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
(Source: Vitaly Podvitsky, Sputniknews.com, September 22, 2016)
Commenting the cartoon, Russian government-funded media outlet Sputniknews.com wrote: "Despite Russian-US agreement on the Syrian ceasefire, Washington prefers to bring chaos to the country through its attack in Deir ez-Zor."
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:
On her Facebook page, Zakharova wrote an open letter to US Ambassador Samantha Power criticizing her for Power's condemnation of Russia. Zakharova wrote:
"Media: 'US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said that the Foreign Ministry of Russia 'should be ashamed' for saying that the United States is protecting the Islamic State, reported [Russian news agency] RIA Novosti...
"Dear Samantha Power, in order to understand what 'shame' means I suggest you to go to Syria, to talk to people there - not with the Nusra guys or moderate opposition, a humanitarian aid to which bothers Washington so much, and not with western located fighters for the Syria's bright future... Talk to people who live there (in Syria) in spite of the bloody experiment which has been employed on their country for six years, with Washington's active participation. I talk to Syrians regularly: with opposition representatives from various cities, orphan children, who come to Russia for rest and rehabilitation and journalists. You know what? Let's go together. All expenses on me. I understand it's not a 'UN corridors for the humiliated and insulted' sightseeing tour. This trip will be more interesting. Come on, agree. Don't be afraid. No one will touch you once you are with me. Unless, of course, your guys hit something by 'mistake' again. You'll have good memories. And by the way you'll understand what "shame" means. Regarding your words that the US cannot support those who behead Americans, I send you a Wikipedia picture: 'President Reagan meets with the delegation of Afghan mujahideen in the White House, 1983'."
(Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, September 17)
Quote Of The Week:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov answered a question from the media on the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly session, New York, on September 22, 2016:
Question: Will the ceasefire be reinstated in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: You should ask the Americans.
(Mid.ru, September 23)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (Source: Rt.com)
In The News:
Lavrov's Speech At The 71st Session Of The UN General Assembly
On September 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly. In his speech, he presented the Russian perspective which was highly critical of US policies on various issues: the Russia-US agreement for a ceasefire in Aleppo, the Minsk agreements, the WADA report, nuclear disarmament, and the US missile defense system in Europe.
(See MEMRI Special Dispatch N. 6629, Lavrov's Remarks At The 71st Session Of The UN General Assembly: 'Ukraine... Has Fallen Victim Of Those Who Like To Play Zero Sum Games' - Part I, September 27, 2016)
Russian FM Spokesperson: Kerry's UNSC Speech on Syria Was a Poor Show
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova Slammed U.S. Secretary of State Kerry's speech on Syria at the U.N. Security Council, which was delivered on September 22. Zakharova said that the Americans were trying to make themselves the center of the discussion, instead of having serious talks. Her statements were broadcast by the Russia 24 TV channel.
(See MEMRI Clip No. 5696, Russian FM Spokesperson: Kerry's UNSC Speech on Syria Was a Poor Show, September 22)
Reactions To Samantha Power's Comments On Russia's 'Barbarism' In Syria
During an interview with Pozdnyakov programme on NTV, Lavrov commented on Power's accusations that Russia is "sponsoring and doing... barbarism" (Reuters.com, Sep.25) in Syria. Lavrov said:
"[Our Western partners] did not accuse us of 'barbarism' as Samantha Power did with the support of UK Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft. However, some accusations were fairly tough: the Syrian Government and we were accused of all mortal sins... They cite civilian deaths. They show video footage of destroyed buildings and running civilians, claiming, as a rule, that this footage comes from eyewitnesses. Another source they consider unquestionable and indisputable is a one-room flat in London where a certain UK subject of Syrian descent lives and single-handedly runs an organization called the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Let me reiterate, he is based in London but is cited most frequently of all.
"I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Americans and their Western allies want to divert attention not only and not so much from what happened in Deir ez-Zor. I am not at all trying to deliver any final verdicts. This is a harmful habit of our Western partners. They brag about their states based on the rule of law, that only a court can decide whether a person is guilty or not and that their courts are independent... On September 19, an aid convoy came under attack, we demanded an investigation while my good friend John Kerry (somewhat unexpectedly) stated that an investigation could probably be conducted but they knew who had done it - the Syrian army or Russia, and in any case, Russia is to blame. Evidently he had come under tremendous pressure because he is under fierce criticism from the US military machine. Despite the fact that, as always, [they] made assurances that the US Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama, supported him in his contacts with Russia (he confirmed that during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin), apparently the military does not really listen to the Commander in Chief."
(Mid.ru, September 26)
(Source: Mid.ru, September 26, 2016)
Reactions To Obama's Speech At The UN
Senator Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the Federation Council International Affairs Committee: "Obama mentioned Russia twice - and twice erred in his assessments. Russia is not striving to restore the empire and its 'former glory.' Russia stands for its position in the world - the position of equal rights and sovereign partnership for all, who are prepared to cooperate in solving global contemporary issues. Moreover, Russia does not interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring states - the responsibility for the destabilization there in all cases rests upon local leaders or on opposition supported from abroad ( by the same Americans) , but not on Russia"
(Ria.ru, September 20, 2016)
Kosachev also added on his FB page that Obama's speech was three times longer than the allotted time in minutes. Kosachev aso said that Obama used a teleprompter and looked more like a "preacher" than a president. Kosachev then wrote: "Apparently, [his] time is running out, but he still wants to go down in history in a positive way... It's a pity, there was nothing positive [n his speech]... His speech was more restrained than in previous year - in comparison to 'threat number 2' [In his speech last year speech before the UNGA, Obama referred to Russia as threat number two to the world order]." Kosachev also wrote that there was a feeling of something left unsaid:"It's a pity that so much time was wasted by the Americans (and will still be wasted) in a vain attempt to persuade [others] of their special responsibility for the world's fate. The world did not become a better place during the last 8 years of Obama's presidency."
(Ria.ru, September 20, 2016)
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) central committee member and first deputy chairman of the outgoing Duma's international affairs committee, Leonid Kalashnikov, told journalists, following Obama's UN speech, that the US is trying to tarnish Russia's reputation. Kalashnikov said: "They are trying to paint Russia in black colors, and there was a time that they succeeded in doing so. Now it's increasingly complicated because the leaders of other countries, represented in the General Assembly, understand, where it is white and where it is black. The Americans made plenty attempts to intervene in the internal matters of other states - starting with Yugoslavia and now the currents issues in Syria. There was death everywhere, people perished everywhere."
(Ria.ru, September 20, 2016)
Nikita Podgornyh wrote in his column, titled "Obama's Russian Fetish" in Life.ru : "Right, correct, The Supreme Commander of the largest army in the world, whose budget runs into hundreds of billions of dollars, which has military bases in nearly every corner of the world, accuses Russia of taking actions from a position of force... Thank you, Mr. President, for not saying openly and blatantly that we should sit quietly by and not hinder the hegemon in 'introducing democracy' wherever he so desires. They [the Americans] really loved the myth of world supremacy. Now every year brings increased enlightenment. They have almost reached the 'post withdrawal' point. Like the final convulsions of a sick man. How do you live in a world, where you have to take the opinion of other countries into consideration? How do you live in a world, where the opponent may give a robust response...? That may be considered the main foreign policy achievement of Obama's 8 years: the inability to build relations with a strong opponent who has his own opinion."
(Life.ru, September 21, 2016)
The State Duma
Russian President Vladimir Putin asked Russian lawmakers of the Duma to elect Vyacheslav Volodin - the first deputy head of the presidential administration - as the new State Duma speaker. Former State Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin was appointed the new head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR.
(Rt.com, September 23)
In an article titled "The Post-Mortem Duma," opposition website Khodorkovsky.com wrote about the September 18 Duma elections: "Yabloko's Sergei Mitrokhin knows only too well exactly what use was made of the absentee ballots of employees in the housing and utility sector: 'We have on video a confession made by Svetlana, an employee of GBU [state-financed institution] Zhilishchnik. She told us that out-of-town employees of state-financed institutions are forced to apply for absentee ballots in their respective regions - and then to surrender 1000 rubles per ballot to HR. This is a Moscow-specific rigging tactic motivated by the fact that there's a huge army of out-of-town workers in the housing and utility sector. But they're not trusted to vote themselves. Their votes are transferred to specially trained United Russia 'voters'.'"
(Khodorkovsky.com, September 20)
Ministry Of State Security
According to the newspaper Kommersant citing an unidentified source called "B" the Kremlin plans to expand the FSB's responsibilities and authority and de-facto re-establish the Ministry of State Security (MGB - Ministerstvo Gosudarstvenoy Bezopasnosti) prior to the 2018 presidential elections. The new super ministry in addition to the current FSB (Federal Security Service) administrative structure will also incorporate the functions of the FSO (Federal Protective Service - the counterpart of the US Secret Service) and SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service). The new structure will deal both with the threats to state security (counterintelligence, terrorism etc.) as well as with high profile criminal cases including corruption. The ministry will also enjoy the prerogatives of an internal investigation authority for all the other security services, including apparently the military forces, the police, defense industries and more. This effectively resurrects the KGB structure. The reform implies a major reshuffling of the security forces' administrative structure (except for the army and the ministry of defense) leadership.
(Kommersant.ru, September 19)
The MGB (and the more familiar KGB in which Putin served) represents the era of Stalin's postwar purges lasting until his death in 1953. The mere acronym still evokes dread. One of the historic MGB-KGB's major tasks was political surveillance. The service featured a Main Political Directorate that was responsible for suppressing any form of internal political opposition to the Soviet State. This reshaping of the security forces by Putin predicated on the personal loyalty model can be seen as a prophylactic move by Putin to reinforce "the power vertical" in anticipation of possible political and social unrest.
Dmitry Peskov, presidential spokesperson, neither confirmed nor denied the Kommersant article. "No, I cannot", was Peskov's reply to a request for confirmation.
(Tass.ru, September 19)
An air defense unit from Russia's Central Military District participated in a drill in the Russian Far East. an aide to the district's commander Col. Yaroslav Roshchupkin said: "An anti-aircraft missile regiment from the Central Military District, which received the S-400 'Triumph' system a year ago, has successfully carried out combat launches as part of a joint exercise between the air force and air defense forces at the Telemba training range in the Republic of Buryatia." Russia's government-funded media outlet Sputniknews.com reported that
six missiles were launched, hitting several high speed targets (including the Kaban target missile) and moving along "a flat ballistic trajectory at a speed of 1,500 meters per second (4,000 feet per second) and at a height of 45 kilometers (28 miles)."
(Sputniknews.com, September 27)
The Russian Foreign Ministry reported that Russian-Pakistani tactical military exercise Druzhba-2016 are going to be hold from September 24 to October 10 at the Cherat training ground in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan. Around 200 service members from both sides will take part in fine-tuning their cooperation during anti-terror operations in the mountains.
(Mid.ru, September 23)
On September 23, the Indra-2016 joint Russian-Indian anti-terror exercise started at the Sergeyevsky training ground in the Primorye Territory., in Russia.
(Mid.ru, September 23)
Russia-Sudan Military Cooperation
Russia is to sell Sudan 170 T-72 main battle tanks in the immediate future. According to Sergey Seregichev, an Africa expert and researcher for the Russian Humanitarian State University, Khartoum does not need those tanks in order to launch a war of aggression against Southern Sudan bat rather to fight domestic insurgency.
(Izvestia.ru, September 20)
Russia's Military Bases Abroad
According to Gazeta.ru, Russia maintains military bases in Tajikistan (7,500 servicemen), Belorussia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan (400 servicemen), Abkhazia (4,000 servicemen) and shares a military facility in Vietnam. In Syria, the Russian Air Force is using Kheimim base. Russia also has a navy re-supply base in the Syrian port city of Tartus. Russian peacekeepers are present in South Ossetia (4,000 servicemen) and Transnistria.
(Rt.com, September 20)
Freedom Of Speech In Russia
Popular opposition political journalist Aleksandr Sotnik, who operates "Sotnik-TV" youtube channel that has a regular viewership of over 120,000, fled Russia to Georgia after receiving death threats. Later, Sotnik posted on his Facebook account that he again began receiving threats although no one except his friend was privy to his new phone number.
(Mk.ru, September 21; Facebook.com/sasha.sotnik, September 21)
Aleksander Sotnik (Source: Mk.ru)
The Russian Economy
Due to the dire economic situation and the possibility that the National Reserve Fund and National Welfare will be exhausted by the end of 2018 the Russian Ministry of Finance proposes raising the tax burden on the population -including hiking VAT to 20%, increased personal and corporate income taxes, new taxes on common consumer goods and higher insurance taxes. The ministry of finance hopes that these measures will reduce the gap between state incomes and expenditures.
(Vedomosti.ru, September 20; Vedomosti.ru, August 31)
These recommendations contradict a recent statement by Vladimir Putin who urged the authorities not "to heap the entire burden on ordinary people's shoulders". "In the economy and social policy, we must pursue a carefully considered and balanced policy of transformation that will raise effectiveness, change the economy's structure, and increase the results of support we provide to people who genuinely need state assistance. At the same time, we must under no circumstances heap the entire burden on ordinary people's shoulders during these transformations. Our actions must not have even a hint of shock therapy. We must take into account not the average statistical figures, but the real circumstances and income levels of Russian families", said Putin during the meeting with the government ministers.
(Kremlin.ru, September 19)
Presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Ministry of Finance suggestions were submitted to Putin, but the final decision is in the government's rather than the president's hands.
(Tass.ru, September 20)
The head of the Center for Strategic Development, Alexey Kudin, said that State-owned companies block Russia's economic growth, and considers reforms crucial to Russia's competitiveness in securing new markets. Kudrin also expects Russia's budget deficit to total around 3.7-3.9% of GDP for the year of 2016. Oil prices could drop below $30 per barrel in the next 20 years.
(Tass.com, September 23)
Pro-Kremlin Pravdareports.com reported that the Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov claimed that "the US investors have bought over half of the Russian eurobonds for a ten-year loan." According to Siluanov, 53% of the bonds were sold to investors from the US, 43% from Europe, and 4% from Asia. Siluanov said: "We evidenced a huge interest of the investors. The total volume of the requests made up 7.5bln dollars... Requests were made by about 200 investors from the US, Great Britain, continental Europe, Asia and Russia." Siluanov also stated that the price represented 106.75% of (the offering) rate, while yields were 3.9%. Commenting on the news, Vladimir Rozhankovskiy, Director of the Okey Broker analytical department, said that "Russia is the only attractive country today for investments, apart from India."
(Pravdareports.com, September 23)
Strange But True
The Russian media reported that Lavrov, went to a meeting of the UN General Assembly on foot, blaming the "traffic jams caused by the passing presidential motorcade of Obama."
(Sputniknews.com, September 20)
(Source: Twitter.com/MID_RF, September 20)
Russian Independent media outlet Echo Moscow reports about two young men (23 years old programmer and a military serviceman) from Zabaikal'e region who suggested their help by email to the CIA in exchange for payment. The offer involved the transfer of Russian military secrets. The CIA has reportedly accepted their offer. The two, who have no access to sensitive and secret information proceeded to fabricate reports on troop buildups on the Ukrainian borders, missiles targeting Washington and more, which they forwarded to the agency. The FSB has reportedly had the two under observation and eventually thwarted the communication. The two have not been indicted but they have been warned by the security service to desist. The Americans were not completely gullible and never paid their "sources".
(Echo.msk.ru, September 20)