Media Roundup: Russia’s humanitarian convoy to Ukraine, Medvedev’s hacked Twitter account and Putin’s Crimea speech were the three events in the media spotlight this week.

Russia's humanitarian convoy to Ukraine. Photo: RIA Novosti

This week, the Russian media wrote primarily about three events: the humanitarian convoy travelling from Russia to Donetsk, the “Crimea Speech” of Vladimir Putin, and the hacking of Prime Minister Medvedev’s Twitter account.

Russia’s humanitarian convoy

The delivery of humanitarian aid from Russia to the Donbas Region became a real epic saga and created a stir in the Western media. The Russian convoy of 280 Kamaz trucks, some Western journalists quite openly, and some with veiled hinting, compared with the notorious “Trojan Horse” of Greek mythology. Meanwhile, the Russian media kept promoting its own information agenda: In this situation, the “good guy” was Russia, and the “bad guys” were Ukraine and any Western countries that were trying to block a good deed.

Thus, the pro-government newspapers Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Izvestia emphasized the positive momentum coming from this Russian humanitarian initiative. Rossiyskaya Gazeta focused on the negative role of Kiev. One author, Pyotr Likhomanov, expressed his opinion that Ukraine was impeding the arrival of humanitarian aid, which is so needed by the population of Southeast Ukraine. 

“This is probably the first time in world history when the movement of a convoy with food and medicine has been treated as equivalent to an act of aggression,” the author wrote. He emphasized that “hysteria in Kiev government offices” is being fanned by “experts,” who fear that, under the auspices of the UN and OSCE, weapons may be brought onto the territory of Ukraine. “One gets the impression that Ukrainian border guards see a camouflaged howitzer even in a lawn mower.”

A separate mention should be made about an article in Izvestia, in which the famous Russian writer and social activist Eduard Limonov, in a philosophical spirit, notes how positive this move really is, and how cynical are those who are trying to find a “concealed compartment.”

“A great national move, to gain a moral advantage over the Kiev authorities, who are blowing militant revolutionary nationalist bubbles, while bloodily destroying all living things in the Donbas,” he wrote.

Even Kommersant, usually quite detached from political preferences, showed subtle sympathy for the Russian campaign. In particular, the correspondent Elena Chernenko collected a range of facts, opinions and quotes to make the Western reaction to the provision of humanitarian aid from Russia appear in a rather unattractive light.

“Meanwhile, the fact that Moscow was proposing to send Russian humanitarian aid to Ukraine, under the auspices of the ICRC, was announced during an Emergency Meeting of the UN Security Council on August 6 by Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin,” she stressed. “On August 9, Kiev announced it was opposed to the idea, saying that such a mission could exacerbate tensions in the Donbas. At that time, leaders of the United States, Great Britain and Germany announced that the southeast of Ukraine did not need any additional humanitarian assistance, as appropriate efforts were already being made in the region (they did not say by whom). Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the position of these three countries “blatant cynicism.”

In another article, Kommersant reporter Angelina Shunina seems to have also selected facts and quotes to present Moscow in a more favorable light. The author notes that Russia “asks the UN to convince Kiev authorities to accept Russian aid,” while in Kiev they “argue that in the southeast of the country there are no humanitarian problems, but only ‘problems of terrorism’, and Western countries accuse Moscow of escalating the conflict.”

A very interesting opinion was published on the pages of the liberal opposition paper Slon by Alexander Baunov. In a quite lengthy article, he emphasizes that this humanitarian campaign is extremely important, and if Ukraine wants to beat Russia politically, it would be wise to support it.

“It may be well worthwhile to accept this convoy, to inspect it for hidden Hoplites, and send it straight into the jaws of the enemy, to the walls of Donetsk and Lugansk, to the municipal authorities. In the end, there are no weapons there, just like in the Turkish water convoy – this is not what it was organized for, and hungry residents without electricity and water do really exist,” he noted.

The opposition Echo of Moscow, in an article by its columnist Anton Orekh, criticizes the very campaign, viewing it as pure pathos, stressing that Russia was responsible for the violence in the southeast of Ukraine in the first place.

“The sending of 280 Kamaz trucks with humanitarian aid to southeast Ukraine – is the same as first robbing, then stabbing, and then sitting beside a hospital bed and caringly giving a drink of water to the victim,” he writes. “It is like hitting a person on the head with a club, and then putting his head sympathetically onto one’s jacket and asking whether he was feeling dizzy.”

Putin’s Crimea speech

In 2007 in Munich, Putin delivered a speech that became a turning point in Russia’s future position in the international arena. Putin’s Crimean speech on August 14 cannot compare with it in scope and importance, but it certainly sends a very clear signal to the outside world: Russia will continue striving to remain a modern and open country, but it will not take kindly to being offended. At least, that was what some Russian media drew from the message of the Russian president.

At the same time, the liberal opposition press (Slon, Echo of Moscow, Snob, Novaya Gazeta, Vedomosti) paid much more attention to this speech than the pro-government media - Rossiyskaya GazetaIzvestia, Channel OneLife - which limited themselves to more or less a detailed retelling of Putin’s speech, without making any commentary. This was the same approach taken by Kommersant reporter Viktoria Sergeeva.

The opposition was clearly disappointed. They say Vladimir Putin did not say anything interesting: “A wonderful speech – the excitement, the traditional delay, fortune telling onlookers taking about the news: War? Peace? Repression? Thaw?” writes the author of Slon Ivan Davydov. “Parliamentarians waiting in a stuffy room, a ban on TV broadcasting. And in the end – nothing. Boring emptiness and a plea to the audience to go swimming in the sea.”

Olga Prosvirova of Novaya Gazeta noted that “Putin’s speech disappointed people with its repetitions” and that “people were expecting a lot from Putin’s speech, given the constant informational stuffing and ever growing attention to this subject, but the president had decided not to surprise anyone.”

In the same prickly manner reacted the newspaper Vedomosti.

“Peacefulness and streamlining of Putin’s speeches yesterday and at the July meeting of the Security Council indicate the continuation of the old game: Instability in the southeast of Ukraine remains an asset of the Kremlin, which it demands a high price for. The sanctions imposed by the West and Russia have not yet changed the Kremlin’s estimates of its resources to conduct such a policy,” Vedomosti noted in the editorial piece of the publication.

Snob responded to the president’s speech vert originally: The editors presented the speech in a theses format, and for each point made an acid-tongued comment or a tweet from some representative of the Russian liberal opposition. However, in general, the attitude of the publication to this event can be seen in the comments written by Valery Fedotov, who also voiced a similar opinion: “Putin’s speech in Crimea was strange. A brief retelling of famous theses, instead of announcing some new ‘rich content’. Plus, there was a 4-hour delay, absence of real-time news coverage, and the last minute cancellation of a live broadcast. One got the feeling that they urgently re-wrote the speech while the deputies were waiting in the hall.”

Dmitry Bykov at Echo of Moscow did not stop at the speech itself, but also criticized the idea of holding such events in Crimea.

“One needs to go to Crimea to relax, write, paint, make love, and not to hold solemn State Assemblies in the presence of top officials,” he wrote. 

Bykov’s colleague at Echo of Moscow, Anton Khaschenko, however, does not hide his bewilderment over the disappointment of the opposition: “Were some expecting that war would start on August 14? Naive people. Who would dare to turn up on the peninsula to announce something new? Or perhaps some quite seriously thought that Russia would act like an aggressor? It is time that people understood, we are a strong people, but very polite. And we are not the first to jump into a fight.”

Right about that time when President Vladimir Putin took the floor in Crimea, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's Twitter account was hacked. Photo: RIA Novosti

Medvedev’s Twitter account hacked

Russian media reacted ambiguously to the hacking of the Prime Minister’s account on Twitter.

This event caused the biggest controversy in the liberal opposition media (Slon, Echo of Moscow, and The Village).

A writer at Slon, Ivan Davydov, sees this as a conspiracy, a dark side and a lack of taste “in the hacking of the Twitter account of Prime Minister Medvedev by unknown people, but quite possibly, well-wishers in uniform. During about fifty minutes, there came a promise to resign in shame for the actions of the government and a few tasteless jokes.”

A columnist of Echo of Moscow Anton Orekh sincerely sympathized with the Prime Minister, noting that Medvedev is one of the few representatives of the Russian elite who would really like to innovate and bring change to Russia. However, in the present circumstances, his initiatives are often the subjects of endless jokes, especially from the conservative part of the ruling class.

“And I can well imagine how being in Crimea, Putin was told about the unfortunate Medvedev’s Twitter account, and the Sovereign poked fun at him, saying, well, I warned you what would happen if you keep playing with your toy phones. And the old goats nodded, yup, these Facebooks and Twitters – are a disease, they were all invented in America, and it is best to close down this shop, before they sniff out and hack some secrets.”

And The Village (a liberal online publication) collected a large and very interesting selection of reactions in the Russian blogosphere, giving readers a chance to look at the situation from different perspectives. There are also opinions out there like, “Well, now the government has a real precedent that can justify the complete blockage of Twitter and Facebook” and, “Currently Medvedev is receiving 600 retweets per minute. And all it took was changing the style of running his account.” One even noted, “Here we have a complete career failure: to crack into Medvedev’s account, and make just as bad jokes as he does.”

Interestingly, the “official” media responded strictly by protocol or made no comment on the situation. “Some unknown people have hacked the Twitter page of Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev. The most recent blog posts do not correspond to reality,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta told its readers.

“Some unknown people have hacked the microblog on Twitter of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. This information was confirmed to Itar-Tass by the government’s press service,” was practically quoted word for word by Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Izvestia. It seems like there is nothing to talk about here, so they hacked the account, so what? Channel One had nothing at all to say about this.