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THE CURRENT DIGEST OF THE RUSSIAN PRESS
VOLUME 71, NUMBER 39-40
To browse contents on our digital database, click here
FEATURED NEWS STORIES
Kiev Approves Steinmeier Formula – Click on FEATURED CONTENT above to read more
Union State: Viable or Doomed? – Click on FEATURED CONTENT above to read more
THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION
Shevchuk: Shoigu’s Interview Signals He Is Ready to Lead Conservative Flank of Russian Elite
Study: Putin Regime Will Aim to Preserve Existing Political Balance Through 2024
Shestakov: EP Resolution Calling Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the Cause of World War II Shows Europe Continues To Rewrite History
OTHER POST-SOVIET STATES
Opposition, Moldovan Foreign Ministry Say President Dodon’s UN Speech Promotes Russian Interests
Felgengauer: Iran’s Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities a Tactical Victory but Strategic Failure
Frolov: Russian-Chinese Military Cooperation Now Approaching Level of Military Alliance
Foreign Economic Relations
Putin Talks About Energy and Other Issues at Russian Energy Week Forum
Author: Sovetskaya Rossia
Union State: Viable or Doomed?
LUKASHENKO: ‘IN BELARUS, EVERYTHING IS BASED ON FAIRNESS.‘ ([No author indicated.] Sovetskaya Rossia, Sept. 28, 2019, p. 3. Condensed text:) Editors’ Note. – On Thursday [Sept. 26], Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko responded to questions from journalists of leading Ukrainian media outlets. Lukashenko often meets with the Russian press, especially regional outlets, in this format. This makes it possible to discuss the most important aspects of bilateral relations between countries and people. This was his first direct conversation with Ukrainian media. . . . The Belta news agency outlined the conversation, which lasted more than three hours. We are presenting the most important topics.
* * *
On the transfer of power in Belarus.
Lukashenko stressed that he will remain president for as long as the people trust him, and he has the health and energy to do the job. “Only the people will choose our new president,” Lukashenko stated, adding that he is not considering any successors.
When asked whether an independent candidate like an actor could win the Belarussian presidential election, Lukashenko said the following: “We have an entirely different situation and a somewhat different reality [than in Ukraine, which recently elected an actor as president – Trans.]. We have a socially oriented economy and we are not going to divvy everything up and privatize it; we don’t have an oligarchy or oligarchic clans that would wield influence on the government or, God forbid, [the president].” In Belarus, everything is based on fairness, so in his opinion, such an option is hardly possible: “People are used to going off real life and seeing what [a person] is like. We don’t have a situation where the people could blindly vote for someone; that’s impossible.”
Belarus has no enemies and it can repel threats if necessary.
“We are building our military policy very carefully and are prepared to repel any threat. That is why our Army is not like Ukraine’s or Russia’s: We don’t have huge units that could form a front. We only have mobile units and territorial defense, where we can call up 500,000 reservists. We don’t have any potential adversaries yet, but if necessary, our mobile Armed Forces are ready to quickly respond to any threat. That is why we are focusing on mobile Armed Forces. We are producing equipment for them and have already started producing weapons.”
On Ukrainian-Russian relations.
Lukashenko believes that serious problems in relations between Ukraine and Russia appeared back under [former Ukrainian president] Viktor Yanukovich: “He was not anti-Ukrainian. He was somewhat indecisive, among other things. And the schism between Ukraine and Russia appeared under Yanukovich, when gas prices rose steeply. Up to $200 [per cubic meter], I think. I had a conversation with him about it. He was very upset with Russia and told me: ‘Listen, Sasha [short for Aleksandr – Trans.], why did they do this to us?’ This was not the first but a significant crack [in relations], when [the Ukrainian authorities] were very offended. Maybe that is what prompted him to veer sharply toward the West and the European Union, and to sign the [association agreement with the EU – Trans.]. Then [his regime] decided to backpedal and mess around. And they [the Ukrainian opposition – Trans.] took advantage of the situation.” . . .
On the Donetsk Basin conflict.
Belarus is ready to consider any requests to help resolve the conflict in Ukraine. According to [Lukashenko], it doesn’t matter what the peacekeepers and mediators [in the process] consider Belarus’s role to be: “What matters is that this is of value to you and others involved in this conflict. I will be honest: If this is of value to us, you and the Russians, in terms of Slavic unity; if you think that Belarussians could play a role and offer any help we can, then let us know – we are prepared to consider any requests.”
“We need to take any steps necessary to ensure that the war ends and this territory begins reintegration into Ukraine,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “I would do anything for this. Holding elections [in the territories not controlled by Ukraine]? Why not. Yes, the people there who are fighting for their piece of land, their family, as they say, need to be given guarantees. People need actions that would bring the desired peace and results. Forget all sorts of formulas [reference to the ‘Steinmeier formula,’ which calls for granting special status to the self-proclaimed republics – Trans.]. Sit down in Ukraine and invite those who want peace, including the Belarussians. We three Slavic nations must resolve this conflict, because it is our [common] home.”
On the possibility of war between Belarus and Ukraine.
Journalists asked whether it’s possible that Belarussian troops would ever incur into Ukrainian territory as part of a joint operation with Russia. “Troops can only appear there when ordered by the commander in chief. I have stated my position on the war in eastern Ukraine, except for certain nuances. As for participating in military operations so that you get [your soldiers] shipped back in coffins from [Belarus] – what kind of a president would I be? Don’t expect such dirty tricks from us. We cannot be the enemies of your people. And our entire leadership, including me as president who has a thousand times more authority than your president, would never go for that. Russia and Belarus do not have a common army. The Union State [of Russia and Belarus] has a joint armed forces grouping in the west that is staffed by the Belarussian Army of 75,000 troops. We are reducing it, perhaps bringing it down to 50,000. That is enough for us. The most important thing [is for us to have] weapons and mobility so that we can carry out defense operations on the territory of Belarus. God forbid, of course.”
“Russia does not need us to get involved in a fight. I am absolutely convinced that Russia would never go so far as to conquer Ukraine. Unless, of course, you start a war,” Lukashenko responded.
On the meeting between Zelensky and Trump.
“You say it was a heated day at the UN. [It was] a typical day. I have been in politics for a long time and have been to the UN often. It was a regular day, but you [journalists] made it heated. And in a good way. And the meeting between [Ukrainian President] Vladimir Zelensky and [US President] Donald Trump, in my view, was [organized] very well and smartly. But the UN has dozens of such hot spots that you create, except that they get less attention. Now these telephone conversations are fueling conspiracy theories. In short, it was two presidents getting to know each other face to face. In my opinion, it went well. They liked each other.”
On closing the Belarussian-Ukrainian border.
Belarus closed the border with Ukraine to prevent weapons from getting in, not people: “Decent Ukrainians will never have a problem crossing the Belarussian border. We had to reinforce our border primarily because of the weapons flowing into our country. Recently, there was [weapons] trafficking between Ukraine and Lithuania. Belarussians were involved and we stopped such weapons trafficking. It was customs officers who helped, actually, not border guards.”
On the Crimea.
When asked by a Ukrainian journalist whether Russia will return the Crimea to Ukraine, the Belarussian president said: “I don’t think so. I believe the Russian president when he says that the matter is closed for good. The careful and calm [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov says the same thing, along with the entire [Russian] leadership. A consensus has been formed in Russian society – there is no issue on which Russians support the authorities more than on the Crimea. There is no power that could force Russia to do that (return the Crimea). It is now Russian territory; that is how they see it. And I don’t think anything can be done about it. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. I don’t know what it would take to get Russia to give up the Crimea voluntarily.”
On the unification of Russia and Belarus as a means for Putin to remain in power.
“You know, it’s somehow too petty to just unite Belarus with Russia to extend [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] rule. Russia is a huge, powerful and rich country. If they really want to extend the rule of a single person***they will find a dozen various options.*** But I also know that President Putin has not made it his goal to retain power at any cost.
Drop all this apprehension and all this idle talk. It’s all naïve. It’s not for big politics – it’s only good as media fodder. But that is not [an option] for Putin or for myself, since we are talking about the long term and the existence of the Belarussian state.”
On relations with the West.
Belarus is not going to make an anti-Russian pact with the West: “That is our position. We alone are going to determine the nature of our relationship with Russia and China on one hand, and the EU and the US on the other. No American [officials] have ever take offense at that, not even high-ranking ones. On the contrary, many beat me to the punch in negotiations and publicly stated that Belarus will not be forced to choose; they want to use [Belarus] in the name of peace and stability in Eastern Europe, and they want to see a sovereign and independent Belarus.” . . .
Author: Antonova, Atasuntsev et al.
Kiev Approves Steinmeier Formula
KIEV ASKS FOR INTEGRITY FOR A HUNDRED YEARS. (By Yelizaveta Antonova and Aleksandr Atasuntsev. RBC Daily, Sept. 24, 2019, p. 6. Condensed text:) . . . Ukrainian presidential aide Andrei Yermak told the Levy bereg [Left Bank] publication about an initiative to sign a large-scale international treaty protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We have an idea, which is now being floated at various talks, that the settlement of the [conflict] situation [in eastern Ukraine] would culminate with the signing of a sweeping international treaty involving all the biggest players***who would for years – and even better, for centuries – secure our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Yermak said.
According to Yermak, the US, Great Britain, Germany, France and China must be party to the agreement. He didn’t specify whether Russia would be included in the list of participants.
[Ukrainian President] Vladimir Zelensky’s aide commented that he thinks the opening of offices of international organizations in Ukraine should be a necessary element of guaranteeing compliance with the treaty, “since we already have the experience of taking major steps under defunct documents and guarantees since gaining independence.”
“The question is: What would we put into this agreement? As a lawyer, whenever I negotiated an agreement, I would always look at clauses that would give me the opportunity to assert my rights, including in court,” Yermak said, noting that the document should stipulate consequences for noncompliance with the agreement.
Former Ukrainian president-turned-oppositionist Pyotr Poroshenko commented on the statement. “Now they are saying we need a powerful comprehensive security system; an agreement that would reliably protect Ukraine’s interests. There were two reliable security agreements: the North Atlantic Treaty and the Warsaw Pact,” Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.
“The treaty [that would protect the interests of Ukraine] is called NATO. Sign it and join it – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” the ex-president commented.
Yermak was unavailable for comment on Monday [Sept. 23]; he flew with Zelensky to the US to attend the UN General Assembly session.
Zelensky’s team is trying to take a creative approach to the text of the package of measures to implement the Minsk agreements [for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine; see Vol. 66, No. 37-38, pp. 3‑6, and Vol. 67, No. 7, pp. 3‑7 – Trans.], said Oleg Ignatov, deputy director of the Center for Political Conditions. “A literal reading of the document does not sit well with Kiev, because it requires Kiev to permanently establish a special status for the Donetsk Basin in the Constitution of Ukraine. In this regard, ideas are raised from time to time about various roundabout maneuvers like international agreements that would consolidate the parties’ obligations to satisfy all the other negotiating parties and at the same time allow Ukraine to drop the subject of a constitutional amendment,” he explained. However, that proposal is not supported by the “Normandy Four.”
Expanding the existing [negotiating] formats is immaterial, Ukrainian political analyst Vladimir Fesenko believes. “Negotiations are getting hung up not on whether the US should participate there – it already is, unofficially – but on Moscow’s insistence that the law on special status be enshrined in the Ukrainian Constitution,” he said.
Vladimir Zelensky and members of his administration have advocated expanding the “Normandy format” before. For example, on July 8, the Ukrainian president invited [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to meet in Minsk along with the US, Great Britain, Germany and France. Commenting on Zelensky’s proposal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the existing international format for negotiations on Ukraine (i.e., the Normandy Four, which includes Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France) “has already been agreed upon and has a chance to achieve progress under the new conditions, and it’s important not to scatter attention.”
Commenting on Yermak’s statement for RBC, Maria Zakharova, official spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that no one is discussing a new format.
The first concrete steps in a long time toward implementing the Minsk agreements were expected last week. The Trilateral Contact Group for the settlement of the situation in eastern Ukraine met in Minsk on Sept. 18 [see Vol. 71, No. 38, pp. 3‑5]. Representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the self-proclaimed Donetsk Basin republics were supposed to hash out two fundamental issues: a schedule for the phased withdrawal of troops in southeastern Ukraine, as well as a common wording of the “Steinmeier formula,” which proposes that the law on special status of the Donetsk Basin take effect after elections in the region that are recognized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as honest and free.
However, Kiev refused to sign the formula at the very last moment, despite preliminary agreements.
In addition to the idea of a new international treaty, Yermak said that Kiev “will never allow the federalization of Ukraine.” He also said that, “if we take the Minsk agreements, [Kiev] would not have signed them in this form” and “the special status of the DPR/LPR [Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics] is not a subject of negotiations either in Minsk or in the Normandy format.”
He did not specify whether Russia would be included in the list of participants. “Andrei Yermak’s proposal is not feasible; moreover, it does not solve the disagreement at the center of the Minsk agreements: the issue of including the status of the Donetsk Basin in the Ukrainian Constitution,” Ukrainian political analyst Vadim Karasyov commented. “The Minsk agreements are also a treaty, and they were signed and put to a vote in the UN Security Council, although they do not contain security guarantees for Ukraine,” the expert said.
Russia will most likely continue to insist on compliance with this already signed treaty, and so will France and Germany, Karasyov believes. “Minsk remains the legal venue for resolving the conflict in the Donetsk Basin,” Karasyov added.
Author: Vladimir Frolov
MACRON IS ‘OURS’ – BUT DOES RUSSIA NEED HIM?By Vladimir Frolov. The Moscow Times, Nov. 14, 2019
In a sort of bizarre political relay race, French President Emmanuel Macron has taken the baton from [Russian] President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump to become the main destabilizing force in Europe and the destroyer of the Western world order.
Last week, Macron gave an interview to the British weekly The Economist that had experts all aflutter over his remark that we are currently experiencing the brain death of NATO.
According to famed French political scientist Bruno Tertrais, this marks an escalation in the rhetoric of the French leader, who told a close circle of associates two weeks ago that NATO will cease to exist in five years. What’s more, even as NATO prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding at a summit in London on Dec. 3-4, Macron publicly voiced doubts as to the effectiveness of the security guarantees found in Art. 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, saying he doesn’t know what Art. 5 will mean tomorrow.
And one week before that, Macron vetoed the European Council’s decision to start negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia on joining the EU, singlehandedly putting a halt to the process of EU expansion that had continued unabated for the past 25 years. Macron’s interview with The Economist, along with his keynote address at a meeting of French ambassadors, provides the fullest picture of his strategic vision for the geopolitical roles of Europe, France and, oddly enough, Russia, in the modern world.
Agent of change.
Macron focused on Europe’s need to achieve geopolitical autonomy in the face of deepening global competition with the US and China, and the growing strength of authoritarian powers in the European neighborhood – i.e., Russia and Turkey.
Macron has a keen sense of the shifts occurring in the global geopolitical landscape. He wants to lead the changes happening in Europe by disrupting the status quo and acting as an agent of change to ensure France’s leadership amidst new conditions.
For the French president, the main shift is the US’s strategic return to isolationist and mercantilist policies of national populism – a trend that began under Barack Obama, peaked under Donald Trump and that Macron expects will continue no matter who is elected president in 2020.
He speaks with a certain admiration for Trump and Putin as leaders who pursue only the national interests of the countries in their region without advancing a global agenda for all of humanity. [Macron] would like to do the same on behalf of Europe. He cites the turmoil surrounding Brexit and the political stagnation in Germany to justify his intellectual claim to EU leadership. This return to Gaullism applies not only to France, but also to the entire EU. However, it remains unclear whether other EU countries are willing to pay for it.
Russian observers, meanwhile, are struck by how closely Macron’s views on European security and world order coincide with those that Putin has espoused ever since his speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007 [see Vol. 59, No. 7, p. 6].
Macron as Putin.
Macron shares many of Putin’s views concerning US policy in Europe and the Middle East. Like Putin, he blames Europe’s migration problem on the misguided US policy of regime change during the “Arab Spring.”
Macron shows solidarity with Putin’s feeling of being offended by Western actions after the end of the cold war. The French president argues that NATO was created to counter the threat posed by the Warsaw Pact, despite the fact that the former was established in 1949 and the latter only took shape in 1955. He stated that NATO continues to view the containment of Russia as its primary strategic objective and has expanded right up to Russia’s borders, leaving that country without a security zone and violating the terms of the deal reached in 1990. And, he said, “when NATO got as far as Ukraine, Putin decided to stop that expansion.”*
*[Sic; Macron said: “They tried to go as far as Ukraine, and he wanted to put a stop to it.” – Trans.]
Macron also said that Putin considers the EU a vassal of the US and sees EU expansion as a Trojan horse for NATO’s expansion. The French leader is essentially parroting Putin’s words, which is perhaps the result of his confidential conversations with the Russian president in St. Petersburg in May 2018 and at Fort de Brégançon in August 2019 [see Vol. 71, No. 34, pp. 3‑7], and leaves no doubt that he believes this view is justified and worthy of consideration.
The French leader essentially recognized Russia’s right to veto the West’s actions in a zone of privileged interests in the post-Soviet space, thereby denying the post-Soviet states the right to their own political identities.
This is like a dream come true for Russia’s foreign policy efforts of the past five years. If Putin were still working in foreign intelligence, he could have unhesitatingly written a report after Macron’s recent comments, claiming success in “communicating ideas to the French president that were advantageous to Russia – understandings that then became the foundation of that country’s foreign policy strategy.”
Macron’s call for “strengthening Europe’s strategic autonomy” and overcoming its security dependence on the US also plays into Russia’s long-term interests. Moscow has been trying to decouple Europe from the US ever since the cold war. Now, Trump’s mercantilist policies are making it a reality. Trump is essentially telling Europe, “You must pay us more to ensure your security, including by buying everything American-made.” Macron says that France did not sign up for this. He is looking to step in if Washington voluntarily abdicates its role as the provider of European security.
Macron emphasized that Europe cannot achieve economic or technological sovereignty without first achieving military sovereignty. He also sees NATO as playing no role whatsoever in the issues of greatest importance to France: the Middle East, the terrorist threat in Africa, and migration flows in the Mediterranean. In effect, Macron proposes replacing the US as Europe’s security guarantor against Russia with Russia as the guarantor of Europe’s security against threats from the south.
Moscow is not yet sold.
Of course, Macron’s thoughts about Russia’s geopolitical choice and his analysis of Russian policy are somewhat naïve. It is an oversimplification to conclude, as Macron does, that Russia could not be an independent center of power in the long-term due to its excessive military spending and the growing number of conflicts in which Moscow would have to become involved. In reality, Russia has a very diverse range of opportunities: It avoids excessive obligations and, since 2016, its military spending in real terms has fallen to the acceptable level of less than 3% of gross domestic product.
It is apparently difficult for Macron to imagine that Russia’s ruling elite see rapprochement with Europe as a greater threat to their ability to retain power than an unspoken and unequal alliance with China. Macron sees Moscow’s current anti-European, conservative discourse as a necessary reaction without understanding its usefulness for the ruling elite. Emphasizing Russia’s European character enables Macron to semantically avoid the taint of colonial discourse characteristic of other Western leaders, but it gives him no influence over Russian politics.
Russia would in theory benefit from playing along with Macron and working with him to squeeze the US out of Europe, strengthening Europe as a center of power independent of the US, and strengthening Europe’s military and technological sovereignty from the US and China.
Three things stand in the way, however. First, the Kremlin is skeptical of Macron himself, whom it views as a political lightweight who cannot back up his eloquent words with actions. Second, Russia believes it stands to gain more from the EU’s further weakening or even disintegration (which eliminates a strategic threat) than from the stronger EU sought by Macron. And third, there is a new consideration: China. Macron and others would present any rapprochement between Russia and Europe as Moscow’s cunning ruse to withdraw from its alliance with Beijing. That could put Russia in an uncomfortable position with its strategic neighbor.
Moscow will also exercise restraint in its dealings with Macron in the knowledge that his ideas will most likely find no support from other European allies, primarily Germany and the East European countries, despite Macron’s claims that he is working with [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already stated that she does not agree with Macron’s broad generalizations about the brain death of NATO.
Of course, Macron is ours, but is that enough for Russia’s policies to triumph in Europe?