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September 3, 2018 No.
7653

Russia This Week – September 4, 2018 – Part II

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

On August 25-26, Putin stayed for a weekend in Tyva, Siberia, accompanied by Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the director of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) Aleksander Bortnikov and local officials.

See the video

Quote Of The Week

Russian FM Lavrov Hints That An Attack On Idlib Is Imminent


Idlib (Source: Sputniknews.com)

During a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said that Russia and Turkey are mulling "practical actions" in Syria's Idlib:

Question: Can Russia be expected to intensify diplomatic contacts with Turkey before the start of a military operation in Idlib?

Sergey Lavrov: "… Speaking specifically about the Idlib zone, we are objectively working there mostly with our Turkish colleagues along with the Government of Syria. Moscow and Ankara discussed this topic maybe on ten occasions or so during the last couple of months. A few days ago, as you may know, Moscow hosted Russian-Turkish talks between the respective foreign and defense ministers with the participation of representatives of secret services. For understandable reasons, the talks focused on Idlib, the terrorists’ last major base. The terrorist groups are trying to gamble on the de-escalation zone status, hold civilians hostage as living shields and bring to heel armed groups that are ready for talks with the Government. From every point of view, this abscess must be eliminated.

"There is a political understanding on this matter between Moscow and Ankara. The normal armed members of the opposition must be urgently separated from the Jabhat al-Nusra militants, while simultaneously preparing an operation against these terrorists and doing our best to minimize the risks for the civilian population. The Russian and Turkish military controlling the situation on the ground can explain how to translate this political agreement into the language of practical actions."

(Mid.ru, August 29, 2018)

In The News

  • Defense News  SCO's Peace Mission 2018 Drills - Russia-China Defense Cooperation - Massive Drills: Vostok 2018 - Senator Klintsevich: Russia Responds To US Actions With Grand Vostok-2018 Military Drills
  • Russia In Syria – Russian FM Lavrov: The US Presence In Syria Is Illegitimate
  • Russia-Saudi Relations - Russian FM Lavrov: We Are Especially Grateful To Our Saudi Friends For Their Role In Uniting The Syrian Opposition
  • News In Brief - Ukrainian Crisis - Domestic Affairs - Foreign Affairs

Defense News

SCO's Peace Mission 2018 Drills


Fighter jets launch air strikes during the Peace Mission 2018 Joint anti-terrorism military exercise. (Source: Chinamil.com.cn)

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held the "Peace Mission 2018" joint military drill at the No. 255 training range in Chebarkul town in Chelyabinsk Oblast in Russia. The drills kicked off on August 24 and ended on August 29.

Around 3,000 soldiers from India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan took part in the drills.

The goal of the drill was to enhance cooperation between SCO member states and to coordinate in the fight against terrorism.

(Chinamil.com.cn)

Russia-China Defense Cooperation


(Source: Mil.ru)

On August 27, Chief of the Russian General Staff General of the Army Valery Gerasimov and General Li Zuocheng, the Chinese chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, held talks in Moscow to discuss development of bilateral military cooperation.

Gerasimov stated that Russian-Chinese relations have reached a new unprecedentedly high level, and have become a crucial factor in maintaining peace and international security.

"We attach particular importance to the implementation of reached agreements. Cooperation by the general staffs of the two countries is a key component in military cooperation," Gerasimov said.

Zuocheng added: "It is my first visit abroad as the chief of the Joint Staff Department of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Central Military Commission. Thank you for kind and warm welcome. It is a pleasure to participate in the session of SCO chiefs of general staffs and attend the Peace Mission 2018 joint drills."

Zuocheng added that Russia has been chosen as a country for the first foreign visit by Airborne Troops and Naval commanders of the PLA, which underscores the importance of relations between the two countries.

(Mil.ru, August 27, 2018)

Massive Drills: Vostok 2018


Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu (Source: Mil.ru)

According to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Russia will deploy 300 thousands servicemen for Vostok-2018 drills, which will be held from 11 to 15 September 2018, throughout Siberia and the country's Far East.

"The drills resemble in some sense the "Zapad-1981" drills, yet in another sense they are more large scale. More than 1000 aircrafts, 300 thousands servicemen, almost all fire ranges of the Eastern and Central district were involved, together with the Pacific and Northern fleets and of course Paratroopers corps. "

Moreover, according to the minister, more than 36 thousands armored vehicles will be deployed for the drills. Shoigu stressed that this is the most massive drill since 1981 (back in Soviet times).

(Function.mil.ru, August 28, 2018)

The Zapad -1981 drills during the USSR's final decade were seen as preparation for an invasion of Poland, following the massive labor strikes called by Solidarity leader Lech Walensa, who became later Poland's president. Following the strikes, Poland's ministerial council chairman, general Wojciech Jaruzelski introduced martial law in the country, followed by massive arrests. Jaruzelski would later claim that the imposition of martial law preempted USSR militarily intervention in Poland.

Senator Klintsevich: Russia Responds To US Actions With Grand Vostok-2018 Military Drills

First Deputy Chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of Russia's Federation Council Frants Klintsevich said:

"The main goal of these grand military drills, the most large-scale ones since 1981, is to check the operational readiness of the Russian Armed Forces."

According to Klintsevich, "such a check-up will be quite handy in the context of a very difficult situation in the world."

"First and foremost, I mean the unprecedented pressure that the US is exerting on Russia," he stressed.

"The 1981 drills, which I had the opportunity to participate in, cooled down some hotheads in their time. Now the upcoming Vostok-2018 drills will fulfill the same role," the senator added.

Commenting on Washington's sanctions against Moscow, Klintsevich stated that it is "some kind of a preventive strike on Russia, an attempt to hinder its inevitable rise, its transformation into a leading global power." "This… is an obvious addition to NATO moving east in order to surround our country," he concluded.

(Tass.com, August 28, 2018)

Read More:

  • About 3,200 China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops and 30 aircraft will take part in the joint exercises in the Vostok 2018. (Scmp.com, August 29, 2018; read the full article)
  • Russia will spend some 119 billion rubles ($1.8 billion) on military infrastructure development in 2019, Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov said. (Tass.com, August 25, 2018; read the full article)

Russia In Syria

Russian FM Lavrov: The US Presence In Syria Is Illegitimate


Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with Syria's Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Walid Muallem (Source: Mid.ru)

Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov answered to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Walid Muallem, in Moscow, on August 30, 2018:

Question: "What do you think of the US military presence in Syria?"

Sergey Lavrov: "The presence of the US and other Western countries on Syrian territory is illegitimate. The Americans, including President Trump, have repeatedly promised and said publicly, that they would leave Syria. However, they continue to find new excuses to stay. At first they said that they would go as soon as they eliminate ISIS. Then another condition appeared — the need to stabilize the general situation in the country. Now they say they must stay until the so-called 'political transition' process begins, if not finishes. All of this somewhat discredits our American partners. Also, they promised to us a number of times to close the so-called 'security zone' al-Tanf that they had set up unilaterally and illegally, and to secure access for the UN and other international organisations to the Rukban refugee camp which is being used by the remaining ISIS fighters to gain strength, rehabilitate and strike Syrian army positions. I will also say that in the course of our latest meetings with the Americans, an understanding seemed to emerge that the Rukban camp should be opened as soon as possible and the refugees should be evacuated from it under UN guidance, so they can return to their homes. I hope this understanding will materialise and will translate into practical actions.

"The US presence in Syria does not have a military aspect alone. Our US colleagues categorically object to engaging the international community in creating conditions for the return of refugees to government-controlled territory in Syria, and at the same time they are actively rebuilding the eastern bank of the Euphrates, restoring infrastructure there, socioeconomic systems and even setting up quasi-state local government bodies. This causes concern and is fraught with attempts to divide Syria, which is absolutely unacceptable and is a gross violation of every UNSC resolution that demands respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.

"Let me emphasize again that unilateral actions are a road to nowhere. We all should have learned from the invasion of Iraq and the aggression against Libya. The problems of Syria and the region can only be resolved via collective actions without concealed unilateral agendas and double standards. We are ready, as before, for such open work with every external party without exception, and with the region’s countries, of course."

Question: "Yesterday and today you talked about the efforts by the Russian and Turkish militaries to work out the start of the operation in Idlid and to separate Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists from the armed opposition groups that are ready to participate in a political process. Is there any schedule for this process? Will it happen before the guarantor nations’ summit in Iran or after it?"

Sergey Lavrov: "With regard to Russian-Turkish contacts, primarily, on resolving particular issues related to easing the situation in the Idlid de-escalation zone to preclude further use of the area by terrorists, mainly by Jabhat al-Nusra, to separating terrorists from the armed opposition, which is ready for dialogue with the Syrian government, they are ongoing as we speak. We do not have any artificial schedules or deadlines, but this needs to be done as soon as possible. I am sure you will learn about it as soon as the agreement is reached."

Question: "Yesterday you met with your Saudi colleague Adel Al-Jubeir. Does Russia play a role in the rapprochement of the Damascus’ position with those of other Arab countries?"

Sergey Lavrov: "We indeed discussed the region’s problems in a broader context. I got the impression from my meetings with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia Al-Jubeir and my colleagues from other countries in the region that they are coming to understand the reality, which is that the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic ensures the sovereignty and legitimate interests of security of their country.

"We always advocate the unity of the Arab community. This community has many problems today. We stand for Arab countries to determine themselves how they should live in their region, and to curb attempts to manipulate their interests in order to achieve someone else’s geopolitical goals."

(Mid.ru, August 30, 2018)

Russia-Saudi Relations

Russian FM Lavrov: We Are Especially Grateful To Our Saudi Friends For Their Role In Uniting The Syrian Opposition


Russian FM Sergey Lavrov met with Saudi Arabia's FM Adel Al-Jubeir. (Source: Mid.ru)

On August 29, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir. During the joint press conference, Lavrov tackled the situation in Idlib (see Quote Of The Week).

Concerning Russia-Saudi cooperation in Syria, Lavrov said: "Russia and Saudi Arabia share approaches to forming the Constitutional Committee, the beginning of political talks between the government and the opposition with the participation of civil society as a whole. We are especially grateful to our Saudi friends for their role in uniting the Syrian opposition and ensuring the participation of the representatives of the 'Moscow' and the 'Cairo' groups."

Lavrov also added that Putin is "keeping in mind" the invitation by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to visit Saudi Arabia, which was extended during the King’s visit to Russia in October 2017. "We agreed that the date and other details of this visit would be further coordinated through diplomatic channels," Lavrov added.

(Mid.ru, August 29, 2018)

News In Brief:

Ukrainian Crisis

  • A separatist leader in eastern Ukraine, Alexander Zakharchenko, the head of eastern Ukraine's self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), has been assassinated, and here's what we know, so far (Meduza.io, August 31, 2018; read the full article)
  • President Vladimir Putin's aide Vladislav Surkov calls Zakharchenko a real hero. (Tass.com, September 2, 2018; read the full article)
  • United States Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert said that inspections of Ukrainian ships by Russian warships in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait interfered with international navigation. The Russian embassy in the United States urged the US authorities not to "stand up for outrageous wards at the Sea of Azov and begin a substantial dialogue on the Russian citizens locked in American prisons." (Tass.com, August 31, 2018; read the full article)
  • Why a prisoner swap could free Oleg Sentsov. (Themoscowtimes.com, August 30, 2018; read the full article)

Domestic Affairs

  • Putin's approval rating is rising again (Meduza.io, August 30, 2018; read the full article)
  • Alexey Navalny is currently behind bars, serving out a 30-day jail term, but he is making himself heard in Moscow this week, nevertheless. On Thursday, the Anti-Corruption Foundation published its latest investigative report about alleged government corruption, revealing that Russian Pension Fund director Anton Drozdov's mother-in-law owns a lavish country home outside Moscow worth an estimated 400 million rubles ($5.9 million). (Meduza.io, August 30, 2018; read the full article)
  • Putin's vision for reforming Russia's pension system. (Meduza.io, August 29, 2018; read the full article)
  • The details behind Putin's plan to reform Russia's pension system. (Meduza.io, August 29, 2018; read the full article)
  • Rallies against raising the retirement age held in Moscow (PHOTOS, VIDEO). (Rt.com, September 2, 2018; read the full article)
  • Following the proposal of Putin's financial aid Andrey Belousov to expropriate 0.5 trillion rubles from extra-revenues of 14 leading Russian companies, the government, Russian Council for Business Entrepreneurship and the representatives of the companies have reached an understanding that the companies will "voluntary" share approximately 0.2-0.3 trillion rubles in order to fund Putin's so –called "May orders", aimed at social and social oriented investment projects. (Gazeta.ru, August 24, 2018; read the full article in Russian)
  • The government has not provided for the collection of companies' windfall incomes in fiscal policy changes and no reasons exist to introduce such a measure, Russian Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin told reporters. (Tass.com, August 22, 2018; read the full article)
  • An initiative to tax windfall incomes from Russian mining and chemical sectors would lead to defaults by certain companies and decelerate GDP, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs warned. (Tass.com, August 17, 2018; read the full article)

Foreign Affairs

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has said that resource-rich Arctic regions have become attractive to many nations and warned that the situation could lead to a military confrontation, for which Moscow must be prepared. 'The protection of Russia’s interests in the Arctic region and the active development of this region remain among top priorities of the Russian military forces. Today the Arctic has become a point of territorial, resource-seeking and military-strategic interests of a whole number of nations. This can lead to an increase in the region's conflict potential in the region," Shoigu said at a conference of the senior officials of the Defense Ministry. (Rt.com, August 31, 2018; read the full article)
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that his country is not willing to ask anybody for permission to buy the S-400 defense missile systems from Russia. (Tass.com, September 2, 2018; read the full article)
  • On August 23, US National Security Adviser John Bolton and Russia’s Security Council Chief Nikolai Patrushev held talks in Geneva, which became the first high-level meeting after the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki. The parties could not adopt a joint statement, disagreeing on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. The parties, however, confirmed their desire to return to a joint quest for solutions to key security problems, interrupted by the sanctions. (Tass.com, August 24, 2018; read the full article)
  • On August 23, German Chancellor Angela Merkel toured the South Caucasus. Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of Caucasus Institute (Yerevan) wrote: "In the case of Georgia, the relationship with this country is perceived by Germany in the context of the West-Russia dichotomy… Germany is ready to consider Armenia as a country having specific relations with Russia, but at the same time striving to expand ties with Europe." (Valdaiclub.com, August 29, 2018; read the full analysis)
  • Sanctioned Putin ally Vladimir Yakunin granted German visa (Dw.com, August 21, 2018; read the full article)
  • The press officer at Russia's London embassy replies to a media question on the "interception" of the Russian frigate "Admiral Makarov" by a UK Royal Navy vessel. (Rusemb.org.uk, August 23, 2018; read the full statement)
  • The press officer at Russia's London embassy replies to a media question concerning the statement by the British Ministry of Defense on "interсеpting" a Russian maritime patrol aircraft over the Black Sea. (Rusemb.org.uk, August 25, 2018; read the full statement)