Russian Media Analysis Report
Issue 4, November 17, 2021 PDF Version
1. Putin speech discusses Western relations
In a wide-ranging November 18, 2021, speech to the expanded meeting of the Foreign Ministry Board, Russian president Vladimir Putin discusses Russia's relations with the West. He notes the continued importance of the Ukraine situation, Western “indulgence” of Ukraine and “provocations,” Western disregard of Russian red lines, and a two-step Russian approach that includes both the continuation of tensions and efforts to secure long-term security guarantees for Russia. He further discusses the situation in Belarus and challenges in Russia's relations with the EU, NATO, and the United States.
2. NATO activities in Black Sea region threaten Russia
A large percentage of Russian coverage of US and NATO activities during the reporting period concerns NATO's military activities in the Black Sea region. This includes several statements from senior Russian officials expressing concern about rising tensions in the region. Commentators on the situation highlight the role of US and Ukrainian domestic politics, as well as alliance-building and reassurance efforts on the part of the United States.
3. Tensions in Donbas and Western aid to Ukraine
Russian media continue to focus on Western responses to the situation in the Donbas, generally minimizing the scale and significance of Russian troop movements to the region. Coverage is primarily concerned with Western statements and characterizations of Russian military actions, particularly recent intelligence that suggests Russia could plan to invade Ukraine by early 2022. Other articles argue that Ukrainian president Zelensky is stoking tensions to inflate approval ratings, and discuss Western military aid to Kiev.
4. Migrant crisis in Belarus brings mixed reaction
The ongoing political crisis on the Belarusian border with Poland has attracted considerable attention from many Russian writers. Many of the articles published in recent weeks have been largely descriptive and seeking to follow the dynamics of the developing situation. Yet some articles have taken an analytical frame, asking what the crisis means for relations with the West, as well as the potential for the crisis to turn into a situation of genuine conflict.
5. New Polish defense legislation and the migrant crisis
Several Russian commentators touch on military developments in Poland in recent weeks, largely prompted by new Polish legislation on military doctrine. This “Law of the Defense of the Fatherland” is seen as a major statement on the side of Poland towards a military buildup and modernization program aimed at Russia that involves a massive increase in the size of the Polish army. Russian observers also continue to follow the ongoing crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border and the hard line taken by Polish authorities towards border crossings.
6. Western responses to Russian ASAT test
More than a dozen articles cover Russia's November 15 test of a direct-ascent antisatellite (ASAT) weapon as well as the subsequent reactions from the West. According to the United States, the test, which targeted Russia's own “Tselina-D” satellite, created more than 1,500 pieces of space debris that pose risk of severe damage to spacecraft and astronauts. The bulk of the response in the Russian press downplays any potential deleterious effects that the test may have caused, and highlights hypocrisy in the United States' response, which characterized the test as “dangerous and irresponsible.”
7. Broad Russian perspectives on Russia-NATO relations
Two articles provide broad Russian analytical community perspectives on NATO-Russian relations. An article in Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie analyzes Russia's relations with NATO through the prism of the concept of “sharp power” and argues that one successful example was the shuttering for a time of undetermined duration its mission to NATO and NATO representation in Moscow. An article in Voenno-promyshlennyy kur'er discusses future threats to “Russian sovereignty and territorial integrity” from the West.
8. Karaganov interviewed about great power politics
The November 10 Voenno-promyshlennyy kur'er offers its readers a lengthy and wide-ranging interview with Sergey Karaganov—the head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at Moscow's Higher School of Economics—on the ongoing process of the loss of Western global influence, great power politics, and Russia's emerging ideological foundation.
9. Speculation about reasons for Burns' Moscow visit
Several articles discuss the possible reasons for the November 2-3 visit to Moscow of CIA director Bill Burns. Aleksandr Staver posits that the visit was primarily to “save the US image” and discusses a long list of potential agenda items. Vladimir Vasilyev argues that Burns is President Biden's personal emissary on sensitive diplomatic issues during a time when the United States “has been forced toward a strategy and tactic of historical retreat” and discusses diverging narratives in US media concerning reasons for the visit.
10. Shoigu and Lavrov meet with French counterparts
The November 15 issue of the Ministry of Defense (MOD) newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda highlights the November 12 visit of Russian defense minister Sergey Shoigu along with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to France for dialogue with their French counterparts in the 2+2 format focused on regional security, strategic stability, and other issues. The paper provides quotes from Shoigu and Lavrov offering concerns about the escalation in the security environment.
11. Dimensions of Arctic contestation
Russian commentators have focused on military infrastructure in the Arctic in recent weeks. One point of interest is the growing base known as the “Arctic Trefoil,” situated on Alexandra Land in the Franz Josef Land archipelago. One article suggests that this base was becoming a site of increasing concern for the US Arctic planners. Another piece provides a broader overview of the potential for the Arctic to be a region of military competition and contention.
12. Transfer to India of S-400 missiles will not lead to sanctions
Two recent articles discuss the politics surrounding the transfer of Russian S-400 missiles to India. The first notes that the transfer of equipment is proceeding according to the timetable laid out in the 2018 sales agreement, even though the US continues to be unhappy about the deal. The second highlights the likelihood that India would not be subject to punishments typically inflicted on countries that buy Russian arms, arguing that the proposal is the result of a belief in Washington that sanctions would damage the development of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) coalition that the United States is building to counter China.