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.
In The News
On August 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Sochi. During the meeting, Netanyahu supported Russia’s participation in the construction of a new museum on the site of the former Nazi death camp at Sobibor in Poland. Netanyahu's visit to Russia came after Israel's ambassador to Moscow was summoned by the Russian FM after Poland had excluded Moscow from the project. Israel let the Polish decision slide without intervening on Russia's behalf.
During the meeting, however, other topics were treated as well. Netanyahu used the opportunity to voice Israel's concern over Iran. Reuters quoted Netanyahu as stating: "Iran is already well on its way to controlling Iraq, Yemen and to a large extent is already in practice in control of Lebanon… We cannot forget for a single minute that Iran threatens every day to annihilate Israel."
Netanyahu meets with Putin (Source: Rt.com)
RT reported that Putin did not publicly respond to the comments about Iran. However, Russia’s ambassador to Israel Alexander Petrovich Shein said: "We take the Israeli interests in Syria into account… Were it up to Russia, the foreign forces would not stay."
(Rt.com, August 24, 2017)
See also transcript of Putin-Netanyahu meeting.
Commenting on the meeting, Russian FM spokesperson Maria Zakharova said: "We consider [Netanyahu's] statement [about Israel supporting Russia’s participation in building a new museum in Sobibor] a major step towards restoring historical and human justice and a signal that should encourage the members of the international steering committee to resume the discussion on Russia’s full-fledged participation in the work of this body.
"We were ready for full participation in this project from the very start. We believe that the Israeli side’s affirmation of its traditional attitude to the results of WWII and the Red Army’s role in the victory over Nazism is a clear signal that rules out any insinuations on Russia’s involvement in the project and Russian-Israeli cooperation to preserve historical memory and prevent the revision of the results of one of the most horrible tragedies of the 20th century."
(Mid.ru, August 24, 2017)
During a joint news conference with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani following his visit to Qatar, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov answered a question about Israeli PM Netanyahu's visit to Russia and Israel's concerns about Iran. Lavrov stressed Iran's important role played in Syria:
Question: "A few days ago, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu said that Iran is allegedly preparing sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce precision-guided missiles that could be used against Israel. Are you aware of any such plans on Iran’s part? Could you comment on this situation? Was this matter mentioned during Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Sochi?"
Sergey Lavrov: "Mr. Netanyahu told the media himself about what was discussed at the talks in Sochi.
"As for your question regarding whatever area of cooperation between Iran and Syria, my position is that if their cooperation in whichever field does not violate the basic provisions of international law, it should not be cause for question.
"If anyone in the Middle East or other part of the world plans to violate international law by undermining any other country’s sovereignty or territorial integrity, including any country in the Middle East or North Africa, this would be condemned.
"We have no information that anyone is planning to attack Israel."
(Mid.ru, August 30, 2017)
Libyan Military Chief Haftar's Visit To Moscow
The military commander of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, visited Moscow on August 14. During his visit, he held meetings with FM Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.
Following his meeting with Sergey Lavrov, Haftar told journalists: "Yes, we have discussed [the possibility of military assistance]. We are confident that Russia is a good friend of ours and won't refuse to help. We did not come to terms of Russia's practical role in [the political reconciliation process], but we'll welcome any role Russia chooses to play."
(Ria.ru, August 14, 2017)
According to Gevorg Mizoyan, a columnist for the RIA news agency and a frequent commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, Haftar is seeking Moscow's political backing ahead of a new political agreement, which is probably to be signed between various political and military forces in Lybia. According to Mizoyan, since Europe (France and Italy) are betting on the Head of the Government of National Accord Fayez Mustafa al-Sarrajin order to protect their own interests in the country, Haftar is struggling to have Moscow on his side.
Mizoyan also quoted Yuri Barmin, Russian International affairs Council expert, saying: "First of all, we are driven by business interests – they were quite substantial at Qaddafi's era. Moscow is planning to get military, infrastructural and energy contracts in Lybia. Besides, there is one more motive which cannot be calculated in numbers: we want 'a revenge match' in our relations with the West".
(Ria.ru, August 15, 2017)
Defense Minister Shoigu meets with Haftar (Source: Eng.mil.ru)
According to Igor Korotchenko, a military expert and CEO of the Center for International Arms Export Analysis, Russia may deliver the heavy weaponry, assault rifles, UAVs and helicopters to Libya. According to Korotchenko, it has yet to be decided whether such assistance will be free of charge or Libya will pay for the delivery – according to his view Libya, despite the civil war conditions should pay since it is still a wealthy country. Korotchenko also added that it's doubtful that Moscow will deploy its troops to Libya even if Libya (or better Haftar) makes such a request: "There are definitely no talks regarding any deployment of Russian forces to Libya. We participate in an anti-terror operation in Syria at the request of the legitimate government, but there is absolutely no practical need to expand Russian military presence".
(Ria.ru, August 8, 2017)
Lev Dengov, Head of the Russian Contact Group on the Intra-Libyan Settlement, told Kommersant that al-Sarraj would visit Russia soon. Dengov said: "It is not unlikely that this will happen as early as September… We will do our utmost to promote reconciliation and effective interaction between the warring parties, including Khalifa Haftar and Fayez al-Sarraj."
Grigory Kosach, Professor of the Modern East Department of History, Political Science and Law at the Russian State University for the Humanities, stressed Russia's mediatory efforts won't bring a breakthrough in intra-Libyan processes. He noted: "Libya is the European area of responsibility where France, Italy and other EU member-countries are running the show."
(Tass.com, August 15, 2017)
Hossein Jaberi Ansari, deputy foreign minister: The 6th Astana meeting will take place in the middle of September, but the exact date is not determined yet. The last stage of negotiations will be among Iran, Russia, and Turkey. We had effective negotiations with De Mistura about the latest situation of agreements between Astana partners and the next Astana meeting. We discussed the future negotiations in Geneva and the tragic situation in Foua and Kafria too.
We are not trying to take someone's place in the region. We believe that regional nations are the owners of their own countries, and they will manage their own countries. The Syrian nation will decide on Syria's future. No player or country can determine the fate of the Syrian nation. From the beginning of the Syrian crisis, we have stressed our opposition to foreign interference and impose of conditions on the Syrian nation. We will continue the same path in future. It is important for all the influential sides to carry out their commitments to solve the Syrian crisis.
(Farsnews.com, August 28, 2017)
Habibollah Sayari, commander of the navy, met with the Russian navy team in Indonesia. Sayari: "We believe that the Caspian Sea is the sea of peace and friendship, and foreign interference is not needed to establish security in this sea."
The Iranian and the Russian team stressed that it is necessary to strengthen Iran- Russia relations especially in sea interactions and to expand educational and technical cooperation.
(Tasnimnews.com, August 26, 2017)
Oleg Kulakov, senior advisor and expert in the Russian energy and security center:
Great powers and European Union support the JCPOA, and for political reasons only Donald Trump opposes this agreement without presenting convincing reasoning. It is clear that in his opposition to JCPOA, Trump pays attention to Israel and owners of American defense industries' interests. In the current presidency, America will use every international and regional important issue to cause tensions or conflicts. Trump's opposition and dismissal of JCPOA show Trump's tendency for self-interest. JCPOA has prevented America from carrying out its expansion and warmongering goals in the region, so Trump opposes this agreement, but he does not get out of it. America will disturb the implementation stages and it will use its efforts to incite Tehran to leave the agreement.
Iran's mature policies show that Iran is not deceived by Trump, and White House's efforts will fail. Without a doubt, JCPOA can be used as a model for agreements in other international problematic issues like nuclear issue in the Korean peninsula, the Syrian crisis, and Yemen dispute. It is clear that Trump's government wants to create fake tension around the North Korean situation in order to use it for stabilization of its military presence in the region. The goal for this action is to hold back China and Russia. American missile weapons are settling in the region by using the pretext of North Korea threats.
At the same time, Washington has coordinated its elements in Venezuela to overthrow the Venezuelan government. This action shows that Trump's White House does not adhere to any international and moral commitments. This condition is very dangerous for the world. It increases the possibility for start of war among countries. Different countries should not create excuses for Washington's attacks.
(Irna.ir, August 14, 2017)
Saadollah Zareyi, Iranian regional expert: The presence of the Syrian army in Syria's eastern borders is considered a great retreat in American behavior. Based on a strategy, the Americans wanted to dominate Syria's eastern borders to cut off the connection of Iran and Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. By announcing that they support the Syrian opponents, the Americans support all the Syrian opponents whether they participate at the Astana meeting or not. Americans do not have the extended opportunity in the Syrian soil to support the opponents, so announcement of their support does not change the Syrian equation. About a month ago, the Americans announced that they would accept the Russian approach in Syria's political and security cases in order to separate Russia from the resistance axis, but they failed. The Russians announced that Americans do not have the right to interfere in Syria. This shows that the Russians have not been deceived by the American tactic, and they have continued their cooperation with the resistance axis. Possibly, the Americans will not be able to make the Russians join them in Syria's south-west dossier. For some reason the Russians are sensitive to the Zionist regime's security and the Americans try to use that. The reality is that the Russians are not present in the south that much and accompanying the Americans in these areas will not be effective.
(Tasnimnews.com, August 8, 2017)
News In Brief:
- A source in the treason investigation says Russian Federal Security Service agents turned over hacker secrets to the CIA for cold, hard cash (Meduza.io, August 23, 2017, See full article)
- The Kremlin is reportedly using a dating service to boost voter turnout this fall (Meduza.io, August 21, 2017, See full article)
- Turkey’s deal with Russia for the S-400 Triumf long-range anti-aircraft missile system is going ahead. Dmitri Shugayev, the head of the Russian Technologies State Corporation, said that the system is ready for delivery, pending a few technical details that are being ironed out. (Hurriyetdailynews.com, August 29, 2017, See full article)
- The deal between Turkey and Russia was announced in July 2017. Following nearly a year of negotiations, the CEO of Rostech corporation Sergey Chemezov informed the journalists that Turkey and Russia reached technical agreement on purchasing S-400 missile defense systems. "Turkey will provide some funding for this project on its own, while some funding will be allocated as a credit," said Chemezov. (Ria.ru, July 18, 2017, See full article)
- Concerning the deal with Turkey, governmental Rossiyaskaya Gazeta quoted Russian political analyst Konstantin Makienko, of the Center for Strategy and Technology Analysis: "The deal involving the missile defense systems is a clear signal: Turkey has become disappointed with the U.S. and NATO. But, unless the initial payment is done, we can’t be sure of anything.” (Rg.ru, July 14, 2017)
S-400 Triumf (Sputnik.news.com)
- Russia confirms massive contract for T-90 main battle tank sale to Iraq. Vladimir Kozhin, presidential aide for military-technical cooperation, confirmed that Russia and Iraq have signed a contract for delivery of T-90 main battle tanks to Iraq. Experts believe that the contract cost exceeds 1 billion USD. According to Ruslan Pukhov, CEO of Center for Strategy and Technology Analysis, the contract is a huge political win for Russia: "Americans have fought in Iraq, but eventually the Iraqi military preferred the Russian tank". (Iz.ru, July 20, 2017, See full article)
- Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks at a news conference following the CSTO (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kirgizstan) Council of Foreign Ministers meeting: "Everyone affirmed that contacts with NATO are maintained on the basis of our allied commitment under the Collective Security Treaty. All partners affirmed it. It could not have been otherwise… We have adopted a decision to invigorate the activities of the CSTO working group on Afghanistan and a number of other issues, including the upgrading of our military-technical cooperation." (Mid.ru, July 17, 2017, See full article)
- Following the CSTO summit, Kommersant newspaper comments on apparently reluctant attitude of the member states to join Russian efforts in Syria: "Moving from cooperation on paper to collective practical actions is not easy for the organization members… CSTO has – since 2007 – peacekeeping corps, but they were not deployed yet anywhere. Dispatching those peacekeeping corps to Syria could significantly strengthen, as they think in Moscow, the CSTO international authority [image] and guarantee the keeping of Russian interests in Syrian ceasefire. Other CSTO members were not inspired by the idea…" (Kommersant.ru, July 18, 2017, See full article)
- On August 22, the U.S. Treasury Department expanded the anti-Russia sanction lists. Four Russian citizens and one Russian company face restrictions, over their support for the North Korean regime. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov commented: "The US side continues to systematically destroy bilateral relations under a trend set by the Barack Obama administration. This is the fourth such incident since the new team took over the White House." (Mid.ru, August 22, 2017, see full article)