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
Vitaly, Vk.com/13studiya, July 28, 2016.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a banner saying: Crimea is yours!
Earlier last week, Trump was asked: "I would like to know if you became president, would you recognize (inaudible) Crimea as Russian territory? And also if the U.S. would lift sanctions that are (inaudible)?"
Trump answered: "We'll be looking at that. Yeah, we'll be looking." (Washingtonpost.com, July 27)
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:
Commenting on an article published in Politico.com, titled "Why Putin hates Hillary", by Michael Crowley and Julia Ioffe (July 25, 2016), Zakharova wrote on her Facebook account: "This is not even propaganda, it is an unthinkable [piece of] nonsense."
(Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, July 27)
Quote Of The Week
During his meeting with the US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian FM Lavrov, when asked to comment on American allegations that Russia has hacked Democratic Party National Committee emails, responded:
"I don't want to use four-letter words".
(Mid.ru, July 26; See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6542, Russian FM Lavrov On Accusations Against Russia Over DNC Email Hacking: I Don't Want To Use Four-Letter Words, July 26, 2016)
In The News:
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia never interferes with other countries' electoral processes in other countries, and that includes the United States. Peskov, reacting to US President Barack Obama's speculation that Russian hackers were behind the Wikileaks dump of Democratic National Committee emails said: "President [Vladimir] Putin repeatedly said that Russia never interfered in the internal affairs of other countries, especially in electoral processes." Unsubstantiated speculations about a possible Russian attempt to sway the outcome of the US attested to the unconstructive approach taken by American politicians. It also betrayed the regrettable tendency of using 'the Russian card' for electoral purposes.
(Tass.ru, July 27, 2016)
IOC Softens Ban On Russian Athletes Ahead Of Rio 2016
Vitaly Podvitsky, Ria.ru, July 22, 2016.
Greek athletes running after a urine sample used for anti-doping drug testing.
Regarding the decision by IOC head Thomas Bach to soften the ban on Russian athletes, the popular Russian newspaper MK (Moskovskii Komsomolets) mentions a possible conflict of interest. Bach has business interests in Russia, as he chairs the supervisory board of the Weinig consortium, the world's largest producer of woodcutting equipment. The consortium has 11 sales offices in Russia. Although the supervisory board only conducts audits, board members are paid by the consortium.
(Mk.ru, July 25; See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6548, Putin Meets With Russia's Olympic Team Ahead Of Rio 2016: 'This Campaign That Targets Our Country's Athletes Includes The Use Of Notorious Double Standards', July 29, 2016)
Vitaly Podvitsky, Ria.ru
The cartoon compares former U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell's 2003 WMD speech (which turned out to be inaccurate) at the UN prior to the invasion of Iraq to the current WADA report.
Putin is not going to Rio: Dmitri Peskov, the presidential spokesperson said that Putin is not planning to attend Rio Olympic Games opening ceremony.
(Mk.ru, July 25)
Twitter.com/sharzhipero, July 29, 2016
U.S. tennis player Serena Williams: muesli
Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova: steroids.
Former world No. 1 tennis player Sharapova won't be able to participate to the Olympics. She is serving a two-year ban after she was tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open 2016. Shaparova has appealed, but the court of arbitration for sport (CAS) has postponed the ruling to September.
Vk.com/13studiya, June 23, 2016
Russian Tennis Player Maria Sharapova: I'm sorry. I admit I used doping.
U.S. Tennis Player Serena Williams: I did not. I just fell into the pot with the doping during childhood.
Obelix standing next to Asterix: Just like me.
Former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu took responsibility for Turkey's shooting down a Russian plane in November 2015. Davutoglu said: "Within our state's customs, the prime minister gives the rules of engagement in a written directive to the General Staff. I gave the order on Oct. 10." As reported by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, the October 10 instruction read: "These rules of engagement will be implemented on not only Syrian planes but all that breaches the Turkish air space." Hurriyet reports that media claimed that the downing of the Russian jet was "the work of soldiers loyal to U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who the Turkish government says was behind the July 15 failed coup attempt." However, the Turkish newspaper said that a previous instruction, stating "all Syrian planes coming toward Turkey from Syria should be named as a threat and should be shut down," was given to the military in 2012.
Davutoğlu said that the implementation of the rules of engagement was not a problem, since the goal was defending the Turkish air space. He then added: "It is not right to raise questions eight months after the incident ... I would undertake the same political responsibility even it happened today."
(Hurriyetdailynews.com, July 27)
Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan is to visit Russia and meet president Putin on August 9. An editorial in Vedomosti, a leading financial paper, comments that Putin and Erdogan will discuss the renewed construction of the "Turkish stream" pipeline, which has been previously frozen as well as renewing tourism and cancelling the commodities embargo. Though Turkey finds itself somewhat isolated following the government post-coup crackdown, it will barely cut off ties with the West. The current Russia-Turkey rapprochement is situational since both countries use it to signal the West. Relations with the West are far more important for Russia and Turkey than their mutual relations with each other. For example, "The Turkish stream" is economically barely profitable for Russia but saw the light of day as a way of bypassing Ukraine in conveying gas transit to Europe.
(Vedomosti.ru, July 27, 2016)
In another article Vedomosti reiterates: The Putin-Erdogan meeting won't solve all the questions. The Russian sanctions against Turkey were imposed for political reasons but had a more widespread impact than originally intended. The article quotes Russian Foreign Affairs Council expert Andrey Kortunov who says that Russia-Turkey contradictions stem from the Syrian issue, Southern Caucasus regional issues and the Crimean Tatar ethical issue. "I think the sides will discuss all those questions but I assume that the Russian side will want to keep some aces in hand for a further trade-off"
(Vedomosti.ru, July 27, 2016)
The Russian Defense Ministry has received no Bulgarian Defense Ministry protests or requests for clarification on an alleged violation of the Bulgarian zone of NATO airspace by Russian military aircraft. This was the reaction by Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov to remarks made by Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev on the local NovaTV channel and his claim that Bulgaria was taking "preventive measures" against provocative Russian actions.
(Tass.ru, July 25, 2016)
Subsequently the Bulgarian ministry of defense amplified on its website that the Russian jets were flying with their transponders off and without giving prior notification. The Russian jets sometimes flew without official military insignia. The ministry stressed that the Russian jets did not penetrate Bulgarian airspace.
(Ria.ru, July 26, 2016)
RIA's columnist Aleksandr Khrolenko writes that no such term as NATO's airspace exists since NATO is not a sovereign country. NATO's zone of responsibility represents imaginative thinking, writes Khrolenko, but is judicially absurd as well. Since the West considers Bulgaria a "security consumer" rather than "security provider" Russia does not perceive Bulgaria as a threat. To control Bulgarian airspace Russia can rely on its Crime-based S-400 air defense systems. Khrolenko reminds the Bulgarians that the preventive measures that they are threatening have a historical antecedent on the eve of WW II when Bulgaria's King Boris sided with the German forces. Now they are fronting for the U.S. He continues: "If it corresponds to US interests, Washington finds it acceptable to destroy established countries and create new ones through permanent war or premeditated revolution." The U.S. is the new USSR. If the USSR previously tried to supplant national traditions with Communism "now the U.S, 'with fire and sword' bears to the world the true and all-conquering democracy... The provocative anti-Russian statements by Bulgarian, Polish and Baltic ministers and politicians - are a mere disguise, which do not succeed in hiding the real essence of a global confrontation of interests taking place in Europe. By maneuvering in the Baltics or in Black sea the US and Russia are getting themselves ready for an intercontinental war, which will involve - like it or not - dozens of other states"
(Ria.ru/analytics, July 27, 2016)
15th Meeting Of Heads Of Intelligence, Security And Law Enforcement Agencies In St. Petersburg
The 15th Meeting of Heads of Special Services, Security Agencies and Law Enforcement Organizations brought together 100 delegations from 63 countries to St. Petersburg. During the meeting, the Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov said: In 2015 over 2,900 persons were identified in Russia, who are suspected of involvement in terrorist activities [in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq]." He then added: "The 'sleeper cells' created by leaders of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda (terrorist organizations banned in Russia) are 'coming alive' with the flow of militants who enters European countries together with numerous migrants. It is an open secret that an explosive growth in the number of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa destabilizes the socio-economic situation and sharply aggravates the crime situation in many countries, and considerably increases the workload for special services." Bortnikov also stated that 220 potential pseudo "shahids" in Russia are under security service surveillance.
(Tass.ru, July 27)
The Russian Ministry of Defense is seeking to create a system that will technologically verify American obligations under START (the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that entered into force in 2011). Officially, the ministry of defense is seeking to create a "situational awareness system for taking intelligent decisions and extending complaints on US breaches of the START treaty in the event that the U.S. is conducting strategic weapons tests".
(Ria.ru, July 27)
Russia plans to renew production of the TU-160 strategic bomber which has a nuclear weapon and cruise missile capability
(Ria.ru. July 26)
Former naval deputy chief-of-staff admiral Igor Kasatonov told RIA-news that Russia will conclude establishing one more naval military base for the Black Sea fleet in Novorossiisk by 2020. This Black Sea city, which is not far from Crimea, will host all the Black Sea fleet's submarines.
(Ria.ru, July 28)
Lavrov-Kerry Meeting At The ASEAN Summit
Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Laos at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit. The two counterparts discussed the situation in Syria, as a follow-up to the agreements that were reached during Kerry's July 15visit to Moscow. During a press conference in Laos, Lavrov expressed his disappointment with the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and with the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee that was formed in Riyadh.
(Mid.ru, July 26)
Russia in Syria
Russia opened three humanitarian corridors in Aleppo for civilians and also for militants, who agreed to lay down their arms. However, the Assad regime's governor of Aleppo province, Mohammad Marwan, said that that militants are blocking people from leaving.
(Rt.com, July 29)
A Russian flag waving on a pick-up truck in Aleppo. (Source: Rt.com, July 29)
Russia's Conference On The Protection Of Christians
In an interview with the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society's website, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced the preparation of a new conference on the protection of Christians, tentatively, it will take place this autumn. Lavrov also mentioned that Russia is planning the restoration of St Alexander Metochion, a church in close proximity to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in Jerusalem.
(Mid.ru, July 25)
According to Khanif Atmar, Afghanistan's president security advisor, Kabul is interested in cooperation with Russia in fighting ISIS. Atmar said: "I'm here to ask Russia to extend its help in fighting ISIS. Russian help was very effective and fruitful." Atmar also said that Afghanistan is interested in buying Russian-made MI-35 combat helicopters to combat terrorists.
(Izvestia.ru, July 25; Tass.ru, July 25)
New Russian Ambassador To Ukraine
On July 28, Putin has signed Executive Order releasing Mikhail Zurabov from his duties of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Ukraine. According to reports, Zurabov may be replaced by the current presidential envoy to the Volga federal district and the former assistant head of the FSB's Border Service, Mikhail Babich. The Russian State Duma's Committee for International Affairs endorsed Babich's candidacy on July 29.
(Kremlin.ru, July 28; Uatoday.tv, July 28; Tass.ru, July 29)
Pro-Russia Vs Pro-Western Politicians In Serbia
Serbia's Prime Minister-Designate Aleksandar Vucic is having 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 of the country's policy. Serbia last held parliamentary elections on April 24, 2016 and the next elections were scheduled for March 2018. However, Vucic decided to move them up in order to obtain a solid majority that would back Serbian EU membership. Vucic's center-right and pro-EU Serbian Progressive Party won 48.25% of the votes in the last election.
On May 26, Vucic met with Putin in Moscow. At that occasion, Putin told Vucic: "I hope that whatever new government's composition, it will give a worthy place to people who give serious attention to developing the relations between the Russian Federation and Serbia. I hope that we will continue our work to strengthen our bilateral ties and continue our efforts to build up our political cooperation, our economic ties, and our work together on the international stage." Vucic replied: "We will do everything we can because our relations with the Russian Federation have great importance for us. We particularly value your personal contribution to developing the relations between our countries and strengthening our ties in all areas...We consider it our honor and duty to do everything we can to continue developing our relations with the Russian Federation in all areas, in the economy and in the political sphere. Of course, our economic cooperation is the priority."
In January 2016, ahead of the Orthodox Christmas, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej said that if there is a clash of interests with the West, Serbia should stand with Russia. The Serbian Patriarch stated: "We want friendly relations with everyone who wants it too - with Europe, with America, with Russia above all, but if those interests are conflicting and raising questions, there is no dilemma for us - (no) 'yes' or 'no' - Russia comes first."
(Mundo.sputniknews.com, July 27; Kremlin.ru, May 26, 2016; Sputniknews.com, January 6, 2016)
Prime Minister of Serbia Aleksander Vucic in Moscow on May 26 (Source: Kremlin.ru, May 26, 2016)
A Strengthening Of Russia-Slovenia Relations Despite EU Sanctions
On July 30, Putin made a working visit at the invitation of the President of Slovenia Borut Pahor. During the visit, Putin and Pahor visited the Russian Chapel below the Vrsic mountain pass, which was built in 1916 by surviving Russian prisoners-of-war. The Russian chapel is considered to be a symbol of Russian-Slovenian friendship. The presidents took part in a memorial ceremony to pay tribute to Russian prisoners of war who died while building the Vrsic pass for the Austro-Hungarian military 100 years ago. They also attended the opening of a memorial in Ljubljana honoring Russian and Soviet soldiers who lost their lives fighting in what is now Slovenia during WWI and WWII. Putin and Pahor also held comprehensive talks on bilateral cooperation on trade, economy, investment, culture and humanitarian partnership. The Russian media noticed that despite the EU sanctions, Slovenia and Russia are strengthening economic and political ties.
(Kremlin.ru, July 30; Sputniknews.com, July 30; Sta.si, July 30)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking at the Russian Chapel in Slovenia (Source: Kremlin.ru, July 30)
Commemorative ceremony at the Russian chapel (Source: Kremlin.ru, July 30)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Slovenian President Borut Pahor at the Russian chapel. (Source: Kremlin.ru, July 30)
The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted to the recent desecration of Soviet graves in Poland: "Unfortunately, we have to acknowledge that Soviet soldiers' graves on Polish territory are regularly subjected to abuse by vandals, in spite of Polish officials' repeated statements that they are reliably protected and guarded. In our opinion, this is to a large extent encouraged by the so-called 'historical policy' carried out by Warsaw on the national level. This policy is aimed at downgrading the Red Army's crucial role in liberating Europe from Nazism. In addition, the media are constantly playing up the Polish authorities' plans to completely remove Soviet war memorials unassociated with graves from public spaces."
(Mid.ru, July 27)
The Italian Five Star Movement MP Manlio Di Stefano was invited back in June to address the congress of the ruling United Russia, which kicked off on June 26. The Italian Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle in Italian, M5S in short), is a political party created, in 2009, by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo and by web businessman Gianroberto Casaleggio (who recently passed away). The movement, which is one of the main political parties in Italy, and recently captured the mayoralty in Rome, advocates direct democracy to be practiced through the web. Although its members pretend that the movement cannot be classified within the classical left-right divide, the M5S is generally considered to be populist, anti-establishment, environmentalist, anti-globalist and Eurosceptic.
Back in 2013, during Russian president Vladimir Putin's visit to Italy, the M5S MPs manifested concern and distrust towards Russia. However, the M5S's foreign policy appears to have shifted. During the United Russia Congress, MP Di Stefano was one of the guest speakers. Di Stefano explained that this was an honor since out of about forty foreign delegations, "only ten representatives were allowed to speak." Di Stefano recounted: "We have good relations with Russia and, just to provide an idea of how we are held in high esteem, I was the third speaker...I said that NATO's eastward enlargement can create great problems and I reiterated the necessity of putting an end to the sanctions against Moscow". He also clarified that "we are not pro-Russia, but we are only pro-Italy and we are concerned with the interests of our companies." In tandem, the M5S MPs demanded a parliamentary vote that would oppose the extension of EU sanctions on Russia.
In the M5S blog, Di Stefano wrote that Russia already understood that the M5S movement is on the cusp of coming to power. He also emphasized the urgency of blocking all sanctions on Russia and initiating a counter-terrorism dialogue with Moscow.
Until now, only center-right parties have displayed sympathies for the Russian president. This was particularly true of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who became a close friend of Putin. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega Nord, has made several trips to Moscow to meet Putin and is considered a most vocal advocate of lifting the sanctions. Corriere della Sera, the main Italian daily commented on Di Stefano's visit to Moscow: "Italy's 'Putinite' army is enrolling new affiliates".
(Corriere.it, June 27, June 28; Beppegrillo.it)
MP Manlio Di Stefano (Source: Rt.com)
On July 7, Cyprus' parliament adopted a resolution calling for an end to EU sanctions against Russia. The resolution, which was adopted by 33 of the assembly's 56 MPs, was tabled by the communist AKEL party, which held power from 2008 to 2013.
(Euobserver.com, July 8)
The Status Of The Caspian Sea
(Source: Mid.ru, July 13, 2016)
On July 13, the Russian foreign minister held a meeting with the other Caspian Five (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkmenistan) foreign ministers. Lavrov said that the convention on the Caspian Sea's legal status may be signed in the first half of 2017. The Caspian Sea's status became an issue following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which resulted in the creation of new countries. Speaking to Sputnik's Farsi service, a geopolitics expert at Iran's University of Khorramabad, Ahmad Rashidinejad, said on the issue: "To say that the solution to the legal status of the Caspian must be built on the basis of mutual concessions is not quite accurate. [Instead, the Caspian Five countries must work on] how to bring their positions as close together as possible, to have common interests and address common threats, to address security issues. For example, if we are talking about relations between Russia and Iran, we must consider the common interests of Russia and Iran. For Russia, the issue of a potential conflict with the West is an acute one. We see how at every step, NATO is getting closer and closer to Russia's borders... Iran, as Russia's southern neighbor in the Caspian Sea, and a regional power in its own right, can be seen by Moscow as a kind of 'security shield'... The U.S., European countries, Turkey and Israel, in contrast, are trying to interfere in the internal policy of some countries in the Caspian... The interests of Iran and Russia on resolving the legal status of the Caspian Sea coincide, since the countries face common threats and challenges in the region. Therefore, they come together here as allies, not as rivals"
(Sputniknews.com, July 14)
Corruption In Russia And Governmental Generation Change
On July 28, The Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev accepted the resignation of the head of the customs agency Andrei Belyaninov. On July 26, investigators found in Belyaninov's house 300 thousand euros and 400 thousand dollars in cash, 6 million rubles and more than one kilogram of gold. Belyaninov explained that the hoard represented his personal savings. Belyaninov was not listed as a suspect during the investigation, but rather as a witness. It should be noted that Belyaninov was an old Putin's friend and colleague, and they go back to the time that the two served together as KGB agents in East Germany. Russian opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov mentions that he believes that Putin personally authorized the search in Belyaninov's house, because otherwise the FSB would not dare conduct a search. According to the politologist Stanislav Belkovsky, Putin is tired of his former "close compatriots," who know him prior to his becoming president and that he is more interested in new faces. According to Belkovsky there is a generational change in the works, since Putin gave carte-blanche to a young generation to eradicate the old one.
(Echo.msk.ru, July 26; July 28)
According to an official statement by the General Prosecutor's Office corruption in Russia for the first half a year of 2016 caused estimated damages of 28.5 billion rubles. This refers only to court-tried offences proven to be criminal. According to the statistics released in the first six month more than 600 Russian police /security services personnel were convicted on corruption charges (bribery). The corresponding figures for 2015 and 2014 were 1305 and 1258 convictions respectively.
(Tass.ru, July 26)
Strange But True
Russian senator Elena Mizulina proposed abolishing criminal punishment and imprisonment in case of domestic violence. According to Mizulina, "beating the next of kin" should be treated administratively, i.e. by financial fines. Mizulina said that according to the current law "the criminal investigation might be started under any premise - a blue mark on a child's skin may be a sufficient cause to investigate the family and even to set grounds for conviction in a criminal case. This will lead to the unpredictable judicial practice of unlawfully removing children from their family. This will damage family relations".
(Kommersant.ru, July 30)