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
The new U.S. presidency has stopped refueling ISIS (Vitaly Podvitski, Ria.ru, March 1, 2017)
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:
“We do not return our territories. Crimea is Russian territory.”
(Mid.ru, February 15, 2017)
“With regard to the proposal by [Foreign Minister of Ukraine Pavel] Klimkin to strip Russia of its veto at the UN Security Council, I would like to give him a piece of advice. First, you need to make things right at home and resolve all your problems, before you take up the task of improving international mechanisms. So far, the international mechanisms have been working perfectly well without Mr. Klimkin. So the Foreign Minister of Ukraine would be better served by tending to matters at home. As soon as the problems in Ukraine, which the international community is now forced to deal with, have been resolved, then we can listen to what he has to say on other issues.”
(Mid.ru, February 22, 2017)
Tweets Of The Week:
Senator Alexey Pushkov (@Alexey_Pushkov) tweeted: “The elections in the U.S. are continuing. The collective Soros, by ousting Trump, wants to bring Pence, whom everybody will get along with. Trump is ready to resist.”
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, February 25, 2017)
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (@Rogozin) tweeted: “NASA has found three planets supposedly suitable for life. They are frantically looking where they can hide from us.”
(Twitter.com/Rogozin, February 23, 2017)
Quote Of The Week:
Addressing the State Duma, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced: “The Information operations forces have been established, that are expected to be a far more effective tool than all we used before for counter-propaganda purposes.” He then added: “Propaganda should be smart, competent and effective.”
(Tass.com, February 22, 2017)
Interview Of The Week
On February 12, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was interviewed by Irada Zeynalova’s Itogi Nedeli program for the NTV network on Russia’s foreign policy. Below are excerpts of the interview:
Q: “Turkey and Iran reach an agreement with Jordan as its guarantor, while the U.S. stands by as an observer but could join the talks once the new team gets down to work at the Department of State. At the same time, it turns out that Russia’s rapprochement with Turkey could be a matter of concern for Iran. In the meantime, the U.S. labels Iran the number one sponsor of terrorism. How can all these knots be untangled to finally bring an end to the war in Syria?”
Sergey Lavrov: “Now you understand what kind of partners we are dealing with, and there is no getting away from them. Of course, there are contradictions. You are absolutely right, the U.S. acted as an observer at the first meeting in Astana. The U.S. has Russia’s invitation to send a representative to take part in future meetings, as soon as the Middle East and Syria teams are in place. It is true that their relations with Iran are not good, they are now even worse than under Barack Obama. What we are calling for is common sense… However, excluding Iran from the counter-terrorist coalition for no specific reason would not be pragmatic (the U.S. is famous for its pragmatism). I’m confident that Donald Trump is absolutely honest when he reaffirms his commitment to defeating ISIS. We are ready to work with him. As soon as the conditions are in place, I’m sure that the Russian and U.S. military will once again coordinate their actions.”
Question: Diplomats are usually the ones who know the most, but talk the least. Can I ask you to break this tradition? Are preparations underway for a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump?
Sergey Lavrov: “Do you want me to tell you the most about a subject I know the least about?”
Q: “I have a feeling that you always know everything. If Russia did not meddle in the US election as it is being accused of doing, maybe we could at least tell him that the U.S should not quarrel with Iran or promote nuclear disarmament. He does not have a team to tell him that some things should not be mentioned in public.”
Sergey Lavrov: “…I strongly believe that the dialogue we have started with the Trump administration will carry on, and will pick up momentum as soon as the foreign policy team takes shape within the administration. As I’ve said, we are about to coordinate the time and venue for my meeting with Rex Tillerson. There was also contact through other channels, telephone conversations related to our military and political cooperation. As for top-level contact, the two presidents had a telephone conversation on January 28. It was a positive discussion, during which they outlined the key items on the agenda. They also talked about the need to look at the situation with Iran, if there are any questions, as well as with North Korea and the proliferation of mass destruction weapons issue in general. If there is disagreement on some issues, this does not mean that we will not discuss it. That’s not the way it is.Finding common ground even on issues where an agreement can be hardly expected is what diplomacy is all about. The two presidents have agreed on the need to meet in the near future. We were instructed to set a location and time that will suit both sides. We are working on it. I think and I hope that after the upcoming meeting with the US Secretary of State there will be some clarity on this question.”
(Mid.ru, February 12, 2017)
In The News:
Reactions To McMaster’s Appointment
Commenting on Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster’s appointment as U.S. national security advisor, Aleksandr Khrolenko, a defense and security columnist for RIA news agency, wrote in an article titled “General McMaster’s [Appointment] Is A Worrisome Signal For Russia And The World”: “Ukrainian realities are taking McMaster back to military concepts and anti-guerrilla warfare, but on a higher level of foreign decision making.”
(Ria.ru, February 21, 2017)
According to Senator Franz Klintsevich, first deputy chair of Security and Defense committee of the Federation Council, McMaster’s appointment is a clear threat to Russia: “McMaster is 100 percent hawkish, and this is 100 percent American threat towards Russia. This threat is not getting any less. Defense and intelligence branches in Washington will promote Russophobic policies. I also expect from McMaster that he will continue the attempts to establish anti-Russian attitudes in public opinion. Trump might be able to accomplish his elections promises regarding internal issues, but regarding the foreign policy the situation will remain the same.”
(Ria.ru, February 21, 2017)
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin cancelled his trip to Iran, initially scheduled for February 13. Russian media mentioned that the breach in secrecy was the cause for the trip’s cancellation. Russia requested confidentiality, but Iran disclosed the information about Rogozin’s visit. According to some reports, he was going to discuss the subject of Iran’s acquisition of technology from countries that had imposed sanctions on Russia.
(Nsn.fm, February 14, 2017)
The media outlet Rbth.com reported:
“In addition to the committee of sciences and technologies session, the countries planned to discuss ‘rather delicate issues,’ including the reasons why Iranians are buying planes from Western countries. ‘We give Tehran enormous help and they go and buy technology from those who belittle them with sanctions,’ said a high-ranking official. In December, state-owned Iran Air signed a contract with Boeing to purchase 80 planes, and the company also has a contract with Airbus to buy 100 planes. The total value of these two contracts is close to $30 billion.
“Economic cooperation with Russia, however, when compared to that with the West, is much more modest. In 2016, Sukhoi Civil Aircraft signed a memorandum of understanding with one of Iran’s airlines to supply the Sukhoi Superjet 100, but the document is not binding.
“Russian experts believe the Iranian market can accommodate 100 such planes. Cementing a full-fledged contract, however, depends not only on corporate negotiations but also on the U.S. Treasury Department. Its approval is needed to finalize the deal because American parts are used in the SSJ-100.
“Iran is also interested in military planes, such as the Su-30SM, but at the moment they are restricted by UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that controls the supply of conventional weapons to Iran. The sale of military planes is possible only with the UN Security Council’s permission.”
(Rbth.com, February 15, 2017)
In a radio interview, Konstantin Sivkov, Russian military expert and First Vice President of the Academy of Geopolitical Issues in Moscow, accused U.S. President Donald Trump of being behind Russia’s decision not to meet with Iran. Sivkov said: “Trump is a protégé of the security forces and the U.S. businesses that are not going to pursue peacemaking, but rather will be striving to gain the world domination in the interests of the American establishment. To this end, Trump will be using Russia in his interests. For example, by putting Russia against its longtime allies China and Iran. And if this is due to the fact that Trump succeeded in upsetting the balance in this matter, it is bad for us, it essentially means that our officials surrendered to the Americans.”
(Nsn.fm, February 14, 2017)
Death of Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin
Vitaly Churkin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and an outstanding diplomat, passed away suddenly on February 20.
Russian Lawmakers React To White House Statements On Crimea
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s statement that Trump expects Crimea’s return to Ukraine and de-escalation in Donbass sparked criticism in Russia.
Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, said: “Let’s stop all talks when discussing various statements on Crimea. Any conversations on the alienation of our territory (and Crimea is part of Russia) is an infringement on the country. This issue should not be raised at all. Let’s stop the talks.” (Tass.com, February 15, 2017)
Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs Leonid Slutsky: “Trump could not be expected to oppose his country’s elite at the very beginning of his presidency. Let’s be real. There is still a chance that Russia-U.S. relations will improve. But nevertheless, such statements are like a cold shower that will cool down high expectations from Trump and his team.”
(Tass.com, February 15, 2017)
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “As for Crimea’s return, this issue will not be discussed as it cannot be discussed. Russia does not discuss its territorial issues with foreign partners.”
(Tass.com, February 15, 2017)
On February 14, a snap combat readiness check started in Russia’s Western Military District (Kaliningrad region). The press office said in a statement: “Motor rifle, artillery, missile and antiaircraft missile brigades, control and command brigades, logistics formations, an army aviation brigade, the Leningrad naval base, and also military recruitment offices of St. Petersburg, the Pskov and the Novgorod Regions and the Republic of Karelia have been put on high alert.”
(Tass.com, February 14, 2017)
The Russian Defense Ministry plans to be through with forming four new divisions this year, adding that one would be protecting the Kuril Islands. Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told the State Duma: “We hope to be through with the deployment of three divisions on the western border and in the southwest. Active work is underway to protect the Kuril Islands. We are to deploy a division there, hopefully this year, too.”
(Tass.com, February 22, 2017)
Russian Defense Minister: The British Lion Will Not Tell Our Bear What To Do
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu responded to British Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon’s recent statement that “we don’t need the bear sticking his paws in [Libya]” by saying, “There is no animal in their zoo that can tell our bear what to do.” He was speaking before an audience of the Young Army military-patriotic movement at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations on February 21, and his statements aired on the Russian channel of the Russia Today TV network.
Audience Member: “Could you please comment on the words of your British colleague, Michael Fallon, during the Munich conference, with regard to Russia’s actions in Libya? He said – and I quote: ‘We don’t need the bear sticking his paws in [Libya].'”
Sergey Shoigu: “Well, if we are talking about animals… They’ve got a lion on their national emblem, right? There is an old proverb that says: ‘Every lion is a cat, but not every cat is a lion.’ Let everybody mind their own business. We don’t believe that there is any animal in their zoo that can tell our bear what to do.”
(See MEMRI TV Clip No. 5917, Russian Defense Minister: The British Lion Will Not Tell Our Bear What to Do, February 21, 2017)
Discussing “color revolution” in the Middle East and North Africa, Shoigu said: “The wave of color revolutions has caused serious changes in the global politics and tilted the balance of forces in the world and in regions. Yugoslavia, Georgia, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Syria – here is an incomplete list of states where the color revolution scenario was tested.” He then said. “The West considers them [color revolutions] as a way to propagate democracy through non-violent toppling of ‘undemocratic’ regimes. However, military analysis of the developments that took place in the Middle East and North Africa proves the contrary, i.e. that the factor of military force is part and parcel of color revolutions… There is a high possibility that color revolutions will spread even wider, since arranging a color revolution allows the destruction of regional powers as well as the achievement of political and economic goals while spending little resources and using a small amount of weapons.”
(Tass.com, February 21, 2017)
Discussing Russia-NATO relations, Shoigu said: “The Alliance has declared Russia as its main threat and is building up its military potential along our borders… The number of NATO drills has increased in Eastern Europe, in the Baltic and Black Seas. They often have openly anti-Russian nature and are aimed against Russia… The US missile defense system in Europe has reached the initial operational capability level. An anti-missile defense system was deployed to Romania in 2016. The U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptors are to be deployed to Poland before the end of this year. Today, the cumulative military budget of the alliance’s member-countries is more than $900 billion and exceeds Russia’s defense expenditures by leaps and bounds… Nevertheless, we are prepared to establish an equitable dialogue with Brussels on the entire array of global and regional security issues. We hope that the NATO-Russia Council, which resumed its work in 2016, will contribute to this.”
(Tass.com, February 21, 2017)
Answering a question regarding the Young Army movement supported by the Ministry of Defense, Shoigu said that the ministry is building a replica of the Reichstag in Patriot Park. Shoigu said: “We are building a replica of the Reichstag in Patriot Park. Not a full-sized one, but something that allows the Young Army to storm a specific target, not just any old place.” The Young Army, created at the personal order of Putin in 2015, currently has over 42,000 schoolchildren in its ranks. Shoigu added that the ministry is also going to build a full-scale “partisan village” with “explosive squad training facility” and a “zampolit [deputy commander of a unit in charge of political consciousness during Soviet times] quarter.”
(Rbc.ru, February 22, 2017; Rt.com, February 23, 2017)