Russia Update: Moscow Lashes Out at Obama’s State of the Union Remarks on Ukraine

January 21, 2015
Larry Downing—Pool/Getty Images

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here, and see also our Russia This Week story The Guild War – How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists? and special features ‘Managed Spring’: How Moscow Parted Easily with the ‘Novorossiya’ Leaders, Putin ‘The Imperialist’ A Runner-Up For Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ and It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy, It’s Putin.

Russians lashed out at President Obama’s State of the Union address which spoke of leaving the Russian economy “in tatters.”

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Russian Spy Ship in Havana as US Arrives for Talks with Cuba

ABC reports:

On Tuesday, however, just as the Americans were due to arrive for big
talks with Cuban officials — the first such high-level talks held in
Cuba since the Carter administration — the ship with reportedly 200
sailors on board was moored.

The radars did not appear to be active — none of them were spinning
around — but the ship’s arrival has many wondering whether it’s a
coincidence or intentional intrigue.

UPI indicates that the US is not overly concerned with this development:

Russian intelligence warship Viktor Leonov CCB-175 has docked in Havana on
Tuesday, one day ahead of the first official diplomatic negotiations
between the United States and Cuba.

The ship’s presence was not officially announced by Cuba, but U.S. defense officials said it’s not alarming.

There is a crew of about 200 in the intelligence ship that was first put into service in 1988. The ship also made unannounced docks in last February and March in Havana.

President Barack Obama has moved to end some sanctions against Cuba in recent weeks, including the ban on American travel there. Now talks will begin on ending the 50-year trade embargo.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Soldier Permyakov Pleads Guilty to Murder of Armenian Family in Gyumri

Translation: Russian soldier Permyakov pleaded guilty in the case of the murder of the Avetisyan family in the Armenian town of Gyumri.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russia Lashes Back at Obama’s SOTU Remarks on Ukraine

President Barack Obama gave the annual State of the Union address last night. In the section on foreign policy, he said:

First, we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists — from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris. We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.

He then mentioned Ukraine:

Second, we are demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy. We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.

That’s how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.

The remarks disappointed some who were hoping for more concrete indications of how Ukraine would be helped.

Nevertheless, while they may have seemed tepid to some in the US, Obama’s remarks triggered an angry response from Russia, Reuters reported:

“The Americans have
taken the course of confrontation and do not assess their own steps
critically at all,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news

“Yesterday’s speech by President Obama shows that at the center of the
(U.S.) philosophy is only one thing: ‘We are number one and everyone
else has to recognize that’ … It shows that the United States wants
all the same to dominate the world and not merely be first among

phase would pass, Lavrov said, but added that it would take time for
U.S. thinking on its foreign policy to become less aggressive.

“I would prefer all countries to adopt the philosophy of cooperation, not ‘diktat’,” he said.

In a method often used by the Kremlin since the Soviet era, Lavrov compared events in his region with problems in the US:

Lavrov drew a
parallel between the “Maidan” protests in Kiev that culminated in the
overthrow last year of Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich as president, and
violence in the U.S. town of Ferguson over a court decision that fueled
racial tensions.

He quoted Obama as saying that destroying property in rioting was criminal and should be prosecuted.

“No one in the West said anything similar about what was
happening on the Maidan. No one. And buildings and people were set
ablaze,” he said, accusing the West of reverting to double standards.

Lavrov failed to mention that a hundred demonstrators were killed by government troops before discredited president Viktor Yanukovych fled when it was revealed he had given orders to fire on the crowd. Then Russian-backed rebels took over hundreds of government buildings in the Donbass following the forcible annexation of the Crimea in February last year.

Obama’s speech also drew commentary from Russian conservatives:

Translation: Obama announced that the Russian economy is “torn into tatters” thanks to the USA. It’s like “Tuzik tore up a rag.”

Tuzik is a common name for Russian dogs.