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
Pravdareport.com, September 1, 2016.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel portrayed as the Fuhrer of the EU, the new Nazi regime.
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:
The US Is "Hunting" Russian Citizens
"We have repeatedly stated that the US is 'hunting' Russian citizens. We have already warned Russian people that Washington and the relevant law enforcement agencies in the US are truly hunting our compatriots. We believe that this is an element of an anti-Russian campaign. Such actions on the part of the US violate all conceivable norms of international law."
(Mid.ru, August 31)
Calls On Turkey To Avoid Strikes Against Kurds In Syria
"We are following closely the Turkish armed forces' actions in northern Syria. We share Turkey's desire to combat the international scourge that is '[the]Islamic State'...We urge our Turkish partners to select carefully their targets in this antiterrorist operation and avoid strikes against positions held by opposition and ethnic minority groups, including the Syrian Kurds, already combating ISIS. Let me say once more that the main task now is to fight as a common front and direct the efforts of all concerned parties against the terrorist threat, above all ISIS."
(Mid.ru, August 31)
US Policy Has No 'Consistency' In Syria
"Is there at least some consistency in US diplomacy today in what it is doing? Hours-long, grueling talks between the heads of the Russian and US foreign services have just ended, in the course of which the settlement of the Syria crisis was discussed along two tracks: the fight against terrorism and the political process. What forcible scenario could be considered in a few days, when for several hours and in the course of numerous telephone conversations, which are definitely not going to end any time soon, the issue of a peaceful resolution of the Syria conflict has been constantly discussed? There should be some consistency.
"There is the sense that sometimes our US colleagues use the UN Security Council for their own PR ends. This is another dangerous trend, because the UN Security Council is the supreme executive body of the entire present system of international law. It is unacceptable to use it as a platform for one's own PR campaign, including possibly for some domestic political purposes...The main question is what the US, our American colleagues, are after, because unfortunately, at least on the Syrian track, we have lately been seeing a kind of 'shooting with both hands,' so to speak, in an unknown direction. [Their] aims are incomprehensible. [Their] actions are chaotic. There is no consistency."
(Mid.ru, August 31)
Accusations That The West Is Exploiting The Humanitarian Situation In Aleppo
"Obviously, the sponsors and patrons of the armed Syrian opposition have again failed to do their 'homework', and are either unwilling or unable to exert influence on the antigovernment forces. They are in effect allowing the entire population of Aleppo to be held hostage to unseemly political games, and are tacitly approving the brazen demands of the militants in what can be interpreted as an attempt to aid extremists and terrorists. One gets the impression that instead of seeking to ease the suffering of the residents and normalize the situation in Aleppo, some are eager to achieve a different goal - to make the Aleppo tragedy and the lack of a solution front-page news for as long as possible. The current situation yet again confirms that the opposition, which is paradoxically preventing relief to the districts under its control, cannot be controlled. We hope that our colleagues from the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) will finally bring to heel their impudent clients to prevent the complete failure of UN humanitarian efforts in Aleppo".
(Mid.ru, August 29)
Quotes Of The Week:
Speaking at the MGIMO University, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said:
"I don't see any prerequisites for the new edition of the Cold War to become a reality...Our American colleagues have developed a genetic code whereby the most important thing is that they decide everything themselves. But life is more complicated than a genetic code. So I hope that in the historically foreseeable future they will eventually come to understand the need to be in sync with the objective trends of global development."
"[We] are ready to resume normal full-fledged relations with the European Union and the United States, but only on an equal basis without any attempts to turn these relations into a one-way street."
"[Western partners] operate on the premise that they 'have been calling the shots' in this world for several centuries now (which is, in fact, true), and want to continue to dictate solutions to all problems from their own perspective. In fact, they claim to own 'the monopoly on the truth' and use, to this end, a wide range of mostly illegitimate coercion methods and unethical means of pressure on their partners ranging from rewriting history and conducting powerful and fairly aggressive information campaigns to imposing unilateral sanctions, sponsoring coups, fomenting regional conflicts, and even engaging in direct military interventions."
"We refer to our foreign policy as a 'multi-vector' foreign policy as we strive to cover all the bases while maintaining our independence, because Russia as a country, no matter what name it had throughout history, has always pursued a path of its own, which is what it is all about. We promote a policy which does not split the international community but rather consolidates it; we promote a peace-loving policy, which implies resolving problems through political and diplomatic methods and based on international law."
"The situation in Ukraine is very complicated. The crisis in that country has truly become a catalyst of processes that have laid bare the imperfections of the security structure in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic region as a whole and the systemic flaws of this structure, which could not be reformed for many years. The proposals that we put forward came up against the egoism of political elites in a number of states, which clearly sought to obtain geostrategic advantages at the expense of other countries' interests, grossly violating the solemn declarations that were made in the 1990s at the OSCE and between Russia and NATO at the highest level, namely that security is indivisible and no one [country] will strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others. These political obligations were grossly violated and continue to be violated. Our proposals to upgrade the status of these obligations from ordinary political declarations to legally binding obligations were rejected out of hand. I hope that our partners remember this. If they forgot, we will, of course, remind them about it. It will no longer be business as usual either with the US or with the EU, let alone with NATO."
(Mid.ru, September 1)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (Source: Mid.ru, September 1, 2016)
In The News:
Putin On Leadership
Speaking at a Vladivostok school Putin claimed that arrogance was not a leadership trait a person should not hold his nose up and think he was better than others "as soon as a person begins to assume that he is better than everybody, from that moment he begins to lose. Ambition is good being puffed up is bad."
(Interfax.ru, September 1)
Russia In Syria And The Kurdish Issue
The US slammed Russia's announcement that it killed ISIS spokesman Mohammad Al-Adnani, saying that the US killed the terrorist leader. The US defense official said: "We conducted a strike that targeted Al-Adnani. We are assessing the results of that strike." According to Russia, Al-Adnani has been killed in Aleppo as a result of an airstrike delivered by Russia's Sukhoi Su-34 bomber.
(Cnn.com, August 31; Tass.ru, August 31)
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 negotiation lasted for 12 hours and did not conclude with any signed document. A Russian expert on Middle East, affairs Aleksandr Shumilin, said in his blog on the Russian outlet Echo Moscow that the fact that no documents of the meeting were made public might lead to a conclusion that the main goal of Lavrov and Kerry is to create negotiations for the sake of negotiations, while imitating the process' progress.
(Eecho.msk.ru, August 27)
Concerning the role of the Kurds in the political process in Syria, Lavrov stated during the news conference in Geneva: "The Kurds must remain part of Syria and part of the settlement, rather than a variable that could be used to split the country as this will result in a chain reaction across the entire region. No one wants this."
(Mid.ru, August 26)
Commenting on the Kurdish issue in Syria and the Turkey's intervention in northern Syria, Maxim A. Suchkov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: "There's a strong opinion among many experts in Russia that of all other reasons, the Kurdish issue was a prime incentive for Ankara to seek reconciliation with Russia...Given the Russian military presence in Syria, Turkey could do little to change what it perceived as a negative trend for its interests [i.e. Russia helping the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD)]. So the rapprochement was instrumental in helping to change this."
(Rudaw.net, August 29)
Commenting on Turkey's intervention in Syria, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet wrote: "Recently, Ankara has been trying to change the tide by accommodating its foreign policy to its new enemies, namely the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, Russia and Iran - perhaps at the expense of losing some friends like Saudi Arabia. Thank God, Turkey's old Western allies have no problem with this rapprochement concerning Syria, but Western tolerance for friendship with Russia does not extend to relations with NATO. Therefore, Turkey's foreign policy change still faces some very steep challenges."
(Hurriyetdailynews.com, August 31)
As mentioned above, during her weekly briefing, Zakharova called on Turkey to avoid strikes against "Syrian Kurds," already combatting ISIS.
(Mid.ru, August 31)
Russia has expressed its reservations about the UN report, which accuses the Syrian government forces of responsibility for the chemical attacks in the province of Idlib. Russia's Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said that the data contained in the report of the OPCW-UN joint mission to investigate chemical attacks in Syria does not suffice to place responsibility for some incidents on Damascus and pursuantly impose Security Council sanctions against it.
(Tass.com, August 31)
Iran has deployed the Russian-supplied S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system around its Fordow underground uranium enrichment facility.
(Rt.com, August 29)
Fordow Nuclear and Physics Research Center (Source: Rt.com, August 29)
Video - Iran deploys S-300 missiles at Fordow nuclear facility: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z9tMGz45x8
In an interview to Iranian media outlet Tasnimnews.com, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that Russia agrees with Iran that during the nuclear negotiations some countries had displayed a notable spirit of partnership, but during the JCPOA's implementation they dropped this attitude and are refusing to remove the obstacles that they themselves created. Russia believes that the obstacles should be removed and unilateral actions have no place in international relations. He said that the JCPOA's implementation will be followed up during the foreign ministers meeting in New York, adding that was crucial to agree on better conditions in implementing the JCPOA. The Russian Deputy Minister also stated that Russia will pressure the US to achieve this matter and that the JCPOA will be an immediate priority for the next US president. However, Russia hopes that the next American president will not reevaluate the JCPOA.
Discussing the Syrian crisis, Ryabkov said that Russia and the US are but a few steps away from reaching a major agreement on Aleppo. He added that during the Syrian negotiations, Russia would agree on something with the US, and the next day Washington would discuss additional conditions and demands. However, Ryabkov stated that progress has been made and that Russia consult with its "Iranian friends" about what is happening. He also commented that Moscow is interested in strengthening its military cooperation with Washington in Syria and Russia will welcome deeper cooperation such as intelligence-sharing and contacts between military forces. "Sometimes Americans do something that is clear and necessary, but later they panic and think about what others are saying about what they did and withdraw from that. This is unfortunate," Ryabkov stated. The Deputy Minister also said that Russia did not "use" Iran's Hamadan Air base, stating that "there was coordination between the two countries, and this was the result that Tehran and Moscow mutually reached." He declared himself "happy" that the S-300 missile defense system is in Iran, and that it can be used to strengthen Iran's national defense and security.
(Tasnimnews.com, September 1)
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov (Source: Tasnimnews.com, September 1)
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel maintains a stern approach towards Russia, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke in favor of inviting Russia to a G8 meeting. Steinmeier said: "The conflicts in Syria and Ukraine demonstrate our interest not to exclude Russia from close cooperation between the world's leading economies...If substantial progress is made in eastern Ukraine and at the talks on the ceasefire in Syria, the G7 member-countries will be able to discuss this issue with Moscow. The key to returning to the G8 is in Moscow."
(Rbth.com, August 31)
In an article published in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Steinmeier called for a new arms control deal with Russia. He said that a new nonproliferation deal on conventional arms would be "a proven means for transparency, risk prevention and trust building."
(Dw.com, August 26)
Steinmeier wrote on his SPD party's website Vorwärts (Forward): "It is our duty to maintain dialogue [with Russia] in order not to only minimize the risk of military misunderstandings, but, even more, to facilitate the process of trust building...Where do we get in foreign policy when the desire to understand is being labeled as a dirty word?"
(Sputniknews.com, August 25)
German media outlet Thelocal.de published an article, titled "Is German Diplomacy Getting too Chummy with Russia?" The article claimed that Steinmeier's idea of détente with Russia led critics to deride the German Foreign Minister as a Russland-Versteher (Russia-sympathizer) "due to his seemingly sympathetic stance, especially in comparison with his party's conservative coalition partners in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), like Chancellor Angela Merkel." The German media outlet continued: "While Merkel earlier this summer blamed Russia's actions in Ukraine for a breakdown of trust with NATO, Steinmeier himself appeared to point a finger at NATO, warning it in June against 'warmongering'. And while Merkel has insisted that the sanctions against Russia for their interference in Ukraine hold, Steinmeier said in June that he was in favor of gradually lifting the sanctions if Russia showed it was making progress on the peace plan for Ukraine."
Thelocal.de also referred to criticism of Steinmeier's policy towards Russia that appeared in the mass circulation German tabloid Bild and titled "Steinmeier Should not Speak the Language of the Kremlin". The paper's journalist cited a recent speech by Steinmeier at Ural State University in Russia, in which the German FM was skeptical about the concern aroused in Europe by Russia's annexation of Crimea. The correspondent was stupefied by the remark:"The fact that a German foreign minister asked before a Russian audience whether one should be worried when Russian tanks are rolling through a sovereign land mocks the consensus that Europe's borders should never again be pulled apart by force."
(Thelocal.de, August 29)
Russian President Vladimir Putin with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. (Source: Thelocal.de)
Nord Stream 2 Gas Pipeline
At the same time, Germany has approved the building of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which connects Northern Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. The 1.200 km. Nord Stream 2 pipeline would run alongside the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Russia's Gazprom and its European partners Engie, OMV, Shell, Uniper and Wintershall submitted an earlier application to establish the joint venture to antimonopoly regulators in Germany and Poland. Germany approved the decision but the Polish regulator presented objections. Later, the companies withdrew their joint venture application under Nord Stream-2, which they had furnished to the Polish authority. First Deputy Energy Minister Alexei Teksler said that "chances to revive the project remain. All the parties confirmed [their] interest in participation, but the participation format undergoes changes due to approval problems."
During a recent visit to Sweden, US Vice President Joe Biden said that the US regards Nord Stream 2 as a "bad deal" for Europe. He explained that the pipeline would "lock into greater reliance on Russia" and "will fundamentally destabilize Ukraine". American policy was guided by the considerations that: "No country should be able to use energy as a weapon...Russian gas can and should be a part of the European energy market, but that market must be open."
(Gazprom.com, Tass.com, September 1, Sverigesradio.se, August 25)
Nord Stream gas pipeline and Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline (Source: Gazprom.com)
Speaking at the MGIMO University, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the US is trying to benefit from the cooled relations between Russia and the EU in order to supplant Russia and sell it liquefied natural gas on the European market. Lavrov said: "Apart from war and peace and the related issues, present-day diplomacy deals with practically everything without exception, including climate and energy, which remain subjects of grueling negotiations...energy. Serious political games are being played around [energy]. This is what is happening in Europe. This also involves gas transit via Ukraine, which has more than once demonstrated its complete unreliability, and our plans to diversify gas supply routes to Europe for EU members, build our own routes and expand western pipelines with eastern and southern pipelines. This also involves the EU's wish, while ignoring economic realities and its own financial interest, to politicize issues related to our gas supplies to Europe, and look for new suppliers to its own detriment. Meanwhile, the United States is trying to take advantage of the present cooling in our relations with the EU to foist on the Europeans its liquefied natural gas, which requires very expensive infrastructure, and once it is built, it will be very difficult to get rid of it."
(Mid.ru, September 1)
It is worth noting that the US government expanded the list of Russian individuals and legal entities subject to US economic sanctions. The list of those subject to sectorial sanctions has in particular been expanded to include a number of the Russian energy giant Gazprom's subsidiaries. Kremlin's spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said that Russia will retaliate.
(Vestnikkavkaza.net, September 2; Echo.msk.ru, September 2)
The Turkish Stream Gas Pipeline
Gazprom CEO Aleksey Miller went to Turkey to discuss the Turkish Stream pipeline project. The project was suspended after a Russian Su-24 aircraft was downed by a Turkey in November, 2015. Following the normalization of relations between Turkey and Russia, the Turkish Stream pipeline project has been revived.
On July 29, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that the Turkish Stream gas pipeline system is becoming more attractive to Russia and Turkey, since the cost of gas transit through Ukraine is rising. Novak said: "Of course, if the cost of transit is higher, as our Ukrainian colleagues say, it will affect the cost of transportation and the final gas price for Turkey's consumers. Therefore, Turkey is interested in receiving gas directly, bypassing other transit countries." However, Novak added that work can begin only on the line servicing Turkish consumers, since work renewal on the line servicing EU consumers was contingent on a European Commission guarantee that it would not block the project. One part of the Turkish Stream was designed exclusively for Turkey's domestic consumers. However, as Putin explained during his August 9 meeting with Erdogan, the start of the second Turkish Stream pipeline to route energy to Europe depends on Brussels, and therefore work on the pipeline won't start any sooner. However, Putin said that work on the Turkish domestic pipeline will start soon.
It is worth noting, that during the meeting with Erdogan, Putin discussed the suspended South Stream pipeline project, which was slated to transport Russia's natural gas through the Black Sea to Bulgaria and via Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia onwards to Austria, and the possibility of resuming it. On that occasion, Putin said: "Now we see that Bulgaria would like to resume this project, but we incurred some losses due to the refusal of our European partners to carry out this project. So now we will not settle for just intentions and need absolutely rock solid legal guarantees. They have not been forthcoming."
(Rbth.com, July 29, 2016; Novinite.com, 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)
Russia-Netherlands Relations - Geert Wilders: 'Restoring Ties With Russia Is A Priority Direction'
On August 18-19, the Russian media quoted the founder and leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) Geert Wilders calling for a Nexit referendum and then restore ties with Russia. In an interview with Russian newspaper Izvestia, Wilders said: "Brussels should not dictate who we can have economic and political relations with. Restoring ties with Russia is a priority direction for the traditionally trade oriented country which is what the Netherlands has always been. For centuries our countries have benefited from bilateral cooperation despite conflicts. And today lifting the anti-Russian sanctions is a mandatory condition for our positive future."
He then described the EU as an "expansionist monster" that makes decisions purely for its own intersts. Wilders predicted that the Netherland will be stronger outside the EU and via securing closer ties with Russia.
(Izvestia.ru, August 19; Sputniknews.com, August 19)
Dutch politician Geert Wilders cutting the Netherlands out of the EU flag (Source: Ria.ru)
Dutch fruit growers are being hit by Russia's import ban in retaliation for the EU embargo. Russia was the Dutch pear growers' biggest export market, but with that market now blocked, the surplus of apples and pears on the European market has depressed prices by as much as 30%.
(Dutchnews.nl, August 4)
Poland and Croatia Refuse To Send Election Observers To Duma Elections
"The Polish State Elections Commission regrettably informs that the tasks that it confronts in the period of the aforementioned elections, will not allow it to take advantage of the invitation." The Croats begged off by saying that they were actively preparing for their own parliamentary elections.
(Interfax.ru, August 30)
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has said that the country is closely watching the developments of Russian military exercises, after Russian troops were put on full combat mode in regions surrounding Ukraine and the Baltic states, at the end of August. Szydlo said: "We know that what is happening today in the military relations between Russia and the countries in this part of Europe is to some extent a psychological game."
(Thenews.pl, August 25)
Lithuania Buys 88 Boxer Personnel Carriers
Boxer personnel carrier. (Source: Army-technology.com)
On August 22, 2016, Lithuania signed a contract for the purchase of 88 Boxer personnel carriers worth 385.6 million euro. Produced by the German-Dutch ARTEC consortium, the vehicles are fitted with Israeli-made turrets. The pro-kremlin think tank Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) stressed that this is the largest defense contract in the post-Soviet history of all the Baltic States. RIAC published the following comment: "The contract for the purchase of advanced and costly German armored vehicles is yet another sign of the militarization of the region. However, experience shows that short-term spending on military equipment and increasing the number of military personnel are not nearly as important for defense capabilities as sustained work and investments into mastering this equipment. Whether or not the country's politicians, who are often more than willing to quietly usher through large contracts that are likely bring them financial gain, forgetting completely about the army, will have the money or desire to do so is another question entirely. Lithuania's less prosperous neighbors have only been able to find the money to buy outdated CVR(T) armored vehicles from the United Kingdom (in the case of Latvia), and unarmed BMP CV90 chasses (Estonia), which they plan to equip themselves.
"In any case, even the modest efforts made by these countries are counterproductive against the backdrop of Russian militarization, as they create even more pressure to aggravate the situation to justify expenditures and whip up anti-Russia hysteria. Lithuania has committed itself to forming an army - albeit a relatively small one - that is equipped to European standards. The question is whether the country will have the willpower to stick it out to the end. We are able and should treat the statements made by Lithuanian politicians on history and military strategy with irony and sarcasm, but that still does not change the unequivocal answer to question: Does Russia need another Bundeswehr-esque infantry on Kalinigrad's doorstep?"
(Thelocal.de, August 22; Russiancouncil.ru, August 26)
Vk.com/13studiya, August 28
Russian President Vladimir Putin focusing on Kaliningrad.
The International Paralympic Committee banned Russia from the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games, in South Korea.
Following the ban of Russia's Paralympic team from the Paralympics Games in Rio de Janeiro, Russia plans to hold alternative Paralympic games in Moscow for its banned para-athletes.
(Rbth.com, August 31)
Vitaly Podvitsky, vk.com/13studiya, August 28, 2016.
The US bought its Olympic medals.
Death Of Russian Journalist In Kiev Ruled A Suicide
On August 27, the Russian journalist Alexander Shchetinin was found dead in his Kiev apartment with a gunshot wound to his head and the gun was found next to his body. Shchetinin, who died on his birthday, was the founder of the Novy Region information agency and called Putin his personal enemy. The Ukrainian media outlet Kyiv Operatyvnyi reported that the case has been ruled a suicide. The media outlet reports that Shchetinin sent an email to one of his friends, saying that he wanted to kill himself.
(Pravda.com.ua, August 28; Facebook.com/KyivOperativ, August 28)
News In Brief
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov's death was confirmed. Russia fears Islamic radicalization in the country. (Sputniknews.com, September 2; Rbth.com, Aug.31)·
Russia resumed charter flights to Turkey on September 4-5. (Tass.com, August 29)
Recently, the Chechen capital of Grozny hosted approximately a hundred Muslim scholars-theologians and religious leaders from Russia and foreign countries. (Realnoevremya.com, September 1)
Germany assumed responsibility for air policing of the Baltic and its planes use the Estonian Amari air base (Postimees.ee, August 29)
On August 30, the Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan was attacked by a terrorist suicide bomber. Security guards at the diplomatic mission were injured. (Mid.ru, Aug.31)
Strange But True
A family of Uzbek descent in the rural area of Vladimir decided to rename their son after president Putin, and henceforth his first name will be Putin. The decision came after the boy's grandfather, who adores Putin, heard that an Egyptian journalist had named his son after the Russian president.
(Lenta.ru, August 30)
(Source: Lenta.ru, August 30)