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 PodvitskyRia.ru, September 9, 2016.
Uncle Sam is violently banging at Russia's door:
Uncle Sam: You are all savages, inhospitable; you provoke me all the time!
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:
(Source: Mid.ru, September 8, 2016)
On The Need To Distinguish The Syrian Militia From Terrorists
"Time and time again, we emphasize the urgent need to divide the terrorists from those who seek to continue to enjoy the protection provided to ceasefire participants. This division is all about separating those who want to live in a peaceful Syria from those who want to carry on the bloody war.
The unending criminal activity of terrorists in Syria and throughout the Middle East calls for clear and principled assessments and responsible decision-making on the part of all those who are interested in bringing peace to Syria, stabilizing the region and eliminating the global terrorist threat originating there."
(Mid.ru, September 8)
On The Expansion Of Anti-Russian Sanctions By The US
"...You have probably already familiarised yourself with the numerous comments by Russian officials regarding the sanctions the United States imposed on Russia on September 1 and 6, unprecedented in their scale: 11 of our citizens and 107 legal entities fell under them. With obstinacy certainly worthy of a better cause at this historical time, the outgoing US administration keeps ruining our bilateral relations, citing the developments around Crimea and Donbass as an excuse...
"What effect will such sanctions have? None. Even the White House, it seems, is aware of that and acknowledges that. They failed to rip our economy to tatters - the task proved too hard even for the White House. The policy of isolating Russia in the international arena has failed too. First to look forward to new meetings, call Moscow daily and ask for support in dealing with international crises, and then to talk about isolation - it's just absurd. I'd like to stress that it's not us who turn to the Americans for support, it's them who appeal to us all the time to help and join in efforts to resolve some regional or international conflict or another. The most curious and most ridiculous thing of all is that they ask us to get involved in resolving precisely those conflicts that they themselves instigated. That's as far as the outgoing administration is concerned. Evidently, it is now either politically inexpedient or not possible to admit that the failure of the course that they themselves worked out is their own fault. Therefore, some new steps are needed to emphasize its topicality, the 'depth of thought and the height of flight.' We realize that behind all that is an attempt to save face before their own public and cheer up their allies who are groaning under the losses they incurred from such a policy.
"Unfortunately, despite the fact that we are aware of the foolishness of what the White House is doing, the principle of reciprocity in foreign policy has not been abandoned, with regard to blacklists as well. No one, including the Obama administration and, of course, those who will move into the White House, should have any illusions that the Russian Federation can be put under pressure. I do hope that they will prove to be wiser."
(Mid.ru, September 8)
Quotes Of The Week:
On September 9, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov answered media questions "on the sidelines" of his bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva:
Sergey Lavrov: How are you? Exhausted?
Sergey Lavrov: Me too.
Journalist: But heartened?
Sergey Lavrov: It's a very tough vertical of power in the democratic system of the US.
(Mid.ru, September 10)
Lavrov with journalists in Geneva (Source: Mid.ru, September 10, 2016)
In The News:
Russia-US Agreement On Syria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with US State Secretary John Kerry (Source: Tass.com, September 10)
After 13-hour long talks in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry coordinated a package of five documents to enforce peace in Syria. Lavrov said: "Despite lack of trust, despite attempts to disrupt today's agreement, we have managed to coordinate a package of documents. Today's document is not the only one. In fact, there are five of them... This package of documents allows establishing effective coordinated in the fight against terrorism, allows broadening humanitarian access to the population in need in Aleppo and allows strengthening the regime of cessation of hostilities." He then added: "All this created conditions for resuming the political process which has been stalling for too long." Lavrov also warned that "no one can give 100 percent guarantees", that the deal will bring peace to Syria as the parties involved in "this puzzle" have conflicting agendas.
(Tass.com, September 10-11; Sputniknews.com, September 11)
The staged agreement consists of :
- Securing a nationwide ceasefire as a first step that will be binding on both "Damascus-led forces and armed opposition groups.
- The cessation of hostilities will be introduced for a 48-hour period at sunset on September 12, when the Islamic world marks the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, and will be reapplied for an additional 48 hours if it holds. Kerry explained that this requires a halt to all attacks (including aerial bombardments and any attempts to gain additional territory at the expense of the parties to the cessation.), it requires unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all of the besieged and the hard-to-reach areas, including Aleppo.
- If all stakeholders adhere to the ceasefire for at least seven days, Russia and the United States will move to the second stage.
- The second step involves both sides establishing a Joint Implementation Center and, "working together to develop military strikes" against al-Nusra Front.
- Lavrov said that the "physical separation" of terrorists from the moderate opposition on the ground is "the key priority."
(Sputniknews.com, September 10)
The Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said that it will support the Russia-US plan, provided that Syrian government forces will observe the cessation of hostilities as well.
(Tass.com, September 10)
The Syrian government said it was issuing its consent to the ceasefire envisioned by the agreement that the US and Russia reached in Geneva.
(Tass.com, September 11)
Russian Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chair Konstantin Kosachyov said that the negotiations in Geneva between Lavrov and Kerry marked the beginning of true partnership between the two countries on Syria. Kosachyov said: "Apart from pure appearances [...] Geneva has chances to make history as a new reference mark in the Syrian drama. Surely, this is not a 'coalition' (how many of them have existed?), but this is a transition from uncoordinated actions to coordinated ones, and therefore, from rivalry to partnership."
(Inferfax.com, September 10)
Gazeta.ru's Columnist: Russia Should Pull Out From Syria
Gazeta.ru's columnist Mikhail Hodarenok wrote that Russia should extract its forces from Syria, except from the Hmeymim base, and cease its involvement in the conflict, since it is impossible to win a war with such an ally as Assad's army. According to Hodarenok, Assad's army is demoralized and unwilling to fight. Even the army's generals don't believe they can alter the situation on the ground without third-country involvement.
(Gazeta.ru, September 6)
Russia Concerned Over Turkey's Actions In Syria
On September 7, the Russian MFA has published a special statement regarding Turkey's actions in Syria: "The Foreign Ministry expresses grave concern about the advance of the Turkish troops and armed groups of the Syrian opposition it supports further into Syrian territory, and stresses that these actions are not being coordinated with the legitimate Syrian Government and are undertaken without approval of the UN Security Council. This undermines the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. Taking this into account, the position adopted by Damascus seems justified and valid in terms of international law. The Foreign Ministry believes that Turkey's actions could further complicate an already challenging military and political situation in Syria and negatively affect international efforts to devise a settlement platform that would ensure a more sustainable ceasefire, uninterrupted humanitarian access and would provide a solid foundation for conciliation and overcoming the crisis in this country. Russia calls on Ankara to put these objectives above immediate military and tactical aims and refrain from steps that could further destabilize the Syrian Arab Republic.
On September 6 Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu requested military ground support from Russia in order to proceed with Turkish Shield of Ephrata operation against ISIS. According to deputy chair of defense and security committee of the Federation Council Franz Klintsevich, Russia will not participate in ground operations and will not send its ground forces to assist Turkish military. Klintsevitch said: "It's clear that it's impossible to defeat ISIS without such an operation [i.e. with boots on the ground], but the problem is that the US special services and other NATO countries are assisting the opposition - mainly the terrorists. Thus, I think, in these conditions Moscow will not send its ground forces to Syria - except that the public opinion won't support such a move."
Stanislav Tarasov, CEO of "the Middle East-Caucasus" research institute, added that it's not likely that Moscow will give a positive answer on sending ground forces since this move implies a trilateral Syrian-Turkish-Russian agreement. However, Tarasov expressed his regret that Moscow did not provide air cover for Turkish military operations, since currently it is the US Air Force that provides air support to Turkish forces.
(Izvestia.ru, September 8)
On September 9, at the initiative of the Turkish side, Lavrov and Çavuşoğlu conversed by phone to discuss the Syrian crisis while Russia-US talks were underway in Geneva.
(Sputniknews.com, September 9)
On September 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at the Turkish side's initiative. According to the Kremlin's website, special attention was devoted to the situation in Syria, and both sides avowed their intention to continue active contacts at various levels to coordinate efforts in assisting a Syrian settlement.
(Kremlin.ru, September 8)
The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the rumors about a possible trilateral meeting between the Presidents of Russia, Turkey and Syria.
(Ria.ru, September 5)
Meeting Of Israeli And Palestinian Leaders Under Russia's Mediation
During her weekly briefing, Zakharova said that the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian settlement is "a matter of grave concern" for Russia and confirmed Russia's intention to mediate a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Zakharova said: "Unfortunately, after the failure of US mediation efforts in 2013-2014, there was virtually no direct dialogue between the two parties to the conflict and it did not resume for a long time. Russia strongly believes in the need to resume the negotiation process with a view of bringing the situation back to normal in the area of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reaching compromises based on international law. In this respect, responding to the appeals by both Palestinians and the Israelis, Russia confirmed its readiness to organize a meeting in Moscow between President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. We are satisfied with the fact that Russia is being called upon to contribute to the Middle East peace process, as well as the fact that the leaders of Palestine and Israel have agreed in principle, including publicly, to meet each other in Russia. The main issue right now is to choose the right moment for this meeting. Intensive contacts to this effect continue."
(Mid.ru, September 8)
Mahmoud Abbas As KGB Agent
Israel's Channel 1 television recently revealed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was a Soviet agent in Damascus in the 1980s. Channel 1 quoted information from the Mitrokhin archive smuggled out of the USSR. In the documents, it is revealed that Abbas, code-named Krotov (Krot means mole in Russian), was a Soviet agent, in the same years that Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, was serving as a diplomat in Damascus. Fatah official Nabil Shaath denied that Abbas was ever a KGB agent. It should be noted that Russian media covered the issue only 12 hours after the news while out and no comment was made on the issue.
(ITV Channel 1, September 6)
Russia-Egypt Military Cooperation
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that in the military-technical sphere there are "steady trends and growth in the value of defense contracts" with Egypt. Shoigu added: "We note with satisfaction that for the use of its armed forces, Egypt wishes to use the most advanced weapons and military hardware of Russian manufacture,"
(Tass.com, September 8)
Russia-Bahrain Military Cooperation
On September 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin met the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Moscow. The two leaders discussed possibilities for military technical cooperation between the two countries. Putin told the Bahraini king: "You said you wanted to learn about the possibilities of our defense sector. I hope you had a chance to see what we can offer our friends and partners. I would like to hear your opinion about what you have seen today." The Bahraini king replied: "Indeed, we would like to get a closer look at your modern products, your arms manufacturing complex. And naturally, taking this into account, we build our relations in accordance with our needs. And, glory to God, everything that we agreed on earlier is being put into practice. However, of course, we, Russia and Bahrain, would like to set even more objectives for ourselves." It should be noted that by hosting Bahrain's king, whose ouster is called for by Iran, Russian diplomacy again displays its willingness to be on good terms with all sides.
(Tass.com, September 6; Kremlin.ru, September 6)
Earlier in the week, Russia and Bahrain signed an interstate defense cooperation agreement, which implies mutual military drills and possibility of warships docking/military aviation visiting the countries seaports/airfields.
(Ria.ru, September 9)
Russia Expands Military Cooperation With African Countries
A military cooperation agreement was signed between Russian and Islamic Republic of Gambia. The document was signed by deputy chief of staff of Russian Army and Chief of Staff of the Gambian army.
(Ria.ru, September 8)
Shoigu told reporters that Russia is contemplating expanding military-technical relations with Rwanda.
(Ria.ru, September 8)
Russia's Military Cooperation With Latin America
Russian and Bolivian Defense Ministers Sergei Shoigu and Reimi Ferrera signed an agreement on military cooperation. At the signing ceremony, Shoigu said: "I hope that the signing of this agreement will be a good guarantee of prospects for our military cooperation. This document will lay a reliable legal foundation for further military and, hopefully, for military-technical cooperation in the future."
The Bolivian minister stated: "For us, Russia is a fraternal country, with which we have excellent relations." He then added that boosting military cooperation with Russia is important for Bolivia, because of the high quality of Russian weapons. However, Bolivia is interested in developing relations in other areas as well.
(Tass.ru, September 6)
Russia's Total Weapons Exports
The Deputy Director-General of Rosoboronexport, Sergey Goreslavskii, revealed that during the last 8 months, Russia has exported weapons worth 7 billion USD. At the end of 2016, the overall export revenues should total 15 billion USD.
(Ria.ru, September 7)
News In Brief:
- On September 8, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov received Iraq's Ambassador to Russia Ismail Mohsen at the latter's request. The sides exchanged opinions on the situation in Iraq and the settlement in Syria. (Mid.ru, Sep 8)
- Russia's Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that discussion of an oil production "freeze" is not on the agenda of the coming meeting between the Russian and Algerian Energy Ministers. (Tass.ru, Sep 8)
Strange But True
To celebrate the reaching of an agreement on Syria, Lavrov offered journalists pizza pies and bottles of vodka. "The pizza is from the Americans, the vodka is from us," Lavrov said jokingly to the reporters.
(Rt.com, September 10)
(Source: Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, September 10, 2016)
(Source: Rt.com, September 10, 2016)
During the talks in Geneva to find an agreement on the ceasefire in Aleppo, Kerry sent pizza to Lavrov "to apologize for the 9-hour long pause in talks caused by US delegation's coordination of the progress in talks with Washington," informed Zakharova on her Facebook account.
(Tass.com, September 10, 2016)
(Source: Tass.com, September 10, 2016)