Russian Media Analysis, Issue 10, February 25, 2022

Here are the abstracts from the latest issue of our Russian Media Analysis newsletter. You can also download the full text PDF version.

This newsletter covers developments up to February 21, 2022. Russian media discussions of Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics on February 21, 2022, as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, will be covered in the following issue.

1. HIGHLIGHTS OF PUTIN SPEECH

The key points of Vladimir Putin’s speech on February 21 include the following: Ukraine is preparing for a conflict with Western military support. Ukraine will seek to create nuclear weapons, or potentially get Western assistance to do so. Ukraine joining NATO is just a matter of time. Ukraine in NATO is a “direct threat to Russian security.” The US and NATO have sought not only to arm and train but also to integrate Ukraine’s military. These actions present a threat to Russia. NATO military bases are already present in Ukraine. Previous rounds of NATO expansion have not led to an improvement in relations with Russia, as the West has promised. Russia has unsuccessfully sought to cooperate with the West in various formats. Instead, the West has “cheated” and NATO infrastructure is now on Russia’s doorstep. US missile defense and strike capabilities are expanding and will pose a threat to Russia from Ukrainian territory. The West has “ignored” Russian proposals to resolve the current situation and this will have consequences.

2. PERCEPTION OF US GOALS IN THE CRISIS

Several articles discuss Russian perceptions of what the United States is looking to achieve in the current confrontation between the West and Russia. They focus on US domestic problems and fears of a loss of world domination as reasons that Washington is provoking a confrontation with Russia. They also suggest that the current confrontation is just the culmination of a long-term US plan to weaken Russia. They also argue that the US feels that Russia has little to offer in the way of potential concessions to end the crisis.

3. RUSSIAN GOALS IN THE CONFRONTATION

Several articles discuss Russian goals in the confrontation with the West and what Russia has achieved. Unlike Western analysts, who tend to focus on efforts to stop NATO enlargement or reorient Ukraine, Russian analysts address possibilities such as averting a new European missile crisis or forcing Ukraine to carry out the Minsk agreements. Russian achievements during the confrontation including bringing the US and its European allies to the negotiating table on major security issues, while negative consequences include reinforcing Western unity and creating a more negative perception of Russia in the West.

4. THE CONSEQUENCES OF WAR AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

Two authors discuss the potentially dangerous consequences for Russia of a war in Ukraine, while several offer possible solutions to the crisis. Writing from opposing perspectives, a conservative commentator and a liberal former FSB general agree that Russia is not prepared for war in Ukraine and for confrontation with the West. Possible solutions to the crisis focus primarily on the possibility of a neutral Ukraine, though some propose a broader array of confidence-building measures to reduce the extent of confrontation in Europe as a whole.

5. IMPLICATIONS OF US AND EUROPEAN SANCTIONS

Numerous articles in the Russian press discuss and even dismiss the potential implications of US efforts to impose sanctions on Russia. In Gazeta.ru, Anatoliy Akulov analyzes the challenges of US consensus-building among European actors to sanction Nordstream 2. In Topwar.ru, Aleksandr Staver critiques US targeted sanctions against Russia, arguing that they in essence view the children of Russian investors in the UK as hostages. In Izvestiya, Mariya Vasil’eva focuses on the sanctions’ potential impact on the Russian embassies abroad, arms exports, and electronics, among others. In Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kur’er (VPK), Vladimir Eranosyan writes about the challenges that the US faces in making good on its threat to disconnect Russia from SWIFT as well as about the INSTEX system created in the wake of Iran’s disconnect from SWIFT. Finally, in another article in VPK, Vitaliy Orlov writes about how Russia could transition away from the use of the US dollar for exports of Russian armaments abroad.

6. WESTERN FORCE DEPLOYMENTS GARNER RUSSIAN ATTENTION

As the crisis between Ukraine and Russia heats up, Russian authors have been quick to point out new military deployments by Western powers in the region. American deployments to Poland and Slovakia have been of interest, as well as UK support elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Overall, the articles view these deployments as ominous, but also par for the course given the bellicose trajectory of interstate relations in recent months.

7. UKRAINE ARMS FOR WAR

Many articles in the Russian press are reviewing current political and military tensions surrounding Ukraine. Taking a variety of tacks, articles largely focus on the state of the Ukrainian military and its support by Western powers. They encompass details about military equipment and technology transfers, discuss the broader abilities of the Ukrainian armed forces, and launch critical broadsides against Ukraine’s perceived bellicose position relative to Russia and the separatist republics.

8. BELARUS AIDS IN RUSSIA’S MILITARY BUILDUP

Cooperation between Russia and Belarus are a point of interest for several observers, especially as tensions continue to ratchet up with neighboring Ukraine. Belarus and Russia are jointly undertaking combined-arms military exercises in the form of “Union Resolve – 2022,” which some view as a further step away from any putative neutrality by Belarus. Others noted that Belarus has taken a hard line vis-à-vis Ukraine in terms of public declarations of support for Russia’s side, which is a shift from previous years. Finally, a military doctrine for the Russo-Belarusian Union State has been recently approved, which has further underlined the considerable alignment between the two countries.

9. TURKEY AS A MEDIATOR FOR THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CONFLICT

An Izvestiya article interviews Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, who discusses Ankara’s offer to mediate the Russia-Ukraine crisis. While Turkey claims that it is “the only country” that can meet both Russia and Ukraine halfway to find resolution, the ambassador has doubts of Turkey’s impartiality, noting its “well-known military-technical ties with Ukraine.” Moreover, the ambassador suggests that Ankara may not adequately understand the extent of Russia’s grievances. He states, “If our Turkish partners can influence the Ukrainians and encourage them to fulfill the previously-made [Minsk] agreements and obligations, this can be welcomed.”

10. SIVKOV CAUTIONS US ABOUT NUCLEAR WAR

In VPK, Russian commentator Konstantin Sivkov extrapolates from what he alleges to have been a statement made by Gen. David Goldfein about “three steps to destroy Russia.” He concludes that a nuclear conflict between the US and Russia would be fatal for both Russia and the United States—and lead to the dominance of other states in the international system. This, he notes, should force “global and US elites to think—should they free up a “place in the sun” for others?”

11. PERSPECTIVES ON INFORMATION WARFARE

In a February 11 article in Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie (NVO), Yuriy Yur’ev writes about the concept of information warfare as a “component part of hybrid warfare” and traces the evolution of US information warfare concepts, arguing that Russia has lost the initiative to its opponents in this area. In Krasnaya Zvezda, Oleg Martynov discusses the creation in Poland of a cyber defense force. This article traces the evolution of US and NATO concepts in the cyber domain and posits that NATO has long “viewed the cyber sphere as a domain for military action.”

12. NEXUS OF CRIMINALS AND TERRORISTS IN HYBRID WARS AND COLOR REVOLUTIONS

In VPK, Konstantin Strigunov focuses on the nexus of criminal and terrorist groups as a potential globalization trend that weakens state governments. He argues that criminal, terrorist, and other groups are also utilized in “non-classical wars” such as hybrid wars and color revolutions.

13. US EXERCISES AND WEAPONS SYSTEMS

VPK and Kommersant discuss US and allied exercises and weapons systems. In Kommersant, Marianna Belen’kaya discusses Western reactions to the Russo-Belarusian Allied Resolve 2022 exercises and Russian commentators’ perspectives on military activities in the region. In VPK, authors discuss US presence in the Mediterranean for the Neptune Strike-2022 exercises, the testing of the joint air-to-ground missile, and US ballistic and cruise missile programs.

14. CHINESE-RUSSIAN STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP

Several articles reported on the meetings between presidents Putin and Xi on the sidelines of the Beijing Winter Olympics: the leaders declared that there were no limits to their strategic partnership; they vowed to counter instances of foreign interference in internal affairs; and Beijing announced that it joins Putin in opposing further NATO expansion. While some articles gloat at these new developments, others are more cautious—noting drawbacks and inequities in the alliance in the context of the Ukraine conflict. Another article argues that the US is trying to use Ukraine to drive a wedge between China and Russia.

15. KURIL ISLANDS DEVELOPMENTS; RUSSIAN-JAPANESE RELATIONS

Several articles report on an alleged US Virginia-class submarine incident that occurred near the Kuril Islands on February 12, which the Russian Ministry of Defense characterized as “a gross violation of international law.” According to reports, the submarine entered Russian territorial waters during a planned Russian military exercise, ignored warning messages instructing the vessel to surface, and was chased away by a Russian frigate. Other articles discuss the Japanese-Russian territorial dispute surrounding the South Kuril Islands, and how potential anti-Russian sanctions from Tokyo might affect the bilateral relationship.

16. IRAN NUCLEAR NEGOTIATIONS

Two articles discuss the US decision to reintroduce sanction waivers to Iran in hopes of reviving the nuclear negotiations. In an interview, the Russian Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna notes that this step “should have been taken long ago” but welcomes the decision. A different article questions whether this is enough to save the Iran deal, noting Tehran’s lack of enthusiasm in response to the waivers, and the lack of trust that a diplomatic resolution would be upheld by future US administrations.