Russian media roundup: This week the Russian media paid close attention to a controversial draft law in the Russian State Duma and new law signed by the President of Ukraine.


Igor Sechin, the head of Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, is deemed one of the most influential oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Reuters

This week the Russian media focused on two different laws that many say are a direct response to the crisis in Ukraine: the first being the so-called "Rotenberg Law" designed to protect financial assets from sanctions and the other being the adoption of a law on political purges in Ukraine. In terms of foreign policy events, the media turned its attention to the protests in Hong Kong.

Who needs the Rotenberg Law and why?

Ever since Oct. 8, which saw the first reading of the draft law on compensating Russian citizens affected by foreign laws and sanctions, there has been tense debate and speculation over who needs this law and why. The opposition media (the Echo of Moscow radio station, Slon) and the business press (Vedomosti, Kommersant) have sharply criticized the bill. At the same time, the pro-government media have said almost nothing about the bill, probably trying not to deal with such a sensitive and controversial topic.

The business and opposition press dubbed the bill the "Rotenberg Law," alluding to the conception that it only would benefit oligarchs affected by European and American sanctions like Arkady Rotenberg, one of the most influential businessmen in Russia, and his billionaire brother Boris Rotenberg. 

Lawyer Alexey Yelayev came up with a piece for the Echo of Moscow radio station in which he thoroughly analyzed the bill and made his conclusion.

"What, in the end, did the State Duma pass?" he writes. "A confusing law with obscure budget spending that is obviously not based on anything. Journalists have dubbed it the ‘Rotenberg Law.’ Will it help Rotenberg with his Italian property [it was frozen on Sept. 23 by the Italian authorities Editor's note]? No, it won't. The Russian courts, even by today's Russian laws, do not have jurisdiction over these kinds of cases."

Yelayev believes that the Rotenberg Law will only help its authors – Russian Duma members and the powers that be – but "certainly not the majority of the population of our country… but who has ever worried about them?"

Likewise, lawyer Dmitry Gololobov believes only oligarchs would benefit from the law.

"And the more we are told that the law will compensate residents of Crimea and Sevastopol, who are 'victims' of the Ukrainian court system, the more we believe that the law will be passed in order to save the villas of the oligarchs," he comments for Slon magazine. "Although we all know that it would be easier for any oligarch to insure foreign assets from possible confiscations, or just receive his compensation in the form of a lucrative government contract. They don't have to embarrass themselves by telling a Russian court how many villas they lost or how much they suffered from it."

Anton Orekh, columnist for Echo of Moscow, believes that this law conflicts with international law.

"This law is directly in conflict with international standards and our obligations," he writes. "However, after Crimea, it is unlikely that this would bother anyone. This law would allow the state to pay a ‘Rotenberg’ any amount, because it will not only compensate for actual losses, but also for possible loss of profits."

Andrei Babitsky, contributor for Vedomosti, believes that the law creates an environment for fraud, and ordinary taxpayers will foot the bill.

"Cash compensation of lost assets and weakened profits legitimize nationalization, increase redistribution and create incentives for fraud," he said. "The minister is right. Russian taxpayers are already taking on too much risk."

Kommersant quotes the Minister of Economic Development Alexei Ulyukayev, who spoke out against the bill. According to the newspaper, in April, the Economic Development Ministry issued a negative opinion of the bill, but did not act at the new stage of the document.

"According to Ulyukayev, there are serious problems with Russia's international obligations and international law in the bill," writes Kommersant.

Ukraine’s law on political purging

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko. Photo: Reuters

A law on political purging that was signed by the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko this week caught the eye of the Russian media. The law was passed on Sept. 16 by the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and should come into effect on Friday, Oct. 10.

As noted on the official website of the President of Ukraine, the law defines the legal and organizational framework for checking civil servants and other people of that rank, as well as representatives of local government. The purpose of the law is to "restore confidence in the government and build a new system in line with European standards."

On this topic, both the pro-government media (Channel One) and opposition (Slon) agree that they see nothing positive in this law., which aims for a balanced approach, and the independent Kommersant both negatively assess the law.

Slon writer Maxim Vikhrov emphasizes that the law is a manifestation of populism. "It is clear that the political elite are engaged in a serious struggle, and the fate of the fugitive president's team is sure to be bleak," he writes. "The problem is that this fight is going on behind the scenes of public policy, according to rules that hardly correspond with legal and traditional ideas of justice. Therefore, from the outside it looks as if the new government entered into an agreement with the old one and is putting on the brakes, and all the talk of retaliation and purging are populist gimmicks."

Vladimir Dergachov of notes that "the purging will extend to all the leading enemies of Euromaidan," such as employees of the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor's Office, the Security Council of Ukraine (SBU), as well as the investigators and inspectors who conducted the investigation and immediate action "against members of the civil protests and events from February 25, 2010 to February 22, 2014."

Dergachov also quoted the Ukrainian expert Vadim Karasev, "If the law is strictly upheld, Ukraine simply may not have enough staff, and the state apparatus could be permanently destroyed."

Alexei Korneyev of Kommersant conducted an interview with political analyst Valery Korovin who points out the incompleteness of the law.

"Poroshenko should prepare himself a personal dumpster that is comfortable, with exclusive living conditions, because he will be the first who, in fact, will fall under this law, despite the fact that he believes he has protected himself, by excluding the presidency from the scope of this law," he says.

At the same time Korovin warns that in the future, "Bandera radicals" will come "for Poroshenko himself" because the Ukrainian president, according to him, ideally meets all the criteria stipulated in the law on political purging.

"He is an oligarch, he is a bureaucrat, he worked in the Yanukovych government, he was there during the Soviet period, he doesn't satisfy the demands of the people, he displays his assets and is clearly prepared to leave Ukraine if he finds himself in danger," says Korovin.   

Channel One notes that those who wrote the bill cannot be prosecuted under it, even though many of them held positions in the government under Yanukovych.

"It's interesting that the law doesn't apply to Poroshenko himself, although he worked in the government all through 2012," said a commentator on the channel's website. "The beginning of massive government layoffs was announced before the bill was signed. According to rough estimates, about one million people could be affected by the law."

Protests in Hong Kong: The beginning of an Asian spring?

Protests in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

The Russian press began to speculate about the events in Hong Kong last week. This week the topic again ranked high in the Russian media. No consensus has emerged on this issue probably because, in many ways, the situation is viewed through different prisms: political, ideological and economic.

The business newspaper Vedomosti examines the events in Hong Kong from an ideological and political point of view.

"The subject of mass protests is extremely painful for Beijing not only because of its association with the uprising in Tiananmen Square," they wrote in an editorial. "Beijing harshly suppresses separatist actions, fearing a string of bids for autonomy, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet."

At the same time, Vedomosti cites the opinion of Alexander Lomanov of the Far East Institute, who believes that it is incorrect to compare what is happening in Hong Kong to Tiananmen.

"The political systems are too different, as are the mindsets of the bourgeois residents of Hong Kong and mainland China," wrote the editors of Vedomosti, citing Lomanov. "On the other hand, Hong Kong is an important example of the way a ‘one country, two systems’ model can function. According to this formula, proposed back in the day by Deng Xiaoping, China was able to incorporate Hong Kong and Macau. The model was proposed after negotiations with Taiwan had been ongoing for more than a decade."

An article in the business publication RBC speculates on the forces leading the social protest.

"Led by two professors and a Baptist pastor, Occupy is not so much a movement as an idea of ​​civil disobedience," it reads. "Finding support among radical democrats, the idea... drew tens of thousands of supporters of various social groups into the streets.”

The opposition site Slon ponders the consequences of events in Hong Kong for the global and regional economy.

"Hong Kong is among the richest in Asia: Its prosperity is not in the future, but in the present," notes Slon writer Alexander Baunov. "Hong Kongers think that China is living off their prosperity, and they are fighting to preserve it. In fact, Hong Kong needs to make the almost unbearable choice between democracy and prosperity."

Baunov believes that Hong Kong's main economic competitors are the authoritarian metropolises of China and Southeast Asia.

"If the struggle for political freedom and the rights of workers in Hong Kong goes too far, international business, which largely holds on to Hong Kong out of nostalgia, may cynically prefer calmer and less capricious financial centers," warns Baunov.  

An analyst of Russia in Global Affairs, Yuri Tavrovsky, sees the hand of the West in the events.

"Can we trace a foreign trail in the preparation of the second act of the color revolution? Yes," he claims, referring to data that shows the American National Democratic Institute financed the development of civic consciousness among the population and "especially students" in Hong Kong (to the tune of $460,000 in 2012).