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.
In The News:
BRICS Russia-Belarus Relations Russia-China Relations Kissinger Dixit More Reactions to Macron's Interview With The Economist Putin's Trust Rating Russia-UK Relations Alcohol Consumption In Russia News In Brief: Russia-France Relations; Russia-UAE Relations
Putin: The BRICS Nations Must Show More Initiative In Taking The Lead At The UN
Speaking at the meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined the priorities of Russia’s BRICS presidency in 2020 and invited the member states’ leaders to the next summit in Russia.
Putin said: “… I completely agree with President Bolsonaro’s praise of the work done by BRICS. Over the past 10 years, BRICS has achieved serious results and has gained a reputation as a respected association…
“Colleagues, as mentioned, starting on January 1, 2020, Russia will chair BRICS. This is why I would like to talk about Russia’s main approaches to the further development of cooperation…
“Russia’s motto for its BRICS presidency will be BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Common Security and Innovative Growth. We plan to hold around 150 events at different levels. Apart from the key event, the BRICS Summit in St Petersburg, there will be many meetings, forums and sessions in Chelyabinsk and other Russian cities…
“It appears that the BRICS nations must show more initiative in taking the lead at the UN. We must more actively and persistently promote a positive international agenda by uniting around us like-minded nations to jointly solve key global and regional problems…
“As you are aware, next year marks the 75th anniversary of the Second World War and the establishment of the United Nations Organization, and our countries could consider the possibility of drafting a joint statement on these landmark events. It is important to condemn attempts to glorify the Nazis and also to firmly stand up for a world order based on international law and the United Nations Charter.
“Regarding economic cooperation between the BRICS member countries, during Russia’s chairmanship, we plan to suggest that the group of five economies work together to update the Strategy for BRICS Partnership in Trade and Investment that was approved at the 2015 BRICS Summit in Russia. Indeed, the implementation of this strategy has had a positive impact on economic cooperation between the BRICS member countries in many areas, however, it is time to review and update this document and set new objectives for developing cooperation between various sectors in the BRICS economies for the next five-year period, that is, through 2025.
“The main objective of cooperation between the BRICS member countries, as we see it, is to deliver real benefits for people and help improve living standards and the quality of life.”
(Kremlin.ru, November 14, 2019)
Putin: The Ruble Can Serve As An Additional Means Of Payment Between Our Countries
Putin and other BRICS leaders met with members of the BRICS Business Council and the management of the New Development Bank. Putin used the opportunity to press for more trade in national currencies rather than the dollar:
“… I would like to propose increasing the share of BRICS national currencies in project financing as my recommendation for the bank’s further work. This would not only add weight to our currencies as an alternative for international payments in the global economy, but also help to avoid additional risks and expenses in mutual payments.
“And, of course, we welcome the plans of the New Development Bank to attract ruble loans on the Russian financial market. This measure fully corresponds with the interests of Russian borrowers too, and the preparations for issuing the first ruble loan have already begun in cooperation with the Russian Finance Ministry and the Bank of Russia.
“In this context, I would like to remind everyone that the Russian currency, the ruble, can easily be converted into any currency of the world. Given the stable macroeconomic situation in Russia, the ruble can serve as an additional means of payment between our countries and it fully meets all these requirements…”
(Kremlin.ru, November 14, 2019)
Putin: This Year BRICS Has Surpassed The G7 In Terms Of GDP PPP By 12 Percent
The President answered Russian journalists’ questions following the BRICS summit in Brasilia.
Question: “I have a question about BRICS. It is believed that the role of BRICS is not clear in the context of the increasing global polarization, and that people think about BRICS only when its leaders come together for their summits. On the other hand, the Western media write that BRICS is not merely an economic but a geopolitical alliance.
“Do you think that BRICS can play a big part in international affairs and increase its influence on international developments, or it is not what BRICS should do? What interesting initiatives will we see during Russia’s presidency of the group?”
Putin: “I do not agree that people think about BRICS only during its summits…
“As for increasing its influence, we are not pushing it or trying to turn the group into a closed alliance. However, the role of BRICS will definitely increase in the context of global changes.
“Colleagues, I invite you to take a look at the economy. Just look at the figures. This year BRICS has surpassed the G7 in terms of GDP PPP by 12 percent, I believe. And next year we will have $50 trillion more than the G7 countries.
“Is there anyone who does not see this? It is a very real and substantial factor of international affairs, and it will continue to grow.”
Putin: ‘Some Of The BRICS Countries Are Also Involved In The EAEU’
Question: “Mr President, continuing on the topic of BRICS and Russia’s presidency next year, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that Russia may actually host a summit of this association in an extended format with the participation of CIS countries and major regional actors. What do you think about the significance of such a format for top-level officials and the value of this meeting here in Russia?”
Putin: “As concerns its value, we can rightfully regard Russia as one of the founders of this organization. Everything started here, in St Petersburg, when we suggested having a trilateral meeting between the President of Russia (yours truly at the time), Prime Minister of India and the President of China. This is how ‘RIC’ came about. It was later joined by Brazil and South Africa, thus making it a ‘BRICS’ that was also ultimately formed in Russia. Therefore, we take this organization very seriously. I have just expressed my opinion about it.
“As for inviting other countries, outreach is a common practice. We plan to invite both regional economic organizations – primarily, the EAEU (the Eurasian Economic Union) – and the CIS. Remember that some of the BRICS countries are also involved in the EAEU; therefore, it will be an absolutely natural meeting of the partners in another organization, if not BRICS. The discussion will be open to all the parties and every issue to be discussed will be of interest to everybody invited to the event.
“On top of that, we believe it is important that – as, I think, I already mentioned this at the meeting with our partners and yesterday at the meeting with the business community – it was Russia that initiated adopting the BRICS Development Strategy until 2025. Considering the rapidly changing situation in the world, we think it is time to update this economic development strategy, which will also be one of our proposals.”
Putin: Each Of The BRICS Countries Has Its Full Sovereignty And Independently Determines Its Development Priorities And Partners
Question: “Your agenda also includes a meeting with the President of Brazil. However, we could not help but notice the current Brazilian leadership’s lack of interest in developing relations with Russia. Our political dialogue is slowing down; there are hardly any new projects in trade and the economy while the old ones have lost momentum. Is it possible to change this situation, especially considering that Brazil is clearly seeking closer relations with the United States? Do our two countries have a common ground for advancing our relations?”
Putin: “I do not think that there is any lack of interest in each other right now, be it from Brazil towards Russia or the other way around. We have not picked up on it. Yes, as you know, there is a new leader in the country, a new president who has been in office for only a year. This job takes time to get some perspective and set your priorities. This is the first point.
“Second, under BRICS, we have never committed to working exclusively with each other. BRICS is not a self-contained closed organization. Each of the countries has its full sovereignty and independently determines its development priorities and partners. Needless to say, the United States as a global power and a power located in the Americas is obviously an interesting partner for Brazil. This is completely natural.
“As concerns our relations, they are developing and doing so rather successfully, in my opinion. Russia continues to remain an attractive partner for Brazil when it comes to agriculture and especially the supplies of Brazilian meat to our market. On our part, we also offer a variety of goods, including fertilisers that Brazil needs for its agriculture, at competitive prices and of very high quality. There are other areas of mutual interest as well…”
Putin: If We Include China In The Negotiations With Russia And The United States To Ban Medium And Short-Range Missiles – Then Why Only China?
Question: “You had a meeting with the Chinese leader on the sidelines of the summit. Could you please tell us how it went? What were the main topics, and did you discuss trade wars? What does Mr Xi Jinping think about the possibility of concluding a tripartite agreement with Russia and the United States to ban medium and short-range missiles? And in general, did you discuss arms control issues at the summit?”
Putin: “I will start with the last question about Mr Xi Jinping’s attitude toward concluding any agreements: that is something you should ask him, naturally. I know his position, as we have discussed this, but I repeat again: the right way to go about this would be to contact him directly.
“We know the position of the People’s Republic of China on this matter from the Chinese Foreign Ministry representative. They believe that at this stage, that country’s nuclear missile potential is far behind that of Russia or the United States, the two leading nuclear powers in the world in this sense. This is why the Chinese leadership believes time has not yet come for China to take part in these negotiations.
“Now, this is what I think. First of all, this is true – Russia and the US are the largest nuclear missile powers in the world. Secondly, if we include China – then why only China? Let us also invite France and the UK, as well as several other countries not actually officially recognized as nuclear powers, while everyone in the world knows, and they don’t hide it, that they are. After all, it is impossible to imagine a situation where some countries will reduce their potentials, while others will increase them uncontrollably. This is a difficult question; it is not only about our Chinese friends’ stance, but of a broader nature.
“As for the issues that we discussed, it was the entire scope of our bilateral relations, primarily trade and economic matters. You know that we even slightly exceeded our previous targets, or rather accelerated our plans, reaching $100 billion in trade earlier than planned: we recorded $108 billion last year.
“Our next target is $200 billion, and it is an absolutely realistic figure. We are working on this, not as some abstract number, but in pragmatic terms: our respective departments are now preparing a joint action plan to determine how soon we can reach $200 billion in mutual trade.
“And of course, we have large joint projects that we are working on in fields such as space exploration, nuclear energy, the aircraft industry and others. We have a good outlook in high-tech industries.
“Everything is going according to plan, and we are keeping it under control.”
Putin: India Is A Sovereign State That Values Its Sovereignty; Despite External Pressure, India Stands By Its Obligations – Just Like Russia
Question: “You held talks with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi. Could you tell us if you discussed supplies of Russian arms and military equipment – specifically, the S-400 missile systems? Did Prime Minister Modi ask you to expedite the supplies? And overall, what do you think of the military-technical cooperation between Russia and India?”
Putin: “Our military-technical cooperation with India is at a very high level and I think that it is a very important aspect of our relations. However, our dialogue recently has been increasingly focused on cooperation in civilian areas. There is much that needs to be done and we think that the potential of this cooperation is not fully realized yet.
“Our trade with India is worth $11 billion. This is not enough for economies like Russia and India, especially since India under Mr Modi is demonstrating very fast economic growth. They are succeeding in many areas and making very important, though not so simple at a first glance, decisions that are necessary for the economy.
“Developing rapidly, India is a very promising partner for us, especially because we have absolutely no issues that would sour our relations. It has always been like this by tradition and remains the same. I hope our bilateral relations will be as friendly in the future.
“As concerns the S-400 supplies, everything is going according to plan. My Indian colleague did not ask for the supplies to be expedited. Everything is normal.
“India has 1.350 billion people and maybe even more. It is a sovereign state that values its sovereignty. We see that, despite any external pressure, India stands by its obligations – just like Russia. We will develop our cooperation further, including in the areas that are considered high-tech arms.”
(Kremlin.ru, November 14, 2019)
Belarus president Aleksander Lukashenko spoke of the “furious tension” in relations with Russia. Belarus, he explained, refuses to sign the roadmap to unity with Russia until economic issues are resolved. Why was there a need for unity, wondered Lukashenko, when Russia was constantly slipping in new conditions to the agreement?
Putin’s press secretary Peskov replied: “We as before consistently depart from the position that in the case at hand the mutual benefit of this union, the mutual benefit of a federal state is rock solid.
(Ria.ru, November 18, 2019)
Lukashenko said that Belarus did not want to be a freeloader, but each year it was losing 9 billion dollars. “These sums must be earned in the Russian market, but they are constructing barriers to us,” Lukashenko complained.
Lukashenko announced his refusal to sign any of the roadmap documents for closer integration “Not a single one of the documents will be signed it if conflicts with the constitution and the fundamental principles of life in our society, and the main principles are independence and sovereignty.”
(Rbc.ru, November 17, 2019)
Interviewed by Mk.ru, Vladimir Zharkhina, director of the Institute of CIS countries, warned that Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko was exhausting Moscow’s patience. Zharkhina said: “He wants to receive from us energy resources at a cut-rate price and at the same time not recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia and not recognizing Crimea.”
“He has to understand that it is impossible to live in an unfinished home. It is consciously unfinished. Do you know why there are so many unfinished houses in the Moscow area? It is because you do not have to pay taxes on an unfinished home. If we are talking about intergovernmental relation, it is necessary to conclude an inter-governmental agreement with obligations and not only rights and benefits. If it is a federal state it must have a national framework, common customs duties, and a common tax space.”
(Mk.ru, November 19, 2019)
The Russian press noticed an article that appeared in the Chinese internet portal Sohu that enumerated four Russian weak points:
- Low population density with 140 million people on 1,707 million square kilometers ‘that hardly befitted the status of a world power.’
- Russia’s nationality problem: While 80% of the population was Russia the country had 194 nationalities that made it hard to govern.
- The weakest point was the single direction economy and the weak economic growth.
- The last point was the difficult international situation that found Russia under US and East European pressure.
(Rbc.ru, November 18, 2019)
On November 14, at an event hosted by the National Committee on US China Relations in New York, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said that the US has an equal rival: China.
On his popular show, Vesti Nedeli, on state-owned Russian television channel Russia 1, Russian TV anchor Dmitry Kiselev, commented on Kissinger’s statement.
Kiselev said: “Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, the patriarch of world diplomacy, expressed a thought that was unexpected for many Americans. The US can longer be considered an exceptional country. It now has an equal rival, China.” He then added: “Yes, China is powerful, and for the US, unexpectedly different. It’s a different model of civilization that is growing faster than those who considered themselves the first until now. China is doing what turned out to be impossible to continue in the USSR. They are confidently building socialism with their own specific features, while honoring their former leaders.”
On November 7, the Economist published a lengthy interview with French President Emmanuel Macron, part of which was devoted Russia’s role in the world arena.
During a meeting at the Diplomatic School graduates and university students in Yerevan, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov commented on Macron’s statement:
Question: “President of France Emmanuel Macron has recently called for revitalizing the European Union, and in particular, for reopening dialogue between Brussels and Moscow. What do you think about the possibility of change and transformation in this connection?”
Lavrov: “This is an important matter. We have never initiated any deterioration, complication or even the slightest setback in relations between Russia and the EU. The current abnormal situation resulted from the EU actively supporting the state coup in Ukraine, which was inspired from across the ocean, as everyone knows now, and which took place the very next day after France, Germany and Poland witnessed the signing of an agreement between President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition…
“At long last, after much whispering about what they want but are prohibited from doing, we have heard a responsible and clear statement made by President of France Emmanuel Macron. He has spoken plainly and bluntly. He did not do this to please the Russian people or the Russian authorities – we have good relations as it is. He himself explained the main reason for his initiative on normalizing relations with Russia: otherwise Europe will become much less competitive in the very complicated modern world.
“Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron had a very detailed and trust-based conversation at Brégançon in late August. They discussed some fundamental issues deeply, openly and honestly. After that, President Macron formulated his new vision at the ambassadors’ conference. He also talked a lot about Russia in an interview with The Economist.
“He said that Russia may follow any of the three development scenarios: becoming a superpower with reliance on its internal potential, which is unlikely, in his opinion; focusing on Eurasian cooperation, which would put Russia under China’s pressure or excessive influence; or building constructive relations with the EU, which he sees as the only realistic choice.
“We are all for it. However, the resumption of relations with the EU does not mean that we will stop cooperating with our Eurasian partners, including China. Overall, I believe that it was a very positive statement…”
(Mid.ru, November 11, 2019)
Global Risks For Eurasia In 2020
On November 11-12, 2019, Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, hosted the fifth annual meeting of the Astana Club. The meeting, dedicated to the topic “Greater Eurasia: On the Way to New Architecture of Global Cooperation”, was organized by the Institute of World Economics and Politics of the N. Nazarbayev Foundation.
One of the panels was dedicated to the world order:
“GLOBAL (DIS)ORDER: WHO WILL WRITE THE HISTORY OF TOMORROW?
“Exactly 30 years ago, in November 1989, the world was closely watching the fall of the Berlin Wall, which separated the entire world community into two halves. The fall of the wall symbolized the end in the split of the international system. The Cold War was to remain history that would never happen again. All nations were thought to unite around the liberal world order.
“After 30 years, we see a completely different picture. The liberal world order has been collapsing very rapidly. Even the U.S., once a guarantor and chief architect of the liberal world order, lost faith in it. Cracks have formed throughout the whole structure of the existing world system.
“A hybrid standoff in the Washington-Beijing-Moscow triangle has already led to the destruction of the rules in the field of nuclear security. Protectionism, confrontation between key powers, permanent sanctions, trade wars, defrosting of hot spots and the emergence of new war zones have become a new reality. Points of opposition around the perimeter of Eurasia are exceedingly multiplying. Even Europe, which until recently has been considered a stronghold of stability and prosperity, is shaking from internal division and the growth of populism. Against this backdrop, humanity cannot ignore one of the most significant challenges of the XXI century — climate change, which can push all cross-country differences aside.”
Putin’s Trust Rating
24% of the Russians feel sympathy or admiration for Putin as opposed to 32% in 2017. Still his job rating has climbed to 70% 32% feel positively towards Putin, 30% have nothing bad to say about him and 15% regard him indifferently. Actual antipathy is felt by 6% of those surveyed a Levada Center poll.
(Rbc.ru, November 18, 2019)
Putin’s ratings correspond to those of 2011 prior to the protests and were negatively impacted by a fall in living standards, a sense of stagnation, the absence of prospects for the future, and the (unpopular) pension reform (Lenta.ru, November 18, 2019)
The director of the Second European department in the foreign ministry, Sergey Belayev, warned the leaders of Russian business that after Brexit is implemented their companies could encounter tougher sanctions.
“We would like to draw the attention of the captains of domestic industry to the announcements of official British personages regarding London’s intention after Brexit to coordinate its sanctions policy with regard to Russia with both the US and the EU.” Belayev said that such talk in the House of Commons had caused surprise particularly as Britain would be exposed to an economic chain reaction following Brexit, and British sanctions would draw retaliatory Russian ones.
(Rbc.ru, November 18, 2019)
Alcohol Consumption In Russia
The deputy chair of the Duma Committee for Safeguarding Health, Natalia Salina, announced the Duma’s support for an initiative by the All-Russian National Front to curtail the time interval when alcohol is sold and concluding sales by 10 pm.
“Everything that takes place after 10 pm of course requires control. I, as a doctor, side with reducing alcoholic consumption in the strictest form, especially in those quantities customary in Russia. In any case, this will only be for the good. Young people have to understand that alcohol and cigarette consumption is not stylish.” (Gazeta.ru, November 18, 2019)