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.
Quote Of The Week
Responding to a question posed by Michael Henry from Wellington Management in Boston at the recent Russia Calling investment forum on how he, Putin, envisions Russia after his departure from the political scene, the Russian President replied:
"Why the hurry? I am not going anywhere yet. But I can tell you the following: Russia is already feeling confident, self-sufficient but it is also open to cooperation with all our partners, including the United States. I hope that this realization will eventually come to them and the need to solve our common problems and matters will encourage us to work together efficiently.
(Kremlin.ru, November 28, 2018)
The Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
Russia continued its efforts to prevent a US exit from the 1987 INF Treaty. It on the one hand appealed to American reason and on the other hand condemned the imminent departure as representative of the recent American scofflaw approach.
Vladimir Ermakov, director, Department of the Nonproliferation and Weapons Control in the Russian Foreign Ministry illustrated the first approach. He explained that Russia had honored the treaty provision contrary to American allegations and reminded the Americans that Russia had back in 2007 supported extending the treaty worldwide, which would have addressed the American concern that China was free to develop and deploy such missiles. In an interview to the RIA news agency he was asked what would happen if push came to shove.
Q: Which scenarios Russia considers in case the US finally quits the INF treaty?
A: We depart from the premise that the US will not resort to such a rash decisions. We also hope that in the final analysis they will give a sober assessment the real situation in the world. Yet, naturally, we have a response if the situation unfolds to any direction. The president of Russia has warned ( them ) regarding that. So, listen to the Russian president. One who does not want to hear what Lavrov explains in detail at the moment, will have to listen and hear to what ( minister of defense ) Sergey Shoigu will explain ( to him in the future)
(Ria.ru, November 23, 2018)
In contrast, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov, whose brief includes weakening ties between the US and Europe, made a thinly veiled attack on the Trump Administration and said that European security could be best served by abandoning the policy of blocs.
"In 2018, one hundred years after the WWI Armistice, some countries that are seeking to become "great again" have little hesitation when venturing to break down the system of nuclear arms control and strategic stability, which has been built through laborious and painstaking efforts. They withdraw from the smoothly working Iran nuclear deal and push their NATO partners towards expanding military spending of the Alliance," he said.
"It is silly and dangerous in the present-day world to indulge in comparing the size of their ‘nuclear buttons’ and testing each other for strength," he stressed.
"Security, including European security, can be enhanced only through common efforts. We are convinced that the bloc-based approach to security matters is detrimental and defective," Chizhov added.
(Tass.com, November 26, 2018))
Russia And The Mediterranean
On November 22-24 the Med 2018 convened in Rome under the aegis of the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI). The conclave gathering leaders across the Mediterranean discussed themes such as security, migration and preventing a recurrence of ISIS. Russia was represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Lavrov was clear about whom he considered culpable for the region's burning problems:
"The Mediterranean, which is the cradle of the world’s civilisations and world religions, is now a huge hotbed of international tension, the source of very, very dangerous challenges, including terrorism and drug trafficking, illegal migration, other forms of organised crime. And certainly we are very concerned by a very fast process of Christians, the Christian presence being reduced drastically. And this is happening in the countries where from times immemorial representatives of various confessions lived together in peace. And this, of course, is a direct result of the attempts to impose upon the people of the Middle East and North Africa the values that are foreign to them, the values and the recipes of how they should live in their own countries. Not only these countries but the entire international community is paying a very high price for such reckless politics, including the countries that having violated the international law, the principles of the United Nations Charter provoke chaos and anarchy on this huge geopolitical space. And sometimes it is my impression that the lessons of Iraq, Libya, Syria are not really taken into account by those who try to continue those arrogant policies in this region.
We know how the world order, the international law, the fundamental international agreements are being ruined. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran is one example. The INF Treaty – Intermediate Forces Treaty – is under threat. The principles of open trade, of WTO are also under attack, and quite aggressive attack."
If the US, in Lavrov's opinion was the main culprit, he did not spare the Europeans either:
"Another example of the attempts to substitute international law with rules-based order is what we witness in the Council of Europe, where a small but very aggressive group of parliamentarians is directly undermining the statute of this unique pan-European organisation, especially the principle of the statute which guarantees equal rights for all member states in all organs of the Council of Europe. Maybe we were not listening too well – it was more than four years ago, in March 2014 – to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was at the time Secretary-General of NATO. He stated that the unified will of the members of NATO is an extremely powerful source of international political legitimacy. So this was, I believe, one of the first hints that people would like to forget about international law as we have known it for centuries and millennia and introduce some rules which will be based on the exceptional political legitimacy of groups like NATO. I think that comments are not necessary on this one. Now, by the way, Anders Fogh Rasmussen is functioning as councillor-advisor to President of Ukraine, and I don’t believe that his advice is really going to be helpful to resolve theses crises on the basis of the Minsk Agreements and the Security Council Resolution which endorsed the Minsk Agreements.
There is another one in line with this issue between international law and rules-based order. Our French colleagues recently announced an initiative which they call the European Initiative on Intervention, which was explained as being something they want to develop inside the European Union and NATO, or rather, I am sorry, outside the European Union and NATO because the EU and NATO, in the French understanding, are too cumbersome in adopting decisions. So we are still asking our French colleagues what they mean actually and how this initiative, the European Intervention Initiative, how it relates to the international law, whether we can see a situation when one more instrument of surgical intervention would be invented for the African continent because African crises and African peacekeeping was mentioned as something which require a much more robust approach. But the term “intervention” itself is rather telling. And I was wondering if some other country maybe outside the EU and NATO would announce an initiative using the word “intervention,” how NATO and the EU would react. I don’t think you need to dwell upon it for too long."
The solution, states Lavrov is to process the problems through the United Nations system:
"The realities of the 21st century demand that we get back to the basics, to the United Nations Charter without any dubious interpretations, and they demand that we get back to the restoration of the role of the United Nations as the only universal organ of managing international relations with the Security Council being the organ responsible for international peace and security. We have to get rid of the inertia and the initiatives which are rooted in the 19th century colonial and imperialist philosophy. Because otherwise it will be impossible to try to resolve crises and conflicts in the Mediterranean region. Only on the basis of international law can we resolve the situation in Syria, with Resolution of the Security Council 2024, which is a very solid foundation...
"It is also only on the basis of international law that we can resolve the crisis in Libya, which was ruined by NATO bombings in gross violation of the Security Council resolution. As you remember, the Resolution only spoke about declaring a no-fly zone meaning that the aviation, the Air Force of Gaddafi cannot fly, and they were not flying. But instead of ensuring the no-fly zone, NATO bombed the Gaddafi troops and helped the people with a very bad reputation, armed by some Europeans in violation of the Security Council embargo and also by some regionals, to help these people to topple the government of Gaddafi and then to start creating trouble throughout Africa. The very same people who toppled Gaddafi with the weapons of you know who, they later were threatening the government in Mali, when they moved down south and created a huge risk to Bamako."
In the question and answer session following his address Lavrov asserted the need to talk with all the involved parties (ISIS and other terrorists excluded) to resolve the crises in Libya, Yemen and Syria and adopt a gradualist unhurried approach:
"I have already mentioned that I don’t believe in any idea of artificial deadlines, be it on Libya, be it on Syria. Nobody says, 'Let’s have a deadline on the Palestinian issue,' right? But somehow on Libya people might try to set a deadline. On Syria our good friend Staffan de Mistura is being pressured to announce a deadline and to say. “This is it.” Why? The substance is much more important than artificial deadlines. So we are not pretending to know everything about Libya, we are not pretending to play a key role. We support the efforts of the neighbour-states – Egypt, Algeria. We believe that they should be encouraged. And, of course, the United Nations Special Envoy Salamé has ideas that I think go in the right direction. They certainly require finetuning on the basis of the specific attitudes of various Libyan players, and certainly the Arab League could be very important in helping to resolve this crisis. Just like the Syrian crisis, for that matter. I think it was a mistake of the Arab League to expel Syria from its ranks. Now I sense the understanding among the Arabs that Syria must be brought back to the Arab family."
Lavrov was pressed by a questioner who challenged Russia's prioritization of state sovereignty over human rights and most specifically in Syria. The questioner implored Lavrov: And now that you are one of the most respected countries in the region, can you ask your friends to be slightly less violent to their own population?
Lavrov replied that sometimes greater violation of human rights occurs when stability is ignored..
"...we have to be realistic, we have to take the picture in its entirety. If you are obsessed with human rights and don’t give a damn about the stability of countries, if you don’t give a damn about the right to life, which is a human right, by the way, not to mention economic and social rights, then I am afraid you are one-sided. Yes, Iraq, Libya – Iraq more than Libya – were considered, rightly so, authoritarian regimes. But the right to life risks and violations were maybe hundreds of thousands less than after the people’s “revolutions” happened in Iraq and Libya with foreign intervention. Ask the Libyans how they used to live. Ask about the educational rights. Ask about the economic situation which they enjoyed. They will tell you. So you cannot say “Forget about everything, bring freedom to the people.” And you cannot say “Forget about the human rights and be respectful to any government that is sitting in the capital of a country.”
(Mid.ru, November 23, 2018)
Azov Sea Crisis:
The tension created by Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian naval ships and the detention of 24 sailors abated somewhat after Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to have the dispute submitted to four-way talks in the Normandy format level comprising Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France. In the meantime, Merkel called upon Russia to allow Ukrainian ships to reach Ukrainian cities via the Sea of Azov. In the previous week the issue dominated headlines.
Lavrov Russia Acted In Accordance With International Law
FM Sergey Lavrov used a news conference following talks with the Dominican Republic Foreign Minister, Miguel Octavio Vargas Maldonado to defend Russia's actions and chastise the West:
"This incident was a definite provocation. Everything that needs to be said about it is in the statements of the border service of the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB), and in comments by the Foreign Ministry’s official representative. Beyond key provisions of international maritime law, rules of common law were also violated, including the UN Charter, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and other international legal instruments that require all states to respect the sovereignty of other states. The fact that such a violation occurred, and the dangerous methods used – maneuvering in a narrow strait – could have created and indeed did create risk for regular ship movements in this area.
Regarding what we plan to do at the UN Security Council meeting, we entertain no illusions, knowing that the West has taken a position of blind support for President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko and his regime. On the other hand, last evening’s statements and EU appeals to Russia and Ukraine to show restraint, at least suggest some new ideas. If Ukraine is being addressed on a par with Russia, it means that Kiev, in the eyes of its Western sponsors, actually did something they do not approve of. I hope the Ukrainian authorities will draw the necessary conclusions from this.
At the same time, we cannot be happy that the EU is still trying to cling to certain arguments for which there is no reason. I heard a statement by the European External Action Service that the EU expects Russia to stop inspecting passing vessels. Apparently, we are already talking about the Sea of Azov, because yesterday's incident occurred in the Black Sea, close to the Kerch Strait. We are being urged to stop inspecting ships, although this is being carried out in full compliance with existing agreements, including with Ukraine. These inspections have not led to a single complaint from any inspected vessel. I have talked about this and would ask our colleagues in the European Union to pay attention to the factual side of the matter, not to confuse the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea, and not to create a problem where there is none.
I heard that Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko has called on the member countries of the Budapest Memorandum, which was signed by the leaders of the United States, Russia, Great Britain and Ukraine, to join together to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty. The Budapest Memorandum is about the agreements concerning Ukraine giving up the nuclear weapons that remained on its territory after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The signatories to this memorandum pledge not to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine and observe all the OSCE principles without exception. We remain fully committed to honoring these obligations. What the Budapest Memorandum does not provide for is a commitment of any of its signatories to put up with, regard in silence or much less support an unconstitutional armed coup d'état. The OSCE principles that Ukraine, among other countries, has signed onto under the Budapest Memorandum unambiguously prohibit transfers of power such that occurred in Kiev in February 2014. The people who took power in flagrant disregard of one of the key principles of the Budapest Memorandum should have remembered this and should not have tried to shift the blame to someone else. They should behave more uprightly because even Kiev’s Western sponsors sometimes feel uneasy about the ideas the Ukrainian leaders wrap their interests in.
(Mid.ru, November 26, 2018)
The Ukrainian Leaders Manufactured The Crisis To Save Their Political Hide
The imposition of martial law by the Ukrainian government was proof positive that the incident in the Kerch Strait was a premeditated action by the Ukrainian government explained the Deputy Speaker of Russia’s State Duma Irina Yarovaya.
Yarovaya said that it was most ironic that a regime that had overthrown an elected government was now resorting to martial law:
"A military dictatorship in Ukraine is a rosy dream of those who had staged the entire Maidan (uprising) ‘independence’, which is focused on the destruction of civilization and law, and the transformation of Ukraine into a hotspot for military aggression"
(Tass.com, November 28, 2018)
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in an interview with the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty affirmed Putin's analysis and accused Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko of exploiting the detained Ukrainian sailors to improve his electoral prospects:
"Ukrainian navy sailors became a bargaining chip in the political game President Poroshenko and his associates play, who are ready to commit any crime trying to improve their chances to remain in power," Patrushev said.
"However, as is known, the chances are low under the current circumstances," he added.
The Kerch Strait provocation points to Poroshenko’s plans to build his election campaign around fake threats, Patrushev said.
(Tass.com, November 27, 2018)
Putin weighed in on the Kerch Straits incident when fielding a question at the Russia Calling investment forum, and also attributed it to electioneering by an unpopular Poroshenko:
"As concerns the incident in the Black Sea, it was obviously a provocation organized by the current officials – I think, by the incumbent president, ahead of the presidential election in Ukraine to be held next March.
"The current president is, I think, fifth in the popularity rating and there is a chance he may not make it into the second round. Therefore, he needs to do something to escalate the situation and create unsurpassable obstacles for his rivals, especially in the opposition.
"Why do I think so and why am I even certain that this is the case? Look, there was an incident (I will speak about it in a minute) in the Black Sea. But it is a border incident, nothing more. What happened in 2014 when Crimea decided to join Russia? That was a different story, a big one.
"What about the painful civil war in southeastern Ukraine, in Donbass, in the Lugansk region, when government forces deployed tanks and heavy artillery, even aviation? It was a war while no martial law was declared.
"Now, a small Black Sea incident resulted in martial law. This is clearly a measure taken because of the presidential election. It is absolutely obvious...
"In fact, I have already got used to many things but today’s Kiev authorities…They have succeeded in selling anti-Russia sentiments and they have nothing else to sell. It seems that no matter what they do, they always get away with it. If they ask to be given infants for breakfast they will probably have them served. Well, we will be told, they want to eat and that is it."
"This is a very short-sighted policy. It will not lead to good things because it tends to unnerve today’s Ukrainian leadership in a way that it does not urge them to get down to normal political work within the country and start pursuing normal economic policy.
"They have economic problems in addition to social and financial problems and they never stop to beg, asking the International Monetary Fund to give them money. But these are the future generations who will have to pay this money back. As for their work to promote cooperation with their neighbors there is nothing good to speak about.
"As for long-term prospects, no matter what happens, no matter who is today in power in Kiev, the Russian and Ukrainian people have always been brotherly and very closely connected and will remain as such for ever. This political scum will come off. (Applause.) One day, the Ukrainian people will assess its today’s leadership in the way the Georgian people have assessed the activities of [Mikheil] Saakashvili [Georgia's leader at the time of the 2008 war with Russia].
(Kremlin.ru, November 28, 2018)
Military Expert Felgengauer: Russia Acted To Preempt A NATO Base On Azov Coast
Military expert Pavel Felgengauer in his column for Novaya Gazeta titled "First Blood of a Possible Winter War" writes that the reason for an unusually dangerous conflict is Ukraine's attempt to build a naval base in Berdyansk on the Azov coast. This explains the incident that puts Russia under a strain to provide a good explanation for opening fire on Ukrainian sailors and seizing the Ukrainian vessels.
"In Moscow, they are seriously concerned that once they manage to get the base into shape, NATO warships, armed with powerful long range missiles, protected by with modern missile and air defense complexes and capable of operating in the shallow Azov littoral, may pay a friendly visit. Then it will be difficult to impossible to redeploy Russian ships with Kaliber cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea to the Black sea and to the Mediterranean and the reverse through the Azov Sea and Volga-Don channel, which our navy is constantly doing. By the way, many Black Sea Fleet ships cannot use the Azov Sea due to its shallow depth.
The author does not rule out that in the near term a full scale Russian military operation could be launched in order to oust Ukrainian forces from the Melitopol/Berdyansk regions and the Azov seashore.
(Novayagazeta.ru, November 27, 2018)
Izvestia citing two unidentified Ukrainian sources in the country's ruling circles and a Ukrainian MP belonging to Poroshenko's parliamentary faction claim that Kiev is planning a major provocation against Russia by persuading the US to build a base on its territory and the American presence would thereby guarantee Ukraine's security. The Americans have made no official commitments.
Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov, the first deputy chair of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, is dismissive of fears that the Americans following the example of Poland would set up shop in Ukraine: The first question is who is going to finance the maintenance of such a base? The Americans at their expense? It's unprofitable. Ukraine's economic situation will not allow it [to foot the bill]. Even in Poland some are doubting whether they need a base…. That aside it's one thing to pit Russia against Ukraine, and it's a totally different thing to get yourself directly involved. It simply a wish (to deploy a permanent US base) –without anything to back up such statements. Anyway, Russia has the right and the ability to respond to such steps – but at the moment for Ukraine it's simply a routine aggravation of the anti-Russian psychosis"
(Iz.ru, November 28, 2018)
Lavrov: West Indulges And Enables Kiev's Provocations
Lavrov with Cassis (Image: Mid.ru)
FM Sergey Lavrov laid out Russia's legal case during a press-conference with his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis while attacking Kiev's presumed Western enablers:
Question: The US Department of State recently called on its European allies, among others, to uphold the sanctions regime against Russian due to the situation in Ukraine. Does this basically encourage Kiev? Is this fraught with new provocations by Ukraine?
Sergey Lavrov: I think it reflects Washington’s desire to encourage the actions of the Kiev regime and even to instigating provocative acts. This is sad. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about this recently.
There is a backlog of many facts which reveal that Washington and some European capitals are ready to indulge the whims of Kiev. I would very much like the US Special Representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, to act as a real envoy to try to achieve, mainly, an agreement between the conflicting sides – Kiev on the one hand and Donetsk and Lugansk on the other. So far Kurt Volker has only acted as a fierce protector of the provocative acts by the Kiev regime.
(Mid.ru, November 28, 2018)
Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry's official spokeswoman does not exclude the possibility that some Western countries were involved in planning the November 25 events in the Kerch Strait, when three Ukrainian Navy's warships violated the rules of passage through Russia's territorial waters.
"This is a deliberate provocation. I don't have any doubts that some of our Western partners knew about it or even participated in planning it. This is why all of this is not accidental," Zakharova told Russia's Channel One. "The assessments that we hear and the informational campaign underway right now, only prove it," she added.
(Tass.com, November 29. 2018)
Strange But True:
Olga Fedorchenko, a scientific researcher at the Russian Institute of Art History has published extracts of a fourth grade homework assignment, which her daughter had to hand in. The assignment had the 4th graders write a letter to their own father at an imaginary front during a war. Fedorchenko said her daughter dropped her pen and cried out loud during the assignment. "Who is that almighty idiot who invents such homework assignments? Are we getting ready for a war? Are preparing a draft letter to our next of kin? Fedorchenko posted the above in her social media account.
(Mk.ru, November 27, 2018)
St. Petersburg's municipal educational committee responded to a radio report that some of the parents had written the letter instead of their child while others had simply boycotted the assignment. It defended the assignment because it was necessary to study even very emotionally hard materials in order to provide for the children's comprehensive intellectual and moral development.
"This assignment may seem a very gloomy one for a child, the same way a child may be touched by the stories regarding ( Nazi ) blockade of Leningrad, Great Patriotic war or any other tragic event in our country's history. Children have to learn Russia's history including its heroic and tragic pages ", said the committee.
Moreover, the committee underlined that the assignment was provided in the framework of "Literature readings " text book which had been previously approved and recommended by the Ministry of Education.
(5-tv.ru, November 27, 2018)
Until earlier this month, a health clinic in Moscow called the Best Clinic Medical Center was offering clitorectomies to meet the demand by "people of a certain faith". The painful procedure was performed on girls as young as five and Best Clinic even advertised this service on its website. While the practice is common in Muslim parts of Russia, the availability of the service in Russia's capital is newsworthy.
(Meduza.io/en, November 27, 2018)
The Ekaterinburg police have confiscated children's drawings devoted to "Tolerant world" competition because of a drawing depicting single sex couples captioned: "We can't choose our look, orientation and race. We all are unique in our own way". The other picture reads: We are tolerant; how about you?
The drawings were forwarded to criminal law experts who were asked to decide whether they violate Russian criminal law which bans the promotion and advertisement of non-traditional sexual orientations.
(Novayagazeta.ru, November 29, 2018)
 This is Lavrov's interpretation that appears to fly in the face of article 1 of the 1994 Memorandum
The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine; Cfr.org, December 5,1994. Lavrov has claimed that Ukraine violated the memorandum by overthrowing the pro-Russian government in Ukraine.