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.
The past week witnessed a further deterioration in Russia-US relations, prompting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir to call the situation “more dangerous” than the Cold War (Dw.com, October 8) citing the tension over Ukraine and Syria and the lapse in nuclear material cooperation. Such cooperation had always been an area respected by both sides during the Cold War and was insulated from clashes in other areas.
Cartoon Of The Week
Source: “Vk.com/13studiya, October 7, 2016”
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 are facing another round of the anti-Russian information campaign in connection with the Syrian crisis, and this is not for the first time… We are currently facing the extreme, even extremist, round of this campaign. It’s not even a campaign, it’s hysteria in which everyone is involved: the UN Security Council, news conferences by government officials, newspapers, TV, articles, heads of foreign ministry agencies, observers, and others. This time, they are trying to make us look like a bloodthirsty aggressor, an outlaw. On September 29, The New York Times published an article branding Russia ‘an outlaw state’ and saying that Russia kills hundreds of innocent children and women in Syria.”
(Mid.ru, October 6)
“We should react more calmly to what is now being said [in the US] because many statements are being made solely in line with heated pre-election passions. They don’t reflect any short-term Middle East strategy, not to mention a long-term strategy. It appears that these spurts are due to the need to add some fire to the election campaign.”
(Mid.ru, October 6)
Responding to US Republican vice-presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence’s comments that the “Russian bear never dies, it just hibernates,” Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page:
“Attention! It is my coming out today. Hello, people! I am the Russian everlasting bear that never dies but hibernates from time to time. I am not alone. There are lots of Russian bears like me. I am even married to such a bear and we have a bushy daughter-bear. I eat honey and try to be funny.
“And I love you with all my Russian bear heart!”
(Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, October 5)
Quotes Of The Week:
During a press-conference, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and President of the UN Security Council Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was asked the following question:
Q: “You have been very patient with us but it is still not clear in my mind, do you come to this press-conference with any sense of moral responsibility or do you regard Syria as just entirely disconnected from Russian foreign policy or Russian military policy? Do you have a sense of responsibility for what is happening in Eastern Aleppo?”
Churkin answered: “When you come clearer in your mind about what you want to ask, please ask me the question.”
(Russiaun.ru, October 3)
Tweet Of The Week:
Senator @Alexey_Pushkov: “Obama is concluding his second term by sharp degradation in the relations with Russia and tense relations with China. [He] deserves a Cold War, rather than a [Nobel] Peace prize.”
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, October 5)
(Source: Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, October 5, 2016)
In The News:
US Dixit – Kerry: Russian, Syrian Actions Beg For An Investigation Of War Crimes
On October 7, during a joint press conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, US State Secretary John Kerry said: “Russia and [Syrian] the regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals and medical facilities and children and women. These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes. And those who commit these would and should be held accountable for these actions. They’re beyond the accidental now – way beyond. Years beyond the accidental. This is a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives.”
(State.gov, October 7)
US State Department’s spokesperson John Kirby then explained: “[Kerry]’s the Secretary of State, he doesn’t just toss words around for rhetorical exercises. You have seen his frustration build. You, yourself – all of you have seen his frustration build over the last several weeks. You heard what he said at the UN, called it like he saw it, that these were clear violations of international law. And today, he said that they begged for an appropriate investigation, and I think he meant every word of what he said. I’m not trying to parse here. I’m not trying to be – to dance around this thing, but the Secretary believes that what’s happening is an abomination, is – obviously violates international law. We’re talking, again – let’s remember and let’s remind people we’re talking about hospitals and homes and businesses and innocent men and women and children.”
(State.gov. October 7)
Russia Replies – Zakharova: ‘Shouldn’t We Just Turn Off Telephones In The Foreign Ministry?‘
Commenting on Kerry’s statements, Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page: “By making statements equating Russia’s actions in Syria with war crimes, the US State Department should understand that this may all end with the national referendum in Russia with one question: ‘Shouldn’t we just turn off telephones in the Foreign Ministry?'”
(Tass.com, October 8)
Senator Alexey Pushkov said: “Kerry’s accusations against Russia are not just rhetoric or an intimidation attempt. This is a preparation for the new round of sanctions against Russia – this time because of Syria.”
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, October 7)
UNSC: Russia Vetoes France’s Resolution – Russia’s Resolutions Receives The Minimum Number Of Votes
Russia vetoed a French-drafted UNSC resolution on Syria. France’s resolution called for a complete cessation of the bombing in Aleppo, as well as military flights over the city. On the other hand, the Russian draft resolution failed to receive a minimum number of votes at the UNSC. Prior to the vote, Russia’s Permanent Ambassador to the UN said: “Today we are participating in one of the most bizarre scenes in the history of the UN Security Council. We will vote on the two draft Council resolutions, and we are all well aware that neither of them will be accepted.”
In another interview, Churkin said: “The French proposal is very hastily put together and I frankly believe that this is designed not to make progress and take the situation out of the current stalemate and not to help Staffan de Mistura but to cause a Russian veto which I will try to explain. It is unprecedented for the members of the Council to ask a permanent member of the Security Council to limit its own activities… the French draft as I explained before contains some elements which we think are really harmful…this is not a proposal, a draft which is right for adoption, as I say I have this suspicion that the real motive is to cause a Russian veto even though from the outset we were told by the French colleagues that this was not their intention. But unfortunately I have to get used to working under strange circumstances.”
(Russiaun.ru, October 7; Rt.com, October 9)
US-Russia Relations Heating Up – Zakharova: S-300 Anti-Aircraft Missiles Were Deployed In Syria To Counter US Cruise Missile Threats To Russian Forces
Russia’s Defense Ministry informed that a battery of Russian S-300 air defense missile launchers has been transported to Syria. The news was confirmed by Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov: “Indeed, the Syrian Arab Republic received an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system. This system is designed to ensure the safety of the naval base in [Syrian city of] Tartus and ships located in the coastal area [in Syria]…” He added that it is unclear why the deployment of the S-300 caused such alarm in the West, stating that “the S-300 is a purely defensive system and poses no threat.”
(Rt.com, October 4)
Igor Konashenkov (Source: Tass.ru)
In an interview with the RIA TV channel on October 7, Zakharova said: “the S-400 has been deployed there (in Syria) for a long time – everyone treated that normally and no one said that was a show of [force]. Those systems have been there for a long time – and everyone, i think, knew it. The S-300 appeared in Syria after there were leaks from American experts, close to the American establishment, regarding a possible targeting of Syrian airfields by cruise missiles. Those leaks were consistent and had some basis…”
(Ria.ru, October 7)
RIA Columnist: “If The US Chooses War – Russia Won’t Be Able To Flee The Fighting”
Commenting on possible US strikes against Syrian governmental military target, Konashenkov warned: “Any missile or air strikes on the territory controlled by the Syrian government will create a clear threat to Russian servicemen… Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a ‘straight line’ the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to. And all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ [stealth technology] jets will face a disappointing reality.” He also noticed that the Syrian army is equipped with quite effective systems such as S-200, as well as BUK systems. He then added that after the September 17 US striking of Syrian army positions in Dir-Az-Zour, Russia took all necessary precautions in order not to let such mistakes recur against Russian soldiers and infrastructure in Syria.
It is worth noting that Konashenkov recalled that Russia’s bases in Hmeymim and Tartus were protected by S-400 and S-300 air defense systems, “whose range of operation may prove a surprise to any unidentified flying object.”
(Ria.ru, October 6; Rt.com, October 6; Tass.com, 6)
In an article, titled “The dialectics of S-300 in Syria,” Aleksandr Khrolenko, a columnist for RIA news, wrote: Russia will consider any strikes against Syrian governmental army as an attempt to sabotage the anti-terror operation in Syria with all that this implies. “I think, that sooner or later, the Americans will try to use force in various capacities. If the US chooses war – Russia won’t be able to flee the fighting,” Khrolenko wrote.
(Ria.ru, October 7, 2016)
Russian Embassy Under Mortar Fire In Syria – Zakharova: ‘The US Is Protecting Jabhat Al-Nusra By All Possible Means’
On October 3, the Russian embassy in Syria came under mortar fire. The Russian Foreign Ministry published a special statement accusing those “who, like the US, are provoking continued bloodshed in Syria by flirting with various militants and extremists.”
(Mid.ru, October 4)
Commenting on the mortar attack druing her weekly press briefing, Zakharova said that there is a connection between the Russian embassy shelling in Damascus and Washington’s threats. Zakharova stated: “We suspect a connection between this terrorist attack and the vague threat of attack recently passed on by Washington. It is indicative that the attack happened in the midst of a discussion to possibly supply the militants with man-portable air-defense systems and other military equipment that could be used from anywhere.
“We get the impression that our Western partners are forgetting that Jabhat al-Nusra (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), ISIS, Jund al-Aqsa, Ahrar ash-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and other similar groups are basically the same evolving Al-Qaeda that conducted the horrible terrorist attacks in the United States 15 years ago. Why do our American colleagues not remember that and why do they not remind their people about it on a daily basis at public events? It is beyond my understanding.
“The US is protecting Jabhat al-Nusra by all possible means. For the past two years, almost every day we hear tragic reports of American police killing ordinary citizens who only looked like they could hypothetically be a threat to the police or the public. Some police officers thought they were armed, the others thought they could be dangerous, etc. Those were ordinary people who were only suspected of being a threat. Now imagine that two or three people from Jabhat al-Nusra – so thoroughly protected by the US government – walk down the streets of Washington. Imagine what the police would do to those people if they walked down the street in Washington, Chicago or any US city looking the way they usually look. Nobody would have any doubt that those people clearly pose a threat to civilians. Then why is it that those people would be immediately destroyed in one geographic location with complete public support but in another location, they are presented as fighters for justice, as the moderate opposition, a group that is not yet on the genuine path to political resolution, a group that needs refinement but does not yet meet the high standards completely? It is a very strange approach.”
(Mid.ru, October 6)
Russia’s Decision To Terminate The 2010 Implementing Agreement Between Rosatom And The US Department of Energy – Russian Foreign Ministry: ‘We Can No Longer Trust Washington In A Sensitive Sphere’
On September 3, a Russian Presidential Executive Order suspended the 2000 U.S.-Russia agreement concerning the management and disposition of plutonium designated as no longer required for defense purposes and related cooperation (PMDA). On October 5, Russia adopted the decision to terminate the 2010 Implementing Agreement between the Russian State Corporation for Atomic Energy, Rosatom, and the US Department of Energy, concerning cooperation on feasibility studies of the conversion of Russian research reactors to use low-enriched uranium fuel. The Russian Foreign Ministry wrote: “This step follows the notification received from the United States in 2014 regarding the termination of civil nuclear energy cooperation with Russia, as well as other hostile steps and statements by the United States. As a result of these actions, we can no longer trust Washington in a sensitive sphere such as the modernization and safety of Russian nuclear power plants. If Russia makes the decision to convert particular research reactors to low-enriched nuclear fuel, we will conduct this work independently.”
(Mid.ru, October 5)
Russia’s Suspension Of The 2013 Russian-US Agreement On Cooperation In Nuclear- And Energy-Related Scientific Research And Development
On October 5, Russia suspended the 2013 Russian-US Agreement on Cooperation in Nuclear- and Energy-Related Scientific Research and Development. The Russian Foreign Ministry explained: “This step was taken following the restrictions imposed by the United States on nuclear energy cooperation with Russia. In 2014, notification was received from Washington that the US was suspending nuclear energy cooperation with Russia in connection with the events in Ukraine. By their decision, the Americans effectively froze cooperation in science and technology in all areas specified in the Agreement and rendered impossible the implementation of projects in which both countries were interested. Under these circumstances, Russia is suspending the Agreement in response to the US’s hostile actions…”
(Mid.ru, October 6)
Deputy FM: The US Intelligence Is Trying To Recruit Agents Amongst Russian Diplomats
During an interview, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov talked about the “ongoing practice of US special services abducting Russians across the world.” He also stated that the US administration is trying to use “hyped-up public concern about its representatives to conceal active espionage operations conducted under diplomatic cover.”  Ryabkov then added:
“The situation facing Russian diplomats in the United States is, in fact, steadily deteriorating. Over the past two and a half years, there has been a clear increase in the number of attempts to recruit our officials, while US special services resort to the most unseemly methods to apply pressure, including threats against the well-being of family members. The smooth operation of our diplomatic missions is hindered by artificial difficulties in making official contacts and other contrived restrictions.
“Not long ago, Washington tightened regulations on the movement of Russian officials on US territory. Now the overwhelming majority of our representatives need to notify the State Department of their itinerary well in advance, without which they may not go anywhere. This runs counter to the rules that were jointly agreed on and were in effect for almost a quarter of a century. This will further undermine conditions for the development of ties as well as opportunities for bilateral cooperation.
“Unfortunately, this is precisely what the administration of Barack Obama has sought, to the accompaniment of rabid anti-Russian propaganda, especially since the adoption of the controversial sanctions-related ‘Magnitsky Act‘ in 2012. Nevertheless, Washington will not succeed in laying the blame at someone else’s doorstep.”
(Mid.ru, October 4)
On October 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin is to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the World Energy Congress in Istanbul. On October 5, the two leaders had a phone conversation at the initiative of the Turkish side. The phone call focused on Turkish-Russian cooperation and the Syrian crisis.
(Kremlin.ru, October 5)
Iskander – M In Kaliningrad Region
Russia deployed Iskander -M tactical missile systems in Kaliningrad region. The move sparked tension in the Baltic States. On October 8, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Konashenkov said: “By the way, nobody made a big secret out of the transportation of the system onboard the freighter Ambal. I’ll tell more – one Iskander system was deliberately exposed prior to the shipment to an American intelligence satellite, which was on its trajectory above (the region) – that was made in order to clarify (check out) certain parameters of this satellite.” He also added that the Russian side did not have long to wait since the US partners in their “exposure impulse” have confirmed everything (that the Russians needed).
(Ria.ru, October 8)
He also stated: “The Iskander ballistic missile system is mobile, as during the training process missile force units improve their skills year-round [which involves] covering major distances across Russian territory by various means: by air, by sea and by their own movement.”
On another note, Putin transferred the Kaliningrad Region’s governor, Yevgeny Zinichev, to another job, presumably on Zinichev’s own request and appointed Regional Government Chairman Anton Alikhanov as Kaliningrad’s new head.
(Ria.ru, October 8; Tass.com, October 8; Rbth.com, October 8)
 The US has charged with Russia with harassment of its diplomats both within Russia as well as throughout Europe. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau reported that other Western countries were encountering similar harassment. See: Cnn.com, July 28, 2016.
 In December 2012 the US Congress passed this act allowing the US to withhold visas and freeze assets of Russian officials involved in human rights violations. Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who discovered massive fraud by Russian tax and police officials. Rather than act on his charges, Russian officialdom arrested Magnitsky who died in custody, allegedly of torture and failure to receive medical care.
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