, but now we see that others are taking this road themselves.”

He then added: “Russia attaches great importance to the idea of building a multi-level integration model for Eurasia in the form of a Greater Eurasian Partnership. We are already discussing this idea on various international and regional levels. I am confident that we can have conversation with the European Union countries, where the demand for political and economic independence is currently on the rise. This is what we see judging by election results… In today’s challenging environment, the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China have become one of the key factors in ensuring global and regional stability. This partnership can be regarded as a model for shaping a world order free from the domination of a single country, no matter how strong it is, and taking into account the interests of all countries in harmony.”

Concerning Russia-U.S. Relations, Putin said: “Russia is also ready to work with the new U.S. Administration. It is important to put bilateral relations back on track and to develop them on an equal and mutually beneficial basis. Cooperation between Russia and the United States in addressing global and regional issues will benefit the whole world. We have a shared responsibility to ensure international security and stability, to strengthen non-proliferation regimes. I would like to emphasize that attempts to break the strategic parity are extremely dangerous and can lead to a global catastrophe. We must not forget about it even for a second. I certainly count on joining efforts with the United States in the fight against real rather than fictional threats, international terrorism being one of them. That is the task our servicemen are fulfilling in Syria. Terrorists have suffered significant losses. The Russian Army and Navy have shown convincingly that they are capable of operating effectively away from their permanent deployment sites.”

Description: Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.
Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. (Kremlin.ru)

Russia In Syria

A familiar Facebook page on Russia’s military activities in Syria is Facebook.com/Russianmilitaryinsyria. The page, which commands over 22,000 followers, advertises itself as "the only major unofficial page of the Russian forces operating at the Khmeimim Airbase in Syria." It is managed by two primarily Syria-based Russians – a man using the pseudonym "Ivanov" and a woman who calls herself "Ilina". They serve as spokespersons for the Russian regime. The Arabic language page apparently seeks to boost the morale of pro-Assad Syrians. For example, a recent post stated: "The Syrian army's victory in Aleppo will be a crushing blow delivered by the ruling party to the opposition parties." Another post read: "We will make Aleppo a lesson for all of Washington's allies."

Although it designates itself as "unofficial," the page is apparently subordinate to the Russian Defense Ministry. (One of the posts, dealing with Russian airstrikes, said: "We have not been authorized to issue an announcement regarding the type of planes that carried out the airstrikes... and have not received an order from the military command in Moscow to address this topic.")

Most of the posts deal with the Russian position on Syria, and occasionally quote Russian officials. There are also many reports on Russian military operations in Syria. The air offensive on Aleppo was preceded by numerous reports predicting such as offensive. There are also reports that the Russia is considering establishing bases in Syria, manned jointly by both Russian and Syrian troops, to complete the anti-terror campaign. 

The site administrators are apparently high-ranking figures. A post stated that one of them had attended a Turkish-sponsored meeting in Ankara this week between Russian military officials and representatives of the Syrian opposition.

The site features many photos of Russian forces in Syria, for example, photos captioned "Russia's military engineers with the ground forces helping the Syrian army." 

Occasionally, criticism of the Syrian army's performance creeps in. A November 26, 2016 post cited the testimony of a Syrian soldier who had been stationed at a northeastern Syria base, who claimed that when ISIS attacked the base, the Syrian army commanders fled thus allowing ISIS to take it over.

News In Brief:

  • On December 6, Putin received Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yildirim in the Kremlin to discuss the development of bilateral trade and economic cooperation. (Kremlin.ru, December 6)

  • On December 12-13, Lavrov will pay a working visit to Serbia. In Belgrade, he will be received by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. He will also confer with First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic. (Mid.ru)

  • On December 5, Lavrov will hold talks with Perfecto Yasay, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, during the latter's December 4-6working visit to Russia. (Mid.ru)