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
Vk.com/13studiya, September 11, 2016.
Twitter.com/sharzhipero, September 7, 2016.
US President Barack Obama appearing on the TV show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" is asked to name the "most extraordinary country in the world:
Possible answers: Russia, China, Venezuela, Narnia
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)
"Today a hero showed himself. There are different kinds of heroes: some save people, or do some other very important and necessary things for which they are awarded medals. But our hero today is the man who carried the Russian flag at the opening ceremony of the Rio Paralympic Games as a tribute to the Russian Paralympic athletes, to show solidarity with them after they were barred from the Rio Games in a mean-spirited, inhumane, and absolutely unjustified move. We are proud that there are people who stand above politics. We believe that what this man has done goes beyond politics. This human gesture is extremely important to our Paralympic athletes and to all of us. We are grateful to this man. I hope we'll learn his name. To us, he is a hero. We are grateful to our Belarusian friends and to this man in particular for what he has done. We will never forget it. It was a truly human gesture."
(Mid.ru, September 8)
A member of the Belarusian team's delegation carried the flag of Russia at the opening of the Paralympics Games in Rio. The man was later reportedly stripped of his accreditation. (Source: Rt.com, September 8, 2016)
Quote Of The Week:
"Russia, of course, does not intend to discuss the electoral process on its territory with any country," said Kremlin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, in answer to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's instruction about the "impossibility of conducting Russian elections on Ukrainian territory" scheduled on September 18.
(Sputniknews.com, September 12)
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov (Source: Sputniknews.com)
In The News:
Levada-Center Listed By Justice Ministry As A "Foreign Agent"
The Levada-Center, an independent non-governmental Russian sociological research organization, has been placed on the foreign agent registry by the Russian Ministry of Justice. Levada's CEO, Lev Gudkov, claimed that the listing could halt the organization's ability to function. "We cannot run sociologic research with this label. How would you imagine this? Our interviewer comes and says 'Hello, I'm a foreign agent, may I ask you a couple of questions?' If we are unsuccessful in our appeal to the court [to lift the designation] this decision [effectively] means shutting our center down", said Gudkov. The Levada CEO also explained that the Ministry of Justice accused the organization of being foreign-funded, but emphasized that the funding received from abroad represented payment for marketing research services on behalf of foreign companies. Gudkov considers the designation politically motivated. Ministry of Justice's main pretext for designating the Levada-Center as a foreign agent was the work that the center performed under contract for the American University of Wisconsin.
(Gazeta.ru, September 5; See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6599, September 18 Duma Election Update - Russian Political Scientist: The Current Campaign Is One Of The Most Boring in Memory, September 6, 2016 )
According to Everyday Journal's columnist, Igor Yakovenko, the decision by the Ministry of Justice is motivated by Levada's management remarks concerning the nature of Russian authorities. Quoting from the official Ministry of Justice press release, Yakovenko wrote: "CEO Gudkov has openly expressed his opinion about the authorities 'as corrupted and driven by mafia -like style'. Moreover Gudkov said that according to his view the Russian system of power 'is a closed authoritarian system, where the authorities rely on power structures, oligarchs, bureaucracy and represents their interests." According to Yakovenko, the real reason behind the Levada Center's designation as a foreign agent was the center's recently-published opinion survey, showing the ruling United Russia Party with an 31% approval rating, while the state sociological agencies estimate UR's support at 41-45%.
(Ej.ru, September 7)
A Levada-Center poll on Russian approval for Putin. (Source: Levada.ru)
Russia-Germany Relations: AfD Supporters Trust Putin More Than Merkel
On August 31, the German daily Die Zeit published an article showing that 30 percent of the right wing anti-immigration, Euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany's (AfD) supporters and 31 percent of Germany's leftwing democratic socialist Die Linke's supporters (which include former East German Communists) trust Putin more than German Chancellor Angela Merkel. With supporters of other German parties the level of those finding Putin more trustworthy than Merkel drops below 10%.
It is worth noting that in the September 4 elections in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania the AfD outpolled German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), taking 20.8 percent of the vote (the first time in the history of the Federal Republic that the CDU has been outpolled by a party to its right). The SPD (center-left Social Democrats) got 30.6%, AfD got 20.8%, while the CDU got 19%, which is considered to be its worst result in the state.
(Sputniknews.com, September 1; Zeit.de, August 31; Dw.com, September 5)
"Why is Putin so beloved?" asks Die Zeit (Source: Zeit.de)
Philippines' President Duterte Boasts Of Personal Similarities With Putin
Speaking ahead of the ASEAN summit (Laos, September 5-8), Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte said that he "likes" Putin. "We have similarities," Duterte added. When asked to elaborate about his similarities with Putin, Duterte said: "Perhaps when it comes to girls."
(Philstar.com, August 31)
Denmark Rejects Russian Approach On The Arctic
Russia, as a rule, has attempted to steer decision making to the UN where it holds a veto power but when it comes to the Arctic it prefers a bilateral approach because the UN tendency in Antarctica and in space has been to preserve the rights of all nations.
The Russians approached Denmark on the issue of overlapping claims in the Arctic but Denmark turned Russia down and stated that it adheres to the UN process even though it may last for decades.
(Thelocal.dk, September 12, 2016)
Russia's Drills And Defense News
The Russian Baltic Fleet's coastal troops launched drills in the Kaliningrad Region. Russian Baltic Fleet's spokesman Roman Martov said. "About 1,000 servicemen, over 70 items of military and special hardware, including BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles, T-72 tanks, Akatsiya and Gvozdika self-propelled artillery howitzers, Tunguska air defense artillery systems, Grad multiple launch rocket systems, as well as fifth-generation communications equipment are used in the exercise." The drills will last a few days and will involve both offensive and defensive actions.
(Tass.ru, September 6)
Strategic exercises Kavkaz-2016 were launched in Russia's Southern Military District. The Defense Ministry's press-service said: "The Kavkaz-2016 exercise is the final phase of a package of command staff and special practices and drills for military command bodies and snap checks of troops' combat readiness due in 2016. It will be held at test sites of the Southern Military District, the Black and Caspian sees on September 5-10... Taking part in the exercise there are about 12,500 troops, aviation, combat vehicles and naval vessels".
The Russian news agency TASS reported that one of the special tasks assigned the Kavkaz-2016 exercise will be testing new types of weapons and military equipment. It will also practice mobilization readiness and territorial defense measures, and employ aviation and the forces of the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian flotilla.
(Tass.com, September 8)
According to the Russian media outlet Rbc.ru, the Russian Ministry of Defense is planning to spend 130 billion rubles (around 2 billion USD) for weapons modernization programs - this includes the first 100 T-14 Armata tanks, 6 "Varshavyanka" type submarines, and T-50 PAKFA (the fifth generation fighter jet).
(Rbc.ru, September 7)
Pakistan-Russia Military Drills
For the first time Russia and Pakistan are going to conduct joint military drills. Pakistan is mulling the purchase of advanced Russian planes. The American Congress recently blocked the sale of American military jets to Pakistan and the country is seeking alternative military suppliers.
(Economictimes.indiatimes.com, September 12)
China Defends Drills With Russia
The Chinese news agency Xinhua published a spirited defense of the joint China-Russia drills that will last eight days.. The drills were seen in some quarters as Russian backing for China's territorial demands in the South China Sea.
"...The defensive nature of these maneuvers is in line with China's defense policy, which makes it clear that China will not be the first to strike'.
"It may be true that growing military ties between Russia and China have irritated someone's sensitive nerves, but it is worth noting that excessive geo-political interpretation of a specific military drill is neither necessary nor justified.
"China and Russia, both key players in global affairs, have a common interest in upholding peace in Asia and beyond, and they certainly welcome a constructive role by other stakeholders..."
(Globaltimes.cn, September 12)
Russia's Investigative Committee, the main federal investigating authority in Russia, launched criminal cases against the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and General Staff officials, accusing them of "genocide" of Russian-speakers in the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic. According to the Investigative Committee, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense gave unlawful orders to use heavy artillery against the infrastructure of the self-proclaimed republic and "completely or partially eliminated the ethnic group of Russian-speaking people, including minors." The Committee stated that at least 9 people were killed and 110 more were wounded as a result, including 9 children.
(Sledcom.ru, September 8; Rt.com, September 8)
According to the newspaper Kommersant, the ministry of finance, for the third time in this current year, is withdrawing money from the Reserve Fund, accumulated from oil and gas income, to cover the federal budgetary deficit. According to the newspaper, in 2017 the Reserve Fund will be exhausted and then the ministry of finance will start spending the money in the National Welfare Fund (72.7 billion USD). At the rate of current spending, the Welfare Fund as well will be exhausted by the end of 2018.
(Kommersant.ru, September 13)
RBC.ru adds that this withdrawal represents an 18% shrinkage of the Reserve Fund in a single month.
(Rbc.ru, September 6)
According to Vedomosti in 2017- 2019 share of income redistributed through the federal budget will be the lowest in the last 20 years and will represent only 13.3% of the GDP as opposed to an average of 20% in the past 10 years.
(Vedomosti.ru, September 4)
Strange But True
The Russian Supreme Court upheld a conviction against a Russian blogger, Vladimir Luzgin, for "rehabilitating Nazism" by posting a 2014 article on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and USSR's 1939 invasion of Poland. According to the court, Luzgin has deliberately falsified history, since the article stated that the USSR and Nazi Germany "cooperated together prior to the WWII and that the USSR and Nazi Germany jointly attacked Poland". According to the court, even though only 20 users have read the post, "Luzgin was aware of the dangerous outcome of his deeds, which could have led to forming a firm view of USSR's negative actions during WWII". Luzgin was sentenced to a fine of 200 thousand rubles.
(Novayagazeta.ru, September 5)
Vk.com/13studiya, June 8, 2016
Current Time TV, a Russian speaking news service broadcasting from Europe, posted a short video from a Chechen school, showing children on their first day of school (September, 1) repeating after the teacher: "Oh, Allah, bless Ramzan-haj [Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov] and keep him [safe] for us for long years to come".
(See video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lGMNzW1nyU)
(Source: YouTube, September 6)