Weekly Media Roundup: The historic NATO Summit in Wales, France’s decision to suspend delivery of Mistrals and the “Putin Plan” for peace in Ukraine dominated Russian media headlines this week.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, speaks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen as they participate in a round table meeting of the North Atlantic Council during a NATO summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales on September 5. Photo: AP

This week, the Russian media paid the greatest attention to the NATO Summit in Wales, France’s decision to suspend delivery of Mistral-class ships to Russia, and the Ukraine peace initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The NATO summit in Wales

The meeting of NATO leaders in Wales also attracted the attention of the Russian press. Journalists from both the pro-government media (Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Channel One) as well as from the opposition publications (Novaya Gazeta and Nezavisimaya Gazeta) emphasize that, within NATO ranks, there is great internal discord. The Russian media also believe that the NATO alliance is seeking a return of the Cold War and is looking for threats where none exist.

Alexander Mineev of Novaya Gazeta gives his assessment of the summit, stressing that its goal is not the resolution of the situation in Ukraine, but rather, the creation of a new global development concept, including issues of cooperation with Russia, which will never be the same again.

“Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine have violated the most fundamental principles of European security, which have developed over the last 20 years,” Novaya Gazeta learned from one NATO representative.

At the summit in Wales, they are not discussing the resolution of a particular crisis, but the revision of the long-term strategy of NATO’s relations with Russia. That is, even if the Ukrainian crisis is resolved, relations with Russia will no longer be those that had been developed over the two decades preceding the new tensions.”

Meanwhile, Andrey Baykov at Nezavisimaya Gazeta wonders whether NATO – “an organization with a bloc style of thinking, seasoned by the experience of the Cold War,” as he describes it – “will be able to re-create itself, moving its thinking not within the paradigm of collective defense, but in terms of collective security?”

“Over the last 23 years, this task has proven to be beyond its abilities,” he said. “However, the longer this task is put off, the dimmer become prospects for a lasting peace in Europe. NATO and European peace are incompatible.”

A journalist of Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Yevgeny Shestakov, noted that, “The events in Ukraine have given Washington a chance to stir up its slumbering team that relaxed during peacetime and place it under the gun, forcing it to respond to alleged threats from Russia.”

He also emphasized that within NATO ranks, there is no agreement on supplying military arms to Ukraine. He refers to the “experts,” according to which “Western Europe, led by France and Germany, consider it inappropriate to provide military assistance to Kiev,” while Lithuanian President Grybauskaite is “demanding that the alliance send tanks and planes to Ukraine.”

Channel One also emphasizes that NATO is only increasing tension and starting a new round of confrontation in the spirit of the Cold War.

“Today in Wales they are discussing Ukraine at the NATO Summit, which this year is taking place under what is being privately called in narrow circles – the threat from Moscow. This format was characteristic during most of the last century, when the agenda did not include, for example, Iraq and Afghanistan in their current state,” says the correspondent of the TV channel, pointing out that Western Europe does not want “new NATO members” at its expense, to be solving their problems and creating new centers of tension in Europe.

According to the correspondent, “Many are concerned that curtailing cooperation with Russia will lead to cessation of the joint struggle against terrorism and international crime.”

Putin’s peace plan

The peace plan for Ukraine proposed by Vladimir Putin did not meet with much approval in the Russian press. More attention was paid to this event by the opposition media – Novaya Gazeta, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, and Slon. All of these publications consider that this initiative will not lead to peace. Pro-government media (Izvestia and Rossiyskaya Gazeta) support the plan.

“Putin announced conditions, which if they are not fulfilled, will only lead to war. However, even in fulfilling the seven proposed points, means only the temporarily freezing, but not a resolution of the conflict,” commented Nezavisimaya Gazeta in its editorial section.

A commentator for Novaya Gazeta, Pavel Felgenhauer, believes that, “The plan is right for all parties in this conflict,” and that it “may become the basis for a durable truce in Ukraine” – but he nonetheless sees little prospect for its implementation.

“Thus it will be necessary to pray that the beginning of Ukrainian national consolidation does not succeed, and that after the currently sought armistice, we will not be faced with forty million insulted and angry people, who will have powerful allies and a high-tech army that may quickly destroy Novorossiya,” he believes.

Irina Solomonova at Slon has gathered some reactions of the foreign press to this initiative, noting that, “In the West, as expected, they do not believe that the Kremlin will give up on Ukraine.”

Expert Sergey Stankevich wrote in Izvestia that “Putin’s Plan” compares favorably with the “Poroshenko Plan” – he believes that the Russian President’s proposal “will not allow any adventurers to disrupt the truce by unauthorized attacks, which would provoke the resumption of war.”

Stankevich believes that “an important new aspect in this plan is the joint efforts of the parties to repair the most critical infrastructure – on the eve of the approaching winter, this is an absolute priority.”

The expert criticizes the “Poroshenko Plan,” which, according to the expert, proposes as a condition of peace the unilateral disarmament of all rebel forces in the southeastern part of the country.

“This makes the whole plan unrealizable, because none of the rebels will wish to surrender to the dubious mercy and hard power infiltration [of Kiev],” he writes.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes approvingly about the peace initiative, citing the views of prominent Russian politicians, as well as the words of Sergey Lavrov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry: “Vladimir Putin’s initiative is aimed at helping Kiev and the southeast coordinate the necessary steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.”

France suspends delivery of the Mistrals

The Russian public never fully believed that France could really refuse to properly perform its obligations to supply the Mistrals. Nevertheless, this happened and the Russian mass media reacted unequivocally: Such actions by France are unacceptable and clearly demonstrate how dependent today’s Europe is on the United States.

It should be noted that the decision of France was condemned not only by pro-Kremlin media sources (Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Channel One), but also by the opposition press (Echo of Moscow and Nezavisimaya Gazeta). The business newspaper Kommersant also disapproved of this turn of events.

Echo of Moscow responded by publishing a sharply critical article by Maria Zakharova, Deputy Director of Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“Into the American furnace of political ambitions, France has cast its reputation as a reliable partner that respects its contractual obligations,” she writes. “Where have those days gone, when Paris would not cave in to the pressure from America, for example, on Iraq? And as a result, the country was able to save face. Today... France has fallen. It is a good thing that de Gaulle did not live to this shameful day.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta also emphasizes that the question of the Mistrals delivery is a concern within France itself: “The possible cancellation of the contract, the opponents of such a move emphasize, will undermine the reputation of France as a trading partner and complicate the situation of workers in the shipbuilding industry.”

Ivan Safronov, Pavel Tarasenko, Alena Miklashevskaya at Kommersant, noted expert opinions on this issue, in particular, the views of the Russian political scientist Dmitry Polikanov.

“France has had unprecedented pressure placed on it by the United States and other allies in the North Atlantic bloc,” with the result that it was nevertheless “forced, against its own interests, to take such an inadequate step,” he said. 

Viacheslav Prokofiev of Rossiyskaya Gazeta suggests that the influence of the United States on France in this matter is fully unambiguous.

“Thus, we see that the strong pressure exerted on Paris by Washington and other NATO allies has had its effect,” he noted, also citing the opinion of a French expert, who believes that the French decision may be due to the internal situation within the nation – mainly the low public opinion ratings of the French president.

Hollande, according to the expert interviewed by Rossiyskaya Gazeta, seems to be trying to divert public attention from internal problems in France.

Channel One focuses on the mixed reaction in French society. The TV channel noted that, “The leaders of most [French] political parties have unanimously condemned” the actions of Hollande, and called this move a mistake.

Arguments that the journalists noted can be summed up in the following way: The suspension of Mistrals delivery will undermine trust between Moscow and Paris. Moreover, the “country can lose up to 10 billion euros – this is the large amount of penalties, according to the experts, which France will have to pay to Moscow,” and that the reputation of “France as reliable trading partner” may be questioned in the future.