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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In The News:
The S-400 Purchase And Its Background
Turkish-Russian relations are once again in turmoil after complications arose surrounding the possible purchase of Russia's S-400 systems by Turkey. Russia and Turkey had signed a contract for the supply of four S-400 systems. However, when Moscow refused joint production, Turkey declared that Ankara could back away from the purchase of the advanced air defense systems.
The Russian media outlet Kommersant wrote that sources in Russia's arms sales bureaucracy viewed the Turkish remarks on backtracking away from the S-400 purchase by Russia as "a part of a political game."
According to Kommersant's source, Turkey's remarks were targeted at Washington. Recently, the State Department allowed the sale of the THAAD system to Saudi Arabia, following Saudi King Salman's visit to Russia. "Perhaps Ankara was expecting the same," Kommersant's source stated.
Below is a timeline summarizing the Russia-Turkey S-400 negotiations:
- In November 2016, the talks between Turkey and Russia over the purchase of the S-400 began.
- In March 2017, Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov said that Turkey would have wanted a loan from Russia for purchasing armaments, including the S-400.
- On July 25, 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that "certain documents" of a deal to buy the S-400s were signed.
- On September 12, 2017, Russia confirmed that the deal was signed. Furthermore, Erdogan stated that Turkey made a down payment. Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that the contract for the supply of four S-400 divisions is worth more than $2 bln.
- On September 25, 2017, Turkish Defense Industries Undersecretary Ismail Demir said that Russia would start delivery of the S-400 to Turkey in a minimum of two years.
- At the end of September 2017, Russian presidential aide for military-technical cooperation Vladimir Kozhin said that the handover to Turkey, a NATO member, of S-400 production knowhow is not on Russia's agenda.
- On October 9, 2017, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Ankara could back away from purchasing S-400 air defense systems from Russia, if Moscow refuses joint production. Cavusoglu stated: "We have heard no official refusal on that score. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin told us we may take steps for joint production. Know-how will be crucial. If Russia’s attitude is negative, we may clinch a deal with another country… We must purchase them (S-400) urgently, because we need them. We’ve got to protect our airspace. But if some anti-Russia-minded countries do not want Turkey to purchase S-400 from it, then they must provide their alternative."
- On October 9, 2017, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia and Turkey are continuing their negotiations over the S-400 systems.
(Tass.com, October 9, 2017; Tass.com, October 10, 2017)
The Ups And Downs Of Turkey's Relations With Russia
Russia-Turkey relations reached a low point after Turkey downed a Russian military jet in Syria in November 2015. The initial Russian reaction was to slap economic sanctions on Turkish exports and freeze infrastructure contracts. Later, an "appeasement process" took place, in which Ankara apologized and made amends. Turkey was then recognized as an equal partner in the Astana reconciliation process for Syria. Russia also agreed to make Turkey one of the guarantors of the safe zones in Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan writing the word "sorry" repeatedly on the chalkboard, before being admitted to a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (Source: Sputniknews.com, August 9, 2016)
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6506, Russian Opposition News Portal Ej.ru: As A Result Of Turkey's Apologies, 'Kremlin Propagandists Will Tell Us...We Just Have To Suffer A Little More, And [The West] Will Swallow The Annexation Of Crimea', July 5, 2016.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6511, Russian Cartoons About Turkey's Apology To Russia For The Downing Of Russian Plane, July 7, 2016.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6540, Russian Intellectual Fyodor Lukyanov: After The Attempted Coup In Turkey, 'The Kremlin Has Reason To Be Satisfied', July 25, 2016.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6562, Russian FM Lavrov On Putin-Erdogan Meeting; 'As For The Restoration Of Trust... Much Will Depend On Our Cooperation In Settling The Syrian Crisis', August 8, 2016.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6564, At Putin-Erdogan Meeting, Putin Says: 'Regarding The Full Restoration Of Relations - Do We Want It Or Not? Yes, We Want It And Will Do This'; Erdogan: 'Turkish-Russian Relations Are Not Limited To Trade And Economic Ties', August 10, 2016.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6567, Russian Reactions To The Putin-Erdogan Meeting, August 10, 2016.
Russia's Reactions To Erdogan's Remarks On Crimea
During a meeting with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, Turkish President Erdogan said: "We have not recognized and do not recognize the illegal annexation of the Crimea". He also said that Turkey is closely following the condition of the Crimean Tatar minority in Crimea and was cooperating with Ukraine over Crimea.
(Vesti.ru, October 9, 2017)
Russian Senator Franz Klintsevich and deputy head of the Defense and Security Committee said:"Turkey is yet undecided regarding Crimea, it is metaphorically speaking sitting on two chairs simultaneously. We are in no hurry. It's no coincidence that during the last meeting between our presidents this question did not arise. Let's say, currently this question is not an insurmountable obstacle to our cooperation in Syria and in solving other world's problems..."
(Ria.ru, October 10, 2017)
Senator Alexey Pushkov wrote in his Twitter account: " Whether Erdogan recognizes that Crimea belongs to Russia or not, this will not change the status of Crimea. [Erdogan] knows it and just makes nice to Poroshenko."
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, October 9, 2017)
First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Dmitry Novikov also noticed that Turkey has never been Russia's ally on Crimea. He said that Erdogan's declaration on the subject should constitute a lesson for anyone tempted to build long term relations with Turkey. The reversals in Turkish policy could arise after a change of power or under the same Turkish president.
(Ria.ru, October 10, 2017)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by their wives Emine Erdogan and Maryna Poroshenko, in Kiev. (Source: Yenisafak.com)
Russia-Turkey Agricultural Import/Export
Meanwhile, Turkey also imposed new rules on the importation of Russian agricultural products. Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev commented: "We did not expect that; on the contrary, customs regime should be simplified. If such developments continue, we will respond appropriately to the import of vegetables, citrus fruit, tangerines and oranges. This will lead to aggravation, rather than to removal of restrictions. We believe the Turkish market is interesting and promising for us and endeavor to relieve stress. Such decisions [lifting of restrictions] could have taken place this year… If Turkey continues inventing new obstacles and new barriers, we will certainly undertake appropriate measures. Nobody is going to turn the other cheek… The latest decisions are not fully clear; they are more of the red tape. Grain deliveries become more complicated for our businessmen, [they] need to undergo coordination procedures. This is an extra bureaucratic burden that will not do anything good."
(Tass.com, October 11, 2017)
- On January 1, 2016, Russia imposed an embargo on the supply of a number of agricultural products, after the downing of the Russian plane in Syria. The restrictions have been partially lifted, since the ban on tomatoes import is still kept.
- In October 2017, the Russian Minister of Agriculture Alexander Tkachev said that he expected that ban on the export of Turkish tomatoes to Russia would be lifted towards the end of 2017.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6860, Russia-Turkey Relations - Tensions Over Grain Supplies, April 6, 2017.
The Russian TV Network RT Is Preparing For Its Debut In France
The French newspaper Le Monde wrote an article about Russia's 24-hour news channel RT's forthcoming debut in France by the end of the year. Le Monde wrote: "With a budget of 20M Euros, RT France represents a major project for the RT holding, which already owns a branch in the UK, one in the U.S. whereas two more stations, one in Arabic and one in Spanish are directly handled from Moscow." Below are excerpts from Le Monde's article:
"'This is the most difficult challenge in my career,' said Xenia Fedorova, president of RT France, on October 16, on the occasion of the trade fair of the audiovisual of Mipcom in Cannes, where she launched the francophone version of the Russian public channel… So far, RT France (French version of the Russian channel Russia Today) has been presented as a tool of soft power [at the service] of Vladimir Putin's Russia. In particular, Emmanuel Macron accused the channel and the online press agency Sputnik of having spread 'defamatory falsehoods' against him…
"Thereafter, the two media denied spreading 'fake news', arguing to be themselves the victims of disinformation. RT, a news network with a rather classic format, started presenting itself as an entity separated from Sputnik, which has rather the format of a scandalous tabloid – even though Ms. Fedorova acknowledges that Margarita Simoniam is at the same time chief editor of RT and of the Rossiya Segodnya agency, Sputnik's parent company.
"Today, RT is busy launching it francophone version. This one, will not be visible in France on the terrestrial digital TV, but 'probably' on the 'boxes' [residential gateway] of two of the four telecom [internet and phone] operators According to Ms. Fedorova; no broadcasting on SFR and Free – whose founder, Xavier Niel, is personally a shareholder of Le Monde – is foreseen at this stage.
"RT is counting a great deal on broadcasting its programs through the Web even outside France, particularly in French speaking Africa and in the Maghreb…
"RT France said that is has already recruited forty of the fifty journalists on its future team, which will have an overall staff of 100 -150 people. So far, the network has been unable to attract any known figure in the world of journalism…
"In order to provide support for Ms. Federova, who also is the director of information, the network hired, as her deputy, Jean-Maurice Potier, a former anchorman on weekends on LCI, who left that channel at the beginning of 2017. The direction of programs goes to Nadia de Mourzitch, formerly deputy director of TF1 magazines who left in 2010 and subsequently founded the consulting firm N Content. This Internet site, active ever since 2015, is directed by Jérôme Bonnet, who had previously worked for the satirical magazines L’Echo des Savanes, Siné Hebdo or Zélium. The rest of the team is younger…
(Lemonde.fr, October 16, 2017)