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.
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:
During her press briefing, Zakharova commented on former CIA deputy director Michael Morell’s recent statement that Russians and Iranians in Syria should be killed to “pay the price” (“CBS This Morning,“August 8). Zakharova said: “We noted the statements by Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, made on the CBS News TV channel on August 8 when he said that it is necessary to make Moscow ‘pay a price’ for its actions in the Middle East. To the host’s question whether that means ‘killing Russians and Iranians’ in Syria, Mr. Morell responded positively and stressed that it must be done ‘covertly.’ We are talking about August 2016 here, not the Middle Ages or ancient times, and this was actually broadcast on Western television. Calling these statements inhumane would be stating the obvious. I would even go as far as to say that it is not so much inhumane as it is a very ISIS-style statement. This is the language ISIS speaks. It was shocking not only to Russia but, finally, this time it was shocking to the US Department of State, who repudiated any connection to the former CIA deputy director’s words.”
(Mid.ru, August 18)
Quotes Of The Week:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a press conference: “As the presidential campaign in the United States gained pace, the Russian theme sounds ever louder…The surge of Russophobic hysteria is a fact… We hear and see Russophobia that is skyrocketing in the US information space…They are making us look like a global villain and in fact try to accuse Russia of everything under the sun.”
(Tass.ru, August 17)
In The News:
Russian Bombers in Iran
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said that the Hamadan airbase is no longer in use by Russian fighter jets and that the cooperation has come to an end for the time being. Meanwhile, Russian long-range bombers Tupolev-22M3 and frontline bombers Sukhoi-34 returned to Russia. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said: “The Russian military aircraft that participated in the operation to deal air strikes from the Iranian air base near Hamadan against terrorist facilities in Syria have coped with all of their tasks. At the moment all of Russia’s planes that participated in that operation are in Russian territory.” He then added: “Further use of the Hamadan airbase in Iran by the Russian aerospace force will be based on mutual agreements on struggle against terrorism and depending on the situation in Syria.”
(Mehrnews.com, August 22; Tass.ru, August 22)
During an interview, when asked why Iran was not the first to announce the use of Hamadan airbase by Russian fighter jets, Iran’s Minister of Defense and Logistics of the Armed Forces Brigadier-General Hossein Dehqan said: “Firstly, Russians are keen on showing that they are a superpower and can greatly impact security trends. Secondly, they wish to appear as an effective agent in the scene of operations in Syria so that they will be able to negotiate with the Americans and guarantee their own part in Syria’s political future.” He then added: “There has been a kind of showing-off and inconsiderate attitude behind the announcement of this news.”
The Iranian minister also said: “Russia became involved in the Syrian crisis at the request of the Syrian government. Syrians were lacking in the airstrike department so Russians planned to deploy a part of their air fleet there. But after the short-lived ceasefire, the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar began to arm terrorists with advanced weapons such as tanks, artillery and even armored personnel carriers.”
Moreover, Dehqan gave an explanation for Russian fighter jets’ presence in an Iranian airbase: “Given the new terrorist moves in Syria and the need for a much stronger confrontation with them, Russia’s air fleet needed to refuel in a closer area, hence the use of Hamadan airbase.” However, Dehqan stressed that “under no circumstances [Iran] will ever provide Russians with a military base. They have not come here to stay.”
Earlier, Dehqan said that Iran may consider any request by Moscow to use extra air bases. However, there is no such a plan yet.
(Mehrnews.com, August 22; Irna.ir, August 20; Video on Youtube.com, August 21)
Iran’s Defense Minister Dehqan disclosed that Iran received the full package of S-300 defensive missile systems from Russia. Head of Majlis Commission on national security and foreign policy Alaeddin Boroujerdi, stated that Iran and Russia renewed the former contract on delivery of S-300 missile defense system, and that Tehran rejected Moscow’s proposal to replace the order with S-400 or Antey-2500.
(Irna.ir, August 20)
On August 17, the Speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, denied that Iran had permitted Russia to establish a permanent air base on Iranian territory. Larijani said: “We are allies with Russia, and we cooperate in the resolution of regional issues, especially on Syria. But this does not mean that we provided our base to Russia for military use. We refute such an interpretation of this topic in the media.” Iran’s Chairman of the Iranian parliament’s Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security Alaeddin Boroujerdi specified that Russia uses an air base in Iran exclusively for refueling its bomber aircraft.
(Irna.ir, August 17, Tass.ru, August 17)
The newspaper Kommersant citing its own independent sources commented: “the question [of deploying the bombers] was settled by the highest military-political echelon of the two countries in a short period of time”. The article and the experts cited believe that the deployment of strategic bombers in Iran is expected to signal the region’s countries that Russia and Iran are now key players in Syria. One of the experts quoted by the newspaper, Andrey Frolov, researcher with the Center for Analyses of Strategy and Technology (CAST), said that henceforth Russia may use both airbases for strategic bomber strikes in Syria – the one in Hamadan and another permanent regimental air-base in Mozdok. Frolov said: “Russia may increase the air force operating in Syria without actually increasing the air force on Syrian soil – the territory there [Hmeymim airbase] is dangerous – militants may strike the base with mortar shells and heavy fire.. It’s one thing to lose a helicopter and a completely different thing to lose a strategic bomber.”
(Kommersant.ru, August 17)
On August 17, Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers again took off from Hamadan airbase to strike targets in Syria.
(Ria.ru, August 17)
On August 17, the pro-Kremlin think tank Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) published an article, titled “Autumn is coming, Russian VKS in Iran,” stating the following:”Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) warplanes have been deployed in Iran’s Hamadan…The move followed the meetings between the leaders of Russia and Iran at a summit in Baku, leaders of Russia and Turkey at a summit in St. Petersburg, and heads of the Foreign Ministries of Iran and Turkey. Therefore, there is a chance that the deployment of the Russian TU-22M3 strategic bombers at Iran’s 3rd Tactical Air Base in Hamadan had been coordinated in advance. Previously, those aircraft had been involved in the Syrian operation of the Russian VKS, flying from Mozdok in the Russian republic of North Ossetia.
“The Hamadan air base is located in western Iran and is used exclusively for military purposes. Unlike other military air bases of the country, the 3rd Tactical Air Base does not accept civil aircraft. The air base is considered to have state-of-the-art equipment and has a 4,600-meter runway. A TU-22M3 strategic bomber requires from 2,000 meters to 2,200 meters to take off. The size of the Noje Hamadan air base and its capacity are its key advantages over the Russian Khmeimim Airbase in Latakia…. The closest IS targets are in Iraq. However, Russia has not yet received any invitation or authorization from the government in Baghdad to engage in operations in that country…Moreover, according to sources at the Ministry of Defense, Russia has filed a request [seeking permission] for its cruise missiles to fly in Iraqi and Iranian airspace. Those two countries have reportedly given the green light. It appears that Russia may launch its Kalibr cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea, let alone from the ships of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean…”
(Russiancouncil.ru, August 17)
Victor Litovkin, Tass military commentator, in his article headlined “Double Blow: Russia and Iran are Changing the Operational-Strategic situation in the Middle East” argued that Teheran openly joined the fight against ISIS, formed an alliance with Russia, and changed the operational-strategic situation in the Middle East. According to Litovkin, Turkey as well has modified its position towards ISIS, and is starting to control the flow of militants on its borders thus denying them armaments and reinforcements. Litovkin added that Russia has obtained a leading Middle East role: “In Washington, Brussels, Berlin and Paris, Ankara and Riyadh and also in Amman they have to take Russia into consideration…Moscow has always been a reliable neighbor and partner for Teheran, Moscow has never blackmailed Iran and did not play on its contradictions with its neighbors and never speculated on the issue.”
(Tass.ru, August 16)
(See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6577, Russian Strategic Bombers Deployed To Iran; Russian Senator Says Nuclear Weapons, Heavy Bombers Will Not Be Permanently Deployed In Syria, August 16, 2016)
Hamas Politburo Chief Meets Russian Deputy Foreign Minister
On August 16, Russian Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa and Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, met with Chairman of Hamas Political Bureau Khaled Mashaal, during a working visit in Qatar. The website of the Russian Foreign Ministry reported: “The meeting’s participants discussed the Middle East situation in detail, particularly developments in Syria and Yemen, the situation in the Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip, and surveyed current issues related to the Middle Eastern peace process. Russia reaffirmed its position, during an exchange of views on restoring Palestinian unity, and overcoming intra-Palestinian divisions as soon as possible via the PLO and Arab Peace Initiative. These were essential prerequisites for reaching a comprehensive and equitable solution to the Palestinian issue based on international law.”
(Mid.ru, August 17)
On August 17, Bogdanov met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Russian Foreign Ministry reported: “During a frank conversation, the sides discussed in detail the prospects of progress of a Palestine-Israeli settlement on the basis of relevant international laws. They also spoke about the need to restore Palestinian national unity on the political platform of the Palestine Liberation Organization aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state that would live in conditions of peace and security with its neighbors, including Israel.”
(Mid.ru, August 17)
Hamas’ delegation visiting the Russian Foreign Ministry (Source: Mid.ru, August 17, 2016)
Putin The Peacemaker
In an interview that Egyptian President ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi gave to three Egyptian national newspapers he said that Vladimir Putin informed him that he had invited Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to Moscow for direct talks. Al-Sisi claimed he supported these efforts to revive talks between the two sides. Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin noted last month in a UN Security Council debate on the Middle East that when Al-Sisi proposed hosting such talks in May, Russia welcomed the proposal.
(Tass.ru, August 22)
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that Russia had no demands to use Incirlik air base in the southern province of Adana. However, he added that if Russia wants to use the base to hit ISIS target in Syria, it can do so.
(Hurriyetdailynews.com, August 20)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov may visit Turkey in November or December.
(Hurriyetdailynews.com, August 18)
Russia In Syria
In an article published in Gazeta.ru, titled “It becomes impossible to leave Syria without losing face,” Russian journalist and specialist on international relations, Vladimir Frolov, wrote: “…It will soon be a year since Russia is fighting in Syria, and the military operation is already planned to last until at least February 2017. However, there has not been any decisive breakthrough…There is no prospect of a political solution in the form of a viable negotiation process. A purely military solution, if it is possible at all, will require a large-scale build-up of combat power. The problem with this solution is that at some point it becomes impossible to ‘leave Syria’ without losing face. That is why the ‘battle for Aleppo’… is of paramount importance. For Damascus and Moscow it is the most realistic opportunity so far to reverse the strategic situation in this war…”
(Gazeta.ru, August 2)
Tensions Between Ukraine And Russia
On August 19, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the permanent members of Security Council in Crimea. In the meeting, Putin said: “Apparently, our partners in Kiev decided to aggravate the situation, and it is clear why they are doing this: they do not want to, or cannot for whatever reasons, honor the Minsk agreements and, secondly, they cannot explain to their own people the significant mistakes they have made in their socio-economic policies. This method of aggravating the situation is not new. It has been used since time immemorial, sometimes successfully, but not always. I hope that this will not be the ultimate choice of our partners, and that common sense will eventually prevail. For our part, while discussing the issues of additional security measures in Crimea, we should also say, and I would like to mention this once again, that we are not going to cut off relations. Despite the reluctance of the current government in Kiev to have full-fledged diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level, we nevertheless will leave them opportunities to develop and maintain contacts.”
(Kremlin.ru, August 19)
Despite the recent announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the upcoming Normandy Four meeting in China has been cancelled, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev’s remarks about the possible severing of diplomatic relations with Ukraine, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is currently uninterested in a rupture of diplomatic relations. Lavrov said: “I don’t think this is a situation where anyone is interested in breaking off diplomatic relations. That would be an extreme measure. I think the main goal now is to avoid succumbing to emotions or taking extreme courses of action but to work for stabilization in a restrained and consistent manner. As I said, we will and are already doing this in Crimea regardless of what conclusions our Western partners and colleagues in Kiev will draw from the events of ten days ago. I am in favor of focusing efforts on returning to the sequencing and the substance of the Minsk agreements in all aspects of the situation – security and political settlement.”
(Mid.ru, August 15)
The newspaper Moskovskii Komsomolets published a commentary by Igor Korotchenko, editor in chief of National Defense Magazine and Duma Nominee from Rodina (Homeland) nationalist party: “When it comes to Ukraine, I think, Moscow should deliver a missile strike against the bases of international terrorists, located in Ukraine’s territory. Also we need to strike the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense Intelligence Directorate headquarters if the trial (against alleged infiltrators to Crimea) proves that its officials were behind the training and dispatch of those terrorists to Crimea. That’s exactly what the US does when fighting international terrorists”.
(Mk.ru, August 15)
(See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6573, An Overview Of The Rising Tensions In Russian-Ukrainian Relations, August 12, 2016)
Serbia will not impose sanctions on Russia even if the common EU policy demands this. Serbian President Timislav Nikolich said during a meeting with the US Vice President Joe Biden that “we can’t impose sanctions on Russia if it implies an adjustment of Serbian foreign policy towards the EU”.
(Ria.ru, August 17)
Russia Defense News
Russian logistics and maintenance units launched missions to provide support for force groups at ground and sea practice ranges in Crimea.
(Tass.ru August 19)
The Russian news agency Tass.ru reported that about 10,000 troops and 2,000 pieces of armored equipment are involved in the command and staff exercises of Russia’s Eastern Military District that kicked off in the Amur Region and the Trans-Baikal Territory. District spokesman Colonel Alexander Gordeyev stated: “The exercises will be conducted in several stages spread over August 17-20. Up to 10,000 servicemen and 2,000 pieces of armament and military hardware, including aircraft and helicopters, will be involved in maneuvers at practice ranges in the Trans-Baikal Territory and the Amur Region”. He then added that the maneuvers’ goal is to test new automated troop control systems.
(Tass.ru, August 17)
Mobile ground missile complexes RS-24 Yars of the Russian Strategic Missile Force’s Teikovskaya division will be involved for the first time in special drills of radiological, chemical and biological troop protection. (Tass.ru, August 17)
The Russian Northern Fleet’s large anti-submarine warfare ships Vice-Admiral Kulakov and Severomorsk have teamed up with aviation in exercises to detect and sink hypothetical enemy submarines.
(Tass.ru, August 16)
Recently, a Collective Security Treaty Organization’s (CSTO) drill in Pskov and Leningrad regions kicked off. According to the operational scenario “unlawful armed units” invaded the territory of one of the treaty’s states and the attack was supposed to be repelled by CSTO rapid response forces. According to the Russian news agency Ria.ru, during the drill, loudspeakers in the field communicated the following message in Russian, German and English: “NATO soldiers! You are being fooled. You are no peacekeepers. Lay down your weapons. You fight on a foreign territory. You have invaded a peaceful country. You’ll be haunted by the vengeance and the outrage of the people which have never lost in a war. Lay down your weapons, stop being marionettes in your leaders ‘hands.”
(Ria.ru, August 18)
A ballistic missile Iskander was launched during a drill in the Jewish Autonomous Area in the Far East. Eastern Military District’s spokesman, Aleksandr Gordeyev, said: “The launch was performed from a training site in the Jewish Autonomous area [Birobidjan]. The missile hit a target at a proving ground in the Amur region 300 kilometers away.” The Russian news agency Tass.ru reported that”more than 400 officers and men and 100 pieces of military equipment from a missile unit of the Eastern Military District” are involved in the drill.
(Tass.ru, August 19)
According to the National Association of Italian Farmers, Coldiretti, Italy’s agricultural and agro-industrial sector was the one that was most severely hit by the sanctions against Russia. In Coldiretti’s estimate, two years following the imposition of sanctions, Italy’s exports towards Russia from the agricultural supply chain sustained a loss of nearly 7.5 billion Euros. The products currently banned for export to Russia include fruits and vegetables, cheese, fresh meat and meat products.
A Coldiretti official argued that the commercial war with Russia interrupted a very positive trend in exports towards Russia that in the previous five years had increased by 112%. In quantitative terms, two years of embargo meant export losses of 39,400 tons of apples, 29,500 tons of table raisins, 29,000 tons of kiwis, 2,800 tons of parmesan cheese, 14,200 tons of peaches and nectarines and 85,000 units of certified Parma and San Daniele hams.
“Once again the food industry was used as a bargaining chip in international negotiations without any consideration of the heavy impact in economic, employment and environmental terms” – said Roberto Moncalvo, president of Coldiretti – “it is an unbearable cost both for Italy and for the European Union where the prices of the products that used to be exported to Russia have collapsed, causing an unprecedented crisis in certain perceptible sectors such as, for instance, dairy products. Furthermore, the cessation of imports from Italy has fostered a real boom of fake Italian products…”
(Affaritaliani.it, August 8)
Strange But True
North Caucasus Grand Mufti Endorses Female Circumcision
The Grand Mufti of Russia’s North Caucasus republic Karachay-Cherkessia, Ismail Berdyev, told his interviewer on “Moscow Speaking” radio that female circumcision does not contradict Islam. Berdyev said: “As far as I know it’s done in order to somewhat calm down a woman’s ‘spurt’. It is completely harmless to health”.
Later, in an interview to Interfax agency, the mufti said that the sexuality and lustfulness on the Earth should be diminished: “If all women would be circumcised it would be a good thing. The Almighty has created a woman to give birth and raise children. This [sexuality] has nothing to do with that. Women do not stop giving birth after that [circumcision])”. Earlier, the human right organization “Law Initiative” published a report claiming that female circumcision is widely practiced in Northern Caucasus villages, with girls aged 3-12 undergoing this procedure without any medical supervision.
(Echo.msk.ru, August 15; Interfax.ru, August 17)
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