August 28, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6589

Russia This Week - August 22-29, 2016

August 28, 2016
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6589

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.


Cartoon- Of The Week, August 25, 2016.

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:


UN Security Council Meeting On The Humanitarian Situation In Syria

"On August 22, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O'Brien briefed the UN Security Council meeting in New York on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Unfortunately, the meeting has shown again that some international parties, including in the leading Western countries, try to use the UNSC exclusively for propaganda and politicized purposes within the framework of their policy of the past few years aimed at changing the Damascus government. Once again, openly false and unsubstantiated charges were brought against the Russian military who are helping Damascus fight terrorism. Regrettably, Damascus' opponents have not helped in any way to improve the humanitarian situation or promote the political process in Syria."

(, August 25)

Two American NGOs Declared Undesirables In Russia

"We were surprised by the US Department of State statement on being deeply troubled' by the Russian government's decision to designate the International Republican Institute and the Media Development Investment Fund as "undesirable" organizations. Everyone knows about the real activities of these organizations, which are officially independent of US government agencies. While claiming to promote research, public relations and the media through grants, these organizations in fact operate at Washington's prompting, using considerable federal budget funds. While claiming to work towards democracy and democratic values, they interfere in the internal affairs of foreign states in a bid to destabilize the internal political situation wherever it does not meet Washington's criteria."

(, August 25)

American THAAD Missile Defense System In South Korea

"In our view, the US and South Korea's decision to deploy the American THAAD missile defense system in the south of Korea serves as an additional complicating factor. We believe that the use of these systems in South Korea clearly goes beyond the deterrence of the so-called North Korean threat. We have no doubt about the fact that the US, with the support of its allies, continues to build up the capacity of its global missile defense system's Asia-Pacific segment, which will inevitably lead to undermining the existing strategic balance and will further complicate the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region as a whole."

(, August 25)

Quote Of The Week:

Chairman Of The Duma's Defense Committee: 'My Advice [To NATO] Is To Return To The Negotiating Table With Russia...Otherwise NATO Is Heading For An Imminent Collapse'

US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford recently said: "I would tell you I believe our center of gravity as a nation, through a security lens, is the network of alliances. Russia is trying to erode that." Commenting on Dunford's statements, the Chairman of the Russian State Duma's Defense Committee Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov said: "It's funny when a colossus with feet of clay complains that someone is undermining its unity...Russia has never pursued and does not pursue this goal, on the contrary, we have always talked about the need to build normal relations with NATO...In 1954, the USSR applied for membership in the alliance, but the bid was rejected, and then the Soviet Union, realizing that a pike lives in the lake to keep all fish awake, created a counterbalance to NATO - the Warsaw Pact Organization...The statement by General Dunford testifies to the elemental fear of NATO's leadership in the face of problems experienced by the NATO member countries...You will find that most of the people in both Europe and the United States do not support the aggressive policy of the alliance. They do not want to sacrifice their fathers and sons in the planet's hotspots of tension, which were created by NATO itself by its ill-considered actions...My advice is to return to the negotiating table with Russia and work out a consolidated stance with it, otherwise NATO is heading for an imminent collapse."

(, August 24)

The Chairman of the Russian State Duma's Defense Committee, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov. (Source:

In The News:

Russia In Syria: The Lavrov-Kerry Meeting

On August 26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Geneva, to reach a deal on Syria. The negotiations lasted for 12 hours and did not conclude with any signed document. Russian Middle East affairs expert, Aleksandr Shumilin, wrote in his blog on the Russian outlet Echo Moscow that the fact that none of meeting's documents were publicized could prompt the conclusion that the main goal of Lavrov and Kerry is to negotiate for the sake of negotiations, while imitating the process' progress.  (, August 27)

On August 23, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a statement criticizing the Western and Middle Eastern media for blasting Russia's actions in Syria and accused Washington of flirting with terrorists:

"Western and some Middle Eastern media outlets have recently published more items criticizing the activities of Russia's Aerospace Forces in Syria, possibly at the prompting of their US partners. Russia has been blamed without any reason for the ongoing violence in Syria, allegedly because of Russia's crude interference in the civilian conflict, in which dozens of women and children are killed, and hospitals, schools and kindergartens destroyed by Russian bombs. This information hysterics stands on shaky ground and has practical political goals. What are these goals? To begin with, Russia regards the US policy in Syria as illogical and inconsistent, and isn't the only one. On the one hand, Washington claims to share the opinion on the need for very serious collective efforts to stop the source of the global terrorist threat in Syria. On the other hand, Washington has conditioned the possibility of increasing its contribution to the fight against terrorism up to US capabilities on guarantees of a power reshuffle in Syria. Washington admits that Jabhat al-Nusra, which was recently renamed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, is a terrorist organization. However, Washington does not attack this terrorist group, for the past year refused to share information about the group's location, and has closed its eyes to the fact that the US-sponsored armed Syrian opposition groups coordinate their activities with terrorists at joint command headquarters. Likewise, the US position regarding the political aspects of the Syrian settlement is unclear. The basis for this settlement has been coordinated and approved by UN Security Council resolutions, International Syria Support Group decisions and the 2012 Geneva Communique. Importantly, the United States greatly contributed to preparing these documents. But the practical implementation of the coordinated provisions, including the roadmap on Syrian settlement, cannot begin, primarily because of the unconstructive position of the US-leaning Syrian opposition. Washington claims that this opposition is first, independent, and second, that it listens not only to the United States but also to some regional capitals. We - and not only we - wonder if this is a simple case of US inability, or a deliberate policy of drawing out the Syrian conflict? Flirting with al-Nusra could lead to the rise of yet another terrorist monster."

(, August 23), August 10

The international media targets Russia, because it is in the pay of the US.

According to the Russian independent military review Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, the Russian decision to send the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznezov, escorted by nuclear submarines to Syria's coast may be impeded due to an insufficient quantity of trained naval pilots. According to the newspaper only seven pilots are fully qualified to take off and land on Admiral Kuznezov's deck.

(, August 19)

Duma Elections

According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, following the elections, the first deputy chair of the Presidential administration. Vyacheslav Volodin, will most likely be appointed the Duma's speaker, while outgoing speaker, Sergey Naryshkin, will be appointed head of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service).

(, August 23)

According to the Russian newspaper Vedomosti, half of the "foreign" observers from the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States linking former Soviet republics) Inter-Parliamentary Assembly registered for the upcoming Duma elections turned out to be Russian citizens, which clearly violates the law. Moreover, only three out of the 36 registered observers are actually parliament members. All the remaining 33 observers are employees of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly's secretariat and report directly to their superior, Russian Federation Council chairwoman Valentina Matveenko. The newspaper quotes Grigory Melkonyanz, executive director for NGO "VOICE" who says that this is a parody of international election observation standards.

(, August 22)

Russia's ruling political party, United Russia (UR), will not use Russian President Vladimir Putin's face  in its election campaign as it is prohibited by law. This year, the Duma amended the electoral law in order to prohibit using images of a person, who is not a candidate of the party. UR billboards will feature Putin's quotes, and the party's video clips will use his voice. UR members want the party to be more closely associated with its moral leader

The unseen Putin starred in UR-prepared billboard mockups and scripts for video clips that were shown starting with August 20 - the official launch date for the Duma election campaign (voting will take place on September 18).

The Deputy Secretary of UR's General Council Olga Batalina said: "We have obtained the president's approval for this approach to the election campaign. United Russia was created by Putin; everybody realizes that he is the moral leader of the party and relies on it in the implementation of his policies. Therefore, this correct use of the president's image in the campaign is a response to the people's expectations."

During the UR June congress, Putin called the party "the country's assembly point ". Additionally, Putin said that he had triggered the creation of the party. "I remember the conditions in which United Russia was created. As everybody knows it was my initiative. Indeed, I stepped forward and created the party myself", said the president. Political scientist Alexei Makarkin commented that the party cannot forego Putin's image. "It is he that the people perceive as a strong person. So, ever since 2003 the party takes this standard electoral step every time - it always invokes the president, always emphasizes that he was one of its founders", the expert noted.

(, August 9)

A report by the pro-Kremlin Fund for the Development of Civil Society found that the contending parties are trying to bask in Putin's rating. His already high rating amongst the Russian public peaked after the unification with Crimea and Sevastopol in 2014. As such, the parties must orient themselves according to the electorate's preference for a "Putin majority in order not to avoid forfeiting the votes of their supporters." The fund's president, Konstantine Kostin says that only the parties currently represented in the Duma have a chance of passing the 5 percent electoral threshold meaning that he rules out representation for liberal parties such as Yabloko. The competition is over the voters who have not defined themselves and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia characterized by "a balance between patriotism, defense of the citizens' interests and moderate nationalism" has the best chance for a second-place finish. If the Liberal Democrats falter, the Communists will be the runners-up.

Political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko considers the current campaign one of the most boring in memory and it is not worth talking about the gains of the parliamentary opposition but only about how much their totals will drop in comparison with the previous election.

(, August 25, 2016)

Russian Bombers In Iran

On August 18, Russian bombers left the Iranian Hamadan air force base. Later, Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehqan accused Russia of reporting the use of the Iranian air base without Tehran's notice. However, on August 23, Chairman of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani, stated that "the flights are not suspended."

Vladimir Sazhin, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, commented: "In Iran, there is a significant group of people who believe that Russia is not sufficiently active in Syria militarily. In my personal opinion, this group was in favor of providing the Hamadan runway for Russian long-range aircraft. Another group believes the very opposite that Russia is too active in Syria and thereby pushes Iran aside from actions to strengthen the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Therefore, this group of Iranians feels great jealousy toward Russia, which has a certain influence on Damascus."

(, August 24)

Commenting on the decision to withdraw the Russian bombers from Iran's Hamadan airbase, the Russian newspaper Kommersant quoted an unidentified source in the "military establishment", who explained that there was "a slight misunderstanding" between Russia and Iran. Kommersant's source stated that Russia intended to use the airbase not merely as a refueling facility, but rather as a full operational base. However, Iran did not agree. The newspaper also quoted Alexey Milashenko, an expert from Moscow's Carnegie Center, who said: "The Iranians are not satisfied with a situation in which Moscow pretends to play a leading role, while using Iran for its own ambitions. Iran is not willing to be a 'junior partner,' and wants Moscow to understand that Tehran is ready to play only as an equal partner. Moreover, given the current Iranian multi-vector policy, relations with the West are more important to Iran than the relations with Russia.'' Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, Andrey Kortunov, also said that Iran does not want to look like a "Russian satellite," adding that Russia cannot consider Tehran a trustworthy partner or ally.

(, August 23)

(, August 24) 

Russia-Turkey Relations

Following the August 24Turkish incursion into Syrian territory, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing concern about Turkish actions: "In the morning of August 24, Turkey announced the start of a military operation in neighboring Syria. Media outlets have reported that Turkish tanks and troops, including Special Forces, entered Syria in a joint operation with the allied Syrian opposition groups. According to Ankara, the operation has been launched to combat ISIS and Kurdish rebels. Moscow is seriously concerned by the developments on the Syrian-Turkish border, and is especially alarmed by the prospect that the situation in the conflict zone will continue to deteriorate, resulting in greater civilian losses and heightened ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds." Earlier, on August 21 Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan following terror attack in Gaziantep. In that occasion, Putin reiterated Russia's readiness to engage in comprehensive anti-terror cooperation with its Turkish partners.

(, August 24;, August 21)

According to a statement issued by the Ukrainian president's press-service, on August 20, in a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Erdogan said that Turkey will not recognize Crimea's annexation and will support the Crimean Tatars. The statement on the Ukrainian presidential official website read: "Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed to Petro Poroshenko Turkey's unwavering position regarding its support of Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity in the country's internationally recognized borders. The Turkish president also stated that the Republic of Turkey will not recognize Crimea's occupation and will continue to support the Crimean Tatars in every possible way."

(, August 20;, August 22)

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Source:

Ukraine-Russia Relations And The Minsk Agreements

Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office announced that it had opened a criminal investigation against Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, two of his deputies and 10 high ranking military officers as well as against 5 additional political figures. They are suspected of having "acted against Ukraine's national security and civil security, order and international law". Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko said he is inviting all the suspects to appear in Ukraine for questioning. He explained that Ukraine is acting to issue international warrants for the suspects. Asked whether the warrants will include Putin, he answered "We are working on this".

(, August 22)

The Russian side retaliated by opening a criminal investigation against Ukraine's minister of defense, its chief of staff and other high ranking military officers for using prohibited means and methods of waging war methods of combat in the Donbas area.

(, August 24)

Despite the recent announcement that Vladimir Putin does not see any sense in convening a meeting of the Normandy Four group meeting in the near future -to coincide with the G-20 summit in China - The Russian president has held phone conversations with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the Minsk agreements process. The three have agreed after all to meet at the G-20 summit to discuss how to move forward on the Minsk process.

(, August 23)

Nevertheless, the so-called contact group, representing teams from France, Ukraine, self-proclaimed separatist Russian-backed republics and Russia are planning to conclude an agreement on withdrawing combat units from the Ukrainian frontier. According to the Ukrainian side, the negotiations in Minsk were to have taken place as planned on August 26 despite the intervening incident in Crimea.

(, August 23)

Vitaly Podvitsky,, August 23, 2016.

Crimea is stronger than Ukraine.

Russia-Slovakia Relations And The Visegrad Group

On August 25, Putin met with the Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico in Moscow. Slovakia's Prime Minister stressed once again the need to lift sanctions against Russia. Fico wrote on his Facebook page: "My opinion is it is high time to consider the sanctions from the rational point of view and to say they are harmful both for the EU and for Russia." Before leaving for Russia, Fico met on the same day with the French president Francois Hollande. The next day, Fico participated in a meeting of the Visegrad Group (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Prague..

On August 24, Czech President Milos Zeman rejected the Western sanctions against Russia in a speech that he delivered in Prague to the heads of Czech diplomatic missions abroad. However, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka disagrees with Zeman's positions. On August 25, at a joint press conference with Merkel in Prague, Sobotka said: "The sanctions are tied to Minsk II. We and our European partners repeat once again that sanctions can only be reduced if there are successful steps for the implementation of the Minsk agreements... First, we need progress in talks with Ukraine and Russia. This obligation must be met right now." Merkel claimed to be in full agreement with Sobotka's views, adding that Germany and France have in recent days become very eager to make progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

(, August 24, August 25;, August 25;, August 24;, August 26)

Belgium Feels The Negative Effects Of Sanctions Against Russia

The Flemish union of farmers, Boerenbond, indicates that cattle and horticulture farmers keep feeling the negative effects of the Russian embargo. Russia represented a very important market for Belgium, which back in 2013, was the seventh most important European exporter to Russia with total exports of 281 million Euros. The main Belgian products exported in Russia were potatoes and pears, pork, milk powder and tomatoes.

Belgian producers have not been able to find new markets for exports in order to compensate themselves for the loss of the Russian market. Between 2014 and 2016, Belgian exports of apples, pork and powdered milk dropped by 7.3%, 2.8%, and 9.2% respectively.

(, August 3)

Russia- Finland Relations

On August 24, Finnish-US combat aircraft drills started in Finland's southern Kanta-Hame and Paijat-Hame regions. Earlier, Finland provided its territory for the Baltops-2016 military exercises featuring an amphibious landing by NATO forces. The Finnish defense minister stated that the preparations for a framework military agreement between Helsinki and Washington were inter alia occasioned by "the growing discontent in the Scandinavian countries with Russia's military activity in the region." However, the minister said that the document will not contain military assistance obligations that would imply membership in NATO. A leading expert at the MGIMO Center for Military and Political Studies, Mikhail Alexandrov, said: "Finland is now taking part in NATO's policy of pressure on Russia... Although Finland supports NATO's policy of pressure on Russia, it does not want to join the North Atlantic alliance, understanding that it is one thing to exert virtual reality, information and psychological pressure and it is quite another thing to join NATO... Russia will undoubtedly respond to this, the relations will deteriorate and trade ties will be frozen."

(, August 24)

Russia's Drills And Defense News

Russia and China agrees to hold Joint-Sea-2016 drills in China from September 12 to 19. The drill will involve the Russian Pacific Fleet and the Chinese Navy and it will consist on organizing defense of ships at sea and joint assault force landing in the South China Sea.

(, August 22)

The Russian news agency reported that a "surprise" combat readiness was announced in the Southern (which includes Crimea and Rostov regions, close to the Ukrainian border), Western and Central military districts, in the Northern Fleet and also in major commands of the Aerospace and Airborne Forces. The inspection was set to be  conducted on August 25-31. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced: "...Another snap check has started in Russia in accordance with the decision of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces... the forces of the Southern, a part of forces and resources of the Western and Central military districts, the Northern Fleet, the major command of the Aerospace Forces and the Airborne forces command are put on full combat alert from 7.00 a.m. Moscow time... I order Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov to inform military attaches of foreign states about the surprise overall combat readiness check of the forces...during relocation, to assess the ability of the Southern Military District is to promptly deploy self-sufficient force groupings to localize crisis situations, check the capabilities of the Western and Central military districts and step up efforts in the south-western strategic direction."

According to the RIA news agency, Shoigu also ordered verifying "the capabilities of Western and Central Commands to boost their presence in a south-westerly strategic direction."

(, August 22;, August 25)

The board of the Russian Defense Ministry chaired by Minister Sergei Shoigu is expected to discuss the prospects for troop deployment on the Kuril Islands. The Russian ministry's press service stated: "In line with the agenda, board members will discuss the plan for activities of the Eastern Military District in the years 2016- 2020 with assessments on the prospects for deploying troops on the Kuril Islands and the Airborne forces 2016-2020 operations plan." The participants will discuss development of the early warning system on missile attacks.

(, August 23)

Vitaly Podvitsky,, July 11, 2016.

The cartoon refers to the Kuril Islands dispute between Russia and Japan. A Japanese samurai prodded by an American hand: I protest! These are our islands! The Russian bear : He who own the tanks, also owns the islands.

Russia's Defense Ministry plans to form a coastal defense division in Chukotka by 2018. The Russian news agency reported that Shoigu recalled that in July 2015, a decision was made to establish a unified system of coastal defense from the Primorye Territory to the Arctic "to ensure control of the closed sea zones of the Kuril Islands and Bering Strait, cover the routes of Pacific Fleet forces deployment in the Far Eastern and Northern sea zones, and increase the combat stability of naval strategic nuclear forces during fulfillment of set tasks."  

(, August 23)

Chukotka Autonomous Okrug.

Russian Private Military Companies

According to the Russian media outlet, the Russian ministry of defense and private investors invested up to 10 billion rubles (154 million dollars) in the so called Wagner Group, a Russian private military company operating and fighting in Syria. Wagner Group is headquartered in Molkino (Krasnodar district) at the same base used by GRU (Main Military Intelligence Directorate) Special Forces. An unidentified MOD officer explained to that the group is not officially registered, and weapons and supplies purchases for the group are classified. The payroll for the contractors is performed in cash. The group's personnel is estimated at 2500 contractors and the group itself is coordinated by FSB and GRU officers.  According to the publication quoting the same unidentified source in the Russian MOD Wagner Group already entered combat in Syria prior to the official Russian deployment.

(, August 25)

In a follow-up article RBC quoted other unidentified FSB and MOD officers, who said that because the Wagner Group's location had been revealed, it could be relocated to Tajikistan, Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia. Formally, private military companies are illegal under Russian law, but an attempt is being made to legalize their actions.

(, August 25)

Rio Olympics 2016

Russia's national team took fourth place in the medals table with 56 medals in toto - 19 gold, 18 silver, and 19 bronze.

(, August 25)

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismissed the appeal filed by the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) against the decision to ban Russian athletes from September's Paralympic Games in Rio. Commenting on the decision at the state awards' ceremony to the Russian athletes who won gold medals at the 2016 Olympic Games, Putin said: "he decision to disqualify our Paralympic athletes goes beyond law, morality and humanity. It is quite simply cynical to take out one's revenge and frustration on people for whom sport has become their life purpose and whose example gives hope and self-confidence to millions of people with disabilities. I even feel pity for those who take decisions of this kind because they do not understand just how degrading this is for them. I would like to tell our Paralympic athletes that we will support them of course, and we will organize competitions where they can demonstrate their skills, and the rewards for the winners will be the same as what they would have received for their results in the Paralympics. Yes, of course, we are aware of our own mistakes too. We continue working to improve our country's anti-doping system and we are doing this in complete transparency and bringing in international specialists. However, there should be no doubt that we cannot and will not accept accusations against our athletes unless they are proven by evidence and facts, and we will see unproven accusations as attempts at manipulation."

(, August 25)

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the ceremony to present awards to gold medalists of the 2016 Olympics. (Source:, August 25)

Russian minister of sports Vitaly Mutko said that Russia conducted a thorough examination of the McLaren's WADA doping report, and concluded that it was fabricated. The conclusions are supposed to be sent to IOC and Wada. Mutko added that Ministry of Sports intends to resort to civil courts regarding the issue while criminal investigations will be summoned against the report's authors.

(, August 27)

A Russian court seized the property of the former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory of Grigory Rodchenkov, who is charged over abuse of office. Rodchenkov, who now lives in the U.S., claimed in an interview with The New York Times (May 12, 2016) that Russia's sports authorities allegedly prepared a special doping program for national athletes in order to win most of the medals at the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

(, August 25) 

Juvenile Death Toll In Russia

According to the Parliamentary Gazette, the Duma's official newspaper, the juvenile suicide toll in Russia is three times higher than the world average. According to the official representative of the Investigative Committee (the Russian equivalent of the FBI ) in 2016 there were 350 juvenile suicides, and this figure does not include suicide attempts.

(, August 22)

Strange But True

The Russian Social Movement for Counteracting Extremism filed a complaint and request for an investigation against the popular Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin due to a story that he wrote in 2001 depicting an act of domestic cannibalism where the family cooked and served their 16-year-old daughter. The novel came to their attention after they read that it was going to be made into a film. According to the complaint the novel is of an extremist nature and its distribution in Russia should be therefore banned.

(, August 23)

Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin (Source:


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