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.
Cartoons Of The Week
Vitaly, Twitter.com/sharzhipero, August 10, 2016.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with the physically and politically miniaturized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On August 9, when the two leaders met in St. Petersburg, Erdogan referred to Putin several times as "my dear friend"; Putin, did not reciprocate the amity and formally referred to the Turkish president as "Mr. Erdogan."
Vitaly Podvitsky, Ria.ru, August 8, 2016.
NATO tries to steer Turkey in the opposite direction to the course that Erdogan, dressed as an Ottoman sultan, has charted for Turkey.
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:
Still on vacation, Maria Zakharova published a photo of herself on horseback in Spassk-Ryazansky. (Souce: Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, August 11, 2016)
Zakharova has reacted to an interview by Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin, who mentioned the option of imposing visa requirements on Russian citizens entering Ukraine:
"Do you have a basic idea of how many Ukrainian come to Russia to earn money in order to feed their families...? If Ukraine maintains real rather than utopian statistics, which are not used for brainwashing the population, study it and tell the Ukrainian people about it. Then the citizens of your country will clearly understand whom the visa regime will harm."
(Tass.ru, August 12)
Quote Of The Week:
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius published a statement on the Foreign Ministry's website, following a conversation with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin on the rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Linkevicius wrote: "The provocative methods and accusations by Russia threaten the Normandy format [which comprises Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany] and constitute a challenge for the international effort to end external aggression and military action in Eastern Ukraine. The international community should respond very seriously to such fabricated accusations and prevent any further provocations by Russia, if such are planned."
(Urm.lt, August 12)
In his twitter account, the Lithuanian FM wrote the following: "[The] aggressor accused the victim of an attack. Old KGB methods. Russia's false accusations towards Ukraine to justify future 'retaliation'?"
(Twitter.com/LinkeviciusL, August 10)
Lithuania's Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius (Source: Urm.lt)
In The News:
Rising Tensions Between Ukraine And Russia
Serious tensions arose this week in Russian-Ukrainian relations. According to the Ukrainian Border Guard, the Russian side has been reinforcing its military presence along the Crimea-Ukraine border since August 7, including deploying additional troops prior to the Caucasus 2016 military exercise scheduled for September 5-10. Meanwhile, following a special meeting of the Ukrainian Security Council, Ukraine announced a state of high military alert along its borders with Crimea and in the Donbass region; a state of high military alert means that Ukrainian troops are ready for immediate combat.
(See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6573, An Overview Of The Rising Tensions In Russian-Ukrainian Relations, August 12, 2016)
Russia In Syria - Senator Klintsevich Said That Nuclear Weapons And Heavy Bombers Will Not Be Permanently Deployed At The Hmeymim Base
Russian media reported that Moscow plans to turn the Hmeymim base, located in the northwestern Syrian Latakia province, into a fully operational base. The first deputy chairman of the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee Franz Klintsevich said: "After an agreement on its legal status, Hmeymim will become a base of Russian armed forces, all the appropriate infrastructure will be built there and our servicemen will live in decent conditions." He then added that a permanent contingent of Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) could be based at the Hmeymim airbase. Klintsevich said: "The VKS unit could be increased in accordance with bilateral agreements, but so far, from the perspective of tasks at hand, the forces currently deployed there [at Hmeymim] are enough."
He also said that nuclear weapons and heavy bombers will not be permanently deployed at the Hmeymim base in Syria as it is against international agreements.
(Sputniknews.com, August 11)
Putin Dismisses Kremlin Chief-Of-Staff
New Russia Chief Of Staff Anton Vaino (Themoscowtimes, August 12, 2016)
Putin dismissed Kremlin Chief-Of-Staff Sergei Ivanov. The new Chief-Of-Staff is Anton Vaino. In a meeting with Ivanov and Vaino, Putin said: "Mr. Vaino has been your deputy for several years now and also quite successfully. Mr. Ivanov recommended you as his successor in the post of Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office. I would like to offer this job to you." Vaino, 44, is the grandson of the former head of the Estonian Communist Party. He speaks fluent English and Japanese.
(Kremlin.ru, August 12; Themoscowtimes.com, August 12)
Commenting on Ivanov's dismissal, the English-language Russian daily The Moscow Times wrote: "In an unexpected move, Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced...the head of the presidential administration Sergei Ivanov with Anton Vaino, a younger and less known official. Ivanov, thanking Putin for his praise of his work, commented that his four years and eight months in the role made him the longest-serving head of Russia's presidential administration...The dismissal, as several Kremlin insiders told The Moscow Times, follows the logic of the recent staff reshuffle among top Russian officials. Putin is replacing his old guard with young and loyal bureaucratic figures, moving toward enforcing his personal leadership... [However,] inside the Kremlin, Vaino's appointment didn't come as a total shock. 'He would have become the next head of administration anyway,' [a] source close to the Kremlin said. Rumors of the move started circulating in early spring. Ivanov has been planning to resign for some time now...In addition, Putin has been dissatisfied with Ivanov for some time. New legislation on the National Guard was the last straw, the Moscow-based political commentator Konstantin Gaaze says: 'The expertise and the workflow involved in drafting this legislation went wrong. As a result, the version of one of the amendments signed by Putin and officially published in the press is different from what the parliament voted for. And the Kremlin managers had to deal with the scandal."
(Themoscowtimes.com, August 12)
On August 9, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Konstantin Palace, 20 kilometers from St. Petersburg. The meeting was described by the media as "historic," since the two leaders were meeting for the first time since the Turkish air force shot down a Russian plane in November 2015. The meeting focused on the normalization of economic and political relations.
(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 9, 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 11, 2016)
The Turkish media reported that Turkey and Russia are building "a new mechanism between the two countries on Syria," after the summit in St. Petersburg. Before the meeting with Putin, Erdogan announced: "We said we would send [Russia] a tripartite committee featuring an intelligence [officer], soldier and a diplomat, and in response to this tripartite committee, you will name your counterparts and they will conduct intense work." The Turkish tripartite committee was scheduled to leave for Russia on August 10 and would hold its first meetings on August 11.
Commenting on Russia-Turkey cooperation on Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu said:
"[This is] the first concrete step [between Turkey and Russia]: Previously, there were different mechanisms between us on Syria, between the militaries, foreign ministries and intelligence services. Now, we [will] establish a threefold mechanism."
(Hurriyetdailynews.com, August 11)
On August 8, 2016, a first-ever trilateral summit between Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia convened in Azerbaijan's capital of Baku, at the initiative of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs and Research Director at the Valdai International Discussion Club, said that Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia partnership strengthens Russia's role as a stability guarantor in Eurasia. He said that from a Russian point of view, cooperation with Iran and Azerbaijan is very important, due to the volatile situation in South Caucasus and the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh conflict may "heat up" again.
(See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6569, An Overview Of The Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia Trilateral Summit In Baku, August 12, 2016)
Putin Meets The Armenian President
On August 10, Putin met with the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, in Moscow. During the joint news conference, Sargsyan said: "It is impossible to resolve such a conflict by seeking to address its consequences rather than its root causes. The core of the Karabakh issue lies in the struggle of the people of Karabakh for self-determination - an inalienable right of all nations in resolving such issues, which should be respected and guaranteed. This is what we discussed in detail with the President of Russia today... Each side should benefit from realistic, clear-cut and feasible solutions that are rooted in mutual respect and trust rather than hatred and xenophobia."
During the Q&As that followed the joint news conference, a journalist asked Putin: "Do you think they [Armenia and Azerbaijan] are creating grounds for another round of escalation, with Azerbaijan obtaining a large number of weapons, whereas the supply of Russian weapons to Armenia remains, to put it mildly, questionable?" In his answer, Putin stressed that Armenia is Russia's ally and that is fulfilling its duties to supply Armenia with weapons. However, he added that a country like Azerbaijan is able to buy any weapon in today's global arms market. Putin said: "As for the weapons, we have a program on this with Armenia. Armenia is a CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] member and our ally. We have certain mutual obligations, and Russia has always kept its obligations, has always fulfilled them. In today's arms market, any country can buy almost any weapon. A country such as Azerbaijan, an oil-producing country of almost 10 million people with a fast-growing economy, as well as sufficiently large gold and currency reserves can, of course, buy weapons anywhere it likes. You see? Anywhere. However, I would rather not focus on the military side of things now. If we want to resolve this problem, we should use peaceful means."
(See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6569, An Overview Of The Azerbaijan-Iran-Russia Trilateral Summit In Baku, August 12, 2016)
Foreign Ministry official and senior nuclear negotiator Hamid Baidinejad said that the Fordow center will become a major nuclear physics research center. He added that Russian and Iranian scientists are working together to produce stable isotopes in Fordow Nuclear Center.
(Mehrnews.com, August 7)
Concerning the Syrian crisis, Former high ranking Iranian diplomat Nosratollah Tajik stated that Russia believes that Washington is not serious about the Syrian issue. He then added that Russia's military presence in Syria benefited Iran. According to Tajik, Washington is not ready to accept Iran's positive role in Syria, whereas it finds it easier to compromise with Russia.
(Irdiplomacy.ir, August 9)
On August 8, Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin reported that half of the contracted S-300 air defense system complexes have been delivered to Iran. Half of the S-300 system complexes means that half of the contract comprising two S-300 squadrons has been fulfilled. According to Iran's Defense Minister Brigade General Hossein Dehghan, the purchase and delivery of the S-300 from Russia includes four squadrons of S-300. Every squadron is comprised of four batteries, with each battery including four missile launchers, side radars, and command and support vehicles. A few weeks ago, Russia announced its readiness to dispatch the second shipment of S-300. Rogozin's statement shows that Iran has possibly already received the second shipment of S-300 that includes the second squadron.
(Tasnimnews.com, August 9)
The Russian embassy in Iran reported that Sergey Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, will visit Tehran at the end of August to discuss progress in the JCPOA implementation with Iranian officials.
(Ilna.ir, August 11)
On August 12, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stressed the importance of the roles played by Iran, Russia and Turkey in the region, during a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu. Zarif said: "We are very happy with the new cooperation between Turkey and Russia... This cooperation is important for all three countries. Iran has always had a positive dialogue with Turkey on Syria and has very good ties with Russia. We believe that all sides should cooperate for peace and security in Syria and in the fight against extremism."
Çavusoglu said: "We will closely cooperate on these issues [on Syria] after this meeting. There are issues we agree on, especially on Syrian territorial integrity. On some issues, we have different views but we have never cut dialogue. We have emphasized from the outset the importance of the constructive role Iran plays for a permanent solution in Syria."
(Hurriyetdailynews.com, August 12)
Ukraine's former president Viktor Yushchenko hailed Iran as a very powerful country with which his country should develop strategic relations, saying the ties should not be confined to energy cooperation, but should also involve the exchange of scientific expertise.
(Tasnimnews.com, August 6)
A second joint consular meeting between Iran and Ukraine took place in Tehran. During the meeting both sides stressed the necessity of expanding consular cooperation, and providing additional services to Iranian and Ukrainian citizens.
(Farsnews.com, August 8)
On August 13, Russian Defense Minister met with Serbian Defense Minister Zoran Djordjevic at the finals of Russia's large-scale International Army Games (July 30-August 13).
(Blics.rs, August 13)
On August 11, the Serbian parliament endorsed Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's new government, composed by 19 ministers. The government will pursue Serbia's integration in the EU, while keeping close ties with Russia. Vucic had problems forming a new government. The Russian government-funded media outlet Sputniknews.com wrote that Serbia became the "battlefield" between Russia and the West, since "pro-Russia and pro-West politicians" are in disagreement over the country's policy.
(Inserbia.info, August 11; Mundo.sputniknews.com, July 27)
Vucic said the Serbia has no alternative to gas supplies from Russia: "From where can the gas be imported, if not from Russia? We can import it only from Russia, and every other alternative I have heard of was just empty talk.... We now have the best possible price from Russia - $118 per thousand cubic meters of gas."
(Inserbia.info, August 11)
On July 13, the popular Belgrade newspaper Blic wrote that "the Serbian Ministry of Finance is seeking a way to annul a treaty with Russia concerning the 800 million dollar credit for infrastructure projects". According to the newspaper, the Finance Ministry team developing the requirements for rejection is prepared "even to go to arbitration" with the Russian party. It was noted that loan funds can be "secured elsewhere and on better terms." As a pretext for dissolving the treaty, the newspaper's source mentioned that the Serbian side allegedly planned submitting "a request to extend the term of credit realization after the contractual term expires in December 2017, [a request] that the Russian side will refuse to accept".
(Vz.ru, July 13)
Russian Military Exercises
This year, Russian paratroopers will perform several joint exercises with their colleagues from the armies of Egypt and Serbia. Counter-terrorism training exercises with the Russian National Guard have finished on the range near Volgograd. In September, Russia will participate in the "Slavic Brotherhood 2016" exercises together with the Belarusians and Serbs. The drills will take place at the Nikinci military training field, in Serbia, just 30 km from the border with Croatia, and NATO. In October, Russia has scheduled joint exercises with the special ops army units in Egypt. In September, the "Caucasus-2016" strategic exercises will take place.
(Life.ru, July 30; B29.net, August 5)
News In Brief:
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill congratulated Fidel Castro on his 90th birthday, stating that the Cuban leader wrote his name into the annals of world history. (Interfax.ru, August 14)
Russia's Defense Minister Shoigu: The Russian army is being re-armed and re-trained. (Interfax.ru, August 14)
Russia's Foreign Ministry confirms that a Russian pilot, seized by the Taliban in Afghanistan on August 4, was released. (Tass.ru, August 13)
Google was fined $6.75 million by Russia for violating antitrust regulations. (RT.com, August 11)