Media Roundup: The elections in Ukraine, which will almost certainly change the dynamic of the ongoing Ukraine crisis, was front-and-center in the Russian media this week.
People holding a Ukrainian flag pose for a photo in Kiev's Independence Square, Ukraine, Thursday, Oct. 23. Photo: AP
The elections to Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, scheduled for Oct. 26, provoked a debate in the ranks of Russian media commentators. They discussed which parties will likely gain seats after the election, as well as what the prospects were for the Ukrainian parliament after what has been a fractious and often controversial campaign season.
In focusing on the two other main events of the week – the tragic death of Total President Christophe de Margerie in Moscow and the terrorist attack in Canada – the Russian media concurred on just two points: the plane crash at Vnukovo will damage Russia’s image and the terrorist attack in Canada is the result of the West’s unwillingness to tackle terrorism jointly with other partners.
Previewing the elections to Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada
Within Russia, pro-government publications (Izvestiya, Rossiyskaya Gazeta) generally believe that the new Ukrainian parliament will be even more corrupt than the present incarnation, while the opposition media has been internally split on what the final outcome might hold.
Izvestia gave the floor to Alexander Zinchenko, leader of the Popular Front in Novorossiya: “The high priest and symbol of the impending witches’ sabbath is Oleg Lyashko – a ‘political prostitute’ with two convictions, zero conscience, and even less intelligence.”
Zinchenko also noted that the oligarchs of Ukrainian politics have not and will not disappear: “The new Rada will face the wrath of the masses when they glimpse the true face of those entering parliament and understand who they're linked to. They'll realize their votes were manipulated by the oligarchs’ latest bevy of stooges.”
Petr Likhomanov of Rossiyskaya Gazeta interviewed one of the leaders of the unrecognized confederation of Novorossiya, Oleg Tsarev, who also believes that after the elections, the situation regarding the legitimacy and transparency of the authorities will only worsen: “The people are new, though by no means all, while the moderators of the process are old. Let’s look at the party list of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc. A third of the candidates are [Igor] Kolomoisky’s people. That suggests the Ukrainian government is so weak that the president cannot add a candidate to the list of his own political bloc without the consent of the local baron.”
Anton Dmitriev, a blogger on the online portal of the opposition radio station Echo of Moscow, felt competing emotions:
“For the first time in my life there could be as many as 20 people in parliament who I’m on first-name terms with. For me, they're not MPs, but the usual activists, anti-regimists, journalists, and friends. Nice, but a bit alarming. On the other hand, many levelheaded people whom I address more formally and who taught me a lot are also about to become MPs. Good teachers are valued no less than friends.”
"However, what is deeply disturbing is that battalion commanders, celebrated soldiers, public figures, and volunteers are also running for parliament. They are certainly worthy people, but do they belong in the legislature? I think not.”
Fellow Echo blogger Sergei Zaporozhsky was of a different opinion, dwelling on the parties’ prospects and his belief that the paramilitary Right Sector should definitely be in politics: “The guys contributed to victory on Maidan. Now they're fighting for the freedom of the country. The party’s most famous faces, Dmitry Jarosh and Borislav Bereza, will run for parliament, having gotten the nod in the first-past-the-post vote. It would be great if the party could get over the 5 percent barrier and into the Rada. It would also be just.”
Conspiracy theories about a plane crash in Moscow
The CEO of French oil company Total, Christophe de Margerie has died after a private jet crashed at a Moscow airport. Photo: Maxim Blinov / RIA Novosti
This week saw a tragic event at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport: the crash of a Falcon business aviation jet, killing one of the main opponents of sanctions against Russia – the head of French oil company Total, Christophe de Margerie.
Russian journalists speculated about where the blame lay. The pro-government media (Expert) underscored the many contradictions surrounding the incident, while the opposition (Moskovsky Komsomolets, Slon) debunked rumors of the “invisible hand of the CIA” and talked instead about the blow to Russia’s image.
Petr Skorobogaty of Expert Online fanned the conspiracy theories, finding parallels with the case of France’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn: “The death of ‘Moscow’s great friend’ in ‘terrible, far-away’ Russia will lessen the media’s thirst for spies in the woodwork, especially as the world has fallen hook, line, and sinker for the neat version about a drunk snowplow driver. Meanwhile, note should be taken of de Margerie’s harsh statements about the “inefficient” policies of the IMF and the potential move to abandon oil trading in dollars.”
“The infamous incident involving another Frenchman, IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, springs to mind. He too publicly mooted a reform of the global financial system, and ended up under investigation for allegedly assaulting a maid in a New York hotel. The "victim," it turned out, had lied to the police, but Strauss-Kahn’s career, along with his ambitious intentions, was buried. De Margerie died far away from U.S. jurisdiction, but it was all rather timely and, let’s be frank, suspiciously ‘accidental.’”
Nikolai Makeev of left-wing opposition friendly Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote bluntly about the consequences for Russia’s reputation, “The tragic death of de Margerie strikes an even harder blow to Russia’s reputation than the destruction of the Malaysian Boeing over the skies of Donetsk Oblast.”
Alexander Baunov of opposition paper Slon sought to debunk any conspiracy theory: “Bloggers are already concocting stories about how the CIA killed Russia’s Western ally. They sent an unusually early winter and ensured that undertrained and undermanned staff was in charge on the day of de Margerie’s departure from Moscow. And they spiked their drinks. Some MPs will demand an in-depth investigation; the findings will not be officially stated, but couched in the far-fetched terms of any number of versions. That’s all that’s required. The general public, who do not believe the “drunk snow remover” theory, will snatch at it. A world in which the CIA destroys an influential friend of Russia with a laser-gun from space is preferable to one in which a drunk snowplow operator can accidentally kill someone.”
Baunov wraps his idea in a metaphor: “Russia, it seems, is a kind of Cronus, devouring its friends.”
Reaction to the terrorist attack in Canada
The tragic events in Canada this week once again turned the spotlight on the fight against radical Islam. Both the pro-government (Rossiyskaya Gazeta) and opposition (Echo of Moscow) media noted that the West, in particular the United States, had “spawned another monster” that was out of control.
Anna Fedyakina of Rossiyskaya Gazeta focused on the consequences: “The response was immediate. Within just a few hours of the shooting Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the nation, saying that Canada would redouble its efforts with the United States and allies in the fight against terror groups.”
Fedyakina’s colleague at Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Yevgeny Shestakov, said that Western countries should finally realize the senselessness of fighting radical Islam alone: “However many times Canada’s Stephen Harper describes the shooting as ‘despicable,’ his menacing verbal exercises will not help prevent new attacks. Of course, Europe could follow Ottawa’s example and prohibit soldiers from wearing uniforms outside the barracks for fear of terrorist attacks. But such precautions will prove useless if, instead of embracing a non-political dialogue with all nations involved in the fight against terrorism, Western leaders continue to typecast countries as democratic or non-democratic, friend or foe.”
Alexei Filatov (online portal of Echo of Moscow) stressed that the incident had shaken the West: “Who’d have thunk it, all those who don’t care a damn about the deaths of tens of thousands of people in other parts of the world – be it Iraq, Syria, Palestine, or Ukraine, get all in a flap when the smell of the frying pan reaches their own backyard. It is likely that the attack was part of the Islamic State’s plan. The U.S. and closest NATO partners have reared and let loose another predator (this time, IS), and now cannot get the beast back in the cage. As was the case with Al-Qaeda.”