Russia This Week is a new 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
Vk.com/13studiya, June 15, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama: Here in Estonia we will defend our country from the stupid and mean Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin: What's the capital of Estonia?
Putin: And now you get one last chance...
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:
Zakharova comments on Turkish statements predicting the normalization of bilateral relations with Russia:
"Bilateral relations and stability cannot be improved by statements made by senior Turkish officials that 'the Black Sea has almost become a Russian lake.' We still have not received any response to the numerous Russian initiatives regarding the conditions under which we could consider the possibility of normalizing relations with Turkey." (Mid.ru, June 17)
Quotes Of The Week:
The Deputy Chairman of Russia's Parliament and a member of the executive committee of the Russian Football Union (RFU), Igor Lebedev, praising Russian football fans who clashed with English fans during UEFA's Euro 2016:
"What happened in Marseille and other French cities is not the fans' fault. It is due to the [French] police's inability to organize and hold such events"
(Twitter.com/Russian1972, June 13)
The defense committee chairman of Russia's State Duma, (ret.) admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, discussing NATO drills in Eastern Europe:
"I think that we are not going to react to their military drills. We have our own plans and we act accordingly. We always need to keep our gunpowder dry - we always need to keep our forces in operationally readiness."
(Interfax.ru, June 14)
In The News:
UEFA Euro 2016
Vitaly Podvitsky, Sputniknews.com, June 15, 2016.
According to the cartoon, published in the Russian government-funded media outlet Sputniknews.com, British fans, rather than Russian ones started the clashes. The Russian fans heroically fought off British hooligans to save the French city of Marseille. The international media distorted the truth, by portraying Russian fans as violent people, while treating British fans as victims.
On June 11, the Russian national football team played the English side to a draw at Marsaille's Velodrome stadium in the UEFA' Euro 2016 tournament. After the match, clashes between Russian and English fans erupted at the stadium.
On June 14, French police detained 43 Russian football fans travelling by bus to the French city of Lille, the site of the Russian team's next UEFA Euro 2016 match against Slovakia.
Clashes between Russian and English fans continued also in Lille on June 14. On June 16, courts in Marseilles and Lille considered the cases of Russian citizens detained in the wake of the June 11 and 14 clashes between groups of football fans..
The Marseilles High Court issued sentences against three Russian fans suspected of involvement in the June 11riots. Nikolai Morozov was sentenced to a one-year prison term, Sergey Gorbachev to 18 months, and Alexey Yerunov to two years. The Russian citizens can appeal the sentences.
As for Russian citizens charged with involvement in a fist fight at a restaurant near Lille's central railway station on June 14, the High Court of Lille issued rulings against another two Russian citizens: V. Belov was allowed to go free, while M. Kiselyov received a three-month suspended term with a five-year probation period and a one-year ban on entering France. Both Russians have been released from custody but were deported from France.
The French authorities have likewise decided to deport 20 Russian fans, who were detained on the bus to Lille.
Vitaly Podvitsky, Vk.com/13studiya, June 14, 2016.
British fan: "Mummy, he [i.e. the Russian Bear] doesn't let me ruin Marseille!"
On June 15, the French Ambassador to Moscow Jean-Maurice Ripert was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive a protest over the detention of Russian football fans, who were travelling from Marseille to Lille. The Russian Foreign Ministry reported that the French authorities' behaviour towards the Russian fans is creating anti-Russian sentiment.
Vitaly Podvitsky, Vk.com/13studiya, June 11, 2016.
The statement read: ""The French diplomat was notified of the discriminatory and sweeping nature of the measures taken against Russian citizens by the Marseille prosecutor, who decided to detain the 43 Russians, including three drivers, for 48 hours to conduct an investigation. The Russian Foreign Ministry also considers it unacceptable that Russian consulate agencies in France have not been informed. The fans were prevented from leaving their bus for several hours, and it was only thanks to the prompt and effective intervention of the Russian consular staff that the events were prevented from taking a more dramatic turn.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has called on the French authorities to seriously consider the situation and to determine the fate of the detained Russian citizens as soon as possible, in a civilised manner and in accordance with the law. The French diplomat was also told that the continued fanning of anti-Russian sentiment over the participation of the Russian team in Euro 2016 could seriously hurt Russian-French relations.[all emphases added]""
(Mid.ru, June 15; Mid.ru, June 17)
Vk.com/13studiya, June 16, 2016.
U.S. President Barack Obama talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and French President François Hollande, who sit inside a football net.
U.S. President Barack Obama: What are you doing?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: We have isolated Russia!
Obama: May I join you?
The cartoonist invokes the football net image that calls the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament to mind, to discuss Western policy towards Russia. All these leaders represent nations like Russia that had teams in the tournament and this may be a reminder that Obama and the US do not really belong in Europe.
St. Petersburg International Economic Forum
The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is an annual business event for the economic sector, which has been held in St. Petersburg. Putin and Medvedev's home town. This year's SPIEF devoted to the theme "Capitalizing on the New Global Economic Reality" lasted three days (June 16-17-18)."
On June 17, the Council of the European Union decided to extend restrictive measures in response to the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia until June 23, 2017. The measures apply to EU persons and EU based companies. They are limited to the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has criticized Russia for failing to fulfill any of the commission's key recommendations on combatting racism. Russian officials criticized the report. The Chairman of the State Duma Committee for International Relations, Aleksey Pushkov, was highly critical, stating: "Political squinting: the Council of Europe denounces Russia's lack of tolerance, but they remain silent about Ukraine with its torture. They apparently think that country is tolerant enough."
Putin met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Russia and Italy signed a package of agreements , including a memorandum of understanding between the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities and the Italian Space Agency on cooperation in the remote probing of the Earth's surface; an agreement on basic terms of cooperation between Russia's Rosneft oil company and Italy's multinational oil and gas company ENI, and an agreement to develop a strategic partnership between Rosneft, Russian Helicopters and the Italian multinational aerospace, defense and security company Leonardo-Finmeccanica. Contracts valued at nearly $1.3 billion Euros were signed with Italian businesses on the sidelines of the forum.
(Kremin.ru, June 17)
In response to the EU's decision to extend sanctions against Russia, Renzi said: "The Italian position is simple: sanctions should not be renewed automatically."
(Repubblica.it, June 17)
Putin meets with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (Source: Kremlin.ru, June 17)
NATO's Eastward Expansion
On June 14, 2016, Russian deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov was interviewed by the Bloomberg News Agency. In the interview Syromolotov said that Russia cannot disregard "the negative trends" in European security, "being spurred at the instigation of NATO." Syromolotov said:
"We have to necessarily take additional measures to build up our defenses due to the unprecedented scale of NATO's military preparations on the Russian border, with heavy US weapons rolling across neighboring countries, old military infrastructure is being rapidly modernized and a new one built, and numerous military exercises are held to repel the alleged 'threats from the east.'
"NATO regularly tells us that its actions are properly calibrated and proportionate. It even claims that the ongoing construction of the US/NATO ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Europe is not spearheaded against Russia. Overall, NATO's actions... are undermining the existing balance of forces and ultimately weakening, rather than strengthening, the security of the NATO member states.
"Some of our European partners are fully aware of the absurdity and destructive consequences of the deadlock created by the alliance in its relations with Russia. But, guided by notorious allied solidarity, they continue to follow the policies of the NATO countries that border Russia and their overseas sponsors, who are trying to make the bloc's policy of containing Russia irreversible..."
(Mid.ru, June 14)
Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Fyodor Lukyanov, wrote an article in Rossiskaya Gazeta on the increasingly tense NATO-Russia relations. In the article, Lukyanov claimed that both sides were posturing: "Frustrated by its failure to achieve recognition of its equal rights by conversations, Russia began by acting tough- sometimes toughness akin to brinksmanship - to serve as a reminder that it was a factor that had to be taken into consideration. [NATO] is not ready to view Russia as an equal counterpart... NATO's expansion has always been - first and foremost - a political action. The feasibility of defending its newly acquired members in the event of a military confrontation has never been deemed plausible. On the other hand the major [powers] understand that if the smaller allies lack confidence in the [NATO] Alliance's capability as a whole this will ruin it - and therefore everything possible should be done in order to assure the allies that the guarantees extended are serious. The combination of rhetoric, gestures and practical measures in order to 'put the adversary in his place' - without provoking him to resort to prevailing retaliatory measures - derives from this understanding. This is a fatal chain. Given the absence of systemic reasons for confrontation (as in the Cold War), any development risks remaining hostage to the subjective perception of the decision makers in Moscow, Washington and Brussels."
(Rg.ru, June 14)
NATO's Plans To Station Four New Rotational Battalions In Eastern Europe
Commenting on NATO's decision, Russian envoy to NATO Alexander Grushko said that Moscow did not see a difference between constant rotation and permanent deployment of NATO forces near the Russian borders, and that Russia will respond adequately to this threat.
(Sputniknews.com, June 18)
On the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Deputy Secretary of Russia's Security Council Yevgeny Lukyanov said: "The answer always to any suggestions [by NATO] will be mostly symmetrical. That's why there is nothing to worry too much about. The response is adequate, effective and cheap."
(Sputniknews.com, June 18)
Discussing NATO's plan to deploy new battalions in the Baltic States and Poland, the head of the defense committee of Russia's State Duma, (ret.) admiral Vladimir Komoyedov said:
"The four battalions will not scare us. Those units do not pose a threat to Russia. After all, our army is not the same as it used to be 20 years ago. Nevertheless, this tendency - [i.e.] a growing threat on our western borders - bothers us, because there is a possibility of turning quantity into quality. We have taken countermeasures, we are taking them and we will take them - in order to make everything clear to our partners from the very beginning."
(Aif.ru, June 16)
NATO's plans to deploy four battalions in Eastern Europe may be discussed at the upcoming NATO-Russia Council meeting.
(Sputniknews.com, June 15)
Answering a question on NATO's plan to station four new battalions in Eastern Europe, the Kremlin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia is keeping a close eye on NATO's activities near its borders. Peskov said: "Our Defense Ministry and all responsible services are duly watching all changes in the disposition of foreign military forces near our borders. They analyze all changes and movements, and take measures to defend Russia's interests and protect its security."
(Rt.com, June 14; Tass.ru, June 14)
The Russian Federal News Agency Riafan.ru published an article, titled "NATO's Expansion Eastwards: How the U.S. Is Provoking the Third World War". The article discusses the deployment of NATO's four additional battalions in Eastern Europe, quoting the representative of the expert-analytical club The Future Today Segey Prostakov. The article claims that NATO's existence prevents the EU from pursuing a security policy based on its own self-interest, and that NATO functions exclusively as a U.S. tool.
(Riafan.ru, June 15)
NATO's Presence In The Black Sea
On June 14, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the Alliance wants to strengthen its presence in the Black Sea region. U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said that the U.S. intends to continue activities in the Black Sea, "to deter potential aggression." In response, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's European Cooperation Department, Andrey Kelin, said: "If [NATO] decides to create a constant force [in the Black Sea], then it will definitely have a destabilizing effect. This is not NATO's naval space, [and bears] no connection to NATO. Freedom of navigation exists in the Black Sea. I don't think it will improve our relations with NATO."
(Interfax.ru, June 15)
NATO's Nuclear Deterrent
On June 14, answering to a question of Gazeta.ru on NATO's plans to station additional nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in European countries, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said:
"We are going to have a meeting in the NATO nuclear planning group today. And we will assess and make sure that we will continue to have a credible, safe, and secure nuclear deterrent. And we will also welcome updates from both the UK and the US on their contributions to NATO's nuclear deterrent. But I am not going to any specifics. We will continue to have credible and safe and secure nuclear deterrent as part of NATO's defense posture."
In response, the website of Russian government newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta, published an article, titled "NATO's Secretary General tried to intimidate Russia with nuclear weapons." The article states: "... isn't nuclear deterrence a blatant provocation leading to a new arms race? I'm wondering, should Russia also build its 'more constructive' relations with NATO by relying on nuclear weapons?"
(Nato.int, June 14; Rg.ru, June 14)
Russia's Soft Power
A London-based PR company, Portland Communications, compiled its annual rating of the 30 most influential "soft power" countries. According to the rating, the U.S. is in first place, while Russia came in at number 27. Commenting on the report, the head of the State Duma Committee for International Relations, Aleksey Pushkov stated: "I'm not surprised that we are on the list. [However] I frankly think that we should not be within the top 30, but within the top 10". He then added: "It's clear, that the world is tired of the U.S.-centric order. The only two states that openly question [a U.S.-centric] world order are Russia and China. The remaining 2/3 of the states are unhappy with this world order. With the exception of the Western Alliance, consisting of 35 states, plus 20 or 30 more countries, all the rest, at least 60%, are unhappy with the U.S.-centric order. That in turn is a force of attraction towards Russia."
(Ria.ru, June 14)
Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu met Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, on Putin's direct order. During his visit to Syria Shoigu inspected Khmeimim airbase in Latakia Province and the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system deployed there. Shoigu and Assad discussed military cooperation and military-technical cooperation.
On June 9, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu met with Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan and Syrian Defense Minsiter Fahd Jassem al-Freij, in Tehran. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6469, Russia This Week - June 6-13, 2016)
(Rt.com, June 18; Ria.ru, June 18)
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Syrian President Bashar Assad. (Source: Twitter.com/mod_russia)
Russia's Defense Policy
Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu said that Putin ordered a surprise inspection to test the readiness of all military arsenals and "specific components of the military command structure". Shoigu also mentioned that not only the troops' readiness will be assessed, but also "the mobilization element, the condition of reserve units and the readiness of military equipment, which is currently in storage."
(Ria.ru, June 14)
Strange But True
Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika supports the idea of pre-filtering or blocking messages in closed groups of social networks and messengers such as WhatsApp, Viber and Telegram. The idea was originally proposed by the First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation Elena Mizulina who also is a member of the Safe Internet League Board of Trustees. According to Mizulina , League experts have discovered in recent years "a number of groups" in different social networks and messengers, where teens are " brainwashed" into killing police officers. "They [the groups' organizers] are inclined to this, saying that such killing is heroism," said Mizulina.
Opposition Duma member Dmitry Gudkov is convinced that such a proposal represents a blatant attempt to censor social media/messengers and therefore contradicts the Russian constitution's freedom of speech safeguards.
(Lenta.ru, June 14; Echo.msk.ru, June 14)